Morning Ethics Warm-Up, April 13, 2018: Past, Present, And Future

Happy Morning, everybody!

1. On the Future News front…The Michael Cohen raid has prompted a new outbreak of this particularly odious journalism and punditry trend: writing hysterically about what might happen. I spend so much time telling my wife that it is absurd and self-destructive to spend energy and emotion on dire “what if?” speculation, when sanity only reigns when we deal with what happens, when it happens, and not freak out because it might happen. Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer isn’t just for alcoholics, you know:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time;enjoy ing one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace…”

The news media, however, pummels us with dire future news to undermine serenity, create fear, encourage anxiety, distrust, panic and hysteria. All the better to undermine President Trump, after all.

MSNBC’s Joy Reid, for example, admittedly one of the worst of the worst, speculated about what might happen should the president refuse to allow himself to be arrested by federal marshals. Note that there is no evidence that there is anything to arrest him for, but never mind. This is Future News. “What if he refuses to open the White House door? What if he fires any Secret Service agent who would allow the federal marshals in? What if Donald Trump simply decides, ‘I don’t have to follow the law? I refuse to be held under the law. No marshal can get into this White House and any Secret Service agent who defies me is fired,'” she asked.

Today I am reading that Michael Cohen might have incriminating tapes of Donald Trump saying incriminating things. Yes, and he might have 12 toes and three nipples, too. Cohen apparently surreptitiously taped some of his conversations. Now, it is true that Cohen is a uniquely sleazy lawyer, but surreptitiously taping a client is a serious legal ethics breach that would pretty much end his career, not to mention his bar license, it it were proven. Never mind though: what if he taped Trump having sex with a marmot? What if he taped the President speaking Russian?

What might happen isn’t news. There are exceptions, but extensive concentration of speculation and projections, as with the Russian investigation coverage, is misleading and unethical journalism.

2. Incompetent prosecution to the rescue! For some reason, Bill Cosby’s prosecutors, allowed to choose from the more than 70 alleged victims of the serial sexual predator a representative five to show his  modus operandi that victimized Andrea Constand, chose Janice Dickinson, an aging ex-model, huckster, reality show star and publicity hound with the approximate trustworthiness and credibility of Stormy Daniels.

The 63-year-old Dickinson began her testimony by relating a 1982 incident in a Lake Tahoe, California, hotel room, in which she says she was drugged and raped by Cosby. Then Cosby’s attorney, Tom Mesereau, asked Dickinson about her 2002 ghostwritten memoir, “No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World’s First Supermodel,” pointing out that her description of the assault under oath differed materially from the Lake Tahoe encounter with Cosby described in her book.

Dickinson confessed that she made up stories for the book. “It’s all a fabrication there because I wanted the paycheck for my kids,” Dickinson testified, adding that her ghostwriter took “poetic license” with her life story, and that she wasn’t under oath when she put her name on the book.  Oh! Then it’s all right then.!Lying in public for one’s children makes her–what? Truthful? A good mother? The ghostwriter worked for her, and she is accountable for whatever he writes.

Mesereau asked, “So you made things up to get a paycheck?” Dickinson, angry,  protested that she was” telling the real story.” Maybe she is, and maybe she isn’t. Putting a witness like Dickinson on the stand is gross incompetence by the prosecutors. Heck, putting any reality star on the stand is unethical: they are paid liars by definition.

3. Forgive me, but this is driving me crazy…Here is Tom Mesereau:

Now I of all people am ill-positioned to criticize someone’s hair. However, a lawyer is duty bound to do everything within his or her power, within the bounds of law, reason and the ethics rules, to maximize the chances of a client prevailing in a jury trial. A relatively simple element of that ethical duty is to look professional and serious. Don’t wear pajamas to court. Don’t pick you nose. Don’t have flippers over your shoes. Don’t place a bunch of bananas on your head.

How many people can take a lawyer seriously when he wears his hair like that? I can’t. I know it’s all bias, but my experience tells me that professionals who present themselves in bizarre ways are narcissists, show-boaters and arrogant beyond usual endurable boundaries, so I don’t trust them. Bill hired Mesereau, so that constitutes implied consent to the ridiculous hair-do, but just because your clients will let you be unprofessional doesn’t mean it’s ethical to do so.

I don’t think there’s any excuse for appearing in a trial like that.

But maybe I’m just jealous.

4. Responding to yesterday’s post about statue-toppling, Ethics Alarms commenter (and a past Ethics Alarms Ethics Blogger of the Year recipient!) Windypundit suggested a 9th guiding principle, The Ozymandias Principle:

“Eventually, it’s time to take down the statues. There are only so many mountains we can name after Presidents. There are only so many streets and campus auditoriums we can name after famous people. Just because people once thought it was a good idea to name things after the great men of their day doesn’t mean we have to honor their wishes forever afterwards. Eventually, as those people recede into history, it becomes time to remove the old names to make room for the new names. This need not be all-or-nothing. So maybe we no longer need 1000 monuments to famous figures of the Confederacy. Maybe we can get rid of a few hundred of the least popular ones to make room for something else.”

It’s a fascinating theory. Regular readers here know that it is exactly in the opposite direction of my beliefs, in which the duty to remember is a societal obligation. That’s what these memorials and honors are for. When fame and popularity fades is when such messages from the past become more important, not less. Check out the names in the Ethics Alarms Ethics Heroes Hall of Honor: there should be statues or public honors for most of these people, because the lessons of their lives will always be useful, inspiring and important.

5. Oh...WordPress’s spellcheck function has officially gone nuts. It just flagged the pronoun “I” and asked if I meant “eye” or “aye.”

11 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, April 13, 2018: Past, Present, And Future

  1. 1) They do this intentionally. They do this to poison the well. They do this to keep the citizens stupid on these matters. They do this, so that no matter how anything *actually* turns out, the people already have a notion that the most abject evil has occurred.

    And anyone spinning for them is part of the problem that will lead to the inevitable collapse of our republican system.

    Thanks guys!

  2. #4: The sharpest practitioner of The Ozymandias Principle is King County Washington, whose leadership decided in 1986 to drop William Rufus King (Vice President under Franklin Pierce) as their namesake, (he had been a slave owner) and adopt Martin Luther King Jr. in his stead. They didn’t even have to change the office stationery!

      • Honorable mention: The town of Woodland Park, NJ, formerly West Paterson, which changed its name to avoid association with the crappy, mostly minority City of Paterson – they didn’t have to change anything, since most of it was “WP.”

  3. ” Bill hired Mesereau, so that constitutes implied consent to the ridiculous hair-do, but just because your clients will let you be unprofessional doesn’t mean it’s ethical to do so.”

    In his defense, Bill is reportedly blind…

  4. Could the prosecutors in the Cosby case have been faced with a reality where Dickinson is one of the more believable complainants? It looks like Democratic sources paid women $400,000, $500,000, and $750,000 to accuse Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. Could Cosby really be guilty of opportunistic sexual activities, but not rape? Could this actually be a campaign to punish and silence him for being a prominent black celebrity who refused to stay on the Democratic plantation? I don’t know, but I do think assuming the prosecutors are incompetent is only one likely explanation.

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