Jon Stewart’s Betrayal

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Politico has confirmed that on two occasions, Comedy Central’s Now I’m a comic-Now I’m a pundit-Now I’m a journalist Jon Stewart secretly went to the White House to meet with President Obama:

Jon Stewart slipped unnoticed into the White House in the midst of the October 2011 budget fight, summoned to an Oval Office coffee with President Barack Obama that he jokingly told his escort felt like being called into the principal’s office.In February 2014, Obama again requested Stewart make the trip from Manhattan to the White House, this time for a mid-morning visit hours before the president would go before television cameras to warn Russia that “there will be costs” if it made any further military intervention in Ukraine.

To engage privately with the president in his inner sanctum at two sensitive moments — previously unreported meetings that are listed in the White House visitor logs and confirmed to POLITICO by three former Obama aides — speaks volumes about Stewart and his reach, which goes well beyond the million or so viewers who tune into The Daily Show on most weeknights.

It mean rather more than that. The visits mean that what Stewart and Comedy Central represented to the public as independent commentary on public affairs by a wise, critical and trusted truth-teller was in fact state propaganda, dictated by the President of the United States to a messenger of influence. Continue reading

Bill Cosby’s Rationalization: #14. Self-Validating Virtue

stuart-smalleyThe smoking gun Bill Cosby deposition took place over four days in September 2005 and March 2006, during which time the comedy icon answered questions in a lawsuit alleging sexual assault filed by Andrea Constand, a former basketball operations manager at Temple University. Cosby settled the case, we now know, to avoid the testimony of several women who were prepared to back Constand with similar stories of being sexually assaulted. The deposition did not become public until it was revealed this month by the Associated Press and the New York Times.

Here is a fascinating exchange from that deposition:

Constand’s lawyer:  Do you feel that you are a good person?

Cosby:   Yes.

With this, Bill Cosby illustrates one of the more common and troubling rationalizations, #14 on the Ethics Alarms list, Self-validating Virtue:

A  corollary of the Saint’s Excuse  is “Self-validating Virtue,” in which the act is judged by the perceived goodness of the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature. Good people do bad things sometimes because they are (or were) good people, and because of complacency and self-esteem begin with a conviction, often well supported by their experience, that they are incapable of doing something terribly wrong.

All of us are capable of that, if our ethics alarms freeze due to our environment, emotions, peer pressure, and corrupting leadership, among many possible causes. At the end of the movie “Falling Down,” the rampaging vigilante played by Michael Douglas, once a submissive, law-abiding citizen, suddenly realizes what he has done. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks incredulously. Indeed he is. All of us, no matter how virtuous,are capable of becoming the bad guy…especially when we are convinced that we are not.

Very few people can admit that they are not good people. Public polls suggest that over 90% of Americans think they are the most ethical people they know. I am certain Cosby was sincere in his answer. His complete absorption by this rationalization explains the apparent astounding hypocrisy between his words, public image and private life. Cosby doesn’t believe he has done anything wrong. How could he? He’s Bill Cosby, and Bill Cosby is good.

Indeed, Cosby embodies the kind of person described by Michael (Jeff Goldblum) in “The Big Chill”:

“Nobody thinks they’re a bad person. I don’t claim people think they do the right thing.They may know they do dishonest or manipulative things……but think there’s a good reason for it. They think it’ll turn out for the best. If it turns out best for them, it is by definition what’s best.You also come up against a question of style. My style may be too direct. Perhaps given my style I seem more nakedly……opportunistic or jerky or… – Whatever. All that’s happening is I’m trying to get what I want. Which is what we all do, but their styles are so warm……you don’t realize they’re trying to get what they want. So my transparent efforts are more honest and admirable….Don’t knock rationalization. Where would we be without it? I don’t know anyone who can go a day without two or three rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.”

Well, let’s say that for Bill Cosby they are exactly as important as sex.

 

 

The Great Maine Diner Controversy

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Thanks to the internet, every day conflicts between ordinary citizens become opportunities for society-wide ethical evaluation . This can be extremely beneficial, helping to reveal disagreements regarding ethical conduct in common situations, and establishing social norms with efficiency that once would have been impossible. Of course, that requires that society reaches a reasonable consensus.

Last week a controversy emanating from a Portland, Maine diner called Marcy’s had blogs bloviating, pundits punditting and social media boiling over. Vacationing parents took their toddler to a crowded diner for breakfast, waited 30 minutes for a table and another 40 minutes for their food. The hungry child went on a crying jag that went on too long for the owner, who  suggested that the couple to leave in a less than polite manner, and finally shouted at the little girl to  “shut the hell up!” The couple left the diner.

The mother, Tara Carson, couldn’t resist registering her indignation on the Marcy’s Facebook page, the owner responded with even more colorful language than she did in the original confrontation, and social media appeared to divide into the “it takes a village so be sympathetic to parents of young kids and give them a break” camp and the “serves these entitled and incompetent parents right for being so inconsiderate and not controlling their child” camp, with the latter considerably smaller than the former. Then, not content to let the matter blow over, Carson got the Washington Post to publish her op-ed about the episode, which concluded, Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official of The Month: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

You're supposed to know all this BEFORE you run for President, Bobby...or Governor, for that matters.

You’re supposed to know all this BEFORE you run for President, Bobby…or Governor, for that matter.

The Westboro Baptist Church has threatened to picket the funerals of the victims of the Lafayette theater shooting.

Governor Jindal, an alleged Presidential candidate, thinks that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to them, despite a well-publicized Supreme Court decision to the contrary. “If they come here to Louisiana, if they try to disrupt this funeral, we’re gonna lock them up,” Jindal said on “Face the Nation.”. “We won’t abide by that here…Let these families grieve in peace.”

Hmmmm. Appealing to ignorant voters. Grandstanding. Pandering. Abuse of power.  Talking as if the Constitution doesn’t exist. Threatening to break the law. Sounding like an idiot blowhard.

Just the guy to give Donald Trump a run for his money.

 

The Gawker Mess: Is Integrity A Virtue When It Means Continuing An Unethical Policy?

gawker1The website Gawker is reeling in the aftermath of particularly Gawkerish  (that is, slimy) story exposing the efforts of a high-ranking male official at Gawker rival Conde Nast to secure the services of a male prostitute.  Following backlash even from those who usually tolerate  Gawker’s smug invasions into celebrity privacy, Nick Denton, the president of  Gawker Media, had the story taken down. He then wrote a post titled “Taking a Post Down,” defending his executive action.  Gawker Editor-in-Chief Max Read and Gawker Media Executive Editor Tommy Craggs resigned, and the editorial staff has protested the episode, noting that “business executives deleted an editorial post over the objections of the entire executive editorial staff.”

First, regarding Gawker’s plight: good. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving website. Second, and more controversial is this interesting ethics question that we don’t encounter very often outside the realm of “The Godfather” films: Is integrity applied to an inherently unethical culture a virtue?

When the Conde Nast outing story received furious blowback from media critics but also gay activists, who are flying high right now and thus not to be crossed, Craggs proposed that Denton issue a statement that Gawker was founded as a media gossip site and had always “unapologetically and often mercilessly” invaded the private lives  those who work in  the industry. “We stand by the story, which meets our simple, unwavering standard of being both true and interesting,” the statement was to say.

That simple, unwavering standard is and has always been unethical. Gawker hurts people for fun and titillation, and makes a profit out of doing so. Printing what is “true and interesting” without considering whether the often prurient interest factor outweighs the harm to the individuals and their families done by the site’s prying is inherently unfair and irresponsible. The pulled story was not atypical, but then Gawker has been typically immune to shame and decency. What had changed?

Denton’s various explanatory statements are ethically inert—not surprising, since he founded this monstrosity. Continue reading

UPDATE: Hillary’s Ongoing Corruption Of Democrats, Progressives, and…

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A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how Hillary Clinton was gradually converting her admirers into sociopaths, making her a particularly toxic ethics corrupter. I haven’t written here as much about ethics corrupters as I should have, but Hillary will give me many opportunities to rectify that situation. To quote the Ethics Alarms glossary,

“An ethics corrupter is someone, usually a celebrity, a public official or an accomplished and successful individual, who behaves unethically and forces those who admire him or her, or what they have achieved, to defend indefensible conduct as a matter of loyalty or cognitive dissonance. As a result, the defenders warp their own values, using rationalizations to excuse or  justify conduct they once correctly understood was wrong…”

Now Reason has seen the light: Continue reading

“I think abortion is evil, but it is a necessary evil.” Discuss.

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This blog doesn’t discuss evil very often because it is not a term appropriately associated with ethics. Evil is a concept related to morality. In an ethics discussion, I would take evil to mean something extremely, irredeemably unethical by any ethical analysis or system. The statement “I think abortion is evil, but it is a necessary evil” appeared parenthetically in a comment by Beth, a frequent commenter on Ethics Alarms who is a mother and a lawyer, regarding the Planned Parenthood videos. Though the news media appears to have successfully distorted that story by focusing only on whether the videos were evidence of illegal “trafficking in body parts” by Planned Parenthood, that was not the reason I posted the essays, and it is not the reason those videos are significant in the ongoing debate over abortion rights. Two high ranking individuals in the organizations casually discussed the crushing and crunching of the heads and torsos of living and helpless individuals with the sensitivity I would associate with stepping on a roach. If this doesn’t disturb you, it should. If it does disturb you, as it did Beth, what does that mean?

Abortion is one of the most important and difficult ethics issues in the culture, indeed in world culture. It involves millions of lives and millions of deaths, law, bioethics, religion, social policy, science, human rights and feminism, as well as society’s ultimate respect for life itself. I have written about the ethics of the abortion debate frequently (you can find most of the relevant posts here), but to summarize the Ethics Alarms views on the topic:

1. Abortion is an ethics conflict, meaning that there are ethical principles in opposition to each other, requiring society to set priorities.

2. The absolutist position on the anti-abortion side is that abortion involves the taking of innocent human life, which begins from conception, and is thus unethical in all cases. It is a strong position if one accepts the underlying assumption.

3. However, no absolute position is really absolute. Every ethics absolute has an exception, or several: there must be some circumstances when abortion is necessary and right. (This is not true of moral absolutes, since moral absolutes are self defining. If the power dictating a moral precept says it is absolute, it is so.)

4. The absolutist position on the abortion side of the argument holds that a woman’s right to have complete dominion over her body, reproductive activity and health justifies abortion in all cases. This is not a strong position, and in fact is one that cannot be honestly argued or sustained. It supports abortion on demand for any purpose or preference, entirely at the mother’s discretion.

5. To make that argument, extreme pro-abortion advocates have had to deny the humanity and human rights of unborn children, even to the point of arguing that they are not individuals at all, but mere “parasites,” or “tumors.” The removal of a second life from the equation that is at the core of the abortion problem makes the abortion decision easy and guilt-free; it also settles the debate by pretending the central issue doesn’t exist. That issue is that there is another life involved, not just the mother’s.

6. The debate over the ethics of abortion has been handicapped by the tactic of both sides to pretend a legitimate interest championed by the other doesn’t exist. A woman’s ability to control her own life, career and what happens to her body is an important societal issue, yet the term “pro-life” ignores it entirely. It is not the only important interest involved in the abortion decision, however, as the term “pro-choice” suggests.

7. Neither absolute position, whatever its theoretical virtues, is practical from a policy perspective. Desperate women who are pregnant will seek abortions, people will help then (or exploit them, or kill them), and public policy cannot pretend otherwise. Society will not tolerate punishing women for aborting their unborn children, whether they deserve to be punished or not. Yet allowing mothers to have unborn children killed on a whim leads to the callous, ugly, dangerous attitude toward innocent life on display in the Planned Parenthood videos. Callousness toward any human life, history has shown us, is a slippery slope with the potential of doing terrible harm to the culture.

8. Roe v. Wade was a premature Supreme Court decision and a badly reasoned one. Until and unless it is overturned, abortion is a right. That does not mean, and never meant, that abortion necessarily is right.

9. Because absolutism fails here, abortion is a problem that demands utilitarian analysis–balancing of interests and values, in the best interests of society, long and short-term, and everyone in it, according to the facts as we understand them.

10. Balancing requires an honest acknowledgement that there is something to balance. The “pro-choice” and “pro-life” dichotomy doesn’t acknowledge that in their most extreme incarnations, and since abortion is currently a right, the pro-choice lobby detects no reason to yield to logic, science and reality. Continue reading