Ethics Dunce: CNN Morning Anchor Carol Costello

Sorry Carol; you should have had this years ago.

Sorry Carol; you should have had this years ago.

I just checked. I was certain that I had named Carol Costello an Ethics Dunce a half-dozen times at least, and discovered, to my shock and shame, that she has never been designated one here. Unethical Quotes of the Month, the chief offender in various disgraceful and biased performances by CNN or the news media as a whole, but somehow the most throbbingly ethics-challenged broadcast journalist not employed by MSNBC or Fox has never been honored as an Ethics Alarms Ethics Dunce!

Well, that streak ends now, and I can make it short and sweet.

This morning, Costello once again confidently proclaimed her lack of familiarity with the concept of ethics by summing up the conviction of former Virginian Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife for bribery and corruption this way:

“Now the Virginia legislature needs to pass tough new ethics laws so this never happens again.

I’m just going to go into my shed with a hammer, and club myself into oblivion, because obviously my life is pointless and an utter failure.

Yes, Carol, that’s right: laws make people ethical. We have seen how tough laws against murder have banished murder from our society, for example. And we all know how successful anti-drug laws have been.

I believe in civility and respect in public discourse, but sometimes it just has to be said, and there is no nice way to say it: Carol Costello is an idiot, and it is irresponsible for CNN to allow her to appear on national broadcasts and make the American public even dumber and more confused than it already is.

Costello’s ridiculous statement, which confounds having rules and nurturing citizens who don’t need the rules because they live and work ethically without them, is of a piece with this jaw-dropping episode, in which The Center for Public Integrity chose—don’t laugh, now—New Jersey as the “least corruptible state” because it had passed the most anti-corruption laws. Laws and rules do not make elected officials, or people generally, ethical. They communicate society’s ethical and moral standards for those who can’t figure them out on their own, but if a state elects a governor with dead ethics alarms, who doesn’t see anything untoward about allowing a businessman with interests in his state to pay for the governor’s daughter’s wedding, then tougher laws are only going to change–maybe—the kind of corruption he’s involved in. He will still be unethical, and unethical public officials do unethical things. The smart ones just find the loopholes in the law. or are so charismatic that we let them get away with it.

Let’s look at it this way: if CNN puts in place a Code of Conduct requiring its broadcasters not to be biased, smug and incompetent, but still hires, say, Carol Costello to be its weekday morning anchor, will the existence of that Code stop Carol, who is biased, smug and incompetent, from being so? Of course it won’t. Similarly, no ethics laws can ensure ethical conduct by elected officials if parties keep nominating unethical candidates and the public keeps electing them.

[NOTE: There’s a runner-up to the Ethics Dunce award regarding the McDonnell conviction, by the way: Washington Post conservative pundit Jennifer Rubin, who wrote this, the thrust of which is that the result “may serve to criminalize a whole range of standard behavior that has been a fixture of politics at all levels of government for decades,” and that this is somehow unfair and ominous—in short, “Everybody does it,” so we really shouldn’t make a big deal about it. If officials at all levels of government have been enriching themselves like McDonnell and his wife did, then that is a horrible indictment of the character of those holding public office, and already in stark violation of the prohibition in every state of conduct that creates the appearance of impropriety, because democracy is based on trust, and such conduct destroys trust. Such conduct must be criminalized, even though laws alone are not enough…thanks in part to unethical enablers like Rubin. ]



12 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: CNN Morning Anchor Carol Costello

  1. Jack,
    There is no doubt that accepting gifts of substantial value (more than $25.00) should trigger a public official’s ethics alarms. However, barring a statute prohibiting such conduct how exactly can someone be prosecuted, much less convicted?

    As a resident of Maryland, the birthplace of political corruption, I am confused regarding the McDonnell case. I cannot seem to find out what the businessman received in return or whether or not there was a promise to deliver a special favor. As I understand the case the businessman sold vitamins or nutritional supplements. What kind of special favor could he get?

    As for Ms. Costello, she should know that laws don’t eliminate bad behavior but if she thinks that if there were no laws proscribing the behavior before, how does she reconcile prosecution and conviction for acts that are not proscribed by law? That to me makes her an even bigger dunce.

    • Chris…it’s seems that this businessman, Williams, was invited to a meeting of healthcare officials and providers at the governor’s mansion. He was able to meet with influential doctors who could possibly give an air of legitimacy to his product. There was also a luncheon specifically for Williams and his product at the mansion. I don’t know who else was invited but it could possibly be seen as an endorsement of the product by the governor. Those are really the only two events that I have read about.

      • Also, the governor’s wife was really pushing these products. During the Romney campaign, the wife cornered Ann Romney and touted this product as some type of miracle cure and wanted Ann Romney to jump on board with her in promoting the product…which she didn’t. The governor’s wife had bought thousands of dollars worth of stock in Williams company. Thirty thousand if I remember correctly.

        • Thank you Sharon for the update. This helps in my understanding of this case. Now, if someone could just explain to me how closed door meetings with Andy Stern (SEIU), health insurance and Solyndra executives at the Whitehouse combined with their political donations to the president’s reelection campaign are not dissimilar. All received favorable legislation that was introduced and passed or introductions to the “right people” that will provided the businesses/organizations with billions in funding – or in the case of SEIU an exemption to a passed law that will avoid paying increased taxes resulting from the ACA, and the president got a financial pledge to helping him personally retain the privileges of receiving taxpayer funded perks of the office.

          • In reality and conflicts of interest terms, there’s not much difference. In ;aw and appearance of impropriety terms, they are significantly different: gifts are not political contributions, and quid pro quo gifts are bribes. The legal fiction is that contributions are not quid pro quos.


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