Reflections on the issue of honesty

By Daniel J. Bauer

These words are an effort to bring two news stories about honesty together. One of the stories is recent, and the other is still unfolding.

The first concerns Germany’s former Minister of Defense, the fellow with the cool name, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Theother focuses on the former San Francisco Giant baseball star with arms and chest like a human bulldozer, Barry Bonds. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg seemed to have had the world by the tail. Until only weeks ago, he was the most popular member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet. Commentators in Europe couldn’t praise him enough. Guttenberg, went the word, was intelligent, articulate, debonair, charismatic, innovative, courageous, sensitive, and, to some folks at least, sexy. More than a few people had him pegged as a future chancellor of Germany. Then came the charges and revelations. “Der Spiegel” magazine reported on a website that had found more than 150 examples of plagiarism in Guttenberg’s doctoral dissertation. Some critics said up to one third of the work he had called his own there wasn’t his own at all. The British Broadcasting Corporation said the thesis had “long sections lifted from other people’s work” (Friedman, The Atlantic Wire, 3-01-11). Another source labeled the stolen pages “more than half” the length of the dissertation (Metro.Co.Uk, 3-01-11). Barry Bonds of course can boast of a baseball career that parallels the careers of the best in the game. His feats on the field put him in the ranks of Cobb, Ruth, Maris, and Aaron. By the time Bonds retired in 2007, he could claim baseball’s highest total of 762 home runs, with a season’s best of 73, 14 All-Star team appearances, and 8 Gold Glove Awards. He was chosen Most Valuable Player an astonishing 7 times.