The Great Stupid Rolls On: Once Again, The News Media Makes Us Play “Wheel Of Fortune”…

Barely three weeks ago, Ethics Alarms offered this post, “The New York Times Refusing To Inform Its Readers What Meyers Leonard Was Suspended For Saying Is Far More Unethical Than Leonard Saying It.” Readers of the Times and many other news sources had revealed that the NBA’s Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard was in big trouble because he had used a word that was an ethnic slur so terrible that we couldn’t be told exactly what it was. This is censorship and journalism incompetence at its worse: without knowing the word, the story makes no sense. It is a central fact that the public must know in order to assess whether the outrage over the utterance and the eventual consequences were just.

Ethics Alarms had to inform readers that the word was “kike.” That’s not my job. Nonetheless, I have respect for the public, language, the duty of communication and free speech that the majority of American journalists do not.

Now, in an example of bad ethics deja vu, it’s happened again. Rather than do their job and tell the story, most of the news media is requiring the public to play “Wheel of Fortune,” and complete a phrase by guessing what a word is in order to understand why its utterance by a professional athlete is newsworthy.

Here was how USA Today reported the episode:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis apologized for a tweet he sent Sunday night that contained an anti-Asian slur.  Davis said he confused the term for one he was intending to mean “lame” while trying to blame the media for the traction the tweet received.”I would never offend any group of people,” Davis, 24, wrote. “You reporters can look for another story to blow up. The term was directed towards a producer claiming he ‘ran Miami’ With that being said I’ll retire that word from my vocabulary giving the hard times our Asian family are enduring. According to ESPN, Davis wrote “Gotta stop letting (expletive) in Miami” in the tweet that has since been deleted. Anti-Asian attacks have increased recently as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its second year.In response to the tweet, the Asian American Journalists Association Sports Task Force said in a statement that it “is disappointed by his sentiment, especially at a time when Asians in the United States are experiencing a sharp increase in anti-Asian hate which has resulted in harassment and attacks.”

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Ethics Quote Of The Day AND Incompetent Elected Official Of the Month, Plus KABOOM! and “ARGHHHHHH!” : Rep. Nancy Pelosi

“The Constitution does not say that a person can yell ‘wolf’ in a crowded theater. If you are endangering people, you don’t have a constitutional right to do that.”

—-Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi in an interview with KRON4’s Pam Moore, as the party leader explained why she believed that alt-right advocates should not have the benefits of freedom of speech and assembly.


  • This is a classic. Biff and his various incarnations in the “Back to the Future” trilogy must be kicking themselves.  They said,

 “Eight o’clock Monday, runt. If you ain’t here, I’ll hunt you and shoot you down like a duck.”
(“Mad Dog” Tannen’s Gang Member : “It’s “dog”, Buford. Shoot him down like a dog.“)


“Why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here?


“I’m not one to look a gift horse in the butt.”


“It’s time to race the music.”

and  Biff’s great-great-grandson Ziff Tannen said,

 “I’m going to make like a banana and skedaddle!”

And more. But “crying wolf in a crowded theater” is funnier—and dumber— than any of them. Continue reading

The Fifth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2013

Ethics Story 2013

I decided to start with the Best in Ethics this year, in contrast to other years, on the theory that it would get things off to a positive start in 2014. What it did, instead, was make me realize how negative Ethics Alarms was in 2013. Either there wasn’t much positive going on in ethics, or I wasn’t seeing it. My thanks to those of you who send me nominations for Ethics Heroes (and other stories); even when I don’t write about them, they are valuable. Please keep them coming. In the meantime, I pledge to try to keep the jaundice out of my eye in 2014. Things just can’t be as dire as they seemed last year.

Could they?

Here are the 2013 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The U.S. Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, paving the way for the universal legalization of gay marriage. Yes, it was a legal decision, but it was also based, as all such culturally important decisions are, on a societal recognition that what was once thought to be wrong and immoral was, in fact, not. This is ethics, an ongoing process of enlightenment and wisdom about what is right and wrong, and the U.S. Supreme Court did its part. Continue reading

Anti-Terror Surveillance Flip-Flops, Fools, Converts and Heroes

Flag peek

There has been much ink and pixels spilled about the supposed hypocrisy of Republicans and Democrats in their disparate reactions to the revaluation of far more extensive phone and internet data-gathering by the government than those of us not wearing tin-foil on out heads ever suspected. For example, a recent Pew survey shows this...

Pew survey

Naturally, Republicans and Democrats are calling each other hypocrites, suggesting dishonesty and lack of integrity. There are surely some hypocrites in there, but for the most part, the flip-flopping is neither dishonest nor theoretically unreasonable. Even if we assume that the level of NSA intrusion under Bush and Obama administrations are the same (and to be fair, it appears that the current gathering of all domestic phone records goes well beyond what we understood to be the limited surveillance permitted under the Patriot Act), they are materially different in one key aspect, from the perspective of partisan citizens.

Think about it this way: Let’s say on successive days you discover your best friend and your business rival, both of whom visited your home for various reasons, looking through bills and financial papers on your desk. They did the same thing, but while you might be peeved at your friend, if he had a credible explanation like “I think I can save you some taxes,” you would not view his actions as sinister, and might even be grateful for it. When you found your rival looking over the same private papers, however, you would be furious, suspicious, and justly so. The difference is a matter of trust. You trust your friend, his motives and loyalty; you don’t trust your rival. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: CNN’s Jake Tapper

“Even if you side with this president over those of us in the media who challenge him in his administration, it is important to remember the precedent these actions set going forward, perhaps when it’s not your guy in the White House.”

Jake Tapper, former ABC reporter turned CNN headliner, warning knee-jerk Obama defenders that there are rather significant risks in supporting leaders and their governments when they obstruct basic rights, just because you like their policies and don’t like the citizens who are being mistreated.

Martin Niemöller said it better, but some people need the reminder...

Martin Niemöller said it better, but some people need the reminder…

I’m not especially enamored of  Tapper’s quote, and the fact that such a statement is noteworthy coming from a major news media figure is depressing. Tapper introduced his warning by admitting that he was biased himself, “but.”  I suppose admitting a presumably leftward bias is worthy of praise for transparency’s sake—and Tapper has copped to being biased before—yet it also reminds us how truly untrustworthy our supposed bulwark against tyranny (that is, the news media)  is, siding as it does with the party currently in charge with such consistency.

His is also not truly an ethical statement, as it relies on a non-ethical argument, the equivalent of “Hey, we probably shouldn’t kill that guy, because then his gang will be coming after us.” There’s no ethics at all in Tapper’s argument, except that the conduct he’s attempting to encourage, responsible citizenship and the refusal to tolerate the abuse of power, is more ethical than the alternative, which is what we’ve been seeing for almost five years. The Golden Rule, in other words, in not “Do unto others because if you don’t it’s very possible that the soon the others may be doing the same thing to you.” Continue reading

The FIRE To The Rescue Again: But How Can This Keep Happening In U.S. Schools?

MontclaireThe FIRE, admirable campus First Amendment watchdog and champion that it is, is once again charging to the rescue of an innocent student being subjected to censorship, oppression and mind-control by a Stalinist state university…in new Jersey. Its victory is pre-ordained, as you will shortly see. The troubling questions are: Why are there schools in a democracy that act like Montclair State, presuming to tell students how to speak to each others and what views they can communicate in public? How do administrators that make and enforce such manifestly unethical and unconstitutional rules get hired in higher education—indeed, how are they bred at all? Finally, what vile and totalitarian principles does a school run by such dictators teach its students?

The facts of the case warrant little debate. Montclair State, in northeastern New Jersey, suspended Joseph Aziz, a 26-year-old graduate student, for comparing another student’s legs to “a pair of bleached hams” in a YouTube comment and defying a resulting ban on his internet speech. After his YouTube comments came to the attention of the school, Montclair State Coordinator of Student Conduct Jerry S. Collins  barred Aziz from all physical, verbal, and electronic contact with the student he had referred to in his YouTube comments. He also issued a virtual gag order, forbidding Aziz from posting on “any social media regarding” the student in question. Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official of the Month: Indiana State Senator Vaneta Becker

"All right, Jimi, you're busted. That will be $25!"

Indiana State Senator Vaneta Becker wants to establish a law that would impose a fine of $25 on any performer or citizen who significantly alters the lyrics or melody of The Star-Spangled Banner.  “I don’t think the National Anthem is something we ought to be joking around with,” she has said. “Singing our national anthem is a sign of gratitude to those who have served our country.”

One may notice a theme among those chosen here as incompetent elected officials: the complete unfamiliarity with core American values and ideals, often displayed in a misguided effort to protect those values. This is known as “ignorance,” or perhaps, in extreme cases, “utter stupidity.”  My presumption is that being ignorant or stupid renders an official incompetent to discharge the duties of lawmaking. Am I expecting too much? Continue reading

The Loudon County Courthouse Christmas Display Fiasco: Anatomy of an Ethics Train Wreck

Believe it or not, this is a train wreck.

In Loudon County, Virginia, the county board didn’t want to let Christmas displays on the courthouse lawn go down without a fight. Once upon a time a community could put up Santa and his sleigh without a militant anti-religion or non-Christian group threatening law suits, but no longer, especially in a community so close to Attorney Central, Washington, D.C.  Other communities have gotten away with pan-religious displays—a pretty silly solution, I think, since Christmas is a Christian and secular holiday but has exactly nothing to do with Islam, Buddhism or the others—but again, once atheists organized and pressed the issue that the state supporting all religion was tantamount to promoting a religion, “inclusive” displays must be open to groups actively hostile to the religious displayers. Can we guess what will happen in such an environment? Yes? Well, the Loudon County board couldn’t.

A sensible board-appointed citizen group, the Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee, recommended in December 2009 that the county ban courthouse displays. The board rejected the committee’s request.  In July 2010,  the committee again requested a ban be put in place on courthouse lawn displays. The board, in its infinite wisdom, decided that anyone could put up displays on the lawn with ten spots open on a first-come, first-serve basis, pending county approval.

Yes, this was bound to turn out well, pull the community together, and promote the good feelings of the holiday season! Thus we reached Stage One in our ethics train wreck: official incompetence. The board’s actions lit the fuse of a cultural bomb, and only a Christmas miracle could have kept it from detonating.

So the displays were duly allotted thusly:

You can see two nativity scenes, the predictable Flying Spaghetti Monster display ridiculing all religion, the atheist display, and other benign additions. Hmmmm...but what, pray tell, is the “Santa cross?” Oh, just this… Continue reading

Abuse of Government Power+ School Administrator Cowardice = Student Persecution

Enemy of the State.

Emma Sullivan, an 18-year-old high school senior at Fairway, Kansas’s Shawnee Mission East High School,  went with her class on a field trip to the Capitol and heard Gov. Sam Brownback speak. She tweeted her reactions to her Twitter followers, writing, “just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot”.

The part about making mean comments to the Governor was a lie, but on a scale of believability and damage done, not an especially momentous one. It was adults who turned this unremarkable student tweet into an ethics train wreck in three neat, unforgivable steps.

1. First, some over-zealous hack on the Brownback’s staff saw the tweet and complained to an administrator in the school district. This is a First Degree Ethics Foul. Nothing in Sullivan’s tweet brings it within his, the governor’s or the government’s legitimate concerns. For the staffer to complain was petty, vindictive and mean-spirited. Every second he spent on his vendetta was a waste of taxpayer dollars. Worst of all, he was bringing the power of the government to bear on a teenager for doing nothing more than expressing her opinion, which is that Governor Brownback sucks. I’m sure there have been foreign dictators who would punish a teen for doing no more than telling friends that she doesn’t like him, but I would have thought that someone who works in one of the United States governments would instinctively know that this kind of bullying mind-control isn’t allowed here. I was wrong. Brownback does suck, at least at picking staff. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: University of Wisconsin-Stout Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen

"Oh, HELP me, University administrators! A poster says that a fictional space cowboy from a TV series that isn't on anymore might kill me, or someone, under certain conditions!"

“UW-Stout administrators believe strongly in the right of all students, faculty and staff to express themselves freely about issues on campus and off.  This freedom is fundamental on a public university campus. However, we also have the responsibility to promote a campus environment that is free from threats of any kind—both direct and implied. It was our belief, after consultation with UW System legal counsel, that the posters in question constituted an implied threat of violence.  That is why they were removed. This was not an act of censorship.  This was an act of sensitivity to and care for our shared community, and was intended to maintain a campus climate in which everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure.”


, one featuring a humorous quote from a cult TV science fiction series, the other a satiric poster opposing fascism, as in cases where speech-censoring university administrators remove harmless pop culture references they don’t understand. Continue reading