Category Archives: Gender and Sex

Legally Competent, Ethically Bankrupt: The Zealous, Despicable Monique Pressley, Esq.

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Bill Cosby’s lawyer Monique Pressley decided to become a hybrid attorney-publicity agent yesterday, and in doing so provided an impromptu seminar on why people hate lawyers, and often should. She was carefully spinning and dissembling on behalf of her client without breaching the ethics rules against lying, parsing words and phrases with skill and deftness, all in the service of a serial sexual abuser and perhaps the greatest hypocrite pop culture has ever produced.

Brava!

Also, Yeeccch!

The impetus for her media spin tour, for that is all it was, is the New York magazine issue that features the stories of 35 of Cosby’s accusers. First Pressley told CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield that the women were comparable to a lynch mob: Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

Further Ethics Observations On The Planned Parenthood Videos

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1. The fourth in a series of surreptitiously obtained videos depicting Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal body parts for research has been released. The Center for Medical Progress is the anti-abortion group that has created these videos: it defines itself as a “citizen journalist” project. Since these videos have been made using deception and without the safeguards of established journalism ethics by untrained and non-objective journalists, Ethics Alarms has consistently held that they are the result of unethical conduct, regardless of the motives behind them or what they show.

I am, reluctantly, reversing that verdict. The reason is the now undeniable refusal of the mainstream media and professional journalists to do their duty regarding the abortion issue in general and Planned Parenthood in particular. Despite the significance of these videos, the attack on Planned Parenthood and the fact that abortion is the most contentious and least resolved moral-ethical issue of our time, the news media, broadcast and print, have intentionally and unconscionably avoided covering the Center for Medical Progress videos and the issues they raise. The average American who does not monitor the news over the internet probably isn’t aware of the videos at all, and certainly has no sense of their content.

Journalism ethics codes state that deception and surreptitious means are only justified as investigative methods of reporting when more open and transparent reporting cannot obtain the facts. When professional journalists shrink from their duty to obtain the facts and report the truth, citizen journalists must take over, because democracy requires truth and transparency. Journalists should have made these videos. Because reporters abdicated their duties, those who picked up the dropped banner of probing investigative journalism regarding vital national issues should not be condemned. They should be praised, and by everyone, including journalists. If a fire fighter refuses to enter a burning building to rescue a child, and a citizen knocks down a door to do the job, I don’t want to see that citizen charged for the cost of the door, or criticized for acting. The videos are a public service, and necessary perspective on our society’s war against the unborn. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioethics, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, U.S. Society

Would You Pay $15 An Hour To This Employee?

I love it when a story  combines recent posts. This one evokes the issue of minimum wage hikes and people who use social media to try to rouse the ire of the web Furies while getting themselves some pop culture fame of the approximate duration—and value— of a mayfly.  If only this teen had shot a lion, it would be perfect.

17-year-old Sylva Stoel was sent home to change when she arrived to work at a J.C. Penney’s store looking like this:

Sylvia shorts

Good for the boss. That’s no way to dress for work in a retail store. But Sylva is imbued with that certitude of perfection that only spoiled and badly raised teens can model, so she quit in protest and announced her defiance to the world, tweeting a photo of her giving the finger to Penney’s…

Sylvia finger

…. with the legend,“Boss sent me home for wearing ‘too revealing’ shorts that I bought from the store I work at in the career section.”

Yes, but what career, Sylva?

Her argument, brainlessly championed by the Huffington Post, is apparently that employees should be able to wear what they sell, which will be fun for those shopping in the bathing attire section.

I’ve got news for Sylva (I also may have found her missing “i”). You know nothing about the workplace. Your idea of professional attire is pathetic. You have no skills, and setting out to webshame an employer, who generously gave you a chance to get some desperately needed experience, by quitting and flipping your boss off should, if there is any justice, make you unemployable for a good, long time.

Those who run businesses can dictate reasonable dress codes for their employees, and red hotpants are not appropriate attire for male or female workers even in hotpants stores, unless the owner decides otherwise. This twitter assault says nothing of value about dress codes or J.C. Penney, but volumes about a deluded and rude child named Sylva Stoel, whom nobody should hire again until she learns acquires humility and  manners.

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Social Media, The Internet, Unethical Tweet, Workplace

What A Surprise: Donald Trump Has An Unethical Lawyer!

One of these guys is Donald Trump's lawyer. Maybe both...

One of these guys is Donald Trump’s lawyer. Maybe both…

I realize I run the risk, by publishing this opinion, of Donald Trump’s thuggish, boorish, dolt of lawyer trying to “mess [my] life up … for as long as [I’m] on this frickin’ planet,” to put it in his well-measured, restrained and professional parlance. Well, so be it. Seldom do we see any lawyer befoul the image and dignity of his profession like Michael Cohen, Esquire, one of Donald Trump’s lawyers, did yesterday responding to a Daily Beast story about the dirty linen aired during Trump’s divorce from Ivana Trump over 20 years ago.

Ivana then compared a sexual encounter with her husband to sexual assault and rape,  and The Daily Beast wrote about it, as if Trump wasn’t doing enough already to make any decent American head to the loo at the sight of him. So Trump appointed Cohen as his media spokesman on the matter—just think: he was the best and most professional of the candidates for the job!—and he said this to The Daily Beast… Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

Bill Cosby’s Rationalization: #14. Self-Validating Virtue

stuart-smalleyThe smoking gun Bill Cosby deposition took place over four days in September 2005 and March 2006, during which time the comedy icon answered questions in a lawsuit alleging sexual assault filed by Andrea Constand, a former basketball operations manager at Temple University. Cosby settled the case, we now know, to avoid the testimony of several women who were prepared to back Constand with similar stories of being sexually assaulted. The deposition did not become public until it was revealed this month by the Associated Press and the New York Times.

Here is a fascinating exchange from that deposition:

Constand’s lawyer:  Do you feel that you are a good person?

Cosby:   Yes.

With this, Bill Cosby illustrates one of the more common and troubling rationalizations, #14 on the Ethics Alarms list, Self-validating Virtue:

A  corollary of the Saint’s Excuse  is “Self-validating Virtue,” in which the act is judged by the perceived goodness of the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature. Good people do bad things sometimes because they are (or were) good people, and because of complacency and self-esteem begin with a conviction, often well supported by their experience, that they are incapable of doing something terribly wrong.

All of us are capable of that, if our ethics alarms freeze due to our environment, emotions, peer pressure, and corrupting leadership, among many possible causes. At the end of the movie “Falling Down,” the rampaging vigilante played by Michael Douglas, once a submissive, law-abiding citizen, suddenly realizes what he has done. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks incredulously. Indeed he is. All of us, no matter how virtuous,are capable of becoming the bad guy…especially when we are convinced that we are not.

Very few people can admit that they are not good people. Public polls suggest that over 90% of Americans think they are the most ethical people they know. I am certain Cosby was sincere in his answer. His complete absorption by this rationalization explains the apparent astounding hypocrisy between his words, public image and private life. Cosby doesn’t believe he has done anything wrong. How could he? He’s Bill Cosby, and Bill Cosby is good.

Indeed, Cosby embodies the kind of person described by Michael (Jeff Goldblum) in “The Big Chill”:

“Nobody thinks they’re a bad person. I don’t claim people think they do the right thing.They may know they do dishonest or manipulative things……but think there’s a good reason for it. They think it’ll turn out for the best. If it turns out best for them, it is by definition what’s best.You also come up against a question of style. My style may be too direct. Perhaps given my style I seem more nakedly……opportunistic or jerky or… – Whatever. All that’s happening is I’m trying to get what I want. Which is what we all do, but their styles are so warm……you don’t realize they’re trying to get what they want. So my transparent efforts are more honest and admirable….Don’t knock rationalization. Where would we be without it? I don’t know anyone who can go a day without two or three rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.”

Well, let’s say that for Bill Cosby they are exactly as important as sex.

 

 

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Filed under Character, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement

The Gawker Mess: Is Integrity A Virtue When It Means Continuing An Unethical Policy?

gawker1The website Gawker is reeling in the aftermath of particularly Gawkerish  (that is, slimy) story exposing the efforts of a high-ranking male official at Gawker rival Conde Nast to secure the services of a male prostitute.  Following backlash even from those who usually tolerate  Gawker’s smug invasions into celebrity privacy, Nick Denton, the president of  Gawker Media, had the story taken down. He then wrote a post titled “Taking a Post Down,” defending his executive action.  Gawker Editor-in-Chief Max Read and Gawker Media Executive Editor Tommy Craggs resigned, and the editorial staff has protested the episode, noting that “business executives deleted an editorial post over the objections of the entire executive editorial staff.”

First, regarding Gawker’s plight: good. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving website. Second, and more controversial is this interesting ethics question that we don’t encounter very often outside the realm of “The Godfather” films: Is integrity applied to an inherently unethical culture a virtue?

When the Conde Nast outing story received furious blowback from media critics but also gay activists, who are flying high right now and thus not to be crossed, Craggs proposed that Denton issue a statement that Gawker was founded as a media gossip site and had always “unapologetically and often mercilessly” invaded the private lives  those who work in  the industry. “We stand by the story, which meets our simple, unwavering standard of being both true and interesting,” the statement was to say.

That simple, unwavering standard is and has always been unethical. Gawker hurts people for fun and titillation, and makes a profit out of doing so. Printing what is “true and interesting” without considering whether the often prurient interest factor outweighs the harm to the individuals and their families done by the site’s prying is inherently unfair and irresponsible. The pulled story was not atypical, but then Gawker has been typically immune to shame and decency. What had changed?

Denton’s various explanatory statements are ethically inert—not surprising, since he founded this monstrosity. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Leadership

“I think abortion is evil, but it is a necessary evil.” Discuss.

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This blog doesn’t discuss evil very often because it is not a term appropriately associated with ethics. Evil is a concept related to morality. In an ethics discussion, I would take evil to mean something extremely, irredeemably unethical by any ethical analysis or system. The statement “I think abortion is evil, but it is a necessary evil” appeared parenthetically in a comment by Beth, a frequent commenter on Ethics Alarms who is a mother and a lawyer, regarding the Planned Parenthood videos. Though the news media appears to have successfully distorted that story by focusing only on whether the videos were evidence of illegal “trafficking in body parts” by Planned Parenthood, that was not the reason I posted the essays, and it is not the reason those videos are significant in the ongoing debate over abortion rights. Two high ranking individuals in the organizations casually discussed the crushing and crunching of the heads and torsos of living and helpless individuals with the sensitivity I would associate with stepping on a roach. If this doesn’t disturb you, it should. If it does disturb you, as it did Beth, what does that mean?

Abortion is one of the most important and difficult ethics issues in the culture, indeed in world culture. It involves millions of lives and millions of deaths, law, bioethics, religion, social policy, science, human rights and feminism, as well as society’s ultimate respect for life itself. I have written about the ethics of the abortion debate frequently (you can find most of the relevant posts here), but to summarize the Ethics Alarms views on the topic:

1. Abortion is an ethics conflict, meaning that there are ethical principles in opposition to each other, requiring society to set priorities.

2. The absolutist position on the anti-abortion side is that abortion involves the taking of innocent human life, which begins from conception, and is thus unethical in all cases. It is a strong position if one accepts the underlying assumption.

3. However, no absolute position is really absolute. Every ethics absolute has an exception, or several: there must be some circumstances when abortion is necessary and right. (This is not true of moral absolutes, since moral absolutes are self defining. If the power dictating a moral precept says it is absolute, it is so.)

4. The absolutist position on the abortion side of the argument holds that a woman’s right to have complete dominion over her body, reproductive activity and health justifies abortion in all cases. This is not a strong position, and in fact is one that cannot be honestly argued or sustained. It supports abortion on demand for any purpose or preference, entirely at the mother’s discretion.

5. To make that argument, extreme pro-abortion advocates have had to deny the humanity and human rights of unborn children, even to the point of arguing that they are not individuals at all, but mere “parasites,” or “tumors.” The removal of a second life from the equation that is at the core of the abortion problem makes the abortion decision easy and guilt-free; it also settles the debate by pretending the central issue doesn’t exist. That issue is that there is another life involved, not just the mother’s.

6. The debate over the ethics of abortion has been handicapped by the tactic of both sides to pretend a legitimate interest championed by the other doesn’t exist. A woman’s ability to control her own life, career and what happens to her body is an important societal issue, yet the term “pro-life” ignores it entirely. It is not the only important interest involved in the abortion decision, however, as the term “pro-choice” suggests.

7. Neither absolute position, whatever its theoretical virtues, is practical from a policy perspective. Desperate women who are pregnant will seek abortions, people will help then (or exploit them, or kill them), and public policy cannot pretend otherwise. Society will not tolerate punishing women for aborting their unborn children, whether they deserve to be punished or not. Yet allowing mothers to have unborn children killed on a whim leads to the callous, ugly, dangerous attitude toward innocent life on display in the Planned Parenthood videos. Callousness toward any human life, history has shown us, is a slippery slope with the potential of doing terrible harm to the culture.

8. Roe v. Wade was a premature Supreme Court decision and a badly reasoned one. Until and unless it is overturned, abortion is a right. That does not mean, and never meant, that abortion necessarily is right.

9. Because absolutism fails here, abortion is a problem that demands utilitarian analysis–balancing of interests and values, in the best interests of society, long and short-term, and everyone in it, according to the facts as we understand them.

10. Balancing requires an honest acknowledgement that there is something to balance. The “pro-choice” and “pro-life” dichotomy doesn’t acknowledge that in their most extreme incarnations, and since abortion is currently a right, the pro-choice lobby detects no reason to yield to logic, science and reality. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioethics, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights