March 2006 "Easy Calls"
  • American Idol fans and bloggers are slamming show finalist (and Vegas betting favorite) Chris Daughtry because his dark and seemingly original version of Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" was not so original after all. Though Idol judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul raved about Daughtry's courage and stylistic integrity in his styling of the classic, many viewers had an attack of déjà vu. The rock band Live had recorded a very similar version, included on the tribute album Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records. Now Daughtry is being called unethical and deceptive. The Scoreboard judges him innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. He did not announce that he was doing an original version of the song. He was not required to do an original version; it is a performing and singing competition, not an arranging contest. Contestants in American Idol have one short week to choose a song, learn it and sing it; it would be absurd to even suggest that they must come up with completely original interpretations. The fact that none of the judges picked up on the similarity between his "I Walk the Line" and Live's isn't his fault; indeed, he may have assumed that they would recognize his source. It didn't matter; he was being judged on his performance. H had no obligation to tell the judges where his inspiration came from, and in fact, the dark and depressive version of the song he presented is not so stunningly unique that it in inconceivable that he arrived at it independently of the Live cut. In short, Chris Daughtry did nothing wrong or unethical, and did the one thing right that he was supposed to: sing. (The Scoreboard still likes Katherine McPhee and Paris better.) [3/29/2006]
  • Athens, Georgia nurse Denise Grier is trying to play martyr because a policeman ticketed her under an ordinance prohibiting obscene decals. Her rapier-witted bumper sticker read "I'm tired of all the Bush-shit." She is claiming that she was pulled over because the cop objected to the political statement. "This is all about free speech," Grier told the Atlanta-Constitution. No, Denise, this is all about a supposedly grown woman who has so little respect for her fellow citizens and so little facility with language that she can think of no other way to express her political opinions other than with vulgarities and four letter words. It is certainly possible that the policeman's political views helped him decide to give Grier a discretionary ticket; it is also possible that Denise's vulgarity of choice may not actually violate the statute. But illegal or not, her bumper sticker is unethical, a needless assault on the eyes and sensibilities of those Georgians who, unlike Denise, actually have some respect for public decorum, dignity, civility and politeness. If you can express your political opinion civily, with force and wit, Denise, do it. If you can't, then take a course on effective communication in a civilized society. This isn't about free speech; it's about public rudeness. [3/29/2006]

  • The issue may be controversial, but on the Ethics Scoreboard it's an easy call: allowing gay couples to adopt children is infinitely better than having no responsible parents adopt them at all. The Catholic Church's recent decision to drop adoption services entirely rather than accede to laws preventing the Church's agencies from discriminating against gays is one of policy rather than ethics; it is too bad, but as long as the Church maintains its current position on homosexuality there is no way the Church can be in the adoption business. But at a time when the foster child system is in tatters, when unadopted children languish, and when abusive, neglectful and irresponsible natural parents are far too common in this nation, it is wrong for state governments to discourage adoption by committed couples because of gender bias. That is what a disturbing number of states have done or are considering. According to the Christian Science Monitor, Florida, Mississippi, and Utah now ban gay adoption explicitly, while Nebraska, Arkansas, Missouri, and New Hampshire have other policies or laws that make it nearly impossible for gays to adopt or be foster parents. Seven states introduced bills last year to prevent gays from adopting, and others, including Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, are preparing to introduce constitutional amendments soon. A bill now pending in Arizona would force the state to give priority to married couples adopting. Ohio is considering a bill that would ban gays from being either adoptive or foster parents. What is wrong about this is well stated by Andrew Pertman, director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and author of "Adoption Nation," who was quoted in the Monitor story. "Whatever one thinks of 'imperfect' parents, if you will, whether that means gay or single or divorced, the operative question has to be whether the child is better off in his eighth placement in nine years of life, because that's the option," he said. "What our new research affirms is what all previous research has shown, which is that there are no substantive reasons not to place children with gay and lesbian parents." The Ethics Scoreboard is all for principle, but when a principle results in parentless children being deprived of security, love and family, it must overcome a presumption that it is unreasonable. The bias against gay and lesbian parents simply can't overcome that presumption. [3/29/2006]

  • The news that sharp-tongued "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell went on Howard Stern's show and predicted the contestants (Chris Daughtry, Taylor Hicks and Kellie Pickler) who would be among the final three should energize all the conspiracy theorists who claim the show is rigged, and with good reason. Cowell's comments are unfair and unethical. His argument may be that because eliminations from this point on are determined by audience votes, his opinion doesn't influence the competition, but of course it does, and he has said as much on the air. What are the other contestants to think now? Are they already sunk, and just going through the motions? Will Cowell, whose ego knows no bounds, be slanting his comments to ensure that his prediction comes true? Kellie Pickler??Is he nuts? The operative word here is judge. If a judge in a trial goes on the radio and says something like, "You know, I think Michael Jackson will walk; the mother of that kid is a real whacko," he will be yanked off that case and quite possibly off the bench. Judges, even "American Idol" judges, are supposed to be unbiased and open-minded. Cowell showed that he is not, and he also showed that his judgement is highly suspect. [3/19/2006]
  • The Scoreboard hopes the obviously unethical protests by the members of the Westboro Baptist Church make a dent in the consciousness of other less addled but equally self-righteous protestors who confuse the right to protest with the right way to do it. The group (Cult? Gang?) first gained notoriety by disrupting the 1998 funeral of Matthew Shepard, the young gay Wyoming man who was murdered in one of America's most notorious hate crimes. More recently they have been heckling families at the funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers, not out of opposition to the war in Iraq but because they believe the country is being punished for its acceptance of gays. Typically the protestors hold up signs mocking the funeral and chant derisive and sarcastic slogans aimed at upsetting the mourners. Their protests achieve the desired result, which is to gain media publicity for their cause. The fact that coverage is invariably negative does not appear to faze the protesters, who are primarily made up of the offspring and relatives of Fred Phelps, who could be charitably described as a fanatic, less charitably described as a malignant whacko. He has also led his followers to protest at the funerals of Frank Sinatra and Bill Clinton's mother. Phelps' mission is warped, but his protest tactics are familiar: use wild accusations, uncivil insults and hateful speech to gain national publicity, while harassing and inconveniencing typical citizens who do not determine policy or bear legitimate responsibility for the object of protest. Call it the abuse of the power of protest, and label it unethical. [3/15/2006]
  • The lesson is that if the national press is determined to make you look bad, there is little you can do about it. On March 1, the Associated Press reported that a videotape showed President Bush being warned that the Katrina floodwaters could "breach" the New Orleans levees. It was a devastating story that further eroded the President's credibility, since he had publicly claimed, long after the August briefing, that "Nobody expected the levees to break," and "break" equals "breach." The story was run on front pages and was the lead in news broadcasts. Two days later, the AP issued a "correction." The video actually showed the President being warned that the levees might be overrun, which is neither a "break" nor a "breach." "The Army Corps of Engineers considers a breach a hole developing in a levee rather than an overrun," the correction said. "The story should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees, rather than the levees breaking." Oopsie! Did any papers run this clarification with the same prominence as the original, erroneous story? None that we know of. Did the correction cancel out the negative public reaction to the story? No. Are some prominent publications still using the original report to criticize Bush? Yes: Newsweek was citing it a week later. The Bush administration's botched Katrina response deserves to be judged on the facts, not press spin, media agendas or reporter ineptitude. It is impossible to know which of these was at work here, but the ethics verdict is the same in any event: the AP's handling of the video story was unprofessional and unethical. [3/12/2006]
  • Dethroned CNN news anchor Aaron Brown has been making the rounds deploring the state of TV news, and suggesting that viewers must share the blame for their rejection of hard news reporting for fluff. The Medford Mail Tribune reported that Brown told a First Amendment Forum about a typical example: while CNN was spending its resources reporting on the devastating 2004 tsunami, Fox News was devoting its money to round-the-clock reporting of Natalee Holloway's disappearance in Aruba. Fox got the ratings, Brown said, and CNN got the message, leading inevitably to Brown's demise and the further rot of legitimate news on cable. Hmmm. As the Wall Street Journal's blog noted, the tsunami occurred on Dec. 26, 2004, and Holloway disappeared May 30, 2005. Perhaps Brown can be forgiven somewhat because it seems as if we've been hearing about Natalee Hollaway forever, but there's no avoiding the fact that based on the actual timeline, his story is 100%, pure, certified baloney. The Ethics Scoreboard suggests to Mr. Brown that it may be careful, unbiased, well-researched reportage like this, and not the trivial tastes of the American public, that has led to a decline in viewers at CNN, and not coincidentally, his demise. [3/10/2006]
  • A telling lack of votes has doomed the most recent bi-partisan effort to establish an independent ethics committee in Congress to prevent the kind of influence peddling that came nauseatingly to light with the Jack Abramoff scandal. What does that tell us? Nothing, unfortunately, that we didn't already know. Democratic lawmakers see "ethics" as nothing more than a rallying cry to win the upcoming elections. Republican lawmakers see "ethics" as a necessary nuisance to reassure the public that their own votes aren't for sale. Neither are willing to guarantee meaningful changes in the current sleazy system of revolving doors, nepotism, campaign gifts, earmarks and pious claims that junkets, golf trips and other swag paid for by special interests "didn't affect" the recipient's "judgement." Meaningful changes would mean giving up control, as well as losing the opportunity to use partisan ethics committees to hector opponents and exact revenge. Both Houses want to deal with "the problem" ("the problem" being unwanted media attention and public criticism) by tightening the ethics rules. Tighter ethics rules wouldn't have made a difference to a Duke Cunningham, who flagrantly violated the rules already in place now; they wouldn't stop a Tom DeLay, who excels at finding loopholes in whatever rules he encounters; they wouldn't slow down a corrupt representative like Jim Moran, who has (twice) successfully avoided any penalty for accepting forbidden financial help from lobbyists by muttering mea culpas and relying on his good guy reputation with his enabling colleagues. Just two things will stop elected representatives who are addicted to current lobbying abuses: establishing an internal enforcement system that takes control out of the hands of Republicans and Democrats, and a stiffening of the public will to vote the Morans, DeLays and their like out of office for no other reason than the fact that their ethical values are unacceptable. It looks like the first will never happen. Whether the second will ever occur is doubtful at best. [3/6/2006]
  • The Drudge Report, among others, is making much out of the fact that Barbra Streisand's recently posted anti-Bush rant on her website is riddled with spelling errors. The implication is not that Babs is a careless blogger, which she undoubtedly is, but that for someone who at one point denigrates the President as "a C student," she's not the sharpest pencil in the box herself. Cheap shot. No one who publishes on the web should be so unsympathetic about typos, which is what most of Streisand's "spelling mistakes" are. Yes, she should learn to use "Spellcheck" (not that it's any guarantee), and yes, you are leading with your chin any time you impugn someone else's intelligence in an essay that you don't take the time to proofread. Nevertheless, those who disagree with Streisand's essay should oppose it with facts and substantive arguments, not snide ridicule of her writing ability. In the meantime, Barbra, as one lousy speller to another, if you're going to keep writing this stuff, get someone to proof it, for heaven's sake! [3/5/2006]

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