Charles Van Doren 1926-2019 — RIP

Charles Van Doren was at the heart of the 1950’s television quiz show game scandal. Contestants were winning big bucks as America watched in awe of their knowledge of history, literature, and art. As it turned out, the contestants were given questions and answers in advance. However, they behaved with appropriate stewing, fretting, and elation when they gave the answers on the shows. Van Doren replaced Herb Stempel, a long-time champ of “Twenty-One,” who was forced out because the producers found him insufficiently telegenic. Van Doren was and would win $129,000 on the show as well as a gig on NBC. Stempel put his sour grapes to good use and sang like a canary to congressional investigators and New York prosecutors. Van Doren was hauled before congress and, although he had denied it before a grand jury, he admitted that he had been part of the “deception.”

Van Doren lost his position at Columbia, and his role on NBC’s morning shows. He continued with his writing and labored in quiet for the remainder of his years. He refused to participate when Robert Redford made the film, “Quiz Show” (1994), Van Doren was not part of it. The film has a dramatic ethics scene in which the producers, according to Redford, convinced Van Doren to help with the Stempel ouster using the advance preparation method. One line is a classic, “I wonder what Kant would think.”

Van Doren left this life marked by a mistake that branded him even in death. His quiet life after that mistake speaks to his atonement for his very public misstep. Today, in a society that might find his gaming, literally and figuratively, clever, he probably would have been welcomed as a commentator. Instead, he went back to doing what ke knew — no coaching or cheating necessary. In the Barometer’s view, Van Doren did the right thing after his mistake. Oh, that we are not judged harshly for one mistake in our lives and that we are given the chance to reform and the gift of redemption. In our unforgiving world, we forget the critical need for righteous judgment, preferring to surrender to the temptations of easy scorn and eternal condemnation. RIP.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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