Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Ethics Dunces: Bitter, Spoilsport, Fuddy-Duddy Republicans and Conservatives

Nope, no Republicans there...

Nope, no Republicans here…

A grand welter of celebrities ranging from Pussy Riot and Paul Krugman to Willie Nelson and Big Bird joined comic Stephen Colbert in his farewell to Comedy Central, as he prepares to step into David Letterman’s shoes and hopes to do a Jimmy Fallon as Dave’s (overdue) replacement, rather than a Conan O’Brien. Obviously the producers and Colbert sought a ridiculously diverse group symbolizing U.S. culture and whimsy, and sent out invitations far and wide. Instead, the got an overwhelmingly liberal and progressive group that may make up half of MSNBC’s total viewership, a group that would almost all have been at home on the floor of the Democratic National Convention.

Don’t blame Colbert. It was clear that ideological animus with Colbert’s almost entirely anti-conservative schtick was no bar to the option of participation. Republicans and conservatives, however, almost unanimously decided to sulk, stay home, and boycott the party. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, U.S. Society

WHAT?? Dr. Oz Is A Quack? I’m Shocked!

quack-doctor-788714

I regard Oprah Winfrey’s conduct in the 2006 James Frey scandal signature significance regarding her priorities and character. When it was revealed that Frey’s “memoir,” “A Million Little Pieces,” which Oprah had promoted in her show’s book club, was a near-total fabrication, her immediate response consisted of, in essence, “Who cares,  if people like it?” Then, when the public response to her response was overwhelmingly negative, Oprah turned on a dime and ambushed Frey on the air, condemning him as an unscrupulous fraud. That’s our Oprah.

Oprah has profited by promoting several fakes, frauds and dubious authorities, such as the syndicated Oprah spin-off “Dr. Phil,” featuring a non-doctor who masquerades as a psychologist despite losing his license to practice decades ago. The most successful of all Oprah’s protegés is “Dr. Oz,” or  “America’s Doctor”  Mehmet Oz, now a popular syndicated talk-show host who dispenses medical advice with the aura of a real degree and a convincing air of authority.  When I say popular, I mean it. “The Dr. Oz Show” attracts 2.9 million viewers per day, and ranks in the top five talk shows in the U.S. “I haven’t seen a doctor in eight years,” the New Yorker quoted one fan telling Dr. Oz. “I’m scared. You’re the only one I trust.”

For some reason medical experts have waited over a decade to actually check out the snake oil Dr. Oz has been selling to credulous viewers softened up by Oprah’s House of Truthiness. They were finally roused from their torpor in recent months, after Dr. Oz  appeared before Congress in June and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) knocked him around the chamber, saying that he gave people false hope and that his segments were a “recipe for disaster.” Then, in November, a study he promoted as proving the efficacy of coffee bean weight-loss pills was retracted as junk science.

The British Medical Journal this week published a study analyzing the recommendations handed out on “Dr. Oz” as well as on another popular daytime medical show, “The Doctors.” The study selected forty “Dr. Oz” episodes from last year, and examined 479 separate medical recommendations, comparing them to available medical research. The study found that just 46 % of his recommendations were validated by data, while research contradicted 15%. For 39% of Oz’s advice, there was insufficient research and data to substantiate or debunk his claims. (“The Doctors” fared a little better, but not much.) Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Health and Medicine, Marketing and Advertising, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

Ethics FYI To Hollywood, Pundits And Al Sharpton: There Is Nothing Racist–Or Unethical—About The Hacked Denzel Washington Memo

denzel-washington

Does anybody even bother to think about what racism is any more before accusing people of it? Do journalists think about the circumstances before they parrot knee-jerk accusations of racism from the likes of Sharpton and others? Based on the evidence of reaction to the infamous memo from a Sony honcho regarding the performance of Denzel Washington pictures abroad, apparently not.

Everywhere, this screed by an unnamed Sony executive is being called “shocking,” “unbelievable,” and, of course “racist.” It is nothing of the kind. In a scenario that reeks of the surreal Samuel L. Jackson fiasco where Ethics Alarms was virtually alone in noting that Jackson’s on-air accusation that a white TV host had confused him with fellow black star Lawrence Fishburne because “all blacks look the same to him” was unfair and completely meritless, the news media is just running with a demonstrably false accusation.

Here are the relevant portions of the e-mail exchange based on what has been reported in the media:

“I am not saying The Equalizer should not have been made or that African American actors should not have been used (I personally think Denzel is the best actor of his generation.) [But] Casting him is saying we’re ok with a double if the picture works. He’s reliable at the domestic [box office], safe, but has not had a huge success in years. I believe…the non event pictures, extra ‘bets’ should have a large inherent upside… Here there isn’t a large inherent upside….I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist – in general, pictures with an African-American lead don’t play well overseas…Sony sometimes seems to disregard that a picture must work well internationally to both maximize returns and reduce risk, especially pics with decent size budgets.”

Let’s examine this “unbelievable” e-mail, line by line and then as a whole, for ethical misconduct and incipient racism:

“I am not saying The Equalizer should not have been made or that African American actors should not have been used (I personally think Denzel is the best actor of his generation.)”

No problem there, right?

“[But] Casting him is saying we’re ok with a double if the picture works.”

The baseball analogy, a “double” over a “home run,” is a conclusion based on Washington’s films’ grosses and hard facts, not racism. It is a legitimate opinion, and one that in a business context must be made as a matter of fiduciary duty. Foriegn box office is about half (or more) of a typical film’s profit. If a star isn’t as popular in foreign markets as in the U.S., then metaphorically speaking, a “home run” is more difficult, and maybe impossible. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Train Wrecks, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Race

Unethical Quote of the Week; Chris Rock

Shut up, Chris.

Shut up, Chris.

“You say the wrong thing — you see what happened to [Donald Sterling],” Rock said. “I’m not defending what Sterling said at all, but if that’s not the First Amendment then what the [bleep] is? And what did he say, ‘I don’t want my girlfriend hanging out with black basketball players’? Me neither!”

—Black comic and “truth-teller” Chris Rock, discussing the fear in Hollywood as a result of the Sony hacks.

Gee, Chris, that’s courageous, fair, perceptive and true.

What a shame you didn’t have the integrity or guts to condemn what happened to Sterling while every other black pundit, columnist, athlete, and celebrity was comparing him to Satan. You just allowed everyone to pile on the old, rich white guy, take away his team and make him the face of racism for telling his slutty black  girlfriend—in his own bedroom!—not to flaunt the fact she was only hanging with him for the money by showing up at his teams’ games with her real boyfriends. You Hollywood types are hilarious–as in disgusting— in your selective belief in rights, privacy and fair play. First Aaron Sorkin, who didn’t object to the media feeding frenzy over Sterling’s private remarks, suddenly argues that his friends and business associates’ equally damning comments shouldn’t be reported because they aren’t about crime and corruption, and thus aren’t news. Then you suddenly decide to defend Donald Sterling’s rights of privacy and free speech now, when there is no cost to you at all, and the damage is done and irreparable.

Here’s what’s unethical about your statement, Chris: it’s too damn late.

 

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Quotes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Rights, U.S. Society

“It’s Unethical To Be A Weenie,” Part II: Our Craven, Terrorism-Validating Theater Chains

Or maybe not...

Or maybe not…

[Part I is here]

Regal Cinemas, Cinemark, Cineplex, Bow Tie Cinemas, Carmike and AMC Theatres will not show “The Interview” because the North Korea-based hackers that breached Sony Pictures Entertainment e-mail security threatened movie theaters and moviegoers who attend screenings of the satire. More theater circuits are expected to follow, because terrorism works especially well against weenies.

Leading the way for this disgusting weenieism display were first, Sony itself, which reportedly toned down the film in response to earlier threats from the group, and then the stars of the comedy, James Franco and Seth Rogan. They both cancelled all their publicity appearances and are evidently hiding under their beds, caving to the dictates of unknown critics who are almost certainly not in the country. Oooh, but they’re so scary!

First they stole emails from Sony executives to retaliate for the comedy’s story line, which involves an assassination attempt on the life of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un by two morons. Then the group issued a warning referencing 9-11 and warning Americans, to stay away from theaters showing “The Interview”:

We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places The Interview be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment. All the world will denounce the SONY.”

Or All your base are belong to us.

Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, U.S. Society

“It’s Unethical To Be A Weenie,” Part I: The Lipreading NFL Fans

Preface: The Rise of the Weenies

Tom Brady, mid-"Fuck!"

Tom Brady, mid-“Fuck!”

Everywhere we look, it seems, we see the United States culture being threatened by weenies and the ris of Weenieism. In a nation founded on the principles of self-reliance and individual liberty, built and shaped by stunningly brave men and women who hacked civilization out of an uncertain and perilous wilderness, there is a growing mass of citizens—the cancer imagery is intentional—who are committed to giving the government near total control over every conceivable danger, threat, peril, offense, inconvenience or annoyance, real or imagined, as the role of individual Americans devolves into pointing and saying, “There! Fix that! I don’t like that! Arrest them. Fine him.” Increasingly, the primary motivation for public policy is fear, planted by activists and politicians to panic, terrify and mobilize the weenie base, who are ever eager to trade individual freedom for protection against, well, almost everything.

I know I am hyper-sensitive to the weenification problem right now, having spent three weeks reviewing the history of the American West and its portrayal by Hollywood in preparation for my Smithsonian Associates program last week on how the Hollywood Western shaped American culture. Around the same time that the Sixties exploded, the culture’s unified acceptance of traditional American values began to collapse, just as the primacy of the Western as an entertainment genre declined. Now weenieism is in its ascendency. There are those who claim that the name of a distant football team causes psychological trauma to Native Americans who don’t follow football. Blogger Andrew Sullivan (a candidate for Head Weenie) asserts that the United States should have the “courage” to do nothing about ISIS and allow it to run amuck (the ultimate goal of the Weenies: an Orwellian “Weenies Are Heroes” motto). Feminists insist that women are so vulnerable to male sexual predations on campus that due process, fairness, common sense and much of the respect as equals their predecessors fought for must be surrendered, in a new system that begins with the presumption that all men are potential rapists and all women simpering, helpless victims, even when they say “yes.” College students and other are demanding that books, stories, essays and blog posts contain “trigger warnings” to alert weenies that words and topics in the text might give them the vapours. Needless to say—I hope—this not a healthy development for the United States, or  our culture.

The resistance to Weenieism ought not to be a partisan issue. The obligation to help the weak, disadvantaged and powerless become stronger, overcome their handicaps and acquire power is part of the American tradition too. Somewhere, however, this obligation was distorted by the realization that in a system where the government is looking for victims to justify its existence, Weakness Is Power (Orwell again). Weenies—fearful, risk-averse, passive-aggressive citizens who shrink from conflict, confrontation and the messy process of democracy— have realized that they can mobilize power to satisfy their narrow biases and interests, often at the expense of their fellow citizens’ right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now the culture is tilting away from the uniquely American model that encouraged individuals to fight their own battles and succeed or fail on the merits of their causes and their own determination and skill, to one that rewards the perpetually offended, victimized, and passively unsuccessful.

It is unethical to be a weenie, and equally unethical to allow Weenieism to overcome what has been an American cultural strength.

Part I: The Lipreading NFL Fans

Several TV viewers who watched the NFL’s  New England Patriots-Green Bay Packers made official complaints to the Federal Communications Commission because they could see Patriots quarterback Tom Brady saying “fuck” repeatedly on the sidelines in frustration over his own play.  They couldn’t hear it, mind you: they were just able to read his lips. This was so horrible that they felt that the Federal government needed to investigate and take remedial action.

One complaint was from an Indianapolis parent who wrote that their “6 year old children know how to read lips.” Another was from a Pennsylvania grandparent who complained to the FCC,  “My 8 year old grandson was watching the game with me and even commented that he should not have said that.”

The Horror. Law professor Jonathan Turley opined on his blog,  “I do not believe that this was a good thing for a NFL QB to be doing.” Well, sure: he should be picking his nose of grabbing his crotch, either, but this isn’t scripted, and its a football game.  The whistle has to be blown for Federal retribution for mouthed obscenities to nobody in particular, as these sensitive parents and grandparents happily allow their delicate charges to cheer men in the process of maiming themselves and risking that their children will be changing their fathers’ diapers in the disturbingly near future?

The really frightening thing is that our regulatory morass encourages such attempts at censorship. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Sports, U.S. Society

The Michel Martin Question I Didn’t Answer This Morning, and More On The Bill Cosby Scandal

On pointIn the segment on “Beverly Johnson And The Bill Cosby Scandal” I just completed for NPR’s “On Point” program, out of Boston with the magnificent Michel Martin hosting, I emulated the Sunday morning talk show guests I so revile for answering questions by making their own points that have little or no relevance to what was asked. Michel asked me, as the time left in the hour-long program was ticking down, what ethical obligations consumers—that is, the audience for his concerts, TV shows and albums—have regarding Cosby, in light of the rape allegations against him.

I was still stunned by the comments made by three callers, encompassing several ethically confused assertions that you know I would find annoying:

  • That the victims should not be coming forward so late;
  • That Cosby is “innocent until proven guilty” (GRRRRR…);
  • That it’s “easy” for women to make unsubstantiated allegations against celebrities, and
  • That there is a parallel between the allegations against Cosby and the Rolling Stone campus rape story.

That last one especially had my head threatening to explode, which would not be good for my relationship with NPR, so I think I can be forgiven for missing Michel’s query. Yes, the UVA rape allegation is exactly like the Cosby scandal, other than the fact that the accusers in Cosby’s case have come forward publicly while “Jackie” has not; that its two dozen (so far) alleged victims for Cosby and one in the UVA case; that one situation is a classic example of abuse of power, wealth and influence and the other is not; that Cosby settled one claim rather than air the allegations in a court of law; and that virtually every part of “Jackie” claim has failed to hold  up under scrutiny and investigation, whereas Cosby, the one individual who could offer evidence to counter the allegations against him, has done nothing but have spokesmen and lawyers issue blanket protests and denials.

Yup. Identical.

My answer to Michel should have been this:

“It’s up to Cosby fans, If they still can still laugh and cheer at Cosby’s nice guy schtick and “America’s Dad” persona knowing that he’s a serial rapist, fine: laughter is good, get it where you can. Personally, I can’t laugh at someone whom I know has engaged in horrific acts, hurt women who admired and trusted them, and by his own conduct left another cultural hero lying face-down in the mud. I can’t forgive it, I can’t get past it, and I’m certainly not going to keep laughing. this is no different from the NFL fans who keep wearing Ray Rice jerseys, or for that matter, Democratic women who continue to swoon over Bill Clinton. If they do, they either:

  • Can’t get over their cognitive dissonance, and at some level refuse to believe what cannot be rationally denied, or…
  • Don’t think the conduct involved—punching women, exploiting women, raping women—is worth getting upset about, or…
  • Buy the absurd personal/public dichotomy, and can still cheer wife-beatering athletes, star-struck intern-exploiting leaders, and raping comedians.

All of these are sad and impossible to justify, but they are common. Does the continued support of a Cosby ratify his conduct? Not in the eyes of his undeterred fans, but in the culture? Of course it does. If Bill Cosby’s career escapes relatively unscathed by this, and he is not held accountable by society, the verdict of the culture will be a particularly extreme version of The King’s Pass: if you are rich enough, powerful enough and seen as contributing enough to society, then you will be held to a lower standard, and can get away with, if not murder, serial rape.”

Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Race, U.S. Society, Workplace