The Ethicist Gleefully Strikes Again

Remember when Randy Cohen, the Times Magazine's morally-minded advice columnist, revealed a lady's name when he wasn't supposed to? Well, we're not about to say he's done it again in his latest piece, but the ghost of last week's gaffe is unmistakably present this weekend as Cohen appears to take shocking pleasure in publicly exposing the unethical behavior of someone who has sought his counsel. This week's target is Paul Kramer, a reformed Jew from Montclair, N. J. who serves as the production director at Glamour (hate to say we told you so). After the jump, we examine Krame's crime in light of last week's controversy, and catch up with him on the phone while he's shopping at the supermarket.


In his question, as it appears in tomorrow's Sunday Magazine (not yet online), Kramer asks if it's okay to lie to his fiercely Jewish in-laws about whether a cooking pot he normally uses to prepare their dinner is kosher. Kramer admits to having used the pot to make some traif soup once, and his wife says he has to come clean or buy a new pot. It's a pretty classic "what you don't know can't hurt you" type of problem, and Cohen predictably advises Kramer to just be honest.

At the end of the column, though, he has a different idea: "There is another way to analyze your keeping this secret: you haven't. Not anymore."

It's a weird remark for Cohen to make considering the same could be said for almost anyone who has ever written in to The Ethicist under a real name, but it's weirder still in light of the Bob Novak-style mistake he admitted to last Sunday. As discussed, that was a pretty complicated situation, but the basic issue was that a creative writing teacher from Tuscaloosa named Wendy Rawlings had written a letter to The Ethicist and requested anonymity when informed that it would be published. Her name appeared anyway, and apparently caused quite a bit of grief within the University of Alabama creative writing department. In a correction that ran the following week, Cohen apologized for using her name, saying that he had "failed to see that request in her e-mail message." In an interview, he told Gawker Weekend that even though the woman had left analogous instructions on an answering machine in the Times Magazine office, the fact-checker did not hear it or possibly did not listen to the end. Either way, Rawlings was unmasked and feelings were hurt.

The circumstances here are quite different: Kramer volunteered the use of his name, and as we found out this morning when we talked to him, he really didn't care if his in-laws found out about his scheme. "Anyone who knows me knows I'm an asshole, so it's really not a secret," he said. "If I had trouble with telling my in-laws that I used the pot, then I probably wouldn't have written to him in the first place."

Originally, though, Kramer had signed his letter "Reformed in Montclair," aping the traditional Dear Abby sign-off that the Times people apparently deemed too cutesy. When he heard that, Kramer told them his name was Moses Teitelbaum, who is the grand rabbi of the Satmar Hasidim. "Then I said, 'just kidding, put my real name.'"

And so they did. One wonders whether, at this rate, they will have that opportunity ever again.

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