From The “What Were They Thinking?” Files, Corporate Section: The Lands’ End Gloria Steinem Debacle

"Wait...Gloria Steinem is political????"

“Wait…Gloria Steinem is political????”

Clothing retailer Land’s End lost its collective mind and chose Gloria Steinem as the first interview in the company’s “Legends Series,”a new feature in the Lands’ End’s catalog and website. What were they thinking? Steinem’s presence is inherently political. A company spotlighting her isn’t like a news medium interview: it looks like an endorsement. This is an election year. Not only is Steinem divisive between men and women, pro- and anti-abortion activists, radical feminists and more traditional women, old feminists and new feminists, Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, but even among Democrats and progressives. Steinem is campaigning for Hillary Clinton, after all.

I know what the company’s management  was thinking, if you can call it that. They thought this was a great way to attract the young female market, you know, like having more pink in the ad artwork, or mentioning “Twilight.”

So guess what happened. Land’s End was inundated with protests from customers who said they wouldn’t shop there any more. Did you guess? Sure you did. Why didn’t Land’s End? With all the relatively benign, non-controversial figures to profile, what dimwit in marketing chose Gloria Steinem? What lazy executives approved it? This is business incompetence writ Jupiter size.

Having made an astoundingly stupid mistake, Land’s End had no choice but to retrench, and pull the feature. This was unavoidable, and the right thing to do, as in competent. Political, partisan figures representing contentious social and political issues don’t belong in a merchandiser’s catalogue, unless that merchandiser wants to identify itself with ideological and political camps, like Ben and Jerry’s, and risk alienating a portion of its market. It especially doesn’t do this when an emotional issue like abortion is involved. Even Ben and Jerry haven’t come up with a flavor called Late-Term-A-Portion Peach, or Planned Parent-Good Peppermint, or Gosnell Gooseberry.


Once the completely predictable push-back began, Land’s End management had an ethical duty to its stockholders to try to stem a disaster of its own making. In a prepared statement, a company spokesperson said,

“We greatly respect and appreciate the passion people have for our brand. It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue, so when some of our customers saw a recent promotion that way, we heard them. We sincerely apologize for any offense.”

If the company really chose Gloria Steinem as its first “legend” and had no intention to raise “divisive political or religious issues,” I’d sell that Land’s End stock if I were you, because the company is managed by Barbary Apes. Was Kim Davis going to be its next legend? Would it be similarly shocked if its gay and thinking customers found offense with that? Oh, probably. Next up: Dan Savage, then Pat Robertson, and maybe Trayvon Martin’s mother. “What? Controversial? We had no idea!” Continue reading

On Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, And Ethics Of Applying Political Correctness To Art And Literature

Cultural events earlier this month brought to light, on two continents, the problem of maintaining the integrity of art and literature under the onslaught of political correctness.

In Sweden, a controversy has erupted over the re-broadcast of a 1969 television adaptation of the Pippi Longstocking books, the children’s classics authored by Astrid Lindgren. The Swedish national TV station, SVT, announced that it is revising a scene from the 1969 television series about Pippi  which she says her father is “king of the Negroes,”a direct quote from one of the stories. Believe it or not, this has set off a contentious national debate.

The family has approved the station’s  desire to change the TV version, but is keeping the term in future editions of the books. In 2006, the family added a preface explaining that today, the word is considered “offensive,” but that when the books first appeared, “Negro was a common expression for people with black skin who lived in other parts of the world than ours.” That’s a sensible solution. Period and context is important in art and literature: the urge by some to constantly purge the world of any reference, word or attitude in past creations that seem out of place now leads to a form of cultural self-lobotomy. Erik Helmerson, a columnist at Dagens Nyheter, an influential Stockholm newspaper, called the changes a form of censorship. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that people are offended by the N word,” he said in an interview. “I’d never use it myself.” He even called revising the TV series  “a huge interference into freedom of speech.”  “Where do we draw the line? What do we cut and what do we keep? Who should decide? Who needs to be offended before we cut a word?” Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Which Musical Comedy Censor is More Unethical?

How could anyone predict that this show would be risque?

Rick Jones brought these sorry tales to my attention, and they are perfectly suited to an Ethics Quiz.

Your challenge: Explain which of the censors in these two incidents was more unethical.

Censor A: The mayor of Carrollton, Georgia, Wayne Garner, who ruled last week that a city-funded professional production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was not suited for a community production. The city council had contracted with a theater group of actors, singers, dancers, musicians and crew, and had committed $2,500 of taxpayer funds in up-front production costs to prepare for four performances in October. The mayor’s spokesperson said that the production was going to contain racy choreography,despite the fact that it was supposed to be a “PG show.”

How a counter-culture musical specifically about gender bending, kinky sex and transvestites was supposed to be “PG” is anybody’s guess.

Censor B: Thomas Fleming, Superintendent of Schools in the Richland School District in western Pennsylvania.   He prompted District officials to veto the high school’s choice of the classic 1950s Broadway musical Kismet as a 2012 production, because it suddenly occurred to him that the characters in the play, which takes place in old Baghdad, are Muslims. Continue reading

Guess Who Invited Donald Trump to the White House Correspondents Association Dinner?

OK, who's the wiseguy that brought the skunk to the picnic?

I missed it, but the Washington Post of April 28 revealed who it was that invited Donald Trump, fresh from a month of trying to make the President’s citizenship a campaign issue while denigrating Obama’s integrity, legitimacy, and honesty, to the annual light-hearted White House Correspondents Association dinner, where the President is always a featured “performer.” It was buried in the gossipy Style section, but there was the culprit. Who invited him?

The Washington Post invited him, that who.

Inviting Trump to that event is in approximately the same good taste as inviting blogger Pamela Geller to a Park51 (a.k.a. “the Ground Zero Mosque”) controversy, or allowing a group of “Truthers” to crash a testimonial to Dick Cheney.

What could the Post have been thinking? “He’s a fascinating figure to Washington right now!” the Post’s representative breathlessly explained on the 28th. We are to assume, then, that if the dinner was being held this week and Osama bin Laden hadn’t been dispatched (most respectfully, of course) to Davy Jones’ Locker, the Post might have invited Osama’s bullet-riddled corpse to slump at its table.

The Post was stirring the pot, is what it was doing, and that is not the media’s proper of ethical role. If the intention was to set up Trump, who had been called everything from a joke to a fool to a thug to a racist by various Post writers only days before, to be insulted to his face by host Seth Myers and the President, that is taking sides in the news rather than reporting it. If it the intent was to position volatile elements together in the hopes of sparking a story, that is unethical  journalism too.

The paper got both results that it presumably desired: Trump was a sitting duck at the dinner, and then he embarrassed himself by later complaining about the skewering he so richly deserved. It also, not for the first time, showed how rusty those old ethics alarms are at the offices of Washington, D.C.’s most prestigious newspaper.

[Thanks to sharp-eyed Post reader Robert Sher.]

Ethics Perils of an Over-eager Bieber Prompted By An Unethical Interviewer

In the current Rolling Stone magazine, teen singing sensation Justin Bieber opines on the morality of the U.S. health care system (Bieber is Canadian) and abortion, saying, among other things…

On abortion: “I really don’t believe in abortion. It’s like killing a baby?”

Abortion in cases of rape: “Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”

On the U.S. and its current health care system: “You guys are evil. [Rolling Stone notes that he  says this “with a laugh.”] Canada’s the best country in the world. We go to the doctor and we don’t need to worry about paying him, but here, your whole life, you’re broke because of medical bills. My bodyguard’s baby was premature, and now he has to pay for it. In Canada, if your baby’s premature, he stays in the hospital as long as he needs to, and then you go home.”

So to sum up: in the course of one interview, Rolling Stone managed to prompt a 16-year-old to… Continue reading

Obama’s Quality of Mercy: Strained

President Obama finally pardoned somebody who wasn’t a turkey last week, but not before he became slowest Democratic president in U.S. history to use Article II of the Constitution to right a judicial wrong or just exercise his power to demonstrate  the ethical virtue of mercy. His choices for pardons could not have been more tepid, however, prompting a withering blog post by Prof. P.S. Ruckman, who champions the pardon power, and keeps meticulous score.

Ruckman had predicted that Obama would end the pardon drought as soon as December hit, noting that recent presidents used the Christmas holidays as a convenient pardon prop. But he is outraged at the small number of pardons, writing,

“Can President Obama say “no?” Yes, he can! Continue reading

Obama’s Halftime Pardon Score: Turkeys 2, Human Beings 0

As of last Wednesday, President Obama has pardoned more turkeys than human beings. He has continued the cutesy presidential tradition of bestowing a presidential pardon on a turkey destined for the Thanksgiving table each November of his two years in office, but is approaching a presidential record for the most days in office before finding a U.S. citizen equally worthy of mercy and forgiveness.

There are reasons for this, but no excuse….not from a President who loaded up his White House with Czars overseeing every conceivable White House priority (Why no Pardons Czar?), not from a President who has criticized the disparate, unfair and racially-tinged penalties for crack cocaine over the powdered variety favored by the white middle class, not when are so many worthy candidates for mercy, most with families whose lives could be infinitely enhanced by the ten seconds it takes for Barack Obama to sign his name. Continue reading