Ethics in America for free!

Back in the late 1980s, PBS broadcast an utterly fascinating ten-program series called Ethics in America. Each program discussed a set of related ethical issues, in a remarkable panel format: the moderator would set up a roleplaying situation, and then ask questions (sometimes extended and vociferous questions) of the panelists, who were experts in a variety of fields—there were about fifteen panelists in each program. (And the moderator would change the roleplaying scenario over the course of the program to make the issues more difficult.) Panelists included (in various programs) Antonin Scalia, Peter Jennings, C. Everett Koop, Faye Wattleton of Planned Parenthood, General William Westmoreland, Jeane Kirkpatrick, attorneys, doctors, philosophers, journalists, CEOs.

It turns out that you can now order the entire series from Annenberg/CPB; $170 for the ten one-hour programs on five VHS cassettes. They don't appear to sell a DVD version, unfortunately.

But instead of buying them, you can also watch them online—for free. You have to register with Annenberg, but that's free too. Go to the series overview page and click one of the little "VoD" (Video on Demand) buttons next to one of the episodes; you'll go through the registration process, then it'll take you back to that page and you can click the button again, and it'll show the full episode using Windows Media Player.

Sadly, my network connection has gotten a lot slower than normal in the past week or so, and my software is having a hard time figuring that out. It's trying to get the video stream at 300kbps, and is therefore showing blank video (but full audio) for each episode until it figures out that it needs to slow the stream down. And then it sometimes just stops partway through. Frustrating. I may end up getting the VHS version after all.

Still, for those of you with Windows machines and broadband connections, this will probably work better than it's working for me. And it's totally worth watching the shows if you haven't seen them, and probably even if you have. Really good stuff.

I'm gonna skip the one on the criminal justice system for now, though.

I had forgotten, btw, that this series was what gave me a lot of respect for Dr. Koop. I gather that there's lots to dislike politically about his career, especially about his pre-Surgeon General career, but he comes across in his several appearances in this series as wise and thoughtful and even funny.

4 Responses to “Ethics in America for free!”

  1. Bernadette Trucco

    I am a graduate student at Northwestern and am very interested in the subject of Ethics. My boss highly recommended the series to me.

  2. Jed

    Btw, Ethics in America is now available on DVD! Unfortunately, it now costs more than 1.5 times as much as it did when I wrote this entry. But still probably worth it, for people interested in this kind of thing. (Note that it’s on DVD-R, which is compatible with most but not all standalone DVD players.)

  3. MaryAnn O'Brien

    A college professor of mine used this series in our Ethics class. Watching that series changed my life, and made me an ardent admirer of Peter Hennings. Now, I am Managing Editor of an affluent lifestyle magazine, and am developing a piece on the ethics crisis in the financial sector. This series is absolutely brilliant, and should be incorporated into the core curriculum of every college student.

  4. Anonymous

    This series is now available on DVDs.


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