I decided to start with the Best in Ethics this year, in contrast to other years, on the theory that it would get things off to a positive start in 2014. What it did, instead, was make me realize how negative Ethics Alarms was in 2013. Either there wasn’t much positive going on in ethics, or I wasn’t seeing it. My thanks to those of you who send me nominations for Ethics Heroes (and other stories); even when I don’t write about them, they are valuable. Please keep them coming. In the meantime, I pledge to try to keep the jaundice out of my eye in 2014. Things just can’t be as dire as they seemed last year.
Here are the 2013 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:
Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:
The U.S. Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, paving the way for the universal legalization of gay marriage. Yes, it was a legal decision, but it was also based, as all such culturally important decisions are, on a societal recognition that what was once thought to be wrong and immoral was, in fact, not. This is ethics, an ongoing process of enlightenment and wisdom about what is right and wrong, and the U.S. Supreme Court did its part.
Outstanding Ethical Leadership
Pope Francis. Every Pope has such visibility that Catholic or not, religious or not, we are all affected by the positive or negative ripples he sends through the world community and the culture. Pope Francis has gone to great lengths to embody the virtues of tolerance, forgiveness, kindness, humility, charity, love and peace. So he’s not a capitalist: I’m pretty sure Jesus would have preferred Marx to Friedman, and the U.S.’s experience with capitalist preachers and clerics has been unfortunate. Like all Popes, he should stay out of politics, but when he has stayed in the realm of ethics, Pope Francis has been impressive, and a powerful force for good.
Al Ittihad, a Saudi soccer club, gave back an unfair advantage bestowed by an overzealous ref, in the spirit of fairness and competition. I’d watch snails race before I’d sit through a soccer match, but for a professional sport, this was remarkable.
First Place: The Level #1 apology issued by disgraced New Yorker writer Jonah Lehrer, which you can read here. Runner Up: “The Ethicist,” Chuck Klosterman, apologizing in response to some P.C. bullying for his past insensitive use of versions of the word “retarded.” I’m not sure he should ave apologized, but it was his call, and you can’t do it much better. Honorable Mention: Ryan Braun, suspended baseball star/ steroid cheat, on his third try.
Heroes of the Year
Christian Lunsford and Tona Herndon. Tona was mugged by Christian’s father, and the 15-year old arranged to meet her on a parking lot (photo above) to apologize and give her the money his father, on the lam, had sent him to pay for a school band trip. She, in turn, let him keep the money. Story here. This was my favorite ethics incident of 2013, hands down.
Parent of the Year
Most Ethical Act By A Celebrity
Angelina Jolie. Much as the Red Sox fan in me wants to hand the distinction to Neil Diamond, for flying to Boston on his own dime and spontaneously leading the Fenway Park crowd in singing “Sweet Caroline” in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, the award in 2013 has to go to Angelina Jolie, for using her status as a sex symbol and movie star renowned for her feminine charms to publicly announce her prophylactic double mastectomy as a defense against cancer. She saved lives, and, I think wounded her career in the process.
Most Principled Politician
NONE. Sorry–can’t find a one. Sen. Rand Paul was having a good year, then he threw it all away by playing the victim when he was (correctly) slammed for plagiarism of the sort that gets students kicked out of college. Role model, Senator.
Most Ethical Company
I don’t track this category, because my experience in the compliance field leads me to be cynical about what an “ethical company” is. For example, while Boeing was being honored several years ago for its employee ethics and compliance programs, the details were unfolding about its epic participation in bidding fraud and corporate espionage. I was extremely impressed with the ethics and dedication of the compliance officers at Altria when I was giving seminars for the company as “Captain Compliance,” but the company was still making and selling cigarettes at the time. Ethisphere is an organization that carefully measures the ethics of corporations by weighting various criteria, such as ethics and compliance programs, culture, corporate citizenship, reputation and more, but I can’t vouch for their results, or whether the system really means that the over 250 companies it honors each year are truly ethics, comparatively ethical, or ethical at all. Mattel is on the Ethisphere list for 2013, and women’s health advocates think its Barbie Dolls contribute to anorexia in young girls. Time Warner is on the list, and it’s flagship magazine used fat-ridicule to sell its issue about Chris Christie. Microsoft is on this list, but Microsoft saddled its dependent users with a new operating system that has caused endless grief and wasted countless hours as small companies without IT mavens around desperately try to adjust on the fly. Should Starbucks be on the “Most Ethical” list? It is, and won some ethics points from me this past year (though I didn’t write about it) by finally reversing its policy of allowing open-carry gun enthusiasts to pack heat while sipping their Grande lattes. I had called for this change back in 2010. What changed? My guess is that Starbucks realized that its core market included more coffee-drinkers were freaked out over Newtown than not, and that the decision had nothing to do with ethics at all. Indeed, had I thought about it, I might have written at the time of the policy change that this was a time for Starbucks to hold fast to its old policy, to protest the tactics of the anti-gun politicians and media trying to exploit kids and tragedy to gut the Second Amendment. And is it ethical to charge $2.50 or more for a cup of coffee?
I can tell when a company is unethical; but I can’t tell whether a company is ethical, or just hasn’t been caught yet. So this year I’m giving the Ethics Alarms Ethical distinction to General Mills, which is not on Ethisphere’s list, for its low-key, no big deal inter-racial family commercial for Cheerios. I think it was healthy for the culture. I wonder why MSNBC didn’t make fun of it?
Batvia (Ill.) High School Teacher John Dryden, who taught his students about the Fifth Amendment and protected their rights at the same time, when his supervisors at the school apparently could not have cared less, or perhaps more likely (and more troubling), didn’t understand the Fifth Amendment themselves. . Naturally, he was disciplined for doing the right thing.
Most Ethical Radio Talk Show Host
John Bachelor. The erudite and civil host of the John Bachelor Show wins this category for the fourth straight year. IS there another ethical talk show host?
Most Ethical National Broadcast Media Figure
CNN’s Don Lemon had an all-around impressive year, showing himself to have an independent mind, and to be willing to buck the conventional wisdom of the left-leaning media and its core audience that Lemon, as a young, black, gay progressive, is expected to appeal to. His high point came following the George Zimmerman verdict, when he endorsed the sentiments of the hated (by progressives) Bill O’Reilly who had criticized toxic and self-destructive strains in American black culture. Lemon said,
“He’s got a point. In fact, he’s got more than a point. But in my estimation, he doesn’t go far enough. Because black people, if you really want to fix the problem, here’s just five things that you should think about doing. Here’s number five, and if this doesn’t apply to you, if you’re not doing this, then it doesn’t apply to you, I’m not talking to you. Here’s number five. Pull up your pants….if you’re sagging, I mean — I think it’s your self-esteem that is sagging and who you are as a person it’s sagging. Young people need to be taught respect and there are rules. Number four now is the n-word…. I understand poetic license, but consider this: I hosted a special on the n-word, suggesting that black people stop using it and that entertainers stop deluding yourselves or themselves and others that you’re somehow taking the word back. By promoting the use of that word when it’s not germane to the conversation, have you ever considered that you may be just perpetuating the stereotype the master intended acting like a nigger?…
“Now number three. Respect where you live. Start small by not dropping trash, littering in your own communities. I’ve lived in several predominantly white neighborhoods in my life, I rarely, if ever, witnessed people littering. I live in Harlem now, it’s an historically black neighborhood, every single day I see adults and children dropping their trash on the ground when a garbage can is just feet away. Just being honest here.
“Number two, finish school. You want to break the cycle of poverty? Stop telling kids they’re acting white because they go to school or they speak proper English. A high school dropout makes on average $19,000 a year, a high school graduate makes $28,000 a year, a college graduate makes $51,000 a year. Over the course of a career, a college grad will make nearly $1 million more than a high school graduate. That’s a lot of money.
“And number one, and probably the most important, just because you can have a baby, it doesn’t mean you should. Especially without planning for one or getting married first. More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock. That means absent fathers. And the studies show that lack of a male role model is an express train right to prison and the cycle continues. So, please, black folks, as I said if this doesn’t apply to you, I’m not talking to you. Pay attention to and think about what has been presented in recent history as acceptable behavior. Pay close attention to the hip-hop and rap culture that many of you embrace. A culture that glorifies everything I just mentioned, thug and reprehensible behavior, a culture that is making a lot of people rich, just not you. And it’s not going to…”
The Kipling Award
(Given to the individual who most exemplifies the values of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If ”)
Former President George W. Bush. Bush 43 continued his practice of refusing to get drawn into criticizing his successor, even though President Obama has used him as an excuse, scapegoat and all-purpose villain at every turn. In 2013, Bush made some casual media appearances to talk about life, his time in office and even his new affection for painting, never sounding bitter or defensive, always being dignified and above the fray…in short, Presidential.
Ethics TV Series of the Year
“Orange is the New Black” on NetFlix wins this year. Its first season dealt intelligently with issues of culture, loyalty, forgiveness, the Golden Rule, and survival ethics. (I could discern no ethics in sight on “House of Cards,” Alicia on the “The Good Wife” has gone over to the Dark Side, and “Homeland’s last season was a mess. As for “Breaking Bad,” I just can’t call a series about the illegal drug biz “ethical.” “The Walking Dead,” on AMC, shambles into the runner-up position, more on the basis of its “How Not To Lead” lessons than anything else.
The Clarence Darrow Award
(presented to outstanding conduct on behalf of the weak and powerless)
The Foundation for Individual Rights In Education (The FIRE) The rights organization dedicated to protecting the rights of free thought and expression for the students on America’s political correctness-infected campuses did some of its best work in 2013, when it was sorely needed.
Ethics Website of the Year (Specialty)
TaxProf Blog. Pepperdine Law School professor Paul Caron’s excellent blog about tax law and tax practice has found many ethics issues this past year, but really distinguished itself by making sure that the Obama I.R.S. scandal continued to be covered online even as the mainstream media seemed to be obediently following the Administration’s fervent wish that it would be ignored into blissful oblivion. Caron obviously doesn’t think that the I.R.S.’s obstruction of conservative advocacy groups in the run-up to the 2012 election was a conservative fantasy, but he also is concerned with some more bipartisan I.R.S. abuses, and he has highlighted the as yet unresolved developments every day since the story first broke.
Ann Althouse. The University of Wisconsin law professor’s blog is diverse, ranging from photos of her dogs to political commentary, but she had many outstanding posts on ethics topics in 2013, so many that I developed the habit of not checking her blog before writing on a topic, for fear that she might have already covered it so definitively that I would be discouraged from writing my own post. Fortunately, we don’t always agree. Runner-Up: Mark Draughn, of Windypundit, a Chicago-centric blog that covers many ethics issues of the day in a literate, fair, balanced and perceptive fashion. (I inadvertently omitted Mark when this was first posted. My error.)
Ethics Alarms Story Source of the Year
A hat tip to Jonathan Turley’s blog, Res Ipsa Loquitur,which routinely turns up intriguing ethics stories, and provides deft commentary as well. Now, if Professor Turley would only be more discerning about the partisan hacks he allows to take over his blog on weekends…
The Forgotten Hero Award
Willie Reed (1937-2013) As an African-American teenager in 1955, Reed risked his life by testifying in a Mississippi court against the white men who had tortured and murdered Emmet Till, another black teenager, for the Jim Crow “crime” of allegedly whistling at a white woman. The men were acquitted by a racist jury, as Reed knew they almost certainly would be.
Ethics Alarms Comment of the Year
Fattymoon. As always, there were many candidates that would have made worthy winners of this annual award, but Fattymoon’s reflections on the post, Ethics Dunce: Photographer Jill Greenberg, were excellent and brief enough to reprint in full here:
“This reminds me of the time I made a critical decision, on the spot, while covering the aftermath of a killing F5 tornado at Tanner, Alabama the night of April 3, 1974.
“Walter McGlocklin was walking away from me, carrying one of his two surviving daughters. He was cradling this little girl, her upper body and tear streaked face peeking just above her father’s right shoulder. The look of utter horror on her face! The lighting was perfect, an eerie cross hatch of flashlights and spotlights – I KNEW I had the picture of the year. I raised my Minolta 35 mm and focused in. And that’s when it happened. Something inside me said, Do NOT violate this little girl’s privacy. Do NOT allow this little girl’s unbearable pain to act as fodder to sell newspapers across the country. I slowly lowered my camera. It’s a decision, one of only a very few, of which I will forever be proud of.”
Ethics Alarms Commenter of the Year
texagg04. Last years Commenter of the Year, Ampersand, returned the favor by kicking me off his blog for daring to talk frankly to the knee-jerk left-wingers who cluster there when they kept coming up with ethically-inert rationalization why George Zimmerman should have been convicted of racially-motivated murder despite the lack of credible evidence of either racial animus or murder in the trial or out of it. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wrestle with bias to decide whether he earned a repeat, because texagg04 took the prize square and fair. Tex, as he is affectionately called, led the field with over 2000 comments (tgt, who was enshrined in the Ethics Alarms Commenter Hall of Fame in 2012 and was thus ineligible for the award, came in second 1338, and that was achieved even with his mysterious disappearance from this site in July) of consistent high quality, typically from the right as opposed to tgt’s and Ampersand’s leftward tilt.
Most Encouraging Ethical Trend of the Year
Bar associations and courts actually punishing unethical prosecutors. There is still a long way to go, but the unacceptable ethical misconduct in the prosecutorial ranks had been getting more notice and publicity, and state authorities seem to be noticing.
Next up: The Worst in Ethics, 2013.
Buckle your seatbelts.