Needed: An Ethics Alarm For Twitter

Pat Heaton, Twitter road kill.

Twitter, I have concluded, is itself an ethics trap. What the social networking site allows one to do is to take the usual, daily, routine moments of bad judgment, bad manners, carelessness meanness, incivility, indiscretion and stupidity that we all are guilty of on a regular basis, and magnify their perceived harm and significance exponentially. For the famous, this is especially perilous—witness “Everybody Loves Raymond” star Patricia Heaton, one of Hollywood’s few  open conservatives. She decided to join the Fluke-Limbaugh Ethics Train Wreck with a snotty tweet (“If every Tweaton sent Georgetown Gal one condom, her parents wouldn’t have to cancel basic cable, & she would never reproduce — sound good?”), and it has turned into a career crisis. Pre-Twitter, such a sentiment could have been shared orally with a few friends in snark-fest, or sent as an e-mail to a few trusted associates. But the tweet was viewed as piling on, which it was.

Even the non-famous are at risk: many women were outed on various blogs as idiots for tweeting after the Grammys how much they would like to be beaten up by Singer Chris Brown. Nobody knows when a badly thought out or offensive tweet will be re-tweeted into immortality. Then there is Twitter negligence. Pop idol Justin Bieber just engaged in that form of unethical Twitter conduct. Instead of sending a partial phone number to one friend, he sent it to all of his thousands of followers, who then drove a poor innocent crazy by flooding him with over 1000 phone calls. Continue reading

The Third Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2011 (Part 2)

The 2011 Ethics Alarms Awards for the worst in ethics continues (you can catch up with Part I here) with the large and depressing…

 Shameless Bad Character Division

Jerk (defined as an individual who habitually places his personal benefit and ego gratification above the welfare of everyone and everything else) of the Year: Donald Trump

The Dennis Rodman Award, (Awarded to a professional athlete for a career and lifetime of  behaving like a jerk): Jose Canseco. Jose’s done it all, from being baseball’s Typhoid Mary of steroids, to getting arrested for various assaults, to writing a series of tell-all books designed to rat out the very players he corrupted, not as a service to his sport, but as revenge for it rejecting him. In 2011, he hit a new low, accepting money to appear in a celebrity boxing match (the 21st Century version of becoming a circus geek to pay the bills) and sending his less-talented, equally dim-witted, identical twin brother Ozzie to perform instead, hoping to fool the fools who hired him. This, of course, was fraud. It takes quite a jerk to take this award from Manny Ramirez, who became eligible in 2011, but Jose was up to the task.

Asshole (defined as an individual who intentionally and maliciously causes pain and harm to others because he can) of the Year: Rev. Terry Jones, the publicity-seeking leader of a tiny rural church, who caused riots and deaths abroad and ramped up political tensions between America and Muslim nations by threatening to burn, and finally burning, the Koran as a demonstration of contempt for Muslims and the Islamic faith. Continue reading

Another Sexting Pol: Drawing the Lines

"ARRGH! I didn't consent to THAT!"

From today’s  New York Daily News:

“Garden State Democrat Louis Magazzu announced his resignation Tuesday after nude pictures he sent to a woman he had been corresponding with were posted on a Republican activist’s website. At least two of the photos showed the Cumberland County freeholder’s crotch, two showed him dressed to the nines in a suit, and a fifth showed him waist up without a shirt.

Comments and observations:

  • Magazzu didn’t have to resign, but it was right for him to do so. Sexting is a problem among high school students, and it doesn’t help to have elected representatives indulging in it. He was humiliated by publication of the photos, and because the humiliation extended to his constituents and his party, resigning quickly was an appropriate, honorable, courageous thing to do—as it would have been for Bill Clinton, Sen. David Vitter, ex-Sen. Ensign, ex-South Carolina Governor Sanford, and others. He didn’t have to resign, however. Continue reading

Rep. Wu and the Scourge of Government by Ventriloquist Dummies

I have a 90% completed post tentatively entitled “Why We Are Doomed” sitting in my drafts file, and I can’t bring myself to finish or post it. I don’t want to believe we are doomed, so the Golden Rule keeps telling me that I shouldn’t be trying to convince others we are doomed. I believe in hope. I believe that cultures, especially this culture, can do the right thing and still be successful, provided that they can find leaders and role models who represent and encourage ethical values.

On the other hand, I really do believe we, that is to say, the United States of America, are probably doomed.

A story unfolding now, a sad saga that has really been unfolding for a long time, illustrates one of the factors I lament over in my languishing draft. Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) has been accused of an “unwanted sexual encounter” with the teenage daughter of a longtime friend. We have to be careful here, but there seems to be little doubt that the “encounter” occurred.  The Oregonian has reported that sources aware of the incident say that Congressman Wu, who is 56, “acknowledged a sexual encounter to his senior aides but insisted it was consensual.”

Wu has been a train wreck waiting to happen for a long, long time. Continue reading

Ethics, Porn, and the Creepy Professor

The Ronald Ayers saga raises the intriguing, Weiner-esque ethical issue of whether a college professor being creepy is sufficient reason to fire him.

The former economics professor was fired by the University of Texas for viewing pornography on an office computer, which the University’s policies forbade. The chain of facts has the ring of Kafka: 1) a student claims he hears “sexual noises” emanating from Ayers’ office, which 2) is considered sufficient provocation (the professor denied the accusation that he was not “master of his domain” at work) for the school to search his computer, which 3) uncovers evidence that he looked at some pornographic sites, and 4) also that he searched for the term “teen,” which 5) the university deems sufficient to indicate that he was searching for child pornography, so 6) they fired him, after three decades and tenure on the faculty.

University records say Ayers at first denied the allegations that he viewed pornography, but when confronted with a printout of his computer records, admitted that it may have happened “at the end of a long work day.” Ayers later told administrators seeing the porn was for “academic research.”

Uh-huh… Continue reading

Return to a Sore Subject

"Does anybody care?"

[NOTE: An unusually busy travel schedule combined with terrible hotel WiFi and a week that was already stuffed with juicy and provocative ethics stories resulted in my not fulfilling my duties very well the last three days, for which I apologize sincerely. I’m going to make every effort to catch up this weekend.]

Rep. Weiner resigned at last, noting that his district and its constituents deserved to have a fully functioning representative in Congress, and that he could no longer fulfill that role. True enough, though one has to ask (or at least I do): if the people of Queens and Brooklyn deserve better representation than a hard-working, if dishonest, obsessed and twisted, pariah can offer, what about the people of the 8th District of Arizona, who have a representative who can’t funtion in her post at all?

I was going to wait until the six-month mark in Gaby Giffords’ rehabilitation to raise this matter again, since that will mark a full 25% of the Congresswoman’s term that she has been unable to serve, but the combination of Weiner’s resignation and the news of Giffords being released from the hospital created too much dissonance for me to ignore. I fully expect that I will be writing some version of this post 18 months hence, after Rep. Giffords’ entire Congressional term has passed without her voting on a bill or answering a constituent’s letter. To quote the singing John Adams in “1776,”: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”

Reports from various medical personnel enthused that Giffords has made remarkable progress, and “seems” to understand “most’ of what is being said to her, though she still has trouble articulating responses. That is great progress for someone who has some of her brain blown away by a gunshot at close range, but it sure doesn’t sound like someone who is going to be making a persuasive argument on the House floor any time soon, or ever. So are we serious about this running the country stuff, or aren’t we? Continue reading

As Weiner Finally Goes, Some Lessons That We Already Should Know

I’m sitting in the Washington, D.C. offices of  NPR, waiting to go live at 11 AM. with some ethics commentary about the imminent resignation of Rep. Weiner. He is finally doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, just as his Democratic colleagues are defenestrating him for the wrong reasons. Once yesterday’s old photos surfaced showing Weiner in women’s underwear, his fate was sealed…although it was really sealed already. His forced resignation was inevitable, and the fact that the Congressman was unable to see it so that he could preserve some shred of honor by doing his duty as soon as his disgraceful conduct became public shows how wretched his judgment is.

The 56% of his constituents who, according to polls, thought that he should remain in his job demonstrated their complete lack of understanding of the requirements of leadership and ethics. They weren’t the only ones. It has been fascinating, though depressing, to read the comment threads on various websites and blogs covering the Weiner story, because they are so similar in their rationalizations. The categories, and reasons why they are so misguided, are:

  • Lots of the people criticizing Weiner engage in dubious inline conduct themselves; they are hypocrites.” No, they are non-leaders. When you accept the responsibility of leadership, you accept the duties of  integrity, honesty, and honorable conduct. Rep. Weiner gave up the right to behave as sleazy as the guy we never heard of next door when he ran for office. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: Newt Gingrich’s (Ex-) Campaign Staff

"So, Newt: you'd rather be tanned than be President? Fine. Bye!"

One can tell a great deal about leaders from the quality of those who choose to follow them, and one can tell a great deal about followers by whom they choose as their leader. When Rick Tyler, a longtime Newt Gingrich spokesman, Rob Johnson, Gingrich’s campaign manager, Dave Carney and Katon Dawson, senior strategists to the former House Speaker’s presidential campaign, media consultant Sam Dawson, Iowa strategist Craig Schoenfeld, South Carolina operative Walter Whetsell and adviser Scott Rials resigned en masse from the Gingrich campaign organization last week, we learned a lot. Continue reading

Girl Talk and Bigotry Ethics: Celebrating One-Way Gender Bias on ABC

Christiane Amanpour just led a jaw-dropping roundtable discussion on her ABC Sunday morning talk show, “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,”as three female guest commentators ( Torie Clarke, the former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs in the Bush administration: Cecilia Attias, the former first lady of France and founder of Cecilia Attias Foundation for Women, and ABC’s Claire Shipman)
and Christiane discussed how the convergence of  Former IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s attempted rape charges and Rep. Anthony Weiner’s travails has created a possible tipping point, in which the nation will finally come to the realization of a fact that these women have known all along: women are just plain better than men when it comes to leadership, management, decision-making, and conflict resolution.

The sweeping generalities, stereotyping, and flat pronouncements of male inferiority were unrestrained. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz For Rep. Weiner Defenders: Would You Still Think He Shouldn’t Resign If He Did THIS?

Just add his daughter's head, and you have Rep. Gerber's fantasy date.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal in San Jose just ruled that Joseph Gerber, a California man who used his computer to create sexually explicit photos by pasting images of his 13-year-old daughter’s head onto the fully mature, naked bodies of porn performers in lewd poses, was wrongly convicted of possessing child pornography. After all, the pictures didn’t show minors engaging in sex acts, just fully legal adults with his daughter’s head, which apparently really turned Dad on.

The decision is unquestionably correct from a legal standpoint: no children were harmed to create the photos, and they did not depict child porn of any kind, except in Mr. Gerber’s fatherly mind.

Thus the Ethics Alarms question for Alec Baldwin and the reported 56% of New Yorkers who say that sexting, lying Representative Anthony Weiner should not resign his position because of his personal habit of sending smiling photos of his penis and other body parts to porn actresses, scheduling skype phone sex while his pregnant wife is away, and other similar activities, lying it all the while until lies became impossible: Continue reading