Monthly Archives: October 2017

Unethical Quote Of The Month: CNN Reporter April Ryan

“Sarah, is slavery wrong? Sarah, is slavery wrong? Does this administration think that slavery was wrong? Sarah, does this administration believe slavery was wrong?”

CNN’s April Ryan, yelling to White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders as today’s press briefing ended. She really did.

President Andrew Jack…no, that’s wrong. It’s President …Johnson, right? Lyndon Johnson? No, no..Barry Lyndon? No…Barry Goldwater? Barry Bonds? U.S. Bonds? U.S. Grant? Boy, history is hard

I assume that this was intended as a rhetorical rebuttal to the position of President Trump and those non-totalitarian-minded citizens—I hope not just conservatives and Republicans— who regard toppling statues and memorials of important figures in America’s past as a form of Orwellian thought control and manipulation of the historical record. Maybe she attends Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t journalism, fair, or professional. Since Ryan knew the only answer that could or would be given, if Sander had been foolish enough to dignify the insult with a reply, it was really just partisan harassment and race-baiting, the equivalent of  a reporter shouting out at a Johnson era press conference, “How many did LBJ kill today?,” calling out after a Bush briefing, “Hey, any signs of those weapons of mass destruction?,” or calling out after an Obama White House briefing, “Does the President still promise that if we like our health plan, we can keep it?”

A news organization that doesn’t immediately discipline a reporter behaves like this at a White House press briefing—and Ryan should have been suspended, removed from the White House beat, or exiled to cute kitten stories on Headline News—it is announcing one of the following:

a) This new organization will  no longer apply minimal standards of respect, fairness and professionalism to coverage of this President.

b) This network no longer has any standards.

c) This network will allow gross demonstrations of bias and partisan animus by its reporters.

Under these conditions, the White House has no obligation to permit such an organization to attend press briefings, any more than it has an obligation to permit anti-Trump demonstrators to attend, or to tolerate reporters chanting slogans and carrying placards. And it should not. If CNN won’t uphold minimal standards of professional journalism, then the White House must. CNN should be told that until it receives a public apology for Ryan’s outburst, she is replaced by a trustworthy reporter, and the network pledges that it will not permit such conduct by its employees to occur again, CNN will no longer be invited to briefings. Its place will then be taken by Ethics Alarms, or Weekly Reader, or any entity with a concept of journalism ethics superior to CNN’s.

Meanwhile, while we are on the topic of professionalism, I have this to report: Continue reading

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Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 2]

[Continuing the reflections on the accusation against Kevin Spacey and its aftermath…Part One is here.]

I have always assumed that Spacey had endured some kind of serious trauma that explained his aversion to confirming that he was gay, since, really, it was so, so obvious. Many actors become actors because of familial abuse and self-loathing: if you think about it, it makes sense. They don’t like who they are and what real life has been, so they seek the fantasy life of being someone else on stage, films and TV.  Maybe Spacey’s long obsession with performer Bobby Darrin provided a clue. (Spacey eventually played Darrin in his own vanity film project. “Beyond the Sea.”) You have to be really unhappy with yourself to fantasize being in the shoes of Darrin, the talented, troubled heterosexual  actor-singer who died before he turned 40. Thus I was not surprised when Spacey’s brother Randall Fowler, 62, a limo driver and professional Rod Stewart impersonator, described the home in which he, Kevin and their sister were raised as resembling the plot a  horror movie.

  • Fowler says he and his brother were both sexually abused by their father, Thomas Geoffrey Fowler (whom the children called “The Creature”), and that their mother knew about their treatment at his hands. Their older sister, Julie, was also abused before she fled home when she was 18. In a 2004 interview, Spacey’s brother described how their ultra-right-wing father was a member of the American Nazi Party. He was so enamored with Adolf Hitler, Fowler claimed, that he trimmed his mustache to resemble Der Fuehrer’s.

“I grew up in a living hell. There was so much darkness in our home it was beyond belief. It was absolutely miserable,” Spacey’s brother said then. “Years later, our mother actually wrote a letter to all three of us, trying to justify what had gone on by saying she was abused as a child and so was our father. Kevin tried to avoid what was going on by wrapping himself in an emotional bubble….He was so determined to try to avoid the whippings that he just minded his Ps and Qs until there was nothing inside. He had no feelings.”

Fowler described his younger brother was an “empty vessel” who had never been in a real relationship with anyone. “Neither of us had a chance growing up with two such damaged parents, ” he concluded.

No, I don’t know that what a Rod Stewart imitator and publicity-seeking sibling of a famous actor says is completely true, exaggerated, or a fabrication.  But it fits. Spacey should be given the benefit of the doubt, and accorded some compassion. We all deserve that. Continue reading

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Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 1 of 2]

The comments regarding yesterday’s ethics quiz have been varied and vigorous. As to the quiz question itself,

Is [Anthony] Rapp’s public accusation [against actor Kevin Spacey alleging that Spacey sexually assaulted him 30 years ago when Rapp was only 14] fair, responsible, and ethical?

I have arrived at my answer, and am abashed that I didn’t see it immediately.

No, the accusation was not fair, and it was unethical. It fails all ethical systems. It is a Golden Rule breach: What Rapp did to Spacey is not how he, or anyone would want to be treated. The fair and decent thing would have been to confront Spacey privately.  Maybe Rapp has distorted the incident over time; maybe Spacey is as remorseful and embarrassed by the incident as Rapp has been traumatized by it. All of us would want at least a chance to explain or make amends before being exposed…in Buzzfeed(!?).

Other observations, as Spacey is being metaphorically disemboweled by an angry mob…

  • Rapp also stomped on Kantian ethics, which forbids using human beings as a means to an end. Rapp says his goal was “to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent.” Wait: is there a shred of evidence that Spacey engaged in such conduct over “decades”? Is there any indication that Rapp is protecting future teens from his assaults? No, he’s just jumping on a train, joining a virtue-signalling mob engaged on what appears to be a scalp-hunting expedition. His late hit on Spacey didn’t stop a predator (as with Weinstein), didn’t report a crime to authorities (the statute of limitations is long past), didn’t accomplish anything postive and productive involing Spacey at all. I was just symbolic, and Kant, correctly, holds that it is unethical to destroy real human beings to make a political, social or culotural point, in this case the point being, “Don’t stay silent for 30 years if you have been abused, harassed or molested!”

This also fails any Millsian or Benthamist test of utilitarianism. The ends accomplished by Rapp’s accusation consist almost entirely of destroying Kevin Spacey. What else? I suppose its a warning too: anything you did that society will regard as worthy of making you a pariah can be revealed by an angry, vindictive or politically motivated alleged victim at any time, and you will have no recourse. Call it the Anita Hill Principle. That’s not enough of a “benefit” to society to destroy someone’s life. We have the Weinstein example, and the Bill Cosby saga. They were–are?—both serial offenders. Taking out Kevin Spacey based on one very old incident is not a means justified by any end.

  • Upon examination, Spacey’s response was a mistake and an ethics botch on multiple levels. Here it is again:

First, here we have another example of why Twitter is dangerous. Spacey is a smart guy, yet he foolishly, in his rush to deal with this crisis, authored his own rapid response on social media. In the old days, as my late friend Bob McElwaine, Hollywood publicist for Danny Kaye, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum and many other stars, told me, he job was to make sure nothing attributed to his Hollywood clients was authored by them. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/31/2017: A Hate Outbreak, A Bigoted Judge, A Lost Post, And More Halloween Ethics

Good Morning!

1 On Facebook, many of my progressive friends literally expressed glee at yesterday’s indictments, especially at the charge that Paul Manafort had engaged in “conspiracy against the United States.” Lots of social media users were expressing similar sentiments, the thrust being that they were excited that two individuals who worked for the Trump campaign were facing criminal charges…simply because they worked for the Trump campaign. This cackling mob hadn’t read the indictment, or if they did, they didn’t understand it. They just were engaging in free-standing hate by association.

The reaction is not sort of like, but exactly like, what I called  the “Ugliest moment of election night”: Trump’s crowd chanting “Lock her up!” as the upset electoral victory approached. Criminalizing the political process is not the way of democracy, and rooting for people’s lives to be ruined because of their partisan alliances is disgusting. Who among the people so thrilled to see Manafort and former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos being prosecuted know anything about them other than the fact that they worked for the President’s campaign? What do they think justifies cheering their indictment? Papadopoulos pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI about when he tried to meet with Russians claiming to have damning Hillary Clinton e-mails—which, I hope you know (and I bet the Facebook mob doesn’t) isn’t a crime.

Last night, Stephen Colbert, the full-time attack jester of “the resistance,” said of the indictments, “I know it’s almost Halloween, but it really feels more like Christmas!” What an idiotic and hateful thing to say, as well as a statement that is misleading to his audience, who naturally would think that the action implicates the President and the White House in something. (It doesn’t.)

2. Colbert also engaged in gratuitous race-baiting, because dividing the country along racial lines and promoting racial distrust is apparently what progressives think is funny and cool. Noting that the charges against Paul Manafort were filed on Friday but that he didn’t have to turn himself in until Monday Colbert smirked,  “Wow, we white people really do get arrested differently.” The “joke” is untrue, and racist in its own implications, suggesting that only whites commit white collar crimes and are regarded as low flight risks, while blacks commit the violent crimes and robberies that lead to immediate arrests.

These are ugly, mean-spirited people, poisoned by ugly, mean-spirited thoughts.

You can quote me.

3. Judge W. Mitchell Nance, a Kentucky judge, resigned after judicial ethics charges were filed against him as a result of his refusing to preside over any same-sex couple adoption cases. Nance announced that he would not  participate in  gay adoption matters in April, when he issued an order saying he was recusing himself from such case, arguing that adoption by a gay couple would never be in the best interest of a child.

The judicial misconduct complaint filed last month argued that Nance’s order violated the judicial ethics canons requiring judges to promote confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, to be faithful to the law, and to refrain from showing bias or prejudice.

It does. Good riddance. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: The Weinsteining Of Kevin Spacey

This latest boxcar on the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck contains an ethics quiz because I have such mixed feelings about it.

Yesterday, actor and former child performer Anthony Rapp told Buzzfeed that in 1986, when Kevin Spacey was 26,  Rapp was 14, and both were appearing in Broadway plays, Spacey invited Rapp over to his apartment for a party. At the end of the evening, Rapp says, Spacey picked Rapp up, put him on his bed, and climbed on top of him. Rapp says he managed to squirm away and locked himself in the bathroom. Eventually he left Spacey’s residence, and never had any further contact with him.

Rapp is now 46. He says that before talking to Buzzfeed, he never told anyone about the traumatic  experience. However, Spacey’s success in his career constantly reminded Rapp of the incident.  “My stomach churns,” Rapp said. “I still to this day can’t wrap my head around so many aspects of it. It’s just deeply confusing to me.”

Rapp said he felt obligated to finally tell his story in the wake of the new awareness of the sexual harassment and sexual abuse culture in  the entertainment industry, sparked by Harvey Weinstein’s fall.

“And not to simply air a grievance, but to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent. … I’m feeling really awake to the moment that we’re living in, and I’m hopeful that this can make a difference.”

Spacey immediately tweeted an apology, and more:

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is Rapp’s public accusation fair, responsible, and ethical?

Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/30/2017: Special Counsel Non-Bombshell Edition

Good Morning!

1 Here is the complaint issued against former Trump campaign official Paul Manafort, as well as an associate of his I had never heard of before. This is the big news that sent the “Hooray! Trump is about to be impeached!” fantasists into near orgasms over once it was leaked—leaks from investigations are unethical—that Special Counsel Mueller had finally found someone to charge.

There is nothing in the complaint, literally nothing, that relates to “Russiagate,” the 2016 election, the Trump campaign, collusion, or anything else that was among the original justifications for this exercise. I couldn’t even find the name “Trump” anywhere in its 31 pages, but my “Find” function wasn’t working very well. There may be one or two.

I have no ethical problem with charging individuals with crimes that are discovered during the course of an investigation, even if the investigation was ostensibly about something else.

2. I assume that Manafort, who sure appears to be in big trouble, will be given a chance to cut a deal if he has something significant to reveal that would implicate the President or others in the administration  in wrongdoing. In the strange psychology of the Trump Deranged, this means that the end is near for the President, because they just know that he was colluding with the Russians. They just know, that’s all. In fact, if there was no illegal activity involving the campaign, and there is no evidence that there was, the fact that Manafort will have the opportunity to “roll over” on the President doesn’t mean there is anything to roll over about. The fair presumption should be that there isn’t, until there is. Continue reading

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Your NFL Anthem Protest Ethics Train Wreck Update…

It’s Sunday, so the question naturally arises: What are NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest now?

In Houston, a majority of Houston Texans players “took a knee” during the National Anthem prior to today’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, presumably to protest  team owner Bob McNair’s botched comment last week when he said allowing the protests was like letting the inmates run the prison. He probably meant to say “asylum” rather than prison. NFL players, so many of them being accused or convicted felons, are understandably tender on the prison topic. McNair quickly apologized, but it doesn’t matter.  After all, there has to be some excuse for protesting the Star Spangled Banner, right?

What I can’t figure out is, if you take a knee to protest the incorrect use of hackneyed phrases, does that mean you aren’t protesting social inequities in America? Does such a protest mean these players care more about their hurt feelings than solving social injustice, since kneeling during the Anthem does so much to further that goal? Continue reading

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