One More Time: Leadership, Moral Luck, Accountability, And Scapegoating, Baseball-Style.

Here is part of the statement released by  Boston Red Sox owner John Henry yesterday after the team fired its head of Baseball Operations, essentially the team’s General Manager, Dave Dombrowksi:

“Four years ago, we were faced with a critical decision about the direction of the franchise. We were extraordinarily fortunate to be able to bring Dave in to lead baseball operations. With a World Series championship and three consecutive American League East titles, he has cemented what was already a Hall of Fame career.”

Wait…HUH? He was hired four years ago, the team won three consecutive American League East titles (for the first time in the franchise’s history), a World Series Championship (following an epic 2018 season that saw Boston win 108 games) and he’s fired? What did he do, sexually harass players? Flash the owner’s daughter? Continue reading

More On The Acosta-Epstein Scandal: Leadership, Moral Luck, Accountability, And Scapegoating

Veteran commenter Glenn Logan expressed  doubts about the fairness of current criticism of the Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta (above right) for his approval of a ridiculously lenient plea deal for jet-setting sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein (above left). Glenn’s objections  prompted me to search for prior posts here on the ethics issue of high level accountability for disasters and fiascos. In this morning’s warm-up, #3, I discussed the reasons I feel the criticism of Acosta is justified (re Glenn’s complaint that journalists are determined to destroy Acosta because of his connection to their primary target, the President, my response is that  critics being biased and having unethical motives doesn’t mean their criticism is necessarily wrong), and concluded,

“Finally, there is the basic ethical issue of accountability. Prosecutors allowed Epstein’s lawyers to talk them into a ridiculously lenient plea deal with minimal prison time for a privileged criminal and sexual predator with endless resources and a high likelihood of recidivism. It was completely predictable that he would continue to harm women after his release, and the new charges against Epstein show that he did exactly as expected.It is appropriate that someone’s head roll for this, and Acosta’s is the logical choice.”

Glenn responded that this sounded more “like scapegoating than accountability.” “’Somebody must pay,’ he said, “is not convincing to me.” Hence my search of the Ethics Alarms archive. This is a topic of long-standing interest for me, in great part due to my military-minded father.

I also recently watched the Netflix series “Bad Blood,” about Montreal’s Mafia. The accountability of leadership is a recurring theme in that series:  we see the father of the future head of the powerful Rizzuto family telling his son as a boy that he is now responsible for caring for and cultivating several tomato plants. “If a plant produces good tomatoes,” the father explains, ” you will be rewarded. If a plant produces poor tomatoes, you will be punished.” Even if the reasons a plant fails to produce good tomatoes has nothing to do with the son’s efforts and were beyond his control, the father goes on to say, “I will still punish you. For that is the burden of leadership. When that for which a leader is responsible goes wrong, he must be accountable and pay the price whether it is his fault or not. Only then is he worthy of his followers trust.” Continue reading

Obama Fires Hagel: The Flat Learning Curve Budges

Scapegoat

Sniffs the Weekly Standard:

How Do You Spell Scapegoat? H-A-G-E-L.

Chuck Hagel, apparently fired as Secretary of Defense, was exactly who and what Obama wanted, a weak Defense Secretary willing to carry out the President’s plan of demilitarizing of the U.S. and reducing U.S. power abroad. But that plan has led to rapidly deteriorating stability around the globe, and with ISIS appearing to be winning while the U.S. has restricted itself to bomb runs and “advisors,” Obama had a choice. He could, as he has consistently done for six years, refuse to acknowledge that his policies were misfiring and that his team was failing, thus giving the public no reason to believe that he knew, or perhaps even cared, that his ideology didn’t translate into desirable real world results. He could continue blaming others—Republicans, bad luck, Bush—for failures, and keep his loyalists in their jobs no matter how incompetent they appeared. In the alternative, he could signal that he was not satisfied with the status quo, and let heads roll—you know, like real leaders do. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Monica Lewinsky

Under that bus is Monica Lewinsky, and it wasn't Matt Drudge who threw her there.

Under that bus is Monica Lewinsky, and it wasn’t Matt Drudge who threw her there.

It truly pains me to have to write anything negative about Monica, who was exploited and humiliated by a President of the United States, and had her life permanently derailed because she trusted and even loved a rogue who regarded her as little more than an animated sex toy. Her re-emergence now, however—yes it is sad and desperate and makes me furious at Bill Clinton all over again—in the new guise of a “cyber-bullying” victim is intolerable, a delusion on multiple levels, despicable blame-shifting, and a welcome weasel-out of-accountability-free card for the Clintons. Yeccch.

I’m sorry for what happened to you, Monica, but you’re 40 now: it’s time to start seeing life more clearly—especially your own and the reasons why you are in the mess you are.

“Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one. I was Patient Zero,” Lewinsky said in a speech Monday to Forbes’s Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia. “The first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet.”

It has to take a near-fatal injection of self-serving historical air-brushing for the ex-intern to say this with a straight face, and it tells us volumes about the audience that it didn’t start throwing tomatoes:

  • She wasn’t a “completely private figure.” She was a woman having a sexual affair with the President of the United States while he lied about it—to his wife, his staff, and under oath (I haven’t covered all of the lying, either.) That makes her an individual who is engaged in conduct with tremendous public and official consequences who is only “private” because a powerful official is using his power to make it so. The proper term is “inevitable public figure waiting for the dam to break.”
  • The reason for her humiliation was and is William Jefferson Clinton, and no other. He is the one who described her as “that woman,” while denying what was true. He is the one who made his relationship with her part of a legal record while he was trying to avoid the consequences of another “bimbo eruption,” as his long-time “fixer” liked to call them.

Continue reading

CNN Presents The Carol Costello Rule: If A Network Issues One Unethical Suspension Of An Innocent Employee Based On Deranged Political Correctness, It Is Obligated To Issue Another

Smug, dishonest, unprofessional, illogical, unfair, biased, unethical: "THIS is CNN."

Smug, dishonest, unprofessional, illogical, unfair, biased, unethical: “THIS is CNN.”

I just have to stop watching CNN is the morning, because it places everyone in my house at risk for head shrapnel.

The main danger is the smug, biased, ethically-jumbled Carol Costello, CNN’s late morning anchor after the New York governor’s telegenic brother has finished indoctrinating us into his view of the world. Today, Costello was taking a victory lap, implying that she helped get Stephen A. Smith suspended by ESPN for daring to suggest that women bear some responsibility for avoiding placing themselves within range of an abuser’s fists. (Interestingly, Costello had no similar directives for ABC, which quietly allowed Whoopie Goldberg to make the same (valid) point on “The View” with no adverse actions whatsoever. See, a woman is allowed to state some uncomfortable truths, but the same truth in the mouth of a man is offensive. Learn the rules, for heaven’s sake!) Then Costello played a clip of her earlier argument why ESPN was wrong not to suspend Smith. She said …

“It’s nice that Smith apologized, but I wonder if the network will do what it ought to do and suspend Smith. Look, in 2012, the management of ESPN expressed outrage when two employees used the phrase “a chink in the armor” when referencing  Jeremy Linn, the Asian Basketball player. One employee was suspended for 30 days and the other was fired. So why is ESPN giving Smith a pass?”

Continue reading

Unethical and Unjust Firing of the Week: The MSNBC Cheerios Tweeter

CheeriosWhen reader Scott Jacobs sent me a link to the now infamous MSNBC tweet that presumed that all “right-wingers,” which in MSNBC Universe means anyone who doesn’t want to put Barack Obama on Mount Rushmore, were horrified by the very existence of bi-racial families, I honestly didn’t understand what he was telling me.  MSNBC’s official position is that Republicans are racists, so he couldn’t have been referring to that….everybody knows that. (“But did you know Old McDonald was a really bad speller?”) And what racists approve of bi-racial families? So the tweet wasn’t illogical or dealing in rationalizations. The tweet—oh, here it is:

“Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ biracial family” Continue reading

Preliminary Ethics Observations On The NFL Bullying Scandal

The bully and the bullied.

The bully and the bullied.

If you are unfamiliar with this story, the details are here. There is much that remains in question, but the basic outline of the incident is this:

  • The Miami Dolphins, like most professional football teams and also most college teams, have a tradition of “hazing” rookies, humiliating and harassing them in various way, “all in good fun, of course.”
  • The ironically named Richie Incognito, a starting guard for the Dolphins, was known as an especially relentless and enthusiastic hazer.
  • Last weak, the team’s second-year tackle Jonathan Martin walked out on the squad and checked into to a hospital, saying he could  he could no longer deal with the continued harassment from his teammates.
  • Incognito was shown to have referred to Martin using abusive language and racial epithets in voice messages.
  • Based on the evidence of the voice mails, the Dolphins suspended Incognito, who is being defended by his team mates. Sources are saying that his career with the Dolphins, and perhaps the NFL, may be over.
  • It is likely that the Dolphin coaches were aware of Martin’s hazing.

This is the perfect ethics problem to approach with what I regard as the most important clarifying question in beginning any ethical analysis:  What’s going on here? Continue reading

Scapegoating Ethics

Scapegoat

Meet Rick Eckstein. He understands. Really.

As it does predictably and constantly, the daily drip-drip-drama of baseball has given us another ethics quandary to ponder, arising in the context of the sport but with far more significant applications. The issue: is it ethical for an organization to deal with a crisis by firing someone for symbolic value, rather than for cause?

I have written about this traditional phenomenon in baseball before, but the current example is far less defensible on either tactical or public relations grounds. Last season, the Washington Nationals accumulated the best record in the sport, and though they flopped in the play-offs, were almost unanimously expected to be strong pennant contenders in 2013 by baseball prognosticators and more importantly, their fans. So far, at least, those expectations have been dashed. The season is almost two-thirds done, and the Nationals have been uninspiring at best. They have won fewer games than they have lost, and are trailing the Atlanta Braves by an alarming margin. Their pitching has been worse than expected, and their offense has been atrocious.

As is often the case in baseball when teams have a disappointing season after a good one, there is no obvious way to fix the problems mid-season, other than to hope the players start playing better. Unlike the other major team sports, baseball team performance is notoriously quirky, just like the game they play. Excellent players have down years frequently (though not the same players, or they would no longer be considered excellent). Team chemistry evaporates; the ball bounces funny ways. In the case of the Nationals, the most obvious problem has been a flood of sub-par years from almost all the starting position players, with an unhealthy serving of injuries.

The team’s response to its frustration and, really, lack of any substantive way to address it was to fire the team’s batting coach, Rick Eckstein, last week. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Prof. Glenn Reynolds

“A 20-year-old lunatic stole some guns and killed people. Who’s to blame? According to a lot of our supposedly rational and tolerant opinion leaders, it’s . . . the NRA, a civil-rights organization whose only crime was to oppose laws banning guns. (Ironically, it wasn’t even successful in Connecticut, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.) The hatred was intense. One Rhode Island professor issued a call — later deleted — for NRA head Wayne LaPierre’s “head on a stick.” People like author Joyce Carol Oates and actress Marg Helgenberger wished for NRA members to be shot. So did Texas Democratic Party official John Cobarruvias, who also called the NRA a ‘terrorist organization,’ and Texas Republican congressman Louis Gohmert a “terror baby.” Nor were reporters, who are supposed to be neutral, much better. As The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg commented, ‘Reporters on my Twitter feed seem to hate the NRA more than anything else, ever. ‘Calling people murderers and wishing them to be shot sits oddly with claims to be against violence. The NRA — like the ACLU, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers or Planned Parenthood — exists to advocate policies its members want. It’s free speech. The group-hate directed at the NRA is ugly and says ugly things about those consumed by it.”

—- University of Tennessee law professor (and conservative blogging icon) Glenn Reynolds, in a USA Today op-ed piece called “Reflections on Newtown.”

Stop the NRAI’m tempted to go further than Prof. Reynolds and suggest that this also says ugly things about what the extended recession has done to our culture, which once was characterized by the initiative, determination and innovation to solve problems, but now increasingly resorts to the useless strategy of  pointing fingers. The tradition of picking out convenient public scapegoats to blame and demonize in response to complex societal problems is a long-running historical phenomenon around the world, but it seems to me that the United States has never before embraced it with the fervor we are seeing now.

“Legally Blonde” Life Lessons at Loveland High

"I am also high school principal!"

“I am also high school principal!”

As a frequent stage director of musicals, I am so glad this didn’t happen to me in my more excitable days. I may have done something rash that would have had me running ethics seminars from inside a jail cell.

When school administrators combine laziness, absence of diligence and common sense, ignorance, blatant disregard for fairness and abject stupidity, it is remarkable the amount of damage they can do. The administrators at Loveland High School in Cincinnati fired the teacher, Sonja Hanson, who directed its student production of the Broadway musical “Legally Blonde” and cancelled the show because her staging was “too racy.” I have not seen the production, obviously, but I know the Broadway show and the movie, neither of which has material in it that would corrupt the morals of any high school student not home-schooled in Carlsbad Caverns. Similarly, the staging that appears in a YouTube video of the show indicate nothing inappropriate for a high school in 2012.

The many students who labored long hours on the production saw their efforts go to waste; the parents and friends of the performers, techies and orchestra members never had the chance to see the musical performed; and the teacher lost her job. All of this was for one reason and one reason only: the principal who initially approved the show had neither the courage nor the integrity to stand up to critics when they began their attacks, and rather than accept responsibility for the production that had been approved and stand by the students and their teacher, the pusillanimous administrator allowed the show to be cancelled and the teacher to be made a scapegoat. Continue reading