May 2007 "Easy Calls"
  • Before he is either arrested, suspended from playing baseball, or retires laughing demonically over how he managed to brazenly cheat while breaking Hank Aaron's career home run record, Barry Bonds will inspire his defenders to utter every rationalization for unethical conduct ever devised. New York Times sports columnist Murray Chass ( a habitual ethics dunce if there ever was one) trotted out a couple of the more rare ones in a recent column, and they are worth flagging. Chass began by attempting to minimize Bonds' steroid use by coyly suggesting that lots of pitchers probably used steroids too, thus implying that it is "fair" for Bonds to counter with chemical assistance of his own. First of all, while there is overwhelming evidence that elite sluggers have used prohibited substances (Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Bonds and counting), no premiere pitcher has been similarly implicated. Second, the ethical response to cheating by an adversary is not to start cheating. Finally, even if it were the ethical response, such response would be unfair to the pitchers who weren't using steroids, which is to say, most of them. Chass' next argument, for which he used Mets pitcher Tom Glavine as his hapless mouthpiece, was that Barry Bonds is obviously such a superior player that even if he is cheating with steroids, it would be unjust not to give him credit and accolades for the level of his expertise without them. Got that? So it didn't matter that Richard Nixon tried to illegally sabotage the Democratic presidential campaign in 1972, since he won by a landslide anyway. And it's OK if an A student cheats on her exam, because she didn't really have to. Oddly, the educational establishment has yet to recognize the logic of Chass' worldview; colleges foolishly expel students who turn in plagiarized essays and copied exams no matter how natively brilliant they are. Why? Not because the students aren't smart, but because they are dishonest. Based on his analysis of the Bonds problem, Murray must be puzzled by this. Murray must be puzzled at a lot of things. For its part, the Scoreboard is puzzled that people like Murray Chass have columns in the New York Times. [May 18, 2007]

  • Minor incidents can illuminate major truths. In Baltimore, the spokesman for the Department of Public Works called the Baltimore Sun to report that a billboard promoting the Rush Limbaugh radio show had been defaced. "It looks like they took globs of paint and threw it on his face," Robert Murrow told The Sun. "It looks great. It did my heart good." Next thing Murrow knew, his comment had incited a national debate, thanks to Limbaugh's deft on-air remarks and the usual blog feeding frenzy. Murrow made himself Exhibit A of a classic unethical mindset: "bad guys" don't deserve to be treated ethically. Obviously, wrong. Murrow's department is supposed to repair the results of vandalism, and obviously to oppose it in all circumstances; as a government employee, Murrow is bound to respect and uphold the law. Yet when a picture of a public figure he disagreed with was the object of vandalism, Murrow approved. Well, we all feel that way sometimes, but we should recognize even when we do that this is not an ethical instinct, even though it is a very human one. The fact that Murrow communicated these human but unethical feelings to a newspaper demonstrates either temporary insanity or that he doesn't know that applauding illegal and unethical acts when they afflict an adversary is wrong. Speaking as a representative of the City of Baltimore, Murrow implied that property crimes exhilarate government employees when they don't like the victim. Does that undermine the public's faith in the government's fairness and integrity? It should! Now a debate rages over whether Murrow should be fired. He reportedly has apologized profusely to his supervisor. So did Don Imus, and what Murrow said was infinitely worse. Should he be fired? Absolutely. [May 17, 2007]
  • By the time you read this, either World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz or U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez may have finally resigned, but right now both are compounding their obvious ethical transgressions by stubbornly refusing to do the right thing, which is to quit. Both are adamantly and mistakenly clinging to their jobs in the belief that they have been unfairly or excessively criticized, which misses the real issue entirely. Justly or not (in both cases, the "or not" is theoretical rather than real), Wolfowitz and Gonzalez have become net detriments to the organizations they were appointed to serve, and thus their duty is to end that state of affairs (no pun intended, Paul, honest!). Staying on the job, circling the wagons, and fighting to the death doesn't accomplish this; that response prolongs a unproductive and destructive period for the World Bank and Justice Department rather than ends it. This is inexcusable, though common, among figures supposedly in the public service. Wolfowitz deserves to be fired by the World Bank, regardless of his unethical abuse of power to bestow status and wealth on his girlfriend, because he cares more about saving his job than he does about dragging the bank through the mud to do it. And President Bush, who is being showered with criticism because of Gonzalez when he has enough to handle already, should fire his so-called friend for not having the sense and loyalty to end a political fiasco by resigning. [May 17, 2007]
  • Celebrity Without Reason Paris Hilton has been sentenced to jail for basically blowing off the generous terms of her probation for drunk driving by neglecting to enroll in a mandated alcohol education program, continuing to break traffic laws and finally driving on a suspended license. So, quite reasonably, she got 45 days in stir. Following the sentence, her mother left no doubt why her daughter is an air-headed wastrel by pronouncing the result "pathetic and disgusting," "a waste of taxpayer money," "nonsense," and "a joke." Kathy Hilton inexplicably believes that party-girl heiresses shouldn't have to obey the law. She also complained, as did Paris Hilton's lawyer, that Paris had been "singled out" because of her fame, and was being made "an example." The Scoreboard has two responses to that. Based on the facts of the case, anyone, famous or not, would be likely to end up in jail. The guessing here is that Hilton's mother really meant that little Paris is being made an example for all the other rich and arrogant celebrities who usually avoid the consequences of their reckless actions. And for once, Kathy Hilton is right. Paris Hilton is serving as an example, and that is a legitimate prosecutorial choice. Her fate may well alert Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and other chaotic starlets that they had better shape up lest they be wearing stripes instead of the latest designer creations. More importantly, the verdict sends a message to all of the confused admirers and fans of Ms. Hilton, who have been persuaded by her "career" that all one needs to be successful are good cheek bones, incipient anorexia, and a sex tape, that she isn't such a great role model after all. Luckily for Kathy Hilton, she doesn't have to go to jail to serve as an example of how not to be a responsible mother. She just has to open her mouth. [5/7/2007]

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