Ethics Dunce: The “Lady in Red”

Now that the John Edwards trial is over—it ended with an acquittal on one charge and deadlocked jurors on the rest—it’s time to heap some deserved contempt on the so-called “Lady in Red,” the alternate juror whose courtroom demeanor became such a distraction that it prompted the judge to send all the alternate jurors home. From the Washington Post:

“She walked in flipping her hair, smiling broadly at [Edwards], batting her long eyelashes, cocking her head playfully. She was just an alternate juror, but suddenly she was the most watched person in the cramped federal courtroom. Commentators had dubbed her the “Lady in Red” after she bopped into the courtroom last week in a revealing, off-the-shoulder red top. Others just called her the “flirty one,” interpreting her vivacity as some kind of courtship dance, though no one can say for sure whether that was her intent.” Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Jenny McCarthy Body Count

Sure, bet your kid’s life on the wisdom of Jenny McCarthy. Makes sense to me!

From The Jenny McCarthy Body Count:

“In June 2007 Jenny McCarthy began promoting anti-vaccination rhetoric. Because of her celebrity status she has appeared on several television shows and has published multiple books advising parents not to vaccinate their children. This has led to an increase in the number of vaccine preventable illnesses as well as an increase in the number of vaccine preventable deaths. Jenny McCarthy has a body count attached to her name. This website will publish the total number of vaccine preventable illnesses and vaccine preventable deaths that have happened in the United States since June 2007 when she began publicly speaking out against vaccines.

“Is Jenny McCarthy directly responsible for every vaccine preventable illness and every vaccine preventable death listed here? No. However, as the unofficial spokesperson for the United States anti-vaccination movement she may be indirectly responsible for at least some of these illnesses and deaths and even one vaccine preventable illness or vaccine preventable death is too many.”

You can visit the Jenny McCarthy Body Count, which stands at 888 preventable deaths as of May 31, 2012, here.

Your Ethics Quiz is simple: Is the website fair?

My answer: sure.

McCarthy is an engaging, attractive, well-meaning woman and semi-talented comic actress who has misused her celebrity, as many celebrities do and have, to exert more influence over the public and media than her experience, education, intelligence, wisdom and expertise justify. Are the various television programs, media outlets and hysteria-peddlers also accountable for giving someone with McCarthy’s thin credentials and outsize influence a platform to frighten and mislead the many members of the public who are even more ignorant than she is? Absolutely. Does that reduce McCarthy’s culpability for spreading misinformation that leads to potentially deadly neglect of the health needs of children? Not one bit.

Using the Jenny McCarthy Body Count to call attention to the foolishness of anti- vaccine hysteria is a clever idea, and if it keeps even one parent from being misled by the medical nonsense pushed McCarthy and her allies. it is performing a public service.


Pointer: Instapundit

Facts: Jenny McCarthy Body Count

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

How Consequentialism Leads To Bad Ethics: An Illustration

Tgt passes along this cartoon by Zach Weiner. He knew why I would like it: I am often railing about the misuse of consequentialism, justifying an act as ethical after it has produced desirable results. This fallacy bolsters “the ends justify the means” reasoning and makes every act, even clearly wrongful ones, theoretically redeemable in retrospect, after the results are in (although, of course, all the results are never in. That’s Chaos for you!)  The defense of torture by Bush administration defenders on the grounds that it may have uncovered valuable intelligence is the most recent example. Had the unconstitutional imprisonment of Japanese-American citizens in World War II  prevented some Japanese undercover plot by imbedded traitors, undoubtedly that fact would be used to justify an unjustifiable and disgraceful breach of American law and values. Looking backward creates this ethical distortion.

It is equally infuriating, to me at least, when good and ethical decisions are judged, usually by the media or by political pundits, as “wrong” or ” mistakes” because of bad results that could not have been foreseen when the decision was made or the act undertaken.

Weiner’s cartoon nicely marks the logical flaws in backward ethics, for those for whom the word “backward” is an insufficient clue.


Spark and Pointer: tgt

Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at


Brian Banks’ Lawyer’s Dilemma: The Ethics of Counselling An Innocent Client To Plead Guilty

Would Wanetta have eventually admitted her lie if Brian Banks had been sentenced to 40 years? Would you bet your life on it?

The understandable uproar over Brian Bank’s five year imprisonment for a rape he never committed has focused public attention on the wrenching situation where a criminal defense attorney feels he must counsel an innocent client to plead guilty (or no contest, in Banks’ case) when the only alternative appears to be conviction at trial and a harsher sentence.  Banks’ attorney persuaded him that five years for a crime he didn’t commit was preferable to a maximum of 40 years if he was found guilty.  Was that bad advice? Was it unethical advice? Continue reading

A Golden Rule Tutorial By Martin Short

Boy, Kathy Lee, are you lucky!

Visiting the late version of the Today Show to plug a film, actor/comedian Martin Short was not expecting to have to answer awkward questions about his wife, Nancy Dolman, who, after all, has been dead since she succumbed to ovarian cancer two years ago. Then again, he might have, since his host, the flighty Kathy Lee Gifford, could not reasonably be expected to uphold the basic standards of professional journalism, which include knowing whom you are interviewing and avoiding mortifying one’s guests. Sure enough, Gifford left her index cards to wax enthusiastic about her “good friend’s” marriage, as if she and the Shorts regularly hung out together. Kathy Lee said, “He and Nancy have one of the greatest marriages of anybody in show business. How many years now for you guys?” Short, who is a pro, managed to conceal his discomfort and pleasantly responded, “We … for 36 years.

Gifford then went into full Kathy Lee mode, which resembles a boa constrictor squeezing a goat.  “But you’re still, like, in love?” she asked. Short responded, “Madly, madly in love.” Continue reading

Reporting the Confessed Killer in Your Midst: An Ethical Dilemma That Isn’t

Pedro Hernandez, now under arrest for the murder of Etan Patz, the  6-year-old boy whose 1979 murder was a national mystery, confessed that he had strangled the child just a few years later to his prayer group at St. Anthony of Padua, a Catholic church in Camden, New Jersey.  No one, including Hernandez’s relatives who learned of his confession and the prayer group leader, reported the confession to authorities.

Hernandez’s sister, Milagros Hernandez, confessed what she described as a “family secret” to a reporter for the New York Daily News over the weekend, setting off “What would you do?” internet polls and blog posts, as if there was any question about the proper conduct for a family member or church group member who hears a murder confession. There is no question.  You report it. There are no debate issues, no competing considerations, no claims of loyalty or confidentiality.  It isn’t a Golden Rule dilemma, as in “Would I want someone to report me if I confessed to him in confidence that he had strangled a little boy?”  It isn’t a dilemma at all. There is only one right thing to do, and if you think otherwise, you missed a couple of key meetings when the ethics were being handed out. Continue reading

AM Cable News Horror: Fox Eliminates All Doubt

Unfair, imbalanced, and proud of it!

Thoroughly traumatized and disillusioned by the blatant partisan cheerleading on CNN’s “American Morning”–courtesy of Carol Costello and Soledad O’Brien—-I made the quite idiotic mistake of having today’s morning coffee to “Fox and Friends,” the Fox News counterpart. Despite the fact that I already knew that jumping from CNN to Fox News as a respite from biased reporting was like leaving the Titanic for a quiet voyage on the Hindenburg, I was still shocked at what I saw.

Head morning stooge Steve Doocy introduced “a look back” at President Obama’s 2008 campaign. What followed was a long, slick attack ad, contrasting film footage of various Obama “Hope and Change”- themed speeches and campaign pledges, such as his infamous promise to halve the deficit by the end of his first term, intercut with contrasting images, statistics and graphs making a mockery of his words. “Ah!”, thought I. “They are showing the latest Republican National Committee ad. I certainly hope the Republicans paid the going rate for this, because it would be unethical for Fox to show a complete, three-minute GOP anti-Obama ad gratis on the pretense of analyzing it.” I have seen this trick on CNN and NBC, and it is abysmal broadcast journalism.

I am relieved to report, however, that this is not what Fox News did this morning, because the video was not made by the RNC, and it wasn’t produced by an independent pro-Republican PAC, either.

It was produced by Fox News. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Francesca Eastwood

“Go ahead, make me ashamed I spawned you.”

Stipulated: you have every right in the world to dispose of of your personal belongings as you see fit.

Also stipulated: if you intentionally buy a steak dinner, eat half of it in front of a homeless woman and her infant, and feed what you didn’t finish to a stray dog as she looks on, salivating, you are a cruel, unsympathetic, sadistic creep.

With so many Americans  jobless or in financial distress, with charities short of funds and government social services facing budget cut-backs, to buy a $100,000 alligator handbag and then destroy it for “art”—-as Francesca Eastwood, Clint’s daughter, recently did—is hardly better than the steak dinner stunt. It’s even an insult to the alligator. Essentially this was an eloquent statement that Francesca would prefer to throw her money away than help people with it, people for whom a hundred grand is three years of family income.

That tells us all we need or want to know about Clint’s spoiled little girl.


Facts: Telegraph

Graphic: Wn

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

The Ethics Verdict on the Chris Hayes Apology

To be fair, while Chris Hayes is ill-informed, ungrateful and arrogant, at least he’s incoherent.

As anyone could have predicted, MSNBC host Chris Hayes had to issue an apology after his fatuous and inarticulate comments about Memorial Day. If you were lucky enough to miss them, here they are:

“I think it’s interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word “hero”? I feel comfortable — uncomfortable — about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.’

With so many interesting, thoughtful, perceptive and provocative statements being written and uttered every day that vanish forever, never to be repeated or published, it is cruel irony to confer immortality on cretinism like that, but I digress. My commentary on Hayes’ statement is here. His apology was pre-ordained, because he insulted so many, so deeply, so pointlessly and so arrogantly, at the worst possible time, that a national outcry was guaranteed, and the eventual directive, “Apologize or pack!” from his MSNBC overlords was a forgone conclusion.

As forced apologies go, how did Hayes’ rank? Continue reading

Is It Fair For A Business To Discriminate Against the Homely?


Take your pick!

The EEOC is investigating a popular Boston area coffee shop chain, alleging that it discriminates in favor of attractive young waitresses to the detriment of older or more homely waitresses. The management of Marylou’s disputes the accusation, arguing that its hiring pool is disproportionately young and attractive.

I don’t want to get into the actual guilt or innocence here, but rather muse about the ethical issue. Should there be laws preventing employers from using attractiveness as a criteria in hiring, if it is relevant to the success of the business, or even if it is not? If a coffee shop owner’s patrons are overwhelmingly male, and the owner believes that having waitresses who look good in a starched uniform makes the customers happy and more likely to spend their money, why should the law prevent that? Is there anything really wrong with the conduct? Continue reading