The publication of ‘The Watchman’: An Ethical Dilemma.
When Harper lee released her best- seller 58 years ago, she confidedin her friends that she was never going to publish again. That partregarding her history remained settled until a few years ago when herelder sister who also doubled as her attorney became incapacitated.Harper Lee hired the services of Tonja Carter to represent her in alllegal matters (Tucker 1). Just a few months after taking over, Carterrevealed that she had found the manuscripts of a book that Leeintended to publish before she was incapacitated by a stroke she hadin 2007. Carter claimed that she had received the permission of Leeto publish the book titled ‘The Watchman’. Her actions havebrewed controversy in that people are questioning whether Harper Leewas in a position to agree to Ms. Carter’s proposition. Theallegations suggest that Carter might have manipulated Lee intoagreeing to publish the book. This essay is in support of the viewthat Carter acted unethically.
Thefacts to this case are compelling. It appears that carter hadmanipulated Harper Lee because of a number of reasons. For starters,Carter has a motive to manipulate Lee. Since Lee’s first novel wasan instant hit, the second novel was bound to make record sales- thequality notwithstanding- because of the hype created by itspredecessor. Carter would benefit from the sales of the new novelbecause she is the custodian of Lee’s property and she happens tohave no beneficiaries.
Secondly, the manuscript for the Watchman has been around for about58 years. How convenient is it that When Lee suffers a mentalbreakdown is when she opts to have it published? Even if it were truethat indeed Lee did give her consent, why would we take her word forit when she is mentally unstable yet when she was okay she neverintended to publish the book?
Soonafter Tonja Harper started working for Harper Lee, she discovered themanuscripts and somehow managed to convince her that publishing thebook was the best idea. It will take an excellent negotiator to talksomeone into doing something that she has been against for the past58 years. Or in this case, the negotiator must be good atmanipulating people who have suffered a stroke and cannot thinkstraight. Besides, Lee appears to be a modest individual. Despite allthe money and fame, she never shifted houses or bought a TV. She doesnot appear to be someone who can take advantage of the popularity ofa previous novel to manipulate people into buying her newpublication.
Based on these compelling facts, as a publisher, I will not publishthe manuscripts that Tonja Carter submits to me. It would beunethical for me to publish a book that the book of a writer who didnot wish to publish again for the last 58 years. The prospects ofrecord sales are looming in this publication. Giving up the rightscould mean loss of sales that I might never be in a position to makeagain in my entire career. However, ethics beats money in this case.This is because the ethical actions supersede the desire forfinancial gains.
By declining to publish the manuscript, I will affect Tonja Carter,the caretaker of the document. She is the primary source of the ideato publish the book hence my refusal to publish it would deal her amajor blow.
The large number of people who have ordered the book even before itspublication will be disappointed. The company will suffer a majorloss and a dent to its public relations image. The shareholders willcry foul, saying that we had a perfect opportunity to rid the companyof its previous poverty. We might have to lay off some members ofstaff. If the action goes our way, then the public image of thecompany would go up and maybe receive more business deal. No matterthe outcome, declining to publish the book against the author’swishes is a decision I am willing to stand by no matter the outcome.
Some of the stakeholders will understand that I had to adhere toethics while others would be furious that we let the opportunity slipthrough our fingers. The clients who had ordered the book before itspublication will demand their deposit. They will be disappointedbecause the company promised them a book that it could not deliver.Some shareholders will opt to sell their shares because they will beof the opinion that the publisher is not serious in hisresponsibility of making them rich. Others who understand thedynamics of ethics will hold on to their shares. Fans of mypublishing work may be happy or annoyed with my actions. Despite anyoutcome, I am willing to stand by my decision.
In the words of Badaracco (1), there are four frameworks in makingethical decisions. The number one factor to consider is best net/net.Simply put, the decision has to be in the best interest of theaffected party. In this case, publishing the manuscripts will not bein the best interests of Harper Lee because she never wanted topublish again after her popular book in the Mid 50’s.
Publishing the book with all the allegations flying against Carterwould be selfish of me. Publishing the manuscripts would also be aviolation of Harper Lee’s rights. As the owner of the manuscripts,she has every right to accept or refuse to publish them. This isbecause she had all the proprietary rights of the literary work. Inthis case, Lee had vowed never to publish again until Carter coercedher into doing. It would be morally wrong to assume that she wantedthe publication to go on based on Carter’s word of mouth.
Badaracco (2) also believes that every decision should be able towork in the world as it is. It would be impractical for me to try tochange Carter’s mind regarding taking advantage of Lee’s mentalstate. However, I have the power to refuse to publish Lee’smanuscript. The decision will work in that Carter cannot reach out toother publishers because I have the rights to publish Lee’s work.My declining to publish the book will send a strong message regardingmy character. However, if I go ahead and publish the book anyway, Iwill come out as a self- centered persons whose only aim is to makemoney.
I believe my decision is ethical because it is in the best interestsof the writer of the manuscripts. The decision will take away myopportunity to make a lot of money, but I still have to do it becauseI am not selfish. Allegations and facts of the case suggest that thepublication of is not done in the right order. Therefore, I supportthe view that Carter acted unethically and not for the best interestof Lee.
Badaracco, Joseph L., Jr. "Defining Moments: A Framework forMoral Decisions." Boston: Harvard Business School PublishingClass Lecture, 2003. Electronic
Tucker Neely. To shill a mockingbird: How a manuscript’s discoverybecame Harper Lee’s ‘new’ novel. The Washington Post February2016. Electronic.