Your Weekend Ethics Update

Sure, it's touching..but is it sincere?

Here’s what you may have missed if your attention was focused on non-ethical considerations over the weekend:

  • A Washington, D.C. Charter school has been using scenarios out of horror movies to teach math—to third graders.
  • Saturday Night Live gave fallen child star Lindsay Lohan a chance to be something other than an addict and scofflaw again. Was it exploitation or was it kindness? Kind exploitation, perhaps?
  • Rush Limbaugh became a victim of his own mouth, attacking a Georgetown Law student’s advocacy of insurance-covered contraceptives not by questioning her logic—which is questionable—but her character, and in crude and degrading terms. Indefensible.
  • At least two NFL team, it was revealed, put bounties on the heads of opposing teams’ stars, offering thousands to players for knocking them off the field and into hospital beds. Unethical, a violation of league rules, cheating, and criminal…and the reaction of players is, “What’s the big deal?” A culture problem perhaps?
  • While conservatives were rending their garments in grief over the sudden death of conservative web warrior Andrew Breitbart (and too many liberals were disgracing themselves by applauding an early demise that left his young children fatherless), a far more influential and infinitely more ethical conservative voice left us: scholar, author, social scientist, philosopher, historian…and Ethics Hero Emeritus… James Q. Wilson.
  • Rush apologized after his sponsors began to flee. With great power comes great responsibility, and Limbaugh has more power than he can possibly be responsible for. He still is accountable.
  • Finally…Is a forced apology a “real” apology? It depends.

Kind and Exploitive: SNL Performs A Rare Ethical Unethical Act

Lindsay Lohan, when everything was possible, and the future was bright.

Tomorrow, Saturday Night Live is bringing back Lindsay Lohan as Guest Host. This a decision that defies ethical analysis. On one hand, it is certain to be a ratings winner, as the curious will tune in to see if Lohan has a meltdown, look prematurely aged by her various addictions, or does or says something that continues her five year-run of self-destructive behavior. Lindsay is almost finished with her court-ordered rehab and community service, but her status in show business could hardly be much lower. She is widely regarded as uninsurable, and a candidate for a relapse at any time. Since the lapsed child star last hosted SNL, she has stood trial for grand theft, been held in contempt of court, been sentenced to jail twice, and made the classic desperation career move of posing nude for Playboy, a last ditch tactic that 1) almost never works, and 2) is usually reserved for fading pop stars and marginal TV actresses in  their thirties, not a 25-year-olds.who should be in her career prime. If there ever was a ratings-motivated “let’s give the people a train wreck to gawk at” call, this was it. Continue reading

Lindsay Lohan Dethroned As “All-Time Most Outrageous Excuse” Champion!

Linday Lohan, the former title-holder, and the new champion, Michael West

Back in 2007, I awarded Lindsay Lohan the championship for most brazen and manifestly ridiculous excuse ever. She had just been arrested for driving intoxicated and possession of cocaine, which had been found in the pocket of her jeans; Lindsay’s profession of innocence was that 1) she wasn’t driving her own car and 2) the pants belonged to somebody else. I noted at the time that she hadn’t yet claimed that the body she was in at the time wasn’t hers, but absent that, the “these aren’t my pants (TAMP)” excuse might well stand for all time.

In retrospect, that was rash. For one thing, many celebrities then as now already employed the Pazuzu Excuse, just a hair less ridiculous than TAMP, in which an offensive and career jeopardizing utterance is explained by the utterer as being inexplicable, that for some presumably supernatural reason—like being possessed by the demon who used Linda Blair as his ventriloquist dummy in “The Exorcist”—the individual has said something he or she not only didn’t believe, but never had even thought. The most recent purveyor of the Pazuzu Excuse noted here was Kobe Bryant; other infamous possessed have included Mel Gibson, Helen Thomas, and Michael Richards. That’s uncomfortably close to “it wasn’t my body.”  A few months ago, Newt Gingrich attributed his serial adultery and his habit of dumping his beloved wives when they got sick to his extreme patriotism; still short of TAMP, but getting close. Then, just this week, a strong contender nearly grabbed the title from Lindsay when  the chicken-hearted drunk who piloted the Costa Concordia cruise ship onto the rocks claimed left the capsizing vessel before his passengers because the he “fell into a life boat.” Uh-oh. Clearly, Lindsay’s title was teetering.

And quickly it fell. The Smoking Gun reports that in Wisconsin on Sunday, police responded to a domestic abuse call to find Mrs. Michael West bleeding from her face and saying that her husband Michael beat and tried to strangle her. Confronted by the officers, Mr. West explained that he was innocent.

A ghost did it.

Well, Lindsay’s one remaining accomplishment since “Mean Girls” is history. The new champion for “All-Time Most Outrageous Excuse” is Michael West.

This time, I’m not making any predictions. It’s crazy out there.


Epilogue: As I re-read my Ethics Scoreboard post from 2007 about Lindsay Lohan’s ridiculous episode, I found myself becoming depressed. In 2007 she was just 21 years old and looked it; she had a career, she was obviously talented, and despite the arrest, had plenty of time to turn things around and get what had once looked like a charmed life back on track. She never did. In the intervening years leading up to 2012, she has had multiple stays in rehab and two stints in jail. She had to stand trial for grand theft, and is still on probation. This month she is featured posing nude in Playboy, usually the last ditch recovery vehicle for fading actresses who are too unstable or unpopular to get on “Dancing With the Stars,”  have too much pride to sign on to “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, and are not fat enough for “Celebrity Boot Camp.”  As she sheds her dignity in Hugh Hefner’s anachronistic soft-porn glossy, looking far older than her years, Lohan’s over-shadowed cast-mates from “Mean Girls,” Amanda Seyfried, Rachel McAdam and Tina Fey, have all become respected, bankable and still rising stars.  Her supposed teen rival from years ago, Hillary Duff, has a singing and acting career, a husband and a baby on the way. Lohan is still only 26; many people have sunk far lower than she has with fewer assets to draw on and pulled their lives out of  tailspins to be happy, successful, and productive. I hope she can too. Right now, however, her life is a cautionary tale about how a badly-parented young woman who was never taught responsibility, accountability, respect for authority or self-control can find life unmanageable despite possessing all the gifts that American society foolishly admires more—youth, beauty, riches, talent and fame.

And it makes me sad.

The Great Norwalk Kindergarten Heist

The Tanya McDonald controversy

A homeless woman is facing 20 years in prison if she is convicted of stealing over $15,000 of Norwalk, Conn. taxpayer funds. The details of her crime are controversial: she lied about her residence to get her child into what she believed was a better school system, but one that, as non-resident, she was not entitled to use. The details also create a tangled mess of law, justice, ethics, fairness, compassion, public policy, finances, class and education.

Let’s try to unravel it, shall we? Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Prosecutor Kit Bramblett

Uh, Willie? The judge woul like you to put down the weed and sing.

In West Texas, Hudspeth County prosecutor has recommended an unusual set of penalties for country music legend Willie Nelson, who has been arrested for possession of marijuana as he has been many times in the past. County Attorney Kit Bramblett has recommended to the judge in the case that she allow Bramblett to drop possession charges if Nelson pleads guilty, pays a fine…

…. and sings “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” for in court.

His recommendation is ethically offensive on many levels, though it is probably not a violation of any Texas rule of legal ethics, for the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct does not directly address Ethics Dunces. However… Continue reading

Unethical Crime Victim of the Month: Kamofie & Co.

Next time, Lindsay, pick a classier store to rob.

Lindsay Lohan, in addition to having stunningly bad judgment, multiple addictions, lousy parents, sycophantic friends, and an army of paid enablers, also has rotten luck. When she walked out of a jewelry store wearing a $2,500 necklace, she picked an ethically dubious enterprise, Kamofie & Co., that may have  grossly over-priced the necklace, turning the shoplifting into grand theft. But that’s just the beginning.

Lohan, who is on probation and facing jail time for the incident, was caught on a surveillance tape in January as she strolled out of the store, with the unpurchased jewelry around her neck. Some establishments, recognizing the alleged thief as someone who is famous, troubled, and in need of some kindness, would have privately contacted the actress, accepted her (probably) false excuse that the act was inadvertent, and allowed her to return the item with involving the police.

Not Kamofie, however, which apparently saw the incident as an opportunity to make itself a household word. Continue reading

Lindsay’s Sad Lie

Lindsay Lohan, when the future was bright

I’m still rooting for Lindsay Lohan to turn things around, so I didn’t want to make too big a deal over her recent tweet in connection with the 24-year-old’s latest drama, a felony charge for walking out of a jewelry store wearing an unpurchased necklace priced at $2,500. Being still on probation as she is, the downward-spiraling former child star is facing the possibility of serious prison time. The tweet said, in part,

“…I was not raised to lie, cheat or steal…!”

This is either self-delusion on an epic scale or one of the most brazen lies since Lindsay told police, when they found cocaine in the pocket of her jeans, that she wasn’t wearing her own pants…or perhaps since she told a judge that she couldn’t make her court appearance on a drunk driving charge, after flying off to the Cannes Film Festival shortly before she was due in court, because “her passport was stolen.” Continue reading

A New Outrageous Excuse! Unfortunately, It Was True…

When the African nation of Togo protested that its embarrassing soccer loss to the Bahrain national team was due to a group of imposters masquerading as the Togo squad, I was excited: at least I had a new desperate, brazen and hopeless lie to enter the Ethics Alarms Futile Lie Hall of Fame, joining Jimmy Durante’s immortal “Elephant? What elephant?” line in the musical “Jumbo” (in response to being caught red-handed stealing the largest elephant in captivity, Lindsay Lohan’s explanation to police officers who had found cocaine in her pockets that “these aren’t my pants,” and comedian Michael Richards’ claim that he has no idea why he started yelling “Nigger!” at two black audience members when he has not a bigoted bone in his body—the  controversial “I was possessed!” excuse.

The “It’s not our fault: someone was impersonating me!” lie has great promise, not just for other disappointing athletic teams, but for politicians, John Edwards, the Democratic Congress, the producers of the “Sex in the City” movie sequel, Kanye West and Goldman Sachs. Thus I was devastated to find out that Togo wasn’t lying at all: their soccer team had been replaced by imposters.

Oh, well. And because the excuse now has validity, the “Someone was impersonating us!” excuse no longer qualifies as a sufficiently desperate and hopeless lie. It looks like Li-Lo, Kramer and “the Schnoz”  will have to wait a bit longer for their quartet.

Note to Lawyers: Celebrities Have Confidences Too

Eric Turkewitz, on his New York Personal Injury Law blog, properly and pointedly flags an outrageous instance of a lawyer running to the press with information the professional ethics rules governing lawyers say that he must keep  confidential absent permission to reveal them.

Stuart Goldberg, a Chicago criminal lawyer, was consulted by former child actress-turned-celebrity-bad-girl-turned-prisoner Lindsay Lohan as she sought new counsel to help her with her long-running legal woes. Lohan decided to pay her legal bills to someone else, and it was the first smart move Lindsay has made in a long, long time. Goldberg demonstrated his trustworthiness by dashing over to People Magazine and blabbing about his impressions of Lohan during their meeting as well as the content of their discussion. Continue reading