Not Funny, Just Hateful, Harmful And Wrong: The New York Post’s Despicable Post-Election Front Page


Yes, I know the New York Post has made an art form of in-your-face, outrageous, I-can’t-believe-they-printed-that headlines and front page shenanigans, epitomized by the deathless classic, “Headless Body Found In Topless Bar.”

Yes, I know that Post is owned by Australian schlockmeister Rupert Murdoch, and yes, I know that the Obama-hating market is large and especially enthusiastic after the Tuesday Night Massacre Democrats just suffered under President Obama’s leadership.

And yes, I know that this is essentially a cartoon via photoshop, and that insisting that the Office of the President must retain its dignity after Bill Clinton got through with it and Democrats en masse declared that it didn’t matter how disgusting a POTUS’s  “personal” conduct was in the White House as long as poll numbers were high and unemployment was low, so come on, Bill: lead our national convention in condemning how Republicans denigrate women!

I know all that. It doesn’t matter. Barack Obama is the President of the United States, and this kind of personal, disrespectful ridicule insults not just him, but the office he holds, the nation, and every citizen of the United States of America. If this front page were published in France or England, I would regard it as an attack and an insult. Where is the line where legitimate editorial criticism becomes vicious, culture-poisoning disrespect and a breach of ethical journalism standards? I don’t know; we can argue about it. Wherever the line is, this is over it, by a lot. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “9 Observations On The Boston Herald’s ‘Racist’ Cartoon”


In my post on the matter, I called out to Barry Deutsch, a.k.a. Ampersand, an accomplished political cartoonist and blogger who has graced this space in the past, for his professional reaction to the controversy over the Boston Herald’s Jerry Holbert suggesting, in a cartoon about the recent Secret Service debacles, that President Obama would use watermelon-flavored tooth paste. He was kind enough to register a rapid, and typically thoughtful, response.

Here is his Comment of the Day on my post, “9 Observations On The Boston Herald’s “Racist” Cartoon”: Continue reading

9 Observations On The Boston Herald’s “Racist” Cartoon


1. (UPDATE) I’m adding this new #1 right at the beginning—there were originally only 8 observations—because some of the early comments suggest that I over-estimated some of my readers’ scholarship, historical knowledge and/or sensitivity on this issue, so let me be direct:  the reference to any African- American having as affinity to watermelon is about a half-step from calling him or her a nigger, and maybe even closer than that. Clear? This is not a political correctness matter. If the reference is intentional, there can be no debate over whether it is racist or not. It is. The President of the United States should not be subjected to intentional racial slurs.

2. I’m amazed—I just don’t know how this could happen. How could this cartoon make it into print? Cartoonist Jerry Holbert explained that he came up with the idea to use watermelon flavor after finding “kids Colgate watermelon flavor” toothpaste in his bathroom at home. “I was completely naive or innocent to any racial connotations,” Holbert said. “I wasn’t thinking along those lines at all.” Is this possible? In a political cartoonist? On one hand, since the racial connotation is so obvious and so predictably offensive, it seems incredible that a cartoonist for a major daily would dare offer such a cartoon unless he really didn’t perceive the racial stereotype it referenced. On the other, the man is a political cartoonist, not a Japanese soldier who’s been hiding in a cave for decades. How could he not know this? How could his ethics alarms, racial slur alarms, survival alarms not go off?

I don’t get it. Continue reading

Cover Art Ethics: Sexism, “Rape Culture” or Just Marketing

If you had asked me thirty-five years ago whether we would still be debating what is the appropriate and ethical use of women as sex symbols—or “objectification,” if you like—in non-sex trade publications today, I would have answered, I think, “Are you kidding? By 2014 we will have hashed all this out. Either the combination of consensus  political correctness and the increased influence of women in business in general and publishing in particular will have reformed standards of acceptable practices, manners and taste, or emerging feminism will embrace the power of sexuality as a source of influence and power over the male of the species. The battles over this are too hot now to keep going on indefinitely! Either using sexy women and models in “take me” poses will be considered shameful and unappealing in 2014, or they will be accepted as part of an “anything goes” culture.”

No, I’m not very bright.

Case Study #1: The Golf Digest Cover


The cover of the latest issue of Golf Digest caused a stir by featuring Paulina Gretzky, who plays a little golf but who is primarily a model, and obviously there for other reasons. Until the Gretzky cover, the only woman to appear on the magazine’s cover without having won a pro or major amateur event was Golf Channel personality Holly Sonders, in May 2013. From the New York Times: Continue reading

The Fifth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2013 (Part Two of Three)


The Ethics Alarms review of a truly disheartening year in ethics continues with fallen heroes, ficks, fools and follies with Part Two of the 2013 Worst of Ethics awards….and there’s one last section to come. Be very afraid:

Fallen Hero of the Year

Edward Snowden, whose claim to civil disobedience was marred by his unwillingness to accept the consequences of his actions, whose pose as a whistle-blower was ruined by the disclosure that he took his job with the intention of exposing national secrets, and whose status as a freedom-defending patriot lies in ruins as he seeks harbor with not only America’s enemy, but a human rights-crushing enemy at that. The NSA’s over-reach and mismanagement is a scandal, but Snowden proved that he is no hero.

Unmitigated Gall of  The Year

Minnesota divorce lawyer Thomas P. Lowes not only violated the bar’s ethics rules by having sex with his female  client…he also billed her his hourly fee for the time they spent having sex , a breach of the legal profession’s rule against “unreasonable fees.” Yes, he was suspended. But for not long enough…

Jumbo Of The Year

(Awarded To The Most Futile And Obvious Lie)

Jumbo film

“Now, if you had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.”

—–President Obama

2013 Conflicts of Interest of the Year Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: University of Alabama Student NewsPaper Editor Maizie Bryant

Ala Cartoon

I hate to criticize the ethical instincts of a college student, but Maizie Bryant’s school obviously isn’t doing its job regarding ethics instruction, so it is up to the rest of us.

Last week, following the epic and shocking finish to the Alabama Auburn football game—Auburn’s Chris Davis turned defeat into victory by grabbing an ill-advised Alabama field goal attempt with one second left and running it back 109 yards for a game-winning touchdown—the University of Alabama’s cartoonist drew the cartoon above. The message to anyone familiar with the devices of satire  and sarcasm was obvious: this was intended as mockery for the perceived tendency of the President’s critics to blame all misfortunes and problems on Obama. I think it’s a misguided cartoon, in that the message–the “joke”— follows the persistent defensive spin of the Obama Administration, its protective media and the President himself that critics unfairly hold him responsible for those matters  for which he is accountable and should be. (If the cartoon was going to be accurate, it would have shown the President attributing Alabama’s loss to George W. Bush.) Whatever its virtues and deficits, however, one thing the cartoon was not is racist.

How could it be racist? It is not racist to criticize Obama even for those things he is not responsible for—such criticism goes with the office. And the cartoon does exactly the opposite anyway. There is nothing whatsoever racial about the drawing. Anyone who perceives racism in this cartoon is

1. Unable to comprehend satire.

2. Unable to comprehend cartoons.

3. Race-baiting, and/or

4. Nuts. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: Time To Retire Editorial Cartoons—With Gratitude

Cartoonist and frequent combatant on Ethics Alarms Barry Deutsch did not disappoint—I was counting on a strong reply from him—in commenting on my post about political cartoonists. And I think he has me convinced. I think what I should have suggested, rather than advocating sending newspaper political cartoonists to the trash bin of history (soon to be followed by newspapers themselves), is that editors exercise some discretion over when an editorial cartoon, even by a respected cartoonist, just doesn’t meet editorial standards.

Here is Barry’s persuasive and educational Comment of the Day on the post Time To Retire Editorial Cartoons—With Gratitude:

“Oh, how could I possibly resist this thread?

“1) At his best, Tom Toles is a wonderful cartoonist, elegant and with an incredibly distinctive style. But he hasn’t been at his best for years. The particular cartoon you’re talking about — which can be seen here, if anyone’s curious — is an embarrassment.

“The problem with that Toles cartoon isn’t that it takes a side, or that it paints with a broad brush; many good cartoons do both those things. The problem is, it’s painfully stupid.

“2) There are good political cartoonists doing interesting work, but they’re mostly not found in mainstream newspapers.

“3) Even the best political cartoonists tend to produce more mediocre than great cartoons.

“4) It’s a very, very rare reader who can recognize the artistic merit of a political cartoon that they strongly disagree with politically.

“5) The economic base has fallen out from under political cartooning; every year, fewer and fewer newspapers support a staff cartoonist, and those that remain are seeing their incomes and outlets shrinking. And no one’s yet found a business model for political cartooning to thrive on the web.

“As a result, the most talented new cartoonists usually aren’t going into political cartooning, because they want to be able to eat and pay rent.

“6) Some of the most interesting political cartoonists have gone so far away from traditional political cartooning that no one even recognizes what they’re doing as political cartooning. See, for instance, Joe Sacco, who does journalism in comics form; his second book on Palestine, “Footnotes In Gaza,” is one of the best books about life in Gaza anyone’s done, in prose or comics.

Time To Retire Editorial Cartoons, With Gratitude

The nuanced subtlety of Pulitzer Prize winning Herb Block. Translation: "Nixon's a crook." Brilliant!!!

All right, hear me out. I love cartoons. I used to aspire to being a cartoonist. I have good friends who are cartoonists, and I know there are cartoonists who are strong contributors to Ethics Alarms. But for many years it has appeared to me that editorial cartoons have become an increasingly archaic form of commentary, one that misinforms the public and contributes to the venom and lack of nuance in public discourse.

Cartoons, by their very nature, deal in caricature, exaggeration and extremes for metaphorical and humorous effect. The practical effect of this, however, is that the opinions expressed through cartoons are also “supported” in a manner that would be outrageous in a written opinion piece. I know: you can’t hold a cartoon to the same standard as an op-ed. Fine—then don’t put it on the editorial pages. Continue reading

Final Verdict: The Unethical Media Persecution of Herman Cain, and Five Questions for His Critics

The media’s relentless coverage of the non-story of Herman Cain’s alleged sexual harassment 15 years ago continues in defiance of all previous standards of journalistic ethics, fairness and decency.It is a disgusting spectacle, yet the number of individuals, including many of my peers, friends and colleagues, who continue to manufacture ways to blame Cain himself for his outrageous treatment continues to grow.  It is almost a full week since Politico published its fact-free hit job, and still there is nothing substantive that would allow anyone to determine with certainty or even probability that Herman Cain did anything other than spark  opportunistic accusations from female employees seeking a swift pay-off. Astoundingly, people who readily assume that Cain was guilty of wrongdoing based on their undefined claims and resulting cash settlements pronounce themselves “shocked” at the Cain’s defenders’ suggestion that the women themselves had no basis for their accusations. Yet that suggestion is at least as supported by the facts, or lack of same, as the conclusion that Cain did anything wrong.

Anonymous sources have been cited as damning accusers without any information whatsoever regarding the nature of the inappropriate conduct Cain was accused of, without any objective determination regarding whether such conduct actually occurred or, if it did, whether it constituted sexual harassment.

Worst of all, and this has been true throughout the episode (which I regard as a journalism scandal rather than a political one), the news stories and news commentary about Herman Cain’s alleged sexual harassment have almost totally neglected to make it clear to readers what sexual harassment is. The story has been repeatedly referred to as a “sex scandal,” which is wrong and misleading: there is no sex in the form of sexual harassment at issue. The so-called charges (there are no charges at this point) are repeatedly being called “serious,” suggesting Cain did something genuinely substantial and wrong, when that is completely unknown. A lot of conduct that can be used to support sexual harassment allegations may be neither intentional nor objectively harmful in any way. The average member of the public who does not deal with the term sexual harassment as a legal term presumes that it always involves so-called “quid pro quo” sexual harassment: a superior’s solicitation of sexual intercourse or other sexual conduct from a subordinate, using threats, direct or implicit, to make the subordinate comply.

This is Bill Clinton-style sexual harassment, which the public heard enough about during the Paula Jones matter to imprint it indelibly on its mind. It is also the kind of sexual harassment usually on display in “Mad Men” and in other fictional venues. The news media knows this, or should know it, so it has an obligation to make clear that this is not what the two women who filed complaints with the National Restaurant Association  alleged, whatever it was that they alleged. This should be done as a necessary component off every single story and piece of commentary about the matter, because to do otherwise is affirmatively misleading.

Cain’s mysterious, undefined, unproven and never-described sexual harassment was what is called “hostile work environment” sexual harassment. Among the conduct that have been held in particular circumstances to constitute “hostile work environment” sexual harassment are using words of endearment or compliments of a physical nature that an employee considers inappropriate, a repeated request to get together socially that an employee considers unwelcome, jokes, songs, non-sexual touching (such as putting a hand on a woman’s shoulder), e-mails including jokes, stories or photos of a sexual or risqué nature, insults with sexual associations, such as “bitch” or “whore,” looks that an individual perceives as leering or uncomfortably intense, an individual repeatedly looking at a woman’s breast, legs or derriere…or an executive encouraging or permitting any of this conduct to occur repeatedly by other employees or, in the case of an association, members or customers. As far as sexual harassment law is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether the offender intended any of this to be disruptive or not, or whether more than one member of the extended staff finds it so.

Is this what the news reports and commentary about Cain’s phantom harassment charges have clearly suggested he was guilty of fifteen years ago? Absolutely not.

I challenge those supposedly fair and unbiased critics of Cain now arguing, in classic Big Lie fashion, that it is his reaction to the misleading and vague allegations that now condemn him, to answer these five questions: Continue reading

“Everybody Beat A Dead Horse Day” Ethics

Cartoonist Jeff Hibbert's conception of Muhammad

I was stunned to discover that “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” last year’s mass warped exercise in going out of the way to insult the religious beliefs of fine, upstanding, moral Muslims world-wide,  is supposed to be an annual event. I would have thought that the justifiable abuse heaped on serial Islam-provoker Rev. Terry Jones would have shown the organizers of EDMD the error of their ways (which I correctly pointed out to them here, and here). But no. The self-styled defenders of the undoubted right to use freedom of expression recklessly and badly still claimed to be standing up for the sullied rights of  the “South Park” creators, who last year had their show censored by cowardly and hypocritical “Comedy Central” suits after a threat by some Muslim nut-jobs. For their part, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have happily moved on to the more profitable work of making fun of Mormons on Broadway, because they won’t kill you. Continue reading