From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Forgetting What We Know”

This post, one of the very first on Ethics Alarms, was written on Halloween, 2009. The blog had essentially no followers then. I judge it an excellent post (if I do say so myself) but just a handful of people read it. There were four commenters: King Kool, who traveled over from the old Ethics Scoreborad site and who, I am happy to say, still weighs in now and then; “Ethics Bob” Stone, who commented her last year,  and a friend I met through my connection with child star advocate Paul Petersen and with whom I am still in touch.

I found it extremely interesting to review–I wouldn’t change anything substantive in it, though I made three small edits—in light of what has happened since, and the theme of the post, which was how ethics evolves.

The post was written before the #MeToo upheaval. For all I know, Harvey Weinstein was forcing an aspiring starlet to have sex with him and Bill Cosby was drugging a young woman as I was posting it. It references several  rationalizations before the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list had been launched.

I wonder, though, how much out society has really learned since it was written.  Roman Polanski is still living free and directing films in France. Six women have accused him of sex-related crimes, the most recent last November.

Bill Cosby is in prison for one of his rapes: Harvey Weinstein is standing trial right now. Bill Clinton appears to have finally been reduced to persona non grata status among progressives and his former defenders, but his complicit and unapologetic enabler, Hillary Clinton, is still treated as a feminist icon, and even harbors dreams of running for President again. The Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Justin Fairfax , has been convincingly accused of rape by one woman and sexual harassment by another, yetremains in office, and the local and national media have stuffed the story in the proverbial memory hole.

Six years after this post, David Letterman retired from “The Late Show” hailed as comedy legend, with Barack Obama and three former Presidents appearing on his farewell show. He continues to be sought after for interviews and as an MC, as in the USO event pictured above.  In 2016, Letterman joined the climate change documentary show Years of Living Dangerously as one of the show’s celebrity correspondents. In 2017, Letterman gave the induction speech for Pearl Jam when the group was inducted into the  Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. That same year, 2017, Letterman was feted on Turner Movie Classics with Alec Baldwin—don’t get me started–as he  co-hosted “The Essentials.”  Letterman and Baldwin introduced seven films for the series.

Wisely, “Rosemary’s Baby” was not among them.

In 2018, Letterman began hosting a six-episode monthly series of hour-long programs on Netflix called My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman. His old friend, patron, and feminist hero Barack Obama was his first guest.

The second season premiered on May 31, 2019.

This  is “Forgetting What We Know.” Continue reading

Film Cutting Ethics: Three Episodes

 1.  The Canadian Broadcast Company edited Donald Trump’s cameo out of “Home Alone II” when the Christmas-themed family film was aired this week. That sets some kind of record for pettiness, don’t you think? The CBC lamely denies that they meant anything by it, responding to an inquiry,  “As is often the case with features adapted for television, Home Alone 2 was edited to allow for commercial time within the format.” Sure. I believe that! Don’t you believe that? Continue reading

TV Viewing Ethics Revelations

“Once Upon A Time..” also features a glorious pit bull.

I watch too much TV, and have all my life. Or maybe not too much. Sometimes I think everybody else watchs too little, reality shows excepted. Three shows I watched this week made me a little bit wiser…

“The Clinton Affair”

What this new, and generally excellent review of the Monica Lewinsky mess teaches us is that the Republicans were looking for ways to justify getting rid of Clinton, though less intensely and openly as today’s Democrats have hunted Donald Trump. The main differences: the news media, which was mostly supportive of  Clinton throughout, with a few notable exception, like Chris Matthews; and, as Jonathan Turley correctly stated in his testimony, Clinton unequivocally committed crimes, not just by lying in court in the Paula Jones hearing, but by lying under oath in a deposition in which he swore under oath, that he could not recall ever being “alone” with Monica.

Monica is prominent in the documentary (boy, she is beautiful) and is allowed to appeal to the sympathies of the viewer. Indeed, she was vilified excessively: clips of a younger but no less smug and revolting Bill Maher arguing, with many guests in agreement, that she, not Bill, was the real villain. This was nauseating then, and nauseating still. At the same time, there are limits to how much sympathy one can direct toward Lewinsky, who made a choice that was both unethical and stupid. How could she imagine such a situation would ever turn out anything but disastrously? She keeps telling us how humiliated she was, as if she didn’t deserve to be humiliated. Continue reading

Late Start Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/5/19: Dissing Tony Williams, and An Impeachment Headache

I don’t care: Whenever I get up on Saturday, it’s morning to me.

1. Those fake recordings...I have almost gotten used to the fake versions of famous songs an by iconic artists that show up as background in TV shows and movies, but I still resent them. They are lies, in essence, designed to fool less discriminating and knowledgeable audience members. Many people aren’t even aware of the practice, which is virtually routine, of long-standing, and considered standard practice. A friend of mine , a musician/ actor with a gift for mimicry, once explained the whole industry supported by these frauds, which exist because it is cheaper to record a faux version of a famous recording than to pay to use the real thing in a movie.

For some reason, however, the last 24 hours forced me to hear some unusually obnoxious examples. I just heard fake Roy Orbison, for instance. Nobody sounds like Roy Orbison. I heard fake versions of The Platters’ immortal and inimitable Tony Williams twice, and that really ticks me off. Williams, whose rendition of “Only You” may be my favorite male vocal ever, had a freak voice, and younger listeners who hear inferior versions of his “Twilight Time,” “The Great Pretender,” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” are tragically misled. It is an insult to Williams’ memory and legacy to represent through deceptive imitations that he wasn’t as great as he really was.

Anytime you hear a song playing behind a scene, listen closely. I just heard Fake Any Williams, a really bad imitation. Interestingly, I have noticed that there are some departed artists that nobody dares to imitate. Bing Crosby, for example, is always the real Bing (although I have heard several fake Frank Sinatras). They don’t try to fool anyone with fake Judy Garlands, either; I haven’t heard a fake Freddie Mercury, and hope I never do.  But it’s unethical to fake anyone without being transparent about it..

Especially Tony Williams.

2. Still looking for some partners…in the Ethics Alarms Impeachment Project. I have now heard from three volunteers, and I’m grateful…a few more would be ideal. Of course, when and if the website gets published, I expect it will be easier to interest active participants.

The idea is to provide an easily accessible way for “low-information voters” and others to follow this dangerous and depressing drama while having access to the essential materials, facts, context and legitimate analysis without being confused by spin, selective reporting, misinformation and partisan agendas. Here’s an example of information that is relevant to the Democratic impeachment efforts that has hardly been reported at all, because the news media overwhelmingly wants to see the President of The United States impeached, and has made that objective clear to most objective observers for more than three years.

Six months ago, the NY Daily News revealed that Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)received at least $65,000 in campaign donations “from the music industry and other intellectual property businesses that he oversees as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.” That was the end of the story; even the Daily News never followed up. Nadler also spent about $30K to host a Grammy Awards gala in LA in February during the Grammy Awards, giving him access to music  executives for more campaign donations.  Those execs, meanwhile, had their companies pony up $5,000 a ticket to attend the party. This is influence peddling, of course. It’s legal, because Congress won’t criminalize sleazy politics.  TechDirt called it soft corruption:

“These are the kinds of practices that are most likely legal, and possibly even common among the political class, but which absolutely stink of corruption to the average American. And that’s a huge problem, not just because of the general ethical questions raised by such soft corruption, but because it creates a cynical American public that does not trust politicians to adequately represent their interests.”

Nadler’s conduct is relevant to the impeachment efforts because it reveals the hypocrisy behind Democratic efforts to impeach President Trump for political practices that are neither illegal nor unusual while making pious pronouncements that belie their own behavior. The purely political assault on the 2016 Presidential election results is obscured by the media’s efforts to hide the true character and motives of the President’s foes, including the journalists and editors themselves.

3. Here’s another example...My New York Times this morning is dominated by yellow-highlighted text messages between the Ukraine’s ambassador with U.S. Ambassador Volker, and a two-column width headline, “Another Official Considers Filing a Report On Ukraine.” When have you ever seen front page news about an anonymous figure “considering” something? That’s not fact, that’s not news, it is entirely prejudicial spin intended to create distrust and suspicion.

Meanwhile, the Times could have made legitimately made the front page stories about  last week’s  Congressional testimony from Ambassador Kurt Volker, who served for two years as the top U.S. diplomatic envoy to Ukraine, which directly contradicts the pro-impeachment narrative . He testified, under oath, that he was never aware of and never took part in any effort to push the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter, and stressed that the interactions between Giuliani and Ukrainian officials were facilitated not to find “dirt” on Biden, but to address concerns that the incoming Ukrainian government would not be able to get a handle on corruption within the country. The Federalist obtained the full transcript of the testimony, which certainly could have been revealed by the Times as well, if it wanted to.

More later-I have a terrible headache that has lingered for two days, and I can’t tell if it’s this crap or a brain tumor. Coffee, Tylenol, and the Twins beating the Yankees should help.

Saturday Ethics Catch-Up, 6/22/2019: “The Rifleman” Whiffs. A Paralegal Spills, The Commies Like Democrats, But Students Hate Pioneers

I am so, so far behind, both here on Ethics Alarms, and elsewhere, like prepping for some upcoming seminars, writing new programs, and trying to get the business and home budgets to work. Last week involved the car dying, getting a new one, enduring a six hour, 17 inning loss by the Red Sox, some lingering new computer glitches, and a major video shoot for which I had to write and refine the script, acquire the props and costumes, and rehearse the actors, then assist the team of seven who handled the shoot itself, all while being sick, and progressively exhausted. (This project would not have all happened without the brilliant and tireless work of my business partner and love of my life, Grace.)

Ethics Alarms was lower on the priority list this week than I would have liked it to have been. I’m sorry.

1. “The Rifleman” Ethics: As I have mentioned here before, “The Rifleman,” the 30 minute TV Western drama, starring Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain that ran from 1959-1962, was all about ethics, with almost every episode teaching an ethics lesson to the Rifleman’s son Mark, played by the charming juvenile actor Johnny Crawford.  I just watched an episode from the show’s final season that I hadn’t seen before. Guest-starring Mark Goddard (best known as the hot-headed young co-pilot in the original “Lost in Space” on ABC), the story involved a charismatic young huckster whom Mark admires but his father distrusts. This causes rare friction between father and son. Eventually, Lucas is proven right: the young man is a liar and a crook who was taking advantage of Mark’s guilelessness.

Mark shamefully but manfully tells his father, “I apologize for being wrong.”

NO! One shouldn’t apologize for being wrong. One  has an obligation to apologize for doing wrong, which includes making a bad decision because of laziness, carelessness, poor reasoning, inadequate analysis, or through some other failing. There is no shame or blame in being wrong in the kind of situation laid out in the episode, however.

Until the final moments, the audience couldn’t tell whether this would be one of the episodes where Chuck screws up, with the lesson to Mark being, “Jumping to conclusions and judging strangers harshly before you know anything about them is unfair, Mark. You were right. I’m proud of you.”

In fact, after Mark apologized, I expected his father to come back with exactly what I just wrote. This was moral luck: Mark had nothing to apologize for.

Boy, I’m never going to catch up if  I let issues jump in line like that… Continue reading

Morning Ethics Drill, 5/7/19: Unethical Headlines, A Missing Coffee Cup, And A Comment Of The Day

A morning that begins with a trip to the dentist and a referral to an oral surgeon can’t be good. Sorry.

And now I see that without warning or explanation, WordPress has removed its spellcheck feature. I’m sure those of you who are sick of my typos will appreciate THAT…

1. Stop making me defend Anderson Cooper, sort of! Here’s a cheap shot Fox News headline:

Anderson Cooper denies he’s ‘on the left,’ then rips Trump for tweeting about Kentucky Derby

Well, I’m also not on “the left” (Cooper is, of course), and I’m going to rip the President for tweeting his opinion on the Kentucky Derby, without even getting into the fact that his opinion was ill-informed and stupid.

As I wrote more than once during the Obama administration, the President is not the national arbiter of everything, and should keep his opinion to himself unless it directly and clearly involves the national interest. President Obama had a proclivity for injecting himself into controversies large and small, from the Trayvon Martin shooting to picking brackets for the NCAA college basketball tournament.  I wrote in this post,

This can no longer be called a rookie mistake, like the Prof. Gates arrest affair. President Obama has now had plenty of time to absorb the fact that the President does not have a blank check to insert himself into every local controversy and use his office to sway public opinion and the conduct of others regarding matters outside his responsibilities. Still, he continues to do it. It may seem trivial at first: the President gave an interview on TNT in which he pointedly suggested that NBA superstar LeBron James consider the Chicago Bulls as he faces free agency.  After weighing in on the most important things for James to seek from his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, if he was going to stay there, the President said, “You know, like I said, I don’t want to meddle. I will say this: (Derrick) Rose, Joakim Noah it’s a pretty good core. You know, you could see LeBron fitting in pretty well there.”

Now, I don’t care what Cooper thinks of Trump’s meddling in matters that don’t concern him if the CNN anchor didn’t have the integrity to knock Obama for doing the same thing, and repeatedly. Still, Anderson was on the right track—finally—to say, as he did,

“The president of the United States seems to have a lot of time on his hands And he can’t even stand some horses getting uninterrupted airtime. He’s got to be a part of every frickin news cycle. He can’t help himself!”

(I guess “frickin” is now considered professional lexicon at CNN. Stay classy, Anderson!)

Less defensible was this comment: Continue reading

Funny! But Inexcusably Incompetent : “Game Of Thrones” Ethics

Yes, somebody left a Starbucks cup on the set of last night’s much ballyhooed “Game of Thrones” episode on HBO.

It would be a good exercise to list all the rationalizations one could access to try to minimize such a massive botch, and avoid the likely consequences of making it. Without breaking an ethics sweat, I came up with…

  • 6. The Biblical Rationalizations, “Judge not, lest ye not be judged,” and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
  • 8. The Trivial Trap (“No harm no foul!”)
  • 19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”
  • 20. The “Just one mistake!” Fantasy
  • 22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”
  • 38. The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!”
  • 50. The Apathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares.”
  • 64A. Bluto’s Mistake or “I said I was sorry!”

As silly as that “one mistake” seems, a head, or many heads, should roll. This tweet from an annoyed fan nicely sums the situation up: “You’re telling me they had TWO YEARS to put together a decent show and they couldn’t even spot the goddamn Starbucks cup in Winterfell??!” Continue reading