On Cracker Barrel’s Poll-Driven “Principles”

Well, they got the color right...

Well, they got the color right…

Cracker Barrel just proved that integrity and principle are alien concepts, if not to the entire corporate sector, then at least its cheesy, weaselly corner of it. Watching a company so blatantly hold its wet finger to the wind waiting to see where the “principles” with the most profitability lie is revolting, but instructive to those of us who like to believe there are such things as ethical corporations. I think we’re probably fooling ourselves. I think they are nearly all like the spineless, pusillanimous, grovelling Cracker Barrel, but just smarter about it. But then, a box of hammers could be smarter about it.

First, reacting to A&E’s craven PC punishment of Phil Robertson of cable’s Duck Dynasty clan for expressing the basic religious convictions of millions of Americans (they think homosexuality is voluntary, and a sin) in response to an GQ interviewer’s question, Cracker Barrel pulled products with Phil’s likeness, saying in a statement,

“Cracker Barrel’s mission is Pleasing People. We operate within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people. These ideals are the core of our corporate culture…. We removed selected products which we were concerned might offend some of our guests while we evaluate the situation.”

I thought this was unusually weasel-worded, and I was right. The translation, in retrospect:

‘We at Cracker Barrel have no principles whatsoever. We are a blank slate; we go with the flow. There is no right or wrong for us: whatever position we feel we have to hold to get the most people to buy our products, you can count on us. If 51% of America begins worshiping Baal, hey, sacrifice a goat for in our name, because we’re all in. If the majority want to ban, hey, anything or anyone, we’re in full agreement. We aim to please, in any way that helps our bottom line.’ Continue reading

Ethics Dunces (“Duck Dynasty” vs Political Correctness Division): Republicans

freedomofspeechLet us be clear: Phil Robertson’s comments about gay Americans in “Gentleman’s Quarterly” were, as matter of fact, profoundly insulting to a large group of citizens who do not deserve to be insulted and have every reason to feel attacked and offended.

That does not mean that the position Phil Robertson holds, which is an unfortunate ancient remnant of traditional religion-based morality that will only be addressed by time, education, patience and dialogue, should be suppressed, declared taboo, or made the basis of job-related sanctions when it is part of the reality of those in his culture, and he is the star of a reality show based on that culture.

Thus the principles of tolerance, diversity, freedom of thought, expression and religious belief can and should be properly defended by raising objections to A&E’s quick capitulation to the pressures of political correctness.

That does not mean that it is appropriate, considerate, reasonable or smart for public officials like Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to declare their support for Robertson himself and his retrograde and destructive beliefs. Calling an entire group of law-abiding Americans “sinners” because one’s religion has chosen to ignore the advances in knowledge of the past century is not the mark of “a great citizen,” to quote Jindal. It is the mark of a sadly misled and ignorant citizen, who nonetheless is representative of another large group of Americans who have the right to express their outmoded views without sanctions even if they are dead, dead wrong. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Day (“Duck Dynasty” vs Political Correctness Division): Reason’s Brian Doherty

“There may have been a good reason why classical tolerance of expression was summed up in the epigram: ‘I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it!’ That has a different feel than: ‘I disagree with what you say, I think you are evil for having said it, I think no one should associate with you and you ought to lose your livelihood, and anyone who doesn’t agree with me about all that is skating on pretty thin ice as well, but hey, I don’t think you should be arrested for it.”

—– Reason Magazine’s Brian Doherty, writing about A&E choosing to punish its reality show star, Phil Robertson, for expressing his religious beliefs about homosexuality in response to a magazine interviewer’s question.


Nicely done, Mr. Doherty. Continue reading

A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” Suspension: Reality Show Ethics And Political Correctness


TV’s reality shows, particularly the cable variety, are like 19th Century freak shows. They are guilty pleasures where Americans can go to stare, gawk, snicker, be horrified and repulsed, and often feel superior to the weird mutations of the human species that they see exhibited. The phenomenon doesn’t speak well for the purveyors, the audience or the culture, but the it is popular and profitable.  Yesteryears’s dog-faced boy is today’s Honey Boo-Boo. Viewers aren’t offended by the awful things the stars say and do..they are entertained by them. Sometimes, sadly, they are inspired by them.

The current hot property in the genre is A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” the saga of Louisiana’s willfully odd Robertson clan, who have become millionaires through their invention of effective duck calls, wear long beards as trademarks and are proud, God-fearing Christian conservatives of the most primitive variety. Their “Deliverance” lifestyle and profoundly counter-Obama Era attitudes are part of the  Robertsons’ “entertainment” package, just as  the late Anna Nicole Smith getting carried through her fat, drunk and stupid days by her greedy sycophants and enablers was part of hers. This is reality TV, Americans! Be proud.

“Duck Dynasty’s” patriarch Phil, however, made the mistake of stepping out of the bayou for an interview with Gentleman’s Quarterly, in which he held forth on, among other topics, his views on homosexuality. Lacking Rick Santorum’s subtle touch, Phil declared:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

and on sin…

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there…Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men…Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Horrified that an unsophisticated, ignorant Bible-obeying Christian conservative heterosexual would dare to express the typical views of an unsophisticated, ignorant Bible-obeying Christian conservative heterosexual, GLAAD and other groups attacked Robertson and  pressured A&E to punish him for being exactly what A&E hires him to be. Setting some kind or record for absurd dudgeon, Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Group proclaimed,

“Phil Robertson’s remarks are not consistent with the values of our faith communities or the scientific findings of leading medical organizations. We know that being gay is not a choice someone makes, and that to suggest otherwise can be incredibly harmful. We also know that Americans of faith follow the Golden Rule — treating others with the respect and dignity you’d wish to be treated with. As a role model on a show that attracts millions of viewers, Phil Robertson has a responsibility to set a positive example for young Americans — not shame and ridicule them because of who they are. The A+E Network should take immediate action to condemn Phil Robertson’s remarks and make clear they don’t support his views.”

I know this disrupts the thrust of this post, but I can’t led it pass. Allow me to deconstruct Griffin’s absurd statement, which is—I’m sorry, but sometimes only one word will do—crap: Continue reading

How Amy Bouzaglo Makes Us Better People

Run away! But pay attention!

Run away! But pay attention!

I’m not going to take back every negative thing I’ve ever said about reality shows, but there is no getting around it: now and then an episode of one of them is a better training film for good ethics than  “Leave It To Beaver,” “Star Trek, The Next Generation,” and “Father Knows Best” combined.

A case in point was a recent episode of “Kitchen Nightmares,” a Fox reality show that sends chef and restaurateur Gordan Ramsay to turn around failing eateries, usually by his browbeating them into basic management competence and the use of fresh ingredients. This time, however, Ramsay was pitted against the proprietors of Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro in Scottsdale Arizona, specifically the eponymous Amy Bouzaglo, a textbook narcissist who dominates her much older husband and partner, abuses employees, and treats all criticism and constructive suggestions as a personal attack. Continue reading

Topps’ Pete Rose Abuse

Pete Rose now, with his Playboy model wife (he calls his marriage "Tits and Hits"), and as a player, when the fact that he was a low-life didn't seem to matter.

Pete Rose now, with his Playboy model wife (he calls his marriage “Tits and Hits”), and as the  player called “Charlie Hustle,” when the fact that he was a low-life didn’t seem to matter.

Baseball season is fast approaching, and with it the usual welter of fascinating ethical issues that sport always generates. Here is an early one, arising out of one of the first signs of Spring Training, the release of the Topps’ baseball cards.

Pete Rose, as every educated American should know, was a wonderful player on the baseball field and a certifiable low-life off of it. Though he is the all-time leader in career hits, the former Cincinnati  Reds icon has been banned from baseball for two decades, the result of defying baseball’s “third rail” by gambling on the game after his playing career, when he was a manager. (Rose also lied about his conduct, helped send a Commissioner of Baseball to an early grave, and has served time for tax evasion…and even without all this, he would still be an insufferable slime-ball. Trivia note: Pete was in the very first group of “Ethics Dunces” in 2004, along with Bindi Irwin‘s dad, and Fox.  See? Nothing changes!) Never mind, though: Rose’s records have never been regarded as anything but legitimate, unlike those of baseball’s other living major miscreant, lifetime home run champ, steroid cheat and ethics corrupter Barry Bonds.

Yet as Aaron Gleeman reports on NBC sports, Topps is now, based on the evidence of its 2013 line of baseball cards, going out of the way to purge Rose’s name from all honor and memory: Continue reading

Sending in the Kids To Swim With “Jaws”: Roger Goodell, Mayor of Amity


One of the most disturbing moments in “Jaws,” at least for me, is the scene where the mayor of Amity island, whom we know is  in possession of strong evidence that a Great White shark is cruising the waters of his town’s beaches looking for snacks, persuades an elderly couple to take their grandchildren into the surf to show everyone else on the beach that the water is safe. The scene leapt immediately to mind yesterday morning, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a Super Bowl Sunday interview on “Face the Nation,” emphatically told CBS’s Bob Shieffer that unlike President Obama, he would unhesitatingly allow his son to play football. I’m sure he would, too. After all, Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) sent his own kids into the Amity surf.

Like his role model, Mayor Vaughn, Goodell has a terrible problem, as well as a conflict of interest. He is paid to do what is in the best interests of the National Football League, and admitting that the game the league plays and the way it play it kills or mains a significant number of its players would be seen by his employers as a breach of duty. So despite mounting evidence that every single NFL player is putting his brain, health, and life at grave risk by allowing the relentless head trauma that is an unavoidable part of the game, Goodell feels he must claim otherwise, which, assuming he is basically a good man (I was never sure about Larry Vaughn), means he must convince himself that what he says is true. This led Goodell to make a series of statements yesterday that will haunt him some day as much as Mayor Vaughn’s infamous interview quote on the day the little Kintner boy (above) became chum: “I’m pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have, in fact, caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But, as you see, it’s a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time. Amity, as you know, means friendship.” Continue reading

Are “Freak Shows” Unethical? Because They Are Back.

Abigail and Brittany Hensel: Who’s exploiting who?

Circus and carnival sideshows were banned by law and ordinance over half a century ago. Silly me: I remember hearing about that as a child and assuming that it represented human progress, that civilized Americans had decided that it was degrading to both the “human oddities” displaying themselves to gawking onlookers and the gawking onlookers themselves, and that we were better than that. The ethical attitude toward people with deformities, strange maladies and unusual physical characteristics was compassion, acceptance, kindness, and treatment as equals, not voyeuristic ogling. It made sense at the time.

Of course, as a child I had yet to experience the full oppression of political correctness. The sideshows were banned because the people who had no interest in them felt that they could dictate conduct to the people who did, and that it was also somehow virtuous to forbid the human exhibits from making a living—for their own good, of course. It is certainly time to repeal those bans, which were of dubious constitutionality anyway, since the freak shows that were deemed unhealthy and degrading on the carnival circuit are now openly thriving on television, making more money and being seen by more Americans than P.T. Barnum could have imagined in his wildest dreams. The original question remains, however: Are they ethical? Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Kendra Wilkinson

“I have no talent. I have nothing to offer.”

Are you paying attention, "Sitch"?

With that honest, candid, unadorned, modest and undeniably true self-assessment in a recent interview with People magazine, cable reality show star (“Kendra”) Kendra Wilkinson instantly became an Ethics Hero, a role model for other empty-shell pop culture celebrities, and my favorite Hugh Hefner girlfriend of all time.

Now if Kendra’s integrity could only persuade Nicole Richie, Snookie, “The Situation,” Paris Hilton, Megan McCain, Bristol Palin, Tori Spelling, Lauren Conrad, Heidi Montag, Ivanka Trump, Jack and Kelly Osborne, Michael Lohan, and, of course, all the Kardashians, to make the same confession and voluntarily hurl themselves into a landfill (in Jersey, of course), our trivialized, brain-rotting culture can finally start to heal itself.

But you don’t have to go to the landfill, Kendra.

You do have something offer.


Ethics Hero: Journalist Harris Meyer

Harris Meyer is an Ethics Hero because he won’t let a bad lesson go unchallenged.

Meyer is an award-winning  freelance journalist and a former editor at the Yakima (Wash.) Herald Republic. That was the paper that first broke the story of Gaby Rodriguez last year, which I wrote about here. With the encouragement of her high school principal, Rodriguez, a senior, embarked on some amateur social science research that involved deceiving everyone in her life except her mother, one (of seven) siblings, her boyfriend, and the principal. She pretended that she was pregnant, suing padding. She faked the pregnancy for months, finally announcing the sham in a student assembly. This extended hoax was supposedly designed to expose how pregnant teenagers are treated by their peers and others. It was, by any rational standard, a despicable thing to do—a betrayal and exploitation of her friends,  her boyfriend’s family, her siblings and teachers. Deception on such a scale must be justified, if at all, by both need and necessity. Were there other, less destructive ways to investigate the treatment of pregnant teens? Sure there were; interviews come to mind. Collecting published journals and other accounts. But Gaby’s unethical stunt was in spiritual synchronicity with a reality show-obsessed culture, where fake is entertaining and collateral damage is of no concern.  I wrote: Continue reading