Comment Of The Day: “Ethical Quote, Fair Quote, Unethical Quote, Share Quote…”

Humble Talent was moved by the ongoing disgrace of the Washington Post’s handling of the two-year old “scandal” involving an ill-designed  Megyn Kelly costume to consider the The Society for Professional Journalism’s (SPJ) Code of Ethics, which you can (and ought to) read here.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethical Quote, Fair Quote, Unethical Quote, Share Quote…”:

The Society for Professional Journalism’s (SPJ) Code of Ethics. Believe it or not, it’s actually a pretty good document. If journalists actually even pretended to give it lip service, I think we’d all be better off. A couple of choice snippets (although, really, read the whole thing);

Principle 1: SEEK TRUTH AND REPORT IT (If only).

  • Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
  • Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
  • Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.
  • Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant

Principle 2: MINIMIZE HARM (This seems counter-intuitive given the weaponisation of journalism, but que sera sera)

  • Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
  • Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.


  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility


  • Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.
  • Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations. Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Presents “Fake News” Friday! Episode I: Poynter’s Code of Principles


Poynter is a serious and justly respected  nonprofit school for journalism and journalism ethics organization. Naturally, it has been drawn into the “fake news” debate, which is unfortunate, since the issue itself has arisen not so much as part of a much-need effort to purge the new and old news media of biased and misleading news reporting, but as part of partisan attempt by the mainstream news media and others to find some explanation, any explanation, for Donald Trump’s election that doesn’t involve a genuine public rejection of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Poynter, as far as I’ve been able to determine, is scrupulously non-partisan, or perhaps hides its Democrat tilt better than the rest of its profession. Now it is being used by those who are not so trustworthy.

Poynter was in the news yesterday as a result of Facebook’s announcement that it will start “fact-checking, labeling, and burying fake news and hoaxes in its News Feed. Mark Zuckerberg announced that his social media platform will collaborate with a small list of media organizations, including Snopes,, ABC News, and PolitiFact to accomplish this, and noted that these are part of an international fact-checking network under the guidance of Poynter.

Here’s a fact to check: Snopes,, ABC News, the Associated Press, and PolitiFact are all partisan-biased operations to a greater or lesser extent. Facebook itself is a partisan biased organization. That Facebook would blandly cite three of these four to reassure anyone but the Democratic National Committee is proof positive that this is a cynical, untrustworthy exercise. Continue reading

Ethics Over Compliance: The Dutch Banker’s Oath

bankers oath

“Professional ethics” is a never-ending battle between compliance and ethics, between rules and penalties on one side, and principles and values on the other. Compliance is easier: all you do is tell people with rules and regulations what they must or can’t do, and promise that there will be consequences if those rules are violated. For ethics to work, people actually have to understand ethical values and be committed to living by them in a professional context.

Compliance has little to do with ethics. Jack the Ripper will follow rules if they are clear, if he knows he’ll get caught if he violates them, and if the punishment when he does will be  harsh enough. That won’t make him ethical. In fact, compliance–rules-based professional conduct control—is often antithetical to ethics. Rules and laws are merely a challenge to the type that Oliver Wendell Holmes called “The Bad Man”-–which includes bad women—to find ways to do things that are wrong but that avoid violating rules sufficiently to justify punishment.  This is why most compliance codes have language in their introductions noting that it’s impossible to make a code that will cover every wrong someone can think of, so ethics are important too.

Pure compliance-based systems don’t improve ethical conduct. The financial collapse in 2008 was largely caused by financial manipulators operating in the grey areas of the rules and laws—that’s why so few of them could be prosecuted. In politics, The compliance mindset is extremely convenient for clever liars and cheats like the Clintons, which is why Hillary could try to explain her e-mail shenanigans by saying that “I fully complied with every rule I was governed by (heh-heh-heh!).” Unethical people will always find ways to get around rules. Ethical people, in contrast, barely need rules at all.

Another benefit of ethics over compliance is that ethics rules–compliance codes—have to be long and detailed, otherwise it’s too easy for Clinton-types to find loopholes, though they usually will find some anyway. Ethical values, on the other hand, can be stated very simply. An ethical employer thinks, “Hmm, that intern is cute, but I am married and have duties of loyalty and honesty to my wife and family, and it would be an abuse of power and influence as well as irresponsible for me as a leader to have an affair with someone under my supervision in the organization.” The Bad Man thinks, “Wow, she’s hot; my wife won’t care as long as I’m not caught; getting a hummer isn’t considered sex where I come from, and there’s nothing that says a President can’t fool around!” For the former, “A leader should not have sex with subordinates” is clear as a bell; his values tell him why. The latter, though, is thinking, “Hmmm. How can I get around this? That rule says “should” but not “shall”— that’s good. No punishment is specified. Sounds like more of a guideline than a rule. “Sex”—that must mean sexual intercourse: great! Lots of wiggle room there. And “subordinate”—is an intern really a subordinate? And I bet I could argue that this is personal, not official conduct. All good…now where’s that cigar?

Invoking ethics rather than compliance is a new oath required by the Dutch Bankers Association. It could be printed on a postcard, and if a banker is ethical, it is all he or she needs:

I swear within the boundaries of the position that I hold in the banking sector…

…that I will perform my duties with integrity and care;

…that I will carefully balance all the interests involved in the enterprise, namely those of customers, shareholders, employees and the society in which the bank operates;

…that in this balancing, I will put the interests of the customer first;

…that I will behave in accordance with the laws, regulations and codes of conduct that apply to me;

…that I will keep the secrets entrusted to me;

…that I will make no misuse of my banking knowledge;

…that I will be open and transparent, and am aware of my responsibility to society;

…that I will endeavor to maintain and promote confidence in the banking system.

So truly help me God.

And if a banker isn’t ethical,

it won’t matter anyway.


Pointer: Legal Ethics Forum

Sources: Bloomberg, The Conglomerate

Graphic: Bloomberg

The Protest Ethics Check List And The Ferguson Demonstrations

APTOPIX Police Shooting Missouri

Protests are an American tradition, with protective rights enshrined in the Constitution, and a distinguished legacy that includes the Boston Tea Party and Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches and rallies. They are also perhaps the most misused and abused device in national politics. Most of them are useless, many of them are stupid, and too many of them do tangible harm.

The Obama Administration’s crisis of the hour is the Ethics Trainwreck in Ferguson, Missouri, where a perfect storm arose when an an inept, distrusted and untrustworthy police force and a poor and frustrated African-American population clashed over the Rashomon shooting of an unarmed black teen. Now there are demonstrations every day in Ferguson; several people have been killed, and the demonstrations have spawned rioting and looting.

What is the purpose of all of this? It better be a good one, given its cost, and the protesters better be right. The problem is that the protesters can’t possibly be right at this point, because the facts aren’t known. We are told that the reason for the demonstrations is larger than mere anger over the shooting of Michael Brown; that it’s about police harassment, abuse and violence against African-Americans and their lack of accountability for it. That would only be a sustainable justification if in fact the death of Brown was an unequivocal, clear-cut example of the phenomenon being protested. It is not, not yet, and it may never be. So again the question has to be asked: is it ethical to be protesting in Ferguson at all? Continue reading

Birding Ethics vs. Education Ethics: One Applies Common Sense, The Other Doesn’t Apply It, Or Sunscreen Either

"Don't worry, Mr. Sapsucker---the birders are looking out for you. Just be grateful you don't go to public school in San Antonio."

“Don’t worry, Mr. Sapsucker—the birders are looking out for you. Just be grateful you don’t go to public school in San Antonio.”

In the intense avocation of bird-watching, a code of ethics reminds practitioners of common sense. In public school education, there is no accepted code of ethics. And there is precious little common sense.

Cornell University’s Macaulay Library contains more than 200,000 bird call recordings, and 150,000 of them can be downloaded onto smartphones and other electronic devices. This allows canny bird-watchers to play the calls in the wild, attracting rarely-seen species.

Unfortunately, these realistic calls, experts say, can stress birds, including endangered species. Thus there is a code of ethics for the recreation of birding, The American Birding Association’s Principles of Birding Ethics, and it states,

 “Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is threatened, endangered or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area.”

It’s a well-conceived code that gives behavioral guidance where guidance is needed.

Now let’s look at a profession where most of us would say common sense is essential, and where the lack of it leads to  unethical and unacceptable conduct born of institutionalized incompetence. No, this time I’m not talking about our government. I’m talking about the educational profession, and the public schools. Continue reading

The Federal Government Apparently Finds Ethics Suspicious, And Other Alarming Developments

And not just ethics—music teacher ethics.

Thank God we have a federal government poised and ready to come down hard on monopolist schemers like her...

Thank God we have a federal government poised and ready to come down hard on monopolist schemers like her…

Like many professions, music teachers regard it as uncollegial, unprofessional and wrong to poach another music teacher’s clients—that is, little Marvin who’s learning the violin, or little Patrice who is practicing the piano. Thus the tiny Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) included a provision in its code of ethics condemning such conduct, and declaring that no ethical music teacher sets out to actively recruit another studio’s or teacher’s students.

Regulators are hired to regulate, which means, though big government fans refuse to admit it, that we have tax-payer funded government employees who spend their time looking for ways to justify their existence. One such employee at the Federal Trade Commission must have really been desperate, because the MTNA received an official letter from the FTC announcing that because of the association’s ethical ideals, the 22,000 member group of mostly piano teachers was under investigation for fostering non-competitive practices that would lead to price-fixing. Yes, the Feds find professional courtesy suspicious. Can’t have that.

This came as a shock to the association, since… Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Charles Geyh and Stephen Gillers

“Codes of ethics for judges fortify the administration of justice. They tell judges their ethical responsibilities and articulate high standards of conduct to which they should aspire. They assure litigants that a judge before whom they appear is committed to fairness and impartiality. They require judges to conduct their personal and professional lives in a manner that fosters respect for the courts.”

—–Law professors  Charles Geyh and Stephen Gillers, arguing in Politico for the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt a Code of Ethics.


“Codes of ethics? We don’ need no stinkin’ codes of ethics!”

The U.S. Supreme Court, it might surprise you to know, is the only court in the U.S. without a formal Code of Ethics that its judges are required to follow. The idea appears to be that if one has risen to the tippity-top of the judicial tree, one’s ethics must be impeccable as matter of course.


On Politico, Charles Geyh and Stephen Gillers make a convincing argument that SCOTUS should not only hold itself to high ethical standards, but also make it clear to all what those standards are.

You can read the entire post here.


Pointer: Legal Ethics Forum


A Protest Code of Ethics

I began work on a protest code of ethics a decade ago, periodically putting it aside, then adding to it, subtracting from it, and refining it. I regard the current version as a work in progress still, but the discussion here regarding the “Occupy” movement prompted me to complete this initial final draft, at least. This is the first time it has been published.

It has been a source of continuing amazement to me that there was no such Code had been proposed previously, or none that I could locate. When an activity such as organized protesting, activity that is obviously rich with ethical dangers and the potential for excess, does not have  proposed or established ethical standards of conduct, the reason is usually that nobody wants to be limited by ethical considerations or to be held accountable for misconduct.  I strongly suspect that is the case here. Well, too bad. Now we have proposed standards with which to measure the ethical nature of protests. Whether these 25 principles are the first or the last, or just begin the discussion and inspire something better, is of no import. They open the discussion. It’s time.

The Protest Code of Ethics

A. Guiding principles

All participants in protests and demonstrations should recognize and respect the important role lawful assemblies for the purpose of airing grievances and advocating change and reform have played in the history of the nation and civilization, must strive to uphold the best of that tradition by upholding these ethical principles. A protest without leadership and objectives is only a mob, and a protest without discipline and respect for others is a riot.

B. Public protests
Any protest involving demonstrations or other public conduct… Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Fired NPR Host Lisa Simeone

And NPR finds it puzzling that you can't read an ethics code, Lisa...

I find it puzzling that NPR objects to my exercising my rights as an American citizen — the right to free speech, the right to peaceable assembly — on my own time in my own life”

—-Lisa Simeone, who was fired as host of a radio show carried by an NPR affiliate (and is likely to be fired from another NPR distributed program) for serving as a spokesperson of the Occupy Wall Street spin-off group camped out in Freedom Square in Washington, D.C. Her activities violated multiple provisions of the National Public Radio Code of Ethics.

This was a dishonest, unfair and misleading  statement. Continue reading

NOW Is It Obvious That NPR Has A Liberal Bias Problem?

Recently spotted swimming through the NPR Ethics Code's loopholes

[Notice to Readers: Check the update at the end of the article.]

The problem, incidentally, is not that NPR has a liberal bias, but that it so emphatically dishonest about it. Despite the Juan Williams fiasco, when the publicly funded radio network’s only Africa-American contributor was fired for politically incorrect truth-telling, despite the cover-up, when his boss twisted the Code of Ethics to justify the action (and violated it herself in the process)—despite the James O’Keefe embarrassment, with an NPR board member being recorded while sounding like a Saturday Night Live parody of a biased media leader—-and despite a spate of  naval-gazing within the organization to find ways to show the oddly deluded public that NPR is really and truly “fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest”… leaving “no question about [their] independence and fairness” —I’m sorry; I had a fit of the giggles there for a second—-National Public Radio can’t help itself. In the matters of bias, integrity, double standards, conflicts of interest and fairness, its ethics alarms were either never installed or have turned to cheese.

Tell Juan Williams about this: National Public Radio’s Lisa Simeone, who  hosts NPR’s nationally syndicated “World of Opera” program as well as “SoundPrint,” a program that airs on NPR’s WAMU affiliate  in Washington, D.C., has served as a spokeswoman for the Occupy Wall Street spin-off group, “October 2011,” which is currently occupying Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and making all the same contradictory, vague and impossible progressive/ leftist/anarchist demands that its parent is. Continue reading