Quote of the Week: Joan Rivers




Comedienne Joan Rivers, 81, in her reported final words before expiring yesterday.

Just kidding.

Too soon?

Joan Rivers would rate Ethics Hero status if I did not have a philosophical objection to calling someone a hero because everyone else is a weenie. Yes, Rivers spouted off whatever outrageous, impolitic, offensive thing that materialized in her nimble brain regardless of who it might offend, as long as she felt someone, or a critical mass of someones, would find it funny. That is the proper mindset for any professional comic, but it has become both a rare and dangerous one, as we regularly see comedians grovelling in remorse as soon as sufficient numbers of well-placed critics designate a joke as “insensitive.”

Rivers, whom I can never recall making me laugh for a second, served an important cultural purpose while she was alive, as do Jackie Mason, Mel Brooks and Don Rickles, perhaps the last remaining in-your-face comedians from the days when funny was all that mattered, and careers weren’t ended  by stepping just a little too far over the line, or even a lot too far. Her successors, like Sarah Silverman and Lewis Black, don’t count: they are vicious toward whatever group or groups their audience deems deserving of abuse, and only them. In the end, it is likely that the only clowns with the license that Rivers enjoyed will be animated cartoons, like Peter Griffin(“The Family Guy”) and Homer Simpson. Continue reading

Time and Newsweek: Reaching The Dregs, and Ethics Be Damned

Dishonest or tasteless? Irresponsible or sensational?  A lie or a crime? The nation’s two, sad, archaic, useless, shameless, diminished news magazines, Time and Newsweek, both reached new lows this week as both magazines desperately brayed for readership with eye-catching covers that are to good journalism what Britney Spears will be to good judging in her new gig as a panelist on “X-Factor.”

I was going to make this an ethics quiz—which is more unethical?—but decided it was futile. The Time cover is colorable kiddie porn, using a (God, I hope!) photoshopped image* that no child should  be permitted to see on a news stand. The Newsweek cover, in addition to continuing the publication’s unconscionable deification of Barack Obama no matter what he does, is a lie. Obama isn’t gay. Newsweek is making a rhetorical link between Obama’s (vastly over-praised and still tepid endorsement of gay marriage) empathy with gays and Bill Clinton’s faux-status as the nation’s “first black President, but it is fatally flawed, logically and graphically. Everyone knows Bill Clinton isn’t literally black (except, perhaps, in the way Elizabeth Warren is Native American), but we can’t see that Obama isn’t gay from his image on the cover. All there is the copy: “The First Gay President.” There are people who will believe that, and who will see the cover without buying the magazine, since almost nobody buys either magazine any more.

Neither cover is responsible journalism. Both are graphic desperation, with neither magazine showing respect for readers, their topics, or their own distinguished pasts.

* Boy, was I wrong.


Graphics: Time and Newsweek

The Fireman, the Cheater, and Media Muddling

Come on, Robert! It's less embarrssing than Joey's gonorrrhea poster!

One of the reasons I launched The Ethics Scoreboard and later Ethics Alarms was that I felt  the media did not recognize ethics stories and failed to cover them. Well, more ethics stories are finding their way into the news, but true to the warning “Be careful what you wish for,” the reports usually botch them, and get the ethics lessons wrong. The saga of Enzo and the “Barefoot Contessa” was a particularly nauseating example, but there have been others recently. For example… Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Blogger Jeff Jarvis

"If Charlie's unavailable, get this guy. He's hilarious!"

“One way or another, by one definition and diagnosis or another, Charlie Sheen is a sick man. He doesn’t need airtime. He needs couchtime. News people are ill-serving him and the issue of mental illness in this country by putting him on the air as if he were just another source, another celebrity. They are not informing the public. They are exploiting Charlie.”

Blogger Jeff Jarvis on his site, BuzzMachine, on the media’s disgraceful rush to get celebrity meltdown Charlie Sheen to do as many wacky, self-destructive, “did he really say that?” interviews as possible before he falls completely to pieces as addicts in full denial inevitably do.

Jarvis is right. There is no more news to be milked from the sad Sheen story, other than “Charley continues to say things that are destroying his career, making him dislikable and unemployable, and that prove that he is sick, getting sicker by the day.” This is no less despicable than exhibiting freaks, the brain injured and schizophrenics for the amusement of the crowd. “They want him to act nutty,” says Jarvis. “Ratings, man, ratings.” Continue reading

Now THIS Is Incivility…

During the recent eruption of a national obsession with civility in the wake of Jarod Loughner’s shooting rampage—odd, because his actions had nothing whatsoever to do with civility—it became disturbingly evident that most journalists have only a vague sense of what incivility is. For example, using shooting or death metaphors and imagery are not uncivil. Criticism, even strongly-worded criticism, is not uncivil. Calling lies lies is not uncivil, nor is suggesting bad motives for official actions, if the critic believes that bad motives are involved. The fact that intense and passionate condemnation of an individual’s or a group’s actions angers or inflames others does not necessarily mean that the inciting words were uncivil, or even inappropriate.

This, however, is incivility.

Something Else is Unethical About the Ground Zero Mosque Plan

What, other than the project itself, is unethical about the Ground Zero mosque plan?

Just this: apparently, despite what we’ve all been told, there isn’t one!

Politico reported yesterday that “New York government officials and real estate insiders are privately questioning whether the project has much chance of coming to fruition.” If the facts stated in Politico’s article are true, that would seem to be an understatement. Among the revelations: Continue reading