Unethical Excuses From All Over: Time Magazine, Richard Cohen, and Toronto


Caught red-handed in unethical conduct, the right, honest, courageous and yes, practical thing to do is to admit wrongdoing, eschew excuses, acknowledge fault, express contrition, and resolve not to behave in a similar manner again. Unfortunately, this is difficult for many people, especially, it seems, those in the public eye. Another reason it is difficult is that people who engage in grossly unethical conduct tend to gravitate to unethical responses when they are called to account for it.

We are currently awash in examples of this phenomenon:

I. Time explains that its fat slur cover on Chris Christie wasn’t what it seemed.

Ethics Alarms was one of the first to call foul on Time’s unprofessional “Elephant in the room” cover on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and the condemnation of it was almost universal. There was no defense for this, a purely juvenile and biased insult masked as journalism. An ethical organization would have immediately responded:

‘Time used poor judgment in its language on the recent Chris Christie cover, which was gratuitously insulting to the Governor and millions of Americans. It was wrong to mock the governor because of his weight, as it is wrong to denigrate anyone based on their physical appearance. This was a failure of our editing process, by our staff, and of the entire organization, which failed to meet the high standards of professionalism, fairness, civility and integrity that Time has traditionally strived to meet, and has met in the past. We apologize to Governor Christie and our readers. Everyone should expect better of Time magazine, and we betrayed that trust. We vow to work diligently to regain it.’

But noooooooo!

What Time really did was… Continue reading

Now THAT’S An Apology: Chuck Klosterman (“The Ethicist”) Shows The Way

Chuck Klosterman, "The Ethicist," stands tall.

Chuck Klosterman, “The Ethicist,” stands tall.

In the past I have been very critical of  The New York Times’ current writer of  its “The Ethicist” column,  but there is no denying that Chuck Klosterman knows how to make an apology. Indeed, responding to a sensitive situation, he may have offered the most exemplary apology I have ever heard or read.

“A Typical Son” is a perceptive and moving blog that documents the life experiences of a young boy with Down Syndrome and his parents. His mother occasionally  posted an open letter to Mr. Klosterman on the blog, citing his multiple uses of the words “retard” and “retarded” in various published works (Chuck was a film and TV reviewer prior to “The Ethicist” gig) over the past decade. She wrote in part…

“…Today people with cognitive disabilities and their allies are asking members of society to refrain from using the word “retarded” (along with all mutations of the word)… My question to you: Is it ethical to contribute to the denigration of the vulnerable? I am particularly interested because you, Chuck Klosterman, are The Ethicist for the New York Times” and the author of the following [examples of denigrating or mocking references to the mentally handicapped]…. Mr. Klosterman, you appear to be an unrepentant hater of people with cognitive disabilities. You are not using the word in an “I don’t mean it like that way…” sort of ignorance which I think would be much easier to redress. You are using the word in a “Those people are exactly who I am talking about” way.

Please enlighten me: What are the ethics of using the R-word? I am the mother of a seven-year-old son who has Down syndrome.  I believe your response to my question could make all the difference in the world.”

Here is Klosterman’s remarkable response: Continue reading

Unethical Magazine Cover Of The Year: Time (As Henry Luce Spins In His Grave)

Time Christie

It really is past time for Time to go away.

Once the epitome of sharp, incisive, erudite weekly news reporting and commentary, it long ago morphed into just another left-biased shill for liberal politicians and positions, but with a desperate, tabloid-style habit of using intentionally gross, disturbing or controversial cover graphics to sell more copies than its equally biased and shameless rival, Newsweek. Now Newsweek is mercifully gone, but Time’s rude cover habit remains, culminating in the above disgrace to Time’s traditions and responsible journalism.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is fat, get it? He’s the “elephant in the room.” Continue reading

The Acceptable Slur

Reason Magazine’s website has an article today by Steve Chapman describing New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s tactic of ridiculing his opponent Chris Christie’s weight (among other barbs, Corzine has used an ad showing Christie looking unusually large with a voice-over about him “throwing his weight around.” Har Har.) as politically maladroit. He’s right, but Chapman neglects to discuss the ethical issue involved. Attacking someone for his or her physical attributes is unethical: rude, mean-spirited, unkind and uncivil, a pure violation of the Golden Rule. Suggesting that a person’s worth can be discerned from his or her physical attributes is, quite simply, bigotry. Corzine, a proud liberal, would never dream of attacking an opponent for his race, or a physical disability like a missing leg. But calling an opponent fat in a manner designed to appeal to the bigotry of others is acceptable to him, indeed, acceptable to many. Why is that?

This is an oddly popular form of bigotry for liberals, journalists (I know I’m approaching redundancy here) and media commentators. The most popular target of fat attacks is conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Despite the fact that  Limbaugh has been in one of his svelte periods for some time, many newspapers and websites continue to accompany stories about his latest rants with an especially unflattering photo showing him roughly 100 pounds heavier.  John Kerry and other Limbaugh critics routinely include physical insults as they respond to his critiques. (They also frequently reference his problems with prescription pill addiction, an AMA-decreed medical malady. Their excuse for this is that Limbaugh has been unsympathetic to drug abusers in the past, an example of the unethical rationalization known here as the Tit for Tat excuse)  The junior U.S. senator from Minnesota got his job in part by making liberals giggle with his book entitled  “Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat, Idiot.”   But Limbaugh is just one target of many. The late, liberal Washington Post cartoonist Herb Block always drew the characters he didn’t like—Republicans, conservatives, bankers, “corporate interests,” “industrialists”—as human beach balls, to contrast with his poor, downtrodden, attractively thin liberal archetypes. Conservatives are guilty of fat-baiting too, of course; when they weren’t  using Mary Jo Kopechne to ridicule the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, they called him a tub of lard. Conservatives often have a more difficult time getting away with it, because liberals will rise in indignation to condemn such a tactic on the Right, especially if the target is a woman, as when conservative radio talk show Laura Ingraham was pilloried for referring to John McCain’s daughter Meaghan as “plus-sized.” Liberals appear to understand that using physical characteristics to deride and diminish someone is unethical, but believe there is an exception when the fat person in question is “bad,” as in “disagrees with them.”

Here is the sad truth. Many people, liberals and conservatives, are bigoted against fat people, and even those who are repulsed by bigotry based on race, religion or physical malady manage to rationalize regarding excessive weight as a sign of bad character, greed, gluttony, laziness, or, in the most recent trend, having too large a carbon footprint. Good, responsible people jog and exercise, like Jon Corzine. True, Corzine is a millionaire, and studies show that the higher correlation is not between wealth and fat, but rather poverty and fat, but never mind.  Though the culture now strongly reinforces the message that it is wrong for a white man to feel superior to a black man, it has yet assimilate the concept that a thin, fit, attractive American isn’t inherently preferable to a fat one, no matter what else the corpulent individual has to offer.

It’s time; indeed, it is past time. I think there is even  a case to be made that a fat individual may be overweight for ethical reasons. You can spend a couple hours a day jogging and pumping iron—14 hours a week, 56 hours a month, 672 hours a year—or you can spend the same time on pursuits that benefit people other than yourself, like your family, the poor, or society. Extra weight may be a form of sacrifice, a badge of honor.  What justification does Al Franken or Laura Ingraham, or a Hollywood actor who gets paid to be fit, have to question that choice or feel superior? If Oprah Winfrey wants to call herself fat, fine, but who can criticize how she uses her time? She cares about other things more than the scale and the mirror. Good for her.

But that’s just an argument that fat bigotry is unjustified. The primary point is that it is wrong, as wrong as any other form of bigotry. I don’t think Jon Corzine should necessarily lose the governorship because of it, because American culture, so far, has told him that fat bigotry is still tolerated. Still, if Corzine did lose, and lost in part because of his bigoted campaign, it would send an important  message—the message is that the “acceptable slur”  isn’t acceptable any more, no matter who the target is.