Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/3/2019: “Thing’s Are Seldom What They Seem…”

Good afternoon!

1. Today’s source of maximum irritation. Remember those California wildfires at the end of last year that the news media kept reporting as proof of climate change and that prompted Democrats and talking heads to sneer in disdain at anyone, especially President Trump, who suggested that electrical equipment just might have been the cause? From NPR:

Pacific Gas and Electric says it’s “probable” that its equipment caused the Camp Fire in Northern California, the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history.

California has not finished its investigation into PG&E’s culpability in last November’s fire that killed at least 85 people, destroyed about 14,000 structures, displacing tens of thousands of people and destroying the town of Paradise. However, the state’s largest utility, which filed for bankruptcy last month, said Thursday it expects the investigation will find that its damaged infrastructure sparked the fire.

Please let Ethics Alarms know how many of the news shows this morning mention this development.

2. Spring Training ethics note: Good news! Ethics Alarms has been campaigning for robo-umps at home plate to call balls and strikes for several years. Now MLB announces that it has finalized a three-year deal with the independent Atlantic League to have the league test rules innovations and equipment for the Show. This will include computer calling of pitches. Not so good news: it will also reportedly include moving the mound back, which is heresy.

3. Concern for Popehat’s Ken White.  There is not a smarter, more passionate, better blogger on the planet than lawyer Ken White, and while we have had our disagreements, his commentary on law and justice especially is a blessing for all Americans, even though most don’t have the sense to benefit from it. One of many reasons I admire Ken is that he has been candid about his battle with depression, a killer illness that too many people don’t understand. That malady runs in my family (or as Mortimer Brewster says in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Runs? It practically gallups!”), and has been responsible for more than one suicide. Popehat once was a collective, but now it’s almost entirely Ken, with occasional drop-ins from the acerbic Mark Randazza. The blog’s last entry was January 4, almost two months. I’m worried, as are most of Ken’s fans I’m sure, and I am officially sending Ethics Alarms best wishes and love to one of the really good people in multiple roles: lawyer, blogger, public educator. Get back as soon as you can, Ken. We need you. Continue reading

The Right Thing In Spite Of Themselves: CNN And NBC Abandon Their Hillary Projects

Hillary Clinton, in her dreams...and Bill's...

Hillary Clinton, in her dreams…and Bill’s…

If CNN and NBC had any sense of responsibility, fairness and respect for the American political system, neither would have planned Hillary Clinton projects—CNN, a documentary, NBC, a “docudrama” mini-series—for the coming year, in which the controversial Ms. Clinton is expected to begin running for President of the United States. Neither deserves any credit for cancelling them now, after pundits and especially the Republican Party screamed foul, and foul it was.

There is no way either product could avoid making difficult content choices that would be inevitably influenced by such non-ethical considerations as entertainment value, ratings, political pressure, and artist bias. The documentary and the mini-series would necessarily distort fact and history, because so much of any contemporary figure’s life and career has yet to be objectively examined, and no more so than Hillary Clinton, as polarizing and mysterious figure as U.S. politics has ever produced, rivaling Richard Nixon and Aaron Burr. Continue reading

Mariska Hargitay and Hugh O’Brian Show How To Use Celebrity Ethically

O'Brien and Hargitay---Good guys on the screen, but more importantly, off it.

O”Brian and Hargitay
Heroes on the screen, but more importantly, off it.

I have left the impression in more than one post that performers and celebrities too often use their fame and finances to garner wide dissemination for opinions that they are unqualified by experience, intellect, maturity and education to have taken more seriously than the rants of a typical 7th grade blogger. That is an accurate observation. Unfortunately, such public figures are taken seriously, so we must listen to Sean Penn sing hosannas to a South American dictator, see Kanye West pronounce a President guilty of wanting see blacks drown in New Orleans, and watch Ann Hathaway protest the existence of rich people with Occupy Wall Street (while collecting her million dollar fees.) Not all celebrities waste their influence and our time on dubious pursuits, however. There are others, and since they are interested in substantive issues and more concerned with accomplishing something than getting publicity, we often don’t know about their work.

George Clooney and Matt Damon are in this group, as is classic TV Western star Hugh O’Brian, better known as “Wyatt Earp.” Since 1958, O’Brian has been funding and building the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation, which was founded to “inspire and develop our global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service and innovation”  after a meeting between O’Brian and famous humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer. This large and thriving non-profit commonly goes by the name of “HOBY”; one has to search the fine print to find any mention of its once famous founder, now in his eighties.

And then there is Mariska Hargitay. Continue reading

Stop Picking On Mike Tyson

This time, it wasn't your fault, Mike.

This time, it wasn’t your fault, Mike.

“Law & Order: SVU” cast former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson as a prisoner and past victim of child abuse victim, who murdered one of his abusers. The episode bombed for the NBC show during the crucial “sweeps” ratings period, and Washington Post TV writer Lisa De Moraes attributes the failure to the show’s insensitivity in casting Tyson.  She wrote in today’s Post,

“Before the episode aired, about 7,000 people signed a petition asking NBC to recast the role. The petition was created by an ardent “SVU” fan who is a rape survivor and who said she felt betrayed by the stunt casting. Among those who signed the petition: “NCIS” star and abuse survivor Pauley Perrette. Tyson was arrested in 1991 and charged with raping then-18-year-old Miss Black America pageant competitor Desiree Washington; he was convicted and served three years of a six-year prison sentence.”

If the “Law and Order” producers erred in casting Tyson, it was in under-estimating the fecklessness, bias and hypocrisy of the viewing public.  Continue reading

“Law and Order, SVU” vs. O’Reilly: Was Bill Smeared?

Even if you can’t stand Bill O’Reilly, you have to admit that the Fox bloviator has an entertainingly thin skin. Are you a struggling TV talking head in need of a  ratings boost? Just take a shot, cheap or otherwise, at Battlin’ Bill, and he’ll double your audience by turning red-faced and calling you a slime. This time, O’Reilly is riled at Dick Wolf, the “Law and Order” producer, who recently had a character played by John Larroquette argue on “Law and Order, Special Victims Unit” that a man who killed the children of illegal immigrants had been primed by “Beck, Limbaugh, O’Reilly” who were like a “cancer spreading ignorance and hate.”  Continue reading