The Second Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The BEST of Ethics 2010

The Best in Ethics 2010. Not nearly long enough…but still a lot of men, women and deeds worth celebrating.

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year: Ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It took far too long, but a policy that forced soldiers pledged to honor and integrity to dissemble about who they were in order to serve their country was an offense to logic and ethics. Good riddance.

Outstanding Ethical Leadership: Billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who launched “The Giving Pledge” and successfully convinced an impressive—and still growing—number of their fellow tycoons to join their promise to give at least half of their wealth to charity.

Most Principled Politician: Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).It would be difficult to craft a more convincing clarion call for an end to hyper-partisanship, incivility, and slash-and-burn politics than Sen. Graham’s reasoned and heart-felt statement explaining his decision to vote for the confirmation of President Obama’s most recent Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan. The fact that Graham’s commitment to fairness and proportion has won him the unflattering designation of  “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) among Tea Partiers and conservative talk radio hosts is cause for alarm. Runner-Up: Sen. James Webb (D-VA). Among other things, Webb single-handedly killed the effort of some Democratic senators to hold the vote on the health care bill before newly elected Republican Senator Scott Brown could be seated, telling the press simply that such a tactic would be undemocratic and wrong. This aroused the ire of the likes of MSNBC’s liberal ranter, Ed Schultz, and others, but of course Webb was right.

Most Generous Elected Official: East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon. She gave an ailing constituent her kidney, and didn’t tell anyone until after she won re-election. She really did.

Whistle-blowers of the Year: Ven-A-Care. Over the past 20 years, the four principals of this Key West business have made whistle-blowing a significant sideline. In December, the company won its latest round of whistle-blowing against three drug companies under the False Claims Act, as the Justice Department announced settlements with Abbott, Roxane Laboratories and B. Braun Medical for $421 million. Even though the company gets a $88.4 million whistle-blower award under the statute, it has been saving the public money and has become, as The Wall Street Journal called it, the “bane of the drug industry.” Make that “the bane of the crooked drug industry.”

Most Ethical Radio Talk Show Host: John Bachelor, host of the John Bachelor Show. A quasi-conservative, Bachelor delivers nightly enlightenment on policy and politics with humor, insight, civil discourse with learned guests on both sides of the political spectrum, and is the perfect tonic for those who believe talk radio is only occupied by screamers, accusers, mockers and doomsayers.

Most Integrity By A News Anchor: Fox News’s Sheppard Smith, who  criticized his own network more than once for slanting the news.

Most Ethical Media Figure: Jon Stewart

Best Ethics Story of the Year: Umpire Jim Joyce and Detroit Tiger Armando Galarraga, and their rendezvous with destiny. First Joyce makes a courageous safe call on the final out of what looks like a history-making perfect game by Galarraga, proving the umpire’s  integrity, but also his fallibility: he blows the call. After the game, Joyce admits his mistake and accepts all responsibility and blame—a lesson in accountability. He apologizes to the pitcher, who expresses no rancor, only sympathy and forgiveness. Perfect!
The Kipling Award (given to the individual who most exemplifies the values of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If ”): Hunter Smith, a punter and holder unfairly fired by the Washington Redskins as their scapegoat for a botched field goal and a lost season, accepted blame that really wasn’t his and said: “I don’t want to make this too serious — we are talking about football here — but it is a moral duty on some level to tell the truth and to take responsibility. And I won’t go off too much on my values and things like that, but I believe that I’m a part of a generation, really, the Lawsuit Generation. Everything is somebody else’s fault. People that are my age — and a little younger, and a little older — want to blame somebody else, and they tend to want to self-protect. And I really reject that as a pattern of behavior, and as a pattern of morality. It’s not how I’m going to live my life. When I make a mistake, I’m going to own up to it. And really, that’s kind of what all this comes down to.”

Outstanding Sportsmanship : P.G.A. Golfer Brian Davis, who called an infraction on himself that nobody else saw, losing a chance at a championship as a result. That old saw about ethics being what you do when nobody is looking? Brian Davis lived it.

Most Gracious Under Fire: Conan O’Brien, who had every reason to leave the “Tonight Show” with bitter recriminations, yet did it with grace, wisdom, and dignity instead.

The Clarence Darrow Award (presented to outstanding conduct on behalf of the weak and powerless): Johnny Depp. The actor has used his celebrity to keep the media and public focused on the cases of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelly Jr. and Jason Baldwin Petersen, all convicted in Florida of killing of three 8-year-old boys, based on dubious evidence. In part to Depp’s efforts, a lower court was recently ordered to re-open their cases, thanks to new DNA evidence.

Ethical Actor Award: Liev Schreiber, who came down off a Broadway stage to attend to a stricken audience member. Sometimes the show doesn’t go on.

Most Passionate, Entertaining Ethics Commentary: This masterpiece, by Patrick, one of the angry (and astute) young men at the website Popehat.

Most Ethical Website: Factcheck.org. A repeat winner from last year. The Annenberg Foundation site ferrets out and exposes public lies of all sorts in the political wars, with no regard to party affiliation. Runner-Up: PolitiFact. Slightly more biased leftward, but awfully good nonetheless.

Most Ethics-minded Entertainer: George Clooney. Another repeat from 2009, but with new credentials. His substantial efforts to draw public, media, and U.S. policy-makers’ attention to the human rights issues and  looming violence in Sudan continues to be a remarkable example of a show business personality using his wealth, charm and fame to save lives.

The Forgotten Hero Award: Henri Salmide, 1919-2010. Salmide is the kind of hero they make movies about, and maybe some day they will make one about him. It will be a good one. In an amazing act of courage and principle, he betrayed his own Nazi commanders and foiled an attempt by occupying German forces to destroy the French city of Bordeaux and kill many innocent civilians. His life stands for the vital ethical rule that when you are in a position to prevent a great wrong, you have an obligation to act. We would do Salmide, society, and ourselves a great service if we  remembered his story, and told it to our children.

He truly represents the best of ethical conduct, in this or any year.

Now on to a more ethical 2011…

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