Comment Of The Day: “From The Ethics Alarms ‘Do The Ends Justify The Means?’ Files: The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Inspiring Scam”

Glenn Logan took off from the post about Paulette Leaphart’s self-promoting breast cancer awareness 1,000-mile walk and CNN reporter Jessica Ravitz’s strangely equivocal exposé to muse on the toxic influence of social media. It’s a great post, as usual for Glenn, and I’m especially grateful because I’m behind on posts today but I have an ethical obligation to watch the Red Sox Opening Day game. (Pirates-Red Sox tied 0-0 in the 5th.)

Here is Glenn Logan’s Comment of the Day on the post “From The Ethics Alarms “Do The Ends Justify The Means?” Files: The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Inspiring Scam”:

This is yet another social media-driven disaster. We have proven ourselves unable to handle the medium, either as consumers or producers of content. In the grand scheme of things, social media has probably been the vehicle for more scams, dissociation from the real world, submersion into self-congratulatory alternate reality, fake news, and general mayhem than any innovation in my memory.

I have occasionally referred to Twitter as “the Devil,” and my loathing for Facebook knows no bounds. I still use it once a week or so just to check on friends and family (for which it is at least useful), but 99% of my input to Facebook consists of “Happy birthday, (first name here). Many happy returns” or to message Jack a link. No Luddite I, as I have been using the Internet since the early 1990’s Usenet days, and Linux as my primary operating system since 1997, so technology and I are old, old friends.

But the temptation of social media to generate attention in the name of good causes is, to me, the lesson here besides the obvious ethical wreckage caused by “the ends justify the means.” Many of us see the apparent benefits of fame, and want our 15 minutes of it very badly, usually for entirely selfish reasons. When we can achieve that in the name of a good cause, it becomes all the more insidious as a rationalization for otherwise self-serving and dishonest behavior. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms “Do The Ends Justify The Means?” Files: The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Inspiring Scam

At one point, profiling the double-mastectomied Paulette Leaphart’s 1,000-mile walk from  Mississippi to Washington, D.C….topless…CNN reporter Jessica Ravitz writes,

“If even one woman’s life was saved thanks to a conversation Paulette started, wasn’t that enough? So what if our hero was flawed?”

Oh, no: the “just one child/just one life” rationalization again! (Which, I now notice, isn’t on the Rationalizations List, and it should be.)

Ravitz writes this to begin a long, detailed, infuriating narrative about the well-publicized and much-hyped crusade of Leaphart, whose journey, displaying her scarred chest,  was to ostensibly demand more funds for cancer research cure and  better and more affordable health care. She said she was a champion for women without breasts “to believe in their beauty and be proud of their strength.”

“By showcasing and embracing her scars, she hoped to inspire others to do the same,” Ravitz writes. “Her journey was bold, visual, moving. It offered a hero to admire and, given Paulette’s audacious decision to walk shirtless in the face of strangers, a rich spectacle to witness. It spoke to African-American women, who face the highest breast cancer mortality rate. It inspired legions of survivors. And it spoke to many who’d lost someone to the disease.”

Ravitz is conflicted, clearly, as she tells the complicated story of the woman whose official cause is admirable, but whose motives are murky, and whose credibility is non-existent. While explaining the mounds of evidence she uncovered that the woman has a record of deception, venality and financial flim-flam, that she sees the long walk as a ticket to fame and cash, and that she has lied and fabricated aspects of her ‘inspirational story” repeatedly while the efforts of journalists to pin her down. Yet Ravitz still ends up by  being wishy-washy and equivocal:

“There’s no way to measure how much of a difference Paulette Leaphart made in shaping the conversation about cancer in this country. She touched many minds and hearts, but whether she did so in the most honest and transparent way remains questionable.”

What? There is nothing questionable about whether Leaphart has been honest and transparent—she hasn’t. Ravitz documents her deceptions impressively. She lied about her cancer treatment. She lied about her eligibility for Medicaid and financial resources. She lied to a documentary team that had arranged to follow her, leading them to end the relationship. She lied on her Facebook page, representing her health travails by using the experiences of a friend. Her unguarded comments suggest that she began the walk as a way to make money for herself as well as research. She accepted contributions under false pretenses.  Yet the journalist still seems to want to say that all of this doesn’t matter,  if some good resulted from it: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: The “I ♥ Boobies” Saga

Me too! Uh, all in the interest of breast cancer detection and awareness, of course. Wait, what did you think I meant?

Me too! Uh, all in the interest of breast cancer detection and awareness, of course. Wait, what did you think I meant?

As is often the case, this topic interests me more than it appears to engage Ethics Alarms readers, so I was thrilled to see the following comment by Ulrike, who seems to share my belief that “Keep A Breast” Foundation is the ethics villain of this First Amendment skirmish, choosing buzz and cheap publicity over responsible messaging and being willing to throw well-aimed, legally immune monkey wrench into the classroom as well. 

Here is the Comment of the Day by Ulrike (who also has amassed a bumper crop of Ethics Alarms brownie points by being the blogs most determined volunteer proof-reader) on the post  The “I  ♥  Boobies” Saga.

I beg anyone’s pardon if you may find this off topic, but I really need to vent my anger about these bracelets: The message that these bracelets are sending out is not “Save your life by having regular check-ups!” but “Women are perceived as having breasts first, and subsequently as a person”. All this bracelet manages to do is to reduce women to their sexual attractiveness while fighting for their very lives. Well done, “Keep A Breast” Foundation. I wonder what bracelets girls and women who fell victim to aggressive breast cancer and lost one or both breasts are supposed to wear. Maybe “Don’t got boobies you can love anymore”? Continue reading

The “I ♥ Boobies” Saga

boobies bracelet

Some time in the foreseeable future, we may have the pleasure of reading the various opinions of sages like Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg regarding the import of bracelets bearing the message, ” I  ♥ Boobies,” and whether it is a constitutional violation for public schools to ban students from wearing them. In August, the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected Pennsylvania’s’ Easton Area School District’s  prohibition of the breast cancer awareness bracelets on the grounds that they were potentially disruptive and inappropriately vulgar.

In late October, the District voted  authorize the district’s solicitor to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to have the high court hear arguments in the case. The controversy has been going on for three years, has cost the district  thousands of dollars in litigation costs that should have been spent on education, and will result, you can bet, in even more egregious expansion of vulgar language in the schools.

This easily avoidable Ethics Train Wreck occurred when two middle school students in Easton wore the bracelets to school with their parents’ permission despite a school ban that called them “distracting and demeaning.”  ETHICS FOUL #2  School is about learning and facilitating learning, not making an effort to intentionally pick fights  in the shadowy realm of First Amendment law. Why did the parents do this? Are the provocative bracelets really essential school fare? Will their presence in the schools have a measurable impact on breast cancer awareness? Was the ability of the girls to wear the bracelets, and their opportunity to bend the school to its will worth all the cost, time and disruption this defiance of a dress code was likely to cause a legitimate utilitarian trade-off?  I don’t think so. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Angelina Jolie


I am pretty certain that actress Angelina Jolie could have undergone a prophylactic double mastectomy and never revealed it, She could have had reconstructive surgery and continuing to appeal to the sexual fantasies of moviegoers, which has been a significant aspect of her movie career. She had no need to disclose the operation, which she underwent last month, and no obligation to. Nonetheless,Jolie revealed her choice to the world in an eloquent, powerful, and courageous op-ed in the New York Times this week, and undoubtedly saved lives by doing so. She also made a critical cultural statement about the worth of women and how they are devalued by being reduced to their body parts in popular culture, the media, and the minds of men.

I think it is one of the most courageous acts by an entertainment figure that we have ever witnessed.

Jolie writes in part… Continue reading

The Giordano Decision, Sympathy and Malfunctioning Ethics Alarms

Sympathy and empathy are wonderful and admirable qualities, but they can mess up ethics alarms but good, causing them to ring out with gusto when perhaps they shouldn’t be set off at all.

This, I’m sorry to say, is what seems to be going on with the public and the media in the wake of a North Carolina judge denying Alaina Giordano primary custody of her two children,  in part because Giordano has Stage IV breast cancer, and in part because she is unemployed. Giordano is upset and nobody can blame her for that. She has also started a website exhorting readers to “Say NO! to CANCER discrimination!” There is a Facebook page (of course) rallying support for her, and it already has over 14,000 fans. An online petition to the governor called “Do Not Allow NC Judge To Take Alaina Giordano’s Children Just Because She Has Cancer ” has more than 75,000 signers.

Yet there is nothing inherently unethical, illogical or unfair about family law Judge Nancy E. Gordon awarding custody of 11-year-old Sofia and 5-year-old Bud to their father, who lives and works in Chicago, rather than to their mother, who lives in Durham, and has breast cancer that is most likely terminal. Continue reading

Breast Cancer Screening Standards and Conflicts of Interest

From Reuters: CHICAGO – Cancer experts fear new U.S. breast imaging guidelines that recommend against routine screening mammograms for women in their 40s may have their roots in the current drive in Washington to reform healthcare…

The decision of the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, an influential group that crafts guidelines for doctors, insurance companies and policymakers, to backtrack on decades of medical advice urging women to begin getting regular mammograms at the age of 40 has stirred debate and anger.  The most alarming aspect of the report, however, is that the new standards being put forth may reflect U.S. health care cost management considerations rather than proper concern for the health of U.S. women. Continue reading