Welcome to the Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards, our blog’s retrospective of the best and worst in ethics over the past year, 2015.
It was a rotten year in ethics again, it’s fair to say, and Ethics Alarms, which by its nature and mission must concentrate on episodes that have lessons to convey and cautionary tales to consider probably made it seem even more rotten that it was. Even with that admission, I didn’t come close to covering the field. My scouts, who I will honor anon, sent me many more wonderfully disturbing news stories than I could post on, and there were many more beyond them. I did not write about the drug company CEO, for example, who suddenly raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to obscene levels, in part, it seems, to keep an investment fraud scheme afloat. (He’ll get his prize anyway.)
What was really best about 2o15 on Ethics Alarms was the commentary. I always envisioned the site as a cyber-symposium where interested, articulate and analytical readers could discuss current events and issues in an ethics context. Every year since the blog was launched has brought us closer to that goal. Commenters come and go, unfortunately (I take it personally when they go, which is silly), but the quality of commentary continues to be outstanding. It is also gratifying to check posts from 2010 and see such stalwarts who check in still, like Tim Levier, Neil Dorr, Julian Hung, Michael R, and King Kool. There are a few blogs that have as consistently substantive, passionate and informative commenters as Ethics Alarms, but not many. Very frequently the comments materially enhance and expand on the original post. That was my hope and objective. Thank you.
The Best of Ethics 2015 is going to be a bit more self-congratulatory this year, beginning with the very first category. Among other virtues, this approach has the advantage of closing the gap in volume between the Best and the Worst, which last year was depressing. I’m also going to post the awards in more installments, to help me get them out faster. With that said….
Here are the 2015 Ethics Alarms Awards
For the Best in Ethics:
Most Encouraging Sign That Enough People Pay Attention For Ethics Alarms To Occasionally Have Some Impact…
The Sweet Briar College Rescue. In March, I read the shocking story of how Sweet Briar College, a remarkable and storied all-women’s college in Virginia, had been closed by a craven and duplicitous board that never informed alums or students that such action was imminent. I responded with a tough post titled “The Sweet Briar Betrayal,” and some passionate alumnae determined to fight for the school’s survival used it to inform others about the issues involved and to build support. Through the ensuing months before the school’s ultimate reversal of the closing and the triumph of its supporters, I was honored to exchange many e-mails with Sweet Briar grads, and gratified by their insistence that Ethics Alarms played a significant role in turning the tide. You can follow the saga in my posts, here.
Ethics Heroes Of The Year
Eugene and Corky Bostick, Dog Train Proprietors. OK, maybe this is just my favorite Ethics Hero story of the year, about two retired seniors who decided to adopt old dogs abandoned on their property to die, and came up with the wacky idea of giving them regular rides on a ‘dog train” of their own design.
Ethical Mayor Of The Year
Thomas F. Williams. When the Ferguson-driven attacks on police as racist killers was at its peak (though it’s not far from that peak now) the mayor of Norwood, Ohio, Thomas F. Williams, did exactly the opposite of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in response to activist attacks on the integrity of his police department. He released a letter supporting his police department without qualification. At the time, I criticized him for his simultaneously attacking activists as “race-baiters.” In the perspective of the year past, I hereby withdraw that criticism.
Most Ethical Celebrity
Actor Tom Selleck. In a terrible year for this category, Selleck wins for bravely pushing his TV show “Blue Bloods” into politically incorrect territory, examining issues like racial profiling and police shootings with surprising even-handedness. The show also has maintained its openly Catholic, pro-religion perspective. Yes, this is a redundant award, as “Blue Bloods” is also a winner, but the alternative in this horrific year when an unethical celebrity is threatening to be a major party’s nominee for the presidency is not to give the award at all.
Most Ethical Talk Show Host
Stephen Colbert, who, while maintaining most of his progressive bias from his previous Comedy Central show as the successor to David Letterman, set a high standard of fairness and civility, notably when he admonished his knee-jerk liberal audience for booing Senator Ted Cruz
Sportsman of the Year
New York Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who courageously checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse just as baseball’s play-offs were beginning, saying in part,
“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.”
Runner-up: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who dismissed the ethically-addled arguments of Pete Rose fans to reject his appeal to be have his lifetime ban for gambling lifted. For those who wonder why football never seems to figure in this category: You’ve got to be kidding.
Ethics Movie of the Year
Most Ethical Corporation
Tesla Motors, the anti-GM, which recalled all of its models with a particular seatbelt because one belt had failed and they couldn’t determine why.
Former prosecutor A.M. “Marty” Stroud III produced a #1 Level apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale after Glenn Ford, an innocent man that he sent to prison for 30 years was exonerated and freed. In a searing indictment of himself and the system he represented, Stroud wrote a long mea culpa to the local paper that concluded…
In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie “And Justice for All,” “Winning became everything.” After the death verdict in the Ford trial, I went out with others and celebrated with a few rounds of drinks. That’s sick. I had been entrusted with the duty to seek the death of a fellow human being, a very solemn task that certainly did not warrant any “celebration.”
In my rebuttal argument during the penalty phase of the trial, I mocked Mr. Ford, stating that this man wanted to stay alive so he could be given the opportunity to prove his innocence. I continued by saying this should be an affront to each of you jurors, for he showed no remorse, only contempt for your verdict.
How totally wrong was I.
I speak only for me and no one else.
I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family.
I apologize to the family of Mr. Rozeman for giving them the false hope of some closure.
I apologize to the members of the jury for not having all of the story that should have been disclosed to them.
I apologize to the court in not having been more diligent in my duty to ensure that proper disclosures of any exculpatory evidence had been provided to the defense.
Most Principled Politician
A Tie: Former Senator James Webb (D) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) Both Webb and Graham were truth-tellers in their respective parties’ nomination wars; both courageously refused to pander, spoke their minds, and bucked the massive trend toward obfuscation and double talk in the campaign so far. Naturally, both were early wipe-outs.
Most Ethical Pundit
Ron Fournier. The National Journal columnist repeats his award from 2014, which he won then for relentlessly reporting on Jonathan Gruber’s serial admissions about the deceit of Obamacare. Proving that the distinction was no fluke, Fourneir was even better in 2015, refusing to cover for Hillary Clinton’s conflicts of interest through her foundation and exposing them for all to see. (The mainstream news media has still largely ignored the scandal.) He has also been among the most relentless critics of her progressive e-mail deceptions.
Most Ethical National Broadcast Media Figure
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who has bucked both the stereotype (an unfair one) that Fox News anchors are biased, and the stereotype that its strangely abundant blondes are bimbos. She has not hesitated to go toe to toe with conservative pols, and liberal politicians mostly avoid her. Last year’s winner, CNN’s Jake Tapper, had a good year as well. 2013’s winner, Don Lemon, capped an awful 2015 by beginning 2016 drunk on camera.
The Kipling Award
(Given to the individual or individuals who most exemplify the values of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If ”)
The dedicated and courageous police officers of the United States
Ethics TV Series of the Year
“Blue Bloods” on CBS.
Another repeat. “The Walking Dead” eliminated itself by cheating its viewers with the despicable fake death of fan favorite Glenn; “The Affair” degenerated into a soap opera even before it slimed Omar Bradley; “Walking Dead” prequel “Fear the Walking Dead” raised valid but familiar ethics dilemmas already explored by its parent (to death); “Orange is the New Black” got boring. I almost gave the nod to “House of Cards,” but I object on principle to calling shows “ethical” when they have unethical protagonists like Frank Underwood scoring victories left and right. (The same factor dinged “Ray Donovan,’ which also teaches ethics from a particularly disturbing perspective.) When he meets his just desserts, as you know he must, Kevin Spacey’s sociopathic politician may earn his show an award in this category, but something really horrible will have to happen to him. We’ll see.
The Clarence Darrow Award
(presented to outstanding conduct on behalf of the weak and powerless)
The Center For Medical Progress, which captured on a series of videos various Planned Parenthood officials and staffers talking frankly about how much they respect the “potential human beings” they abort by the cattle car-load, the answer being, not one bit. The videos are there for all to see; the problem is that the wrong people—abortion opponents— are seeing them, for the most part. The videos exposed the full ugliness and inhuman callousness of the abortion culture, and may yet be the anti-abortion movement’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Runner Up: The Foundation for Individual Rights In Education (The FIRE) For the third straight year, The Fire has distinguished itself fighting for free speech on university campuses, while the ACLU passes. No, Black Lives Matter and Bernie Sanders were never in the running.
Ethics Blogger of the Year
Chris MacDonald. I have been remiss in not applauding Prof. MacDonald before this: he is remarkably prolific, writing about ethics on his Business Ethics Blog, and also, though not as profusely, on blogs about biotech ethics, research ethics and food ethics. The quality of his commentary is equal to its quantity.
Roddie W. Edmonds (1919-1985), whose inspiring act of heroism and principle as a W.W. II prisoner of war only recently came to light-–because he never told anyone about it.
16 thoughts on “The Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2015, Part I”
Personally I don’t think “Spotlight was a great movie. I think the producers were trying to come up with another “All The President’s Men” and they failed. Try seeing “Brooklyn”, which is about a Catholic girl who is caught in an ethical dilemma which will probably be overlooked by the Oscars although it is a better movie.
I liked Spotlight better than “All the President’s Men.” It was not a star turn; the heroes were more fallible and less heroic, and it raised multiple ethical dilemmas, including the legal ethics problem of confidentiality agreements. The silly Deep Throat scenes alone were enough to ruin ATPM for me, moreso now that we know DT was bitter jerk. I also object to the Post’s reporters being made the heroes of Watergate to the exclusion of Judge Sirica, Howard Baker, Fred Thompson, Sam Irwin and others. I can easily see how a better movie could have been made about Watergate. Spotlight handled a difficult subject as well as I can see it being done. What didn’t you like?
I found it to be a slow and tedious film about an awful subject. There was little drama or suspense in it. “Brooklyn” was a much more interesting movie.
Happily, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) helped Saving Sweet Briar Inc. get their 501(c)-3 status in about 3 1/2 months (usually takes 1 year). And yes, EVERYONE smelled a rat from secret minute #1 as the Press was called ahead of the secret closing announcement, to sit outside of Babcock Auditorium and take photos of crying students emerging on cell phones to stunned parents, to achieve maximum PR damage to the school. What the former Interim President and former Board of Directors did to those families (and the faculty) was patently unfair, immoral, unethical (the truth behind the alleged deal will eventually come out) and beyond the pale. The “Formers” picked on the wrong group of women and forgot about what is very well known on campus as: “The Sweet Briar Community.” Sweet Briar College is 1 of 2 women’s colleges in the country with the prestigious STEM/ABET Engineering program, and already has young girls lined up to experience the best 4 years of their young lives and gain a lifetime of friends and support from all over the country and globe. @SweetBriarEdu.
Brava, Katherine. Brava everybody. What a great testament to the kind of women the college nourishes and trains.
And let us not forget the courageous and brilliant work of Saving Sweet Briar’s attorney, Ellen Bowyer, who navigated the nefarious twists and turns of the previous administration–all the way to the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We owe her a debt of gratitude _in perpetuity_.
Sgt Edmund’s ethical hero emeritus award is richly deserved. Thanks for posting the information about this brave man.
It’s great to read good news about good ethics. I wish there were more of them.
This was only Part I!
Nice work, Jack. I know you don’t intend it this way, but reading these awards is like watching you take a much deserved victory lap for another excellent annual body of work.
Thank you in particular for the thought behind the Kipling award. It has been a tough year.
You misspelled White Man’s Burden.
I viewed that as too silly a comment to react too. “If” is a road map to personal integrity and courage, and was taken very seriously by the fatherless, only child in the Depression who gre up to be my war hero father. Yes, Kipling was an colonial male Brit of his time, and so fucking what. He got a lot right, and the US would be a healthier and safer place if the best of his writing hadn’t been consigned to culture purgatory by the public schools.
Live by it for a year and come back.
Your March 8 blog on Sweet Briar came just 5 days after the closure announcement. It was more than just impressively well researched. You represented the first outsider to reject the simplistic narrative presented by the administration, which was being parroted by all major media outlets, some with stellar reputations in journalism not earned for decades. Unlike them, you did your own research, thought for yourself, and wrote brilliantly. If I had a list of ethical bests for 2015 you’d be on it. Since I don’t, you’ll have to settle for my endorsement as an honorary Vixen.