Presenting Ethics Alarms’ 67th Rationalization: The Underwood Maneuver or “That’s In The Past”


The latest addition to the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List is #50 A, The Underwood Maneuver, or “That’s in the past.” It is a sub-rationalization of #50, The Apathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares,” and the 67th dishonest, illogical or otherwise ethics-busting excuse for wrongful conduct on the list.

This rationalization has the honor of being named for a President, though a fictional and sinister one: Frank Underwood, the devious, psychopathic, lying and murdering Chief Executive, played by Kevin Spacey, who leads the den of thieves and blackguards who populate the fictional Washington, D.C. in the Netflix drama, “House of Cards.” I owe the series my gratitude for reminding me of this classic rationalization, which is a favorite not only of  President Underwood and his Lady Macbeth-like First Lady, but also—just coincidentally—of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Indeed, Hillary’s current campaign is built on it.

The Underwood Maneuver is versatile. Frank’s favorite use of it is when he is seeking assistance from one of the gazillion elected officials, appointees and other whom he has lied to or metaphorically stabbed in the back. “Why should I trust you now, when you betrayed me?” these poor souls are always asking. “Oh, but that was in the past!” says Frank, in his gentle South Carolina accent. “This is now. We need each other now. What’s done is done. Let’s move forward.” Continue reading

“House of Cards” Ethics: Why Should We Believe TV Journalists and Pundits Have Any Integrity When They Don’t Value It Themselves?

Safer interviews "President Frank Underwood." Morley, Morely, Morely...

Safer interviews “President Frank Underwood.” Morley, Morely, Morely…

The third season of “House of Cards,” a Netflix series about the corruption in Washington, continues to corrupt real Washington journalists and talking heads. On the third season  episode I just watched, “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” was drawn into this alternate universe (or Hell) and George, along with regular panel members Donna Brazile and Matthew Dowd, rendered trenchant if predictable opinions about fictional President Frank Underwood with exactly as much passion and certitude as they do when they aren’t just playing themselves, but being professional analysts whose job it is to objectively enlighten the TV news audience. With that, they joined CNN’s John King ,Candy Crowley,and Carol Costello, Soledad O’Brien, now with Al Jazeera America, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Fox’ Sean Hannity, CBS’s Morley Safer of “60 Minutes,”  and Matt Bai as “House of Cards” journalist/actors. I’m sure I missed a few. The mystery is why none of these journalists (and whatever Sean Hannity and Brazile are) don’t hear ethics alarms ringing when invited to sully their already dubious credibility (they are in the news media, after all), by showing themselves reporting and commenting on fiction exactly the way they are seen reporting on reality. Brian Rooney, a media critic who writes “The Rooney Report,” states succinctly what’s the matter with this:

“The trouble with journalists appearing as themselves in entertainment is that the public already has difficulty discerning fact from fiction in the news. Reporters and news organizations survive on truth and trust. Readers and viewers need to believe what they are told so they can make informed decisions. When real reporters allow themselves to be part of fiction, the trust is shattered. They do it with a wink, like they are in on the joke, but it costs them their credibility.”

Well, it would cost them credibility, if they had any. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Kiefer Sutherland

“I’ve been mystified by this. You have to understand that we’re not writing foreign policy. This is a dramatic television show, and Jack threatening to blow someone’s knees off because he wants information is a dramatic device to show how urgent or desperate a situation is. It should not be taken as this is what we think the CIA should be doing.”

—–“24” star, as “Jack Bauer,” Kiefer Sutherland, expressing his bewilderment at criticism of his show for depicting a hero who resorts to torture repeatedly, in an interview with United’s in-flight magazine, “Hemispheres.”

jack_bauer_tortureWe shouldn’t criticize actors for not being rocket scientists, or even ethicists. Nonetheless, this comment shows a remarkable ignorance of how a society passes on values and virtues, and the role played by literature, legends and pop culture.

Sutherland is the hero of his show, one of the good guys. What our society depicts the good guys as doing, the values they hold, the virtues they display, the goals they seek and the methods they use to achieve them, both reflects the values of our culture and sends the message that these are the kinds of conduct that the culture wants to encourage. Celebrating as heroes individuals who routinely kill when they are not protecting themselves or the innocent, engage in cruelty, theft, or the abuse of others, or unapologetic law-breaking encourages our younger generations to regard such anti-social conduct as defensible, or even the norm. Continue reading

Seth Rogen’s Celebrity Hissy Fit And Congress’s Celebrity Cynicism

"How dare the Senators not take me seriously?"

“How dare the Senators not take me seriously?”

Actor Seth Rogen, who specializes in playing likable, though often stoned, shlubs in Hollywood comedies (except when he was cast as the Green Hornet, which everyone would rather pretend never happened), came to Capitol Hill to testify about the need for more research into the causes and prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease. His testimony was to the point and heart-felt—his late mother began showing symptoms of the illness in her fifties—and read from prepared text in a flat and formal tone rather than actorly flair. Rogen, however, was apparently seething was anger: after he was introduced, only two Senators on the committee stuck around for the show. Later he tweeted peevishly:

Rogen Tweet

Get the hook: Continue reading

Rep. Radel Needs To Resign




From the New York Times:

“Representative Trey Radel, Republican of Florida, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge stemming from his purchase of cocaine here last month.He was sentenced to one year of probation. According to documents released by prosecutors, the federal authorities learned this fall that Mr. Radel, a freshman legislator, had bought cocaine on several occasions for his own use in Washington and had sometimes shared it with others.”

In marked contrast to that other cocaine-using public official to the north, Congressman Radel cooperated with police, has said all the right things, and has taken full responsibility for his actions. Now all that is left for him to do is resign. Law makers must not be law breakers. He can be as contrite and sincere as the sky is blue, but every second he remains in his office, he disgraces and sullies his position and his nation.

He can begin a much-needed trend, and re-establish the principle of accountability for elected officials. And he should look on the bright side. On “House of Cards,” the Netflix political drama starring Kevin Spacey, when a Congressman belonging to his party resumed his cocaine habit, House Majority Whip Spacey murdered him.

Now that’s strict.

“House of Cards” Ethics: Zoe’s Unethical Tweet And The Right To Talk To Just One Person


At the risk of stirring up the incorrigible defenders of the vigilante Applebee’s waitress, I must again point out that using social media to make a private indiscretion a public disgrace is terrible, grossly unethical conduct that threatens our freedom, trust,privacy and quality of life. The fact that the practice is gaining acceptance as something to be feared and expected is a frightening cultural development, and we are all obligated to do what we can to condemn it and eradicate it before it becomes a toxic social norm.

The Netflix political drama “House of Cards” provided a perfect example of what is wrong with this despicable trend in its fourth episode.  Zoe Barnes, the ambitious, unethical reporter in league with Kevin Spacey’s deliciously diabolical House Majority Whip, has brought her newspaper’s editor to the point of apoplexy in a confrontation in his office.  Already considering leaving for greener pastures, the reporter goads her sputtering boss into calling her a misogynistic epithet that she senses is just on the tip of his tongue. “Go ahead,” she taunts. “Say it.”

“You’re a cunt,” he finally replies. Zoe whips out her smart phone and tweets this exchange to her thousands of followers. “Call me whatever you want, “she sneers, “but remember, these days, when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to a thousand.”

Wrong—not unless the person you’re talking to is unethical, vindictive, has rejected the social conventions of private conversation and is consigning the Golden Rule to the cultural trash heap. Continue reading