Will public servants do the right thing when no one's watching?

In today's world, it's not hard to find yourself being recorded. With an explosion in security cameras and recording devices in virtually every pocket, private moments may not be so private after all. What transpires on those recordings can tell us a lot. In this installment of Reporter's Notebook, "CBS This Morning" co-host John Dickerson examines the good, the bad and the ugly of secretly recorded behavior – from parking lots to the West Wing.


One test of a person's character is if they do the right thing when they don't think anybody's looking. This week, a grand jury report showed that the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania failed that test. White House staffers were facing that test daily, as recordings were released by a former top Trump official, Omarosa Manigault Newman.

Weeks ago, the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen released a recording showing candidate Donald Trump talking about hush money payments to an alleged mistress that President Trump had said he knew nothing about.

Newman says she kept pressing record to defend against her lying colleagues, which meant she was taking a taxpayer salary to promote the virtues of people she was privately recording because they had no virtue. Although, over the last many months back-stabbing private comments by Anthony Scaramucci and Steve Bannon suggest that Newman wasn't the only one playing a double game.

Worldly people say all of this private deceit is just what happens in politics. But rather than recline into that cynicism, consider for a moment the case of Sue Johnson. Johnson was the woman who braved rain and wind to return a shopping cart to Walmart. It turns out, returning a shopping cart can tell us something about your character. According to Scientific American, those of us who return shopping carts do so because we're worried about the people would have to collect them if we didn't.

This empathy is the basic building block of public service. You're not in it just for yourself or for your tribe.

Imagine if we could measure for this quaint notion when picking our public servants and those who work for them. Can they pass the Sue Johnson test? Instead of achieving excellence in front of reality show cameras, will they do the right thing when they don't think the cameras are rolling?  

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