Welcome to the first annual Ethics Alarms Awards, recognizing the best and worst of ethics in 2009! These are the Worst; the Best is yet to come.
Untrustworthy Elected Official of the Year, Governor’s Division: Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC). A runaway winner in a traditionally tough category. He abdicated his duties to take a romantic jaunt to South America; lied about it and had his aides lie about it; used public funds to help finance his mid-life romantic crisis; publically humiliated his wife by refusing to shut up about his “soul mate;” and refused to do the right thing and resign. Runner Up (TIE): Two now ex-governors… Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK), not because of the multiple ethics complaints against her, because most of those were political harassment, but because she had a duty to finish the job she was elected to do by the people of Alaska, and quit to sell books, line her pockets and become a star on the conservative speaking tour; and Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill), because…well, you know.
Untrustworthy Elected Official of the Year, House of Representatives Division: Rep.
Charles Rangel (D-NY). Whatever the threshold is for ethical violations, cover-ups and shady financial dealings we can tolerate in an otherwise admirable legislator, Charlie’s crossed it.
Untrustworthy Elected Official of the Year, U.S. Senate Division (TIE): Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), whose extra-marital affair with the wife of an aide triggered clandestine extortion payments to the aide through his parents, and alleged efforts by Ensign to help the aide engage in lobbying activities in violation of federal law; Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) accepted a tainted appointment to his seat by about-to-be-impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich, and lied to the Senate to get in the door, claiming under oath that he had engaged in no quid pro quo discussions with the governor’s aides regarding his appointment, then later changing his story.
Unethical State Legislature: New York State Senate. Did you hear the one about the billionaire power broker who got annoyed when a Democratic senator from Queens kept playing with his Blackberry during a meeting, so he used his financial clout to talk two other Democratic senators into switching parties, giving the Republicans a majority? The two: Hiram Monserrate, then accused and later convicted of slashing his girlfriend in the face with a broken drinking glass, and Pedro Espada Jr., fined multiple times for the illegal use of campaign funds and accused of, or under investigation for, numerous other infractions, including money laundering and misuse of a non-profit organization for personal gain. But the Democratic president of the Senate had the keys to the Chamber, and locked the Republicans out, causing a stalemate that froze stage funds and lasted for five weeks. Eventually a deal was cut that gave control back to the Democrats: it made Espada, he of the habitual funny business with funds, Majority Leader.
I’m not making this up.
Unethical State: New Jersey. No contest. When three New Jersey mayors, two state assemblymen, a governor’s aide and five rabbis (yes, it sounds like a Henny Youngman joke) are arrested for a massive money-laundering scheme spanning three continents and involves political corruption, bribery, prostitution and more, Louisiana, New York, Connecticut, Nevada, Alaska and the other contenders are left in the dust. As a special bonus, 2009 also saw a former state assemblyman, Neil Cohen, who had introduced child labor legislation, stand trial for five counts of child porn.
Warped Values of the Year: Roman Polanski Supporters. Clueless Hollywood worthies like Debra Winger, Martin Scorsese, Whoopi Goldberg and Woody Allen wanted us to weep for the fugitive film director because Swiss authorities finally arrested him for his three decades-old rape of a 13 year-old girl. Their arguments, ranging from the claim that he had “suffered enough” practicing his art in Europe while on the lam to the excuse that drugging an admiring and trusting teen model and using her as his sex toy “wasn’t rape-rape” (Goldberg), should be repeated every time a Hollywood celebrity weighs in on public policy. Runner-Up: William Jefferson Supporters. Until he was defeated for re-election at the end of 2008, this bizarre group still included the Congressional Black Caucus. Jefferson, who finally went to prison for taking a bribe, refused to resign his seat after $90,000 of the bribe during a videotaped meeting was found in his freezer. They were still cheering “Dollar Bill” on right up to his conviction.
Conflict of Interest of the Year: West Virginia Supreme Court Judge Brent Benjamin, who wouldn’t recuse himself from adjudicating a law suit involving the man who spent three million dollars to get him elected judge, and then ruled in favor of his biggest fan. In the case of Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Company, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this indeed created an appearance of impropriety.
Unfathomable Professional Incompetence of the Year: the Securities and Exchange Commission. This is the year we found out that every conceivable warning sign was there to alert the S.E.C. that Bernie Madoff was running a massive scam, and it blithely ignored them, allowing him to destroy lives, families, and dozens of charities. Runner-Ups: The two pilots on Northwest Airlines Flight 188, who fell asleep, were arguing about politics or were playing “Twister” while their plane full of passengers overshot its destination and flew on autopilot for three hours. It doesn’t get more unprofessional than that…
Most Ethically Clueless Corporation: AIG. Need I say more?
Most Unethical Non-profit Organization: ACORN
Most Unethical Sports Figure: Tiger Woods. As if cheating on his wife, hurting his sport and presenting a false image to the public weren’t enough, studies indicate that Tiger’s meltdown cost stockholders on the companies he represented billions.
Most Unethical Entertainer: David Letterman. First he refused to apologize for making a sexual joke about Sarah Palin’s youngest daughter, calculating that his audience wouldn’t care if he mistreated a mean old conservative who liked to shoot guns. Then he revealed himself as a serial sexual harasser and adulterer, while making a joke out of it.
Most Unethical Publicity-Hound (TIE): Richard Henne, who recruited his young children and wife in the “Balloon Boy” hoax; Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the couple who faked their way into a White House dinner, embarrassing the Secret Service and White House staff and, as with Henne, inducing the tasteless but predictable news media to beat the story to death until everyone was thoroughly sick of it and them.
Unethical Mother: Octomom (Nadya Denise Doud-Suleman Gutierrez). Producing high-risk multiple births for fame and profit…
Unethical Father: Michael Lohan, who released his surreptitiously taped phone calls with troubled daughter Lindsay Lohan and her mother, Dina Lohan, supposedly to get Lindsay “help,” but really to try to get himself on the celebrity gravy train. Runner-Up: Levi Johnson. The father of Sarah Palin’s grandchild was hell-bent on embarrassing his son, his son’s mother and famous grandmother in every way possible, from providing fodder for Palin-haters, to posing in “Playgirl,” to giving interviews that will have his son cringing for the rest of his life, all for the pathetic compensation of being an E-list celebrity, two levels below Jon Gosselin.
Ethics Train Wreck of the Year: The Gates Incident. Black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates gets cranky when questioned by an investigating white police officer after breaking into his own home; is rude, uncooperative and accuses officer of racism; officer gets annoyed at verbal abuse and arrests him; professor falsely portrays incident as racial profiling; conservative and liberal pundits go to war, and President Obama condemns the white cop without knowing the circumstances. Everyone was wrong; everyone loses. Yeeesh. Runner-Up: Health Care Reform. Misrepresentations, lies, and fear-mongering on both sides; back-room deals, phony figures, and two inexcusably huge bills that even its most fervent advocates didn’t read.
Most Uncivil Public Figure: Rep. Joe (“You lie!”) Wilson (R-SC.) Runner-Up: Rapper Kanye West, who leapt on stage and grabbed the microphone from singer Taylor Swift at the MTV Awards, then told a live TV audience that Swift didn’t deserve the award she had just won.
Clintonian of the Year: Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano, who made the Clintonesque argument that when she said “the system worked” in the attempted terrorist attack on a Northwest passenger plane preparing to land in Detroit, she only meant that the system worked after it failed to stop a Nigerian from boarding the flight who had already been flagged as a security risk, and about whom his own father had warned international authorities, and who checked no luggage, bought his ticket on the same day of the flight and paid with cash, all classic red flags for terrorist suspects, and who had explosive materials in his underwear. She also generously included the Dutch passenger who leaped over seats to foil the attempted bombing as part of “the system.”
Most Unethical Newspaper: The Washington Post. There’s nothing like showing journalistic objectivity by seeking pay-to-play fees for lobbyists to party with Obama officials at Post sponsored “salons”! Would an ethical organization even consider such a thing?
Most Unethical TV News: CNN, though an argument could be made for any of them. CNN gets the nod for its remarkable range: shamelessly avoiding news stories embarrassing to liberals, like Sen. Baucus’s affair with a staffer and his nomination of her to serve as a U.S. attorney; its support of the wildly unethical Susan Roesgen, who “reported” on a 2009 “Tea Party” protest by angrily defending the Obama Administration and pronouncing the event “anti-CNN”; its tolerance of conservative host Lou Dobbs giving extended publicity to “birther” claims; its anchor, Anderson Cooper, snickering while using a gay term for oral sex to describe the “Tea Party” protesters; and its insult to intelligent, competent women everywhere, leaving its CNN Headline News morning show in the hands of the gorgeous, sexy, and vacuous Robin Meade, who reads news like she is reading the minutes of the high school pep club.
Most Ethically Clueless Cable Channel: Nickelodeon, which was prepared to go ahead and have its “Kids’ Choice Awards” honor singers Chris Brown and Rihanna after Brown had been arrested for beating up Rihanna, his girlfriend, and after she announced that she was prepared to re-unite with him. Brown had the sense to withdraw his name from the nominations.
Unethical Social Network: Facebook. First it tried to grab all its users’ content, then it established sneaky new “improved” privacy settings that make it easier to leave personal information available to all without intending to. The up-side? It will soon teach everyone to read the small print.
Most Useful Social Network for Unethical People: Facebook. Using undercover Facebook “friends” to check on employees, college applicants, bar applicants, witnesses, and more reached epidemic proportions.
Ethics Polluter of the Year: Former Senator John Edwards. He drew his campaign manager, aides and wife into a web of lies and corrupted them all.
The Naked Emperor Award: Al Gore. America’s #1 advocate for climate change legislation demonstrated that his knowledge of earth science is on par with that of any sixth grader who hadn’t seen Al’s documentary, as Gore announced on network TV that the earth’s core was “millions” of degrees and that the ice caps would be gone in a few years. It is dishonest to pretend to be an expert when you’re really only a mouthpiece. Did they give a Nobel Prize for Medicine to anyone who said, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV?”
Most Unethical School: Bountiful Junior High School. It was revealed that two teachers in this Utah school had sexual relations with the same 13-year-old male student. One such incident can mean that a bad egg slipped through. Two means the school can’t tell a trustworthy teacher from a sexual predator , and either needs an ethics overhaul or to be converted to a warehouse.
Unethical Odd Couple of the Year: Perez Hilton and Carrie Prejean. He put a beauty contestant (Prejean) on the spot with a politically-charged question that had no place in the Miss USA pageant and then savagely attacked her for answering honestly; she cashed in on her unexpected celebrity by pandering to the anti-gay marriage lobby, defaulting on her duties as Miss California, and lying about her past.
Unethical Trend of the Year: Fear-mongering