The final categories in the Worst of Ethics 2010. Coming up: The Best of Ethics, 2010.
(If you missed Part 1 of the Worst, go here.)
Worst Ethics Presentation: “Ethics in Politics: An evening with Former Governor Rod Blagojevich” (Presented to its students by Northwestern University)
Most Unethical Parent(s): Torry Ann Hansen. She adopted her seven-year-old son from an orphanage in Russia, but he was hard to control and sometimes violent. She put him on a plane alone, with a note to Russian authorities, and returned him like a defective piece of merchandise, shutting down Russian adoptions as a result. Runner-Up: Tiffany Teahan, who faked her death to run off with her lover, abandoning her one-year-old infant and husband. That’s right: Kate Gosselin, Michael Lohan and even the Biking Vogels don’t make the cut. This is one tough category. (And yes, the most unethical fictional mother is the one who takes her daughter’s green shirt in the Tide commercial…)
The Kitty Genovese Award (given to the most outrageous and heartless example of a potential rescuer who refused to help someone in peril): The three Seattle transit system security guards who watched as a young woman was severely beaten by three girls.
Most Unethical Sports Figure: LeBron James. It is understandable for a professional athlete to leave his team and devoted fans for greener pastures. It is unforgivably disrespectful and unfair for the athlete to go out of his way to humiliate and denigrate them in the process. Unethical Sports Figure-in-Waiting: Lance Armstrong. If it turns out that he was a steroid cheat all along, he’ll have the 2011 award locked down by June.
Most Unethical Entertainer: Jay Leno. After masquerading as a nice guy and graciously announcing that he would step down from the “Tonight Show”, at the end of his NBC contract, to let Conan O’Brien take over, Leno undermined his successor by agreeing to a nightly prime-time version of the talk show. Then, after both his new show and O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” got off to slow starts, he agreed to take the Tonight Show back, effectively torpedoing O’Brien a second time. Through it all, he never communicated with O’Brien or apologized; he just followed the money. His mistreatment of Conan was the epitome of betrayal, misrepresentation and double-dealing, and Jay Leno should never be looked upon as a “nice guy” again.
Ethics Train Wreck of the Year: The “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy. Supporters unjustly accused all critics of being racists, critics unfairly accused the project’s organizers of trying to celebrate the World Trade Center’s destruction, the organizers showed a stunning insensitivity to the public’s emotional response to the planned structure, and the media fanned the flames vilified one side or the other. President Obama made an ill-considered entry into the morass (as he also did during last year’s winning Train Wreck, the Gates affair), Whoopie Goldberg and Joy Behar managed to make Bill O’Reilly seem reasonable by walking off the set of “The View” when he tried to explain why the project bothered people, and the controversy is still festering. Runner-Up: The Shirley Sherrod firing
Most Uncivil Public Figure: Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC.), who physically manhandled a young man who asked a question that displeased him on the streets of Washington, D.C. Runner-Up: Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tx), who shouted “Baby killer!” at Congressman Bart Stupak, when Stupak announced that he was throwing his support behind the health care reform bill.
Clintonian of the Year: Newly-elected Connecticutt Senator Richard Blumenthal, whose explanation for his repeated statements falsely claiming to be a Vietnam veteran was that he “misspoke.”
Most Irresponsible, Unfair, and Uncivil TV News Commentators: Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann (Tie) Beck’s worst: his extended smear of liberal cause philanthropist George Soros. Olbermann’s worst: his over-the-top and factually dishonest condemnation of Republican Scott Brown, later elected to the U.S. Senate for Massachusetts. Both Beck and Olbermann had many such moments; both contribute greatly to the level of political intolerance and rancor in America.
Most Unethical Cable News: MSNBC, barely edging out Runner-Up Fox News. Both had disgraceful moments in 2010, but MSNBC took the prize by suspending Olbermann for “compromising his journalistic objectivity” when he made campaign contributions to some progressive candidates. The policy and the suspension for violating it, applied to a blatant shill for progressives like Olbermann, shows a network that doesn’t have the courage or respect for its audience to be up front about what it is. Unlike Fox News, MSNBC doesn’t employ any non-ideological or objective journalists, like Fox’s Chris Wallace. It uses blatantly partisan commentators like Olbermann and Rachel Maddow as reporters, and apparently believes it can pass them off as objective.
Biggest Lie of the Year: Health care reform “would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.” This statement by President Obama in his State of the Union Address, and later statements by others making similar claims, were intentional distortions used to sell the controversial bill to the American people, using unwarranted assumptions and overly-optimistic projections. Less than two months after the bill passed, the Congressional Budget Office discovered $115 billion more in costs related to the bill than it had reported as the bill was about to be voted on; nobody was surprised. The deficit reduction claim rests on future Congresses having more courage and discipline that all of their predecessors. It presumed that this massive set of regulations, unlike all previous measures of similar scope, won’t be significantly more expensive than initially claimed. The lie was flagged at the outset, cynically maintained, and it worked. In three years, five, or ten, nobody will dispute that it was the most audacious and most significant lie of 2010.
Most Unethical Scientist (s): Climate scientists. We learned in 2009 that he same people who publicly insisted that their global warming models and estimates were a matter of consensus told each other in e-mails that there were serious discrepancies in the data, and plotted to suppress contrary opinions by scientists who weren’t convinced by the majority’s certitude. We learned this year that the climate change scientists have even more doubts about their data, not that they admit that this justifies skepticism or dissent regarding their conclusions. Their arrogance and unprofessional conduct has unraveled much of the public’s confidence in their integrity, and even worse, the integrity of scientists generally. Runner-Up: Harvard professor and renowned evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser, who was revealed to have falsified data in a major study.
The Pazuzu Award (bestowed on the public figure who denies responsibility for his or her actual words, claiming that they did not express what he or she really believes; named for the demon that possessed Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” ) : Journalist and Washington legend Helen Thomas, who claimed her anti-Israeli comments were not representative of her feelings toward Jews. Months later, however, she told an audience that Zionists “owned” the White House, Congress, Hollywood and Wall Street, thus relieving Pazuzu of all responsibility for her earlier remarks.
Animal Bigot of the Year: “Daily Beast” contributor Charles Leerhsen, who wrote two calls for “pit bulls” to be eradicated based upon one incident and his willful ignorance of dog breeds and canine behavior, which his articles doubtlessly spread to others.
Unethical Trend of the Year: Deceptive, misleading euphemisms and pejorative phrases.