Tag Archives: John Oliver

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/6/17: An Ambush By John Oliver, An Insult From John Conyers

1 It’s a tradition, but  still an embarrassment to democracy...Why isn’t this res ipsa loquitur, as in “so indisputable it ought to be embarrassing”?  Rep. John Conyers, whose proclivity to engage in sexual harassment in full confidence that neither left-leaning reporters in the know (like Cokie Roberts ) nor his party’s leaders nor the victims themselves, would blow a whistle on a “civil rights icon” like him, is finally announcing a forced retirement. But he is attempting to anoint his oldest son, John Conyers III, as his successor. III has no special qualifications for elected office. He is a hedge fund manager and a business consultant whose  famous father is part of his appeal to clients. The original John Conyers was used  as a stepping stone to power by another unqualified family member using his name, III’s’ mother, former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, was sentenced to 37 months in prison for bribery. She was released in 2013.

In a profanity and vulgarity-laced video III posted last year, he said in part,

“Third and fourth generations of Conyers running for office. It’s really crazy. My grandfather did an incredible job, man. Fuck. A lot of people stand on the sidelines of their own lives. It’s like you just watch that shit go by like, no, I don’t think I’m going to get in the game – that shit is short, man. Whatever you do, make sure you vote….Voting feels so good, like even if your person doesn’t win, like, it feels good. The craziest part about it all is that my dad really walked with Martin Luther King and got arrested for this shit, like, damn this shit is deep fam. I casted my vote and I was hype as shit, like, I voted, like, this is awesome and I am really thankful for people that died for that for me. Any race, whatever, it’s important to vote but I mean, like, especially African-Americans man, go vote because people really died for this shit. If you don’t know shit about a candidate, man, and you just want to vote like you can write your own name in there, but like the action of going to vote is so important.”

Or just vote for someone with a last name you recognize! He sounds like a winner to me! One hurdle: Democratic Michigan State Sen. Ian Conyers, the congressman’s great-nephew, announced his intention to run for the open seat.

This is a long, long blight on American democracy that makes me wonder if we’re really up to it. The number of voters in both parties who are so shallow, lazy, and foolish as to assume that merely being related to a famous or popular leader is sufficient reason to elect him or her is disgraceful, but it has always been thus. Among those who never would have made it into a high office without this factor are Mary Bono, Jesse Jacskon, Jr. (currently in prison), Lindy Boggs, Lurleen Wallace, Margaret Chase Smith, Robert Taft, George W. Bush,  Bobby Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Robert Kennedy Jr,  Joseph Kennedy III,  Joe Kennedy II, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend—anyone named Kennedy, really—current Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Cal.), Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton. There are many, many more.

A last name is not a qualification for office. Why should that even have to be pointed out in a nation founded upon the rejection of royalty?

2. Unethical virtue-signalling via ambush. I admire John Oliver’s intellect, verbal dexterity and talent, but as with Stephen Colbert, David Letterman and others, he is so clearly a mean-spirited jerk that I find it difficult to watch him. Signature significance arrived for Oliver this week when he ambushed actor Dustin Hoffman  during a panel discussion commemorating the anniversary of the film Wag the Dog.

The topic of the evening was fake news and government manipulation of it, as the Clinton era film about a phony war being launched by a President to distract from a scandal is a fascinating one to ponder through the rear view mirror. Hoffman, one of the stars of the film, recently became one of the few dubious victims of a #MeToo-er, as he was accused of groping and sexually harassing a 17-year old woman on the set of another film in 1985. Unlike most of the celebrities and power-brokers run over by the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck, Hoffman has not had other accusers surface. He denies the woman’s characterization of what happened, and so have others, like the director of the movie in question, the filmed version of Hoffman’s Broadway turn as Willie Loman in “Death of  Salesman.”

I have read fans of Oliver saying that Hoffman should have assumed that Oliver would grill him on the allegations, to which I say, “Only if Hoffman realized what a knee-jerk progressive creep Oliver is.” I think the actor assumed that Oliver was an honorable professional, and as a moderator wouldn’t hijack the discussion to embarrass Hoffman and burnish his feminist creds.

To Hoffman’s credit, he stood up to the abuse of position by Oliver and defended himself. At one point, there was this exchange:

HOFFMAN: “Do you believe this stuff you read?

OLIVER: Yes. Because there’s no point in (the accuser) lying.”

HOFFMAN: Well, there’s a point in her not bringing it up for 40 years.

OLIVER: Oh Dustin…

I would have said,

“Don’t “Oh, Dustin” me, you arrogant, posturing ass. The fact that a complaint isn’t made for that much time automatically makes it dubious. It places the accused in an impossible position; evidence has evaporated, and memories have faded. There are many reasons to lie. To get publicity, To get revenge for some real or imagined slight. To bring down someone famous or powerful. To join a mob—and regardless of the fact that the post-Weinstein focus on legitimate sexual misconduct in the workplace has created needed awareness and exposed long-time abusers, it is a mob, with all of the capacity a mob has to harm the innocent in its self-righteousness. You are playing to the mob right now, and willing to unjustly smear me to do it. You’re a disgrace.”

John Ziegler quoted a Hollywood writer who knows Hoffman and is convinced he is innocent, who said,

“Someone should tell John Oliver he’s the true heir to Joe McCarthy!Sex abuse baiting has replaced red-baiting. The ‘Sexual Blacklist’ reigns supreme. Guilty until ruined!”

Let me also remind readers that my hypothetical illustrating how a woman might retroactively decide that what she did not regard as sexual harassment years ago was harassment now was mocked by both the moderator and a Georgetown law professor during the NPR panel I participated in last week.

I am right, they are biased.

The more I think about that exchange, the more ticked off I get….

 

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Ethics Dunce Collective: The American Music Awards

I can make this uncharacteristically short. Just re-read the post on John Oliver’s nasty full-show, post-election anti-Trump rant, and substitute “American Music Awards.” Also worth reviewing is the list of rationalizations used to justify Oliver, which I posted here, especially since so many of them are also being trotted out to excuse the ambushing of Mile Pence when he dared to exercise his right to enjoy “Hamilton” on Broadway without being personally called out and attacked by the cast.

It can be argued that the American Music Awards’ insults to the duly and lawfully elected POTUS—who has yet to do anything as President— last night were even worse than Oliver’s disrespectful ad hominem barrage. At least Oliver, a skilled satirist, was occasionally amusing. The two AMA hosts from Saturday Night Live were juvenile, desperate and amateurish, counting on their Trump-hating demographic for laughs they didn’t earn. If we ever see a more inept impression of Donald Trump than Jay Pharoah’s, be it in four years or a century, I’ll be shocked. Worst of all, however, was Gigi Hadid’s unfunny, mean and hypocritical imitation of Melania Trump, for the crime of existing.  The principle, just for application to Republican First Ladies, now, is apparently that having an accent  makes you ridiculous and an idiot.

If anyone, anywhere, on a live television show had dared to do such a grotesque mockery of Michelle Obama when she was the incoming First Lady, they would have been tarred a boor, a racist, and a virtual traitor.

I wonder which of the rationalizations will be used to defend Hadid? Whatever they are, the real defense is just this, the same that is being used to defend “Hamilton”: We hate these people, and they don’t deserve to be treated fairly.

Got it.

One clarification: Green Day is a political band, and their decision to shout No Trump / No KKK” during their performance of the catchy and tuneful  “Bang Bang” is as fair as it was predictable…also moronic, but what do you expect? It’s a band.

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Revelations From The John Oliver Video Post: What I Have Learned

light-bulb PREFACE: I have just returned from a crazy three day odyssey that had me lecturing on Massachusetts legal ethics in Boston, Washington, D.C. legal ethics in the nation’s capital, and, professional ethics, legal ethics and accounting ethics in Tucson, Arizona. Keeping pace with ethics developments was even more difficult than it usually is when I’m on the road, because I had almost no time in between flights, meetings and various hassles to get to a newspaper, surf the web, or watch TV. And my browser kept crashing.

I wrote the John Oliver post, frankly, as low-hanging fruit. His performance was vile and hateful, barely funny, self-indulgent, and disrespectful in a damaging way, and I didn’t think, and still don’t, that there should be much disagreement on that assessment. I expected the usual “lighten up,” “he was only joking “[he was NOT only joking], and “he has right to free speech” comments, because I always get those any time I point out that a comedian has been unfair and irresponsible. I did not expect,for the post to get more single day traffic than all but one previous Ethics Alarms entry, and so many comments, many of which with troubling social and political significance. I returned to my office to find more comments waiting for moderation than have ever been there at one time, and I apologize for that: I try to get them cleared withing hours if not minutes. Of course, a disproportionate number of them were garbled nonsense, or just invective with no point whatsoever. They didn’t make it.

I also had some tough calls, with repetitious comments that misrepresented the post, made irrelevant or factually mistaken assertions, and also were abusive. I fear that I may have been inconsistent, and perhaps less tolerant than usual, and I’m not referring to the occasional comment I allowed to be published just to show the kind of comments that weren’t being posted. The problem is that this site is a intended to be a colloquy, and poor quality comments just make the threads hard to read, and also undermine the site.

I may have to be more ruthless in moderating comments in the future. I’m thinking about it.

Ethics is all about processing new information. Here are some useful things I learned, or re-learned, from the reaction to the post, “Ethics Dunce: HBO’s John Oliver”….

1. Otherwise reasonable, fair, smart people really do think that Donald Trump justifies unethical conduct and that makes it okay. Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce: HBO’s John Oliver [UPDATED]

I’m being kind and restrained here. John Oliver is a lot worse than an Ethics Dunce. I’ll let you fill in the blanks.

The video above was Oliver’s final show this season on HBO. It is a full half hour of insults and hate directed at the President-Elect of the United States of America. Some of his insults and ridicule are based on substance, some appear to be  pure bias and stupidity. I almost bailed when Oliver, to the bleating of his all blue, all juvenile audience, implied that being endorsed by the head of the KKK obviously disqualifies someone to be President. Unpack the logic in that contention.

Mostly, however, it is a vicious ad hominem assault on the newly elected President of a level of unfairness and disrespect that has never been directed at any previous President Elect in public. Never, because Americans have always realized that the slate is cleared when someone becomes President, and that the individual inherits the office and the legitimacy of that office as it has been built and maintained by it previous occupants. He (no “he or she” yet, sorry: not my fault) becomes the symbol of the nation, the government and its people, a unique amalgam of prime minister, king and flag in human and civilian form.

That immediate good will, respect for the Presidency, and forgiveness of all that went before has made the transfer of power in the US the marvel of the world, and has kept the nation from violence and division. It is part of our strength as a society. It is part of the election process, and a vital one. John Oliver is intentionally tearing at that process. Continue reading

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The Syrian Refugee Controversy: For The US Government, An Easy Ethics Call

Syrian refugees

That does not mean that it is an easy call for Barack Obama, whose perception of his duties and the stakeholders in his decisions is often confused.

The Question: Is it competent and responsible (ergo ethical) for the  the U.S. accept 10,000 Syrian refugees (or 65,000, as Hillary Clinton advocates) in the U.S., knowing that it is statistically certain that some of them will carry the threat of Islamic terrorism with them?

The Answer: No. Of course not. How can a rational person advocate such a foolish policy?

The answers to the last question are fascinating to speculate upon, and range from 1) “A rational person won’t,” to 2) “Willful blindness to reality” to 3) “Because of a profound misunderstanding of  the ethical priorities of government and leadership” to 4) “That’s a rational policy if the policy maker-wants  terror attacks.”

The proper analogy is admitting a refugee population with members suffering from a highly-communicable, infectious, incurable and fatal disease. No responsible government would risk bringing a plague into its population without being able to make certain—certain—that none of the refugees carried it. Thus there would be a quarantine period imposed on the refugees showing no symptoms, and those infected would not be allowed to enter the U.S. population at all. This is the same situation, except that the infectious, fatal, incurable contagion is radical Islam.

Dishonest and manipulative politicians like Hillary Clinton tacitly acknowledge the plague model when they say that refugees must be admitted to the U.S. but only after they are “thoroughly vetted.” They cannot be thoroughly vetted, however. Records from Syria are neither reliable nor available. Thus what such politicians are really saying is either “I don’t support taking Syrian refugees, but want you to think I do” or “I’m hopeless detached from reality.” The first is Hillary; the second is Barack Obama, who said yesterday,

“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

We can’t do both. It can’t be done. His first sentence is pure demagoguery, and demonstrates, yet again, how shockingly ignorant the President is regarding the duties of his office. His essential duties are  to do what is in the best interests of the United States, its citizens, and its mission of promoting human rights in the world. When those objectives are in conflict, the President must put the welfare and security, long term and short term, of the citizens who elected him and the nation he leads above all else.

Why can’t Obama see that? I don’t know. I’ve given up trying to understand the man.

Objectively, the question of the Syrian refugees is an ethics conflict, when warring  ethical principles and systems contradictory results.On the side of accepting the refugees and the undeniable risks they carry, we have altruism, The Golden Rule, fairness, kindness, decency, tolerance, acceptance, compassion, and caring.

On the side of rejecting them, there is utilitarianism, responsibility, loyalty, process, competence, trustworthiness,  prudence, and due diligence.

For a leader, the choice is obvious, because for a leader, it can’t be a question answered objectively. The President of the United States is not permitted the luxury of altruism, or objectivity. He holds an office of trust, and is trusted to place  citizens above others. This decision involves more than values. It is a matter of leadership and government ethics.  However much Obama or anyone else believes that assisting the Syrian refugees, of any number, is objectively the “right thing to do,” the United States Government cannot regard it that way. It is bound by its own duties, standards and priorities to be partisan: this country comes first. The Syrian refugees present a real and existential peril that cannot be avoided, except by keeping them out.

Easy ethics call.

At least it should be.

Other points:

1. Nonetheless, it is Obama’s call. The 28 state governors who have announced that they will “not permit” Syrian refugees in their states are either ignorantly or for effect asserting a power they do not have. States cannot reject immigrants and refugees duly and lawfully admitted into the country by the Federal government. (According to the Obama Justice Department, they can’t reject illegal immigrants negligently admitted into the country by the Federal government’s incompetence and corruption, either.) These announcements of defiance are a bluff, but have undeniable political power. Continue reading

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