February 2007 "Easy Calls"
  • Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, were about to get an 18-month prison term for refusing to disclose the name of their source of the illicitly leaked federal grand jury testimony linking Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and other baseball players to illegal steroid use. The scribes saved when their source stepped forward---finally---and identified himself. He is Troy Ellerman, a defense attorney who counseled two key figures in the federal steroids probe. Ellerman will plead guilty to the 2004 leak, lying about it, obstructing justice and disobeying a court order not to disclose grand jury information. And he will be disbarred. Good, good, and good: lawyers violate the most critical aspect of their professional obligations and ethics rules when they disclose confidences. This is an ethics disgrace, and Ellerman is a blight on the legal profession. But it is curious, isn't it, that the same information that is illegal, unethical, and unfair for a lawyer to reveal makes journalistic celebrities out of the reporters who ensure that it is as widely disseminated as possible? Indiscriminate information laundering is a rewarding and lucrative practice for journalists, particularly those quick to justify any disclosure on the basis that "the public has the right to know." No wonder they are willing to go to jail to protect it. The Scoreboard gives an enthusiastic half-salute to Ellerman for finally coming clean; better late than never. But nobody should forget how outrageous his conduct in leaking grand jury testimony was, especially for a lawyer, and we all should ponder why the two men that facilitated his unethical act shouldn't share some of his well-earned shame. The fact that the Constitution says journalists can't be punished for such behavior doesn't mean we can't agree that it's wrong. [2/26/2007]
  • The various websites and news organizations that recently displayed headlines like "Ice Storm Forces Cancellation of Global Warming Hearings" got some good chuckles out of the obvious irony, but it was still misleading and unethical journalism. The clear purpose was to throw doubt on the legitimacy of global warming claims by the juxtaposition of seemingly contradictory events, but the news organizations know, or should, that one storm, ten storms, or even one full year of weather means nothing in predicting long term climate trends. They are, of course, playing the same game as global warming advocates and their doom-saying champion Al Gore, who are prone to point to specific weather phenomenon like Hurricane Katrina and the recent warm January on the East Coast as having special significance when they do not. This is a dishonest practice no matter who does it, or for which point of view---even when it gets a few laughs. [2/17/2007]
  • From Brussels, courtesy of the Associated Press, comes a story too dumb to resist. Karen Aerts, 37, was found dead at the Olmense Zoo in the cheetah cage where she had apparently been killed by the same cheetah, Bongo, she had "adopted" in a special zoo fundraising program. Authorities think Aerts hid in the zoo until closing, and somehow found the keys to the cage. But according to zoo spokesman Jan Libot, she had been the victim of unethical cheetahs. "Karen loved animals. Unfortunately the cheetahs betrayed her trust," Libot said. For the benefit of Mr. Libot, someone please translate the following into Dutch or French and forward it to him. The animals in zoos "trust" humans to keep them fed and safe from disturbed or intellectually-stunted individuals, like Aerts, who would invade their territory. They, in return, should be trusted to behave like the wild animals they are, which in the case of cheetahs means large, predatory, meat-eating cats (which are not all that trustworthy even when they are the size of Garfield) who do not take kindly to strange humans sneaking into their cages at night. The cheetahs did not "betray" Aerts' trust. She (and the zoo that failed to instruct her that just because she adopted Bongo didn't mean that it was safe to drop in for dinner unannounced) betrayed the cheetahs. And if anyone reads or hears a more ridiculous statement regarding ethics than Libot's, please sent it to the Scoreboard. [2/17/2007]
  • "I am deeply sorry, and I am accountable for what has occurred and have now begun the process of reconciling it and will now begin working aggressively to advance our agenda in this city and to work hard to build again the trust, to restore the trust, that the people of San Francisco have afforded me," is how San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom respond to press revelations that he had carried on an affair with the wife of his campaign manager and longtime close adviser, Alex Tourk, precipitating that marriage's collapse and Tourk's resignation. And this is where the traditional knee-jerk liberal reaction to such conduct---"it's only sex; it has nothing to do with the job"---becomes untenable and even ridiculous. Newsom betrayed a friend, colleague, loyal staffer and employee for his own selfish pleasure. These kinds of acts have signature significance: ethical, trustworthy people simply don't do such things, even once. Meanwhile, Newsom's own ethical misconduct has made it difficult for him to respond properly to that of another employee. His press secretary, Peter Ragone, has been caught posting fevered defenses of the Newsom administration to various news blogs in the city writing under fake names and using vitriolic rhetoric, and lied to journalists who questioned him about it. A lying, deceptive press secretary should be fired, but a lying, treacherous mayor isn't in the strongest position to make a moral stand. So far Newsom has reacted to Ragone's dishonesty by pronouncing it a minor mistake in judgement. The scary thing is that he might actually believe it. The mayor has no options other than to say he's sorry about his own miserable behavior, fire Ragone, and then set out to prove that while he may betray a close friend and loyal employee by destroying his family for sexual gratification, while running the city he is as forthright as George Washington, as loyal as Sancho Panza, and as trustworthy as Atticus Finch. Good luck with that. History and experience tells us that this is an impossible task because it violates human nature. If your friends can't trust you, nobody else should either. [2/13/2007]
  • Just because you have the right to file an absurd and disruptive lawsuit doesn't make it ethical, and the recently dismissed tote bag discrimination lawsuit by Los Angeles psychologist Michael Cohn shows why. According to the Associated Press, Cohn was somehow offended that only women were given a tote bag at a 2005 Mother's Day promotion by the Anaheim Angels; he said it was "discriminatory." So he found a similarly warped lawyer to bring a class action suit alleging that every male and woman under 18 who didn't get a precious tote bag was owed $4,000 in damages because their human dignity was wounded. Hey, I'm sympathetic; I know how I go into a depression when I don't get another generic tote bag to add to the dozens I use to hold old grocery bags and transport newspapers for recycling. The Angels, being in California and thus obliged to avoid even really stupid claims of political incorrectness, cravenly changed their Mother's Day promotion because of the suit: at the 2006 Mother's Day game, the first 25,000 fans in the park got Mother's Day gifts and would have even if every one of them was a big, hairy, single guy. And they sent Cohn four tote bags. That still wasn't enough for him to drop his crusade, however. It took a judge to throw his case in the crapper from whence it came. Law suits like this use up public resources, waste time, and generally represent one self-centered individual's attempt to make the world march to his off-key tune. One has a right to go to court, but an obligation not to trivialize that right. [2/7/2007]

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