The Third Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2011 (Part 1)

Yes, it was Joe Paterno's year, all right.

Welcome to the Third  Annual Ethics Alarms Awards, recognizing the Best and Worst of ethics in 2011!

This is the first installment of the Worst; Part 2 is here. And the Best is here. 

2011 prompted more than 1000 posts, and even then I barely scratched the surface of all the ethical dilemmas and unethical conduct swirling around us. If you have other choices for the various distinctions here and in the subsequent Awards posts, please make them known.

Here are my selections:

Unethical Community of the Year:  Huachuca City, Arizona. Leading the way among American communities that believe, in their hysteria, that former sex offenders who have served their sentences are nonetheless fair game for persecution and the denial of basic rights as citizens and human beings, Huachuca County passed an ordinance that bans registered sex offenders from the use of all public facilities, including parks, school and libraries.  Runner-up: Obion County, Tennessee. Last year, Ethics Alarms gave the county runner-up status as “Unethical Community of the Year” for sending its volunteer fire department to watch a man’s house burn down because he had failed to pay a $75.00 fee. In 2011, it did it again. I swear: if Obion County hasn’t come up with a better system and this happens again in 2012, Obion County will get the title no matter what some other unethical community does.

Most Warped Ethical Values: The Penn State students who protested the firing of football coach Joe Paterno, because, you know, he was such a great football coach that a little thing like allowing a predatory child molester to run amuck on campus shouldn’t be blown all out of proportion. Runner-up: Ron Paul supporters.

Unethical Website of the Year: Lovely-Faces, the anti-Facebook stunt pulled by Paolo Cirio, a media artist, and Alessandro Ludovico, media critic and editor-in- chief of Neural magazine, to show how inadequate Facebook’s privacy controls were. To do it, they stole 250,000 Facebook member profiles and organized them into a new dating site—without the members’ permission. The site embodied “the worst of ethical thinking: taking the identities of others for their own purposes (a Golden Rule breach), using other human beings to advance their own agenda (a Kantian no-no) and asserting that their ends justify abusing 250,000 Facebook users, which is irresponsible utilitarianism.”


Most Unethical Use of Social Media: Special education teacher Jeremy Hollinger, who took to Facebook to ridicule his second grade students, compete with a photo of him looking moronic in one of his kids’ seizure helmets. Runner-Up: Jeff Cox, the Indiana Assistant Attorney General who tweeted that the National Guard should use “live ammo” on protesting public unions in Wisconsin. He said the tweet was meant as satire, and is now free to pursue his career in comedy unencumbered by the duty not to disgrace the justice system of the state that employed him.

Ethics Villain of the Year: ABC  late night host Jimmy Kimmel. I know, he’s a comedian, and what comedians do are by definition trivial. But Kimmel used his show to persuade irresponsible parents to intentionally upset their children by lying to them (on Halloween and Christmas) and to video their distress for the mirth of Jimmy and YouTube viewers. Nobody seems to be as outraged by this as I am, but never mind: lying to your kids, spoiling their most anticipated events, upsetting them and publicizing their distress for posterity is horrible, and Kimmel apparently will keep persuading people to do it until he’s stopped. Runner-up: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because I can’t give Joe Paterno the award in every category.

Most Unethical Republican Presidential Candidate: Newt Gingrich. It’s no contest, really. Newt has denied saying what he said, denied doing what he did (like lobbying for Freddie Mac), blamed his serial infidelities on his patriotism, and endorsed the policy of threatening judges who try to uphold the law. He’s in a class by himself. Runners-up (tie): Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain

Ethics Corrupter of the Year: Joe Paterno. When he came to his moment of truth, the man who was supposed to be the center of all that was good and ethical about Penn State chose the reputation of the football program over the welfare of helpless kids in peril, and pulled the entire administration and community down with him.

Integrity Meltdown of the Year: President Obama  And if I have to explain this one, you are either in denial, haven’t been paying attention, or work for MSNBC. Hint: Once upon a time, long ago, President Obama promised he would avoid divisiveness, and set new high standards in transparency and intolerance for unethical conduct.

Unethical School of the Year: Widener Law School, which allowed its Dean to carry out a vendetta against a professor for using her as a character in a class hypothetical, bringing shame on the institution, defying academic freedom. and de-railing the professor’s career.

Conflict of Interest of the Year:Judge Vaughn Walker, who ruled against California’s Proposition 8, the measure passed by the voters that banned

Judge Walker

same-sex marriage in the Golden State, despite being in a committed same-sex relationship himself, which he refused to confirm until after delivering his decision.

Most Ethically Clueless Corporation: AIG,  which continued its practice of using its taxpayer supplied bail-out funds for rich bonuses and perks, confident that the media and public already spent their fury on its shameless profligacy and this could occur with relatively little criticism. And it was largely correct. Runner-Up: The New York Times Corp, which fired its CEO and gave her 15 million in severance pay while cutting lower level jobs left and right—exactly the kind of conduct its editorial page and columnists rail against daily as the paper cheers on Occupy Wall Street. If there was an award for “Biggest Corporate Hypocrite, the Times would win in a walk.

Most Unethical Non-profit Organization: The Westboro Baptist Church, which disrupts the funerals of veterans by proclaiming that God condemned the deceased in retribution for America’s acceptance of homosexuality. In 2011, it received confirmation from the U.S. Supreme Court that the First Amendment gives it the right to be cruel, bigoted, stupid and disrespectful. Runner-Up: The American Cancer Society, which sneered at an atheist groups offer to raise a million dollars.

Most Unethical Judicial Decision: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which refused to reconsider its own opinion in U.S. v. Alvarez, declaring the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional. The Act made it a felony for anyone to wear a medal of valor he hadn’t earned or falsely claim to be a decorated military hero. The Ninth Circuit struck down the law on the ground that lying is protected speech. The U.S. Supreme Court will consider the case.

Most Unethical Lawsuit: The US Justice Department’s suit against Alabama to block the state’s tough anti-illegal immigration law. The U.S. government continues to refuse to establish a coherent policy regarding illegal immigrants or enforce the laws on the books, pandering to both the Hispanic voting block and corporations that want to continue exploiting illegals for cheap labor. Yet it refuses to allow the states, which suffer because of this cynical inaction, to act in the policy vacuum.

Most Unethical Parent(s): “Lotus,” the “Occupy Portland” protester who placed her 4-year-old child on railroad tracks to force an oncoming train to stop. Runner-up: Indianapolis mother Heather Query, who left her two boys locked in an over-heated car on a sweltering day, and then attacked a rescuer who was trying to get the car open to save their lives because she didn’t “mind her own business.”

The Kitty Genovese Award (given to the most outrageous and heartless example of a potential rescuer who refused to help someone in peril): 75 Almeida California residents, including firefighters, who stood on the shore and watched as a suicidal man named Raymond Zack waded into the ocean, and slowly allowed himself to drown.

Most Unethical Sports Figure: Yes, Joe Paterno.  Runner-up: Manny Ramirez, who had a banner year: he was caught using steroids for the second time, he retired rather than accept his punishment, and later in the year was arrested for physically abusing his wife.  He is a perfect example of why Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame has a character requirement. Unethical Sports Figure-in-Waiting: As last year, Lance Armstrong. There was more evidence that the All-American Hero was a drug cheat, but still not enough to establish him as one of the great sports frauds of all time.

Unethical Quote of the Year: Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.), who illustrated what is wrong with Congress—too many incompetent fools—while explaining how President Obama should deal with the deadlock in Congress—install a dictatorship, blow up the budget and hire all the unemployed to do, well, something. The jaw-dropping quote, which occurred in an interview with The Daily Caller:

“I hope the President continues to exercise extraordinary constitutional means, based on the history of Congresses that have been in rebellion in the past. He’s looking administratively for ways to advance the causes of the American people, because this Congress is completely dysfunctional. President Obama tends to idealize — and rightfully so  — Abraham Lincoln, who looked at states in rebellion and he made a judgment that the government of the United States, while the states are in rebellion, still had an obligation to function…On several occasions now, we’ve seen … the Congress is in rebellion, determined, as Abraham Lincoln said, to wreck or ruin at all costs. I believe … in the direct hiring of 15 million unemployed Americans at $40,000 a head, some more than $40,000, some less than $40,000 — that’s a $600 billion stimulus. It could be a five-year program. For another $104 billion, we bailout all of the states … for another $100 billion, we bailout all of the cities.”


I have to take a break after that. Part 2 is on the way.

26 thoughts on “The Third Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2011 (Part 1)

  1. Well, I don’t work for MSNBC, and I have been paying attention. I don’t think I’m in denial either. but to blame Obama for divisiveness? Would you heave blamed FDR for divisiveness on December 8?

    • It’s denial. All strong leaders are divisive in the ways FDR (Jackson, Lincoln, TR, Reagan…)was, but the class warfare, anti-corporate, anti-success, hyper-partisan rhetoric is exactly what Obama campaigned against, and he turned on a dime and decided to make it his theme because it wasn’t working, meaning that first time around he wasn’t genuine, or wasn’t committed to what he said. (I notice you’re not disputing the reversal on transparency or tolerating unethical conduct, like, say, his AG lying to Congress exactly like the last one?) And the category was Integrity. Integrity is hardly an indispensable leadership trait—nobody ever accused FDR (or LBJ, or Jefferson) of integrity. If you campaign on it, however, you should have to deliver.

      • Well, I thought we agreed on everything, but not on “class warfare, anti-corporate, anti-success, hyper-partisan rhetoric.” I have to give you transparency, but as far as the AG lying to Congress I’ve seen no evidence.

        Most seriously, I reject the class warfare label. Obama and most libs think that one of the main duties of government is to help the weakest in our society. We believe that the rich ought to pay more taxes–heck, I believe I should pay more taxes. Obama has never vilified the rich, just the anti-tax right, who deserves it.

        • Bob, the president specifically endorsed the Occupy movement, which DOES vilify the rich, and is based on class divisiveness. If you ratify a groups and its rhetoric, you own it. I don’t see how you can duck that.

          As for Holder, he stated under oath that he was never informed about Fact and Furious when e-mails proved he was. Then he said he didn’t read them. Then he retracted a sworn document he sent to the committee after it was proven to be false.

          NO evidence that he’s lying? Really? Aren’t you the trusting soul!

          • I don’t believe the Occupy movement vilified the rich at all–it’s position (to the extent that you can say it had a position) was that our society is screwed up, and our government, for ignoring the issues of “the 99%.) I agree with that and I know I’m not vilifying the 1%, of which I’m probably a member.

            • Wow, that’s more than generous. I’ve read a lot of Occupy rhetoric, and its pretty hateful, and often violent. The very 99% vs 1% theme is by definition class warfare. The only thing anyone can rely on to defend the position that this isn’t an anti-success, rob the rich, class warfare movement is to declare the most extreme rhetoric as “not official” and to embrace the most moderate rhetoric…but how can that be justifiable, when the group itself won’t make the distinctions clear? A President who endorses a destructive and confiscation-based philosophy such as is being advocated by OWS is embracing class warfare. You have to tie yourself into a philosophical and logical pretzel to deny it.


              • No pretzel I. As a member of the 1% I don’t see that talking about the 99% AND the 1% is class warfare. I suppose that VS rather than AND would certainly be adversarial (by definition, as you say), but that’s not why so many people have sympathized with Occupy. Our country has a bunch of serious problems involving a high and increasing inequality. That’s ethics, not class warfare.

                • I don’t see, and will never see, how inequality in achievement is per se unethical, which is the OWS argument. How much you make with your efforts and talents has no bearing on how much I make, and if I make less, that doesn’t indict the system or you. My wanting more BECAUSE someone else has more, regardless of what I have done, if anything, to warrant more is pure class warfare—it has nothing to do with ethics. What makes OWS class warfare is its shotgun, “everyone with money is bad, everyone without it is being mistreated” rhetoric. If we want to argue that executive salaries and bonuses are out of control, fine, I agree. That more should be paid to lower employees in comparison? Absolutely. That a grad student in puppetry should be guaranteed a good salary whether 1) he is any good and 2) whether his services are needed or desired is nonsense, and portraying otherwise is class warfare.

                  • Inequality in achievement is of course not bad, and I have no legitimate complaint if you make more than I. But you’re looking at the situation from the point of view of the individuals. I step back and ask, “What kind of society do we want to have? I’d like to have one where people who work hard and follow the rules can earn enough to provide food, shelter, and health care for a family. We’re moving away from that ideal.for a family.

                  • I don’t see, and will never see, how inequality in achievement is per se unethical, which is the OWS argument.

                    Citation needed. I believe the OWS argument is that wall street and big business have acted unethically and illegally not that success itself is unethical.

                    My wanting more BECAUSE someone else has more, regardless of what I have done, if anything, to warrant more is pure class warfare—it has nothing to do with ethics

                    That’s not class warfare, that’s envy.

                    What makes OWS class warfare is its shotgun, “everyone with money is bad, everyone without it is being mistreated” rhetoric.

                    I disagree that that’s the message.

                    That a grad student in puppetry should be guaranteed a good salary whether 1) he is any good and 2) whether his services are needed or desired is nonsense, and portraying otherwise is class warfare.

                    I’m with you. Who’s portraying otherwise?

                    Do you know what else is class warfare? Lying about what one class is doing to make them appear unethical.

                    • Either of us can cite almost anything as the OWS position, since it refuses to declare an official position–it’s “strength” and its weakness. That’s essentially my objection to it….a lot of time and exoense for an unarticulated, impractical, ever-shifting set of warmed -over socialist, anarchist, communist, or otherwise demonstrably nutty positions. Here’s one of many sets of “proposed” demands—it is bats. Some others are better; many are worse. But Obama’s with them all the way! :

                    • @Jack,

                      You’re taking the worst and claiming it is representative of the whole. That’s my specific complaint here.

                      Also, you are stating their argument is bad idea X, while also stating they don’t have any defined argument (inherently ruling out bad idea X).

                    • I agree. Which is the problem with arguing with jello, and why I resent HAVING to argue with jello.If one isn’t willing to define one’s stand, then why should one be given the benefit of the doubt?

                    • If we were talking about an individual, I’d be with you. Talking about a mass of people though? The same argument doesn’t fly.

  2. I just thought of something about Ronald Reagan.

    He made Crank Yankers, the show where puppets crank-call strangers and record it.

    Yeah, you might be right about him.

  3. The Apple Store employees who did not act on the cries for help during the Lululemon murder should get a least a dis-honorable mention for the Kitty Genovese Award.

  4. So, the trailer for Drive was dishonest and the movie wasn’t as “exciting” as it was advertised to be…..

    But Albert Brooks is getting Academy buzz for his role in that movie. Strange.

  5. Paterno did not allow a child molester to run “amuck”. He is accused of letting a molester run”amok”.

    It is from Malay language (also Punjabi), and describes a frenzy of uncontrollable rage — supposedly from smoking “bhang” or drinking “bhang tea”..

    • First of all, Tom Fuller is the official pedant at Ethics Alarms. If you want the job, you’ll have to fight it out with him. Second, “run amuck” is in the dictionary as a perfectly legitimate alternative to “amok.” Third, I have always used “amuck” as homage to Chuck Jones, whose “Duck Amuck” cartoon, in which Daffy is tormented by a sadistic cartoonist (revealed at the end to be Bugs Bunny, won an Academy Award.

      So there.

      • That only took you 10 minutes to respond to. Were you chomping at the bit to get that one? I’m sure you could care less about proper word usage, and that you decimated Curmudgeon. Its not like its degrading the English language any. L8ter d0Odz.

  6. I always learn from the master. I shunned amuck in favor of amok, having assumed that the Malay original was the correct English form and that amuck was a variant. So, in my elusive quest to prove Jack wrong, I checked my American Heritage Dictionary for proof that amok was correct and amuck was only a variant.

    I was wrong. Amok is the variant.

  7. Only one major disagreement, Jack. I think that Huachuca City did the right thing. The unethical part is with the law and courts who let sex offenders back onto the streets, knowing full well that the recidivism rate among these creatures- the child predators in particular- is astronomical. If a city chooses to protect its women and children through discouraging sex offenders in that manner, so be it. The pity is that they have to resort to such indirect measures. This is what happens when the laws fail in the duty in protecting the innocent and helpless.

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