The Fourth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2012


One of the reasons there are always more negative stories than positive ones on Ethics Alarms is that ethical conduct is still much more common than unethical conduct, and thus has to be more spectacular to be worthy of comment. At least, that’s my rationalization this year….

Here are the 2011 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s public display of appreciation to President Obama for the rapid Federal response to Super Storm Sandy. Naturally, Christie was subsequently called a turncoat and blamed for Mitt Romney’s loss.

Outstanding Ethical Leadership

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts’ decision to confound conventional wisdom and to vote to uphold the constitutionality of  the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, reaffirmed the ideological independence of the Court while giving due deference to the will of Congress. Roberts was derided by Republicans and conservatives, while liberals and Democrats patted themselves on the back, presuming that they had intimidated him into rejecting the so-called conservative wing of the Court by their (irresponsible, dishonest and unethical) accusations that the Court put politics ahead of law and justice. Roberts, in truth, just interpreted the law, which is what his duty required.

Heroes of the Year

Seniors at Lexington (Ky) Catholic High School. When a gay couple was told by school administrators that they were not welcome at their senior prom, a significant number of their classmates moved the prom to the parking lot, where a good time was had by all. Courage, respect, fairness and kindness. These seniors are ready for the real world, which needs them more than they need it.

Most Principled Politician

Rep. Darrell Issa  (R-Cal.) The chair of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is an unabashed conservative, but but also has been steadfast and courageous in the face of partisan attacks for being unwilling to let Attorney General Holder and his wretchedly-run Justice Department slink away with its cover-up of the deadly Fast and Furious debacle. As the richest man in the House, he doesn’t need the grief; all indications are that Issa is dedicated public servant trying to find all that transparency and accountability that the Obama administration promised but has never delivered.

Most Ethical Companies

I don’t track this category or thoroughly or carefully enough to make a fair call, but this group does. Here is the Ethisphere list of the most ethical companies, by industry.

Ethical Quote of the Year 

Wellesley High School Teacher David McCullough, who annoyed parents of  graduating seniors when he told them, at their Commencement, that they were not as special as they had been led to believe. He said,

“Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them.  And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.  The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”

Most Ethical Radio Talk Show Host

John Bachelor. The erudite and civil host of the John Bachelor Show wins this category for the third straight year, and will continue to hold it until there is some viable competition from his loud, polarized, loutish competition. Don’t hold your breath.

Most Ethical Media Figure

CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Cooper was a role model for ethical broadcast journalism all year on a network that frequently failed to meet minimum ethical standards. High points: He had the courage to become the most famous and popular media personality to publicly reveal he is gay, and he openly criticized and mocked the habitually and dishonest chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz when she denied on camera that the undeniable had occurred during the platform battle at the Democratic National Convention. Cooper said, aghast,

“I just got to go to the panel with this. I mean, Debbie Wasserman Schultz said it wasn’t a change of language, there was no discord that we saw, and it was a two-thirds vote. I mean, that’s an alternate universe…I just think from a reality standpoint, you can defend it as the head of the DNC, but to say flat out there was no discord is just not true.”

I wonder what Cooper’s CNN colleague and Democratic mouthpiece Soledad O’Brien would have done? No, I don’t.

The Kipling Award

(Given to the individual who most exemplifies the values of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If )

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton. Runner-up: Last year’s winner, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who survived a vicious and vindictive re-call effort backed by the public unions, for the unforgivable offense of trying to reign in union power to bust the state budget.

Outstanding Sportsmanship

Blayne Barber, aspiring professional golfer. Barber called a borderline penalty on himself in a PGA School qualifying round, but mistakenly penalized himself only one shot rather than two. Once he realized his error, he reported it, invalidating the whole round (he had signed an incorrect scorecard), and forcing him to wait another year to qualify for the pro tour. Barber had rationalizations galore to justify not self-reporting: even with the proper penalty, his score was sufficient to make the cut; his caddy disputed that the original infraction even occurred. But Barber hit an ethics hole-in-one, saying, “Doing the right thing and doing what I know is right in my heart and in my conscience is more important than short-term success.” 

Wow. Just like Barry Bonds or Lance Armstrong might have said…

that is, if such an alien thought ever entered their heads.

    Ethics TV Series of the Year

“Homeland,” the Showtime drama that averages an ethical dilemma very five minutes or so.  Runners Up“The Good Wife,” last year’s winner “The Walking Dead,” and “Boss,” the STARZ political drama about a Chicago mayor (Kelsey Grammer) trying to hold on to power while secretly dying of a dread illness.

Ethics Movies of the Year

Too many to list or to compare; ethics themes were big in Hollywood on the screen this year, (though seldom behind the scenes, as usual). Among the candidates: “Lincoln,” “Looper,” “Brave,”  “Argo,” “The Master,” “The Dark Knight Rises,”  “Flight,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “The Sessions,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” even (yechh!) “Les Miz.” You could teach an advance ethics course using a handful of these films, and never have to crack a book.

The Clarence Darrow Award

(presented to outstanding conduct on behalf of the weak and powerless)

Radley Balko. The libertarian blogger of “The Agitator” focused much-needed attention on civil forfeitures, mistaken police home invasions, and the disturbing frequency with which police have shot and killed non-threatening household pets and even puppies in the course of making arrests.

Ethics Website of the Year (Specialty)

The Legal Ethics Forum. Nosingle source covers the developments in this fast-moving and often confusing  are than John Steele and his merry band of legal ethics fanatics. Nobody will believe me, but the site is lively and informative reading for non-lawyers too.

 Ethics Blog

 Popehat. Ken, Patrick and others (but mostly Ken) point out and skewer outrageous conduct hither and yon, always with the site’s unique combination of erudition, satire, vulgarity and scholarship. In addition, Ken, often in tandem with fellow lawyer/blogger and First Amendment champion Mark Randazza, selflessly rescues bloggers in distress from litigation threats and abuse.

Best New Ethics Website

The Conflict of Interest Blog

Ethics Blogger

Rick Jones. His superbly-written blog covers politics, the arts and especially education, applying his impeccable analysis in thorough, often funny, sharp and memorable commentary.

Ethics Alarms Story Source of the Year

A hat tip to Drew Curtis’ Fark, a funny, wide-ranging, useful site that only rarely annoys by suggesting that some of the frightening number of predatory teachers it highlights gave their student prey an enviable sexual experience.

The Forgotten Hero Award

 Roger Boisjoly (1938-2012) He was the NASA engineer and whistle-blower who risked and lost his career first by trying to prevent the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy and later by fighting the organizational cover-up.

Ethics Alarms Commenter of the Year

Barry Deutsch (Ampersand). The liberal conscience of Ethics Alarms, seeking out, attacking and destroying what he periodically sees as a conservative bias here. I’m grateful for his watchful eye and carefully researched posts.

Ethics Alarms Comment of the Year: Zoebrain.

As in past years, this was an impossibly competitive category, but the prize has to go to new (in 2012) commentator Zoebrain, who contributed an illuminating and thorough overview of ethical problems facing intersex individuals…like her.

First Ethics Alarms Commenter Hall of Fame Inductee

tgt. Once again he lapped the field in several categories: total comments, arguments with me, long-running epic disputes with other commenters, enemies, and useful rhetorical nit-picking. I can’t imagine Ethics Alarms  without him, but I can’t give tgt Commenter of the Year  repeatedly, or it would be like the Emmys. So here is a lifetime honor, and yes, tgt, if it turns out you used performance-enhancing drugs, I’ll kick you out.

Best Ethical Trend of the Year

No award. I detected no ethical trends this year.

Did you?


Let’s hope that 2013 will be better.

[You can read about the Worst of 2012 here (Part I) and here (Part II).]

4 thoughts on “The Fourth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2012

  1. I pledge to continue to call out Jack and other commentators whenever I see them stray from logic or the truth, no matter how trivial the offense appears.

    I”m probably safe on PEDs. I don’t even drink coffee regularly.

  2. BTW: I wasn’t aware of Roger Boisjoly’s passing. He deserved your mention, Jack. The Challenger case was a classic one of prestige taking precedent over logic and sound engineering principles. No doubt, a number of comparisons were made to the Titanic disaster in this respect. As with Mr. Ismay in 1912, the NASA directorate became fixed on the goal of regularly scheduled space flight on the level that they had promised, even after it should have become evident that the shuttle program could not deliver in safety… and that some vital corners had been cut in its creation. Too common a story, at its basis. For myself, the LAST thing I would have expected to go wrong with the shuttle were its solid fuelled boosters. God rest Mr. Boisjoly. He did all he could.

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