Ethics Dunce: Jillian Michaels


There’s no boor like a celebrity boor.

Especially a strong celebrity boor.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the ex-trainer for TV’s unethical reality show “The Biggest Loser” visited the Northern Virginia locale of The Palm, an up-scale “go to be seen” D.C. steakhouse over the weekend.

She reportedly arrived at the restaurant around 8:30 p.m. and joined a couple in a booth. Witnesses told the Post that Michaels soon began speaking loudly and obscenely, using the vulgarities fuck and cunt repeatedly, as well as multiple variations.   “She used the word ‘f—er’ in just about every variation — noun, verb, adjectives,”diner told the Post.  When another patron finally went over to the table to complain, noting that she was glad she didn’t have her kids with her, Michaels  ridiculed the complaint, saying, “It’s fucking ten o’clock!” Michaels said, according to the witnesses. Then one of her companions told the diner, also using vulgarities, to go listen to someone else’s conversation.

I am glad I wasn’t there. There would have been trouble.

The Palm abdicated its duties, and should refund the charges to the other diners. A restaurant—especially one as pricey as The Palm— is responsible for maintaining a pleasant environment and dining experience for all its patrons, not the well-muscled broad who talks like Samuel L. Jackson, but louder. As for Michaels, is she really so uncivilized from spending so much time pumping iron with ‘roid rage cases that she thinks this is acceptable public behavior? Nobody wants to eat their Porterhouse to the sweet accompaniment of a woman shouting “cunt.” She obviously thinks being a low-wattage reality show face with a good body gives her special privileges that the rest of us don’t possess: wrong. Imagine what an eatery would be like if every table’s occupants acted this way. “Go listen to someone else’s conversation”? How could you hear it?

I hope this tale gets some national exposure. Michaels doesn’t have the show any more, so she is depending on videos, product endorsements and commercials, plus training celebrities and motivational speaking to pay the bills. Well, Jillian, cognitive dissonance is everything in your line of work, and if you are associated with activities and behavior that the public doesn’t approve of, even if it has nothing to do with toning abs, it will have a negative effect on their opinion of you. If they have a negative effect on their opinion of you, that washes over to the products you represent, like the Bowflex treadclimber, which Michaels hypes in one TV ad wearing her sports bra crooked (I’m sorry, but it drives me crazy). As “America’s Toughest Trainer,” she gets a bit of a break, since personal trainers get results by shouting at people, but they don’t usually prosper screaming fuck at their clients. Celebrities who have a reputation for being jerks usually aren’t effective spokespersons, and judging from her Palm episode, Jillian is a loutish, boorish, jerk.

29 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Jillian Michaels

  1. How would there have “been trouble,” Jack? I know we all say after the fact that “if I’d been there there would have been a problem” or “one more step and I’d have let him have it,” but seriously, what are you going to do if you’re out to dinner and some minor celeb starts spouting off like Tony Soprano? You can complain to the management, but they may well tell you that they aren’t going to tell a well-paying celeb to be quiet. You can directly confront the person, but they may well tell you just what was said above, or to f*** off or kiss their @ss. Then you really can’t do anything except either escalate things, which, let’s be realistic, isn’t going to end well, walk back to your table with your tail between your legs, or leave.

    • Steve-O, I am a tit-for-tat kind of guy despite my best intentions when I am keeping my cool. I have never been in a restaurant when someone acted like Michaels did. But, I can imagine myself, with or without the support of the other persons I was dining with, getting angry enough to begin speaking as loudly and profanely as the offending celebrity (or other, similarly obnoxiously behaving customer) – just to see what would happen next. Would the manager ask me to leave, while allowing the other to stay inside? Would the initial offender respond to my “imitation,” and cool it? Would that offender ask ME to cool it? It would all be great fun to me. (I even fantasize myself asking the celebrity, “Do you know who I am?”)

    • You don’t know me. You don’t know about the time I delayed the curtain of a dinner theater performance for 15 minutes when my table was called for dinner and most of the food was gone, and they lied to me that more was coming. Or the time TGI Fridays never brought a menu or water or anything to my wife and I when we had our infant some with us, because the table wasn’t assigned, and I called an impromptu staff meeting with the waiters and the management in the middle of the restaurant, told them the conduct was inexcusable, rejected their excuse that they were understaffed (run your damn restaurant and solve your own problems), got applause from the rest of the diners, and announced a lifetime boycott for that establishment. In this case, I would have organized the other diners and called my contacts with local media to let them know what was going on…and believe me, they respond. You know Jack Nicholson in the restaurant scenes in “Five Easy Pieces” and “The Last Detail”? That’s me.

      I escalate things, and you know what? It usually ends just fine from my perspective, and not well from the perspective of the people who don’t do what they ought to do with the attitude of “what can he do about it?” Check “the Duty to confront”—or here, from the Ethics Scoreboard. This is what I’ve called the Jerk’s advantage: they get away with things like this because they count on decent people to back down. We have a duty not to, I don’t, just like my Dad. Boy, could he make a stink.

      Trust me. There would be trouble. Now I wish I HAD been there.

      • Couple of problems: 1) food at dinner theater always is bad; and 2) why were you eating at a TGIF? Lousy service and food are expected at both places.

        Before I come off sounding as a food snob, I’ve been to the Palm in Northern VA countless times (for work) and I have never been impressed. Usually the only celebs there are politicians, who I find even more disagreeable in person.

        As for Jillian, to the extent the accounts are true, she definitely acted poorly. I’m willing to give her a slight benefit of the doubt here though because the clientele at that restaurant tends to be equally boorish.

        • 1. Especially THAT dinner theater. So is the theater. But if I pay for it, I get to eat it, no matter how lousy it is.
          2. Surely not THAT boorish. A Northern Virginia pol heard to utter “cunt” would have a big, big problem.

        • TGIF IS pretty bad, I’ll give you that, but I’m not usually a fan of chains. That said, the one chain place that stumbled with me and my family, which I won’t name, DID make up the delay by giving free drinks and appetizers. Another place I was having breakfast with my parents the waitress almost threw a container of butter onto the table at my mom, and I was close to confronting her and telling her in a low voice that if she ever threw anything at a member of my family again I would break her arm. Decided against it when I realized that might land me in municipal court, but her tip was zero and I did mention this to the manager.

      • Interesting. How did you get that far with the second incident without the manager calling the local police and having you thrown out? Especially after announcing a lifetime boycott, at which time the guy would have been well within his rights to say “if you’re not eating, you have to leave.”

        I also read the scoreboard post, and you are braver than most, if you successfully confronted three guys who might have put you in the ground instead of just driving a little farther.

        Here’s a question based on a real life event. You’ve bought PBS VIP tickets to some show that are supposed to included meeting the principals afterward. When the show is over you get told by the tour representatives (not PBS) that 2 of 3 will be there but the third won’t “for personal reasons,” and they need to get going, so, quick handshake and out the door, no selfies, no autographs, if you have a problem with this, take it up with PBS. What do you do?

        • 1. Because I was right, because I was assertive, because letting people know you’re a lawyer can be very useful, because I had a small child with me, and because I was lucky. This is why I say “I’m glad I wasn’t there.” I’m willing to risk getting in trouble if that’s the only way to fix the problem. Letting jerks be jerks is never acceptable. I was already leaving when I called the waiters in to birch at them. The guy offered me a free meal—to which I said, loudly, “Wait:you treat me, my family and child like garbage, and your solution is to make me come back here again?

          2. We can’t put up with bullies just because they are bullies. My son was positive that our car would be ruined when we returned. Yup: if you never confront jerks, no jerk will ever hurt you. I’ll take that chance, and we all should.

          3. That’s a real hypo, all right—I’d never buy tickets to hobnob with actors. Let’s see: A. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, and emergencies happen. B. I’d accuse them of a bait and switch, and get the names of everyone involved, making a stink if I was blocked from “going up the ladder.” C. They would know that I had the means of publicizing the b & s and D. I’d contact PBS’s management and board.

          • Ah, now #1 makes more sense, and I would have probably said something along the same thing. I might not have pushed as hard, however, because I’m also a public employee, and there’s a very elastic charge in the administrative code called “conduct unbecoming a public employee” which means they can discipline you for essentially any bad behavior. I’d just as soon the Corporation Counsel didn’t hear about me butting heads with food service employees in public.

            #2 I agree, and I can also see why your son said what he said. I still might have just driven on to the next spot and saved the confrontation for a bigger fight, but now that’s more me weighing risks and benefits than ethics.

            #3 I’ve bought such tickets a bunch of times, and every time except this one, everyone, including the performers (with a special shout-out to NY tenor Daniel Rodriguez and the very patient Celtic Woman soloists), has been very professional. Oh I did take it up with PBS, who, since they obviously couldn’t recreate the experience (and after about an hour on the phone with the VP in charge of customer relations), did their best to buy me off with a pile of CDs and other stuff – actually that’s where I got my first Celtic Woman tickets. I do chalk that failure up to, not so much emergency on the part of the third principal, but an outbreak of divaness, which was confirmed when I later spoke to other people who had participated in the tour. This was before the explosion of classical crossover as a genre, so this person couldn’t be easily replaced. Had this been a year or two later, she would have been sent packing. Her career collapsed and this tour was never again staged, so fate has a way of evening things out.

            • Great point, Steve…I work for myself, and that’s a huge difference, I know. I also was raised by a man who repeatedly resigned, got fired, or was on the verge ofit making stands on principle, and who risked a court martial three times in WWII refusing to carry out a direct order he believed was illegal or insane.

              • Yup, I think you do mention employment concerns as an alarm blocker. My dad worked for 37 years for the same company, and only stopped because a merger pushed him out 2 years before he was planning to retire, but offered him a pretty good terminal leave package, while my mom, God rest her soul, went back to work after 16 years as a stay-at-home mom and worked 19 years with the same company, again only leaving because of one too many changes in the company that left her without a chair when the music stopped. Then again none of them ran into major issues of principle.

          • A kind reader just alerted me off-site that this originally read “We can’t put up with bullies just because THEIR bullies. My son was positive that our CARE would IN be ruined when we returned.” Is 3 typos in two sentences a record for me? I wish.

            There’s no excuse for this, even in comments, but there are reasons—I am trying to get a lot of material up right now; there are a lot of comments that deserve replied to; I have other, income-earning tasks that I work on while I’m blogging, ; I can’t type, and I confess that Steve’s implication that i don’t really confront people like this kind of ticked me off.

            “Don’t type angry!!!”

            • Call me a cynic. I guess I have just heard (and told) too many apocryphal stories that end with “one more step and there would have been trouble,” or, more rarely “and then I kicked his ass and he never bothered me again,” so I tend to take statements like that, no matter who makes them, so no personal animus intended, with a grain of salt.

              • You know, I meant trouble more generically, which includes trouble for me. It is why I ended up home-schooling my son—because the stories of the kinds of idiocy, ignorance, no-tolerance, and indoctrination that I have both read and heard from friends who have children in the public schools put up with saiying, “Well, what choice do you have? They have you over a barrel!” No, they really don’t. But fighting for what’s right involves, sometimes, confrontation and unwillingness to yield, and that entails risk. Ethics chess; don’t put yourself in a position of risk if you don’t have to. If you push me around or abuse my family, I have to.

      • There really needs to be an article on the “Art of Escalation with a Mind for De-escalation but Ever Ready to Deal with Either: Or, How to Pick A Fight but Still be the Good Guy While Doing It”.

        Criminy. Guess that’s my next objective once I’m done studying and making a taxonomic breakdown of the Rationalizations list.

  2. Jack, do you see any way Michaels could make amends for what she did? (not that I have any special interest in her – up until today, and until right after seeing her image before reading your post, all I ever knew of her or thought of her was “Holy Hubba-Hubba! That is one good looker!”)

    I ask partly because, while never having done what you described about Michaels at the Palm, I am guilty of having done something like what she did, but in other settings and circumstances. A couple of times, but not many times. And none in say, 20 years or so. Still, I often wish there was some way I could, like I asked above about Michaels, make amends, even if amends could be made only partially.

    • At the time, she could have apologized to the other patron, modulated her voice and chosen other words. At this point, all she can really do is use the incident as a reminder of how to behave in a civil manner in public. Especially since her celebrity, besides affording her opportunities others don’t have, has the double-edged sword of being turned on her when she behaves badly, as this incident demonstrates. It would be better if she’d be motivated by the Golden Rule over PR concerns, but anymore the latter is acceptable if it promotes civility and consideration for others.

      • A.M., I agree with you – all well said. I wonder if Michaels will ever dine at the Palm again. (It’s probably far too expensive for my budget to go there even once, ever.) If I ever did what she did, then realized how wrong it is, I think I would deal with the restaurant, at least, to compensate for any refunds they offered and provided to diners. But, if I did a tit-for-tat imitation in that same situation (to try to tweak the original offender – that would be my sole intent, even knowing that I was making a bad situation worse at least temporarily), I am not sure what I would do to follow up – it would depend on what events ensued from my commencement of jerk-imitation.

    • 1) Public apology to all the patrons and staff who were at the Restaurant to the best of her ability to FIND all of them to try to compensate them for their intangible losses of that evening.

      2) To the best of her ability, compensate them for the financial losses due to an unpleasant ability. If she’s got money, she could pay back all their meals.

      • Thanks Tex. I needed (and need) your words to (1) organize my thoughts and ideas, (2) think them all through, (3) discover and purge those thoughts and ideas that are least sensible, and (4) decide on the best possible course of action. If only I could grow to where those thoughts and ideas would never even come to mind! (I am a pretty good “decider.”)

  3. See? This is what happens when you eat red meat!

    Seriously, Ms. Michaels’ ADHD has gone out of control both in public and on-camera before; in the latter case, probably encouraged by the producers. Apparently her physical job was/is(?) a positive outlet for her unbridled energy and unrequited anger, but as her celebrity status dimmed – especially since she left the tv show under a cloud – she appears to require medication or major psychiatric help. Or a literal gag-order.

  4. Any restaurant that would tolerate that kind of behavior will simply lose me as a patron. Nice thing about paying for a meal is that you don’t have to sit in an unpleasant surrounding. Jillian Michaels is another “celebrity” I can simply ignore and avoid.

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