Now THIS Is What They Used To Call “Appearance of Impropriety”…

"So, Miss Scarlet!! At last you confess your guilt in this heinous crime! Now that that's over with, would you care to join me for dinner tonight?"

The prohibition against attorneys engaging in conduct that creates “the appearance of impropriety” was eliminated from the legal ethics rules (though not the judicial ethics rules) a long time ago, almost 30 years.  Periodically a case will arise in which its absence is felt. The nice thing about the appearance of impropriety category is that it was flexible enough to use to sanction lawyers who figured out ways to make the profession look slimy without running squarely afoul of other rules…like  San Diego prosecutor Ernie Marugg.

Marugg, it is alleged, used his defendants list as his little black book…seeking romantic relationships with the women he prosecuted after their trials were over. His habit was investigated one, but no specific ethical violation could be found. What would it be? Was he too easy on the women he was duty bound to prosecute zealously? One woman who pleaded guilty when Marugg prosecuted her  is now suing him, claiming that his personal  interest in her  caused him to be biased against her. Huh? How does that work? “You always hurt the one you love,” as the old song says? Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Martin Scorsese

One of the most respectful and compassionate acts a human being can perform is to rescue the memory and achievements of a great man or woman from obscurity. Not only does this confer deserved longevity on the legacy of someone who has contributed something good and lasting to civilization and culture; it also is a gift to the rest of us, enriching our knowledge and perhaps providing us with inspiration as well.

This is what Martin Scorsese does for the early French film pioneer Georges Méliès in his new movie, “Hugo.”  The film is a fictionalized account of how Méliès, a producer, director, actor and special effects innovator, was rediscovered by film-lovers and his countrymen after years of discouragement and depression. In a nice piece of irony and symmetry, Scorsese’s film duplicates the phenomenon his movie describes. Forgotten after World War I, Méliès and his work were celebrated late in the 20’s, and he received long overdue acclaim and recognition, including France’s Legion of Honor. After his death in 1938, his contributions to the art and craft of cinema faded from public awareness a second time. Once again, thanks to “Hugo,” the public is learning Méliès’s name and being delighted and inspired by his creations. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Compassion Bullies Strike Again!”

Beware that slippery slope!

Ethics Alarms is blessed with an unusually wise, articulate, philosophically diverse and often cantankerous readership. One of the luxuries this affords me as that I do not have to raise every single relevant issue in an ethics commentary, because I can be reasonable certain that a commenter will raise it, often with a perspective that I had not considered. Among benefits, this keeps my posts from being even longer than they already are. An example of this phenomenon  is this comment from Mike Martin, on yesterday’s post regarding the family that bullied US Air into refunding non-refundable tickets because the mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. My first draft of the post had discussed the important  issue Mike raises, but I decided to stick to the main topic, the conduct of the Compassion Bullies.

Here is his Comment of the Day, on “The Compassion Bullies Strike Again”:

“The question now is: how does US Air like its position on the proverbial slippery slope? Continue reading

Ethical Quote of the Week: Will Wilkinson

After the headlines and the drama, the real grunt work of democracy begins...or not.

“…now that the Occupy movement has succeeded in shining a spotlight on its primary concerns — rising inequality, political corruption, and debt peonage — Occupiers and their allies now ought to pull up stakes, give up their whimsically undemocratic semi-privatization of public spaces, and endeavor to reform public policy through the democratic institutions established to make the collective determination of binding public rules legitimate. Moving on to seek reform through established democratic channels would require giving up the insolent and frankly disrespectful presumption that these often radically left-wing congregations somehow represent not only a majority of Americans, but 99% of them. It would require Occupiers to square up to the fact that their movement’s implicit ideology is an ideology, and a minority ideology at that — just one among our society’s many rival moral and political worldviews. The intransigence of the Occupy movement suggests an unwillingness among its numbers to take seriously the fact of pluralism, and the corollary impossibility of consensus, which makes majoritarian democratic procedures necessary in the first place.”

Blogger Will Wilkinson, in his essay, “The Occupy Movement’s Enthusiasm and Contempt For Democracy” on (Think Big).

You can read the entire essay by Wilkinson, who is much more supportive of the Occupy movement than I am, here.

Good thinking, good work.

The Compassion Bullies Strike Again!

(I know everyone is going to hate this.)

"Be compassionate, damn you!!! This thing is loaded"

Having a terminal illness does not justify bullying corporations into waiving fair and valid contracts, and using the media and public opinion to extort money out of companies that they have no obligation to surrender is unethical.

Sorry. But it’s true.

US Air has capitulated to a classic example of compassion bullying and agreed to refund the non-refundable airline ticket Lynn McKain purchased as part of a family vacation to Belize. This occurred after the McKain family sicced the media on the airline when a recurrence of breast cancer caused Lynn to cancel the trip on doctor’s orders. She requested a refund based on her misfortune, although there was nothing in the deal that suggested that there were exceptions to the ticket’s non-refundable features. Then, after the airline politely declined to waive the terms the McKain’s had agreed to in order to pay discounted ticket fees, the family alerted the media, with predictable results. There were heart-wrenching stories about McKain’s cancer treatment, making out the airline as an avaricious, mean-spirited cabal of inhuman monsters.

Finally, the airline gave in. It had no choice; the media and the McKain’s would keep the pressure on, making the episode a full-fledged public relations catastrophe, unless it did. The Compassion Bullies won, as they almost always do. Don’t think for a moment that this is good triumphing over wrongdoing, however. It is the opposite. Continue reading

OK, So the Vengeful Tattoo Artist Story Is A Web Hoax. It’s Still A Great Ethics Topic.

This comment was received on the post about the tattoo artist who tricked his cheating girlfriend into letting him draw a steaming pile of manure on her back:

"Never mind!" Wait, Emily---not so fast!

“You are all dumb. This is fake and I called it fake the first time I saw it. And guess what? The Smoking Gun did a little research and concluded that it is also fake. There appears to be no such person with the “victim’s” name in existence and nobody with the guy’s name. Further, the photo of the girl with the tattoo was first found as a submission on a blog about 18 months ago for “worst tattoo of the day”. And, further, they contacted the court in the jurisdiction where this allegedly happened and there has not been and is not any lawsuit filed with the names of either person nor about a tattoo like this. In other words, the story was made up on a website to generate hits and google ad generation (they’ve done this type of thing before).

Sort of makes all the arguments up above pointless.”

Since whoever this charming individual is didn’t include a name or a valid website, I deleted his comment, and since he had to be obnoxious while delivering this information, I’m not thanking him. But he was right, and his information was correct: the story is probably a hoax. The Smoking Gun did some digging, and exposes the deception here.

The commenter is also wrong, in several ways. Nobody is dumb. Web hoaxes are despicable and hard to catch, and especially hard for a site like Ethics Alarms to catch, a one-man, unfunded operation that is not a news source. I’m glad the commenter is puffed up with pride because he wasn’t fooled; the fact is, somebody somewhere refuses to believe every story, from moon landings to Elvis’s death. Sometimes they are right. I’m not impressed.

Mostly, however, he is wrong about the arguments generated by the story being pointless. Continue reading

Now Here’s A Terrible Idea: Mandated Disclosures for Photoshopped Images of Celebrities!

And if you look real closely at the lower left corner, you'll read, "The model for Venus was a short, middle-aged bald man named Gino. His appearance was altered by the painter in the creation of this painting."

Here is another candidate for enshrinement in the Pantheon of Well- Intentioned But Terrible Ideas.

In an article published Monday in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” Dartmouth researchers Hany Farid, a professor of computer science, and Eric Kee, a doctoral student, propose a rating system of publicly displayed photographs of models, actors and celebrities to let viewers know exactly how and how much an image has been altered by photoshopping, airbrushing or other means.

“Impossibly thin, tall, and wrinkle- and blemish-free models are routinely splashed onto billboards, advertisements and magazine covers,” the two write. “The ubiquity of these unrealistic and highly idealized images has been linked to eating disorders and body-image dissatisfaction in men, women, and children.” In the interest of limiting the damage caused by unrealistic images of human beauty, the researchers argue that graphic images should include labels that disclose  “geometric adjustments” such as slimming legs, hips and arms, as well as adjusting facial symmetry—reducing a nose in size, or slightly enlarging eyes.  Users of such photos should also flag photometric adjustments that change the appearance of skin tone, blemishes and texture, such as wrinkles, dark circles under the eyes or cellulite, say the researchers.

Please, for the love of God, nobody introduce these guys to Sarah Deming and her lawyer, who are suing the distributers of the film “Drive” because the trailer was more exciting than the movie. And let us all remember this proposal when we are tempted to pooh-pooh accusations that the government is regulating creativity, commerce, art and enterprise right out of existence, and with them, individual liberty as well.The tea parties should use Farid and Kee’s article for recruitment. Continue reading

Cain’s Mistress: Don’t Blame The Media This Time

One of the side-effects of the news media’s routinely displayed lack of fairness and integrity is that its motives can be challenged even when it does its job properly. The media itself is completely at fault for creating this opportunity for spin artists to confuse the public with blame-shifting arguments, but the blame-shifters are shameless and despicable.  Thus we have to listen to a conservative talk radio barrage of accusations that Ginger White, the woman who has surfaced with the tale of a 13-year long affair with Herman Cain, was “dug up” by “them” in a coordinated effort to “get” a rising black conservative. This morning, such claims were proliferating all over the AM dial.

Politico opened the door for this, of course, with its unsourced, anonymous, still detail-free account of sexual harassment complaints of an undefined nature filed against Cain and settled over a decade ago. The stories never should have run without names and facts, and the subsequent appearance of other Cain accusers can’t change that. Publishing such a story, in violation of basic journalistic ethics principles, was unfair, and did look like a media hit job, though when the media is involved, Hanlon’s Razor (“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”) applies. As William Jacobson wrote over the weekend, Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Wall Street Journal Blogger James Taranto

Useful fact: Mitt Romney is running for President, and Maureen Dowd isn't. You can't use her to judge his ethics, just as you shouldn't use him to judge her hair.

Oh James, James. What am I going to do with you? For the third time this year you have barged into Ethics Dunce territory, surely a place one of the most consistently perceptive, witty and reasonable of conservative commentators never belongs.

But what is an ethicist to do when you attempt to trivialize an outrageously dishonest and misleading campaign ad by Mitt Romney, in which a statement by President Obama [ “Sen. McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote: ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,’ “referring to the 2008 economy under Bush ] is edited to suggest something completely different [ “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,” implying that “we’ means the Democrats] from what he was really saying, by showing that other politicians and New York Times columnists play the same unethical game? So what? How do the unethical journalistic practices of the Times columnists you deftly expose on a regular basis in any way make Romney’s ad less reprehensible? Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Month: Herman Cain Attorney Lin Wood

What's that you say, Mr. Wood? Marital infidelity is irrelevant to a presidential candidate's qualifications? Did John Edwards tell you that?

“Mr. Cain has been informed today that your television station plans to broadcast a story this evening in which a female will make an accusation that she engaged in a 13-year long physical relationship with Mr. Cain. This is not an accusation of harassment in the workplace – this is not an accusation of an assault – which are subject matters of legitimate inquiry to a political candidate. Rather, this appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults – a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life. The public’s right to know and the media’s right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one’s bedroom door. Mr. Cain has alerted his wife to this new accusation and discussed it with her. He has no obligation to discuss these types of accusations publicly with the media and he will not do so even if his principled position is viewed unfavorably by members of the media.”

Attorney Lin Wood, on behalf of his client Herman Cain, in a statement to Fox News in response to its  interview with a Georgia woman, Ginger White, who says she had a 13 year adulterous relationship with the Republican presidential contender.

Sorry, Mr. Wood. You are dead, dead wrong. Continue reading