Ethics Notes on a Busy Week

  • Sen. John McCain, who had well-earned credibility on military matters,  released a statement after the State of the Union address saying that “it would be a mistake” to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” as President Obama pledged, and added…

“This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”

John, John, John. You have, in other interviews, stated that you served with many gay soldiers who performed their duties with distinction, so the current policy continues a form of bias and discrimination without any  justification. The fact that it may be “successful” is not sufficient reason to continue a practice that is unethical, unfair, and a violation of the principles of civil rights. Success is no excuse for violating core ethical principles; one of the primary justifications for the U.S. allowing torture, an outright violation of the Declaration of Independence, was that it was “successful,” an argument you properly rejected.

  • In his campaign to win back his “good guy” image after looking like the villain in NBC’s ouster of Conan O’Brien from “The Tonight Show,” Jay Leno told America’s Confessor General, Oprah, that he told a “little white lie” when he announced in 2004 that he would retire in five years to hand the show over to O’Brien. He always assumed, he said, that he would do another show after leaving. It isn’t a “white lie” when a misrepresentation causes everyone involved to assume facts, intentions and motive that aren’t true. Would O’Brien have waited five years to get his shot if he knew Leno would hang around to skim off a chunk of the Tonight Show’s audience and to provide a redundant and weak lead-in by moving his show to 10 PM? Jay’s “white lie” did a lot of damage, which means it was just “a lie.”
  • Kudos to Princeton for making a principled effort to beat down grade inflation, which is unfair, rampant, and out of control. The losers in grade inflation are the outstanding students who can’t prove their superiority when everyone else has A’s, and employers who have no way to distinguish the excellent from the very good and the average. The argument that fair grades put students at a disadvantage when competing against students from other schools that give inflated fake-A’s is simply an “Everybody does it” excuse for continuing a dishonest and irresponsible system.  Princeton is taking a bold stand for the integrity of higher education.
  • Fox News inexplicably cut away from coverage of President Obama’s confrontation/grilling/heart-to-heart with House Republicans this week, despite the fact that the event was arguably more significant than the Stae of the Union itself. Whatever the reason—disrespect, terrible news judgment, a commitment to start showing “Heidi,” this did nothing the counter White House claims that Fox is not a responsible news organization. Independence is ethical; arrogance and incompetence are not.
  • President Obama’s message in both this meeting and his address to Congress that the government must work to overcome an atmosphere of cynicism and distrust was accurate and important. However, the fact that at the same time as making this observation he encouraged both cynicism and distrust by such deceitful statements as pledging to “freeze government spending” when he had proposed freezing only 15% of government spending, or declaring that deficit reduction was a top priority while simultaneously endorsing expensive new initiatives and entitlements, such as forgiveness of student loans, a tax credit for college tuition, a  nationwide high-speed light rail system, and of course, the health care bill. It isn’t that the President was doing anything markedly different from his predecessors in this, for such double-talk is the political norm and has been for centuries. But the political norm is what has created the toxic levels of cynicism and distrust that Obama condemned.

Question: What does a president accomplish by making disingenuous statements and cynically misleading his audience as he warns against distrust and cynicism?

Answer: He creates more cynicism and distrust.

  • And finally, after a bad stretch of columns endorsing or excusing various forms of dishonesty, “The Ethicist” managed not to be unethical this Sunday. Keep up the good work, Randy. May it be the harbinger of a most ethical week to come.

One thought on “Ethics Notes on a Busy Week

  1. Whew! You might put these in separate posts to make responses easier. But here I go…

    1. Gays in the military: Can’t we all just grow up? Gays have made important, integral contributions to our society for generations. Let them come out of the closet and be recognized for the good citizens they are. Does anyone really think that gay men put their lives on the line to serve their country so they can ogle and/or hook up with other men? This is becoming an increasingly anachronistic, ridiculous discussion.

    2. Jay Leno: Won’t ever watch his show again. He is a liar, greedy, and cares not one whit about others in the industry he displaces. I sincerely hope he fails in his new time slot. Time for him to retire, and let the really amusing hosts take their rightful places.

    3. Yale and grade inflation: It has been decades since complaints about grade inflation at Harvard have been discussed. It is time for the Ivy League and the other associations of colleges and universities to get together on this. NO college can honestly assert that 75% of their students graduate with 3.8 averages. Who are they kidding? Unfortunately, potential employers don’t ask the question, and they should. If I were interviewing a Princeton/Harvard/Yale graduate who presented me with a 3.9 graduating average, I WOULD ask, “And how many of your fellow graduates left with a 3.5 average or better?” That might take the applicant back a bit, and I’d insist they do the research and report back to me.

    3. Fox News: Ridiculous. Just as Fox was gaining a bit in its “fair and balanced” reputation, it has to pull a stunt like this. One step forward, five steps back.

    4. Obama administration: All this nonsense about a “new” transparency (something promised in the campaign but never delivered) is simply replaced by double-talk. One might be able to say he is parsing his words (e.g. Clinton), or that he’s not actually lying, but it IS deceit. And so we have three more years of this. Terrific. How can this administration be surprised at the cynicism of the voters? Answer: arrogance, and a firm belief that we’re all morons.

    5. Randy, Randy, Randy. Since you have decided to become a self-proclaimed ethicist, do your research. There are a multitude of books out their to help you. And incidentally, one good piece of advice out of about 20 bad ones, is NOT a good record. Maybe you should change your title to “The Accidental Ethicist,” or “The Intern Ethicist.” It would be more honest, don’t you think?

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