Category Archives: Ethics Scoreboard classics

Tales of “The King’s Pass”: Pete Rose and Jeremy Clarkson

King

The King’s Pass has been much in the ethics news of late—Brian Williams, Bill O’Reilly, David Petraeus, Hillary. Let’s review, shall we?

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others…

1. The BBC just demonstrated how the King’s Pass should be rejected—with courage and gusto.

Jeremy Clarkson, the main host of the popular BBC auto show “Top Gear,” spent March misbehaving. He got in a shoving match with a producer, verbally abused staff and was recorded trashing the network. When Clarkson topped it off with a physical altercation with a show staffer, the BBC decided not to renew his contract. BBC head Tony Hall said in a statement:

It is with great regret that I have told Jeremy Clarkson today that the BBC will not be renewing his contract. It is not a decision I have taken lightly. I have done so only after a very careful consideration of the facts…I take no pleasure in doing so. I am only making [the facts] public so people can better understand the background. I know how popular the programme is and I know that this decision will divide opinion. The main facts are not disputed by those involved.

The BBC is a broad church…We need distinctive and different voices but they cannot come at any price. Common to all at the BBC have to be standards of decency and respect. I cannot condone what has happened on this occasion. A member of staff – who is a completely innocent party – took himself to Accident and Emergency after a physical altercation accompanied by sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature. For me a line has been crossed. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations… Obviously none of us wanted to find ourselves in this position. This decision should in no way detract from the extraordinary contribution that Jeremy Clarkson has made to the BBC. I have always personally been a great fan of his work and “Top Gear”…The BBC must now look to renew Top Gear for 2016. This will be a big challenge and there is no point in pretending otherwise. I have asked Kim Shillinglaw [Controller of BBC Two] to look at how best we might take this forward over the coming months. I have also asked her to look at how we put out the last programmes in the current series.

The show, without Clarkson, is toast, and Hall knows it. Nonetheless, he had the guts to do the necessary and ethical act: not allowing its indispensable star to abuse his power and popularity . Once Clarkson did that, “Top Gear” was doomed anyway; firing him now just minimizes the carnage. Although Hall has no responsibility to other networks and organizations, his decisive handling of the episode has saved other programs even as it destroys his own. It is a precedent and a role model for employers refusing to allow themselves to be turned into enablers  by stars assuming the King’s Pass works. When they say, “You can’t fire me, I’m irreplaceable! There’s no show without me!”, the response now can be, per the BBC: “If there’s no show without a jerk like you, then there’s no show. Bye!”

2. Once again, Pete Rose is sucking the ethics right out of people’s brains.

Ah, Pete Rose. He was the topic of the first ethics post I ever wrote, way back in 2004. Then, in 2007, he became my first and only Ethics Dunce Emeritus.

The Pete Rose case is simple. Baseball has an absolute, no exceptions rule that demands a lifetime ban of any player, coach or manager who gambles on major league baseball games. Such banned players can’t be hired by major league teams for any purpose, and cannot be considered for Hall of Fame membership., ever, even after they are dead. Everyone in baseball knows why this rule exists—baseball was nearly destroyed in 1919 when gamblers bribed the Chicago White Sox to throw the World Series—and the rule is posted in every clubhouse. Rose bet on baseball while a major league manager, and also bet on his own team. Thus he is banned.

The significance of the fact that he is, as a player, the all-time hits leader and was the face of the game is that it led Rose to believe that the game would never ban him, and that if caught, he would be treated with special leniency. His excellence on the playing field doesn’t mitigate his conduct, or justify minimizing the ban it earned, at all.

The New York Times published a story about Rose’s efforts to get baseball to lift the ban, now that a new Commissioner, Rob Manfred, is in office. You can read the article here, which is remarkable for the many jaw-droppingly unethical arguments put forth by the baseball people the article quotes, contrasted with the occasional quote that shows that a speaker comprehends the concepts of consequences, accountability, and why letting stars break the rules is suicidal to any culture. It would be an excellent ethics exam.

Here are the quotes; my comments follow in bold. Continue reading

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Incompetence Personified: Six Years, And He Still Doesn’t Understand His Job.

No change. Amazing.

No change. Amazing.

The flat learning curve reared its ugly head again in President Obama’s post-shellacking press conference. I did not expect him to admit that the election results were a direct repudiation of his leadership, management and policies, because the man is a narcissist, and he can’t process such information. I expected him to spin the defeat as insignificant from a public will perspective, and he did, noting that only a third of the electorate bothered to vote. That is, of course, the 30% that has been paying attention.

But I was genuinely surprised that he still, still, after all this time, displayed a complete lack of comprehension of what Presidential leadership involves and has always involved since the beginning of the position two centuries ago. Persuasion. Compromise. Trading. Negotiation. Repeatedly, Obama kept saying that he was sure that he and Republicans would find “common ground.”  When they did, he said, things would get done. He made it clear, however, that if he didn’t agree that a policy measure was in the best interests of the country or wouldn’t work, he would block it.

This is madness. It may sound reasonable to civicly ignorant casual observers of the government, as is most of the President’s supporters, but that characterization of how laws get made and a system of checks and balances works would produce a D in any political science course in any junior college in America. The President is obviously intelligent. I presume he’s read about the Presidency….I don’t know, maybe he hasn’t. Is it possible that he doesn’t know that every President made deals with hostile legislators that resulted in laws that President detested, in exchange for moving along policies that were worth the sacrifice? How can he not comprehend this, after six years? The man is President of the United States, and after six years, he still thinks the job is about giving orders and making decrees. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Leadership

Ethics Quiz: “God Bless America”

To take this quiz, you have to go to Netflix and watch “God Bless America,” a 2011 black comedy, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite,  that is a strange hybrid of “Network,” “Falling Down” and “Harold and Maude.” Unless, of course, yo9u have already seen it. (For a hint regarding its content and thrust, check the tags, as well as the clip above.)

And your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz question is...

Is this an ethical movie?

You might also want to read this related post, from The Ethics Scoreboard in 2004.

Enjoy!

Or not…

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Moonwalk Ethics: One Small Word

Neil-Armstrong-on-the-Moon-in-1969July 20 will be the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, a day of achievement, hope and pride for Americans that seems very long ago and far away in the bleak cynicism of 2014. As I was pondering how to note the landmark in an ethics context, I remembered a section of a post on the Ethics Scoreboard that dealt with the controversy surrounding Armstrong’s famous quote upon placing his foot on the moon’s surface. Here it is, my earliest foray into what has become a frequent theme on Ethics Alarms, “print the legend”  ethics:

“When the legend becomes truth, print the legend.”

This cynical endorsement of our culture’s preference for soothing fantasy over harsh historical truth was the intentionally disturbing message of John Ford’s film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.” But rejecting Ford’s grizzled old newspaper editor’s warped ethic does not justify the equally objectionable modern practice of using spurious logic to substitute one dubious historical account for another. Even more ethically suspect is the common practice of replacing an accepted, well-supported version of an historical event with a “new improved” version that exists less because of its accuracy than because of its advocates’ biases….

An Australian computer programmer says he has discovered that Neil Armstrong’s first words after he stepped onto the moon in 1969, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” were misquoted by NASA, misheard by millions of listeners around the world, and printed incorrectly in the history books. For decades, wags have criticized Armstrong for botching his iconic moment, since “man” and “mankind” mean the same thing, so the literal meaning of his famous words would be “One small step for man, one giant leap for man.” Armstrong has sometimes grudgingly acknowledged his gaffe and at other times maintained that he thought he included the elusive “a.” He hasn’t fought the consensus verdict very vigorously, as represented by NASA’a transcript:

109:24:48 Armstrong: That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind. (Long Pause)… Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Scoreboard classics, History, Journalism & Media, Quotes

Betrayal: Robert Gates Gets Even

dutygates

When General George Marshall, World War Two military leader, former Secretary of State, and architect of the Marshall plan, was offered a million dollars to write his memoirs in the 1950s, he demurred, saying that there was no way he could write a truthful memoir without undermining people still at work in the government and military.

And then there was David Stockman…Paul O’Neill

…and Robert Gates.

Bottom line: these people betray their colleagues for money, and often, as is Robert Gates’s case, out of spite. Former Defense Secretary Gates, like the others, was given an opportunity to serve his country in a high executive branch position. He was privy to policy discussions and the inner workings of the administration. He was trusted. To reveal details of his tenure while the administration he worked for is still in office, done in a way designed to provoke criticism and embarrass his former associates and boss, is the height of disloyalty, and a breach of implicit confidentiality.

The honorable and ethical way to write such a book would be to wait until it could not actively interfere with the work of the Executive Branch. The people may have a right to know, but they do not have a right to know everything immediately. People in high policy-making positions must be able to be themselves, express opinions, and have productive meetings with the confidence that those they work with are not collecting notes for a future Book-of-the-Month sellout. Books like Gates’s undermine that trust, make it more difficult to get candid and controversial opinions and ideas into the decision-making process, and ultimately hurt all of us. The former  Secretary and those who appreciate the additional ammunition for administration-bashing can assemble a lot of rationalizations for the  book, but they all boil down to “Everybody Does It,” the most threadbare and cowardly rationalization of all.

The ethical thing would have been for Gates to write the book in a few years, or not to write it at all. The ethical conduct for the reading public is to discourage betrayals, no matter who is the one betrayed, by sending such books to the remainders bin.

I suppose I should mention that except for the substitution of Robert Gates’ name for that of Paul O’Neill, and replacing “Treasury” with “Defense,” every word above was written in 2004, when I condemned the sell-out of fired Bush Treasury Secretary O’Neill, who had just provided the information used in a Bush-bashing tell-all called “The Price of Loyalty: The Education of Paul O’Neill.” (Yes, the old Ethics Scoreboard is coming in handy today.) Every word applies with equal force to the new memoir by Gates, who was President Obama’s Secretary of Defense and whose current tell-all attack has set Washington buzzing, except that Gates’s conduct is ethically far worse. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Professions, War and the Military

Michael De Beyer, Like Don Bedwell, An Exemplary Ethics Hero To Inspire Us

Mathis and hero

Writing about my favorite Ethics Hero of all time, Don Bedwell, in 2005, I began, “There are special and rare people whose ethical instincts are so pure and keen that they can make the rest of us feel inadequate.” Like Don Bedwell, Micheal De Beyer is such an individual.

Brittany Mathis, 19, works for De Beyer at his  Kaiserhof Restaurant and Biergarten in Montgomery, Texas, . Her mom and older sister work at the restaurant as well, so she would describe her boss as a family friend. In December, Brittany learned that she has a 1.5 inch brain tumor  She can’t afford to find out whether the tumor is benign or malignant, but her father died from a similar tumor years ago, so her situation is dire. She doesn’t have health insurance.

De Beyer has decided to sell his restaurant, which he opened more than 15 years ago and has an estimated worth of $2 million, to pay for whatever medical treatments are necessary to save Brittany’s life. “I’m not able to just sit by and let it happen,” De Beyer told a local paper. “I couldn’t live with myself; I would never be happy just earning money from my restaurant knowing that she needs help.” Continue reading

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Better Never Than Late: Steve Bartman’s False Exoneration

ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game TwoMy mind is much on the baseball play-offs today, an unavoidable hangover from last night’s amazing and exhilerating Red Sox-Tigers game, in which Boston went from hitless, five runs down and doomed in the 6th inning to miraculously victorious in the 9th thanks to a storybook grand slam by David Ortiz (you can see the immortal end result of that mighty blow in the photo to the left). It is 10 years to the day from when another remarkable play-off game occurred, infamous in Chicago, in which a fly ball foul that wasn’t caught by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou led to a furious rally by the Florida Marlins that resulted in the hapless Cubs being denied a trip to the World Series—the team’s first since 1935— that their fans thought was in the bag. The reason Alou missed the ball, or so the legend goes, was that a clueless Cubs fan wearing earphones reached out and deflected the ball. That fan, Steve Bartman, was awarded instant villain status. It was accompanied by media attacks and death threats, and poor Bartman left the city and may well have joined the witness protection program or jumped into a volcano. Nobody has heard from him in many years.

There is an ethics lesson in what happened to Bartman: one is never truly a bystander, and you have a duty to pay attention to your surroundings and to be ready to act. If you are present, you can make a difference, and might be needed, even it it is only to get out of the way. Call it the Duty of Life Competence.

The following post, however, is not about Bartman as much as it what happened to him, and how someone who could have come to his aid waited five years—too long—to do it. It was first posted on The Ethics Scoreboard in 2008:

Continue reading

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