Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/22/17

Good Morning from sunny Daytona Beach, Florida, where I recently arrived to prepare for an ethics seminar I will be giving to a most ethical law firm. Ironically, the law firms that least require my guidance are the only ones that hire me. The law firms that desperately need ethics training don’t care.

1. Today in line (Group 6) to board my 6:45 AM American Airlines flight and wishing I were dead, my eyes were treated to the brilliant yellow jacket being worn by a young woman in front of me. In part because I wasn’t awake, I blurted out, “Thank-you for that jacket! The yellow is exactly the stimulation I need right now!” She smiled broadly and said, I think sincerely, “Thank you!” And suddenly I was reminded of the  phony anti-Trump outrage of ten days ago, when the President allegedly embarrassed the nation and showed that he was a pig by daring to say to Mrs. Macron, “You’re in such good shape!”

By the reaction across the media, you would have thought he said, “What a great rack!” while drooling. There is nothing inherently inappropriate abut a spontaneous compliment on a woman’s appearance. It’s dangerous in the workplace, because there are women who are locked and loaded to cry harassment at such comments, no matter how mild or innocent, and if a women feels harassed, sayeth the law, you’re probably a harasser. However, actual human interaction involves reading people and situations, and every one is different.

Trump’s comment can easily be justified. I’m sure he’s used to women feeling like trolls when forced to stand next to his model wife, and a sincere sounding compliment is probably well-received. I was once passing through a receiving line that included a woman whom I had not seen for a year or so, and she had lost a great deal of weight. “You look great!” I said without thinking every hard about it. She appreciated the compliment; she had worked hard to lose the weight, and was glad I not only noticed, but that I said so.

Another encounter came when a young woman got on the elevator with me at a hotel a few months ago. She was wearing a sleeveless something or other, and her bulging biceps were hard to ignore. “Nice guns!” I said. She responded immediately with, “Thank you! I worked hard for them. Most guys think they’re gross.”

“Nah, they’re just insecure,” I said. “Being jerks. Don’t let them discourage you.”

“Thanks for that too!” she said, smiling, and got off on her floor.

Lots of factors go into whether a compliment is taken as a benign social gesture or a rude salacious intrusion. My actors in the ProEthics sexual harassment seminars do a skit in which “Good morning” is delivered in a way that could be sexual harassment, and “Wow, you look terrific this morning!” is said in a manner that raises no red flags at all. A chraming and skilled speaker can make comments that would have gotten me thrashed by that female bodybuilder sound like a sonnet. Continue reading

Ethics Alarms’ All-Time Greatest Hits


I am listing these because one of the past posts that keep drawing readers is going nuts today: the 2013 essay about the horrible Wanetta Gibson, who sent Brian Banks, a young man with a bright future to prison by falsely accusing him of rape when she was 15. If anyone has any idea why this would be, let me know; as far as I can find out, there are no new developments in the case.

It is gratifying that so many Ethics Alarms posts continue to find new readers. Here are the top ten that have “legs,” and my assessment of why.

1. The Rationalizations List. That’s no surprise, since I link to it so frequently, and it is also frequently updated.

2. Wanetta Gibson Is Even Worse Than We Thought

3.The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit. I am proud of this one. The use of mouthwash by alcoholics is epidemic, yet now, as in 2010 when I wrote this, almost nobody who isn’t a drunk is likely to know it. This makes it easy for closeted alcoholics to hide their illness, and continue to harm themselves by gulping 54 proof liquor out of various convenient containers or their caps, which are coincidentally shaped like shot glasses. Incredibly, the Ethics Alarms post is still one of the few references on this problem on the web. As you will read, I think the makers of mouthwash intentionally keep it this way, because the alcoholic market is huge.

I regularly receive thanks from family members of alcoholics, who tell me that reading this post led to their discovering that a loved oned had relapsed. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Reebok

Of course it’s for publicity.

The woman is 6’2″. OK, she’s only 5’1″, but still: that’s one big shoe..

Sure it’s marketing. Certainly it contributes to Reebok’s prestige and good will, and will help sell its shoes.

Never mind. There are many ways that the athletic sportswear company could have promoted itself without helping someone who desperately needed it. Instead, it made three free custom pairs of size 24, 10E sneakers for Igor Vovkovinskiy, the tallest man in the U.S. He was suffering, and now he can walk without pain.

The 7’8″ Rochester, Minnesota man had undergone 16 foot surgeries in six years because he could not find shoes that fit his giant feet.  Reebok heard about his plight and decided to help him. The special shoes took months to manufacture, and each pair would have cost about $15,000 if Igor had to pay for them. In fact, he was taking contributions to help him afford pain-free footwear. Now, he says, he can finally walk again

Capitalism doesn’t have to be ruthless and cold. It just needs to be creative, and pay attention. It is possible to maximize profit and still do good for people along the way, sometimes with the very same act.

Good for Reebok, and good for Igor Vovkovinskiy. Capitalism at its best.


Facts : New York Daily News

Graphic: Star Tribune

Unethical Advertising Slogan of the Month: Reebok

You read that right: the slogan, which Rebok printed up for use by an affiliated gym in Germany and which quickly went viral on the web, is


As blatantly unethical exhortations in pursuit of commerce go, this one is pretty spectacular. Consider:

  • It is disrespectful of women.
  • It advocates betrayal, dishonesty, disloyalty, infidelity, promiscuity and cheating.
  • It designates a higher priority to narcissistic self-maintenance over love, commitment, and stable relationships.
  • It represents an athletic equipment company giving the stamp of approval to cheating.

That’s a remarkable amount of bad ethics in just eight words. A masterpiece of economical cultural poison. Bravo! Continue reading

Dear ESPN: I Know She’s Hot, But Fire Erin Andrews

…or at least suspend her. Show us that a male-dominated sports network can have a modicum of journalistic ethics, and won’t behave like a drooling traffic cop giving a buxom babe a pass for running a red light because she bats her eyes and flashes some cleavage.

You did the right thing in early January, when one of your broadcasters abused a female colleague in a sexist manner; some would say—certainly the fired Ron Franklin—that you reacted a little precipitously, but you are clearly taking a strong stand against gender bias in the workplace, and that’s commendable. Still, don’t you know that what your pin-up, “Dancing With the Stars” reporter Andrews did was far worse? Continue reading