March 2004 Ethics Dunces
The Department of Health and Human Services
It is disheartening, to say the least, to have an entire U.S. government department embrace the hoariest of all the lame excuses for ethical misconduct with such clueless gusto. HHS has produced a series of “video news releases” promoting the benefits of the new Medicare law. They include the voices of actors identifying themselves as television reporters. Senators Kennedy and Lautenberg have objected to the ads as deceptive, because both the use of the actors and the absence of any notice in the ads that they are government-produced could mislead news stations.
Right they are; but it is HHS response to their complaint that earns the dunce cap.
HHS spokesperson Tony Jewell defended the spots as “an extremely common public relations tool that people use to get information to television broadcasters.” Referring to the fake TV reporters, he said, “It is standard practice. We didn’t invent this.”
Is this the really level of ethical analysis we accept from our government? “Everybody does it?” “We didn’t invent this?” The questions are, “Is this practice right? Is it deceptive? Is it fair? Is it worthy of the Government of the United States?”
You know, Tony, outright lies are also “an extremely common public relations tool.” Does that make them official HHS policy? Upon reflection, think how different US history might have been if the slave-holding states had only had the wit to deflect criticism of their “peculiar institution” by pointing out that it was “standard practice” and that they “didn’t invent it.” That would have ended the argument right there, right Tony?
The Golden Rationalization, “Everybody does it,” is not a defense of unethical conduct. It is a formula for ethical collapse. That our government is willing to adopt it under any circumstances is nothing less than ominous.
The Detroit Free Press, a hockey boosting newspaper if there ever was one, expressed its outrage this way:
“If Todd Bertuzzi had pulled his vicious attack on Steve Moore on a city street, he would face a felony assault charge.” For those who of you never watch ESPN, the editorial was referring to the recent incident in which one of the NHL’s biggest stars, Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi, clobbered a Colorado rookie from behind and beat him until he was unconscious with a broken neck and other injuries.
Ethics scoreboard has news for the Free Press. If all of the hundreds of attacks, fights, beatings and assaults that occur in National Hockey League games over the course of a season occurred on city streets, 80% of NHL players would be in jail. Moore injuries, and Bertuzzi’s national vilification, are the product of one factor: the NHL’s cynical and unethical determination to promote its sport by encouraging on ice violence.
Attacks like Bertuzzi’s are not that rare in hockey. If Moore had escaped serious injury, nobody would be talking about it. NHL claims the Bertuzzi “crossed the line” are laughable. In professional hockey it is acceptable to knock out someone’s teeth or break his jaw, but if he breaks his neck, why, the attacker is a hoodlum. The fact is, even Tony Soprano isn’t that accurate with his mayhem.
For decades, the NHL has encouraged its players to interrupt games with violent fights. It began this policy because the sport was struggling on a professional level, and too many of hockey’s fans were in the arena seeking blood sport. The obvious and insulting lies of hockey officials to justify the violence were at least consistent: hockey was “intense” and “violent” and “emotions run high,” they said. “Players are going to fight,” officials intoned. Strange that fights are rare in college hockey. Pro football is violent, and fights are rare. Basketball is intense, with a lot of physical contact, and seldom is there an on-court fight.
The NHL has built its sport on fights. It has encouraged the players to attack each other, because its moguls feared that the game alone was not sufficient to fill the seats. So they added blood and blood feuds, and more real throttling than occurs in a championship pro wrestling match.
Hockey fans are equally at fault. They proved the NHL right, and not only tolerated the violence, they fueled it. They fuel it to this day.
Steve Moore is in a hospital, and the culprits are the lying businessmen who run the NHL, who have put their players in harms way, not to produce good hockey (quite the opposite, as the violence interrupts the games and wastes time) , but to indulge the lowest human impulses. Their accomplices are hockey fans, who if they cared about the game, its players, and the harm caused by gratuitous violence would turn in their season tickets and do something else, ideally something that wouldn’t appeal to the Emperor Nero.
Todd Bertuzzi? He’s just a victim, like Moore. It could have easily been him in the hospital, and might be, if he ever gets back on the ice.
That’s because unless the ethics dunces in the stands make them stop, the ethics dunces in the suits are going to keep encouraging violence, endangering players, but keeping those turnstiles spinning.
And now, some 21st Century culture from Budweiser’s recently signed pitch-man, the puckishly named rapper Ludicris:
The previous selection was from the cantata, “Mouthing Off.” Intrigued? You’ll enjoy, then, the chorus from (ahem) “Get the Fuck Back!”
Does Ethics Scoreboard really have to explain to Budweiser why it is wrong to hire a character like Ludicris as a product spokesperson? No! The company knows it’s wrong, but it doesn’t care. All it wants to do is to sell more beer to teenagers who admire this swill. The company doesn’t care, apparently, that it is rewarding crudeness, vulgarity, and brain-rotting filth, thus guaranteeing more of it. It doesn’t care that it is legitimizing an artist who deals in degrading imagery of women. Like the network executives who put Paris Hilton on TV shows, thus making the statement that success is the product of being rich, attractive, dumb, and promiscuous, Bud executives don’t care whether they similarly elevate language that would make Howard Stern blush to career asset status. They know it’s wrong, now. They just don’t care.
We can make Budweiser care, by showing them that we do not endorse its hierarchy of values. We can do this the one way that matters to a company like Budweiser (and if this marketing strategy is successful, there will be many): by not buying their beer until they get someone less objectionable than Ludicris to represent the brand. Someone like, say, anyone other than the Green River Killer. That shouldn’t be hard for us, or for them.
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