Sunset Ethics, 9/30/2020: Conflicts Of Interest, Sexual Harassment, Movies And Lies

1. Conflicts of interest on my mind. I narrowly averted a disastrous conflict of interest yesterday out of pure moral luck, so the topic is much on my mind; I’m still distracted by the near miss. Professionally, it was the equivalent of almost being picked off by a bus.

NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg reacted to the death of Justice Ginsburg with an essay on her 48-year friendship with RBG, saluting Ginsburg’s “extraordinary character.” That’s funny: Totenberg never told NPR’s listeners, nor did  NPR, that she had a personal relationship with the Justice, despite being charged with covering the Court and critiquing its decisions.  Kelly McBride, NPR’s public editor and senior vice president of the Poynter Institute, threw a metaphorical ethics foul flag,

“In failing to be transparent about Totenberg’s relationship with Ginsburg over the years, NPR missed two opportunities,”she wrote on the NPR website. “First, NPR leaders could have shared the conversations they were having and the precautions they were taking to preserve the newsroom’s independent judgment,” McBride said. “Second, having those conversations in front of the public would have sharpened NPR’s acuity in managing other personal conflicts of interest among its journalists.”

Ginsburg, who officiated at Totenberg’s wedding in 2000. Nonetheless, the correspondent,  who wears her progressive bias on her sleeve as it is, denied that the conflict compromised to her journalism, telling  the Washington Post that NPR’s listeners benefited from ther friendship because it gave her greater insight into and Ginsburg’s  thinking.

And that justifies keeping the relationship secret from listeners how, Nina?

2. From the “When ethics alarms don’t work” files: Lawyer Phillip Malouff Jr. of La Junta, Colorado, was censured for a series of episodes of unprofessional behavior and sexual harassment.

In November 2016, Malouff  winked at a magistrate judge and said, “When you get back from your vacation, I better be able to see your tan lines.” When he visiting the same magistrate’s chambers to discuss scheduling matters, he  said, according to the female judge,: “Ask your husband a question for me when you get home tonight. Ask him what it’s like to have relations with someone who wears the robe. It has always been something I’ve wanted to do, but there have never been any women judges until now.”

Malouff  was informed that his comments were unprofessional and a violation of the Colorado Judicial Department’s anti-harassment policy. Ya think?

In July 2019, Malouff asked a judicial assistant to check whether the mother in a parental rights hearing had an outstanding warrant. When the assistant replied, “She is good.” Malouff  responded, “Her husband told me that she is good.

Wink wink, nudge nudge.

The judicial assistant also recalled a prior incident in which she told Malouff that a case had been set for an 8 a.m. hearing. Malouff asked whether he would get to spend the night with her since he had an early-morning meeting at the courthouse.

“Malouff has since undergone online sensitivity training and engaged in counseling regarding appropriate boundaries,” according to the censure order.

Oh, I’m sure that will fix everything.

3. I recommend watching “The Ides of March” for perspective. Like Robert Redford, George Clooney is drawn to ethics themes; unlike Redford, he’s not an outstanding director. It is remarkable, however, how dated the film seems in just nine years: the political drama was timed to come out right as the 2012 Presidential campaign was heating up. It made a profit too, but vanished quickly; I missed the film entirely. The hypocrisy of anyone who thrives in the Hollywood culture attacking the hypocrisy and corruption of any other culture is irksome; it doesn’t help that Clooney, unlike Redford, can’t resist putting himself in most of the movies he directs. He somehow always strikes me as smug, something Redford avoided.

Clooney’s character is a familiar breed of progressive Presidential hopeful trying to nail down the nomination; he’s facile and quick when challenged on his beliefs, though the film made me wonder if director/actor Clooney knew his snappy arguments were facile. Were politicians really sounding dire alarms about our dependence on foreign oil in 2011? Isn’t the portrayal of the sole black pol in the film as an unprincipled and expedient weasel systemic racism? A intern knocked up by Clooney won’t ask for her parents to help her get an abortion because the family is Catholic…wait, isn’t devout Catholic Presidential candidate Joe Biden as “pro choice” as it gets? And how does anyone have a line in a 2011 political film in which someone tells a Democratic Presidential candidate,  “You broke the only rule in politics. You want to be president? You can start a war, you can lie, you can cheat, you can bankrupt the country… but you can’t fuck the interns. They’ll get you for that.” Really?

4. Did anyone Factcheck this? Joe Biden’s campaign website says, or at least said this morning, “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” Here was the exchange on the topic last night:

“Do you support the Green New Deal?” debate moderator t Chris Wallace asked Biden

“No, I don’t support the Green New Deal,” Biden said.

“Oh you don’t! Oh well that’s a big statement. That means you just lost the radical left,” the President said.

“I support the Biden plan that I put forward,” Biden replied.

Which is the Green New Deal.


14 thoughts on “Sunset Ethics, 9/30/2020: Conflicts Of Interest, Sexual Harassment, Movies And Lies

    • If comments on the debate post start turning up here, I’m going to jump out the window.

      Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK] for free confidential emotional support 24 hours a day. Even if it feels like it, you are not alone.

  1. 2: I can just imagine this guy saying ‘what? So I can’t even TALK to women now?’

    And the answer would be that for anyone so lacking in social skills as to not know the difference between cheezy lines that would get you groaned at and promptly ignored in a bar and bare minimum professional behavior, no can’t talk to women. Please stop. Someone will come along and inform you if and when you’re allowed to talk to women again. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

    • Exactly. “No. No you can’t.”

      Women are going to warn each other about this guy and find ways to avoid talking to *him*.

    • His rule of thumb when speaking with women should be “Would I say that with my ex-wife’s mother standing behind me?” As a matter of fact, his firm should hire an administrative assistant with a withering glare to stare at him any time he is in the same room as a female. Ideal candidates would be cynical older women with glasses they can stare over and absolutely no tolerance for unprofessional behavior. She should have the authority needed to treat him the way she would treat a teenaged son with overactive hormones and no sense of decorum. “Wait… You’re grounding me for the weekend and cutting off my TV and Internet? No fair!”

    • I’m thinking perhaps this guy shouldn’t be allowed to talk to men, either, as a precaution. I’m not sure this level of stupidity can be naturally-occurring, and it’s best to isolate this fool just in case he’s carrying some sort of intelligence-sapping pathogen.

      I mean, even if he’s a creep, a lawyer should have enough sense to not be a creep TO A JUDGE. REPEATEDLY.

  2. Jack,

    “And that justifies keeping the relationship secret from listeners how, Nina?”

    She gave a nauseating interview on NPR where she essentially made the story about her. She discovered of Ginsburg’s recent cancer surgery through her husband (he’s a prestigious surgeon, you know), but couldn’t report it because she found out “in the strictest confidence.” She then mourned privately, wondering why her dear, dear friend hadn’t disclosed it herself. Later, Ginsburg revealed to Totenberg that she’d kept her in the dark so as to avoid a conflict of interest. That’s how classy she was, we’re told.

    Except the whole story proves the very thing she claimed it didn’t: She obtained private information about a public figure through a personal relationship that she chose not to report on because it would have jeopardized said relationships. Whether the information came from Ginsburg herself, or through a mutual acquaintance makes no difference.

    It also made me think less of Ginsburg that SHE never would have disclosed the relationship herself. She proclaimed to have avoided the spotlight in order to maintain the decorum of the court (As a side note, Thomas seems like one the few justices left who still tries to respect that appearance) and yet she never thought to mention it publicly. Not to mention, a media figure who helped promote the “Notorious RBG” narrative that helped grow her popularity late in life that she purportedly wanted to eschew. Bad form.

    Great commentary!

    • This whole scenario reminds me of the late Jack Layton.

      Layton had been in politics longer than I’d be alive, and unlike the current iteration of the NDP, which seems to want to forsake their roots in labor in a bid to out-progressive the Liberals, Jack was a true believer in being a voice for the middle class… Which is to say, we didn’t agree on a whole lot of things, but I could at least respect him as being a true believer, and mostly honest.

      But he was dying. Canadian politics differs from American politics in that we don’t actually elect our Premiers of Prime Ministers, we elect the party, and the party nominates their leaders, which means in the case of a leader dying, the party just holds a leadership convention and the winner of that becomes the leader, which becomes the Premier or Prime Minister. All of that said, while we have a fairly simple succession plan, if would be unrealistic to say that leaders don’t matter, of course they do.

      Jack Layton was a little beloved in Canadian Politics, and the bench was incredibly shallow after him. See the problem? The NDP were advertising a product that did not exist, and the NDP would have to do a bait and switch after the election was over. Worse, Layton was campaigning for a position he was never going to fill, spending the last year of his life on the campaign trail instead of spending it with his wife and kids. Layton eventually led the NDP to become the official opposition for the first time in Canadian history, which made him the Leader of the Opposition, which is still a fairly coveted position. And kind of a Thing. It would be like the Green Party getting more support than the Democrats. After his death, political cartoons depicted a cane in a stone, as an allusion to King Arthur’s Sword, and the cane Layton used on the campaign trail. “Whosoever pulleth out this cane” I suppose… But remember what I said about a shallow bench? Only an election later, they were back in third place, and not by a small amount. Personality matters, I guess.

      As an aside, I found the scenario ghoulish and unbecoming, but your mileage may vary on that, but that’s not the only ghoulish thing the NDP does. In Canadian politics, donations are capped at a certain level per person. The only exception to that is estates, probably because after the estate is settled, the deceased can’t exactly make political contributions after that (which might be for the best, really… the support of dead people who can’t possibly know the reality of current politics should be valued at zero), but in the year of your death, you are allowed to will your estate to a party. People actually do this. Want to guess which party punches above their weight class? You got it. The NDP actually send people out to campaign rallies and “Legacy Plan” with their older supporters, a practice that this commenter finds tacky, unbecoming, and inappropriate. But then again, this is the NDP.

    • 1. Simply an episode of The Queen’s Pass, after all, it was the notorious RBG, right? They made a movie about her, right? She looked like Felicity Jones when she was younger and was a modern-day superheroine, right?

      2. Idiot. There are some judges I can’t stand, some of them women, some of whom frankly had no business on the bench, but got there through politics, some overlap between the two. However, there’s no reason to behave like that. Look, if this lawyer wants to joke like that with other male lawyers after work, then whatever. If, in a moment of annoyance over a ruling back in the office he says to his partner something like “I guess she got no action last night,” then that’s not appropriate, but eh, what he says in his office stays in his office. He’s lucky that judge didn’t find him in contempt of court. If I had been in her place I would have. It’s too easy for jerks to laugh off admonitions or tell the admonisher to lighten up. It’s not easy at all to laugh when you’re cuffed and thrown in a cell.

      3. Missed it, got no use for this aging, pretty boy, male slut, college dropout or his self-righteous wife. He’s 59 and has twin 3 year olds who he probably won’t see graduate.

      4. Only the GOP gets fact checked.

    • Michael
      Thank you so much for sharing that thread. I am amazed however that so many responses try to say the an investigation, predicated on fabricated evidence known to have originated within the Clinton campaign and given an air of authenticity by senior members of the Obama team and discussed on January 5 2017 in the oval office with Obama and Biden, has no evidentiary basis.

      • They mean “except for THAT evidence”. These are the same people demanding that people “trust the science” and also demand that the schools stay closed. Of course, they also demand that we ‘believe’ in global warming. Sorry, not my religion.

  3. (1) Again, how can the government justify funding NPR? This is a news outlet that acts exclusively as the PR arm for 1 political party. Of course, the same argument could be made for our flagship state universities and public school system.

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