Mid-Labor Day Weekend Ethics Barbecue, 9/1/2019: Good Quotes, Bad Quotes, And Someone To Avoid Forever

Boy, it seems like everyone’s on strike this week. I can actually see tumbleweeds rolling across the Ethics Alarms traffic stats…

1. Ethics quote of the weekend: Former GOP House member Trey Gowdy, on the astounding gall of James Comey (and Rep Adam Schiff, who apparently lacks the embarrassment gene) to call on Gowdy to apologize for his criticism of Comey’s unquestionably unethical conduct, after it had been thoroughly confirmed by the recent Inspector General’s report.  Comey even said Gowdy “defamed” him, an inexcusable hyperbole for a lawyer—even he knows better. Gowdy said,

“I never said Comey would or should go to jail. I’m certainly not going to apologize to anyone who violated FBI and Department of Justice policy, who violated an employment agreement, who shared sensitive information about an ongoing investigation, who sent classified information to an unauthorized person and then had amnesia when the FBI came to his home to try to retrieve government property…I will give him a piece of unsolicited advice: You should aspire to more in life than simply skating by without having been indicted.”


2.  What is the proper societal response to this horrible, horrible human being? Because it was her last day on the job and she had given her two weeks notice, Donna Reneau, a 911 operator, decided she would take out all of her grudges and frustrations on emergency callers she didn’t know and was obligated to assist. After all, what could her employers do, fire her?

So, when a flash flood swept away  Debbie Stevens’ car, with her in it, a week ago in  Fort Smith, Arkansas and she desperately called 911, instead of the trained professional she needed,  she reached Reneau, suddenly an avenging operator from Hell.

“Please help me, I don’t want to die!”, Stevens pleads at the start of the  22 minute recorded call. “I can’t swim! I’m scared! I’m going to drown!” Reneau reponded by telling the terrified woman that rescuers would “get there when they get there,” and even told her to  “shut up” as Reneau’s hysteria grew.

As the water began filling Stevens’ SUV and she cried, “I’m scared! I’ve never had anything happen to me like this before,” the 911 operator jeered. “Well this will teach you, next time don’t drive in the water,! I don’t see how you didn’t see it, you had to go right over it…”

When police were finally able to reach the swamped car, Debbie Stevens was dead, drowned. Fort Smith Interim Police Chief Danny Baker, in a statement, acknowledged public outrage but said  Reneau had not  broken any laws nor “violated policy.” THAT’S got to be a mistake, unless the policy in Fort Smith is to razz citizens in crisis.

Now the question is what should be done with, to, and about Reneau. Her performance on the recording is signature significance: nobody behaves like that who is fit for human association. She can’t be trusted as an employee, a neighbor, a colleague or a friend. She lacks empathy and decency; if she isn’t a psychopath or a sociopath, she’s too close for comfort. I don’t want her in my cul de sac…do you? I don’t want her associated with my city, or anything related to me, and that’s how every resident of Fort Smith should feel…and behave toward her accordingly.

And if, because she can’t find a job and no one wants her in their establishment or business—there is no law preventing discrimination against individual blights on society—she ends up living in a shack somewhere in the Okefenokee Swamp with the company of  snakes and leeches,  if they’ll have her—GOOD.

Be on the look-out! Here she is…

Reneau had her chance at living with civilized Americans, and blew it. [Pointer: Reg Fife. Keep those ethics story tips coming, everybody!]

3. And today’s deranged bit of  contrived anti-Trump hate is...in a Times interview with rising singer Lana Del Ray, who says,

One portion of the dots that people are connecting is: “Is it possible that this presidency is engendering this idea that it’s O.K. to be more violent?” And a lot of people are saying yes. Someone who says “grab ’em by the pussy,” that does make someone else feel a little bit more entitled to bring his rifle to school. If there wasn’t a time for protest music, there absolutely is now.

Good point, Lana!  An old over-heard and taped conversation of the future President engaging in macho trash talk with a second-string media host, used against Trump in 2016, encourages people to shoot up schools!  Brilliant!

Frankly, I don’t care to hear any protest song sentiments issuing from someone who finds that to be a useful insight, and neither should anyone else. Or, as Donna Reneau might say if you were drowning: “Shut up!”

4.  Knowing how I love double standards and  am enjoying how the news media and its pundits are no being so reckless with their partisan bias that their influence in the next campaign will be somewhere between zero and that of Jim Carrey, Other Bill found this wonderful bit from the PBS News Hour, out of the two mouths of David Brooks:

BROOKS:  That’s sort of par for the course for G7 summits. But I think what struck me this week was how the debate changed around Donald Trump. There has been whispering, is he mentally not as fit as he was? Are impairments rising?

That somehow seemed to rise and now become public conversation. When he said his father was with born in Germany, when your father was born in the Bronx, that’s not something you normally get wrong. That his wife is good trends with the North Korean leader, when she had never met him.

I mean, there are just a lot of things coming out of his mouth. And this has always been the case, but the verbal patterns — psychiatrists are not allowed to judge people they haven’t met, but there are certainly a lot of people out there raising a lot of red flags.

So, that — to me, among the tumult of — the political tumult the G7, the psychological tumult is almost one of the key takeaways.

Isn’t that great?  Brooks  tries to resuscitate the always absurd Plan E,
and resorts to the unethical “a lot of people out there ” cheat to do it. Who, David? You? These hacks?

Now Brooks explains why Joe Biden is not “going nuts”…

I mean, Biden may be aging, and maybe that’s an issue. I think it is a legitimate issue for voters to think about. But he is not mendacious, he is not irresponsible. He may embellish a story to improve its dramatic effect. And he may be forgetting things.

Our memories are just much more fallible than we think. Every memory expert will tell you that. And when you’re on the campaign trail doing thousands of events traveling everywhere, things get jostled in your mind.

So, it could be just the normal jostling of campaign. And for some reason, we have gotten into a pattern where a Biden gaffe is the story. So he will do eight good things in the campaign, tells one mistake, and that’s the story, because that’s the story we associate with Joe Biden right now.

But it is something for voters to monitor. I don’t think embellishing that kind of story is like something that is necessarily a sign that he is over the hill.

Ironically, making these two assessments back-to-back without any ethics alarms pinging suggests that Brooks is the one who is “over the hill.”

19 thoughts on “Mid-Labor Day Weekend Ethics Barbecue, 9/1/2019: Good Quotes, Bad Quotes, And Someone To Avoid Forever

  1. On point 2
    Could the heirs of the drowned women sue the employee for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Given that these calls are recorded it seems like a slam dunk.

    • I’d think there’d be a better be a case for straight negligence, as perhaps if 911 operator had coached to on what dangers to look for, rather than berate her on how she end up in the flood, she might have surived long enough for the police/fire department to find her.

    • Retraction of above comment:

      I went back and listened to about 10 minutes of the call. If you listen to the call, at first she is panicking that the water is rising but the water never seems to get higher than her shoulder. About 10 minutes in she starts worrying about her phone and if they will take her home so she can get more newspapers. All the while she cries she does not want to die. The 911 operator was attempting to get the scared woman to calm down. Aside from a couple of less than sensitive remarks about learning from her mistake the operator seemed professional.

      What I find objectionable is that it took several minutes to dispatch anyone.

      After listening to the call I am not ready to make the operator a pariah. The caller was unable to give a correct location, after a period of time the claims of caller could reasonably interpreted as exaggerated based on the caller’s initial safety concerns were replaced later with concerns over property, and
      apparently all other responders were on other calls. Why no one could get on scene earlier is a mystery to me.

      • I’ll grant that the less-than-sensitive remarks would’ve sounded less callous if she’d lived, but it was still unprofessional. And I listened to whole thing; while she did make an effort to locate Debbie, the unprofessional behavior kept coming: “Debbie you’re gonna have to shut up”. Even in a non-emergency call center those kind of remarks would get you put on notice, if not fired out right. I would expect 911 dispatcher to be at the highest levels of patience and perseverance, otherwise they’ve got no business taking that kind of position.
        I KINDA agree that I wouldn’t her to be a 100% pariah, since on a certain level, I can understand the stresses involved in a call-center environment. but I would not hire this woman in any customer service capacity.

      • I was on the giving end of a 911 call once, when I drove past the scene of an accident and stopped to assist. I remember vividly my side of the call, but little of the operator’s side, likely by design. What little I remember about the operator was a sense of calm urgency in her voice. She was patient but pushed when I could not give the exact highway exit number, and I had to describe route I had just come from; she assured me the ambulance was already on its way by and would tell it where to go while on route.

        Importantly, she did not distract by sounding distant, where this operator starts falling short. In this story, the women in the SUV gets increasing hysterical to try to convey the urgency, and the operator’s blood pressure barely seems to rise. I remember feeling similar pangs of hysterics, but in my case the operator was able to mirror my sense of urgency while staying calm, assuring help was already on its way, and by extension helping keep me calm and able to provide eyes and relay instructions to others.

        This is is the problem. The women was up to her chest in deadly flood waters, and the operator sounds like she is Phyllis taking a paper order. It also makes me really appreciate 911 operators, as showing empathy to the worst moments of stranger’s life constantly has got to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting. Sacrificing one’s mental health so that others have a slightly less horrific day is not something that should be overlooked.

        but the water never seems to get higher than her shoulder

        Rapidly rising waters have strong, unpredictable currents. Michael Phelps would be in peril in water up to someone half his height’s shoulders. Plus, she was trapped in the vehicle, so if the water got above her head, she had nowhere to go.

        The caller was unable to give a correct location, after a period of time the claims of caller could reasonably interpreted as exaggerated based on the caller’s initial safety concerns were replaced later with concerns over property

        The women was in pure hysterics, babbling about anything.

        • Rich what I was saying was that by the victims own statements the waters rose and then remained at the same level.

          We must recognize that a panicking person is out of control and no amount of calming voice will do any good until that person is focusing on the durections you are giving. What I have learned over many years of scuba diving is that panic kills faster than the initial problem. We just might want to consider that some of the harsh words were designed to get her focused on the directions she was to give.

          I am fully aware that a car can be swept away after driving into just one foot of water.

          Before we condemn one person it might be beneficial to know all the issues at play here. Relying on one 911 call without knowing more will not prevent it from happening again if other factors are involved. Why did she seem distant? Was she trying to get answers from others who could not give an ETA?

          Jack said it was her last day and she made it a take this job and shove it day.
          It is possible that she is been designated the fall guy for bad practices because it was her last day and she would not fight a punishment that could reveal systemic problems. Who has the most to lose – the operator or the 911 management?

          • In this case, the 911 management. The operator had nothing to lose, which is why she violated policy. I don’t see how you can rationalize the quotes noted. An operator is supposed to calm a caller. “They’ll get there when they get there” is not the way to do it. Nor is it ever appropriate to tell a desperate caller to “shut up.” Or to blame her for her predicament. I get your larger point, Chris, but this woman is the wrong hill to die on.

            Sharon Tate: “Help! Some crazy hippies just came into my house and are slaughtering everyone! I don’t want to die!”

            911 Operator: Well, maybe you’ll learn now to lock your doors. You know there are crazies around LA! You made it easy for them!”

              • And I said that I am quite certain that the statement was either bullshit or an error. Mocking a 911 caller cannot possibly be consistent with policy. That was a CYA statement. Or do you think my hypothetical Manson Family murder call could also be consistent with policy?

      • I take it my tips are crap then, eh?

        (Although, in fairness, the one today involved baseball, which is not a universally appreciated topic.)


        • No, it’s just a big topic, and I want to do it right. As you know, it also is a complicated one. Great tip—just needs the right time to think about it. Tips like the insane 911 operator I can write up easily.

    • Not directly related to Jut, but here is a story involving both baseball and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is a bit of an ethics mess, just trying to figure out what is going on here.

      The owner of the Single A short season Connecticut Tigers is on the board of directors for the “Center of Security Policy”, which no one has heard of, but the SPLC labels an “anti-Muslim hate group”. The team just signed a 10 year lease with the city for the stadium, and was recently subject to a hoax bomb threat. The owner refused to meet directly with a Muslim group, “Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)”, regarding the controversy, saying it would legitimize a group affiliated with Hamas (according to Wikipedia, the organization is condemned by the United Arab Emerites), but will meet with a group of religious organizations including other Muslims groups as facilitated by the mayor of the city of Norwich. CAIR in turn calls the “Center of Security Policy” a white supremacist group. Meanwhile, both the Mayor and team CEO have stressed that all persons are welcome in the stadium, and no evidence that I’ve seen suggests otherwise.

      There seems to be a controversy, or at least had been one, whether real or contrived. Meanwhile, a local gas station owner who is Sikh donated a sign welcoming people in 20 languages, which the team gladly accepted.

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