Happy New Year, and welcome to the Second Annual Ethics Alarms Awards, recognizing the Best and Worst of ethics in 2010!
This is the first installment of the Worst; the rest will appear in a subsequent post. (The Best is yet to come.)
Unethical Community of the Year: Itawamba County, Miss. The high school, the public and government officials all conspired to exclude a young woman from experiencing her senior prom because she was gay. In the end, they sent her and her date to a fake prom, complete with school chaperons, while most of her classmates attended a privately organized prom in a secret location. Runner-up: Obion County, Tennessee. Ethics Alarms impulsively awarded the “Unethical Community of the Year” title in October to Obian County for letting a man’s house burn down because he had failed to pay a $75.00 fee. But the award can’t stand: Itawamba County was worse. Obion County only deserves to come in second.
Most Warped Ethical Values: The defenders of Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater.
Unethical Website of the Year: Wikileaks, naturally. Runner-up: Cook’s Source, now defunct, which routinely stole the work of others and published it. When its editor, Judith Griggs, displayed the astounding bad manners and arrogance to insult one author who complained, by telling her that she should be grateful that her original article received badly needed editing, the World Wide Web community rose up in indignation, driving both editor and website to richly deserved oblivion.
Most Unethical Use of Social Media: The Facebook page that promoted “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” This was a juvenile and arrogant stunt that gratuitously offended innocent Muslims by insulting their sacred religious tenets, increased tensions between the United States and Islam, and made a fugitive out of Molly Norris, the cartoonist who came up with the idea in jest and was hit with a fatwah after her satiric “day” was turned into reality by others. The protest accomplished nothing constructive, but did plenty of damage, all of it predictable. Runner-Up: Hadley Jons, the Michigan juror who used Facebook to tell the world that she was looking forward to pronouncing the defendant guilty—before the trial was finished.
Ethics Villain of the Year: John Edwards. Nobody else is even close, but the Runner-Up has to be Jesse James, Sandra Bullock’s cheating ex-husband
Warped Values of the Year: The Congressional Black Caucus. C.B.C. members saluted Rep. Charles Rangel even as he was disgracing the House of Representatives with multiple ethics violations, and the Caucus sought to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics when too many of its members came under scrutiny for unethical practices. When you represent the citizens of the United States and take an oath to uphold the laws, being honest is more important than being black. Unfortunately, the Congressional Black Caucus hasn’t figured that out yet. Runner-Up: Rich Iott, defeated Tea Party candidate for Congress in Ohio, who really admires Nazi soldiers.
Corrupter of the Year: Rep. Charles Rangel. Refusing to do the responsible, courageous thing and resign his position, Rangel remained defiant in the face of unchallenged proof that he had used his office for personal gain, misused his high position, and failed to pay taxes. As a result, he forced Democrats, constituents and even the media to support a corrupt Congressman as well as his rationalizations that “everybody does it,” and that he was being unfairly singled out.
Integrity Meltdown of the Year: Sen. John McCain. A sad spectacle indeed: since losing his run for the presidency in 2008 and having to face a strong challenge from the Right in seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate, the celebrated Arizona maverick reversed long-held positions in favor of creating a route to citizenship for illegal immigrants, reversing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and ending the low Bush tax rates on upper-income Americans. He didn’t change his mind because of sudden epiphanies of clarity, either. He just wants to stay in the Senate. True, McCain held fast to other principles, like opposing earmarks, but those were the ones his critics on the Right supported too. Integrity means being true to your core values even when it is inconvenient or unpopular. Once upon a time, that description fit Sen. John McCain. As of 2010, this was no longer true.
Unethical School of the Year: Silsbee (Texas) High School, which kicked a cheerleader off its squad for refusing to cheer a star athlete who had raped her.
Conflict of Interest of the Year: The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is simultaneously running an initiative to reduce the consumption of fatty foods in the diets of increasingly obese Americans, and financing efforts by the dairy industry to get Americans to eat more cheese. Runner-Up: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tx), who knowingly gave educational scholarships that were supposed to go to needy students in her district to her own grandchildren and the children of her staff members.
Most Ethically Clueless Corporation: Goldman Sachs, which not only sold their clients what the company later admitted were lousy investment products, but made more profits by betting the company’s own funds that the products would fail. Nevertheless, executives told a Senate committee that this was perfectly ethical, despite a company Code of Ethics that promises integrity, honesty, trustworthiness and complete loyalty to customers. This was because a well-hidden provision of the company’s policies allowed it to waive the Code whenever it felt like it. To Goldman Sachs, the waivers made violating the Code of Ethics ethical. Runner-Up: BP
Most Unethical Non-profit Organization: The Republican National Committee. Among other ethical outrages perpetrated by the Committee under its incompetent Chairman, Michael Steele, was a fundraising mailer designed to trick recipients into believing it was the official Census questionnaire. After the U.S. Congress voted unanimously to ban such deception because it threatened to undermine the Census (in addition to being jaw-droppingly sleazy), the R.N.C. put out another fake Census mailing, using the excuse that the law only prohibited misleading words on the envelope, whereas the new mailing had them inside the envelope, showing through a transparent “window.” Runner-Up: National Public Radio, for its hypocritical, biased, unfair firing of Juan Williams for the dual offenses of 1) speaking the truth, and 2) doing so on politically conservative Fox News.
Most Unethical Judicial Decision: Justice Paul Wooten. The Manhattan judge ruled that a four-year old could be sued for negligence, because there is no legal precedent holding otherwise.
Most Unethical Lawsuit: Arturo Carvajal, a Miami doctor who sued a Miami Beach restaurant for serving him an artichoke without warning him that he shouldn’t eat the whole thing, spiny leaves and all. If he wins, and all future diners have to endure spoken or written warnings not to eat lobster shells, steak bones, or plates, we will know who to blame.
(To be continued in The Worst, Part 2)