August 2006 "Easy Calls"
  • The controversy surrounding CBS's use of a digitally slimmed image of its new Evening News anchor Katie Couric would have missed me entirely if MSNBC hadn't hauled me into its studio to chat about the matter with Nora O'Donnell. Her question: "Does this really matter?" Easy call: yes, as long as CBS News continues to represent itself as a news source rather than an entertainment provider. Hiring Couric further blurred the distinction, which is crucial. Entertainment is all about illusion, and its stars are made-up, be-wigged, padded, filmed through gauze, botoxed and surgically enhanced in order to be aesthetically pleasing. There's nothing unethical about that, and there's not much integrity to protect when you're in the business of creating fun and fantasy. But as the anchor of a nightly network news show, Couric is a journalist, CBS is a news provider, and both must encourage trust. That means they can't afford to present illusion as reality. A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. When CBS shows that it will use some of the words inherent in a picture to state a falsehood (that Katie has been hitting the gym rather than the buffet line), it necessarily raises legitimate questions about what else CBS is willing to lie about. (A letter about George Bush's National Guard duty, perhaps?) Couric appears to be the innocent victim in all this, but the incident shows that her mission of restoring the ethics reputation of CBS news might well begin with insisting that news departments can't tell lies…even flattering ones. [August 30, 2006]

  • The resolution of the Tamara Hoover controversy struck exactly the right balance between the welfare of students and fairness to the art teacher whose nude pictures on the web had made her continued employment at an Austin, Texas public school problematical. She agreed to drop her lawsuit in which she and the ACLU argued that a teacher allowing naked pictures of herself to be seen by her students was not grounds for dismissal, and she also agreed to resign. The school agreed to pay her a reasonable severance package. Sometimes litigation actually achieves a just result. Hoover was a good teacher who unfortunately made the kind of mistake that can't be undone; the point was not to punish her, but to remove a teacher who was suddenly straddling the uncrossable line between instructor and sex object. Now Hoover can start anew (after she gets those pictures down), and the school can find an art teacher with less, uh, exposure. [August 21, 2006]
  • The Scoreboard somehow missed the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Hamm v. Committee on Character and Fitness of the Arizona Supreme Court, which came down at the end of May, but it is deserves comment. The Court upheld the decision of the Arizona Supreme Court that James Hamm was not fit to practice law, despite the fact that he had graduated from Arizona State University's law school and passed the bar examination. Of course, this was after he had served 17 years in prison for killing two people in the course of a robbery. The mean old Arizona Supremes said that Hamm lacked the moral character required for the practice of law, even though the sentencing judge, several respected lawyers and a psychologist had declared him a worthy candidate for bar membership. Rehabilitation and redemption are wonderful things, but there are more than enough lawyers around without having to recruit new ones from the Ten Most Wanted Lists of years past. It seems both fair and just that a citizen permanently forfeits certain rights when he or she decides to take another's life, and the right to work as a state licensed representative of the legal system certainly should be one of them. Being an attorney requires holding a client's trust, and it is asking too much for a client to trust a lawyer who has robbed and killed, no matter how long ago. The remarkable thing about the Supreme Court's ruling in Hamm is that there were enough people who believed otherwise to make it necessary.

  • Now that the Angry Left voters in the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary have rejected Senator Joe Lieberman for his challenger Ned Lamont, the Scoreboard has an early reading on where that voter block places ethics among its priorities. Lieberman is a persistently and stubbornly honest, direct, civil and bi-partisan public servant whose main offense appears to be that he refused to back down from his support of the Iraq war once it became unpopular (unlike the majority of the Democrats who initially supported the war but who now talk as if they had been hypnotized or possessed by demons). His secondary offense is that he had the courage to break ranks and condemn Bill Clinton's Monica escapades from the floor of the Senate, saying the President's conduct was wrong, which of course it was. Ned Lamont, meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, decided to counter Lieberman's polling strength in the black community by recruiting rap artists to phone black radio stations and remind listeners that Lieberman had once targeted rap music for promoting violence and drug use. Oh, by the way…rap music does promote drug use and violence. Lamont, that champion of African American sensitivities, belonged to a de facto "whites only" country club until he decided to run for the Senate. Lamont's case against Lieberman was essentially that the Senator has the courage to tell the truth as he sees it. One would think that the voter in a state that has been wracked with ethics scandals for years would appreciate one of the most ethical politicians in the country, but the primary results show that they do not value good character as highly as the opportunity to show their contempt for George Bush.[8/10/2006]
  • The internet celebrity news site TMZ is trying hard to obtain the videotape of Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic meltdown so it can show it on-line, an exercise that the Scoreboard regards as a naked attempt to profit while causing gratuitous damage to another. Yes, gratuitous. Gibson's hurtful words are now well known to everyone who hasn't been vacationing on Saturn, and he will have to deal with the consequences of what they reveal about his character and beliefs. But TMZ simply wants the tape to throttle Gibson further with a powerfully negative visual image, increasing its web traffic while intensifying Gibson's career problems. There is no justification for this. The public has a right to know that Mel Gibson was arrested for DUI, and his choice of subject matter for his films make his obnoxious comments about Jews during his arrest legitimately newsworthy. But the police video of the arrest is evidence of DUI should the case go to trial, and is not appropriate fodder for the celebrity press. TMZ is now seeking the tape using a transparently bogus argument that it bears on the so-called "cover-up" by the Los Angeles County sheriff's office, which allegedly took steps to keep Gibson's embarrassing comments out of the news. Since that isn't the real reason TMZ wants the tapes, it's a dishonest tactic. And if the police tried to keep Gibson's drunken rantings from becoming public, that itself is not unreasonable or unethical. They aren't speech police, after all; Gibson's statements were offensive but not illegal. There is nothing wrong with a local police force taking steps to minimize the public relations damage to a resident in its community, as long as they would do the same for any other resident and their concerns do not interfere with law enforcement. There is something wrong with a website whose clear objective is to gain prestige, power and bucks by destroying a man's career. [August 6, 2006]
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