Ethics Dunces: The U.S. Congress. Again

Actor Mark Ruffalo (he plays the Hulk in The Avengers  movies, but it wasn’t because of that role) was invited to testify before Congress last year on public policy involving  public health, chemistry, toxicology, and epidemiology. He has no expertise in these areas at all. The reason was that he starred in “Dark Waters,” which I wrote about here.

Ruffalo is a 9/11 truther, believing  that the U.S. government helped destroy the World Trade Center. That would be enough for me to ding him as an authority on anything, but he has embraced other conspiracy theories as well, like this one.

Never mind: he was presented to the public as an authority on pollution whose opinions on environmental matters have weight. The don’t, and they shouldn’t.

This is a repeat offense. Members of Congress are addicted to the unprofessional and insulting stunt of inviting actors and performers to testify as substantive witnesses on topics that they acted about in movies. As a professional director, I can state with absolute certainty that if an actor is really an expert in something their character was supposed to experience or know something about, 1) that actor is very unusual, and 2) there will still be thousands of real authorities who know a lot more.

Nevertheless, Congress keeps doing this, apparently believing that the public is so naive and gullible that they really believe that because a performer credibly pretends to know what a script-writer prepares to make them sound like the know, they really are experts. Sadly, a lot of the public does believe that. (More sadly, a lot of actors do too) Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Novelist R J Ellory


Yes, he really did: best-selling British crime novelist R J  Ellory actually went on Amazon, and using fake names like “Jellybean” and “Nicodemus Jones,” wrote rave reviews of his own books . In one review, he called one of his novels a “modern masterpiece” and wrote that it “just stopped me dead in my tracks.”

How embarrassing. Sales a little soft lately, R J? He also used fake identities to post negative reviews of his rivals’ works. Continue reading

Story Update: the Fake Law Firm’s Purpose Revealed

Ethics Alarms honored the web site for Cromwell and Goodwin, an apparently imaginary law firm, in its

Yeah, these people always seemed a little creepy to me...

“Unethical Website” category, without being certain what unethical purpose the site served—though I had my suspicions. As many suspected, it was fishing for scamming victims, and one of them contacted The American Law Daily in May to tell his story. The Am Law Daily, to its credit, held on publishing the story until his efforts to recover the money failed, and now we can all read about it. David Tucker, a 66-year-old fire investigation scientist from London, lost roughly $6,775 to the Cromwell & Goodwin scammers, and gave the legal news publication copies of documents printed on “firm” letterhead to support his claims. You can find his account here.

Unethical Website of the Month: Cromwell and Goodwin

These lawyers do not exist.

Cromwell and Goodwin’s new website is a mystery. Nobody knows why it exists, or who created it. It appears to be the website of a law firm, if a somewhat language-challenged one. The problem: the law firm doesn’t exist. Its history is imaginary. Its partners do not exist. Its headquarters in New York at 221 E 18th St # 1 New York, NY 10003-3620 are vacant.

The firm, or whatever it is, claims to be 30 years old but only got around to launching  a website on March 19 of this year. A press release on a free publicity distribution service called about Cromwell & Goodwin’s involvement in an upcoming conference  regarding telecommunications consolidation projects in emerging markets also surfaced, for no discernible reason. The release referred to Joachim Fleury, a London-based Clifford Chance  partner, as “Global Head of Cromwell & Goodwin.”  Yet neither Clifford Chance, one of the largest law firms in the world, nor Fleury, who is real, knew anything about Cromwell & Goodwin when they were queried by reporters. Continue reading

Oscar Ethics: Was Melissa Leo’s Campaign Wrong?

On a difficult day, I am not up to writing about heavy ethics issues, so instead I will comment on an ethics controversy that is as inconsequential as possible—one involving the Oscars.

Melissa Leo, a front-running Best Supporting Actress nominee for her role in “The Fighter,” courted controversy by violating one of the Academy Awards’ unwritten rules: “Don’t promote yourself for an Award—it’s tacky!” Leo personally placed Hollywood trade ads showing her in full glamor mode, a sharp contrast to her character in “The Fighter.” The text simply said “Consider,’ then below that, “Melissa Leo,” and in small print off to the side, the web address She argued that she needed to promote herself because her competitors were getting the benefit of big studio publicity, while she was not. Continue reading

Here We Go Again! The Groupon Super Bowl Commercial: No, Not Unethical

Every year one Super Bowl ad sets off an “It’s offensive!” “No! It’s funny!” debate, and this time around it was the commercial for Groupon, the new service that provides short-term discounts  for an eclectic variety of products. As we saw a stunning snow-covered mountain, actor Tim Hutton’s voice intoned…

“Mountainous Tibet — one of the most beautiful places in the world. This is Timothy Hutton. The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture is in jeopardy…. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry!!! And since 200 of us bought at we’re getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15 at Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago.”

Twitter, the early warning system of our culture, immediately filled with indignant tweets, pronouncing the ad offensive. Continue reading

The Kardashian Kard Saga: Proof That We Are Doomed?

In “Terminator II,” there is  a scene in which young John Connor–desperately trying, along with his mother and the android killing machine sent from the future to protect the boy, to prevent the apocalyptic future that waits for him—sees young children gleefully pretending to murder each other with toy guns.  “We’re not going to make it, are we?” he asks the Terminator. “People, I mean.” The fact that a bank has chosen the Trashy Kardashian Sisters to promote a credit card aimed at teenagers prompts approximately the same sense of futility. At a time of crisis in which our culture that desperately needs to encourage responsible fiscal conduct led by financial institutions we can trust, this is what we get.

We’re doomed. Continue reading

The Ethics Verdict on GQ’s “Glee” Spread: Ick

The watchdog group Parents Television Council is condemning the Gentleman’s Quarterly’s buzz-generating photo spread of actresses from “Glee”adopting sexually provocative poses more or less in character. Since their characters on the show are teenagers–minors—the Council equates the feature to pornography and pedophilia. “It is disturbing that GQ, which is explicitly written for adult men, is sexualizing the actresses who play high school-aged characters on Glee in this way. It borders on pedophilia,” said PTC President Tim Winter.

He’s right, of course. Continue reading

Accountability Alert: The “Embarrassment” Was the Nation’s, Not Colbert

In a stunning failure of perception, accountability and responsibility, the second most powerful Democratic House leader, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, actually had the gall to criticize Stephen Colbert for Hoyer’s own party’s disgraceful conduct, which was egregious enough to humiliate the institution of Congress, the democratic process, and the nation as well.

“I think it was an embarrassment for Mr. Colbert more than the House,” Hoyer told “Fox News Sunday.”
“What he had to say was not the way it should have been said.”

Unbelievable. Hoyer’s party’s own committee invited Colbert, a comedian whose shtick is mocking conservative Republicans, to testify about the wisdom of allowing illegal migrant workers to harvest crops despite the fact that he has no special expertise or credibility on the subject whatsoever. Continue reading