Ethics Quote of the Week: Christiane Amanpour

“It was a very dark Strangelovian speech painting the picture of a dystopian world, raising the spectre of a genocidal nation, a genocidal regime spraying nuclear weapons to annihilate the whole world and the whole region. Now, obviously many people are very concerned about Iran and there is a deep lack of trust, but surely the same was said of the Soviet Union all those years ago.”

—-CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, commenting to Wolf Blizter on Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress.

That's funny...he doesn't LOOK Jewish...

That’s funny…he doesn’t LOOK Jewish…

This is a propitious opportunity to clear up a question I have been asked a few times, namely, “What is the distinction between the Ethics Alarms “ethics quotes” as opposed to the unethical and ethical quotes of the week or month. Sometimes, it’s a close call, like now. An ethics quote either illustrates, in a positive or negative fashion, an ethics principle or raises an ethics issue. Unethical quotes are those that are themselves harmful, dishonest, or that promote ethics misconceptions and unethical conduct. Ethical quotes are those that display ethical values or accomplish something that is objectively good.

Amanpour’s quote is, not to be overly blunt, stupid, ignorant, and disturbingly lacking in historical perspective. It raises ethics issues, but does not rise to the level, quite, of an unethical quote. It does raise the ethics issues of incompetence in the media, political bias robbing us all of IQ points, irresponsible journalism, and what happens when one is incapable of placing oneself behind another individual’s eyeball.  She is trying to be descriptive, so I would not term the quote itself unethical, just shocking. She has long been respected as a reporter on international events, but this statement is so devoid of its proper context that I think her credentials need to be reconsidered. Continue reading

April 19, 1943: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Warsaw uprising

A fortuitous confluence of events, dates and topics: following yesterday’s discussion of an absurd and passive application of a warped “love your enemy” approach to school bullying and the week’s earlier explication of the importance of using Nazi comparisons when they are appropriate as well as the problems arising from the rampant historical ignorance and apathy in the U.S, we arrive at April 19. I doubt that one citizen in a thousand could identify or explain the significance of today’s date in world history, but we all should; it is the essence of our duty to remember. For on this date in 1943, the residents of the Warsaw ghetto in Poland, realizing that they were in the process of being liquidated, fought back against their Nazi captors, and for almost a month, despite being outnumbered and outgunned, disrupted the extermination and, though they were ultimately defeated (most of the leaders committed suicide with cyanide as the Germans began to round them up), their courage sparked other uprisings in the ghettos in Bialystok and Minsk, and the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps.

The Germans had planned to begin the final elimination of the Warsaw Jews on the eve of Passover, so the anniversary of the beginning of the revolt is perfectly placed. Make sure you quiz the Palestinian cause fan in your life regarding the Warsaw ghetto revolt, and see if it rings any bells—it probably won’t. Learning the history may help you explain to them why the state of Israel will make no deals until the nation’s right to exist is acknowledged and unequivocal.

They, and you, can read about the Warsaw ghetto uprising here.

Ethics Hero: Jerry Seinfeld

One wonderful thing about extreme success combined with middle age is that you can, if you have the integrity, speak unpopular truths without caring who objects. Thus it was the Jerry Seinfeld correctly dismissed as irrelevant and misguided the suggestion that seeking racial and gender balance should be an objective in his comedy shows. In response to a question challenging his Web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee“as too white and male, the comedian said:

“People think it’s the census or something, it’s gotta represent the actual pie chart of America. Who cares? Funny is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that, but everyone else is, kind of with their little calculating, “Is this the exact right mix?” To me, it’s anti-comedy.  It’s more about PC nonsense than ‘are you making us laugh or not’.”

Exactly. Not that the race and gender bean counters will let Seinfeld escape with an explanation of such obvious common sense. Here’s Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher playing his full hand of gender, race, guilt and quota cards: Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Joan Rivers

Bear with me, now.

Fight for "Springtime for Hitler," Joan!

Fight for “Springtime for Hitler,” Joan!

Joan Rivers, who took the baton from Phyllis Diller after Diller had proven that women could be funny stand-up comics, and then proved in her own act that women could be funny, gross, and tasteless stand-up comics, is refusing to apologize for her 7, 678, 423rd tasteless joke, uttered on Monday’s episode of E!’s “Fashion Police” regarding the Julien Macdonald that dress model Heidi Klum wore at Elton John’s AIDS Foundation Academy Awards party:

“The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens,” is how Rivers described the German-born supermodel.

Sure enough, the joke, and Rivers, who is Jewish, are being condemned by Jewish groups and Holocaust survivors as being insensitive.The Anti-Defamation League’s director, Abraham H. Foxman, called the joke “vulgar and offensive to Jews and Holocaust survivors.” Rivers is standing her ground. The 70-something comic told The Hollywood Reporter, “My husband lost the majority of his family at Auschwitz, and I can assure you that I have always made it a point to remind people of the Holocaust through humor.”

In the wake of Seth MacFarlane’s various controversies at the Oscars (yes, I thought the John Wilkes Booth joke was funny, especially with the planned comeback, “Too soon?”) and the Onion getting too outrageous in its misconceived tweet using a 9-year-old girl as the prop for a joke about something else entirely,  this is as good a time as ever to seek a consensus on where some ethical lines should be drawn regarding jokes and satire. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Strange Case of Mitt Romney and the Posthumous Jewish Baptisms

I’m not even sure what the question  should be, but let’s wade into this Twilight Zone dilemma.

"Your mission, Mr. Romney, should you accept it, is to save these dead Jews from vicarious baptism. Your head will explode in 8 seconds..."

Apparently the Mormon Church has been baptizing dead Jews for a  long time. You don’t have to be a Mormon for Mormons to want to save your soul (as I found out when I lived with a Mormon my freshman year in college), so this is undeniably an act of love, if a bit presumptuous. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints performs what they call “proxy baptisms” in order to save ancestors and others who weren’t baptized in life or who were baptized “without proper authority,” and such a baptism can even take place  after a person has died. When the live Jewish community discovered this was going on, and that even Holocaust victims like Anne Frank were getting baptized posthumously, it strenuously objected and negotiated a  baptism cease-fire of sorts, with the Mormons promising  to only proxy baptize dead Jews who were ancestors of Church members. The deal, however, fell through, and lot of deceased Jews are apparently being sent to Mormon Heaven, or somewhere, against their wills.

Thus Ellie Weisel has decided who is responsible for fixing this—whatever it is…Mitt Romney. Weisel has said that Romney should tell his church to cut it out, because, he says, “it’s scandalous.”

So the Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today is:

If the Mormons believe that baptizing dead Jews saves their souls, do they have any ethical obligation to stop doing it because the Jewish Community, Ellie Weisel, Mitt Romney or anyone else asks them to?

You know what? I don’t think so.I think if the Church made a deal it should keep its promise, but the deal aside: who does this hurt?

I also don’t think it is fair for Ellie Weisel to publicly demand that Mitt Romney throw his weight around in his Church to please another constituency.

Admittedly, however, the weirdness factor here is strong, and it may be blurring my reasoning powers. What do you think?

George Washington’s Vision of Religious Freedom

George Washington continues to be a source of wonder, wisdom, and ethical clarity.

Every year in August, Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island hosts a reading of President George Washington’s 1790 letter to “the Hebrew congregation in Newport, Rhode Island.” Before this month, I was unaware of either the celebration or the letter, I am ashamed to say. In it, the first President laid out clearly the ideals of religious freedom to be embraced by our fledgling nation, to a group that had reason to do doubt whether they would be welcome to worship as they pleased.

For generations, the Hebrew community that ultimately  settled in Newport had been fleeing religious persecution. The same year Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, in 1492, Spain enacted a policy forcing Jews to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Thousands sought refuge in the Netherlands, the Caribbean Islands and South America, only to be pursued by the Spanish Inquisition. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week AND Unethical Apology of the Month: Rep. Steve Cohen

First, the quote:

“I said Goebbels lied about the Jews, and that led to the Holocaust. Not in any way whatsoever was I comparing Republicans to Nazis. I was saying lies are wrong…I don’t know who got everybody’s panties in a wad over this statement.”

—–Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), in his initial dismissal of criticism over his rant on the House floor regarding Republican characterizations of the health care bill.

This quote is really remarkable, for it is hard to pack so many kinds of dishonesty into so few words.It’s hard to know where to begin. Continue reading

Blood Libel Ethics and the U.S. News Media’s Integrity Dead End

First you make a baseless, inflammatory accusation–the Big Lie. Then you attack your victim for how she responds to it.

The news media’s self-destructive obsession with discrediting Sarah Palin has reached its ethical nadir, and with it any reasonable hope that U.S. journalism, as currently practiced, will be returning to credibility and respectability within the foreseeable future. Continue reading

Glenn Beck vs. George Soros: Beck Cheats, Soros Wins

It is easy, and even enjoyable, to call foul when Fox News side-show barker Glenn Beck slanders a great American and personal hero like Theodore Roosevelt. It is less enjoyable when his target of abuse is someone I am far less fond of, George Soros. I don’t like to see billionaires use their checkbook to prop up juvenile Angry Left slime-artists like Move-On. Org, or to foist another family and  character-wrecking drug on society by pushing us toward the legalization of marijuana. But fair is fair, and lies are lies, and never the twain shall meet. The fact that Glenn Beck doesn’t agree with George Soros’s political activities can’t justify or excuse Beck’s use of falsehoods to paint him as something he is not.  Continue reading