Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/11/2017: Boston, Racism, Morality And The Media’s Continuing Conspiracy

Good Morning!

1 That’s my town! Spotlight, the Boston Globe investigative team that was the focus of the Academy Award-winning film about its crucial role in exposing the  Catholic Church’s child-molestation scandal, has published the results of an investigation into racism in Boston. Nobody who lives in Boston or did for any length of time (like me) can find that the conclusion of the Spotlight team qualifies as news: Boston is an overwhelmingly white city—the whitest of all the major metropolitan areas—which may have softened its traditional hostility to African Americans, but that so far hasn’t changed the impression among its black residents that they are outsiders, and tolerated rather than welcome.

I love Boston, and would move back there in a heartbeat if it didn’t mean uprooting my life in unpleasant ways. The report, however, is depressing, for that ironic feature of the city was a blight on it when I lived there, and decades have failed to change it significantly.

2. Not “Morality Alarms”. Let me stick this in quickly.

A commenter on the most recent Comment of the Day on the Masterpiece Cakeshop controversy sent in a defense of the baker’s conduct based on Scripture. I stated,

I dismiss this argument out of hand.

2000 year old biases are now called ignorance. They can be justified as of their time, but pretending nothing has changed since then is indefensible and willfully obtuse. The taboos against homosexuality were a matter of common sense when procreation was essential to a tribe’s survival. Before there was psychological research and knowledge of brain chemistry, ignorance about homosexuality was excusable, and even natural. 2000 years is a long time. There is no excuse for pretending that it isn’t, that human beings haven’t learned, that knowledge hasn’t expanded, and that ancient texts are not often dangerously and cruelly out of date.

In two follow-up comments I wrote, stitching them together,

That’s not reasoning or argument, and this blog is about ethics (what’s right?) not morality (what does God say is right?)…At some point discrimination and prejudice is still discrimination and prejudice. “The Bible says I should be prejudiced” is better, sort of, than “I just hate these people,” but it also is a cover.

Needless to say, an argument that relies entirely on the Bible is just an appeal to authority. That’s not a reasoned argument, but a declaration. Nor is it possible to argue with God, who works in mysterious ways, meaning that “but that makes no sense!” doesn’t work.

This isn’t a morality blog, and never has been. Simple as that. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Round-Up: 7/8/17

Good Morning!

Trying to warm myself up too, as I have to address a room full of new D.C.  bar admittees and tell them about their new ethics rules less than two hours from now….let’s see how much I can get down before by wife starts threatening me for not being dressed yet…

1. If anyone pays attention, Fox News is providing  nifty lessons to all organizations about how fish rot from the head down,  and how a pervasive unethical culture keeps going like the Energizer Bunny until it is decisively changed by responsible leadership. Yet another Fox News host,”Making Money’s” Charles Payne, is being disciplined and may be on the way out after  allegations of “professional misconduct,” sexual harassment, and more. It seems that the married analyst was having an affair with one of the blonde clones Fox’s Roger Ailes liked to have on the air, and had her fired after their tryst went sour. I assumed that Fox News was a hotbed of this kind of thing even before Aisles was exposed as a serial harasser; it was laughably obvious, with so many women dressing and sounding like cheerleaders and the on-air banter on “Fox and Friends” often crossing lines. If Payne is the last employee publicly fingered for harassment, it is only because Fox News is handing out preemptive settlements like Halloween candy. This was all right there, in front of millions, for anyone to see, and for Fox News management to stop, for decades before it blew up. Incredible.

2. I watched “Spotlight” again last night, and couldn’t stop thinking about CNN. The Catholic Church sexual molestation scandal doesn’t have much in common with the current descent of the U.S. newsmedia into ethical corruption and professional disgrace, except this: in both cases, leadership of  institutions that depend on and are based on trust and faith have willingly embarked on a course directly in opposition to the core values they were supposed to be committed to, and used the rationalizations  #13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause” and #14. Self-validating Virtue to blind themselves for years, doing immeasurable and perhaps permanent harm to society and themselves in the process, not to mention their millions of victims. When in the movie did this parallel start occurring to me? When the film started showing angry Catholics attacking the reporters for daring to expose the truth, because the Church did so much good, and because anyone exposing an institution that was so vital to society was the real villain. Today what I hear is that because we need a courageous, reliable, independent free press (ironically, “Spotlight” shows why) we should pretend the press we have meets those standards, even when it has rejected them for partisan bias.

I envision a time when the whole news media looks back on 2016 and 2017 and wonders how they could have behaved so badly, and done such damage to the public trust.  I just hope that time arrives soon.

3. I can’t imagine a more audacious, in-your-face-display of inappropriate partisan arrogance than New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s decision to fly to Hamburg, Germany, to join leftist and anarchist protesters at the G-20 summit. To do this, he is skipping the swearing-in of a new  class of NYPD recruits  at a time when the assassination of Officer Miosotis Familia, would seem to dictate a mayoral show of support for the police, and it was recently reported that his city is experiencing a rise in homelessness to levels not seen in decades. What a great time to relive his student protesting days instead of doing his job!

Fun question: who is the more egregious jerk, Governor Christie, or DeBlasio?

4.

Ugh…I am being threatened with defenestration if I don’t shave. Back later…

“The Keepers,” The Catholic Church, And Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

I began watching Netflix’s new “true crime” series “The Keepers” last night. I may not last through all seven episodes. In addition to the documentary story-telling methodology, which moves at the pace of a slug-race, the story of how unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun might  be part of  (yet another) horrific cover-up by the Catholic Church made me so angry and frustrated that I quit in the middle of the third episode. The series makes the case that the nun, Sister Catherine “Cathy” Cesnik, was killed because she was about  to reveal ongoing sexual abuse of young teenage girls by the priest running the Archbishop Keough High School for girls.

The abuse and the extent of it is not speculation. As in so many other places, the Catholic Church in Baltimore eventually paid millions in damages to multiple victims of multiple predator priests who the Church moved around the  region—so they could molest and assault new victims—rather than handing them over to law enforcement. It is hard to imagine any priest worse than Father Joseph Maskell, however, if even some of the allegations against him are true. Victims say he used student files and illicit police connections to target teenage girls who were already being sexually abused. He manipulated them using a sick combination of religion, guilt, hypnotism and intimidation, sexually abused them, and even delivered some over to members of the Baltimore police department for more abuse.

The documentary focuses on the school’s Class of ’69, though there must have been equally abused girls before and after. The conspiracy of silence began to crack in 1992, when an especially  victimized member of the class suddenly realized that she had repressed memories of horrible experiences, and finally complained to the Baltimore Archdiocese, setting off the kind of despicable Church defensive strategies too familiar to anyone who has seen “Spotlight.”

This documentary isn’t good for my state of mind. It makes me wonder not only if all is lost, but also if all wasn’t lost long ago. I was raised in a largely Catholic community. I am not religious, but as an ethicist I recognize the important, civilizing role religion has played in teaching and enforcing moral principles for the majority of the public for whom ethical analysis is too challenging. Episodes like the Father Maskell scandal raise questions that I rebuke myself for asking, like “How can this be?” “Jane Doe,” the star witness in the documentary, is still a devout Catholic. Her immediate response to every dilemma is to pray. I don’t get it. She was savaged, threatened and abused by a priest that she knows the Church allowed to prey on the vulnerable students entrusted to him. Why would she still trust the Catholic Church?

Why would anyone? Continue reading

‘It Profits A Law Firm Nothing To Give Its Soul For The Whole World … But For Hillary, Thornton?’

Once again, a memorable line from the best ethics film of them all, “A Man For All Seasons,” came rushing back to me as I observed another example of professionals abandoning their ethical principles to assist the most demonstrably corrupt Presidential candidate in U.S. history, Hillary Clinton.

Not just her, however, to be fair. The Thornton Law Firm in Boston has used an illegal and unethical maneuver to circumvent election laws and give millions of dollars to the Democratic Party and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Harry Reid, President Obama and, of course, Hillary, among others.  The scheme was revealed by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Spotlight investigative team at the Boston Globe.

The firm has just ten partners, but is one of the nation’s biggest political donors. A whistle-blower sent firm documents showing that firm members have been making large donations to Democrats, only to be reimbursed by the firm days or even hours later with bonuses matching the amounts donated exactly.

Federal law limits partnerships–law firms are almost all partnerships—to maximum donations of $2,700 per candidate. This was what is called a “straw donor” plot. “Straw donor reimbursement systems are something both the FEC and the Department of Justice take very seriously, and people have gone to jail for this,” Center for Responsive Politics editorial director Viveca Novak told CBS. Continue reading

Ten Ethics Observations On The New Bill Clinton Sexual Assault Accusation

The late Leslie Millwee...VERY late.

The late Leslie Millwee…VERY late.

From Politico:

Leslie Millwee, a former reporter for local Arkansas TV station KLMN-TV, has accused former president Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting her three times in 1980, while Clinton was governor of Arkansas…Millwee told Breitbart she interviewed Clinton about 20 times publicly and also met with him in KLMN-TV’s newsroom. She said he groped her and rubbed his genitals on her while they were alone in KLMN-TV’s small editing room.

“He came in [to the editing room] behind me, started hunching me to the point that he had an orgasm,” she told Breitbart’s Aaron Klein. “He’s touching, trying to touch my breasts and I’m just sitting there very stiffly, just waiting for him to leave me alone. And I’m asking him the whole time, ‘Please do not do this. Do not touch me. Do not hunch me. I do not want this.’ And he finished doing what he was doing and walked out….Breitbart also interviewed three of Millwee’s friends, who said Millwee told them in the late 1990s about the alleged assaults.

…Millwee’s accusations are new, and Breitbart, which published a 19-minute video interview with Millwee, has been supportive of Trump and dismissive of the numerous women who have accused him of sexual assault. The site is led by Steven Bannon, who took a leave from Breitbart to serve as CEO of Trump’s campaign.Millwee said she considered coming forward in the late 1990s, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but she was intimidated after seeing how the media treated other women who accused Clinton of sexual assault.

“I almost came out during the Monica Lewinsky and Kathleen Willey situation,” she said. “I watched that unfold a little bit. I was very prepared to go forward then and talk about it, and I watched the ways the Clintons and Hillary slandered those women, harassed them, did unthinkable things to them, and I just did not want to be part of that. I had very small children at the time, I had a job at pharmaceuticals, it was a very conservative situation. I didn’t want to do anything to bring harm to my career and my family.”

Millwee said she decided to finally go public now because she believes that the media still has not held Clinton accountable for his alleged sexual assaults. A Breitbart spokeswoman said Millwee reached out to Breitbart on her own “months ago after Hillary’s ad that sex assault victims have a right to be heard.”

Observations:

Continue reading

The Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2015, Part I

Sweet Briar montage

Welcome to the Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards, our blog’s retrospective of the best and worst in ethics over the past year, 2015.

It was a rotten year in ethics again, it’s fair to say, and Ethics Alarms, which by its nature and mission must concentrate on episodes that have lessons to convey and cautionary tales to consider probably made it seem even more rotten that it was. Even with that admission, I didn’t come close to covering the field. My scouts, who I will honor anon, sent me many more wonderfully disturbing news stories than I could post on, and there were many more beyond them. I did not write about the drug company CEO, for example, who suddenly raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to obscene levels, in part, it seems, to keep an investment fraud scheme afloat. (He’ll get his prize anyway.)

What was really best about 2o15 on Ethics Alarms was the commentary. I always envisioned the site as a cyber-symposium where interested, articulate and analytical readers could discuss current events and issues in an ethics context. Every year since the blog was launched has brought us closer to that goal. Commenters come and go, unfortunately (I take it personally when they go, which is silly), but the quality of commentary continues to be outstanding. It is also gratifying to check posts from 2010 and see such stalwarts who check in still, like Tim Levier, Neil Dorr, Julian Hung, Michael R, and King Kool.  There are a few blogs that have as consistently substantive, passionate and informative commenters as Ethics Alarms, but not many. Very frequently the comments materially enhance and expand on the original post. That was my hope and objective. Thank you.

The Best of Ethics 2015 is going to be a bit more self-congratulatory this year, beginning with the very first category. Among other virtues, this approach has the advantage of closing the gap in volume between the Best and the Worst, which last year was depressing. I’m also going to post the awards in more installments, to help me get them out faster. With that said….

Here are the 2015 Ethics Alarms Awards

For the Best in Ethics:

Most Encouraging Sign That Enough People Pay Attention For Ethics Alarms To Occasionally Have Some Impact…

The Sweet Briar College Rescue. In March, I read the shocking story of how Sweet Briar College, a remarkable and storied all-women’s college in Virginia, had been closed by a craven and duplicitous board that never informed alums or students that such action was imminent. I responded with a tough post titled “The Sweet Briar Betrayal,” and some passionate alumnae determined to fight for the school’s survival used it to inform others about the issues involved and to build support. Through the ensuing months before the school’s ultimate reversal of the closing and the triumph of its supporters, I was honored to exchange many e-mails with Sweet Briar grads, and gratified by their insistence that Ethics Alarms played a significant role in turning the tide. You can follow the saga in my posts, here.

Ethics Heroes Of The Year

Dog Train

Eugene and Corky Bostick, Dog Train Proprietors. OK, maybe this is just my favorite Ethics Hero story of the year, about two retired seniors who decided to adopt old  dogs abandoned on their property to die, and came up with the wacky idea of giving them regular rides on a ‘dog train” of their own design.

Ethical Mayor Of The Year

Thomas F. Williams. When the Ferguson-driven attacks on police as racist killers was at its peak (though it’s not far from that peak now) the mayor of Norwood, Ohio, Thomas F. Williams, did exactly the opposite of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in response to activist attacks on the integrity of his police department. He released a letter supporting his police department without qualification. At the time, I criticized him for his simultaneously attacking activists as “race-baiters.” In the perspective of the year past, I hereby withdraw that criticism.

Most Ethical Celebrity

Actor Tom Selleck. In a terrible year for this category, Selleck wins for bravely pushing his TV show “Blue Bloods” into politically incorrect territory, examining issues like racial profiling and police shootings with surprising even-handedness. The show also has maintained its openly Catholic, pro-religion perspective. Yes, this is a redundant award, as “Blue Bloods” is also a winner, but the alternative in this horrific year when an unethical celebrity is threatening to be a major party’s nominee for the presidency is not to give the award at all.

Most Ethical Talk Show Host

Stephen Colbert, who, while maintaining most of his progressive bias from his previous Comedy Central show as the successor to David Letterman, set a high standard of fairness and civility, notably when he admonished his knee-jerk liberal audience for booing  Senator Ted Cruz

Sportsman of the Year

CC Sabathia

New York Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who courageously checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse just as baseball’s play-offs were beginning, saying in part,

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.”

Runner-up: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who dismissed the ethically-addled arguments of Pete Rose fans to reject his appeal to be have his lifetime ban for gambling lifted.  For those who wonder why football never seems to figure in this category: You’ve got to be kidding.

Ethics Movie of the Year

SpotlightTIFF2015

“Spotlight”

Runner-up: “Concussion”

Most Ethical Corporation

Tesla Motors, the anti-GM, which recalled all of its models with a particular seatbelt because one belt had failed and they couldn’t determine why. Continue reading

On “Media Watchdogs,” NPR, Ted Cruz, And Unethical Editing

NPR-cruz

Newsbusters is a “media watchdog” site that doesn’t pretend to be non-partisan: it goes after the liberal mainstream media for bias. I am tempted to conclude that agenda-driven watchdogs are more credible than so-called objective watch-dogs, like CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” which are almost as biased but pretend not to be.

Newsbusters does good work sometimes, then comes up with something like Matthew Balan’s sneering attack on the news media’s praise of “Spotlight” ( CBS Celebrates ‘Very Powerful,’ ‘Fantastic’ Liberal Reporter Movie) which didn’t contain a word about why the media shouldn’t be praising it. (I don’t think Balan saw the movie.) It’s an embarrassing piece, Newsbusters at its biased worst. The writer keeps telling us that actor Mark Ruffalo. who plays one of the reporters in the film,  is “left wing,” as if that is relevant to the role he played in the film (it isn’t). Apparently Balan thinks that a remarkably accurate movie about good investigative reporting and a scandal involving harm to hundreds of thousands of children shouldn’t be made because it doesn’t make organized religion look good, and does make a liberal newspaper look good.

He’s nuts. Are religious conservatives that deranged, that a straightforward, true account of the news media doing its job (for a change) and the historic and world-shaking scandal it uncovered confirms their suspicions of a progressive Hollywood conspiracy? The movie isn’t political in any way! It was praised by CBS and other critics because it’s a terrific movie that has only one agenda, which is to tell an important story compellingly. Sorry that it gives the Catholic Church the treatment it deserves, Newsbusters.

On the left is Media Matters, David Brock’s site that makes Newsbusters look like the epitome of non-partisan analysis. It’s not even a watchdog, and barely pretends to be any more: it is a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Is there a good, objective, non-partisan media watchdog site that isn’t trying to prop up parties and candidates? The closest is probably Poynter.org, (Wait, why isn’t this in the Ethics Alarms links? Better fix THAT…), out of the Poynter Institute, which has the broader agenda of teaching and promoting good and ethical journalism. The site doesn’t—can’t—cover all the misconduct in the media. It does a good job when it does, though: here’s a current post on the media’s race-baiting Justice Scalia, which I covered yesterday. It concludes…

“The New York Times duly noted that one Scalia remark “drew muted gasps in the courtroom.” (The New York Times) But “far from being racist, that proposition is an acknowledgment of racial inequality — and it’s central to the argument for racial preferences. Those preferences wouldn’t be necessary if applicants from all racial and ethnic groups possessed exactly the same paper credentials.”(The Los Angeles Times) Unfortunately, the digital age brings a few too many reporters sitting at desks and doing facile, Twitter-friendly rewrites of stuff they know little about.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Back to Newsbusters: When it is good, it can be very good, as it was yesterday exposing an outrageous distortion of a Ted Cruz interview on NPR. I knew that interviewers edit interview answers for broadcast. I did not know that any major news organization would think it was ethical to distort the emphasis, thrust and meaning of a Presidential candidate’s words this blatantly. (But then Cruz is a conservative.) NPR duly posted the unedited interview transcript online, which is not good enough: how many listeners are going to check what they heard driving to work to discover what was really said? How many suspect that what they heard was sliced and diced like gazpacho? Not many, and NPR knows it.

In checking what Cruz really said and what the broadcast of his interview with NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep made him out to say, Newsbusters reporter Tim Graham found text that showed the Cruz’s answers were shortened by mid-paragraph cuts, blunting his points and also censoring his most critical comments about the Obama Administration and its current policies. Here is the section of the interview containing the most edits. Graham has bolded the cuts; what is not bolded is what the NPR audience heard. I’ll break in here and there, in italics.

Continue reading