Sunset Ethics, 9/30/2020: Conflicts Of Interest, Sexual Harassment, Movies And Lies

1. Conflicts of interest on my mind. I narrowly averted a disastrous conflict of interest yesterday out of pure moral luck, so the topic is much on my mind; I’m still distracted by the near miss. Professionally, it was the equivalent of almost being picked off by a bus.

NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg reacted to the death of Justice Ginsburg with an essay on her 48-year friendship with RBG, saluting Ginsburg’s “extraordinary character.” That’s funny: Totenberg never told NPR’s listeners, nor did  NPR, that she had a personal relationship with the Justice, despite being charged with covering the Court and critiquing its decisions.  Kelly McBride, NPR’s public editor and senior vice president of the Poynter Institute, threw a metaphorical ethics foul flag,

“In failing to be transparent about Totenberg’s relationship with Ginsburg over the years, NPR missed two opportunities,”she wrote on the NPR website. “First, NPR leaders could have shared the conversations they were having and the precautions they were taking to preserve the newsroom’s independent judgment,” McBride said. “Second, having those conversations in front of the public would have sharpened NPR’s acuity in managing other personal conflicts of interest among its journalists.”

Ginsburg, who officiated at Totenberg’s wedding in 2000. Nonetheless, the correspondent,  who wears her progressive bias on her sleeve as it is, denied that the conflict compromised to her journalism, telling  the Washington Post that NPR’s listeners benefited from ther friendship because it gave her greater insight into and Ginsburg’s  thinking.

And that justifies keeping the relationship secret from listeners how, Nina?

2. From the “When ethics alarms don’t work” files: Lawyer Phillip Malouff Jr. of La Junta, Colorado, was censured for a series of episodes of unprofessional behavior and sexual harassment.

In November 2016, Malouff  winked at a magistrate judge and said, “When you get back from your vacation, I better be able to see your tan lines.” When he visiting the same magistrate’s chambers to discuss scheduling matters, he  said, according to the female judge,: “Ask your husband a question for me when you get home tonight. Ask him what it’s like to have relations with someone who wears the robe. It has always been something I’ve wanted to do, but there have never been any women judges until now.”

Malouff  was informed that his comments were unprofessional and a violation of the Colorado Judicial Department’s anti-harassment policy. Ya think?

In July 2019, Malouff asked a judicial assistant to check whether the mother in a parental rights hearing had an outstanding warrant. When the assistant replied, “She is good.” Malouff  responded, “Her husband told me that she is good.

Wink wink, nudge nudge. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/21/18: Good Bye Billy Graham, Wise Words From Mike Rowe, And Learning To Say No To Children…

GOOD MORNING!

1 Billy Graham has died. Graham is one of those towering figures who outlived his fame, and now most Americans neither remember nor understand what he was and what he did. I will be doing a thorough post on Graham and his cultural impact, I hope. (Note that I haven’t even finished the 2017 Ethics Alarms Awards posts.) Like most of you, I bet, I had forgotten that Billy Graham was still alive until an episode of “The Crown” on Netflix prompted me to check recently. In that episode, based on a real event, a troubled Queen Elizabeth was inspired by hearing Graham in one of his speaking tours in Great Britain, and invited him to Buckingham Palace to advise her.

It was not Graham’s fault that his remarkable and broad popularity sparked the deplorable TV evangelist fad that created mega-churches, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, The Moral Majority, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jessica Hahn, and other frauds and swine that made much of America cynical about all religion.  On Google, Graham’s photo is lumped in with many of these if you search for “evangelist.” He deserves better.  In the high-profile evangelical world, Billy Graham was, as one article put it today,“an exception – a leader who valued integrity over ego, a husband who lived in a full and thriving marriage, a man who offered not only words to learn by, but a life to admire.”

2. Updates:

  • By almost a 2-1 margin, readers voted that accusing Wes Anderson’s animated comedy “Isle of Dogs” of cultural appropriation was even stupider than Joan Walsh’s repeated use of the politically correct  and hilarious “strawpersons” on CNN. I thought it would be a lot closer.
  • Michael West gets his name on a Comment of the Day the very first time it appeared on an Ethics Alarms comment, with such a thorough examination of the rationalizations and logical fallacies exhibited in the Times op-ed defending the Nashville mayor’s unethical conduct that I won’t have to write one. I thank him, and Billy Graham thanks him. The Comment will be posted later today, but you can also read it here.
  • However,  if you haven’t gone through the exercise of reading Margaret Renkl unforgivable Times op-ed with the Ethics Alarms handy-dandy list of rationalizations by your side, you really should. Stupidly, I forgot that the Times is behind a paywall, frustrating many of you. I posted half the op-ed on the post last night. Posting the whole thing would have been unethical, but half, with a link, is fair use.

3. “Children’s Crusade” news and commentary

  • I almost made the Florida legislature an Ethics Hero for voting down an “assault weapons ban” with a throng of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had lobbied for te measure, in the chamber. I don’t have strong feelings about the measure one way or the other, but it is crucial that all lawmakers resist this organized effort at emotional blackmail. I don’t care what the kids are advocating. Parents spend years explaining to their children that they can’t go through life believing that demanding what they want is going to magically succeed, and now adults and the news media are telling adults that if these students shout, curse and cry enough, they should capitulate. Naturally, the news media tugged at our heartstrings by showing high school girls weeping after the vote. There’s no crying in politics, kids, and the most emotional advocates don’t always win, because, as Abe said, you can’t fool all the people all of the time.

Get serious, or get out.

If I were a legislator, I would announce that I would automatically vote against any measure where children are used as lobbyists, spokespersons, advocates, or props. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/14/17: Too Much Liberty, Too Much Precision, Too Much Success, Too Much Posturing, And More

Good Morning!

1 Today I’m going to have to waste several hours responding to a vexatious and retaliatory lawsuit by an Ethics Alarms commenter. It’s remarkable I’ve been able to avoid this annoyance for so long, I suppose, but annoyance it is. I’ve been threatened with a few lawsuits, and served once before, in that case by a lawyer who was angry that I described his ridiculous law suit against a Hollywood film as ridiculous.

The misuse of the legal system to harass and extort is an expensive price we all pay for living in a democracy that agrees with Clarence Darrow that in order to have enough liberty it is necessary to have too much. Our prices are higher, our medical expenses are inflated, and other rights, like freedom of expression, are constrained by the nation’s commitment to let common people, and often common people with unethical motives, have easy access to the courts to address their grievances, real, imagined or manufactured. I support this without reservation, , but it is no fun being the victim of it.

2.  It is a common refrain in resistance circles and the social media echo chambers that President Trump “isn’t doing anything.” That is hardly the case, and like a lot of anti-Trump rhetoric, is intentional disinformation. Since the anti-Trump collective spends all of its time trying to devise ways to somehow un-elect him—the 25th Amendment nonsense in back in the news—-while focusing on his tweets, his boorishness,  his feuds, and what he hasn’t done, they ignore the fact that Trump’s administration has been remarkably productive in addressing the issues that helped elect him. The U.S. is no longer wink-winking about illegal immigration. It is undoing the Obama policy of issuing restrictive energy regulations to signal concern over climate change that won’t have any measurable effect on climate change. The disastrous “Dear Colleague” please start assuming all male college students accused of sexual assault are guilty letter is gone and unlamented. We are not being bullied by little North Korea any more. Regulations of all kinds are being cut back. He is remaking the judiciary, pointing it away from judicial activism. Consumer confidence is high, and the stock market is soaring.

All of this has taken place in less than a year. The wisdom of many of these measures can be debated, and progressives hate all of it, but that’s irrelevant. There is much to criticize President Trump for, and much to deplore about his long and short-term effects on his office and the culture. Not accomplishing his stated goals, however, is not one of his flaws.

3. The Washington Nationals, who have morphed into the post 1986 Boston Red Sox as the team that always finds a way to miss winning the World Series, were eliminated in the National League Division Series with the assistance of many flukey plays that went against them. Particularly galling was when an 8th inning Nats rally was cut short in the fifth and decisive game against the Chicago Cubs because Washington’s second-string catcher was picked off first base with the potential game-tying run in scoring position. Jose Lobaton—now a name that will live in D.C. infamy–looked safe on TV and was called safe by the umpire when a snap throw to first by Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras caught him taking too big a lead. A slow motion review of the instant replay, however, showed that Lobaton’s  foot came off the first base bag for a nanosecond while Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo still had the tag on him. The naked eye would never have caught it. Still, if a runner is tagged while not on a base, he’s out.

On the NBC Sports website, blogger Bill Baer argued that this was a misuse of instant replay, writing in part,

“I]t feels unfair to use replay review in this manner. Both teams’ success or failure hinged on Lobaton’s foot coming off of the bag for one-sixteenth of a second. It’s a technicality, like coming back to your car at 10:01 only to see the meter maid walking away and a ticket on your windshield.

The spirit of replay review wasn’t about microscopic technicalities, it was about getting certain calls right: home run/not a home run, fair/foul, safe/out (in other areas, obviously, given this argument). Major League Baseball should greatly consider amending the rules to make it so that a player simply returning to the bag is grounds to be called safe, ending the pedantry of these types of reviews.”

This reminds me to add “It’s just a technicality” to the rationalizations I haven’t gotten around to adding to the Ethics Alarms list. (This makes four.)  It may feel unfair to enforce the rules, just like it feels unfair when you flunk the written test to get a license by one question, or get a ticket when you were driving just a little over the speed limit, or win the popular vote and still don’t get to be President because of the Electoral College. The “spirit of replay review” was to get calls right based on what really happens, not based on what the umpire saw or what he thought happened. Not “certain calls”: there’s no virtue in a wrong call that was just a little wrong. The difference between safe and out isn’t small or technical in baseball. It is everything. Lobaton was out, and it isn’t anything but a benefit to the integrity of baseball that he was finally called out. Continue reading

Professional Chauvinism At “Above The Law”

Clooneys

Lawyers really need to get over themselves. This post, by Staci Zaretski at the legal gossip site “Above the Law,” was introduced in my e-mail inbox with this line:

“Amal Clooney’s lifetime achievements are far greater than those of her husband, George Clooney. Where’s her award?”

The flip answer would be: “George Clooney.” But to the point: one has to have an enhanced regard for the profession of the law and a dismissive and culturally ignorant attitude towards the arts to state that “Amal Clooney’s lifetime achievements are far greater” than those of George Clooney.” Zaretski is welcome to her biases, but by any fair measure, the lifetime achievements of an actor of Clooney’s popularity, daring and prominence far outstrips those of a lawyer like Amal Alamuddin Clooney.  “Above the Law” makes its case thusly:

“Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria, and was selected to a three-person U.N. commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip.”

Hundreds of lawyers worked on the Enron case(s): you will have to prove to me that she had some special impact that another lawyer with similar skills, and there are thousands, would not have. So she was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria: is Zaretsky aware that Annan’s misguided and naive efforts to broker a Syrian peace saved not a single life, and may well have blocked more substantive and effective initiatives? Then she served on a commission “investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip.” Translation: she is a willing participant in the U.N. effort to demonize Israel for defending itself from Hamas shelling.  She also is defending Julian Assange. I don’t hold that against her: he’s a criminal, but he deserves a defense. Would he have not gotten one without Amal Clooney? Of course he would have. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: George Clooney

“I think it’s a stupid thing. I think it’s stupid for anyone, whether they’re celebrated or not, I don’t believe their 911 calls should be broadcast around the world.” 

"Poor Demi! The public has a right to hear us humiliate her."

—-Actor George Clooney, speaking during Sunday night’s Screen Actors Guild Awards.  He was referring to the release and subsequent airing of a 911 call from a woman summoning rescue workers for actress Demi Moore, who, the caller said, was convulsing and had lapsed into semi-conscious.

Good call, George.

911 calls are considered public, but that doesn’t mean that the public needs or has to hear them, or that sleaze-factories like TMZ should put them online when their only purpose is titillation and to embarrass celebrities. There may be special circumstances that justify making a recording of a 911 call, rather than a  transcript, available to the public, but those should be exceptions. In cases like Moore’s, playing them is unfair and unkind, a clear Golden Rule violation, not that TMZ, or most journalists for that matter, would know about that.

If the media can’t control itself when it comes into possession of a 911 call that will embarrass someone who already has enough problems to deal with, then we need laws to keep 911 calls out of irresponsible hands…in other words, the news media’s hands.
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Ethics Hero: George Clooney

An ethical challenge that all of us face now and then involves being present in a gathering when a host, a friend, a colleague or someone else makes an objectively bigoted or outrageously unfair and disrespectful  statement about a group that is not represented and thus unable to defend itself. At such times we all have a duty to confront and correct the speaker and condemn the sentiment, but the execution is difficult, and requires tact, knowledge, clarity and courage. Doing and saying nothing, however, gives the speaker and his slander support and tacit endorsement.

Fortunately, thanks to the magic of on-line video and George Clooney, we now have a lovely “How To” clip that demonstrates the right way to discharge one’s ethical duty in these awkward situations. Continue reading

The 2009 Ethics Alarms Awards, Part 2: The Best

The Best in Ethics of 2009. May the 2010 list be longer!

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year: President Barack Obama’s executive order banning torture. The Declaration of Independence already did it once, but the President was right: we needed some reminding.

Ethical Leadership: Howard County, MD, which launched a “Choose Civility” campaign based on the book Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct, by Johns Hopkins University Professor Dr. P.M. Forni. The effort attracted national attention, and has sparked similar movements around the country. Continue reading