Ethics Warm-Up, Memorial Day, 5/28/18: Things That Don’t Mix

1. Let’s start with some non-traditional casting hypocrisy.

  • Example A: In “The Gentleman Caller,” an Off-Broadway drama by Phillip Dawkins, an imagined romantic interlude between famously gay Fifties playwrights Tennessee Williams and William Inge has been cast with a Hispanic, and Hispanic-looking, actor as the very un-Hispanic Williams, and an Asian-American actor as the quite Caucasian Inge. This is self-indulgent grandstanding by the director that doesn’t serve the play—that’s the director’s duty, to serve the play—and the playwright was a fool to allow it. If the drama was just about two gay playwrights, it wouldn’t matter who was cast to portray them, or what the actors looked like. The identity of the writers is important to this  drama, however. You don’t cast a short, bald man as Abraham Lincoln, and you don’t cast a fat, flat-chested woman as Marilyn Monroe unless you are actively trying to sabotage the play. The New York Times critic didn’t have the integrity to point out the reverse-whitewashing casting-–mustn’t criticize fellow social justice warriors, you know!—but the stunt is both incompetent and discriminatory.

If a director cast an Irish-American and an Italian-American as James Baldwin and Richard Wright in a similar play, he would be excoriated, and rightly so.

  • Example B. Jim Parsons, best known as aging nerd Sheldon in “Big Bang Theory” and now starring on Broadway in the ensemble revival of “The Boys in the Band,” told the New York Times in an interview that the producer insisted that everyone in the cast be gay. Nice. Gay actors have been insisting forever that their sexuality was no bar to their playing straight characters—this is true, if they are any good as actors—but apparently reverse discrimination is fine.  It’s not fine. It’s bigotry.

When my late, lamented theater company revived that play almost 20 years ago, the director, John Moran, himself gay, insisted that the sexual orientation of the actors who auditioned would play no part in his casting decisions, and it did not. I think most of the all-male cast was not gay, but all of them were (and are) excellent.

One of my favorite Clarence Darrow quotes is, “I’m for the underdog. He needs friends a damn sight more than the other fellow. The best fun in life is to fight for the underdog…If the underdog got on top he would probably be just as rotten as the upper dog, but in the meantime I am for him.”

Things that don’t mix: Anti-discrimination rhetoric and discrimination

2. Another “good illegal immigrant” story. Guatemalan woman Gomez Gonzalez was shot to death in a border incident as she tried to enter the U.S. illegally. The episode is under investigation, and the facts are murky: the border patrol claims that she was in a crowd of people trying to cross the border illegally that became threatening and violent.  Here is how CNN begins its account of the controversy:

“Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez traveled 1,500 miles to the United States, hoping to find a job and a better future. Shortly after she set foot in Texas, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed her.”

No bias there! It is absolutely irrelevant to the legal and ethical issues here why Gonzalez was entering the country illegally. She did not deserve to be shot under any circumstances, and she was no more justified in violating our immigration laws whether her objective was to find a “better future” or to open a meth lab. The news media insists on sentimentalizing what is a black and white issue of sovereignty, law-breaking and enforcement, with the intent of confusing the public and demonizing opponents of illegal immigration.

Things that don’t mix: Lawbreaking and status as a virtuous martyr

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/4/17: The New Truthers

I have an early morning D.C. Bar program to do, and my goal of getting up at six after watching the second season of “Stranger Things” on Netflix (and waiting for someone to accuse Eleven  of sexual assault …this is how Netflix’s luck is running these days) until 1:30 am was missed spectacularly, to this is a quick ethics thought rather than a true warm-up.

The thought?

The “Russiagate” is this President’s “Birther” conspiracy, his “Truther” smear, and the 2016-17 model of “Bush stole the election.”

I realized this while reading one of our esteemed commenters who obviously believes Donald Trump made some nefarious deal with the Russians to sabotage Hillary. He really believes this. So does my sister, who I know a lot better, and has never before been prone to seeing Bigfoot under her bed or Nessie in her toilet.

This idiot also believes:

“We just have to, like the slogan says, stay woke; just stay woke, be careful, because I can see the wheels turning now…we’re marching toward impeachment, there’s no question about it. If that happens, are we prepared? Because it’s going to happen, So we have to make sure, Rev. Sharpton, that we are prepared when this happens so we don’t just wake up one day blindsided. I think it’s just going to get so tight and it’s going to close in and then everybody is going to be indicted around this president, and then he is going to realize he is probably next on the list. And I think he is going to come up with an excuse like ‘somebody is trying to kill Barron, and so I’m going to resign.’”

Who actually said this in public, so it could be recorded fr posterity? Why, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), that’s who, the objective member of the Congressional Black Caucus who the news media relied on to give an objective assessment of the tone of President Trump’s bereavement call to the widow of a serviceman killed by ISIS in Niger. Her characterization of Trump’s remarks as “insulting” and, by extension, racist, were sufficient to launch more than a week of attacks on the President’s competence and compassion.

I don’t doubt the good Congresswoman’s sincerity; I’m sure she believes this fantasy. I’m sure she believes those hats she wears aren’t ridiculous too. Nonetheless, there is no justification for her certitude, and only hate, confirmation bias and a refusal to abide by basic rules of logic cause her to believe what is now the fourth in a 17 year line of unethical partisans manufacturing a narrative to delegitimize an elected President.

Once again I am sorry that the Ethics Scoreboard is offline (I have to get around to fixing that), because in several posts there during the Bush administration I predicted where the Democratic strategy of claiming that Gore actually won Florida would lead: massive distrust, polarization, and a tit-for-tat payback cycle that would do massive harm to U.S. society. Many Democrats still claim that the 2000 election was stolen. Then the more hyper-partisan and conspiracy theory-prone of them moved on to Truther theories that Bush and Cheney somehow and for some reason engineered the 9-11 attacks.

I’ve talked to these people. I’ve read their websites. They are mad as hatters, but it all begins with the fact that they don’t trust Bush, Cheney and the Republicans because they stole the election. Actually, these crackpots have more substance to base their conviction on than the “Russiagate” theory contains. When Obama was elected, the same thing occurred: conservatives (and racists) could not accept that an inexperienced, far left ideologue like Barack Obama, with ties to America-haters like Bill Ayers and Reverent Wright, could be President. So they came up with, and many somehow believed— the Birther foolishness, easily the most absurd of the anti-President disinformation slanders yet. Continue reading

Protest Slogan Ethics, Lies As Enlightenment, And “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”

Witness 128...

Witness 128…

Today’s Washington Post Fact Checker column finally weighs in on whether of not “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” is a lie.  I won’t keep you in suspense: Of course it is.

As I had no ideological reason to pretend that it was otherwise, I identified the phrase as such last November. Since then, it has been wielded by athletes, journalists, members of Congress, protesters, talking heads, professional athletes, and pop stars, while contributing to getting some police officers shot. There was no need for this verdict to take so long. “Better late than never,” you say? How about better responsibly on time, as in when the facts were available to anyone with the integrity to reject a useful catch-phrase that was without basis in fact?

For some reason this is not the regular Post Fact Checker. Maybe Glenn Kessler, a partisan who makes a reasonable  effort to overcome his biases, couldn’t get around them this time, or is sick or dead or something. This Fact Checker is Michelle Ye Hee Lee, and she hardly leaves any room for doubt as she lays the blame for the whole scam squarely on the head of the late Mike Brown’s pal, Dorian Johnson, a.k.a. Witness 128. To be fair, “Hands Up” was not a lie for those who used it profligately after Johnson’s false accounts, for they sincerely, if recklessly and negligently, believed it to be true. This was Johnson’s lie, and though it was obviously self-serving, and though he was as unreliable a source as it was possible to be, confirmation bias allowed all of these good people—well, some of them are good—-beginning with Brown’s parents, to accept it as truth. It was easier for them to believe that white police officers gun down unarmed, gentle giants in the street for no reason other than their color than to question the word of Brown’s scuzzy, criminal friend. 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

Ethics Hero: Mark Cuban

This is really stupid, but imagine if there's  a watch on it! Useful AND stupid at the same time! What a concept!

This is really stupid, but imagine if there’s a watch on it! Useful AND stupid at the same time! What a concept!

Billionaire Mark Cuban is an entrepreneur, investor, and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, but in one of his more trivial enterprises (sometimes it appears that he is aspiring to be the next Donald Trump—now why would anyone do that?), he serves as a “shark” investor on the ABC TV reality show “Shark Tank.” There investors and nascent entrepreneurs compete to justify their brilliant new ideas to investors, and there Cuban recently distinguished himself as well as served as a much-needed cultural role model by calling out a fraudulent product while attempting to educate a stubbornly ignorant public.

One contestant, Ryan Naylor, hoped to succeed with what he called “a fashion accessory with health benefits.” Esso Watches, he said, restore the body’s “energy field” and improve sense of balance. You’ve seen the bracelets and necklaces that athletes wear and that work on the same theory, the theory being magic, or, if you will “negative ion technology.” When Naylor handed out samples of his product to the judges, Cuban refused to even take one, saying, “No, I’m allergic to scams. Seriously, this is not new. It’s been disproven. What you saw is the placebo effect. There’s athletes that wear it. It’s a joke. It’s a scam. It’s not real. I’m out. Okay. Thank you.”  Then, having been emboldened, the rest of the judges piled on: there was blood in the water, and you know how sharks are.

In one of the filmed asides to the camera, a discouraged and bitter Naylor blamed his failure on Cuban, who, he suggested, was so emphatic about the fact that his watch’s health claims were nonsense that nobody would challenge him.

Good. Continue reading

Now THIS Really IS a Frivolous Lawsuit…

I have written here before that the legal ethics breach of filing a frivolous lawsuit (prohibited by Rule 3.1 in most state Rules of Professional Conduct) is almost impossible to accomplish, because it requires a lawyer to lack a good faith belief that the suit can prevail. Since bizarre and attenuated theories sometime do prevail, a law suit really has show no merit at all to prompt sanctions. Like this one, for instance. I quote from the Illinois Institute of Continuing Education’s summary:

“The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, acting sua sponte, found that the appeal filed by three attorneys in Gallop v. Cheney…, claiming that White House and military officials conspired to cover up government involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks was frivolous in that it was “brought without the slightest chance of success>’…The court found that the appeal contained a “comprehensive compilation of every rumor, report, statement, and anecdote that may reveal an inconsistency or omission” in official reports….The court stated that the misconduct was compounded by the filing of a motion to recuse the entire panel that was “peppered with disdainful and unsubstantiated conclusions about the panel members’ emotional stability and competence to serve objectively.” The motion accused the judges of having “severe bias, based in active personal emotions arising from the 9/11 attack . . . leading to a categorical prejudgment totally rejecting [Gallop’s] Complaint, out of hand and with palpable animus.”

“The court found the three attorneys jointly and severally liable for $15,000 in fines and ordered them to pay double the government’s costs for both the frivolous appeal and the recusal motion. The court also ruled that whenever one of the attorneys appears before any tribunal in the Second Circuit within the next year, he must alert the court to the sanctions.

“The court declined to sanction the appellant herself because she relied heavily on her lawyers and did not labor under the same legal and ethical obligations to the court as her attorneys.” 

Yup!!!!

 

The case is Gallop v. Cheney, 642 F.3d 364, 370 (2d Cir. 2011)

 

Comment of the Day: “The Jaundiced Eye of Noam Chomsky”

You can find the original post here, and under it, my response to this comment by reader Trafford Gazsik. I’d say that Christopher Hitchens’ rebuttal to Chomsky, linked in the post, and my post about the ethics of bin Laden’s execution address the issues raised, make up your own mind.

“I like Chomsky and as a non-American, I can assure you that rather than filling my head with anti-American sentiments, his writings have reassured me that America remains a country populated with mostly decent people and that the world at large should not give up on the place just yet.

“I’m interested to know which part of Chomsky’s analysis you do not agree with:

– Do you disagree with the assertion that the Bin Laden ‘takedown’ was an assassination?

– Do you reject the assertion that the assassination took place within the territory of another sovereign state without the knowledge or permission of the government of that state, in clear contravention of international law and customs?

– Do you deny that Bin Laden had not been tried in any court, and was for legal purposes, an innocent civilian of Non-US nationality residing in Non-US territory? Continue reading

The Jaundiced Eye of Noam Chomsky

I’ve been enduring, teeth gritted, the America-hating propaganda of Noam Chomsky since my college days. He is a brilliant linguistics professor who has credibility as a social critic only because his world view—briefly put, that the United States is evil, and anything that indicates otherwise is the result of a conspiracy–has been so supportive of and nurturing to the extreme Left. It is hard to quantify how much harm he has done to this nation or how many potentially productive minds, foreign and domestic, that he has warped with his bile, but I am sure it is substantial on both counts.

We are fortunate, I guess, to have his assessment of Osama Bin Laden’s death, recently published and available for reading here. The piece is res ipsa loquitur that the man is so consumed with unreasoning hatred for his country that he cannot process the truth or think straight, but I know that plenty of Chomsky followers will be cheering. Thus I am grateful that Christopher Hitchens has authored an admirable take-down of the professor, here.

Guess Who Invited Donald Trump to the White House Correspondents Association Dinner?

OK, who's the wiseguy that brought the skunk to the picnic?

I missed it, but the Washington Post of April 28 revealed who it was that invited Donald Trump, fresh from a month of trying to make the President’s citizenship a campaign issue while denigrating Obama’s integrity, legitimacy, and honesty, to the annual light-hearted White House Correspondents Association dinner, where the President is always a featured “performer.” It was buried in the gossipy Style section, but there was the culprit. Who invited him?

The Washington Post invited him, that who.

Inviting Trump to that event is in approximately the same good taste as inviting blogger Pamela Geller to a Park51 (a.k.a. “the Ground Zero Mosque”) controversy, or allowing a group of “Truthers” to crash a testimonial to Dick Cheney.

What could the Post have been thinking? “He’s a fascinating figure to Washington right now!” the Post’s representative breathlessly explained on the 28th. We are to assume, then, that if the dinner was being held this week and Osama bin Laden hadn’t been dispatched (most respectfully, of course) to Davy Jones’ Locker, the Post might have invited Osama’s bullet-riddled corpse to slump at its table.

The Post was stirring the pot, is what it was doing, and that is not the media’s proper of ethical role. If the intention was to set up Trump, who had been called everything from a joke to a fool to a thug to a racist by various Post writers only days before, to be insulted to his face by host Seth Myers and the President, that is taking sides in the news rather than reporting it. If it the intent was to position volatile elements together in the hopes of sparking a story, that is unethical  journalism too.

The paper got both results that it presumably desired: Trump was a sitting duck at the dinner, and then he embarrassed himself by later complaining about the skewering he so richly deserved. It also, not for the first time, showed how rusty those old ethics alarms are at the offices of Washington, D.C.’s most prestigious newspaper.

[Thanks to sharp-eyed Post reader Robert Sher.]

Colbert King, Obama Abuse, Bias and Double Standards

Washington Post columnist Colbert King is an around-the-clock Ethics Hero, a relentless journalist investigator and critic of government corruption in Washington. D.C. He has an impeccable sense of right and wrong, as well as intolerance for public betrayal by elected officials. Yet this undeniably ethical, fair man, who eschews rationalizations at all costs while applying rigorous ethical analysis, cannot see a double standard when it is staring back at him from his own computer screen. His is a frightening tale of the power of bias.

In today’s Post, King expresses fury and pain over last week’s despicable birther drama, feelings that I share. He is revolted at the racist undertones of the “joke” photo e-mailed to friends by an Orange County Republican official as am I. He is horrified by the high percentage of Republicans polled who question Obama’s religion and national origin, as indeed he should be And without any sense of irony, King writes… Continue reading