Welcome February Ethics Warm-Up, 2/1/22: Yes, Whoopi Is Officially An Idiot

A Janet Jackson movie is playing on cable, so of course we’re going to hear, again, how poor Janet was unfairly and cruelly blamed for “Nipplegate,” when the supposedly family-friendly Super Bowl half-time show featured an uncleared rapey bit of choreography in which Justin Timberlake “tore” Jackson’s costume, revealing her breast. It all happened on this date in 2004. CBS got fined and the NFL got in trouble. Timberlake lied, wink-wink, calling it a “wardrobe malfunction,” which everybody thought was cute. Historical revisionism has Janet as a victim of a sexist culture because she was the focus of most of the criticism and not the man in the plot. But it was her breast, after all. She also lied, and has been lying for almost 20 years.

Here is what I wrote about it in part on the Ethics Scoreboard the year it happened. I had forgotten: Janey Jackson got the very first Jumbo!

Janet Jackson has now appeared on the David Letterman Show to deny that her infamous Super Bowl breast-baring was anything but an accident. Before we discuss what a ridiculously transparent lie this is, let us also ask, “Why bother?” The damage, whatever it is, is done. Nobody is going to believe her. This was a fine opportunity for Jackson to stand up, admit an error in judgment, and use her celebrity to endorse some ethical values, like honesty, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and contrition.

But nooooooo.

Janet wants us to believe the incident was an accident, completely unchoreographed or planned. Never mind that:

  • Justin Timberlake’s move uncovering Ms. Jackson’s breast occurred on a musical beat, corresponding to song lyrics referring to his “having her naked by the end of this song.”
  • Her costume conveniently had a detachable flap that would expose the breast without doing any damage to the rest of her outfit.
  • Her breast had a large, uncomfortable-looking decoration of some kind stuck to it, raising the obvious question of what it was doing there if it wasn’t intended to be seen.
  • Timberlake’s comments immediately after the show confirmed that the moment was choreographed…

Oh, just never mind. If this were a crime, any jury would find Jackson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Even the most dishonest people, when confronted with undeniable proof of their misdeeds, will usually confess. Not Janet Jackson.

Here’s your elephant, kid. This Jumbo’s for you!

1. Who can you trust? Justice Breyer was reportedly angry that his plans to retire at the end of the current SCOTUS term was leaked. Only close staff, family, his Supreme Court colleagues and the President had been made aware of his decision. He did not want to be a lame duck justice, and had asked his confidantes for confidentiality. Now the mystery of who betrayed Breyer’s trust is solved. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters yesterday that President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, spilled the metaphorical beans.

If I were Breyer, my reaction would be to do what Donald Trump has done several times with leaks: make the leaker and the news media look foolish by changing course. I would not retire, after a betrayal like that, and make Democrats wait another term. Justice Breyer, however, doesn’t think this way Too bad.

2. And speaking of the Biden Supreme Court Pick Ethics Train Wreck, commenter sooner8728 shared with EA the Facebook post of a former college prof on the controversy:

“Brief rant (re: language and critical thinking skills). “Biden shouldn’t be choosing a SCOTUS candidate based on race, gender…it should be based on qualifications…”

This bit of laziness that passes for clear thinking in some circles is making the rounds, and it relies on a missing premise to sound “fair.” Put simply, there are dozens of qualified candidates, and so Biden is not choosing JUST based on race/gender. He begins with a field of candidates who are all qualified, and then he moves to the next criterion in the selection process, and that narrows the field, so that tertiary and quaternary factors are the determining factors because the primary and secondary factors — education, qualifications, expertise — are already a given.

From that perspective, choosing a Black woman makes perfect sense because representation matters, and in a field of qualified candidates, a heuristic like “who’s never been represented on the nation’s highest court?” makes more sense than “pick the most qualified candidate.” There is likely no such thing as “most qualified candidate,” but Americans have been conditioned to think every category has a “champion,” so Biden is working against sloppy assumptions and the missing premise (bias) that requires the conservatives say the quiet part out loud: “whichever Black woman Biden chooses won’t be as qualified as the (likely White) person we prefer.”

I’d say a wretched and dishonest opinion like that is more worthy of firing than anything Ilya Shapiro tweeted. Critical thinking skills, eh?

  • Biden has limited his pool unethically and unnecessarily. The professor is using a straw man: nobody has said that being black and female is the only criteria Biden will use, or the nice night nurse at Alexandria Hospital I met last week would be on his list.
  • How does he know Biden is beginning with a pool that is “all qualified?” He chose Kamala Harris using the same limiting filter, and she was unqualified for VP.
  • Biden committed himself to picking a black woman before he had any idea what his options would be. How can this guy claim that those were “tertiary and quaternary factors” when they were the first factors to be considered?
  • “Representation matters” is never supported in the post, because in Woke World, it is just accepted on faith. Group identification, however, is nearly impossible to defend on a crucial body where what matters most is objective, perceptive, learned and serious legal analysis.
  •  “Who’s never been represented on the nation’s highest court” makes more sense than “pick the most qualified candidate”? Whatever you say, buddy. That’s an intellectually dishonest way to reach a desired conclusion without support or evidence. Bad judges work that way.
  • “There is likely no such thing as “most qualified candidate.” Utter nonsense.
  • Finally, he ends by race-baiting, because that’s what current progressives default to when they don’t have legitimate points to offer. He even does this when the most prominent critic of Biden’s racial discrimination, Illya Shapiro, explained in his infamous tweet that he believed an Asian-American female judge was the best option. You know…a “(White)” judge.

3. Here’s a bad solution to a genuine problem…Arguing that the lawyer discipline process has been “weaponized” as a political tool, Republican Arizona State Sen. Vince Leach of Tucson has proposed SB 1566, which if turned into law would mandate that if someone files a complaint with the Bar and the investigation does not result in discipline, both the Bar and the person who brought the complaint not only have to pay the lawyer’s legal fees, but also any “loss of future earnings and damage to the attorney’s reputation.” 

I agree that the disciplinary process has been politicized (Rudy Giuliani is a prime example) but discouraging citizen complaints and bar investigations would gut the profession’s ability to week out the bad apples, too many of which get away with unethical lawyering as it is.

4. Apparently being on “The View” too long has made Whoopi stupid. It was bound to happen. The #1 opinionated panelist on the long-running ABC blight on TV branded herself an ignoramus by saying,

The Holocaust isn’t about race. No, it’s not about race. It’s about man’s inhumanity to man… It’s how people treat each other…. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white because black, white, Jews, Italians, everybody eats each other.

This would be a shock to Adolf. Apparently nobody told Whoopi about all the “master race” stuff. You would think she had at least seen “The Producers.” Guess not.

Her various apologies and explanations suggest  she is sincerely sorry that she upset so many people (Many of whom want her fired), but the real issue is that her discussion of the issue indicates that the actress just isn’t very competent or informed, certainly not sufficiently informed for her opinions to be worthy of broadcasting. She really said, “I think of race as something I can see.” She really did.

5. A legally unethical call in Ahmaud Arbery case. Federal judge Lisa Godbey Wood of U.S. District Court rejected identical plea deals worked out between the Justice Department and the two of Arbery’s three killers, Travis McMichael, 36, and his father, Gregory McMichael yesterday. The judge was so moved because the family of the victim strongly opposed the deal. Prosecutors made the plea deals to guarantee that the men would face serious prison time for the death of Arbery, even in the unlikely possibility that their state murder convictions were overturned on appeal. Their federal sentence would have run concurrently with their state sentences of life without the possibility of parole. The arrangement would also bar the men from appealing their federal guilty pleas, and Travis McMichael agreed to sign a confession that his part in the crime was triggered by racism.

The family wanted more. Well, too bad. The victim’s family in a murder prosecution isn’t the client; the State is, and the public. “The People,” remember? I have long felt that such sensitive innovations as victims having the chance to scream at defendants before sentencing seriously warps the criminal justice system and the public’s understanding of it.

I guess the focus on the family of victims confuses judges too. The men were going into prison for good, and the trials that the family is forcing will cost millions, just so it can experience “closure.” Families almost never derail plea deals. This is a bad precedent.

28 thoughts on “Welcome February Ethics Warm-Up, 2/1/22: Yes, Whoopi Is Officially An Idiot

  1. I saw on the news yesterday a member of the victim’c family (or so she claimed) who basically said the opposed the plea agreement “because we have worked long and hard to get them into state prison.” [I may not have the quotation exactly correct, but the emphasis was on state, as opposed to federal, prison.] I presume that the family thinks that incarceration in a state facility would be worse than in a federal one. But this seems to me to be seeking revenge rather than punishment. Otherwise, what difference does it make if he defendants are incarcerated for a long, long period of time.

  2. Regarding Number 3, it is worth noting that lawyers are obligated to report what they believe to be unethical behavior. We can’t be having lawyers paying other people’s lawyer fees for being wrong. Has the world gone mad?!?!

    I mean, that even strengthens your point, because attorneys are obligated to make complaints, and they still probably do it far less frequently than they should.

    I have complained about 4 lawyers and 2 judges. All were investigated, and all of them went nowhere (ultimately). All but one of them were cases where I could clearly describe the offending conduct; the last one was a very fine line where I was not sure if his conduct fell under the same analysis as his colleague (about whom I also complained). And, I was upfront with the Board about that.


    • But though Rule 8.3 makes it mandatory to report a lawyer once you have concluded that the lawyer’s unethical conduct calls into question the fitness to practice law, how many lawyers have been disciplined for not filing a mandatory complaint? If you don’t know, guess.

      • Jack, I would guess Zero, but the topic comes up all the time, probably because it cuts really close to some logical issues.

        Personal note though: Minnesota (presumably like most other states) has a Lawyer Ethics Hotline where lawyers can discuss ethics questions with an attorney with the Board. On at least two occasions, I called them to find out if I was obligated to report someone. Both times, it turned in the language “ that the lawyer’s unethical conduct calls into question the fitness to practice law.” Failure to communicate with a client may be unethical but need not be reported; contrast that with an attorney who never calls clients back. And, that can be contrasted with a client who keeps client money that has not been earned; the Court has said a single incident of misappropriation of funds reflects on the fitness to practice and can warrant disbarment.


  3. The problem with filing bar complaints against prosecutors and filing complaints about judges is that both entities will hold a grudge and that may directly impact other clients you represent when dealing with the same prosecutors and judges. The old adage is applicable; when you set out to kill the king, you better make sure you kill him.

  4. Regarding Number 4, why are you making me defend Whoopi? She almost sounded almost intelligent before her mouth outpaced her brain.

    The intelligent comment would be that the Holocaust was not simply about race. The qualification would be that it was not simply about race, unless you take “the Holocaust” to be specifically about the attempted genocide of Jews. That definition, however, ignores the 5-6 million non-Jews that were killed in the concentration camps.

    That distinction (which may be legitimate), however, is really a semantic one. It looks like she was using “Holocaust” to refer to all that went on in the concentration camps. And, even the Jews have adopted a different word, “Shoah,” to designate their experience.

    However, leaving that semantic dispute aside, the Holocaust (or the industrialized killing of millions of people) was not simply about race. On that, Whoopi was right; she tried to be right (she said she should have said it was about both race, and man’s inhumanity to man–on that, she was right). The Nazis had a very elaborate classification system for the groups, let’s call them Deplorables, they sought to eliminate:


    Granted, a majority of those killed were Jews, and other racial or ethnic groups were represented. Then, of course, they went after a laundry list of the usual suspects, ne’er do wells, and no-goodniks.

    So, to say it more clearly. The Holocaust* was not simply about race. Another reason I know this? The poem in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    -Martin Niemoeller

    Then, she went and said that she thinks race is what you can see. OOOH, and she was so close!

    But, yes, I am sure everything I have said here would make Joy Behar’s head explode; one can only hope she is an avid reader of Ethics Alarms. The reality is just too complicated for those who want simple explanations.


    • Ever since I wrote my story about a Jewish man whose father was murdered at Auschwitz; I’ve come to despise the term “Holocaust.” It makes the industrial murder of millions and millions of human beings, including the elderly and children, sound as if it was some sort of natural catastrophe akin to a hurricane or an earthquake. Shoah’s an improvement insofar as it means the mass murder of millions of Jews. Holocaust is too metaphorical. I’m not sure what the root of Shoah is. But personally, I’d prefer “The nearly indiscriminate industrial murder of millions and millions of human beings by the duly elected government of Germany and its leaders and functionaries.” Cumbersome, but to the point.

    • Whoopie’s comments would have no merit even if that were what she successfully said. The Holocaust was specifically about eliminating the Jews. 90% of the death camp victims were Jews. There were only 6 death camps, responsible for killing 6 million Jews. This is compared to 1000+ concentration camps that imprisoned 1.6 million people (1 million of whom died of disease, injury, or exposure). That is an average of 1000 deaths per ordinary camp containing your garden variety political prisoners and other undesirables compared to nearly a million a piece at the camps targeting the Jews!

      The Holocaust was a uniquely racist event, attempting to wipe a whole group of people based on their religion and national origin. That a few hundred thousand Romani and miscellaneous Slavs also got gassed only proves the Nazis were racist against other groups, too.

      Also, the Jews use the term “Shoah” not to highlight their particular suffering, but because the term “Holocaust” refers to a holy burnt offering in the Temple for the atonement of sins. Holocaust are a deeply meaningful an good thing in Judaism, so the refer to the extermination activities of the Nazis as the “calamity”.

    • Whoopi went on Colbert last night and made some interesting clarifications as to what she meant.

      “Colbert: Have you come to understand the Nazis saw it as race? Because asking the Nazis they would say “yes, it’s a racial issue.”

      Whoopi: Well, see this is what’s interesting to me, because the Nazis lied. It wasn’t.

      They had issues with ethnicity, not with race, because most of the Nazis were white people and most of the people they were attacking were white people.

      So to me, I’m thinking, how can you say it’s about race if you are fighting each other? So, it all really began because I said “how will we explain to children what happened in Nazi Germany?” This wasn’t racial, this was about white-on-white…

      So, once again, don’t write me anymore, I know how you feel. Don’t write me anymore, I know. I get it. And, uh, I’m going to take your word for it and never bring it up again.”

    • Joy says things every show that are dumber than Whoopie’s Holocaust gaffe. It IS nice to see a blacl performer slapped down for what was basically a “you can’t be racist to white people” stand, but if ABC is going to profit from a show where a lot of under-educated, biased and blather-mouth women spout opinions extemporaneously, it should be more forgiving and respectful of free speech. Goldberg is the smartest one on The View. At least Whoopie’s stupid statements are thoughtful, unlike Joy’s.

      • Whoopi, like the supremely ugly and thankfully now dead Helen Thomas, stupidly touched the rail you’re not allowed to touch. As someone who is Jewish, she should know better. She is damn lucky that she is getting off with only a two-week suspension rather than being fired and her life falling completely to pieces, which is what happened to Helen for saying equally outrageous things. That said, Helen was over 90 and her career was essentially over. Whoopi presumably can still bring in the ratings, so she gets off with just a suspension.

        • But she’s NOT Jewish, in any way! Ann Althouse, who has had a lot of stories land in her weird weird wheelhouse lately, reviews the history, here.

          ” One account recalls that her mother, Emma Johnson, thought the family’s original surname was “not Jewish enough” for her daughter to become a star. Researcher Henry Louis Gates Jr. found that all of Goldberg’s traceable ancestors were African Americans, that she had no known German or Jewish ancestry, and that none of her ancestors were named Goldberg. Results of a DNA test, revealed in the 2006 PBS documentary African American Lives, traced part of her ancestry to the Papel and Bayote people of modern-day Guinea-Bissau. Her admixture test indicates that she is of 92 percent sub-Saharan African origin and of 8 percent European origin.”

          Ann adds, “It’s a bit like blackface, especially if you, like the Nazis, regard being Jewish as racial.”

          But Whoopi has claimed to be Jewish in the past.

          • Indeed. she claimed in 2011, “My mother did not name me Whoopi, but Goldberg is my name—it’s part of my family, part of my heritage, just like being black”, and “I just know I am Jewish. I practice nothing. I don’t go to temple, but I do remember the holidays.”[16] She has stated that “people would say ‘Come on, are you Jewish?’ And I always say ‘Would you ask me that if I was white? I bet not.'”

            Of course she had to slip that black/white thing in at the end to shut further questioning down.

            • Would I ask it if she were white? Maybe. I still wonder why they called George Zimmerman a White Hispanic, and not a Hispanic Jew.

    • I am not defending Goldberg’s remarks when I say that advocating suspensions and or firings for what they say on TV which is inaccurate or perceived to be inaccurate negates our ability to chastise the left for their lack of tolerance toward opinions they believe are “wrongthink”.

      We do ourselves a great disservice when we jump on the punish the speech bandwagon. The only effective and ethical course of action is more speech. Punishing people makes them martyrs in their spheres of influence and reinforces the inaccurate or objectionable idea. Countering the idea with more speech and better arguments is the only way to counteract what you find objectionable. If you cannot articulate a better argument, then it is possible you are the one who is espousing inaccurate ideas.

      • I agree. It is better to let people say what they think so people can understand the full ramifications of what some of these ideas mean. I don’t think canceling people does anyone any good.

        People need to take a step back and realize being offended is not that big of a deal. It’s a temporary blip in your life. A short period of anger that you forget about the second something else occupies your time and concentration. Anyone who is permanently traumatized by being offended has nothing better to do with their life and needs to work on that.

        Wokism espouses this idea that racism is only possible for white people because racism is prejudice + power, and only white people have power. The entire idea is nonsensical and racist on its face, but activists have brainwashed an awful lot of people into believing it. If you carry this definition of racism to its logical endpoint it leads to some really racist ideas and some really ignorant logical endpoints, such as the Holocaust wasn’t about race. People need to know that. If you shut everyone up that articulates the logical endpoints of this definition, it just lets the root idea fester and spread. Most people don’t think about abstract philosophical ideas very hard. They have work and family, everyday things to do that are more important to them than pondering the meaning of words. They need someone else to do the hard job of thinking about stuff and telling them what that stuff really means.

        I don’t like what Whoopi said. I think it is racist, historically ignorant, and displays a corrupted understanding of the way people actually think and interact with other races in most parts of the world. It is an extremely America-centric way of looking at the world. The racial interactions in the United States are not applicable to most countries. Just because we end up tossing a bunch of different ethnicities into the white pot here, doesn’t mean people in other countries consider those ethnicities to be white. She apparently is incapable of comprehending that. To her, Jews are white, so white people killing them might be an issue, but it isn’t racism. She probably also considers Italians white, but historically that was not always the case. What about Hispanics? They are also European. Are they white yet? How many decades would it have taken for black people to become white if intersectionalism hadn’t disrupted the melting pot process?

        Intersectionalism is dangerous if left to run to its logical endpoints. It’s an application of Marxism. Split people up in different groups, label some as good and some as evil that needs to be punished, and pit them against each other. Suppress all other explanations of the differences between groups so people have no other choice but to fight. Incentivize people to desire to move from the bad groups to the good ones so you can control their behavior. It’s disgustingly unethical, and people need to hear the truth about these ideas. Shutting everyone up who speaks these truths just keeps the pernicious ideas alive. Let both sides of the argument talk. Stop censoring everyone.

        Censorship is contagious. They censor you, so you try to censor them back. That doesn’t work, it just shuts everyone up so nothing can be discussed. Punishing people for being stupid and ignorant is self-defeating. Punishment doesn’t make people less stupid and ignorant, it just makes them mad. Discussion and the open flow of ideas is a better solution. Cancel culture is stunting our growth.

  5. The whole Nazi movement started with “We deserve better than the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression.” Then it quickly went off the rails into, “We will build a glorious society by forcing people to conform to our notions of what members of society ought to be like, and we’ll eliminate anyone who doesn’t conform. …And then we’ll take over the world!”

    There are several problems with this entire line of reasoning. Even if they hadn’t so narrowly defined “desirable member of society,” and even if they hadn’t handed power over to a cult of personality of corrupt maniacs, there still would have been problems with forcing people to conform or leave.

    I think humans haven’t gotten used to this whole “democracy” thing. They’re still making beginner-level mistakes. Just because the person you voted for wins doesn’t mean they can’t turn out to be evil, or incompetent. Or both.

    Regarding Whoopi Goldberg, I’m willing to accept her semantic convention of “race” as a visible ethnic difference, whereas “ethnicity” in general might not be easily distinguishable just by meeting someone. My question is… why is that important here? Why does she feel the need to emphasize that the Nazis were not only racist by anybody’s definition, but also bigoted against other humans who looked similar enough to them that they could pass for members of Germanic ethnicities? Does it make an ethical difference? Why would it make more or less sense than bigotry that keys off of skin color?

    After all, bigotry doesn’t start with appearances. It starts with cultural differences. It starts with, “I don’t think these people contribute to the society I want to live in. I think they will interfere with it, so I want them to go away. I don’t value them, or how they think or live, so I don’t care what happens to them.”

    Then appearance gets tied in with this general contempt, as soon as someone figures out how; sometimes it’s immediate and other times it’s trickier. With ideological bigotry, “they look just like everyone else”, so the bigots place emphasis on differences in behavior and values.

    Therefore, to dispel bigotry, we need people to understand what they all have in common.

    If realizing how all this works is the train of thought that Goldberg has boarded, I think it’s in our best interests as constructive thinkers to encourage her to make it to the end of the line.

  6. The DailyWire is reporting that Whoopi Goldberg chose that name as sort of an inside joke; a black woman with an overtly Jewish-sounding name – how edgy! Her real name is or was Caryn Johnson; I don’t know if she’s legally changed her name, but that’s as Jewish as she is; a JINO.
    I despise cancel culture. Regrettably, I am forced to choose between reciprocal standards and ethical ones. Roseanne Barr was cancelled immediately after posting a tweet that I have to squint to see racial animus. Ms Goldberg (nee Johnson) got to blow her antisemitic remarks twice on The View and once on Stephen Colbert; she is suspended for two weeks and prominent voices are citing that this is too severe. How many double-standards have to simultaneously take place before it becomes ethical to react unethically?
    I don’t want Whoopi cancelled, but that hasn’t been the game being played during the last decade. I feel this story would have been prime for IITDX…

  7. The only reason to care one whit about Whoopi Goldberg opinions and statements is that so many people are more stupid than she is, and believe she is worthy of note. What concerns me is that she has a spot on a national opinion program, and will continue to do so even though she is completely revealed as a moronic ideologue. Similarly, who cares if Sean Hannity comes to her defense? We are in the thrall of an entire class of ill-equipped and ignorant “opinion leaders,” of which Goldberg and Hannity are just the most recent examples. Our national IQ is in free fall, and that, that, should be our concern.

  8. “We are in the thrall of an entire class of ill-equipped and ignorant “opinion leaders,” of which Goldberg and Hannity are just the most recent examples. Our national IQ is in free fall, and that, that, should be our concern.”

    We can say this about every person espousing a countervailing opinion. Some find Fauci the font of all knowledge with respect to science while others believe him a charlatan who wants to continue living in glory no matter who it hurts.

    Opinion leaders offer opinions based on their experiences and understanding of an issue. The difference between them and the common citizen is that they have access to a microphone. Whether or not the experiences or understanding is valid to the broader society is up to the broader society to assess. Opinion leaders have an agenda, so it is up to the broader society to evaluate the validity of the opinions they embrace. Even if we had well equipped and informed opinion leaders it will be the people who pick the opinion that serves their interests. Case in point: We have numerous medical professionals who have diametrically opposed opinions on masks, Ivermectin, natural immunity and lockdowns yet the side that one disagrees with is treated as misinformation.

    It may not be that we have ill equipped and ignorant opinion leaders leading to the decline of the national IQ. We should consider the fact that we as consumers of opinions are not seeking to understand the issue but simply looking for authorities to validate our own opinions.

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