Category Archives: Quizzes

Ethics Quiz: The Case Of The Fabricating Anchorman

The key question in any ethics problem is usually “What’s going on here?” With Brian Williams’ bizarre admission that he had been telling a false story involving his experience covering the Iraq War for over a decade, it’s impossible to say with confidence what is going on.

We know this: Williams told viewers on his evening news broadcast last week about an incident when he was covering the Iraq war, saying that a helicopter he was flying in was hit and forced down by an RPG. After the broadcast, soldiers began complaining on Facebook:

Screen-Shot-WilliamsScreen-Shot-Williams 2

“Stars and Stripes” noticed, investigated Williams’ account and found it to be false. Williams quickly apologized, both on Facebook and in his Wednesday broadcast. Here is his Facebook recant:

“To Joseph, Lance, Jonathan, Pate, Michael and all those who have posted: You are absolutely right and I was wrong. In fact, I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy. I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in ’08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp. Because I have no desire to fictionalize my experience (we all saw it happened the first time) and no need to dramatize events as they actually happened, I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area — and the fog of memory over 12 years — made me conflate the two, and I apologize. I certainly remember the armored mech platoon, meeting Capt. Eric Nye and of course Tim Terpak. Shortly after they arrived, so did the Orange Crush sandstorm, making virtually all outdoor functions impossible. I honestly don’t remember which of the three choppers Gen. Downing and I slept in, but we spent two nights on the stowable web bench seats in one of the three birds. Later in the invasion when Gen. Downing and I reached Baghdad, I remember searching the parade grounds for Tim’s Bradley to no avail. My attempt to pay tribute to CSM Terpak was to honor his 23+ years in service to our nation, and it had been 12 years since I saw him. The ultimate irony is: In writing up the synopsis of the 2 nights and 3 days I spent with him in the desert, I managed to switch aircraft. Nobody’s trying to steal anyone’s valor. Quite the contrary: I was and remain a civilian journalist covering the stories of those who volunteered for duty. This was simply an attempt to thank Tim, our military and Veterans everywhere — those who have served while I did not.”

Research has revealed that Williams has been telling various versions of the story for over a decade, sometimes saying he was in a helicopter behind the one hit by fire, sometimes saying, as he did on the David Letterman show last year, that he was actually a passenger on the helicopter forced down. Thus his Facebook apology is misleading, and the one he gave last night even moreso. At Powerline, John Hinderaker explains:

This is the statement that Williams read on-air tonight:

“After a groundfire incident in the desert during the Iraq war invasion, I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago….”

No: Williams has been telling the false story since shortly after the incident occurred. He told it for the last time, not the first, last week.

“It did not take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in that desert….”

Not since last Friday, but it took a decade or more since Williams first told the false story.

“I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by [rocket-propelled grenade] fire. I was instead in a following aircraft. . . .”

Again, Williams tries to mislead: his “following aircraft” landed an hour after the one that took the hit from the RPG.

“This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and, by extension, our brave military men and women, veterans everywhere, those who have served while I did not…”

A bungled attempt last Friday evening at the Rangers game. Williams implies, once again, that this was the first time he has told the false story. But he is on video telling the same story at least 13 times since 2003.

Williams’s on-air apology, like the Facebook version, was disingenuous. I doubt that it will help him in the long term.

Hinderaker, a prominent conservative political blogger, believes that Williams is certain to be fired as a result of the controversy, the convoluted details of which you can read about here, here, and here in addition to the Washington Post story linked above.

I’m not so sure that he will. Should he?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is…

“Can Brian Williams be trusted after this?”

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Quizzes, War and the Military

Bias Check

Confirmation bias

Detecting and overcoming one’s own biases is one of the most important features of being ethical. “Bias makes you stupid,” after all, and stupidity can make you unethical. As the author of an ethics blog, this is of special concern to me, as I am constantly making choices that bias could seriously affect. Some of those choices include what issues and events have ethics components, which are most important to publicize, how should the ethical issues be analyzed, what conclusions are fair and reasonable, even how long a particular post should be, what authorities and references should be included, and what style—scholarly? humorous? bemused? indignant? outraged?—will best illustrate a point.

As regular readers here know, I can be harsh, often too harsh, when a commenter dismisses my commentary as partisan or ideologically motivated. First of all, it isn’t, and I resent the accusation. Second, it’s a cheap shot, essentially attacking my motives, objectivity and integrity rather than presenting substantive arguments. Third, it is a simpleminded approach to the world in general, and democracy in particular, and life, presuming that “there are two kinds of people,” and one type is always wrong, while the other type is always right. There is nobody I agree with all the time, and I am far from alone in that trait. People who agree with the same people all the time are not really thinking. They are just taking the easy route of picking sides, and letting others think for them.

Obviously, my approach to controversies, problems and ethical analysis are influenced by thousands of factors, including my parents,  my upbringing,  where I have lived,  teachers, friends, and family members, experiences, books, plays, movies and popular culture, interests  and passions (like leadership, American history, and baseball), what I’m good or successful at and I’m not, and so much else. These are not biases: once such influences mold your way of looking at the world and passing through life, they are, in fact, who you are. I’m comfortable with who I am. I just don’t want biases making me me stupider than I am.

Thus I am always interested in trying to identify where I stand on a the ideological scale. Some of my conservative friends think I’m liberal; all of my liberal friends think I’m conservative. Two sides again: I am confident that it is their place on the scale that leads to those perceptions. Today I encountered another test that supposedly divides liberals and conservatives sharply.  It comes from political scientist and philosopher James Burnham’s  1964 book “The Suicide of the West.” Burnham was one of those radical leftists who did a complete reversal in middle age and became an influential conservative theorist. You are asked to agree or disagree with these 39 statements, and the result reveals your ideological bent.

Here are the questions: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Quizzes, Race, Rights, U.S. Society, War and the Military, Workplace

Ethics Quiz: The New England Patriots’ Loophole Victory

Cap Anson would have loved the Patriots strategy. If he wasn't dead, of course. And if they had football when he was alive....

Cap Anson would have loved the Patriots strategy. If he wasn’t dead, of course. And if they had football when he was alive….

On Saturday night, the New England Patriots ran a series of plays that exploited the complicated receiver eligibility rules, confusing the Baltimore Ravens and officials, and allowing the Pats, who were trailing badly, to get back into the game. They eventually won in a thriller.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was so upset during the sequence that he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Later, he stopped just short of calling new England coach Bill Belichick a cheater. “[I]t’s a substitution type of a trick type of a thing,” Harbaugh told reporters after the game. “So they don’t give you the opportunity, they don’t give you the chance to make the proper substitutions and things like that. It’s not something that anybody’s ever done before. The league will look at that type of thing and I’m sure that they’ll make some adjustments and things like that.”  Indeed, the NFL will investigate whether the officiating crew gave the Ravens proper notice that an eligible Patriots player would be ineligible for a given play.

Let me quote NBC Sports to explain what happened: I barely understand it myself: Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: The 90-year-old Scofflaw Humanitarian vs. The Heartless Mayor Who Isn’t Really

Seiler

[Fred, one of my two regular ethics issue scouts (Alexander Cheezem is the other, and what I would do without their assistance, I do not know: thank you, thank you, thank you, guys!), flagged this classic ethics conflict several weeks ago.]

Some sources reported that a “90-year-old man was arrested for feeding the homeless.” This set off typical fact-free indignation on the social media and talk shows, not to mention the angry e-mails from around the world: Charity illegal???  A kind old man arrested just for trying to help the poor! Cruelty!!! ARGGGHHH!!!

Naturally, this was not what really happened.

For 23 years, since he was 67, 90–year-old Arnold Abbott and his non-profit organization, Love Thy Neighbor, have provided food for the homeless at a public beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Wednesday of every week at 5:30 p.m. This year, on October 21, the City of Fort Lauderdale Commission passed an ordinance that banned such food distributions in public. The ordinance required that organizations distributing food outdoors would have to provide portable toilets for use by workers and those being fed. It’s a health and safety regulation, for the benefit of homeless and vulerable. A few days after the ordinance took effect, on a Wednesday, at a bit after 5:30 PM, Abbott  was approached by police officers and cited for violating the ordinance. He was not arrested. He was told that he must appear in court.

After Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler was called everything from a monster to a Republican (he’s a Democrat), someone finally asked him what the ordinance was all about and questioned his police department’s treatment of the kindly senior. “We hope he feeds, ” Seilor said. “He has a very valuable role in the community. All we’re saying is he can feed the next block over. He can feed at the church. We want them to be in safe secure settings. We wanted them to be in a sanitary matter. We them to have facilities available before and after.” That seems reasonable.

Seiler has also offered an explanation for the ordinance, which was backed by the Chamber of Commerce, that sounds more, well, Republican, saying that  providing the homeless food in public only enables homelessness, and that Fort Lauderdale wants the homeless to use government and church services. “If you are going to simply feed them outdoors to get them from breakfast to lunch to dinner, all you are doing is enabling the cycle of homelessness,” Seiler says. Well, that’s debatable, but it isn’t unreasonable.

Still,  it’s hard to teach old humanitarians new tricks, and Arnold is defiant. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, Quizzes, U.S. Society

Pre-Election Ethics Quiz: The Campaign Fortune Cookie

I have not authored the usual number of unethical campaign tactics indictments this time around. One reason is that their desperation while facing an almost certain GOP wipe-out has led Democratic Party candidates into far more questionable devices than the confident Republicans as the Blues have increasingly defaulted to race-baiting, Koch brothers attacks, scare-mongering on everything from guns to contraception, and the “war on women” chorus. Combine that with the popular integrity breach of  Democratic incumbants virtually pretending that they never heard of the Democratic President in the White House, and I was faced with giving more ammunition to those who accuse me of partisan bias. Looking at the poll projections, it appears that the worst offenders—Wendy Davis, Allison Grimes, Mark Udall, and Mary Landrieu among them—will get their just desserts from voters without additional alarms from me.

Speaking of desserts: this campaign tactic is worthy of note. A loyal Rhode Island reader inquires if I have any ethical problems with the campaign of Allen Fung, the Chinese-American GOP candidate in the closely contested Rhode Island governor’s race, delivering thousands of fortune cookies to Rhode Island Chinese restaurants that look like this when you open them

fortune-cookie-fung

So your Ethics Alarms Pre-Election Ethics Quiz is the question asked of me:

Is there anything unethical about this?

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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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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Popular Culture, Quizzes

Ethics Quiz: “I Don’t Know What This Cover Means, But It Must Be Racist”

COVER-CANADIAN Law

The recent thread regarding the supposedly racist Boston Herald cartoon has prompted me to ponder how much we are obligated to know what was, is and will be considered offensive, and whether the cultural rules or guidelines regarding this are fair or clear. That post is in the works, but this one interposed itself.

The latest issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine  features a cover story about the lack of diversity on the Canadian bench. Above the Law joins outraged students, lawyers and civil rights advocates in being convinced that the cover is racist.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today:

Is it?

Continue reading

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