Ethics Observations On The Megyn Kelly “Blackface” Fiasco

You know, one could make a strong argument that the misadventures of a richly compensated  morning TV host is not worth thinking about, arguing about, or even paying attention to. The problem is that in trivial events vital enlightenment often reside. We ignore the Megyn Kelly mess at great risk. There are many ethics lessons there.

The Megyn Kelly fiasco started long before her self-immolation over the now-radioactive topic of Halloween costumes, but let’s begin there. In case you missed it (that is, you have a life), Kelly was using her special segment of the “Today Show” to moderate a round-table discussion of how, as she put it,  “the costume police are cracking down” on Halloween costumes. The former Fox News host and Donald Trump irritant decided to emulate the President and blunder into a political correctness minefield.

“What is racist?” she mused. “You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was O.K., as long as you were dressing up as a character.” Then she talked about the travails of Luann de Lesseps, a member of the cast of the Bravo reality show “The Real Housewives of New York,” who was criticized for dressing up as Diana Ross, complete with skin-tone.  Megyn found the criticism  passing strange.

By the end of the week, Kelly had issued a tearful on-air apology and others on social media. She had been condemned by “Today” colleagues and NBC News chairman Andrew Lack, went even further at a midday staff meeting, saying,“There is no other way to put this, but I condemn those remarks.There is no place on our air or in this workplace for them.”

Then NBC announced that “Megyn Kelly Today” was cancelled, and so was Kelly’s 19 million dollar a year employment, subject to the result of negotiations between her lawyers and NBC’s.

Observations: Continue reading

Bill Clinton’s “Today Show” Rationalization Orgy: Res Ipsa Loquitur*

WordPress doesn’t let me embed any videos but those on YouTube, so you will have to click on the link to see Bill Clinton, being grilled on “The Today Show,” access a basket of rationalizations to minimize his wrongdoing in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Co-author James Patterson (Bill is the latest neophyte novelist Patterson is teaming with for one of his cookie-cutter thrillers) even jumps in to add one.

I think I’ll leave it at that, and challenge Ethics Alarms Readers to identify the rationalizations Bill grasps at here. NBC’s Craig Morton should be commended for asking the tough questions, and not lobbing the softballs Bill expected.

The segment is here.

The Rationalization List is here.

*“The thing speaks for itself.”

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/30/2017: Bad Tweets, Bad Rep., Bad Rap, Bad NBC…

Bad night, but…

Good Morning!

1 Straight to the top of the charts…When we put together the definitive list of President Trump’s Top Ten (Top 100? Top 1000?) stupid, undignified and self-wounding tweets, yesterday’s sequence of unsubstantiated videos–from a radical right wing British group— of alleged violence by Muslims has to be on the list. I could counter that the eruption of indignation by the vast majority of people who can comprehend what’s wrong with this is a bit annoying from the progressive side—the official Obama Administration position that Islam is a lovely religion of rainbows and unicorns and that Muhammad doesn’t instruct his followers from the grave that infidels are scum and deserve to die is far more dangerous than Trump’s hate-tweets—but that would obscure the key point. Trump’s retweeting is ugly, unnecessary, undignified, looks bigoted, and plays into the hands of the worst of his enemies, who express themselves like this.

Now we have to listen to that dishonest and contrived 25th Amendment garbage again, which never quite stopped anyway. Once again, the President has blown more wind into the sails of anti-democratic hypocrites like Ezra Klein, who argues for a Constitution and Separation of Powers-wrecking version of impeachment to get rid of Trump. No, Trump hasn’t gone crazy: he’s exactly the man we elected, and exactly as able to do his job as he ever was. Tweeting irresponsibly is not a high crime and misdemeanor. Being Donald Trump is not a high crime and misdemeanor.

But the President is playing with fire by encouraging the large political movement that would criminalize not agreeing with their world view. That’s as indefensible as it is idiotic.

2. This much is clear. It is now clear that NBC only fired Matt Lauer because an explosive Variety exposé was on the way, and it was a close call at that. It is pretty clear that the mystery of why NBC rejected journalist Ronan Farrow’s investigative reporting on Harvey Weinstein has been solved: NBC had its own lurking sexual misconduct cover-up to worry about. It is, or should be clear from Variety’s reporting that the astounding brazenness of Lauer’s conduct had to be common knowledge among Lauer’s colleagues and NBC executives, and that they unethically applied The King’s Pass, deliberately allowing Lauer to abuse and terrorize female employees, some of whom played along to get along. TMZ uncovered an old interview in which Katie Couric happily revealed that one consequence of working with Matt was that she got her butt pinched a lot. Nobody paid attention, in part because our pathetic news media buried it. Continue reading

Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay

I have been following Megyn Kelly’s ongoing career crash with interest and reflection. She spurned a more lucrative contract from Fox News to jump to NBC, where she was made the star of a “Today Show” shake-up. Critics have been brutal; ratings have plunged. Reportedly celebrities refuse to be booked for interviews with her–they are all progressives, you see, and fear they will get cooties from Megyn, or something.  Conservatives are mocking her as a turncoat getting her just desserts, and the Left already hated her. She has no constituency now; literally none.

You never know; Megyn might rebound. Nevertheless, she is a cautionary tale with ethics implications. Kelly has an unusual set of skills and talents.  She is actress/model beautiful in face and physique; she is very intelligent; she has a great broadcast voice. She is a lawyer as well as a journalist, articulate, and has guts. There are many paths she could take that would make use of her abilities and achieve fame, wealth, popularity or power.

This is fortunate fortunate, but it also is a trap. Choices involve the risk of error, failure, lost opportunities and disappointment. Those who have a limited number of skills also have a limited number of choices, or none at all. There is some serenity in this. My entire professional life has been spent jumping back and forth, in and out among the many areas that interest and engage me, and in which I have had some measurable talent and success. In the end, and I am far closer to the end than the beginning, mine will be substantially a life of underachievement and waste, in great part because I never made a committed choice, or made the wrong ones.

My heroes have always been those remarkable, versatile people who somehow contrived to make major contributions to culture, society and civilization in multiple fields. Theodore Roosevelt, a historian, naturalist, and political leader. Clarence Darrow, a lawyer, writer, and philosopher. Hedy Lamarr, the sexy actress and pin-up who developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, a bomb-sight,and whose inventions are now incorporated into modern Wi-Fi, CDMA, and Bluetooth technology. Paul Winchell, the popular ventriloquist, kids show host, and voice actor (Tigger!) who also invented medical equipment. Marlene Dietrich, who acted, sang, spied, and defied Hitler.  John Glenn, a fighter pilot, astronaut, and U.S. Senator.  Richard Gil, a tenured Harvard Professor of Economics, and a principal bass with the Metropolitan Opera Company. Michael Crichton, a  novelist, film director and MD, with the gift of philological insights. Ronald Reagan, a movie star and a President of the United States. But their path is perilous. Continue reading

Post-Debate Ethics, Part I (of 4): The New York Times And The Biased Media’s Disrespect For Mitt Romney

"Boy, what a jerk, warning the public against a power-mad, narcissist blow-hard before they make him President...."

“Boy, what a jerk, warning the public against a power-mad, narcissist blow-hard before they make him President….”

Since the last GOP debate, several ethics issues have emerged, for those inclined to see them:

1. The New York Times and the Media’s Anti-Romney Bias

The biased news media helped sink Mitt Romney’s chances four years ago, and now, perhaps by habit, it can’t stop itself from bashing him even for doing something indisputably good. Though Mitt did a thoroughly statesmanlike, honest, accurate and unprecedented job eviscerating any argument for supporting Donald Trump, his own party’s front-runner for the nomination, most of the media couldn’t bring themselves to give him credit. Democratic operative Matt Lauer, on the “Today Show,” asked Romney if his direct attack was “betrayal,” as Trump portrayed it. (Hint, Matt: any time Trump stakes out an ethics position, you can assume it’s either self-serving or stupid.). The theory behind Matt’s Mistake is that Romney asked and received Trump’s endorsement in 2008, so he owed Trump the same in 2016. Let me explain to you Matt, the concepts of patriotism and statesmanship, as well as truth-telling, and how loyalty works.

You see, Matt, Mitt Romney’s loyalties in this matter, in order of priority, are individual, party, and country. If returning Trump’s courtesy had no negative impact on the Republican Party or the future of our nation, then yes, he would be ethically obligated to return Trump’s courtesy. That is not the situation, however, as I’m sure you know, but want to pretend otherwise in order to try to blunt Romney’s message and ensure that the  Democratic nominee, either the unqualified Bernie Sanders or the corrupt Hillary Clinton, has to face the weakest opponent possible, now that Ben Carson has finally withdrawn.

When Romney sought and got Trump’s endorsement, Trump didn’t predicate it on a future endorsement when Donald ran, because nobody in their right mind, even Trump, would have seriously suggested that Trump would or could mount as credible campaign. Mitt was seeking the endorsement of a businessman, a reality TV figure with high visibility, celebrity and a potential donor, and that’s all he was doing. That doesn’t obligate Romney to return the favor. Lauer apparently thinks Mitt is in “The Godfather” : accept the favor from the Don(ald), and you must do whatever you are asked at a later date, even if it means shooting someone. No, you are not obligated to do anything. What you asked before was a favor; what is being asked of you now is a wrong.

For nominating Trump will wreck the Republican party. It will dissolve its values, embarrass its members, soil its reputation and legacy, and when Trump turns out to be the new Silvio Berlusconi, or a modern day Huey Long, or an American Hitler, or, as I suspect, being an optimist, just a more destructive version of Evan Meacham, the car salesman turned Arizona Governor who became the first U.S. governor to simultaneously face removal from office through impeachment, a scheduled recall election, and a felony indictment, or, in the best case scenario, a national version of Jesse Ventura. Under any of these scenarios, however, the GOP will be crippled, accountable and ultimately doomed, and that’s just what journalists like Lauer want in their heart of hearts. What they don’t seem to realize is that there is a real risk that Trump could win.

Romney owes his first loyalty in this matter to his party, and his highest to his fellow citizens. His speech was not a betrayal of either of these, but an ethical act to its core.

Even worse than Lauer was the New York Times editors, who wrote yet another embarrassing editorial, one of many they have authored in the past 12 months or so as the paper has almost completely shed its mantle as the exemplar of U.S. journalism. Rather than an objective and fair editorial praising Romney’s courageous and well-aimed broadside at a juggernaut, the Times used the opportunity to play partisan politics while expanding and re-using old cheap shots at Romney: Continue reading

When A Reality Show And A Self-Promoting Billionaire Are More Trustworthy Than TIME, American Journalism Is Seriously Ill

astrology

This week’s print TIME and the magazine’s website has a story titled “Astrologer Susan Miller On Why You Should Pay Attention to the Lunar Eclipse.” The TIME writer, Laura Stampler,  promotes the astrologer as if she was Nate Silver,  a reliable, respectable expert in a legitimate field  who has something to teach us. Susan Miller is not a reliable, respectable expert. She is an astrologer, meaning that she is as legitimate as a palm reader, a douser, or the Amazing Kreskin. She is a fraud, in a fraudulent field, however ancient or popular. There is no scholarly controversy about this. There is more evidence of the existence of Bigfoot, Nessie, ghosts and flying saucers than there is that astrology is more than pseudo-scientific claptrap. Continue reading

Psychic Found Guilty Of Fraud: Did She Know This Would Happen?

gypsy-fortune-teller2Now that the required joke is out of the way, I can more soberly state that the New York conviction of psychic Sylvia Mitchell for larceny and fraud opens up a welter of ethical, legal and religious issues. Law prof-blogger Ann Althouse is troubled by the result, writing,

“In my book, this is entertainment and unconventional psychological therapy. Let the buyer beware. Who’s dumb enough to actually believe this? Should the government endeavor to protect everyone who succumbs to the temptation to blow a few bucks on a fortune teller?”

Clearly not, and that’s where courts and states generally land in this matter, as in the case I wrote on three years ago, Nefredo v. Montgomery County. There the courts ruled (in Maryland) that it was an infringement of free speech for Maryland to ban what is, for most, just an exercise in supernatural entertainment. But the New York case involved a little bit more than that: Mitchell apparently bilked some clients out of significant amounts, getting $27,000 from one in an “exercise in letting go of money,”  $18,000 from another to put in a jar as a way to relieve herself of “negative energy,” and thousands from other clients to purchase “supplies” for various rituals—what does the eye of a newt go for these days?

Admittedly this seems to cross the line from harmless, if stupid, entertainment into preying on the stupid and gullible, but that doesn’t convince Althouse that the conviction, or the prosecution is a legitimate use of government power. She reminds us about the Supreme Court case of U.S. v. Ballard, in which the Court upheld the conviction of a faith healer for fraud. The SCOTUS majority, headed by William O. Douglas, held that if the faith healer didn’t believe in her claimed powers, then she was a fraud, and thus could be prosecuted under the Constitution if she used a claim of false powers to take money from her clients. In a sharp and thought-provoking dissent, Justice Robert Jackson wrote in part… Continue reading