Ethics Quiz: The Obamas’ “Private Party”


President Obama and his wife, Michelle invited about 500 guests to a White House party where pop icons Prince and Stevie Wonder entertained guests. Among the guests were Al Sharpton, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his date, singer Ciara, Jon Bon Jovi, James Taylor, Tyler Perry, Connie Britton, Angela Bassett, Gayle King, Tracee Ellis Ross, fashion designer Naeem Kha, American Express exec Ken Chenault,  former Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, as well as about 480 others of doubtlessly equal glitter who didn’t squeal about the blow-out on Twitter or Instagram or who weren’t mentioned by other guests who did.

The party was not mentioned on the President’s official schedule, and it almost managed to occur without publicity until the White House news briefing on Monday afternoon, when Josh Earnest was grilled about it. The White House spokesman said two interesting things, one audacious in its blatant dishonesty and Orwellian logic, and the other ….interesting. The first:

“I think the fact that we’re talking about a private event and the fact that details of this are known is an indication that the president is committed to being transparent. At the same time, the president and first lady are going to reserve the right to host private parties at the White House, and they did it on their own dime.”

Further proving how transparent the President was, Earnest announced that no guest list would be provided to the press or the public. Now that’s transparency. The other statement:

[T]”he President and First Lady are going to reserve the right to host private parties at the White House, and they did it on their own dime. I think that’s consistent with the kinds of values that they have talked about.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

“Are there any ethical problems with the Obama’s “private party”?

Continue reading

Heeeeeeeeeere’s JOHNNY’S BETRAYAL!!!!


Lawyers are forbidden by the ethics rules of their profession in every state from divulging the secrets of their clients, their former clients, or even their dead former clients, except in the rare circumstances when doing so will save a life or prevent a crime, and often not even then. Client confidences include all information a lawyer learns about a client in the course of the representation whether or not it is germane to the representation or not, if the client would be embarrassed by the information or would want it to remain secret.

The duty to maintain client confidences goes to the core of the professional relationship between citizens and their lawyers, and any attorney who breaches it not only harms his or her client but undermines trust in the entire profession as well. So sacrosanct is the duty that a Massachusetts court agreed with the Fall River law firm that represented Lizzy Borden in her famous murder trial, when Lizzy’s heirs tried to force it to reveal whether she did, in fact, “give her mother forty whacks” (and her father forty-one) with an ax, that it could not reveal Borden’s secrets even in the interests of history.  The firm, said the court, was quite correct: Miss Borden hired it based on its lawyers’ assurances that her secrets were safe with the firm forever, and to allow otherwise now, even a century after the crime, would betray her trust and undermine the profession’s integrity. The Massachusetts Bar agrees.

So how can it be that Henry Bushkin, for decades the late Johnny Carson’s personal lawyer and thus charged with keeping the secrets of the famously reticent comic’s personal life, is now publishing a tell-all book filled with juicy stories about his conveniently dead client? Continue reading

Musings on the Strange Case of the Call Girl Olympian

Favor Hamilton, Olympian, call girl. in a recent promotional shot for browsing johns. "Faster, Higher, Stronger!"

Favor Hamilton, Olympian, call girl. in a recent promotional shot for browsing johns. “Faster, Higher, Stronger!”

The Smoking Gun, in what has to constitute the most ready-made plot for a cheesy movie in history, has obtained documents showing that three-time Olympian runner Suzy Favor Hamilton spent the last year living a secret life as a Las Vegas call girl. The entire story is jaw-dropping, including Hamilton’s comments about it once she was confronted with imminent exposure. It also raises some vivid ethical issues, as you might expect.

Beginning last December, the 44-year-old Hamilton  started working under the fake name “Kelly Lundy” with one of Las Vegas’s premier escort services, booking what the Smoking Gun terms as “scores of ‘dates'” in Vegas, where prostitution (I was surprised to learn) is illegal (though it is legal in other parts of Nevada), as well as Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and other cities, where it is also against the law. She apparently was outed after she told one of her clients who she really was, and he couldn’t keep a secret.


A few observations: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Is a Transgendered Woman Ethically Obligated To Tell Her Boyfriend That She Used To be Male?”

You never know. My post about the ethics of withholding the fact of one’s past and altered gender from a potential spouse sparked the most passionate, erudite and instructive debate among readers that Ethics Alarms has seen in a long time, involving an all-star squad of some of this blog’s best minds. The prize goes to Zoebrain, though, who scores the Comment of the Day with this three part contribution. It’s long; don’t let that discourage you. It, and the whole thread, which you can find here, is well worth your time, because you will learn something. I did.

“May I give an extended set of replies here please? You see, this isn’t a hypothetical for me, it’s an actual. Continue reading

Is a Transgendered Woman Ethically Obligated To Tell Her Boyfriend That She Used To be Male?

“Is this a bad time to tell you that I used to be a man?”

Sometimes I wonder if Emily Yoffe’s Slate advice column (“Dear Prudence”) is like the old Penthouse Forum, where it was clear to any reader who hadn’t purchased the Brooklyn Bridge twice that a team of giggling writers was coming up with the feature’s bizarre letters about orgies with amputees and people having sex in piles of fresh fish. But never mind: her most recent column makes an interesting ethical assertion is response to a woman who is troubled that her transgendered cousin refuses to tell her serious boyfriend about the jockstrap in her past:

“I think you should tell your cousin she’s living in a dream world and that she’s being unfair to John, even if he has a lack of desire for children. Of course, it could be that John flees, or it could be that he says, “She’s more than woman enough for me.” But it’s his right to know the crucial piece of history.”

I agree with Yoffe that the cousin is deluded if she thinks she can keep her past gender hidden forever if the relationship continues, and that the revelation of a secret of such magnitude is bound to be more disruptive the longer it is hidden. But is she correct that he has a right to know about it? Elsewhere Yoffe suggests that not telling him is dishonest. Why?

I understand the theory that couples shouldn’t withhold personal information from one another in the interest of mutual trust. Surely each member of a committed couple has an obligation to reveal any personal information that has the potential to affect the other. Is there an obligation to reveal personal information that one knows a boyfriend or girlfriend will be shocked to learn, or that will tap into visceral fears or biases? Author William Saroyan left his wife on their honeymoon when she revealed to him that she was Jewish, which highlights the irony of the problem: if a woman knows that a secret may cause a lover to reject her, however irrational that reaction would be, then is she ethically obligated to tell him but not obligated if she is sure he wouldn’t care? In other words, is one only ethically obligated to reveal the secrets that will destroy a relationship?

That seems strange. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: New Jersey Department of Education

“All right, children: Tell…us…everything!”

This year’s New Jersey ASK test, given to grade schoolers to assess their skills and knowledge, required some third graders to reveal a secret about their personal lives, and to explain why that secret is hard to keep. Surprisingly, many parents had a problem with this.

Here is what Dr. Richard Goldberg, a father of twin third grade boys told reporters:

“…To ask an 8-year-old, a 9-year-old to start revealing secrets in the middle of an exam  I thought was really inappropriate.  These children, they want to answer the question, they want to answer it correctly, they don’t want to get a bad grade. But at the same time, think about the things a child might know – about themselves or their family.”

Yes, let’s think about that: Continue reading

Bin Laden Aftermath Ethics: Deadly Expediency and Incompetence at the Top

Psst! Joe! SHUT UP! You're killing people!

Secretary of Defense William Gates told a group of Marines at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina that the Navy SEALs who took out Osama bin Laden were concerned about their safety and that of their families. And why wouldn’t they be? After all, the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death  exposed President Obama’s inner circle, not for the first time, as inept and reckless in the responsibilities and priorities of leadership.

Mere days after the successful raid on bin Laden’s compound, Vice President Biden spontaneously announced the name of one of the men in charge of the SEALs team at a fundraiser in Washington, saying, Continue reading

The Sex and Werewolf-Obsessed Novelist (But NOT Naked!) Teacher Principle

Could YOUR English teacher have written this?

Mild-mannered  Judy Buranich has taught high school English in Pennsylvania’s Midd-West School District for 33 years, always with the accolades of parents and students. Until recently, however, she had successfully kept a very different second occupation secret: under the pen name “Judy Mays,” she has forged a niche in the genre novel field, writing erotic fantasy suspense tales about lusty women who are typically involved in complex love-triangles where one or more participants are outer space aliens, vampires, or especially werewolves. On the Judy Mays website, a synopsis of her latest novel, “Undercover Heat,” reports:

“Melody Gray has a dilemma, two of them really. First, a CIA agent name Nick Price has appeared at her detective agency looking for a former client of hers named Jake Fields….What Nick isn’t telling Melody is that he’s really searching for Jake because his superior believes he’s a werewolf, not that Nick believes in them….What Melody isn’t telling Nick is that Jake Hurley is really Garth Gray, her brother.  She knows exactly why Nick Price is hunting her brother.  After all, Garth is really a werewolf.  So is Melody for that matter…. Continue reading

The Revenge of Ashley Judd

"Dear Mom, Sis: Hope you take my book in the spirit in which it was intended!"

Yes, celebrities live by different rules, but publishing a book that exposes your family’s secrets, hangs out its dirty laundry for all to smell, and settling scores with siblings in public is a cruel and unfair thing to do no matter who you are….or what the provocation.

Now actress Ashley Judd has published her account of what it was like growing up with Mama Naomi and Sister Wynnona, and her verdict is reportedly harsh. Ashley doesn’t need the money, so the only reasons for publishing “All That Is Bitter and Sweet: A Memoir” now are unethical ones: getting the satisfaction of vengeance, and hurting her own family members.

You should have waited, Ashley.

[Note: The original post was written from two sources that suggested that “I’m Not the Fat One” was  the title. I apparently was taken in: this was a joke. My fault. Sorry Ashley.]



Integrity Check: Obama’s Embarrassing Transparency Pledge

President Obama is getting a mixture of ridicule and contempt from some pundits over the revelation yesterday that he accepted an award for transparency in secret. From Forbes:

“President Obama was scheduled to receive an award from the organizers of the Freedom of Information Day Conference, to be presented at the White House by “five transparency advocates.” The White House postponed that meeting because of events in Libya and Japan, and it was rescheduled…That meeting did take place – behind closed doors. The press was not invited to the private transparency meeting, and no photos from or transcript of the meeting have been made available. The event was not listed on the president’s calendar…Nor is the award mentioned anywhere on the White House website, including on the page devoted to transparency and good government. Were it not for the testimony of the transparency advocates who met secretly with the president, there wouldn’t seem to be any evidence that the meeting actually took place.”

I can guess why the President didn’t want to publicize the meeting: the same day, he had to go on television and explain why he hadn’t been transparent to the U.S. Congress about his military plans in Libya. Or perhaps he knew that the news was about to leak that the Fed had secretly sent billions in loans to foreign banks during the financial crisis, not telling the public because it would make them worried and angry. Or maybe it was the just the dawning realization that transparency in government is often neither wise nor safe, and that he was sick of being embarrassed by awards that only point  up the yawning chasm between Obama’s idealistic words and reality. (See: 2010 Nobel Peace Prize) Continue reading