Ethics Quiz: The Governor’s Dress

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wore a “form fitting dress” or a “distractingly badly-fitting dress” during her state of the State address. After some pundits and a lot of social media users leveled harsh criticism of her attire, the matter quickly entered the battlefield of the gender wars. She said in a statement,

“In my speech I was encouraging people to see the humanity in one another in this cruel political environment. In an era when so many women are stepping up to lead, I’m hoping people will focus on our ideas and accomplishments instead of our appearance. Until then, I’ve got a message for all of the women and girls like mine who have to deal with garbage like this every day: I’ve got your back.”

Anne Doyle, an Oakland County leadership coach for women, said,

“If she had been wearing something big and baggy, she would have been criticized for wearing that. We’re going to see a significant amount of this type of criticism as more and more women are in these type of powerful, leadership roles. It’s gender bias. But we have to power our way through it and ignore it.”

No question about it, female public figures are often subjected to higher standards of appearance than males. However, does this mean that no criticism of public comportment and appearance by public officials in the official discharge of their duties is legitimate? Here’s Ann Althouse on the controversy, writing that the Governor…

…wore a dress to her State of the State Address that was just way too tight. As many of the commenters (at The Daily Mail) observe, you can see the outline of her bellybutton. It’s not really fair to accuse everyone of body shaming when you wear something that fits so poorly. People talk about Trump’s tie being too long….

And his hair, AND his skin color, AND his hands, AND his weight. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama’s every fashion choice received barrels of ink-worth of automatic praise. The issue is, or should be, whether a public figures should be held accountable for decisions regarding they present themselves to the world. Cousin Vinny kept finding himself in contempt of court for inappropriately casual attire, which was deemed disrespectful to the court. Are supporters of the governor really arguing that all criticism of a female elected official’s attire or appearance is sexist? Seriously?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Of The Day is…

Was criticism of the Governor’s dress unethical?

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/31/2018: “Goodbye 2018, And Good Riddance!” Edition

Happy dying gasps of 2018!

1. Double standards inquiry: Will someone please explain to me why this magazine cover, which made O.J. Simpson blacker than he really is…

 

was universally condemned as racist, and this current cover of New York Times Magazine, making the late Aretha Franklin look like a ravenous rotting zombie from Hell..

…is just an artistic choice? (ARRGHHHHH!!!)

2. And speaking of looks…It is impossible not to notice that TV commercials are increasingly featuring overweight, ordinary-looking actors instead of the impossibly beautiful people who once were the automatic choices to sell products. This is an ethical development for the culture generally, and should help children develop more realistic aspirations regarding their own appearance. Now if only TV dramas would adopt the same inclusive casting policies—a particularly egregious candidate for reform is “law and Order” creator Dick Wolf.  His old series cast one eye-popping beauty after another as the male ADA’s sidekick, and now he is stocking his current NBC line-up of Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, and Chicago PD, with police women, female firefighters and distaff doctors who would be right at home in the pages of Vogue.

3.  More on “Enemies of the People”: Novelist and conservative gadfly Sarah Hoyt has issued a spirited defense—okay, it’s a screed, a rant even— of President Trump’s characterization of the news media, going over ground I have covered (most recently here and here), but with special brio. Read the whole thing— she is mostly right, if a bit hyperbolic and inflammatory—but here are some highlights: Continue reading

On Political Correctness, Eye Candy, And “Deal Or No Deal”

Where are the hunchbacks? Where are the amputees? Where are the burn victims?

A friend of mine—a real one– on Facebook, in a pathetically desperate exercise in virtue-signaling to his leftist hive-mind lawyer friends, issued a naive or disingenuous post making the claim that all “political correctness” was about was “not being an asshole.” This factually and historically false assertion naturally was met with unanimous likes until I again played the skunk at the picnic by pointing out that his comment was utter fantasy. The directive from the British college that laid out guidelines for comedians was classic political correctness, and it was the guidelines-peddlers, not the comedians or those who mocked the restrictions, who were being assholes. Those who persist in calling illegal immigrants illegal immigrants (and not “undocumented immigrants” or just “immigrants”), for that, Virginia, is what they are, are not the assholes, but they are “politically incorrect.” The assholes who go searching through the Twitter feeds of young celebrities searching for politically incorrect words about gays, women or minorities are wielding politically correctness as a weapon of personal destruction. And so on. I could write volumes on similar or more nauseating examples. Maybe I have.

So I pointed out, correctly and undeniably, that political correctness has been used for decades by one side of the political spectrum—guess which!—as a tool to manipulate public discourse and hobble the expression of ideas and attitudes that end doesn’t like, while relieving them of the obligation of making a substantive argument. The immediate attack on this retort came from someone I don’t even know, who wrote, “You are so tiresome.” Yes, I’m quite aware that doctrinaire progressives find ethics, facts and logic tiresome, but there it is. That is what passed for an argument in Facebook’s hive: “Shut up.” I haven’t bothered to respond to the other attacks on me on that thread; it’s not worth my time. If you defend a manifestly false characterization of political correctness, then you are either not being honest, you have an agenda, or are no longer thinking objectively and clearly. Either way, I’d rather debate my dog.

This was a roundabout way of introducing a classic example of political correctness silliness, attacks on the appropriateness of “Deal or No Deal” returning with the same bevy of beauties whose job it is to hold and open suitcases, a job that could be performed with equal competence by the homeless, paraplegics, 9-year-olds, or robots. Writes the Times, metaphorical brow furrowed,

CNBC’s “Deal or No Deal,” which returned for a new season on Wednesday after a nearly 10-year hiatus, and features 26 female models in matching high heels and short, skintight dresses. It’s a formula that helped make “Deal” a prime-time hit when it debuted on NBC in 2005.

That was 13 years ago. But in 2018, as the culture continues to grapple with the way women have been disregarded and sometimes abused by Hollywood and its machers, “Deal” and shows like it raise an awkward question: Is this a convention whose time is up?

Series like “Deal” encapsulate the paradox of the modern game-show modeling gig: On one hand, it offers a stiletto-heeled foot in the door for many young women who aspire to careers in entertainment — Meghan Markle and Chrissy Teigen, among others, got their starts on “Deal or No Deal.” On the other hand, it is unclear whether those advantages are worth the broader message it may communicate in the #MeToo era…

“I do feel it’s a bit tone deaf,” said Nicole Martins, a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, who focuses on media and body image. “These women are used as eye candy, and it reinforces the idea that these women should be appreciated for how they look.”

Yes, Professor, that’s because THESE women are being appreciated for how they look, and for no other reason, because they aren’t doing a job that couldn’t be handled by a well-trained ape. So what? “Deal of No Deal” is moronic, but there is nothing whatsoever unethical, sexist or “tone deaf,” now or ever, about employing attractive people in an entertainment context as “eye candy,” meaning “employing attractive people to be attractive.”

Attractive women are attractive. People like to look at them. People would rather look at them than look at average, typical people they can see every day on the street, or by looking in the mirror. Is there anything wrong with enhancing a stupefyingly repetitive and boring game show with beautiful women? There is not. Nor is there anything wrong with women who are gorgeous while having no other areas in which they excel making a living based entirely on that one asset. Continue reading

The Epitome Of Organizational Incompetence: The Miss America Pageant Decides Not To Be The Miss America Pageant

The ever-popular Miss America talent competition!

Now, don’t get me wrong: I believe the Miss America Pageant should have been euthanized decades ago. An  anachronism from the heyday of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, the beauty pageant seemed clunky, demeaning and embarrassing when I was a kid, when we had to watch the smarmy Bert Parks sing “There she is, Miss America!” while the winner’s tears washed her make-up down her cheeks. The talent competition was ridiculous; the answers to the judges’ questions were beyond parody. The women, however, did look smashing in their gowns and swimsuits. At least that was something.

But it was essentially a meat show, as my college roommate indelicately put it. The Miss USA and Miss World contestants were hotter, if dumber, and I always felt embarrassed for those women too. And don’t get me started on the Miss Teenage America pageant.

If you are going to have a Miss America Pageant, however, then you have it, and accept the fact that it’s wince-producing. If you don’t want to have such an event any more, then you kill it, that’s it. You don’t suddenly announce, “From today on, the Miss America Pageant is a trout fishing contest!” Isn’t that obvious?

Apparently not. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/18/2018: The Bad, The Beautiful, And The Stupid

Good morning, everyone…

1. Tales of the King’s Pass. Fox News put out a statement saying that Sean Hannity had its “full support.” We can assume that means no punishment, no sanctions, not even any public regrets, despite the fact, and it is a fact, that the right-wing talk-show host-turned-Trump propagandist went on the air and defended Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, without mentioning the fact that Hannity was Cohen’s client. Thus Fox is announcing, in effect, that undisclosed conflicts of interest are just fine and dandy if your ratings are good enough. This also means that Fox News is admitting that it really doesn’t care about candor, honesty, and objectivity, since it will ignore blatant violations of all three if the profit is sufficient.

In fairness to Fox, Hannity’s blatant biases toward all things Trump are no more egregious than the open Obama bias displayed across the mainstream media’s full spectrum of journalists and pundits; it just stands out more because he has less company. However, this is a specific conflict of interest, with Hannity having undisclosed connections to a newsmaker that could reasonably affect his commentary. The closest parallel would be ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reporting on the Clinton Foundation’s dubious activities without telling viewers that he was a $75,000 donor. ABC didn’t discipline him, either, but at least he made a public apology on the air.

To make the King’s Pass case even stronger, after Politico reported this week that dinnertime news anchor Bret Baier played nine holes of golf with President Trump over the weekend, Fox News acknowledged that Baier was admonished by the president of the network.  I don’t agree with the reprimand at all. The opportunity to spend that kind of time with a President is invaluable, a rare opportunity to acquire insight and access over an extended period of time. The idea, I assume, is that it creates the illusion of chumminess. It’s a dumb illusion. If I were a journalist,  I would play golf with anyone if it allowed me to learn something. If I were president of a network, I’d reprimand a reporter for turning down such an opportunity.

2. The Virtue-Signaling Hall Of Fame. Starbucks is reacting to the PR nightmare arising out of the arrest of two black men for refusing to order anything while waiting for a companion in a Philadelphia Starbucks by a grand gesture: it will close all U.S. stores and corporate offices on the afternoon of May 29 for “employee racial bias training.” I suppose this is good crisis management, though cynical and non-substantive. It also permanently tars as a racist the Starbucks ex-manager, who says she was following a locale-specific company policy in an area that had experienced problems with loitering. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/26/17: No, Everything Isn’t Horrible, But It’s Much Better If You Aren’t Ugly Or Paul Krugman…

Good Morning!

1 A strange disconnect. Does anyone else find it strange that Turner Movie Classics, which I would generally describe as a national cultural treasure, would choose Christmas Day of this year to highlight the career of director Alfred Hitchcock? As Hollywood and the movie industry are going to extreme lengths to purge themselves of the sexual predators in their midst, in some cases literally sending artistically outstanding works and careers into cultural purgatory, and with even calls for moderation and proportion (Matt Damon) or protestations of naive or denial-fueled ignorance (Meryl Streep) being sufficient to spark a professional crisis and widespread public criticism,  TCM, the modern day TV curator of Hollywood’s Golden Age, selected the most infamous sexual predator among all legendary American directors as its special Christmas treat.

Yeesh.

I don’t know what to make of this. Did the ethics alarms just go dead at TCM? Is this a case of “The King’s Pass,” as in, “Yes, male power figures in Hollywood engaging in sexual misconduct has been a terrible problem and it is important that this is finally being addressed, buuuut this is Alfred Hitchcock, after all. We have to over-look all of that because he’s a genius…”? The work of an artist should not be devalued because of his character or his unethical conduct, personal or professional, but at the same time, cheering the great sexual harassers of the past while trying to destroy tolerance of sexual harassment in the present seems like activities that should not be occurring simultaneously, since the two objectives undermine each other.

2. Is fake “doom and gloom” unethical?

The constant representation to the American people that the nation is in the midst of existential disaster when it obviously–well, if one isn’t completely addled by confirmation bias it should be obvious—is not can’t exactly be called “fake news,” but it is just as sinister in intent and just as dangerous in its potential results.

My errant focus was brought to this phenomenon in a film review, of all places. A.O. Scott, the New York Times reviewer who is incapable of not bringing his partisan and political biases into his reviews (thus making him a lousy reviewer, like the New Yorker’s late Pauline Kael) began his take on Matt Damon’s eco-fantasy “Downsizing” with this statement:

“A radically dystopian future seems like the best we deserve these days..”

Then I began looking for sentiments in pundit pieces and other commentary in the news media about how uniquely horrible it was to be an American in 2017. That assumption has tainted so much news reporting this year that it amounts to virtual brainwashing, and yet that characterization is false, in both comparative and absolute terms. Not only are many trends and developments uncontroversially positive, such as the long-delayed economic recovery, including booming business and consumer confidence, but in other areas as well. Yet The New York Times consistently publishes pieces like this one, by Paul Krugman on Christmas Day, titled, “America Is Not Yet Lost.” It is like a medical school case study on derangement, or a broadcast from the Bizarro Planet. We are told, directly or indirectly, that the reasons that the United States is in historically dire straits is because the Democrats lost the election, the headlong rush towards becoming just like the European socialist nanny states that they thought was finally assured has been stalled, and because, most of all, Donald Trump is President.

I can’t decide whether all these pundits really believe this, in which case they are mentally and emotionally unfit to do their jobs, or if this is a concerted, desperate effort to create panic and hysteria in defiance of reality, in order to justify undoing the election.  The characterization of the GOP tax bill was the most recent example of how the negativism makes legitimate analysis impossible. “This is wrong !” is always a perfectly responsible argument in a democratic society. “This is evil and will destroy us all!” is not. Continue reading

Contrarian Ethics And Ann Althouse

Ann Althouse, the now retired law professor and increasingly active bloggress, is a habitual contrarian. That’s why she is such an interesting and politically unpredictable commentator, and why, though generally left of center by instinct, she so often ends up on the opposite side from the news media. Being a contrarian can be a useful tactic for ethicists too: it provides a bias filter. Since lawyers like Ann are trained to be able to argue both sides of any argument with equal fervor and persuasiveness, picking a position you disagree with and arguing for it anyway is a wonderful way to change your own mind, or to find lines of reasoning that might never have appeared otherwise.

It can be a trap, too, especially in the blogging biz. Having an opinion that isn’t already everywhere on the web makes a blog interesting, attracts comments, and leads to increased traffic and links. Especially in areas where one doesn’t have strong opinions, the tendency to disagree with the obvious or popular opinion becomes its own bias, and undermines trust and integrity. I have my own contrarian streak (I inherited it from my father), and I have to watch it carefully. It is not ethical (it’s unkind) to say or write things primarily because you mostly want to make people’s heads explode. I’ve done it a few times on Ethics Alarms.

This is where I have seen Althouse trending, and here is a recent example. Continue reading