Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/18/21: Ethics Alarms Awakens! [Corrected]

Pretty dead around here yesterday; my fault, I guess. I hate when life gets in the way of ethics.

  1. July 18 is another of those bad old days in U.S. ethics history. Consider:
  • On July 18, 1989, 21-year-old Rebecca Schaeffer, a rising Hollywood actress who had starred with Pam Dawber (of “Mork and Mindy” fame) in the television sitcom “My Sister Sam” was  murdered at her Los Angeles home by Robert John Bardo, a deranged stalker who was obsessed with her. Like a lot of horrible events, this one had some beneficial results: stalking was finally recognized as an extreme and dangerous form of sexual harassment, and not as mere cute romantic perseverance, as it was represented in, for example, “The Graduate.”

  • In 1969 on this date, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts drove off a rickety bridge on  Chappaquiddick Island. Kennedy escaped his submerged car, but  28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne drowned, and Kennedy did not report the fatal car accident for 10 hours while he, his aides and family members plotted how to frame the story to minimize the scandal. (Ted was extremely lucky—or maybe this was a canny part of the cover-up— that his negligent manslaughter didn’t get to the news media until Apollo 11 moon landing mission was nearing its climax) In one of the worst examples of “The King’s Pass” in U.S. history, Kennedy was never arrested or charged as he should have been, Kennedy hush money kept Mary Jo’s family at bay, and ethics-free Massachusetts voters kept re-electing the last of the Kennedy brothers to the U.S. Senate for decades. The episode did probably keep him from becoming President, so there’s that.

  • On July 18, 1925, Volume One of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” a blue print for the nightmare to follow was published. Enough said…

  • On this date in 1914, Labor martyr Joe Hill, the activist folksinger whose pro-labor folk songs included one that introduced the expression “pie in the sky,” was sentenced to die by a conservative and anti-Labor jury in Utah.  He had been arrested and charged with murdering two Salt Lake City policemen during a grocery store robbery, but the evidence was flimsy, and his guilt has been debated ever since. Most historians think Hill’s execution by firing squad was political; nobody believes he was properly found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

  • No date is devoid of some honorable birthdays—Nelson Mandella was born on July 18, as was John Glenn—but July 18 is marked by also being the birthday of the one man whose name became an insult: Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Jonssøn Quisling. He was the Norwegian military officer and politician who became a Nazi collaborator and served as the figurehead leader of his country’s  government during its Nazi occupation  during World War II. After the war he was executed by a firing squad, and “quisling” now means “a traitor who collaborates with an enemy force.”

  • Speaking of villains, the Emperor Nero’s Rome burned on this date in 64 A.D., and while the depraved leader didn’t fiddle (the lyre was his instrument), he is suspected of not making much of an effort to stop the blaze, as he wanted to redesign the city anyway. Hundreds of Romans died in the fire and  thousands were left homeless while Nero sat out the excitement at his country villa. After the embers cooled, he used the catastrophe to slow the growing influence of Christianity in Rome, arresting, torturing and executing hundreds of Christians for supposedly starting the fire.
  • And an apparent unethical act on this date in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt’s nomination for a precedent-breaking third Presidential term, illustrates the Ethics Incompleteness Principle. While George Washington’s self-imposed two-term limit was a wise and important safety-valve on the Presidency to make the rise of a popular dictator more difficult (and FDR was exactly the kind of man who was a threat to be such a figure), every ethics rule has an exception. Winston Churchill (among others) was convinced that any other President would have risked a Nazi victory in World War II, and he was right. Churchill lobbied FDR hard to break with tradition; after the war, that broken tradition became a Constitution mandate.

2. Baseball crowd ethics: An asshole in the Yankee Stadium left field bleachers threw a baseball at Red Sox leftfielder Alex Verdugo during last night’s Sox-Yankees game and hit him, causing Boston to pull its team off the field. This sort of thing used to happen a lot in the game’s primitive days a hundred years ago. It’s rare now, but less rare among Yankee fans than anywhere else. Other fans around the assailant cheered the attack, while some pointed him out to stadium security, which removed him, one hopes to a jail cell.

3. And speaking of unethical crowds...a videotape of Michelle Leete, Vice President of Training at the Virginia PTA, Vice President of Communications for the Fairfax County PTA and First Vice President of the Fairfax County NAACP, ranting in inflammatory verbiage against parents who oppose Critical Race Theory included the exhortation “let them die.” Considerable applause followed. Leete was recorded at a counter-demonstration to an anti-CRT rally saying,

So let’s meet and remain steadfast in speaking truth, tearing down double standards, and refuting double talk. Let’s not allow any double downing on lies. Let’s prepare our children for a world they deserve. Let’s deny this off-key band of people that are anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-equity, anti-history, anti-racial reckoning, anti-opportunities, anti-help people, anti-diversity, anti-platform, anti-science, anti-change agent, anti-social justice, anti-healthcare, anti-worker, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-children, anti-healthcare, anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-admissions policy change, anti-inclusion, anti-live-and-let live people. Let them die. Don’t let these uncomfortable people, don’t let these uncomfortable people deter us from our bold march forward.” 

How does anyone have a dialogue with someone like that? The only alternative is battle. Such people do not believe in democracy; the words speak for themselves. [Pointer: Res Ipsa Loquitur]

4. And the aftermath:

NAACP announcement

Good, except: does anyone think that someone like Leete with her racist beliefs and contempt for civil discourse could have risen to a leadership position in an organization with an embedded culture that was not welcoming to such attitudes?

5. Waiting to see how Ken reconciles this position with the condemnation of President’s Trump’s attacks on fake news and the biased news media. Popehat’s Ken White is now another blog expatriate trying to make money on substack—not that there’s anything wrong with that—and here is his statement regarding the President’s attack against Facebook for helping evil conservatives spread “disinformation” about the Wuhan virus and related topics, expressed in a series of tweets. (I also don’t see how a serious advocate of free speech can continue supporting Twitter, but that’s another topic). Ken tweeted:

White tweets


  • Ken’s partisan biases are showing with the “deadly misinformation” rhetoric. At this point, who can be sure what’s “misinformation,” “disinformation,” or propaganda about the virus?
  • The government’s leadership function is being abused when it criticizes private entities, because such criticism carries the inherent threat of government action—as Ken, as a First Amendment authority, knows well. This is called “chilling speech.”
  • President Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media’s dangerous transformation into a progressive propaganda organ was condemned by the “resistance”/ Democratic Party/ mainstream news media alliance as “autocratic” and a threat to freedom of the press. How were those attacks unconscionable and alarming if Ken is encouraging the Biden Administration to use the “bully pulpit” to call down the public’s wrath against Facebook?

I’ll tell you the differences: First, while I believe a President should never attack private citizens and companies engaged in lawful behavior, the conversion of the news media itself into a partisan  mouthpiece is so dangerous to the nation that an exception is called for. The previous President was obligated to use his metaphorical megaphone to counter it, because no one else could. Second, the government can regulate Facebook, and cannot regulate the news media. Third, what is posted on social media is by definition opinion and advocacy. The government can lead by telling participants to be skeptical and check their sources and facts, not that they have a “moral” imperative to side with one point of view.

I remain a great admirer of Ken White and his writing, but bias makes you stupid, and it has led Ken into a disappointing double standard.

8 thoughts on “Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/18/21: Ethics Alarms Awakens! [Corrected]

  1. Well, you at least triggered this memory from the folk music I listened to in my youth:
    “Joe Hill”
    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
    Alive as you and me.
    Says I “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”
    “I never died” said he,
    “I never died” said he.

    “The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
    They shot you Joe” says I.
    “Takes more than guns to kill a man”
    Says Joe “I didn’t die”
    Says Joe “I didn’t die”

    “In Salt Lake City, Joe,” says I,
    Him standing by my bed,
    “They framed you on a murder charge,”
    Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead,”
    Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead.”

    And standing there as big as life
    And smiling with his eyes.
    Says Joe “What they can never kill
    Went on to organize,
    Went on to organize”

    From San Diego up to Maine,
    In every mine and mill,
    Where working men defend their rights,
    It’s there you find Joe Hill,
    It’s there you find Joe Hill!

    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
    Alive as you and me.
    Says I “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”
    “I never died” said he,
    “I never died” said he.

    (Writers: Earl Robinson, Alfred Hayes, John Loesberg)

  2. Not-pick: the moon landing was on the 20th, but the mission was already well underway by the 18th. The timing of a humanity-changing event certainly was close enough to overshadow some local political scandal.


    • Also not-pick: it was really a national scandal. Thanks—I knew better, and that was sloppy. There has been much speculation that Kennedy’s flacks were aware that the news media and teh nation would be focused on the moon shot, and that they planned accordingly.

      • Okay, now I think you are messing with me, Jack.

        I tried several times not to misspell “nit-pick,” only to have it come out “not-pick.” (Grrr…Autocorrect!)

        Then, you wrote “not-pick.”

        I don’t know how to respond.


  3. 1. My grandfather probably stalked my grandmother before he married her. Of course that was in the 1930s. In all fairness to garden-variety intense fans, Robert Bardo, only 19 years old at the time of the murder, was already close to the deep end. He’d previously stalked now-forgotten peace activist Samantha Smith and that’s where his attention shifted to poor Ms. Schaeffer, who’d starred with Samantha on the short-lived TV show “My Sister Sam.” He already had a domestic violence record before any of this. He wasn’t just a fan who went too far – he was a ticking time bomb. That said, some intense fans get lucky: A college bandmate and his wife looked up fantasy author Lloyd Alexander when they were in the area (Drexel Hill, PA), found his number, called him, and he actually invited them to his place for a visit. Another colleague used to regularly see Jerry Orbach in the area he worked when they were filming Law and Order, but never approached him…until he heard that he was leaving the show, then he did go over and wish him farewell, which Mr. Orbach was pretty gracious about. Then there was the time I was showing a friend from OH and her husband around NYC. She must have sharper eyes than me, because she spotted Taylor Kinney and Jesse Spencer of Chicago Fire fame and made a beeline for them before either her husband or I could stop her. Thankfully they were understanding and posed for pictures.

    Kennedy got lucky more than once, he was also caught plagiarizing in college, which would have earned anyone else a fast and permanent boot out the door. I think he was possibly one of the greatest villains ever to serve in the Senate, which says as much about his level of villainy as it says little for the brain-dead Boston Irish who kept putting him back in. It disgusts me that the Catholic church allowed him, the king of abortion with a lifestyle that was as far from Catholic as black is from white, a Catholic funeral, when he deserved nothing more than to be dumped in a potter’s grave.

    Not so jazzed about Nelson Mandela, who was originally a Marxist and who allowed a huge amount of corruption to flourish in South Africa. Not making any excuses for Afrikaner racism either, though. Nero and Hitler need no comment. Should FDR have gone for that third term? Maybe, given the special circumstances. Definitely not the fourth, though, when he knew he was going to go down for the dirt nap before a year was over.

    2. That fan got banned for life. Good for the Yankees. It is just so stupid to throw stuff at players, and you’d think after the “Malice at the Palace” everyone would have figured that out.

    3, 4. Good for the PTA for tossing this woman out. Still, the fact that there are Americans who think like that, and a lot of them are probably in education, makes me very worried for the future of this country. That stuff sounds like a mix of Amiri Baraka the elder (he had a son by the same name who’s still around) and Hitler. There’s a fine line between being a militant and being a fascist.

    5. Like you said, bias makes you stupid.

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