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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interveiw with Gregg Behr

Aired June 16, 2003 - 19:51   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There is one thing each generation learns, it is that the next generation is infinitely worse than our generation was. That's what we like to think at least. A survey last year found when it comes to getting ahead, kids today are actually less ethical than, well, my generation was, that's hard to believe. 93 percent, take a look at this, 93 percent of high school students surveyed reported lying at least once to their teachers and their parents, 37 percent said they would lie it get a good job. Both those numbers represent increases. As someone who would never fly get a job and has a Nobel Prize in journalism to prove it, I wanted to find out what was going on here, on quite.
So we asked Gregg Behr the founding director of the Content -- excuse me, Our Character Project to help us out. Gregg, thanks for being with us.

Are kids lying more these days?

GREGG BEHR, FOUNDING DIR., CONTENT OF OUR CHARACTER PROJECT: The evidence certainly demonstrates that in fact kids are lying and cheating more. I think it is important to put that in context, though. It could be one that we just know more about it. So we know that kids are lying and cheating more often. But, two, we have to look at the context around them. What is the context in which kids are lying and cheating?

COOPER: Let me show this survey on the screen. This is a 2002 survey. Thirty-eight percent of high school students surveyed said they had stolen something, that's up from 31 percent in 1992. You know, pretty alarming do you think it has become more permissible? Do kids think it is more permissible? They see it on TV. They see big name people getting caught lying, getting caught cheating, stealing?

BEHR: I think kids do certainly think it is more permissible. Our ethics don't occur in a vacuum. And we see the institutions around us crumbling, the church, the sports, politics and other areas. And yet people aren't being punished, not made to face any real crime for what they've done.

COOPER: Not really any real shame or public humiliation anymore these days is there?

I hate to sound like Andy Rooney here, but, you know, you don't see much shame on TV. BEHR: No there is not shame anywhere. And one only needs to look at what kids are watching on MTV or what's happening on reality shows. And it pays to scratch and lie and cheat to get ahead.

COOPER: What do you do about this?

BEHR: What we've been doing, the content of our character project is bringing together young people, young professional students across the country for conversations about ethics in our public life and what it means to have a moral core what it means to have moral center. And what we found is that giving opportunities for that public discussion to occur, provides an affirming experience to demonstrate -- you know there is a moral center. We ought to have moral codes. And it gives hope about how best to behave.

COOPER: You know, when we see public figures paraded in front of the cameras and plea bargains and agreements, what kind of an impact do you think that has on kids?

BEHR: Depends if the Martha Stewarts and Enron executives and others do in fact face penalties for what it is they've done. But too often we see that crimes and misdemeanors and transgressions go unnoticed or unchallenged or unpunished.

COOPER: Do you think -- is there an element of pressure underneath this?

I mean, a lot of people point to Jayson Blair and say he was under tremendous pressure at "The New York Times," this young cub reporter.

Do you think kids are under pressure and that would impact them to cheat, getting into a good elementary school for kids here in New York, and then a good college, a good high school?

BEHR: Absolutly. We're told as a young generation repeatedly that we're not going succeed as well as our parents did. So in fact, I do think that's the case. And it is not just the kids, for example, who are in the danger of failing but it's in fact the A plus students who are scared about getting the A minuses and not getting to the Ivy League schools. There is certainly a great amount of pressure to succeed in a context we are told we aren't going to.

COOPER: All right. Gregg Behr, appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much.

BEHR: Thank you.

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