Ethics Hero: Campbell Brown

Almost nobody is ever fired anymore. Obviously sacked Presidential staff, agency heads and Cabinet officials announce that they are leaving to “pursue other opportunities” or to be with their families. (Recent glaring example: Desiree Rogers, who “resigned,” just coincidentally after being instrumental in allowing two gate-crashers into a White House star dinner.) Nobody believes it, of course. The same is true of actors fired from movies, TV shows, and plays for being wrong for their parts or just impossible bt work with, who then announce that it was a “mutual decision.” All of this is intended to avoid the stigma of losing a job because, well, the individual just wasn’t delivering as hoped or promised. It doesn’t work, of course: nobody is fooled, but the charade simply adds to the public belief, increasingly justified, that everyone lies, all the time.

So although Campbell Brown’s stark honesty about why she is leaving her low-rated CNN show shouldn’t be anything special, it is. Continue reading

When Experts Aren’t: The Ethics of Competence and “The Elements of Style”

Ethics Alarms, and apparently few others who don’t have their TV stuck permanently on Fox News, expressed its outrage of at the revealed ignorance of Al Gore, whose opinion on climate change policy carries weight and influence far beyond his demonstrated ability to comprehend the natural forces underlying his own opinion. (This week Al came up with another howler, stating that the polar ice caps would be gone in a couple of years. The scientist he erroneously quoted regarding this quickly announced that Al must have been talking about some other ice caps.) Experts who are really incompetent cause great harm, which is why competence is a critical, though often ignored, ethical duty for all professionals, from Albero Gonzalez to Bernie Madoff to Ashley Simpson to White House social secretaries.

This excellent article, a long time coming, finally exposes the incompetence of William Strunk and E.B.White, whose 1918 mini-book  “The Elements of Style” was uncritically adopted as gospel by generations of English teachers, many of whom were incompetent themselves. This over-reaching duo was to blame for all the perfectly appropriate split infinitives and passive voice sentences that you were marked down for using in the 9th Grade, and I have a book editor I’m sending this link to as soon as I finish this post who has been quoting  Strunk and White to get me to stop beginning sentences with “And” or “But.”  How many promising, lively young writers were throttled into mediocrity by this book we will never know, but it stands as vivid and tragic lesson on why experts have an obligation to be at least nearly as smart as they claim to be.

Ethics Dunce (and Dead Canary): Desiree Rogers

Ah, yes…the Desiree Rogers saga!

Desiree Rogers is the White House Social Secretary. She screwed up in her job. The odds are that 99% of the time, her particular lapse wouldn’t have had any tangible effect. She was unlucky, however, and it did.

It did because the Secret Service picked the same night to get sloppy, so a couple of professional cons obsessed with becoming the next Andy Warhol Stupid Celebrities of the Quarter Hour brazened their way into a White House state dinner, where, if they had been Ninjas or Steven Segal in disguise, they pretty much could have killed anyone they wanted to, including President Obama. They weren’t Ninjas; not all of Desiree’s luck was bad. They were only self-obsessed idiots. Continue reading