January 2006 "Easy Calls"

  • This is a brief Easy Call to express the Scoreboard’s astonishment at what Hill pundit Robert Novak calls the GOP’s “depression” at having the Abramoff lobbying corruption scandal laid at its doorstep. It should have been obvious to anyone years ago that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had near complete contempt for ethical standards in the business of legislation. Under GOP management, the House Ethics Committee became a non-functioning shell. Party regulars either ignored by or excused with threadbare rationalizations every one of DeLay’s dubious practices. Republicans openly celebrated DeLay as a champion and hero, thus making a man who personified an unethical “win at any cost” approach to governing the face of the party in Congress. Now they are supposedly stunned that a scandal led by a close DeLay associate has threatened their reputation and power! If true, this raises the possibility that Hill Republicans are worse than unethical. It suggests that they can’t even recognize unethical conduct when it’s right in front of their faces. [1/30/2006]

  • Anyone with the least amount of sensitivity to gay-bashing had to be wincing during the first installment of American Idol, as judge Simon Cowell rolled his eyes and spit insults at every effeminate or apparently gay contestant. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has attacked the show as “increasingly homophobic” and asked for a summit with the producers. Good for them. Cowell’s bluntly assaultive assessments of the singing talent or lack of it exhibited by the show’s auditioners are tolerable and arguably justified, but his ugly habit of gratuitously ridiculing their demeanor every time they set off his “Gay-dar” gives encouragement to all the similarly inclined bigots in the huge “American Idol” audience. This makes his conduct irresponsible as well as disrespectful and unfair, and the Scoreboard wishes GLAAD success in its efforts to either get him to stop, have the show’s editors leave his gay-bashing on the cutting room floor, or convince “American Idol’s” producers to replace Cowell with a judge who doesn’t include bigotry in his judging standards. [1/24/2006]

  • Lobbyist Jack Abramoff is almost a perfect villain for the Democrats to tie to the Republicans, with his close relationships with Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed and other GOP leaders, his mobster attire, and his cynical exploitation of the GOP’s near complete abdication of ethical oversight on Capitol Hill. "Almost," because like most individuals who care primarily about money, Abramoff was not above (or beneath?) doing some "lobbying" (in outside Washington, they tend to call Abramoff’s form of lobbying "bribery") with Democrats as well. But when Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote in her Sunday column that Abramoff " had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties," angry Democrats responded with so many obscene and abusive messages on a Post-operated blog that the paper had to shut it down. Howell’s statement was not technically accurate, as it was Abramoff’s clients’ money, not his own, that he channeled to both parties, but this wasn’t the cause of their ire. Most of the deluge of invective expressed outrage that Howell had undermined Democratic efforts to paint the Abramoff scandal as implicating Republican rather than bi-partisan corruption. The coordinated e-attack amounted to an endorsement of selective and partisan media reporting, which is, though distressingly common, unethical. Moreover, placing obscene and abusive messages on a public forum that explicitly forbids it (as the Post blog did) is the equivalent of vandalism, not to mention constituting uncivil, unfair and disrespectful conduct. Members of the Angry Left have every right to be as angry as they want, and to explain their anger with reasonable and civil discourse, however intense. But abusing writers who report the facts, posting obscene messages and disabling on-line discussion forums through verbal pollution can’t be justified by anger, self-righteousness or anything else. [1/23/2006]

  • This one is an Easy Call for the Ethics Scoreboard, but apparently not for the Brooklyn, Ohio school superintendent. While parents across the country struggle to ensure that their children do not encounter and explore pornographic sites on the internet, a Brooklyn High teacher actually assigned porno sites to 14 and 15 year-old students, asking them to surf the net for pornography and then answer questions about their experiences and thoughts. Never mind that in the wake of falling student achievement in science, math, history and English, pornography would seem to be rather low on the priority list for study. What does this say about the judgement and trustworthiness of the teacher? That’s an easy call: the teacher is irresponsible, has atrocious judgement, is incompetent, and should be handed a pink slip so fast that it catches fire from the friction. For this isn’t "a mistake"; this is proof positive that the teacher is astoundingly impaired in judgement, taste and common sense, and that she cannot be trusted, the worst breach of professional ethics. What’s next on her assignment list, one wonders? Researching the illegal drug trade by making a heroin buy? Learning about AIDS by getting infected with the HIV virus? Exploring the myths and realities of homosexuality by experimenting with gay sex? Understanding child abuse, perhaps, by belting a six-year old in the mouth? Oh, there are so many of life’s rich experiences to explore: prostitution, sexual fetishes, alcohol abuse, terrorism, stalking…the mind reels with the educational opportunities. But Superintendent Jeff Lampert, according to the Associated Press, doesn’t think the teacher will be punished! Ah! Now it all makes sense; the whole school system is bonkers. Being entrusted with the minds of children is an important responsibility that requires well-trained, serious, mature and sensible people at all levels of the educational process. If the school system won’t dismiss a porno-promoting teacher, then the entire system is unworthy of trust. Every single parent should keep their children at home until Mr. Lampert and the teacher are looking for new employment in another field, and the school system demonstrates that it is capable of behaving responsibly. [1/16/2006]

  • The Wall Street Journal’s blog “Best of the Web” notes that the Seattle Times has decided to engage in some politically correct censorship by refusing to mention the name of the team Seattle’s NFL Seahawks will be playing in the second round of pro football’s play-offs. That team is the Washington Redskins, and it is certainly the sports team with a nickname associated with Native Americans that is the hardest to defend. Nonetheless, that is the team’s name, and it is misplaced journalistic sensitivities for the paper to censor that name on the more theoretical than legitimate assumption that significant numbers of people are “offended” by it. Newspapers print opinions, words, stories, cartoons and ads that offend thousand of people every day. A team’s name is a fact, hard and indisputable, and it is wrong for a newspaper to withhold a fact because its editors are in sympathy with those who would like to change it. Journalists keep chanting about the “people’s right to know,” even in circumstances where that “right” is dubious at best. But there is little question that the people of Seattle have the right to know the name of the team their football team is playing in the play-offs. [The Scoreboard salutes “Best of the Web” for pointing out that in the name of consistency the Times should refuse to publish the name of its city, named after Chief Seattle, presumably without his consent.] [1/13/2006]
  • Not all cases of wretched judgement are unethical, and there is a strong urge to dismiss International Coal Group Chief Executive Officer Ben Hatfield’s decision to allow the families of the twelve dead miners to continue to believe they were alive as tragically misguided. But Hatfield’s explanation of his "reasoning" makes it clear that he willfully ignored the core ethical duty of candor his company owed to those who depended on it for information, and did so out of embarrassment and procrastination rather than as the result of any rational analysis. It takes courage to deliver bad news, but it still has to be delivered. Hatfield’s lament, "Who do I tell not to celebrate? I didn’t know if there were twelve (alive) or one!" only describes the difficulty of what he had a duty to do, and not an excuse for delaying doing it. Though he knew that the report that twelve miners had been found alive in the West Virginia mine was false within twenty minutes, he waited a full three hours to tell rejoicing family members that their loved ones had actually perished. Hatfield says that he wanted to wait until he knew the whole story, but that was a luxury he did not have. Simply stated, he had a duty to let the families of the trapped miners know what he knew, as soon as he knew it. Rationalizations are powerful tools that help people do the wrong things while pretending that they are right, and fear will create new rationalizations almost as quickly as greed. Fearing the consequences of delivering bad news, Hatfield employed a rationalization that permitted him to make a terrible situation even worse. But all he required to help him see the obvious, ethical, and correct thing to do was a direct application of the Golden Rule.

  • Conservative anti-feminist icon Phyllis Schlafly’s fifteen minutes of fame occurred so long ago that it is amazing that some papers still run her opinion column. A recent one just set the standard for really, really badly reasoned criticism of Judge John E. Jones’ landmark opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, in which he officially blew the cover of “intelligent design” advocates. It would be such fun—and so easy!— to perform a general dismantling of Schafly’s indignant rant, but as only one section of her critique involves ethics (with the other parts employing misinterpretation, ignorance, hypocrisy, invective, personal attacks and just plain terrible reasoning), the Scoreboard must confine itself to that. Schlafly begins her attack by accusing Judge Jones of being a turncoat:

    Judge John E. Jones III could still be chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board if millions of evangelical Christians had not pulled the lever for George W. Bush in 2000. Yet this federal judge, who owes his position entirely to those voters and the president who appointed him, stuck the knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School DistrictÂ…

    Mrs. Shlafly is a lawyer, but must have missed the class in which they went over judicial ethics. A judge owes one primary duty to the public: follow and execute the laws truthfully, fairly, competently, and without bias. It should make no difference to a judge’s reasoning in the Dover case, or any case, who appointed him or what are the beliefs or desires of the individuals who voted for the one who appointed him. Schlafly, like former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, argues that judges should decide cases based on the opinions of people who don’t possess the expertise or knowledge to determine what the laws meanÂ…people, in other words, like her and Tom Delay. If that were the case, our justice system wouldn’t need judges, only juries.

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