Category Archives: Leadership

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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“Black Lives Matter” Is Unethical, And So Are Politicians Who Pander To It

black-lives-matterThat’s the tipping point for Ethics Alarms. “Black Lives Matter” is unethical, and those who use it are unethical. And politicians who grovel to those who criticize them for not embracing it are contemptible.

The Martin O’Malley embarrassment over the weekend clinched it for me. Demonstrators interrupted the former Maryland governor, mounting a pathetic campaign against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, as he was speaking at the Netroots Nation conference. When they shouted, “Black lives matter!” a rallying cry of protests that has superseded “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” because that one was eventually exposed as a lie,  O’Malley—the naive, racist fool!!!!— responded: “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.”

The activists  responded by jeering him and refusing to let him speak. .Later in the day, O’Malley, “showing the firm commitment to leadership in the face of adversity that we expect in a presidential candidate,” as one wag put it on Jonathan Turley’s blog—apologized, saying…

“I meant no disrespect. That was a mistake on my part and I meant no disrespect. I did not mean to be insensitive in any way or communicate that I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue.”

I bent over backwards to defend Smith College President Kathleen McCartney when she apologized for using the phrase “all lives matter” in December of 2014. I wrote:

If an activist says to me, “too many children go to bed hungry!” and my retort is, “Too many people go to bed hungry!”, the unspoken argument is “So stop acting like children are a special problem!” If I say, “We need peace in Syria,” and a friend’s response is “We need to end war, period!”, I view that as an effort to minimize my concerns by launching it from the realm of a specific issue into vague, generic territory.  “Black Lives Matter!” in the context of recent police episodes where African Americans died under circumstances that many believe show police callousness and excessive force against blacks is a distinct assertion that suggests that the law enforcement and justice systems do not currently function as if black lives matter as much as white lives. It is true that “All Lives Matter” includes the larger subset “black lives matter”; it is also true that it blurs the issue at hand, and dilutes the protesters’ point. It is not inappropriate for  President McCartney to apologize in this context…unless, of course, she intended a rebuttal, in which case she is indeed spineless.

I still believe that made sense in December, but “Black Lives Matter” means something very different now, after six police officers were charged with murder to quell a Baltimore mob after Freddie Gray’s death, and after President Obama decided that the merciless shooting of a  young white woman in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant wasn’t worthy of the same attention he has given other deaths when it was a black life that had been lost. Continue reading

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Eight Ethics Observations On Donald Trump’s Prisoner Of War Slur…And Another New Rationalization: “Popeye’s Excuse”

PopeyeFrom the New York Times:

“Mr. Trump upended a Republican presidential forum here [Ames, Iowa] , and the race more broadly, by saying of the Arizona senator and former prisoner of war: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Mr. McCain, a naval aviator, was shot down during the Vietnam War and held prisoner for more than five years in Hanoi, refusing early release even after being repeatedly beaten.

The only news outlet that isn’t covering this is the Huffington Post, because controversies that directly affect who will be President of the United States aren’t news when they involve candidates the HuffPo ideologues don’t respect.

I thought I should remind you.

Ethics observations:

1. The statement is signature significance that Trump is a jerk as well as a fool, and not very bright as well. The latter is especially important: being an idiot should disqualify anyone for high elected office. Not that Trump’s intelligence, or lack of it, hasn’t been a matter of record for a long, long time, but this is as blazing a tell as anyone could wish for. Anyone who voluntarily places his or her life at risk for their country is a hero; circumstances and moral luck determine what other tests warfare will present to such an individual’s character. When a hero passes such a test with distinction, as McCain did in his prisoner of war ordeal during the Vietnam war, the military makes a special effort to recognize that heroism, in part to inspire others. My father refused to make a big deal about his Silver Star and Bronze Star, because he was aware that the man who was blown up by a shell while virtually standing next to him could have just as easily been the decorated war hero, and my father a statistic, had the shell landed a little bit to the right. My father regarded the man who was killed in his foxhole as much of a hero as he was. Trump would say, “I like people who aren’t killed.”

Only a stupid man could believe that.

2. For Trump to denigrate McCain’s service when he took every possible step to avoid service in the same war is especially nauseating. The ethical values being rejected here are fairness and respect. John McCain displayed courage, patriotism, devotion to civic duty, selflessness and integrity that Trump could not. It’s really that simple. Trump lacks any standing to criticize Senator McCain’s war record.

3. On ABC this morning, Donald Trump was asked about his habit of name-calling and using personal insults as his response to political criticism. He justified his incivility by evoking the Tit for Tat excuse: if you insult him, he’ll insult you, and that includes calling you fat, old, stupid, or–his favorite—“a loser.” This is playground ethics, worthy of a 12-year-old. Your duty to be fair, civil and ethical is not reduced by the unethical conduct of someone else, even when it is aimed at you. Ethical people understand this, often before they are 20. Ethically, Trump is a case of arrested development. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: CBS’ Major Garrett

major_garrettDuring President Obama‘s Iran deal press conference,  CBS’ Major Garrett broke ranks with his softball lobbing colleagues  by asking, “Why you are content with all the fanfare around this deal to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?”

President Obama flared, reprimanding the reporter by snarling, “That’s nonsense, and you should know better.”

Garret was immediately criticized for being disrespectful. CNN’s Dana Bash criticized her colleague,  opining that “There’s a fine line between asking a tough question and maybe crossing that line a little bit and being disrespectful, and I think that happened here.” Bill Maher ran to fetch the typical weapon of last (first?) resort employed by Obama apologists since January, 2009: the race card. “Major Garrett is a huge asshole,” he tweeted.  “If U wanna “strike a nerve” with POTUS, why not just scream the N word? That should get his attention.” Garrett has been unapologetic.

No doubt: it was a hostile question. A decade or more ago, I might have thought it crossed a line. But the issue Garrett raised was an important and obvious one in the context of the President once again cockily taking a victory lap over a dubious achievement, and for this citizen, at least, it gave me hope that the mainstream media’s days of serving as a virtual Pravda to a leader’s every move might be slowly coming to an end. The media’s deference to this President has been disgraceful and has undermined our democracy, public discourse, trust in the press  and the right to know what our government is doing. CBS’s Steve Kroft actually admiited—proudly!—that his “60 Minutes” was a favored venue for Obama because he knew that he would be treated with kid gloves. Continue reading

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A Brief, Depressing Follow-Up On The Iran Deal

mushroom-cloud

I have been reading a lot about the Iran deal, hoping against hope that I just don’t understand it, and that it might be more responsible than it seems, because it seems to be astoundingly irresponsible.

Comes the Washington Post editorial board, reliably supportive of the President—any Democratic President, really–and a good bet to find the silver lining in any cloud. Surely, if this agreement isn’t the crowning, most dangerous incompetence on the mountain of incompetence that is the Obama Presidency, the Washington Post will move that mountain aside to show why.

Here are some direct quotes from this pro Obama, pro-Iran deal editorial by a liberal media standard bearer:

If the transformation of Iranian behavior the president hopes for does not occur, the deal on its nuclear program may ultimately prove to be a poor one — a temporary curb that, when it lapses, will enable a dangerous threshold nuclear state that poses a major threat to the United States and its allies.

In other words, the deal does not ensure this “transformation” will occur, the U.S. has no control overwhwether the “transformation” does occur, and the treaty doesn’t have anything in it that will compel such a transformation. Keep your fingers crossed.

 Its most immediate effect will be to provide Tehran with up to $150 billion in fresh assets from sanctions relief over the next year, funds that its leaders will probably use to revive the domestic economy but also to finance wars and terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, the Gaza Strip, Yemen and elsewhere.

Gee, what a great deal.

Though Mr. Obama has promised to mitigate that outcome with new support for Israel and U.S. Arab allies, one effect of the deal may be an increase in the sectarian bloodshed wracking the region, as well as the conventional threat to Israel. When embargoes on arms and missile sales to Iran expire in five and eight years, that threat could further escalate, and Tehran could seek missiles capable of striking U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf or reaching the U.S. homeland.

That’s what the treaty allows, mind you.

These strictures, according to the administration’s experts, will keep Iran a year away from producing a weapon during that time — provided that it does not cheat by secretly conducting nuclear work elsewhere.Because Iran twice has been caught in such clandestine work, that is a critical concern — and the provisions for deterring and detecting violations are the areas in which Tehran fought for, and won, some troubling compromises. International inspectors seeking access to a suspected Iranian site could be delayed by a 24-day, multi-step process ultimately requiring five votes on an eight-member committee; at a minimum, the United States and four European representatives would have to concur. While a U.S. president could, in theory, unilaterally determine that Iran was cheating and force the reimposition of U.N. sanctions, it could take 65 days and might prove politically unworkable.

Wow! I see another Peace Prize!

 Mr. Obama settled for terms far short of those he originally aimed for.

This is what happens when you want a deal of any kind, and don’t have the guts to walk away.

Whether he is right in claiming that his successor in 10 or 15 years “will be in a far stronger position” with Iran will depend on whether his hopeful theory about its political future proves correct.

No, we can only judge the competence and reasonableness of an agreement at the time it is made. “We might get lucky” is no defense.

I’m convinced, and by The Washington Post: this was a craven, inept, dangerous agreement made by a foolish, desperate, deluded man and an tragically incompetent leader. The American people have an obligation to the entire world, and their children and grandchildren, to insist that Democrats join Republicans in killing it.

Later they can explain why they would again hand the nation over to a party that placed the fate of civilization in the unqualified hands of a President like this.

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Ethics Observations On The Iran Deal And Its Media Coverage

treaty1. Throughout the negotiations for the apparently now completed Iran nuclear deal, all I could think about is how it would have made my old negotiation professor, the late Adrian Fisher  (who negotiated the SALT treaty) throw up. He taught his negotiation class at Georgetown Law Center, where he was the Dean, that no advantageous negotiation can occur unless your side is willing to walk away from the table. It has been clear from the beginning that the Obama Administration was desperate for this deal for political purposes, not national security, which the treaty does not assist in any way.

Dean Fisher—and his frequent guests, like Averill Harriman— taught his class that deadlines were essential in the negotiation process, both as a tool to force the other side to make tough decisions, and as a demonstration of resolve.  In this negotiation, the U.S. repeatedly allowed “deadlines” to pass, with no consequences. That tells the Iranians all they need to know about the U.S.’s likely response when they violate the terms of the agreement, as they are certain to do, at least as long as this weak, feckless, posturing and irresolute President is in office.

Of course, to be fair, the Iranians had plenty of evidence on that score already, as did we all.  “Red line,” you know.

2. The administration admits that it does not trust Iran. GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, who opposes the treaty, stated that Iran has never kept any international agreement or promise,, and thus cannot be trusted to keep this one. Nobody is seriously disputing that. Under such conditions, the whole concept of the deal is irresponsible. Who signs a treaty that it seriously doubts the other side will obey? Graham called this is the equivalent of making a deal with “religious Nazis.” The comparison is apt, except that the Obama arrangement with Iran is in some ways even more reckless than the one Neville Chamberlain made with Hitler. At least Chamberlain believed—stupidly, naively—that Hitler wanted peace. The Iran deal is what the Munich treaty would have been if Chamberlain was pretty sure Germany would invade Czechoslovakia and Poland anyway.

Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” was a pathetic hope. Obama’s is more like a lie. Continue reading

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A Brief Statement Regarding Hillary Clinton And Ethics Alarms

An ethics professor just wrote to announce that he was ceasing to follow the blog because

“you have become a one note Hillary basher and compromised your disinterest.”

1. I do not bash Hillary Clinton. I accurately point out her serial unethical conduct and statements. I am an expert in non-profit ethics, and her foundation is unethical. I an an expert in government ethics, and her conduct in relation to both her foundation and her State Department e-mails were unethical. I am an ethicist, and she could not get through her first substantial interview without multiple deceits, misrepresentations and lies. Pointing these out, especially when the news media is not doing its job, is my duty and mission. Apparently a lot of people don’t know this woman is unethical. I am obligated to enlighten them if I can.

2. My main area of scholarship and my personal passion, is leadership and the American Presidency. The Democratic Party, to its shame, is trying to make this unqualified and corrupt woman President of the United States. Naturally this is of deep concern to me, as it ought to be for every American.

3. Even considering this, the blog has hardly been all-Hillary. I just checked: there have been exactly  three Hillary-themed posts in the last 50. FIFTY. Five-O. Gee, sorry, Professor, that the ethical corruption of the presumptive President of the United States occupies my ethics blog’s attention 6% of the time.

4. The Clintons’ master strategy for escaping all of their schemed and deceptions is to deny, obfuscate and throw up smokescreens until the public gets sick of the controversy, and tunes out. It’s a good, if cynical strategy, but it won’t work with me.

5. I will cease writing timely blogs about Hillary’s Clinton’s unethical conduct when

  • She stops lying.
  • The new scandals, schemes, and cover-ups stop materializing.
  • The news media starts doing its job.
  • The public shows sufficient comprehension of how corrupt she is.
  • She is no longer running for President.

And not before.

 

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