Caught red-handed in unethical conduct, the right, honest, courageous and yes, practical thing to do is to admit wrongdoing, eschew excuses, acknowledge fault, express contrition, and resolve not to behave in a similar manner again. Unfortunately, this is difficult for many people, especially, it seems, those in the public eye. Another reason it is difficult is that people who engage in grossly unethical conduct tend to gravitate to unethical responses when they are called to account for it.
We are currently awash in examples of this phenomenon:
I. Time explains that its fat slur cover on Chris Christie wasn’t what it seemed.
Ethics Alarms was one of the first to call foul on Time’s unprofessional “Elephant in the room” cover on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and the condemnation of it was almost universal. There was no defense for this, a purely juvenile and biased insult masked as journalism. An ethical organization would have immediately responded:
‘Time used poor judgment in its language on the recent Chris Christie cover, which was gratuitously insulting to the Governor and millions of Americans. It was wrong to mock the governor because of his weight, as it is wrong to denigrate anyone based on their physical appearance. This was a failure of our editing process, by our staff, and of the entire organization, which failed to meet the high standards of professionalism, fairness, civility and integrity that Time has traditionally strived to meet, and has met in the past. We apologize to Governor Christie and our readers. Everyone should expect better of Time magazine, and we betrayed that trust. We vow to work diligently to regain it.’
What Time really did was…
- First, protest that no slur was intended, thus insulting the intelligence of every one of its readers, journalists and the public. Time’s editor told MSNBC, which naturally sees nothing wrong with slurring Republicans, since it does so many times a day..
“Well, he’s obviously a big guy. He’s obviously a big Republican. But he’s also done a really huge thing here this week. He stood astride the Republican Party and said, ‘Stop. We don’t have to make our whole appeal about narrow base issues.’ And that campaign showed it with the demographics you talked about.”
- Second, argued on cable shows and its website in the alternative ( a lawyer tactic: “If you don’t buy that defense, here’s a contradictory one that you might like better…”) that Chris Christie has made fun of his own weight on occasion, and is a good sport about it, so it’s no big deal. The editors do know that this is indistinguishable from the ever-popular “Hey, they call themselves niggers and joke about it, so why can’t we call them niggers too?” defense. don’t they? Sure they do. But it’s worth a shot, right, Time?
II. The brother of disgraced and disgraceful Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, City Councilman Doug Ford, defends his brother
Toronto is proving that it can be as ridiculous as American cities like Washington, D.C. (Marion Barry) and San Diego (Bob Filner) by struggling to deal with a law-breaking, substance-abusing, lying and embarrassing mayor when the obvious course is to throw the bum out. In yesterday’s hilarious city council meeting in which Mayor Ford faced withering questioning, a low point of sorts was reached when his brother, Councilman Doug Ford, offered this indignant defense of his bro, aiming his brilliant analysis at his fellow city council members:
“None of you have done anything wrong, ever. Never….Have you ever smoked marijuana? Have you ever smoked marijuana? Have you ever smoked marijuana? Yes or no. Have you smoked marijuana? I guess the answer is yes. Don’t come across as though you’re holier than thou because you’re not. Everyone should be careful about throwing rocks in a glass house.”
Hey, good one, Doug! I guess you told them! Now back to work in the bait shop, please.
This is a true rationalization tour de force. Everybody does it! They’re just as bad! Who are you to judge? Nobody’s perfect! Doug may be a good brother, but his ethical bearings and powers of analysis are pathetic. If he asked the question, “Are you mayor of Toronto who has smoked crack on video and lied about it, been drunk in public and on the job, and thoroughly disgraced your position, the government, the city and your country? Well? Are you?,” I would say that his hypocrisy defense would have some foundation. However, after he got the obvious answer, “No, of course not!” his proper recourse would be to respond, “Oh. Never mind then. Of course the city council can judge the conduct of the mayor, since that’s its job. Carry on.”
Doug is not as embarrassing as his brother, because that would be impossible. He is still an embarrassment, however.
III. Washington Post op-ed columnist Richard Cohen cries foul over criticism that he revealed racist sentiments and insulted much of the country in this week’s column by writing,
“People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”
Cohen, who has driven me crazy with his weird mixture of knee-jerk left-wing bias mixed with sexism and the occasional perceptive and brave observation, had no ethical choice other than to say…
‘My choice of words was foolish, insulting and wrong. Most Americans completely accept mixed race families, and for me to say that “conventional” people do not was indefensible. It was an ugly thought carelessly expressed, and should not have found its way into print. I apologize to the Post, its readers, Mayor de Blasio, his family, New York City, and the millions of fair-minded Americans whose character I gratuitously slurred.’
Cohen played the victim, and protested:
“What I was doing was expressing not my own views but those of extreme right-wing Republican tea party people. I don’t have a problem with interracial marriage or same-sex marriage. In fact, I exult in them. It’s a slanderto suggest otherwise. This is just below the belt. It’s a purposeful misreading of what I wrote. I think it’s reprehensible to say that because you disagree with something that you should fire me. That’s what totalitarians do.”
Two writers have issued superb take-downs of Cohen following this, and I will defer to them; I couldn’t possibly do better. First Slate’s David Weigel, who wrote,
“That’s still quite an assertion about a group of people Cohen didn’t even try to talk to for his column. He could have asked Tea Partiers whether they were bothered by Clarence Thomas’ marriage to a white woman, given that she took a (short-lived) role as a would-be Tea Party leader in 2009 and 2010. He could have asked about their reaction to FreedomWorks Outreach Director Deneen Borelli, whose husband, Tom, is white. Or, because anecdotal evidence is only worth so much, he could have “taken the Internet express” to Gallup.com and noticed that 85 percent of whites and 70 percent of elderly people are fine with interracial marriage. He could have shelled out for some current political science research, which suggests that “there is no difference between the racial attitudes of the general white population and self-identified tea party members.” He could have. Instead, Cohen made up a claim about a bunch of conservatives probably holding circa-1960 racial views. It’s the sort of claim any columnist with sense or a work ethic would probably veto right away, but it jibes with a stereotype of conservatives, so even the publisher of the Washington Post gave it an attaboy.”
In a tweet, attached by Weigel, Post publisher Katherine Weymouth pronounced Cohen’s column as “brilliant.” Now you know how someone like Cohen has written columns for the Post for so long. Now, leaving the best for last, here is the climax of the wonderfully acid post by Patrick, Ken White’s performance artist colleague on Popehat. Taking off from Cohen’s claim that dismissing a columnist for lazy, biased, and bigoted writing that insults most of a newspaper’s readers and most of the population of the U.S. is “totalitarian,” Patrick writes…
I am about to send this email to the Washington Post:
To the editors:
It was disappointing to read Richard Cohen’s Monday bloviation to the effect that the majority of the Post’s readers (“people with conventional views”) become sick to their stomachs when contemplating the biracial children of Mayor Bill DeBlasio. Sheltered as he is in his Manhattan enclave, Mr. Cohen perhaps is unaware that race relations outside Tribeca have improved greatly since the dark days of Jim Crow. It seems that Mr. Cohen has lost all touch with the America he writes about. Accordingly, I suggest that perhaps it is time to put Mr. Cohen out to pasture as a columnist emeritus, allowing him to retire into the sunset with his generous pension and the grateful memories of readers who recall the days when Mr. Cohen was sane.