Category Archives: Professions

This Just In: Journalism Ethics Is Still Dead…

An ad currently running on the New York Times website:

Drone footage that shows Greenland melting away. Long narratives about the plight of climate refugees, from Louisiana to Bolivia and beyond. A series on the California drought. Color-coded maps that show how hot it could be in 2060.

The New York Times is a leader in covering climate change. Now The Times is ramping up its coverage to make the most important story in the world even more relevant, urgent and accessible to a huge audience around the globe. We are looking for an editor to lead this dynamic new group. We want someone with an entrepreneurial streak who is obsessed with finding new ways to connect with readers and new ways to tell this vital story.

The coverage should encompass: the science of climate change; the politics of climate debates; the technological race to find solutions; the economic consequences of climate change; and profiles of fascinating characters enmeshed in the issues. The coverage should include journalism in a variety of formats: video, photography, newsletters, features, podcasts, conferences and more. The unit should make strategic decisions about which forms are top priorities and which are not.

The climate editor will collaborate with many others throughout the newsroom, but will operate apart from the current department structure, with no print obligations. (The Times is also searching for editors to lead similar teams exploring education and gender.)

This is, of course, smoking gun evidence of a political agenda, bias, and the intent of the Times to warp policy and public opinion according to what it has already determined is “the most important story in the world.”  Continue reading

19 Comments

Filed under Environment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Professions, Science & Technology

Stupid Cops Matter

Perfect match.

Perfect match.

In a case where Hanlon’s Razor (“Never assume malice is the explanation if stupidity will suffice”) applies but one can’t really blame a mother for thinking otherwise, police in Newark  inexplicably mistook an innocent pre-teen black boy for an adult robbery suspect and chased him through a Newark neighborhood with guns drawn. This is stupidity, not racism. Well, who knows: there could be racism mixed in there too, but what jumps out is the jaw-dropping incompetence.

Legend Preston, just ten years old, was fetching a basketball that had rolled into the street when he looked up and saw armed cops running towards him as if they meant business. So he ran.

“I was scared for my life,” Legend told reporters. “I was thinking that they were going to shoot me.” Good thinking, kid. If these cope were inept enough to get a ten-year-old  confused with Casey Joseph Robinson, a 20-year-old, dreadlocks-sporting perp with facial hair (he was arrested in the next block), who knows what they might do?

Legend was quickly surrounded by neighbors  who emphatically pointed out to the police that they were chasing a child, as the officers stammered that he “fit the description” of the criminal. Well, sort of. Okay, okay, now that we’re up close, we see that he’s under five feet tall, dressed like a kid, doesn’t have dreadlocks or facial hair, and looks nothing like the guy, except that he’s black, which means we also could also mistake him for Bill Cosby, Jesse Jackson, Morgan Freeman, or LeBron James. Continue reading

72 Comments

Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Race, U.S. Society

Health And Survival Rationing Ethics

cointoss

Beginning in 2012, Dr. Lee Daugherty Biddison, a critical care physician at Johns Hopkins and some colleagues have held public forums around Maryland to solicit the public’s opinions about how life-saving medical assistance should be distributed when there are too many desperately ill patients and not enough resources. The exercise was part of the preparation  for Biddenson’s participation in preparing official recommendations for state agencies that  might end up  as national guidelines regarding when doctors should remove one patient from a ventilator to save another who might have a better chance of surviving, or whether the young should have priority over the old.

Ethically, this is pure ends justifying the means stuff. The Golden Rule is useless—How would you like to be treated? I’d want to be left on the ventilator, of course!–and Kantian ethics break down, since Immanuel forbade using human life to achieve even the best objectives…like saving a human life. Such trade-offs of life for life (or lives) is the realm of utilitarianism, and an especially brutal variety….so brutal that I doubt that it is ethics at all.

When Dr. Biddenson justifies his public forums by saying that he wants to include current societal values in his life-for-a-life calculations, she is really seeking current biases, because that’s all they are. On the Titanic, it was women and children first, not because it made societal sense to allow some of the most productive and vibrant minds alive to drown simply because they had a Y chromosome, but because that’s just the way it was. Old women and sick children got on lifeboats;  young men, like emerging mystery writer Jacque Futrelle (and brilliant young artist Leonardo DiCaprio), went down with the ship. That’s not utilitarianism. That’s sentimentalism.

The New York Times article mostly demonstrates that human beings are incapable of making ethical guidelines, because Kant was right: when you start trading one life for another, it’s inherently unethical, even if you have no choice but to do it. Does it make societal sense to take away Stephen Hawking’s ventilator to help a drug-addicted, habitual criminal survive? Well, should violating drug laws sentence a kid to death? TILT! There are no ethical answers, just biased decisions. Continue reading

26 Comments

Filed under Bioethics, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, History, Professions, Rights, U.S. Society

A Plague Of Misleading Headlines

Fake headline

The mad quest for clicks appears to be leading websites that should know better to sink to misleading or outright dishonest headlines on the web. For someone like me, who has to scan these looking for possible ethics issues, it is an increasingly annoying phenomenon. Readers need to speak up. The practice is unethical, and moreover, suggests that the source itself isn’t trustworthy.

Here are three current examples;

1. The Daily Beast: “Idiocracy’ Director Mike Judge: Fox Killed Our Anti-Trump Camacho Ads”

Boy, isn’t it just like that conservative, Trump-promoting Faux News to help The Donald by using its power, influence, lawyers, something to stop the makers of “Idiocracy,” that comic classic, from being used to save the country from American Hitler?

That’s sure how the Daily Beast wanted its largely Democratic readership to react to its headline over the story about a fizzled effort to use the the film’s character  of ex-porn star future U.S. President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Drew Herbert Camacho, played by Terry Crews, in a series of comic spots ridiculing Trump’s candidacy. The story, however, never quotes Judge as saying Fox—that would be the movie side of Twentieth Century Fox, not Fox News, which had no say in the matter: the company produced the film and owns the right to it and all of its characters—killed the project.  All Judge says is that the idea of doing a series of such ads didn’t come to fruition, for a whole list of reasons which might have included Fox’s distaste for the project.. Of  Fox, he says this..

“I think also Fox… yeah, they… even though they’ve probably forgotten they still own it…”

The writer then suggests that company owner Rupert Murdoch might not like the idea, and thus prompted, Judge replies,

“Yeah. That’s the other thing. I think there was a roadblock there, too…I just heard that [the proposed ads] were put on the shelf, so it looks like they’re not going to happen.”

Based on this, the author, typical Daily Beast hack Marlow Stern, writes, “It looks like Fox refused—and the ads are now dead.” Stern never says that Fox refused; it is the “reporter” who says it. Meanwhile, when the Daily Beast writes about “Fox,” it is referring to Fox News 99.9% of the time, and knows that’s what its readers will think when they read “Fox.”

The headline is intentionally misleading, and a lie.

(Incidentally, the movie is a great concept that under-delivers on its premise and potential, and should be a lot funnier than it is) Continue reading

10 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, language, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, The Internet

From The Ethics Alarms Mail Bag: “Does It Matter If A Lawyer Is A Neo-Nazi?”

"Anyone who would hire this lawyer is evil! EVIL!!!"

“Anyone who would hire this lawyer is evil! EVIL!!!”

“…What if he’s hired for a government job?”

This is a great question, and I’m going to bedevil the lawyers in my upcoming ethics seminars with it. It’s not a hard question, though.

The answer is, “No, it doesn’t matter, just as it doesn’t matter if the lawyer is a Republican, a vegan, a libertarian, a creationist, a global warming denier, an Adam Sandler fan, a Donald Trump loyalist, a Muslim, an ISIS sympathizer, a Druid, a Celine Dion worshiper, a New York Yankee fan or anything else. Lawyers have First Amendment rights. Lawyers can think what they want to, believe what they want to, donate where they want to and spout whatever unpopular or offensive opinions they want to, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their representation of their clients.

What prompted the question was this post on the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) website, which attempts to use guilt by association and classic McCarthyism tactics to smear the City of Baltimore because of what the lawyer defending it in a law suit believes. The SPLC—which itself often resembles a hate group–writes, Continue reading

70 Comments

Filed under Character, Citizenship, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Rights

Was It Ethical For Donald Trump’s Former Lawyer To Trash Him In The Huffington Post?

Backstabbed

That’s an easy question.

The answer is maybe, and no.

A couple of weeks ago, a real estate lawyer named Thomas M. Wells provoked a lively debate in the legal ethics community when he authored a Huffington Post piece titled “Donald Trump Hired Me As An Attorney. Please Don’t Support Him For President.” I’m proud to say that I flagged the issue for my colleagues first, in part because they unanimously detest Trump, even the tiny minority who aren’t full-blooded Democrats or progressives, and may have been blinded by that bias.

For me, the issue was crystallized by the headline. Wells’ headline (it doesn’t matter if it was really his or the site’s: as a lawyer, he is obligated to make sure that his article doesn’t breach legal ethics rules and principles, and the headline is part of his article) suggested that he had some special knowledge and authority regarding Trump because of what he had learned while representing him decades ago. The ethics rules prohibit lawyers from revealing client confidences, which are usually defined as what a lawyer learns about a client during the course of a representation that the client would not obviously want revealed to the world. Confidences can be revealed by actions, as well as words, and the headline comes very, very close to saying “I know things you don’t about Donald Trump because of what learned when I was his trusted lawyer.” What follows from that may be  a reader’s conclusion that the post reflects secret information. Thus the headline made my legal ethics alarms sound.

Wells has the same right as you or I to register a public opinion about his former (or current, for that matter ) client, as long as the opinion doesn’t interfere with his representation. Lawyers do not give up free speech right by being lawyers. That’s where the “maybe” comes from. There is strong disagreement in the profession about whether the answer to “Is this unethical?” should be an outright yes. The status of loyalty among the legal ethics values hierarchy is as hotly contested now as it ever has been. If a lawyer wants to attack a former client in a matter unrelated to the representation and no confidences are revealed in the process, is that a legal ethics breach? If it is, it would be a very tough one to prosecute. I think it’s a general ethics breach, as in wrong and unprofessional. It is disloyal, and clients should be able to trust their lawyers not to come back years later, after a client let the lawyer see all of his or her warts, and say, “This guy’s an asshole.” It undermines the strength of the public’s trust in the profession. Continue reading

16 Comments

Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Rights, The Internet

Unethical Headline Of The Month: The Daily Caller

Dewey Truman

You can hardly publish a more inaccurate. misleading and dumb headline than this one, appearing on the right-wing news and opinion site, over a report by Kevin Daily about the American Bar Association passing a new addition to its Rule 8.4, the ethics rule that defines ethical misconduct, as follows:

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: . . . (g) knowingly harass or discriminate against persons, on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status, while engaged [in conduct related to] [in] the practice of law.

Now here is the headline:

Lawyer Lobby Will Now Disbar You For Making An Off Color Remark

And here is how unconscionably misleading and absurd it is:

“Lawyer Lobby”: The American Bar Association is a lawyer’s professional association, and sure, it does some lobbying. However, lobbying is a small, small proportion of its activities. [ Full disclosure: I usually do a couple of ethics seminars for the ABA every year.] Calling it  a lobby suggest that the ABA is primarily political, which it is not. The ABA publishes books, holds educational events, provides indispensable legal assistance to all branches of the profession, facilitates networking, issues critical legal ethics opinions, and many other useful and important services for lawyers.  One reason the ABA doesn’t lobby much is because it represents all kinds of lawyers, and being lawyers, they don’t agree on many issues.Prosecutors, judges and criminal defense attorneys have very different perspectives; so do plaintiffs lawyers and corporate attorneys. “Lawyer Lobby” is an inept and misleading description of the ABA.

“Will Now”: No. Not even close. The proper wording would be “NEVER has, can or will.” The ABA isn’t a bar, and can’t disbar anyone. Any lawyer can belong to the ABA, but the ABA doesn’t have any say in who practices law. The Robert DeNiro “Cape Fear” had an embarrassing line where a lawyer played by Gregory Peck, who should have known better, talks about making an ethics complaint to the ABA to get Nick Nolte’s character “disbarred.” Embarrassing. This part of the headline affirmatively makes Daily Caller readers stupid. Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions