As you'll recall, last week we published video of a FedEx worker indelicately winging boxes into the back of a truck with the help of a security guard whose job was to protect "high value" packages. Within days, both workers were fired, and while some blamed FedEx and the security company for overreacting, others slammed Gothamist for taking an obscure YouTube video and making it go viral. For some perspective, we reached out to Randy Cohen, the former New York Times Ethicist and current host of Person, Place, Thing, an interview series at the 92nd Street Y. Here's our exchange:

What do you think, am I partly responsible for these two losing their jobs? I think the first question is: is it a story at all? Does it serve any public interest? Because if you're writing a story that's worth writing, it's not really the journalist's concern what happens to the people afterwards. Those consequences are not part of the journalist's job.

But I wonder if it was a story at all. It read so much like just a cheap shot at some regular working people. Yeah, sure, the driver was not behaving ideally. She wasn't doing a very good job, but it seems a fairly minor thing, especially given the tone of the story, which was just so mean and so full of sarcasm for what seemed... I mean, who among us could stand up to that kind of scrutiny and scorn? Who adheres so scrupulously to every work rule in his job? Not me! You know, I've broken work rules all the time, and I dare say everyone has.

So to pile on in that way just seemed so bullying. I think that's what I found disturbing about the story. And then the question has to be, well, do you guys apply that same kind of scrutiny and that same standard to say someone who works at Goldman Sachs? I don't think so. Or to Christine Quinn's office? I doubt it. [Editor's note: Samples of our coverage of Goldman Sachs, Christine Quinn and others in power.] So it seemed like bullying of the weak and vulnerable just because you had an opportunity to do it.

Well, I thought the video was pretty striking because we've all had packages that were damaged and here is something that shows the way they're loaded into a truck. I suspected that for anyone who ever uses FedEx it would be interesting to see how the packages were handled. So do you think if the tone of my copy had been different, if the video was just presented without so much commentary— Yes, yes. I think it was worth running. But it's often a question of what kind of emphasis, what kind of story are you going to write about? Yes, absolutely run it. But maybe not pile on in this way.

But I thought the real bad actor in this story is FedEx, it seems to me. Because its punishment of this worker was so grossly disproportional to her transgression. I mean, they might as well have taken her out and hanged her. The driver acted badly, there's no question about that, and that's worth reporting on it in a small way. But the tone seemed way out of kilter with the offense.

She should absolutely have been punished for doing this, but it has to be an appropriate punishment. Is there a suspension, is there a fine, is there some kind of take-her-to-the-countryside-for-re-education? That all seems right. She should not be handling packages this way. But by firing her, by imposing such a disproportionate punishment, it's just FedEx showboating, right? It's just this PR effort. 'Look how scrupulous we are.' And I just can't believe it. Are they going to check to see if other people behave this way? Are they going to make sure their training programs are good? It seemed like the powerful bullying the weak. And by the powerful here I mean FedEx, not you guys.

See, I think that's where people have a problem with us publishing it, because they say well, by giving the video this platform, by taking a video that had a very few number of views on YouTube, and then amplifying it, that put FedEx in a position where they felt like they had to do something very dramatic to counterbalance it. And we should have known that. I don't agree. Again, if you choose an appropriate story, and you write about it in an appropriate way, those consequences are not the journalist's concern. You have no control over what FedEx does. FedEx behaved really badly here, but not because of you. You're not supposed to turn a blind eye because of that. That's like saying, well, FedEx gets to suppress this kind of news because they're so draconian in their punishments.

What I do think you might do is think about a story about corporate punishment, not punishment for general transgressions, but the ones that happen to get in the papers. Does FedEx actually have policies? Okay, so a customer complains, 'my package was damaged.' What does FedEx do? Probably very little, I suspect. But I don't know. It seems to me there's a story in FedEx's conduct. That might be nice. I mean, I know, the worker absolutely shouldn't have done this. But boy, it sure read bullying. The tone bothered me. But not that you ran the story. I think that you were right to run the story.