The 2011 Ethics Alarms Awards for the worst in ethics continues (you can catch up with Part I here) with the large and depressing…
Shameless Bad Character Division
Jerk (defined as an individual who habitually places his personal benefit and ego gratification above the welfare of everyone and everything else) of the Year: Donald Trump
The Dennis Rodman Award, (Awarded to a professional athlete for a career and lifetime of behaving like a jerk): Jose Canseco. Jose’s done it all, from being baseball’s Typhoid Mary of steroids, to getting arrested for various assaults, to writing a series of tell-all books designed to rat out the very players he corrupted, not as a service to his sport, but as revenge for it rejecting him. In 2011, he hit a new low, accepting money to appear in a celebrity boxing match (the 21st Century version of becoming a circus geek to pay the bills) and sending his less-talented, equally dim-witted, identical twin brother Ozzie to perform instead, hoping to fool the fools who hired him. This, of course, was fraud. It takes quite a jerk to take this award from Manny Ramirez, who became eligible in 2011, but Jose was up to the task.
Asshole (defined as an individual who intentionally and maliciously causes pain and harm to others because he can) of the Year: Rev. Terry Jones, the publicity-seeking leader of a tiny rural church, who caused riots and deaths abroad and ramped up political tensions between America and Muslim nations by threatening to burn, and finally burning, the Koran as a demonstration of contempt for Muslims and the Islamic faith.
Fick (defined as an individual who blatantly violates societal ethical norms conduct without appropriate shame or contrition, and continues to engage in it after it has been discovered and condemned) of the Year : Leroy Fick, who continues to collect food stamps from the strapped Michigan budget despite being a lottery millionaire.
Fick of the Year Not Named Fick: Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a Tea Party darling, who lectured President Obama about the shame of sticking “our children” with a huge national debt while Walsh remained $117,437 in arrears to his ex-wife for unpaid child support for his own three children. Fick.
Celebrity Fick of the Year: Charlie Sheen
Unethical Entertainer of the Year: Bill Maher. One can quibble with the term “entertainer” in Maher’s case, but there is no question that he has become a full-fledged ethics corrupter of the left, engaging in ugly, hateful, and often misogynist rhetoric that forfeits any leeway he would usually deserve as a comedian. His low point in 2011—Maher sinks lower with each passing year—was calling Sarah Palin a “dumb twat,” a gutter-level attack that would have had NOW battering down his studio door if it had been leveled at, say, Hillary Clinton, but since his insult was directed at a liberal and feminist target and boogey-woman, his statement was shrugged away. Maher routinely abandons humor to throw kerosine on the smoldering partisan, racial and class divisions in the country, enhancing hate and fear without producing a genuine giggle.
Ethics Train Wreck of the Year: The aftermath of the fatal Tucson shooting that killed a federal judge and others while wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Media commentators and unscrupulous Democrats worked feverishly to lay blame for a madman’s rampage on Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and the “eliminationist rhetoric” of other conservatives. What followed was a rush to politically-correct censorship, with Speaker John Boehner removing the term “job-killing” from a House bill, and CNN’s John King fatuously apologizing for a guest’s use of the metaphor, “in the cross-hairs.” Later, the conservatives got into the hyper-sensitivity act, reaching a nadir when the Wall Street Journal and others condemned a Missoula, Montana production of “The Mikado”for “advocating the public decapitation of Sarah Palin.” [ Ethics Alarms, which happened to be written by an ethicist steeped in Gilbert and Sullivan tradition—and who had twice played Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, the clown who has been
facetiously placing politicians and celebrities on his “little list” for a century and a half without any one sane seeing it as a death threat—came to the defense of the unfairly maligned thespians.] Meanwhile, the disabled Giffords has remained in her elected post, unable to do her job, as Arizona Democrats discouraged any effort to have her step down or to challenge her re-election. While the Penn State-Jerry Sandusky ethics train wreck engulfed the university and the state, the Giffords shooting warped public discourse, scarred the integrity of Congress, and had ripple effects across the country. Runner-Up (in a photo-finish): the debt ceiling debacle. Both parties disgraced themselves with grandstanding and ultimatums, reaching a lame resolution in such chaotic fashion that it resulted in a down-grading of the nation’s credit rating and further eroded public trust (which was already near rock bottom) in the government’s ability to govern. Then, to add cynicism and charade to the mess, the final deal included Congress and the President agreeing to cede their Constitutional duties to a “super committee,” which would theoretically craft a mix of budget cuts and revenue that bypassed the toxic partisan deadliock that the debt ceiling showdown had exposed. Naturally, party leaders stocked the committee with intractable ideologues, and it accomplished nothing.
Most Uncivil Elected Official: (Tie) Maine Governor Paul LePage (R), who told the NAACP that it could kiss his butt, and Congresswomen Maxine Waters (D-Cal.), who announced that the Tea Party could go “straight to Hell.” Sadly, they were not alone, and a half-dozen more from each party have a strong case that this distinction belongs to them.
Clintonian(s) of the Year: The Obama Administration and President Obama. Together they devised disingenuous double-talk on Libya that must have made Bill green with envy. The War Powers Resolution requires presidents to get approval from Congress for armed interventions within 60 days of their initiation and to begin ending hostilities within thirty days from the deadline without such approval. Obama needed to obtain Congress’s approval by May 19 to keep U.S. forces in the Libyan campaign, but didn’t. Confronted by Congress, the Administration argued that it didn’t require approval under the War Powers Act because the operations in Libya “are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated… U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.” Of course, U.S. forces were killing Libyans, who undoubtedly couldn’t discern this subtle distinction (which didn’t exist in the Act anyway.) For his part, the President described U.S. attacks on Libya not as warfare, but as “kinetic military action.” And Bill, you know, was never “alone with Monica,” since he couldn’t have been truly alone if Monica was there too.
Most Unethical Profession: Educators. Journalism is always the favorite for this category, and the news media had a typically horrible year, but the education community thoroughly debased itself, high and low, large and small, from coast to coast. From Wisconsin teachers playing hookie (and getting fake doctor’s notes to show their bosses) to protest Gov. Walker’s attempts to rein in their benefits; to city-wide conspiracies to falsify test scores in Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere; to schools violating their students right by punishing them for what they write and say in their own homes via Facebook; to political correctness fanatics in administrations censoring teachers and students alike; to the usual measure of teachers having sex with their students; to no-tolerance persecution of students who did nothing wrong besides technically breaking over-broad rules…and, of course, Natalie Munroe, school boards, deans, university presidents, high school administrators, and teachers at all levels engaged in indefensible, unethical conduct. At least journalists have a code of ethics, though they ignore it with abandon. Educators have none…and boy, do they ever need one.
Sexist of the Year: Christiane Amanpour. The former host of ABC’s Sunday Morning talking-head-fest used her show to preside over an all-female panel discussion on the topic of how obviously superior women were to men in competence, decision-making, and crisis-management.
Unethical Cable News Network: Fox News. A caveat: MSNBC, last year’s winner, was ineligible. When it hired Al Sharpton, and continued the practice, properly flagged by media critic Howard Kurtz, of using opinion commentators as reporters, the verdict was in: MSNBC is a pure progressive-liberal echo chamber, and shouldn’t be judged by journalism standards. Fox might have won anyway. Once it hired Mark Sanford, who lost his post as governor of South Carolina by carrying on a secret, expensive and time consuming adulterous romance with a South American soul-mate, even CNN, which finally dumped the equally disgraceful Eliot Spitzer, couldn’t compete.
Most Unethical Apology: Ed Schultz. The MSNBC thug’s apology forhis calling conservative radio talk-show personality Laura Ingraham a slut wasn’t the usual “non-apology apology”—though there were plenty of those in 2011. What Schultz did was unique–he delivered a seemingly sincere, remorseful apology for his words on the cable network just a few hours after attempting to justify his words on his radio show. No one who heard his defiant radio performance (“…So now the right wing is trying to gin up this story that I have called Laura Ingraham a slut. I referred to her as a talk slut. Which, by the way, I got some email, people agreed with me on it. It’s a war out there! It’s a cultural war is what we have in America. Uh, if I offended some women out there, I apologize….”) could possibly believe that his MSNBC mea culpa was anything but a sham. (“…I apologize to you, Laura, and ask for your forgiveness…It doesn’t matter what the circumstances were. It doesn’t matter that it was on radio and I was ad-libbing. None of that matters. None of that matters. What matters is what I said was terribly vile and not of the standards that I or any other person should adhere to…..”)
Worst Justification of Unethical Conduct Using Consequentialism: Nancy Snyderman. The”Today Show”medical expert cheered the story of the Ayalas, whose 16-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. The Ayalas, in their 40’s, decided to risk a new pregnancy to acquire a potential bone-marrow donor. That was the only reason their youngest daughter was conceived—to provide bone marrow for her sister. This violates core ethical and bioethical principles, but Snyderman pronounced it good because…it worked. The end justifies the means.
The Pazuzu Award (named for the demon that possessed Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” and made her say the nastiest things, the Pazuzu Award is bestowed on the prominent individual who denies responsibility for his or her actual words, claiming that they did not express what he or she really believes; ): Ron Schiller. The NPR executive was caught in a James O’Keefe sting designed to show the public broadcasting radio network’s bias—as if we needed O’Keefe for that—as he was caught on tape denigrating Republicans and conservatives, calling the the Tea Party racist, and praising the firing of Juan Williams. When his words were made public, Schiller said, prior to resigning, “While the meeting I participated in turned out to be a ruse, I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR’s values and also not reflective of my own beliefs.”
Liar of the Year: Former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). Runner-Up: Attorney Geeral Eric Holder. His denials before Congress of any knowledge of the deadly Fast and Furious fiasco are beyond belief, unless we want to accept that he is a rank incompetent.
If you want to reverse them, I won’t object.
Most Unethical Phenomenon That I Couldn’t Find A Category For: Occupy Wall Street and its offspring.
Unethical Media Mugging of the Year: the Herman Cain sexual harassment charges. Politico launched and nourished the story without ever identifying its original source or providing any account of what Cain supposedly did, and the rest of the media kept the unsubstantiated story alive for weeks. Runner-Up: The Washington Post’s “Niggerhead” scandal. The Post still hasn’t provided a photo of the infamous, painted over rock that supposedly raises questions about whether or not Gov. Rick Perry is a racist.
Unethical Trend of the Year: Community persecution of registered sex offenders. Runner-Up: Playing the race card.
[The Best of 2011 is here…]