Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/08/2019: Bulletin! The New York Times Reports Pro-Trump News Straight!

You wouldn’t believe what I am dealing with right now, so I’m not even going to tell you.

Let’s just say that in this case, writing ethics stories is a welcome respite..

1. Let’s give credit to the New York Times. On its front page Saturday, the Times highlighted three large graphs, one showing that “monthly job gains under President Trump have shown strong, consistent increases “even after a decade of economic expansion”; one showing that wage growth has “picked up momentum,” and the other showing that unemployment has dipped below “full employment.”

All of this, plus a record high stock market, are just as candidate Trump promised and predicted.

The Times then says,

“With 11 months to go before the 2020 election, a polarized electorate is dividing itself by which story line it views as more pertinent — the president’s potential abuse of power, or the comfort of a steady paycheck credited to his leadership.”

Gee, let’s see…. “potential abuse of power” that was not an abuse of power at all, or jobs, higher wages, and rock bottom low unemployment. Tough choice. What a dilemma.

Give the Times credit for making it ridiculously clear what a big lie Big Lie #5 (“Everything is Terrible!”) is.

2. But let’s not get carried away! Here’s another Times headline from the same edition: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: The “I Should Be At The Beach” Edition…

Good Morning!

Is everyone vacationing this week but me? I can detect such things from blog traffic—this week has been sparse. Unfortunately this is the legal ethics CLE busy season, so I have been furious preparing materials for three new three-hour programs: “The Legal Ethics Mine Field,” “Legal Ethics Squeeze,” and a new musical ethics seminar for the New Jersey Bar Association, “Ethics Blues,” with the talented Esther Covington. It features legal issues-stuffed parodies of such songs as “Copacabana,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Piano Man,” “You Made Me Love You,” “Isn’t It Romantic” and “Let it Be,” among others. I’ve been writing parody song lyrics since I was 9, and much as I enjoy it, it is mentally exhausting in a way nothing else is.

1.  The anti-Trump news media is all a twitter because former GOP Congressman Joe Walsh might challenge President Trump for the nomination. Joe Walsh!  He’s the only member of Congress ever designated a fick by Ethics Alarms, in this post, about how Walsh, a Tea Party fiscal responsibility hawk who once lectured Barack Obama about how he was placing a burden on the backs of Walsh’s children, owed  $117,437 in unpaid child support to his ex-wife and those already burdened, kids, three of them. For this and other transgressions he was defeated for re-election, and Joe’s now a talk show host, presumably with the same audience that took guidance from former radio bloviators Ollie North and Gordon Liddy.

2. On the innocent until proven guilty front…there has been a spate of defamation lawsuits lately in which priests accused of sexually molesting boys accuse the Catholic Church of ruining their reputations based on publicizing unsubstantiated accusations of pederasty.

A Fresno, California priest,  Craig Harrison, who is facing multiple allegations of sexual abuse, is suing an established  Catholic watchdog group Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF). seeking “unlimited” damages as a result of RCF President Stephen Brady’s “appearance at a press conference in Bakersfield” that addressed “allegations of sexual misconduct” made against Harrison. The lawsuit and summons were filed this month after the Bakersfield Police Department (BPD) concluded an investigation that it said  exonerated Harrison. Brady says that the lawsuit may be intended to discourage other ongoing RCF investigations. Continue reading

Sexual Harassment, Cancellation Culture, Anonymous Accusers, And Placido Domingo

A report last week revealed that nine women accuse towering opera figure Placido Domingo of sexual harassment.  None of the accusations have been investiaged or substantiated, and only one of them isn’t anonymous. Yet two American institutions, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera, immediately canceled their upcoming concerts with him, giving the now-familiar “safe environments” explanation. None of. Domingo’s many upcoming scheduled performances in Europe were canceled, however, as sponsors took what the New York Times calls  “a wait-and-see approach,” or what used to be known in this country as “Let’s not punish someone based on unsubstantiated  accusations alone.” Or fairness. Due process. The Golden Rule.

There are countervailing factors pulling every which way. As I understand it, #MeToo  and “Time’s Up” insists that female accusers must be believed, unless the accused is the black, Democratic Party’s Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, or the harassment is caught on camera repeatedly, as in the case of the Democratic Party front-runner for President. In the arts, these allegations have had mixed effect. Conductor James Levine has not performed in public since he was fired by the Metropolitan Opera last year after accusations of sexually abusive and harassing conduct were substantiated in an investigation, but when Pixar chief and creative muse John Lasseter was fired for being a serial hugger (rather like that Democratic Party front-runner) he was rapidly snapped up by a rival studio that gave him as much power and more money. Go figure.

There is the anonymous factor: it is my long held position that an anonymous accusation relating to the workplace should be regarded as no accusation at all, meaning that there has been one allegation of sexual harassment against Domingo. An accused individual cannot address claims when he doesn’t know their source or facts. I have been the target of false anonymous accusations—not of harassment—in my career, and as a manager in various businesses and associations, I told staff that unless they were willing to go on the record with an accusation of wrongdoing, I didn’t want to hear it. It is too easy to destroy careers and reputations with false accusations with no accountability attached.

The other issue is the multiple accusation factor. In sexual abuse and harassment, there are no one-time offenders unless there has been a massive miscommunication. The typical scenario is that a single accusation triggers several, often many, more with near identical facts. This is why I did not believe Anita Hill and Dr. Blasey-Ford, and why I did believe Bill Cosby’s many accusers.

Timing is also important. Ancient accusations of sexual misconduct—I would say anything more than five years old is dubious—arriving after memories have faded, evidence has vanished and seemingly timed to do maximum damage to the accused should be treated with skepticism and a presumption of  bad will, especially when the accused is a public figure.

And yet… Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 3/26/19: The “What’s Going On Here?” Edition

Hello, Spring!

1. On the down side, “The Smollett Report” Explain this one: Attorneys for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett announced today that all charges against him have been dropped.Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts related to making a false report that he was attacked by two men. The two men were found and implicated Smollett, and the evidence that it was hoax appeared overwhelming.  A minimum condition of dropping cases requires some acceptance of responsibility, but the actor still professes that he’s innocent. “I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,” he said.

What’s going on here? I have no idea, but the word “Chicago” keeps popping up in my head.”

2. Talk about a parallel universe! I had never seen this [Pointer: Althouse]: President Obama’s statement after the 2016 election:

“You take the baton, you run your best race, and hopefully, by the time you hand it off, you’re a little further ahead. You made a little progress. I want to make sure that hand-off is well executed because, ultimately, we’re all on the same team….

Everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first.

This was a long and hard-fought campaign. A lot of our fellow Americans are exultant today. A lot of Americans are less so, but that’s the nature of campaigns. That’s the nature of democracy. It is hard and sometimes contentious and noisy. It’s not always inspiring.”

“Sometimes you lose an argument. Sometimes you lose an election. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right, and then people vote, and then we lose. We learn from our mistakes. We do some reflection. We lick our wounds. We brush ourselves off. We get back in the arena. We go at it. We try even harder the next time.”

Continue reading

Ethics Dunce AGAIN By A Man In A Position That Should Never Include An Ethics Dunce: Pope Francis

Let’s see now. You are the titular head of a religious organization that talks a good game about virtue, morality and the dangers of sin, and it has been shaken to its core by an ongoing scandal involving thousands of officials sexually molesting hundreds of thousands of children while your organization not only covered up the crimes, but facilitated them. After the latest outbreak of this decades—centuries?—long scandal, you declared that your organization would regain the trust of its members by reversing its previous corrupt practices, and send clear messages that the conduct that endangered and damaged children would not be tolerated.

Then, when one of the highest officials in your organization offers his resignation after being convicted in a court of law for failing to stop one of the ongoing molesters despite knowledge of his vile  activities, you refuse to accept that resignation.

What sense does this make? This is a fair summary of Pope Francis’s recent decision to reject the resignation of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin despite his conviction this month for covering up decades-old allegations of sexual abuse by a priest in his diocese. The only way it makes sense is if the Pope doesn’t comprehend the seriousness of the sex abuse scandal, and still places loyalty to the church and his colleagues above the welfare of victims past, present and future. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/1/2019: Mania In Pennsylvania

Hello from Cannonsburg, PA.

Mr. Adams, but Mr. Adams
The things I write are only light extemporania
I won’t put politics on paper, it’s a mania
So I refuse to use the pen in Pennsylvania

—-Ben Franklin, in “Mr. Adams,” 1776

(But Ben didn’t have a computer…)

1. Like watching a zombie outbreak. Predictable, embarrassing, scary, disgusting, and hilarious. The comments on my Facebook feed by Trump Deranged friends and friends of friends really does begin to make me wonder if protected Trump Hate is mental illness. Multiple people were willing to go on record as saying that they believed Michael Cohen, and—get this—that they found him to be a sympathetic character! Now it’s true that these same people believed Jussie Smollett, Nathan Phillips, Bill Clinton and Christine Blasey-Ford based on nothing more than ideological bias and anti-Trump animus, but even these four are paragons of honesty and trustworthiness compared to Cohen. It is also amazing that these Coehn fans are so confident of the Facebook echo chamber that they don’t hesitate to write something so mind-numbingly stupid.

2. Petty perjury. The Republicans who are trying to prompt an investigation of Cohen for alleged perjury before Congress are abusing process, and worse, they are  imitating the bitter Democrats who argued that Bret Kavanaugh committed perjury by giving his recollection of an innocent definition of “boofing.” Among Cohen’s alleged “lies” is that he said he never wanted to work at the White House in the hearing, but said elsewhere that he did want to work there. The man is inately unbelievable (but sympathetic!) He’s a criminal. He has violated too many legal ethics rules to count. He betrayed his client’s confidences. He has lied under oath. He’s been disbarred. It is literally impossible to have less credibility than Michael Cohen. There is no point in proving petty perjury, except to be vindictive.

3. Testing the tolerance, determination and gag reflex of those who believe in innocence until proven guilty. Michael Jackson’s family is out in force to condemn “Finding Neverland,”is out in force to condemn “Finding Neverland,” a documentary debuting on HBO this weekend.  It purports to chronicle the King of Pop’s alleged serial child abusing, featuring two former kiddy pals who slept in Michael’s bed, all in good fun, according to the Jacksons. No jury ever found Michael guilty, though one has to wonder if the result would have been the same if he looked and sounded like Vin Rhames. On the other hand, Jackson was so, so strange that virtually anything is believable, including the theory that he really was just a big, famous, harmless, case of arrested childhood whose motives were pure as the driven snow. The Jacksons say his now grown playmates are just seeking money and book deals. That’s certainly plausible. What isn’t plausible is that the Jacksons say they never thought Michael’s obsession with young children was suspicious or troubling, and that they see no reason why anyone would have expected them to advise their brother not to act like a pedophile, whether he was one or not.

4. Selma Blair. Selma Blair never became a big star; I remember her best in “Hellboy.” She was talented, though, and now we know she’s gutsy, appearing on the Oscars red carpet using a cane. Blair has multiple sclerosis, which has disabled a career already shot by another crippling malady for movie ingenues–getting older. Blair announced her illness on Instagram, saying, “I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken gps. But we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely but I will do my best.” Now she is defying typical Hollywood vanity to appear in public, giving invaluable support to the million-plus Americans who suffer from MS. Wrote Ed Tobias on the MS support website, MS News TodayMS News Today:

“If a photo is worth a thousand words, then the video of Blair and her cane, as she slowly made her way along the red carpet at the Oscars, is worth a million. It shows pain and persistence. Caution and class. It shows what many of us have to handle each day. And Selma Blair showed an audience of millions how to do it. Bravo!”

Agreed.

5.  Now let’s see how many acting jobs David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel get after this. An arbitrator awarded $179 million,awarded $179 million, much of it in punitive damages, to the two and one of their partners in the long-running hit TV show “Bones,” holding that Fox executives lied, cheated and committed fraud at the expense of the show’s stars and executive producer Barry Josephson. That creative Hollywood accounting robs stars is the third worst-kept and longest running secret in show business, #1 being that directors and producers use their power and star-makimg ability to force actresses to have sex with them, and #2 being that an awful lot of actresses take advantage of that illicit entree. James Garner was one of the few big stars to challenge the swindle in court, and he did so more than once. He won, too, but he also paid a price in lost roles. Most stars just put up with the cheating and take their paychecks, which are pretty big anyway.

Maybe Boreanaz, a latter day Garner who may have sensed that he has maxed  out his career as he enters his fifties (surely you remember him as Angel, Buffy the Vampire Killer’s tragic true, un-dead love?) and Deschanel, who has always been oveer-shadowed her younger, cuter, funnier sister Zooey, may have decided that there was no downside in fighting for their fair share. Or maybe—just maybe—they are making a courageous stand for their profession. Either way, it is good ethics news any time the Hollywood moguls get foiled in this game.

One More Time, The Second Accuser Scenario, And Fairness For Justin Fairfax

From the Washington Post today:

“A Maryland woman said Friday she was raped by Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) in a “premeditated and aggressive” assault in 2000, while they both were undergraduate students at Duke University. She is the second woman this week to make an accusation of sexual assault.

The woman, Meredith Watson, said Friday in a written statement through her attorney that she shared her account immediately after it happened with several classmates and friends. Watson did not speak publicly Friday and her lawyer did not make her available for an interview.

Watson was friends with Fairfax at Duke but they never dated or had any romantic relationship, the lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said.

“At this time, Ms. Watson is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” Smith said in the statement . “She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life. Similarly, she is not seeking any financial damages.”

Now what?

An unrelated accusation of conduct X does not mean that a previous unsubstantiated accusation of the same conduct is true. However…

  • In the case of habitual or characteristic misconduct—like being a sexual predator or a sexual harasser—the likelihood that there have been more, undisclosed episodes involving the individual accused is high.
  • Thus the absence of a credible second (or third, fourth, and onward) accuser in a matter like this is legitimate evidence arguing for the innocence of the accused. An example would be Clarence Thomas.
  • When subsequent allegations are substantially similar to the original accusation, they are especially damning. Bill Cosby is the poster case for this variation. Another exampole: Kevin Spacey.
  • When the second and additional allegations are suspiciously timed, as during an election or a political controversy, when they involve general misconduct only, lack named accusers or when they are sketchy in their facts and proof, they should be regarded with extreme skepticism. The add-on Kavanaugh accusations fit this description.
  • The fact that a court decision or an official investigation has not definitively determined that misconduct has taken place does not require individuals, groups and the public to discard commons sense, if they can eliminate bias from their decision-making. O.J. Simpson, it is fair to say,  is guilty of murder, and it is completely fair to regard him in that light. Barry Bonds used banned and illegal drugs to enhance his major league baseball career. Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator who traded professional advancement for sex. We don’t need admissions here to come to informed decisions.

Now what does all of this mean for Justin Fairfax, next in line to be Governor of Virginia if Governor Northam decides, as an honorable public servant should, that he has made such an irredeemable ass of himself by his obfuscations, double-back flips, and tap-dancing around the question of whether he had a photo of himself in blackface in his yearbook that no Virginian in his or her right mind could possibly feel secure trusting such a boob to handle the affairs of the Commonwealth? What is fair? Continue reading