Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Moral Quandary: Your Help Needed

(Jerry Lewis, at a recent telethon)

Funny thing my recent NPR Commentary generated --
Among the flattering e-mail, which amazed and humbled, was a message from an editor at MDA's Quest Magazine. She wanted to use one of my blog posts as the basis for an opinion column in the magazine. If I could turn it into a good 1000-to-1200-word piece, she'd pay me for it.

Great, right? Maybe.

For those who don't know, I've been a pretty harsh critic of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I've published columns against the organization and its Labor Day Telethon. I've participated in protest actions against it. It not only promotes pity, but refuses to aid in pursuing disability civil-rights issues. It refuses to divulge information about how many people with disabilities it actually employs, or how much power they have. It certainly doesn't hold its corporate sponsors to any kind of standard for accessibility or antidiscrimination policies. Don't get me started. (For more about this, look here or here or elsewhere, including scrolling down to my archives here).

When I and others have politely tried to get those in charge at MDA to change, our efforts were strongly rebuffed. In fact, we were insulted ... called names.

So yesterday, I told this kind, blameless editor, You sure you want me?

But then I realized the real question was, Was I sure I wanted to work for MDA?

To me, Quest has gotten better over the years. Sometimes I even read it now. But it's still the MDA organ. So I had misgivings.

Here's the thing: What she liked was my Glee blog, below. She liked my evenhanded way of looking at media, specifically media images of disability.

The primary problem is, my primary gripe against MDA has been the offensive, outdated way it's media--especially its annual telethon--broadcast unfair, exploitative images of people with disabilities. (Not sure I got all my adjectives in the right order in that sentence, but I hope you get the idea nevertheless.)

So the only way I could in good conscience write for MDA's Quest Magazine would be if I could criticize the way the organization portrays people with disabilities.

Yes, I know MDA has been wonderful for many families. It provides access to neurologists with expertise, if you don't have insurance to cover the cost. So in that, I might even give it high marks as a medical charity.

I have serious problems, however, when MDA represents itself as a champion of disability rights.

My beef with MDA is not the subject of this blog. Rather, this is a confession. I debated in my head, and out my mouth (sorry, my darling wife, for talking your ear off about this).

On the one hand, I'm supposed to be a professional writer. I take commissions wherever they're offered. On the other, writing for MDA would not only cost me cred in the disability community; it would be tantamount to a conflict of interest, especially if I ever intend to publish more words critical of it, its Labor Day Telethon, or its chairman Jerry Lewis. And believe me, Dear Reader, I do. I do.

Now, the Quest editor who contacted me is innocent in all this. And we have not officially concluded negotiations. That's because I haven't entirely made up my mind.

So I open it up to you, my blogosphere pals? What should I do? What would you do? And how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

1 comment:

  1. Don't do it! Don't sell your soul to the devil. The MDA must be shunned isolated. For all the money they raise and good work conducted they actually do more harm than good from a cultural viewpoint. The core ideas the MDA is known for are antiquated and the reliance on pity to raise money via the telethon is disgraceful.