Sunset Ethics, 9/30/2020: Conflicts Of Interest, Sexual Harassment, Movies And Lies

1. Conflicts of interest on my mind. I narrowly averted a disastrous conflict of interest yesterday out of pure moral luck, so the topic is much on my mind; I’m still distracted by the near miss. Professionally, it was the equivalent of almost being picked off by a bus.

NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg reacted to the death of Justice Ginsburg with an essay on her 48-year friendship with RBG, saluting Ginsburg’s “extraordinary character.” That’s funny: Totenberg never told NPR’s listeners, nor did  NPR, that she had a personal relationship with the Justice, despite being charged with covering the Court and critiquing its decisions.  Kelly McBride, NPR’s public editor and senior vice president of the Poynter Institute, threw a metaphorical ethics foul flag,

“In failing to be transparent about Totenberg’s relationship with Ginsburg over the years, NPR missed two opportunities,”she wrote on the NPR website. “First, NPR leaders could have shared the conversations they were having and the precautions they were taking to preserve the newsroom’s independent judgment,” McBride said. “Second, having those conversations in front of the public would have sharpened NPR’s acuity in managing other personal conflicts of interest among its journalists.”

Ginsburg, who officiated at Totenberg’s wedding in 2000. Nonetheless, the correspondent,  who wears her progressive bias on her sleeve as it is, denied that the conflict compromised to her journalism, telling  the Washington Post that NPR’s listeners benefited from ther friendship because it gave her greater insight into and Ginsburg’s  thinking.

And that justifies keeping the relationship secret from listeners how, Nina?

2. From the “When ethics alarms don’t work” files: Lawyer Phillip Malouff Jr. of La Junta, Colorado, was censured for a series of episodes of unprofessional behavior and sexual harassment.

In November 2016, Malouff  winked at a magistrate judge and said, “When you get back from your vacation, I better be able to see your tan lines.” When he visiting the same magistrate’s chambers to discuss scheduling matters, he  said, according to the female judge,: “Ask your husband a question for me when you get home tonight. Ask him what it’s like to have relations with someone who wears the robe. It has always been something I’ve wanted to do, but there have never been any women judges until now.”

Malouff  was informed that his comments were unprofessional and a violation of the Colorado Judicial Department’s anti-harassment policy. Ya think?

In July 2019, Malouff asked a judicial assistant to check whether the mother in a parental rights hearing had an outstanding warrant. When the assistant replied, “She is good.” Malouff  responded, “Her husband told me that she is good.

Wink wink, nudge nudge. Continue reading

The NPR Ethics Train Wreck

Ethics train wreck scholars take note: when an organization’s image and existence is based on multiple lies, an ETW is inevitable.

Oh NO! It's another Ethics Train Wreck!

National Public Radio is now in the middle of a massive, six-months long ethics train wreck that began with the hypocritical firing of Juan Williams on a trumped-up ethics violation. The disaster exposes the culture of dishonesty and entitlement at the heart of NPR, and by extension, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. To the extent that their supporters blame anyone else, it is evidence of denial. This is a train wreck, however, and the ethics violators drawn into the wreckage are many: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce, Christmas Division: Jill Patella

The last Christmas gift Jill Patella got from her late husband, who died in 2007, was a six foot tall plastic statue of Santa Claus that loudlysings Christmas songs in a jolly baritone. In his memory, Jill decided to put the singing Santa on her front lawn this year, where he has been singing around the clock, driving her neighbors Lorillard Avenue in Union Beach, New Jersey to consider Santacide.

Jill explained her intentional infliction of the holiday noise pollution by telling reporters, “This year was the time. He [her late husband, not Santa] would have wanted me to live life again.”

She did not explain why she believes that her departed husband’s definition of “live life” was “show utter disregard for the neighbors.” Even if Mr. Patella was the kind of selfish, irresponsible person who believes that his tastes and desires trump the right of the people around him to enjoy their holidays without having to listen to a giant mechanical singing Santa, that would not excuse her for carrying on his unethical ways.

There is such a vast area of reasonable Christmas conduct between the insane poles represented by NPR’s Nina Totenberg apologizing for using the term “Christmas” on TV, and the in-your-face Christmas celebration represented by Jill Patella’s lawn concerts. Why do so many people have such a hard time locating it?

Welcome to The Nursing Blog! Next?

Dr. Chris MacDonald, the articulate Canadian ethicist who is already the proprietor of the best business ethics blog on the Web, is apparently on a mission to bring ethics to every corner of the professional landscape, and all power to him. He is already a collaborator on the useful Research Ethics Blog , a co-writer of The Food Ethics Blog, and the primary force behind the Biotech Ethics website. Now, along with Dr. Nancy Walton, his partner on the research ethics site, he is launching a new ethics blog, on the topic of nursing. The Nursing Blog is a great idea, for a profession that faces persistent, difficult, and daily ethical issues. As Dr. Walton says in the debut post, there is a need. Whenever I learn about professional blogs, I pass on the links in seminars with those professionals: nothing strengthens ethical instincts and conduct better than a daily dose of thoughtful discussion or debate on ethical issues related to one’s own field. Bravo and brava, Doctors McDonald and Walton! And thanks.

While I’m thinking about it, I have some other ethics blog ideas for Chris to consider as he broadens his ethics blogging empire.

How about a horny lawyers ethics blog, for example? Clearly one is needed. Another need: a New Jersey Turnpike employees ethics blog….and fast. There is also a pressing need for a prosecutors ethics blog, since California’s bar is investigating 130 of them for wrongdoing. I know there are a few such blogs already, but clearly, they are not enough. And, of course, we are waaay overdue for a Public Broadcasting fairness and integrity blog.

So congratulations, Chris…but you still have a lot of work to do.

Juan Williams, Revelations and the Phony NPR Ethics Code

We have learned a lot from the Juan Williams firing. For example,

  • We learned that at NPR, opinions that run counter to the officially sanctioned culturally-diverse cant are not merely regarded as mistaken, but crazy.  NPR’s CEO stated that Williams should have kept his opinions about Muslims “between himself and his psychiatrist.” This is how the Soviet Union used to treat anyone whose opinion varied from state Marxism, too, and the dissidents were sent to mental institutions. Does it bother anyone else that the head of a state-funded radio network treats dissent so disrespectfully? Yes, Vivian Schiller later apologized for her “thoughtless”—as in, “I don’t want people to know I think this way”—remark. It was telling nonetheless. Continue reading

More Lessons from the Sherrod Ethics Train Wreck

Gordon Peterson, venerable host of “Inside Washington” and long-time Washington D.C. news anchor, began the show’s segment on Shirley Sherrod this way:

“Some of you may remember the good old days of newspapering and TV and radio news when you had hours to work on your story, and your editors and producers had plenty of time to sift through your stuff for accuracy. If you remember that, you’re a dinosaur. Welcome to the blogosphere, the burnout pace of online news and the 24 hour instant deadline. Which brings me to the story of ousted Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod who was let go on the basis of a single piece of internet video that was edited out of context, posted on a conservative website, picked up on Fox News, and bought lock, stock and barrel by the Obama administration.”

That’s right, Gordon. And, as Charles Krauthammer immediately pointed out on the show, you have succumbed to the blogosphere’s unethical standards, because you didn’t check the accuracy of that statement. Continue reading