February 2008 "Easy Calls"
  • The hearing held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform examining the allegations that Roger Clemens used steroids didn't settle that controversy, but it left little doubt that Congress deserves every bit of the contempt it is held in by the American public, according to recent polls. Supposedly undertaking the straightforward task of fact-finding on an issue — illegal steroid use in professional sports — that has no ideological significance whatsoever, Republicans and Democrats nonetheless were guided by partisan agendas and naked bias. Rather than serving as a neutral and fair panel of inquiry, the members split along party lines. The Democrats saw their mission as protecting the good name of former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell by defending his report on steroid use and attacking the accused star, Roger Clemens. The Republicans sought to defend Bush family pal and GOP supporter Clemens while trying to embarrass committee chair Henry Waxman, a Democrat, who sought the hearing. None of this aided the search for the truth, and made every statement by a committee member suspect as having hidden motivations. As with every major problems facing this country, the relatively minor question of whether a famous pitcher or his trainer was lying about steroid use just became another opportunity to score political points in a game that benefits nobody. The ethical verdict on both parties in Congress, based on the evidence of this hearing: irresponsible, conflicted, and without integrity. [2/24/2008]

  • Give Jane Fonda a break. As you may have heard by now, the actress most hated by conservatives actually uttered the taboo word "cunt" on the "Today Show," and did so quickly and unexpectedly that the early morning program — which could conceivably be seen by children if they are unnaturally fascinated with hummus recipes and solemn interviews with Cirque de Soleil performers — couldn't bleep it out. Now she is being bashed as worse than Janet Jackson with her infamous "wardrobe malfunction," a crude, uncivil Hollywood boor intent on corrupting the nation's discourse and morals. But context can be important, and it is this time in judging Jane's potty-mouth. She was brought on to plug her performance in The Vagina Monologues, along with the play's author, Eve Ensler. Jane dropped her "C-bomb" as she described why she had initially felt the provocative show, a favorite of college campuses and a modern feminist classic, was too edgy for her. "There's a monologue called "Cunt," Fonda said. "I have enough problems." OK, that's a mistake, but hardly an attempt to be offensive or outrageous. The show is about vaginas, after all, and there is in fact a monologue in it called "Cunt." If anybody should be criticized, the Scoreboard fingers "Today": conducting a morning segment on an irreverent play about vaginas is just asking for trouble. Today's Meredith apologized on Fonda's behalf for the mistake, and that should be sufficient to shut up Bill O'Reilly et al. The ethical conduct is to accept sincere apologies. Jane meant no harm, and probably did none. [2/17/2008]

  • Over on Oprah Winfrey's website, there is a barrage of critical e-mails from upset fans and viewers who feel that her public support for Barrack Obama's presidential campaign is a) a wrongful use of her visibility and power or 2) a betrayal of her feminist credentials. Nonsense, on both counts. Winfrey is not a journalist; she has no obligation to be neutral regarding her political beliefs. Nor is it a misuse of her influence to promote a candidate for national office whom she genuinely respects. America's civic ignorance is stunning, and Oprah has a track record of getting people to pay attention. It makes no sense to argue that it's a public service for her to point viewers toward books she thinks have merit, but that it is inappropriate for her to endorse a presidential candidate she believes can lead the country. The woman is smart, successful, and informed; her opinion carries weight, and should. She takes sides in a political race at some personal and professional risk, as the angry e-mails prove: Oprah is to be applauded for using her celebrity and credibility for something more important than a good read. Anyone who thinks she is wrong doesn't have to vote for Obama. As for betraying women, the Scoreboard suggests that Winfrey will be performing her gender a great service if she can reduce the embarrassing percentage of female voters who are currently telling pollsters that they support Hillary Clinton because of her "35 years" of non-existent experience and the fact that she will bring Bill back to the White House. Thinking like that could prompt a movement to repeal the 19th Amendment. [Full disclosure: I am currently on a panel of experts that weigh in on issues of everyday ethics for "O" Magazine.] [2/9/2008]

  • The things some people think are unethical…In Miley Cyrus's live "Hannah Montana" concert, currently packing screaming teen and tweens into arenas across America, there is a moment in which Cyrus pulls off an impossibly fast costume change following a large dance number. She is able to do this by using a stage trick older than vaudeville: during the number she is briefly replaced by a double, who continues to dance while Cyrus changes. Then the double dances off in the old costume, and immediately the real Hannah Montana (all right, Miley Cyrus, who is "Hannah Montana," who isn't real at all.) dances on in an elaborate new outfit. Wowzers! Admittedly entertainment cable TV has a hard time finding real stories to blather about all week, but the amount of time breathless talking heads spent debating whether "Hannah's" double was an outrageous fraud and a scandal is proof positive that talking about Britney Spears too much will rot your brain. If Miley's use of a double to cover her absence while she changes clothes is unethical, so are magic tricks, realistic sets ("You mean that's not really the sewers of Paris up there on stage???") and actors using make-up to look like Abraham Lincoln. It's a show, you silly people! The director uses such devices as doubles to keep the show fast paced and entertaining. Deceptions on stage are only unethical when they involve genuine fraud, like selling tickets to a Hannah Montana concert in which Hannah is played throughout by a lip-synching 30-year-old imposter. Hannah's dancing double is just good stagecraft. [2/9/2008]

  • The Scoreboard really has no place for an item like this as there is no "Unethical Scum" category. But Easy Calls is an appropriate place to note that the F.B.I. has reliable information that Jose Canseco, the steroid-promoting slugger who wrote a best-selling tell-all memoir ("Juiced") fingering past colleagues for using banned substances, tried to shake down Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez for money in exchange for Canseco's promise not to accuse him of steroid use in his new book. That is extortion, of course, but it is a reminder for more than a few dim-bulb journalists that the fact that many of Canseco's allegations have turned out to be true has not "vindicated" him. Canseco is still unethical slime to the bone. He is the epitome of a self-serving, venal, mean-spirited, dishonest louse. He was a one man steroid plague when he was a major leaguer, introducing teammates to performance-enhancing drugs while lying about his own use of them. He didn't write "Juiced" for the good of baseball; he wrote it to hurt baseball and get revenge for the fact that he became such a reviled figure in the sport that no team would hire him. Canseco said as much before the book was published. Oh, yes — he also wrote it to make money, cashing in by wrecking the reputations of other players by linking his own steroid use to theirs after his own reputation was too ruined to harm. It is good that baseball is dealing with its drug problem, and good that the truth is coming out. But Jose Canseco is a perfect example of how doing the right thing can be made despicable by having unethical motives. To Canseco, cleaning up baseball is just an incidental side-effect of getting vengeance and cashing in. Now he's trying to extort players. Nobody should be surprised. [2/3/08]

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