Comment Of The Day (And Poll Results!): “Meet The Passionate Ethics Dunce Confronting Public Figures With Their Immigrant Histories…”

I decided that this one was too stupid for the poll…

I want to express my gratitude to veteran Ethics Alarms commenter and previous Commenter of the Year texagg04 for another of his epic contributions, this one following up on my poll asking readers to vote for the worst of 15 commonly used justifications for tolerating illegal immigrants. Rather than choose the worst—“stupidest,” in Tex’s parlance that I approve of in this matter—he ranked them from stupidest to least stupid, after commenting on each and explaining what each signifies.

The Most Stupid in his ranking is also the most sinister and the most important: “Opposing illegal immigration is racist/xenophobic.” The entire pro-illegal immigration movement has adopted the strategy of impugning opponents as racist or xenophobic  to both stifle legitimate debate while demonizing the rule of law and immigration restrictions.

The poll that ended the January 22 Ethics Alarms post about Jennifer Mendelsohn , who thinks that if you had a legal immigrant in your lineage you are a hypocrite to advocate enforcing immigration laws attracted 239 votes, and Ethics Alarms record (multiple choices were allowed). The final results with percentages of votes cast:

“Opposing illegal immigration is racist/xenophobic.” 19.67%

“We stole their country, so it’s really theirs to use as they please.” 12.55%

“We’re a nation of immigrants.” 11.3%

“The words on the Statue of Liberty!” 7.95%

“They do jobs Americans won’t do.” 7.53%

“Think of the children!” 6.69%

“Illegal immigration is an act of love.” 5.44% (tie)

“They just want a better life.”  5.44% (tie)

“They aren’t hurting anybody.” 5.44% (tie)

“Our economy depends on them.” 5.02%

“They aren’t really criminals.”  4.18%

“We’re a compassionate people.” 3.77%

“You would do it too, if you were them.” 2.93%

“It’s a dumb law.”  2.09%

Here is texagg04′ s Comment of the Day on the poll included in Meet The Passionate Ethics Dunce Confronting Public Figures With Their Immigrant Histories As If It Proves Anything: Continue reading

Cuomo Interviewing Cuomo? Of Course It’s A Conflict!

The interesting question isn’t whether CNN’s Chris Cuomo blithely interviewing the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo—who happens to be his brother–is a conflict of interest and an example of unethical journalism. Of course it is. The interesting question is what it tells us about the state of U.S. journalism that such an interview could even occur.

Here are two prominent provisions of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, requiring that ethical journalists…

  • “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”
  • “Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.”

Is there any question that a CNN anchor man interviewing his brother regarding anything whatsoever violates both of these? Real or perceived? Compromise integrity or damage credibility? Seriously?

Cuomo the Anchorman was interviewing Cuomo the Governor regarding the recent train accident. Conflict? Sure: the journalist is supposed to have only one duty, and that is to his audience. But Cuomo the Anchorman obviously has another, potentially confounding duty of loyalty to his interview subject, and this he must not have. It calls into question his willingness to probe and, if the facts warrant it, to ask uncomfortable questions of his subject. If Chris Cuomo’s duty to his audience unexpectedly requires him to breach his loyalty to his own brother, which will he choose? We don’t know. Perhaps Cuomo himself doesn’t know. He was obligated not to place himself in a situation where the question even needed to be asked.

The various defenses being offered are, I have to say, misguided and disturbing. The usually sensible Joe Concha of Mediaite writes that the controversy is “much ado about nothing.” His reasons are … Continue reading

“Mild Pedophilia” and Richard Dawkins’ Ethical Blind Spot

"Bobby, do you thinkthere's anything wrong with mild pedophilia?"

“Bobby, do you think there’s anything wrong with mild pedophilia?”

When you are a public intellectual and your primary mission is using reason and scholarship to enlighten the public, you have an obligation to guard scrupulously against making careless,  irresponsible or easily misunderstood statements that will be accepted as inspired wisdom by the less analytically able. Or to be more direct, if you are Richard Dawkins and because of some serious neural malfunction you really think that there is such a thing as “mild pedophilia,” you want to ever to be taken seriously again, shut up about it.

Dawkins, for reasons only known to himself, used a wide-ranging  interview to airily wax on about what he regards as his contact with a harmless child-molester.  Reminiscing about his  days at a boarding school,  he recounted how one of his schoolmasters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.” Noting that other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher, he concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”
The world’s most famous atheist explained, “I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”

What (in the name of Holy Hell) is “mild pedophilia”? Dawkins went on to say that the most notorious cases of pedophilia involve rape and even murder and should not be bracketed with what he called “just mild touching up.”

“Mild pedophilia”?Just mild touching up’? This from one of the most respected minds in the cosmos? Continue reading

“The Ethicist” and His Definition of “Unethical”

Eureka! Bingo! At last!

While explaining in this week’s column why he hesitates to label a manifestly unethical practice unethical, The New York Times Magazine’s ethicist, Randy Cohen, clarified a couple of questions that have been bothering me for quite a while. Why do so many people react so violently to my conclusion that they have done something unethical? And why does Randy Cohen, a.k.a. “The Ethicist” so frequently endorse unethical conduct, especially dishonesty, when he believes it is motivated by virtuous motives? Continue reading

Corked Bats and “No Harm, No Foul”

From lawyer/baseball blogger Craig Calcattera we learn that Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Yount may have used a corked bat. Corking, in which cork is surreptitiously inserted into a hole drilled down the length of a baseball bat, is banned by the rules of baseball: it supposedly allows the bat to be swung faster and propel a ball farther and harder because of the properties of the cork. Get caught with a corked bat, and a major league player gets thrown out of the game, suspended and fined. Worse, he acquires the reputation of being a cheater. Those who are certain that former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa used steroids are bolstered in their belief by the fact that he was once caught using a corked bat.

Yet there are strong indications that the superiority of corked bats is imaginary. When TV’s excellent “Mythbusters” tested the matter, their tests rendered that myth as “busted.” So Robin Yount’s  3,142  major league hits were not aided in any way by the cork in his bat. Should we care that he used one, if he indeed did?

Yes. We should care that he was cheating. Using a corked bat violates the rules, and the fact that this cheating is not as effective as a player  thinks it is, or effective at all, is absolutely irrelevant to an assessment of his character, integrity and sportsmanship. When the Delta House students in the comedy “Animal House” steal what they think are the final exam answers and use them on the test, they are still cheating, even though it turns out that their cheat-sheet had the wrong answers.  A runner who cheats but loses the race anyway is still a cheater; so is a corked bat-user who never manages to hit the ball.

“No harm, no foul”  is just another rationalization to make it easier for some to let unethical conduct go unrecognized and unpunished. The foul is the harm, or part of it. In cheating situations, there are two issues: was there cheating, and what were the consequences of it. The cheater is responsible for the results of his cheating, but often has less than complete control over them.  An ineffective cheater is still just as unethical as an effective one.

Many have trouble grasping this. Even some professions have trouble grasping this: for example, the ethics rules governing lawyers generally only prohibit completed violations.  An attorney trying to introduce falsified evidence in trial doesn’t count as cheating, in the construction of the Rules, if the attempt fails.  A lawyer who tries to deceive his or her client with a slyly misleading statement may not be violating the ethics rules if the client isn’t misled. Admittedly, this weakness in the legal ethics rules has a lot to do with the logistics of enforcement, but it is still an embodiment of “no harm, no foul.” The unsuccessful attempt to break the rules would probably support a complaint that the lawyer exhibited conduct calling  his character into question, but I can’t locate a case of  a lawyer whose bar  disciplined him solely for unsuccessfully attempting to break a rule.

When, if ever, baseball decides to permit corked bats, then using them will be perfectly fine, if probably pointless. For now, however, the anti-corking rule still serves a useful purpose. It helps identify who the cheaters are. In cheating, as in more honorable pursuits, there is no honor in being inept.