Sunday Morning Ethics Hangover, 7/15/2018: “Animal House” And The Death Of Truth [UPDATED!]

Good Morning!

(WordPress isn’t working properly this morning. Perfect…)

1. Not being biased helps you be non-stupid…Yesterday, chatting with lawyer attendees at my ethics seminar, a former government attorney told me that he had several ex-FBI colleagues who were horrified at many aspects of the Peter Strzok hearings, as was he. Among their concerns:

  • The news media was failing its duty to explain to the public the duties of professionals, and why Strzok’s conduct was unacceptable, unethical, and undermined the credibility of the investigations he was involved in.
  • Democrats were defending the indefensible, and also breaching their duty to the public. They ought to be exactly as outraged as Republicans at a figure as demonstrably biased as Strzok polluting important law enforcement inquiries, and also should have rebuked him for his defiant attitude.
  • The Strzok scandal was immensely damaging to the public image of the FBI, and should be. It demonstrates an agency that has been seriously mismanages, and that has a damaged culture.
  • The simple fact that Strzok would use FBI equipment to send his texts demonstrated outrageous incompetence and lack of judgement. Even setting aside the bias issue, for a key figure in an investigation to behave so recklessly proves that the current FBI is untrustworthy.

Naturally this is gratifying, since the positions are all consistent with those I have expressed here, and also because they are correct.

2.  When miscreants emulate “Animal House” and Democrats applaud...We also discussed Strzok’s ridiculous “Otter defense”in the hearing, as he emulated the cynical (but in that case, funny) argument offered by the “Animal House” character played by Tim Mathieson (“Take it easy! I’m pre-law!” “I thought you were pre-med!” “What’s the difference?”) in a student council hearing over his fraternity members’ outrageous conduct, especially his own:

” Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests – we did. But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!”

This, of course, is exactly the disingenuous tactic employed by Strzok when he pronounced himself grievously offended that his accusers would dare to impugn the integrity of the FBI, knowing well that the harm done to his agency was entirely due to his own actions. Continue reading

National Anthem Ethics

Pop songbird Christina Aguilera has been ridiculed and condemned in every forum imaginable for botching the lyrics of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl. The last time a performer got this kind of abuse for a National Anthem performance (not counting Roseanne Barr’s infamous crotch-grabbing,  off-key screeching of the anthem to begin a San Diego Padres game, which was not so much a performance as a clinical demonstration of what boorishness looks and sounds like) was when the late Robert Goulet massacred the lyrics before a national radio audience to introduce the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston Heavyweight Championship fight. The incident haunted Goulet the rest of his life, although he was a good sport about it.

As with Goulet (he was Canadian, for heaven’s sake!), the condemnation of Aguilera is not merely unfair, but ignorant. Continue reading

“Dude”?

I cringed when Larry King, jacketless, as always, despite being a guest in the White House, ended an interview with President Clinton and Vice President Gore in 1993 with “Thanks, guys!” So I choked when Jon Stewart called the President of the United States “dude” in his appearance on “The Daily Show.”

I blame KIng for blatant disrespect to the office of the President. (I would like to think that Clinton privately told King that the next time, if there was one, it would be “Mr. President,” thanks.) I blame Stewart, too; I think it was a gaffe, and I think he should have apologized. Mostly, however, I blame Barack Obama. Continue reading

The Kagan Hearings: The Right Thing For Republicans To Do

There is not one chance in a thousand that they will do it, of course. But Senate Republicans can do much good for the country, the political culture, and, in the long term, themselves, if they would undertake a courageous, principled and ethical act: confirming Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, after establishing her qualifications to serve, by an overwhelming if not unanimous vote. Continue reading

The Ethics of Rejecting Clemency

A strange tale in the New York Times, told by reporter Adam Liptak, raises a persistent problem of executive ethics. Is it unethical for a state governor to reject a recommendation of clemency based on strong evidence?

As Liptak tells it, it had been 28 years since Ronald Kempfert had seen his father, imprisoned in an Arizona prison in 1975 for a 1962 double murder, when a lawyer contacted Kempfert and told him that his father had been framed—by his mother.  Nearly the entire case against the father, William Macumber, had been based on his wife’s testimony that he had confessed the murders to her. Kempfert, knowing his mother, and knowing the toxic state of their marital discord at the time of her testimony, agreed that she was quite capable of doing such a thing, and after doing some digging on his own, concluded that his father, now elderly and ailing, had been wrongly sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

There was more.  Continue reading