Tag Archives: conflicts of interest

White Christmas Ethics (UPDATED)


I just watched“White Christmas” again when my wife wasn’t around (she hates it), and was again struck by how entertaining it manages to be while making no sense at all and containing one ethics breach or gaffe after another. Ethics Alarms did an ethics review of the film in 2012, and reading it now, I realize I was too kind. This is an update.

Yes, I still get a lump in my throat when the old general, played by Dean Jagger, gets saluted by his reunited army unit, which has gathered at his struggling, snowless, Vermont inn on Christmas Eve to remind him that he is still remembered and loved. Nonetheless, it is by far the strangest of the Christmas movies, and also the most unethical. Though everything works out in the end, the characters in the sloppy plot spend the whole movie lying, extorting, betraying, manipulating and generally mistreating each other, always with no recriminations at all, and usually with no consequences either.

The movie starts out with guilt extortion. Army private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) rescues his smooth-singing captain, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) from being crushed by a falling wall in a World War II bombing raid. (It’s not a plot feature, but the battlefield set for the entire opening sequence is itself unethical by being chintzy even by musical standards: it looks like they are filming a skit for a Bob Hope Christmas Special.  I thought it was lousy when I saw it as a kid.) Phil then uses Wallace’s debt of gratitude to coerce him into accepting the aspiring comic as a partner in Wallace’s already successful civilian act. This is obviously unfair and exploitative, but Bing accepts the ploy with good spirits, and the next we see  the new team of Wallace and Davis knocking ’em dead and rising in the ranks of stage stars. Now they have a show on Broadway, and as a favor to a mutual army buddy, they agree to watch the boonies nightclub act of “The Haynes Sisters” (Rosemary Clooney as Betty. and Vera-Ellen, of wasp-waist fame, as kid sister Judy. Did you know that in the “Sisters” number, Clooney sang both parts? ). Bing is immediately smitten with older sister Rosemary, but there is a tiff over the fact that younger sister Judy fooled them into seeing their act: she, not her brother, had sent the letter asking for a “favor.”

This is the first revealed of many lies woven into the script. This one is a double beach of ethics: Judy uses her brother’s name and contacts without his permission or knowledge, and lures Wallace and Davis to the night club under false pretenses.

Bing dismisses Judy’s cheat by noting that everyone “has an angle” in show business, so he’s not angry. Rosemary is, though, and reprimands Bing for being cynical. That’s right: Vera/Judy uses their brother’s name to trick two Broadway stars into watching their little act, and Rosemary/ Betty is annoyed because Bing/Bob (Bing’s bandleader, look-alike, sound-alike brother was also named Bob) shrugs off the lie as show business as usual. True, Betty is technically correct to flag the Everybody Does It rationalization, but shouldn’t she be grateful that Bob isn’t reaming out the Haynes sisters and leaving the club in a huff? OK, nice and uncynical is better than nice and cynical, but Bob is still giving her and Judy a break.

As we soon find out, however, Betty is prone to flying off the handle.

Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Popular Culture, Workplace

“The Good Wife” Jumps The Ethics Shark

jumping the shark

I saw this coming several seasons ago- that the once ethically challenging CBS legal drama “The Good Wife” was on the way to strapping on Fonzie’s old water skis and jumping the old Ethics Shark. Sure enough, after being able to watch the show irregularly and being either confused or disappointed when I did, I finally got a chance to watch an entire episode last night. The Shark has been officially jumped and TGW is no longer bothering to check with its legal ethics consultants. This is known as “The David Kelley Syndrome,” as all of that producer’s legal dramas, “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal,” etc, begin plausibly and end up in the Legal Ethics Twilight Zone as the writers run out of ideas.

In last night’s episode, “Cooked,” Good Wife Alicia’s defendant was charged with making GHB. He claims innocence because he wasn’t making authentic GHB, but a GHB-like substance,without the same chemical compound as GHB itself and thus less dangerous.  Alicia explains the law to him, which is that he would be better off if his intent was to make GHB but he  ended up with the pseudo GSB by mistake, instead of successfully making the possibly illegal GHB-like drug intentionally.  She says that he needs to be clear which he did, and tells him to tell the truth.

This is the common, much criticized defense lawyer tactic called “The Lecture” in the novel “Anatomy of A Murder.”  A lawyer is bound to explain the law to his or her client, and that sometimes means educating a client regarding how to “remember” what happened.

Then Alicia discovers that her defendant isn’t who he claims to be. He’s an FBI agent, and he’s part of an FBI sting to prove the judge in the case is taking bribes. She says she’s going to tell the judge about his false identity (and also that the charges were fake) so he tells her and that if she blows his cover, he’ll tell the judge that she suborned perjury by  giving “The Lecture.” She backs off, and agrees not to tell the judge.

Suspend her.

1. If she has a personal interest (Rule 1.7) that conflicts with her duty to protect client confidences (Rule 1.6), like her conflicting duty as an officer of the court to report a fraud on the court, a.k.a. THE WHOLE CASE, then the least she must do is withdraw under Rule 1.16. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Professions

Why Don’t People Understand What’s Unethical About Nepotism?

Bing and family

I suppose it is part of the larger problem that people don’t understand what’s wrong with conflicts of interest, and thus fall into them too easily. At its core, nepotism always, always, creates a conflict of interest for the supervisor, boss or manager, or leaves a strong suspicion of one, which is just as bad, the epitome of “the appearance of impropriety.” Nepotism simultaneously destroys the organization’s members’ trust in leadership—Was he or she objective? Was love and loyalty to a child rather than merit and the best interests of the organization behind the decision? Were there objectively better candidates? Will this bias harm me? —and the hired, no matter how good or qualified the son or daughter may be. If the organization declines and heads have to roll, the suspicion will always be that favoritism protects the offspring. If the organization is successful, there will still be a widespread belief that Sonny Boy or Darling Daughter is whispering in the parents’ ear, a mole, on the side of the parent rather than subordinates. Nepotism almost always destroys any organization’s morale, trust, and cohesion.

Why is this so difficult? It is spectacularly obvious, and the only defenses that are ever offered are… Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Family, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Sports

AMAZING TALES Of The Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck: The Whistleblower Protection Agency That Punished Its Own Whistleblower

whistleblower_From the Ethics Alarms mail bag: A commenter asks, “Is there any department, agency or bureau of the executive branch that hasn’t become thoroughly corrupted during the regime of Obama?”

I don’t know, but I suspect not, and this AMAZING TALE supports that conclusion.

The Merit Systems Protection Board is a personnel court of last resort for federal employees who claim that they were unjustly fired, demoted, discriminated against or punished for bucking cultures of corruption in government departments and agencies and revealing, reporting or addressing misconduct by administrators and managers. It’s an agency that exists to bolster courage, integrity, transparency fairness and justice in government, so one would assume that the MSPB would either be as popular in this administration as a toothache, or, in the alternative, so corrupted by the culture emanating from this White House that it cannot be trusted any more than any other agency comfortably seated on board the Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck.

Here is a clue as to which: Continue reading


Filed under Workplace, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Ethics Train Wrecks, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee

Ethics Heroes: Five Democratic Economists

Senator Warren, who is always right.

Senator Warren, who is always right.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass)  was annoyed that Robert Litan, a nonresident and unpaid economics fellow at the reliably liberal Washington think tank, the Brookings Institute, dared to author a study critical of financial advisor regulations being pushed by Warren and the White House. Thus she sent a letter to Brookings last week, challenging the independence of the study and the integrity of Litan, since the study was, as Litan states up front, “supported by the Capital Group, one of the largest mutual fund asset managers in the United States.”

Warren called the report “highly compensated and editorially compromised work on behalf of an industry player seeking a specific conclusion.”

You know, unlike the various donors to Warren’s political war chest, who are not trying to buy specific policies and votes from her.

Literally hours after receiving the letter, Brookings, knowing which side of the bread its butter was on, dutifully forced Litan to resign.

The issue isn’t whether the policy Warren wants is a good one or not; personally, I tend to agree with Warren on the need for the regulation, which would make 401(k) and 403(b) advisors as well as other compensation-related retirement plan advisors be subject to fiduciary duties. the issue is Warren’s embrace of the increasingly popular tactic from the Left of dealing with adversaries by silencing them. Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, Research and Scholarship

Tales of The Corrupted: David Ignatius’s Hillary E-mail Scandal Whitewash, PART TWO….And, As Usual, The Sequel Is A Horrible Disappointment

David Ignatius: Liar, undisclosed Clinton operative, disgrace. Your move, Washington Post.

David Ignatius: Liar, undisclosed Clinton operative, disgrace. Your move, Washington Post.

This, it turns out, is even worse than I thought. Ignatius, whom I once respected, is more corrupted than I thought. The mainstream news media’s shameless and unethical enabling of Hillary Clinton’s lies and misconduct is worse than I thought, and I already thought it was bad.

In this post, I highlighted an op-ed column by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, which used classic rationalizations to argue that Clinton’s conduct wasn’t a “scandal’ because 1) it wasn’t a crime; 2) if it was a crime, it was unlikely to be prosecuted; 3) everybody does it, and 4) the public is used to such misconduct, so it can’t be a scandal.

One of Ignatius’s sources, extensively quoted, was, in his words, “Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel who’s now a partner at Arnold & Porter, where he often represents defendants suspected of misusing classified information.”

What I didn’t know, and Ignatius’s readers didn’t know, but Clinton knows, and Smith knows and Ignatius definitely knew but intentionally didn’t disclose to his readers, was that Jeffrey Smith… Continue reading


Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

Interview Ethics: CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Shows Why News Anchors Need Training In Basic Ethics, Not To Mention Journalism Ethics


This morning, as I rush to get my act to together to fly, sick, to Rhode Island where the bar will allow me to teach ethics to its members in the first two of three planned seminars, I made the mistake of checking in on CNN’s New Day to see what trouble Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota could get themselves into. Sure enough, there was Allison interviewing Oklahoma Senator Jim Lankford regarding Republican efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood over the revelations of the surreptitiously taken “sting” videos showing various Planned Parenthood personnel seeming to haggling over the prices for tiny little human organs successfully harvested from embryos whose tiny wittle heads have been crushed juuuust right. These individuals discuss unborn human beings with the sensitivity a normal person bestows on a Jimmy Dean sausage, but Planned Parenthood acknowledges that they need to practice a more pleasant tone in case somebody who cares about these inhuman organ bags is listening.

Is that an unfair characterization?

Let me know why you think so.

But I digress…

Camerota’s questioning demonstrated in multiple ways just how ethically ignorant the highest levels of our broadcast journalism are: Continue reading


Filed under Bioethics, Childhood and children, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Philanthropy, Non-Profits and Charity, Professions