October 2006 "Easy Calls"
  • Actor Michael J. Fox has made a powerful ad for the Democrats, calling for federal support of stem cell research as the symptoms of his advancing Parkinson's disease are on full display. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh imprudently mocked Fox's painful gyrating in the ad, accusing him of "acting" or intentionally not taking his medication to exaggerate the ravages of his illness. This wasn't exactly unethical on Limbaugh's part, just spectacularly ignorant and ultimately embarrassing to him, as he had to apologize later in the day for questioning Fox's honesty. Fox has appeared in public and on film without displaying such extreme involuntary motions, but by all accounts he has to work very hard to keep them under control. Why would he concentrate on not showing his disease's devastating symptoms in an ad about the need for research to find a cure? There was nothing dishonest or misleading in Fox's permitting his symptoms to be seen. Nor was there anything wrong, as Limbaugh later suggested, with Fox "exploiting" his disease. Of course he was exploiting his disease, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The fact that he suffers from Parkinson's is why he made the ad, why it is so powerful and why his participation in it is valid. Unlike most Hollywood celebrities who presume that their ability to act on film magically imbues them with a superior knowledge of foreign policy and economic planning, Fox has direct, substantial and personal knowledge of the issue he discussed. The disease gives Fox credibility as an advocate. It qualifies him as an expert, and it is fair and legitimate for him to show the basis of his expertise when he is discussing Parkinson's disease research avenues. Limbaugh criticism was desperate, baseless, and dumb. [10/27/2006]
  • Now comes word that many of the members of the Board of Trustees of Gallaudet are wavering in their support of the University's president-designate Jane Fernandes and are urging her to step down. They are doing this not because the protests of students and faculty in opposition to her appointment have merit, or are fair, reasoned, or anything but a power-play fueled by deaf culture bigotry. The trustees are wavering because, to state it simply, they don't have the will to do what needs to be done to protect the integrity of the university's decision-making process, and find it easier simply to cede authority to the mob. There is no difference in principle between this attitude and submitting to the demands of terrorists, yielding to extortion, and generally allowing those who refuse to obey rules to change them by threats and disruption. Any leader of an organization who responds to an illicit protest in this way has breached his or her fiduciary duties of trust and competence, and demonstrated ethical and practical unfitness to serve as well as abject cowardice. The Gallaudet trustees who think this way should stop pressuring Fernandes to resign, and resign themselves. [10/20/2006]

  • I'm no Steve Lyons fan; not at all. The former player-turned- baseball-color commentator was apparently hired by Fox Sports because his comments tend to be quirky rather than informative, and as humorists go, the kid who made realistic farting noises in my 7th Grade Study Hall was funnier. But Fox, of all organizations, accused him of being "racially insensitive" because of a joke he aimed at Lou Piniella, and fired him. This was wildly unfair. Announcing to the public that a national broadcaster like Lyons has been sacked for that offense places a giant red B (for bigot) on his chest and guarantees that people who have no idea what he actually said will immediately put him next to Al Campanis ("Blacks just don't have the necessities to manage a baseball team…") and Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder ("Blacks in the NFL are faster than the white players, see, because slave owners used to breed their biggest and strongest slaves who had big thigh muscles…") in that Hall of Shame reserved for sports talking heads who were banished after they displayed unacceptable racial attitudes on TV. But there was nothing racist, insensitive, or even offensive about what Lyons said. His supposed indiscretion occurred during the broadcast of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series between Oakland and Detroit. Lou Piniella, a long-time player and now the new manager of the Chicago Cubs, was sharing color duties with Lyons. Piniella mentioned that for a manager to expect a reserve player to engage in on-field heroics because he had surprised the manager in a previous game was like expecting to find an abandoned wallet on Monday because you found one last Friday. When Piniella later used a couple of Spanish words to make another point, Lyons, whose role is always to play the fool (whether this is an act or not is the matter of some dispute---Lyons' nickname while he played was "Psycho"…) said that Piniella was "habla-ing" in "Espanol" and added, "I still can't find my wallet." "I don't understand him," said Lyons, "and I don't want to sit too close to him now." Despite the fact that Piniella, who is as white a Hispanic- American as Desi Arnaz, said that he was absolutely certain that Lyons intended no slur and was just ribbing him, Fox fired Lyons immediately after the game. Lyons was confused (admittedly his usual state, but this time with cause) saying that his joke on himself about not understanding Spanish and his feigned suspicion that Piniella would take his wallet were unrelated. Unrelated, perhaps, in everyone's mind but a few Fox executives, who were either projecting their own bigotry onto an innocent though badly executed joke by Lyons, or were simply terrified of attracting a wave of complaints by some attention-seeking advocacy group. (Insiders say that Lyons' remarks "lit up the switchboard," which only proves that a lot of people out there are primed to find offense where none exists.) It has also been suggested that Fox had tired of Lyons' gaffes (he recently made fun of a Mets fan's dark glasses as he sat in the stands watching a night game, not realizing that the fan was blind) and used the Piniella incident as a pretext to dump him. The first explanation shows dishonesty, the second cowardice, and the third dishonesty and cowardice. No matter what the explanation, Steve Lyons was guilty only of a botched joke, and for Fox to intentionally damage his reputation in order to assume the role of political correctness avenger is as unethical as it is unjust and ridiculous. [10/18/2006]

  • It says something about our culture, though the Scoreboard is afraid to speculate what, that the NFL's five game suspension of Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth for kicking off Dallas Cowboy Andre Gurode's helmet after a play and then grinding his cleats into his face has actually aroused controversy, with many sports columnists claiming that the punishment is too light (this is criminal assault and battery off the football field, after all), and others arguing that the punishment---the NFL's longest suspension ever for on-filed misconduct---is too harsh. (As one ESPN call-in show host noted, Gurode's facial wounds required "only 33 stitches.") The argument seems to center on whether the fact that a violent assault takes place during an admittedly violent game is sufficient justification to treat it more lightly than if it occurred, say, at the office picnic. That's an easy one: of course. When you're bashing each other senseless legally and lucratively during the game, it is understandably hard to get that adrenaline under control. It's unfair and unrealistic to expect players who have just legally hurled one another to the ground to immediately become perfect gentlemen the second the whistle blows the ball dead. But a few punches in anger after a play is one thing and a protracted and potentially deadly assault is another. Haynesworth's attack went far beyond excusable conduct. His punishment (which will cost him close to a quarter of a million dollars in lost salary) may have been too light, but it certainly wasn't too severe. Wisely, Haynesworth apologized and is not appealing the league's ruling. The Scoreboard agrees that expelling him from the NFL this time would have been excessive, but if he does anything similar again, he should be banned from football. [10/14/2006]
  • It appears that several newspapers, such as the Miami Herald, and some national reporters like ABC News' Brian Ross had knowledge of Rep. Mark Foley's suspicious e-mails to underage pages (though not the obscene instant messages that have recently come to light) for several months and decided not to pursue the story. Whether they did this out of consideration for Foley as a gay man who preferred not to be "outed" or because they didn't think the story was ripe for publication, efforts to deflect blame onto news media are misguided. Reporters and newspapers can be faulted for their judgement, but they have no ethical obligations to use the power of the press to protect House pages or provide the oversight of member conduct that is the proper job House members and House leadership. The weak cries of some Republicans that the media deserves a share of the blame for the inaction regarding Foley's inappropriate actions are embarrassing as well as ethically tone deaf. Even if the media had some obligation, and it did not, its failure to move on the Foley story earlier does nothing to diminish the disgrace of the House leadership, which put narrow political interests above the safety of its young charges and the integrity of Congress. [10/4/2006]
  • Mel Gibson disgraces himself with anti-Semitic slurs, and responds by putting himself into rehab for alcohol addiction. Representative Mark Foley regales an underage House page with explicit banter about masturbatory techniques, and announces that he, too, is in need of treatment for alcoholism. Maybe both of them really are alcoholics, but the use of this serious and debilitating disease to attract sympathy and deflect criticism for wrongful conduct is also a cynical public relations tactic, misleading to the public and harmful to other victims of alcoholism. They have enough trouble making people understand their malady without having to explain that it doesn't turn anyone into a pedophile or bigot. Gibson and Foley should have the integrity and courage to take full responsibility for their actions without slyly linking them to a medical problem in order to blur their culpability. Alcoholics struggle mightily to overcome the ancient belief that theirs is a character defect rather than a physical one, and it retards the considerable progress they have made in recent decades for the likes of Gibson and Foley to substitute alcoholism for the real sources of their disgrace: their own bad judgement and disregard for others. [10/3/2006]
  • Former First Lady Nancy Reagan has formally asked Virginia Senate candidate, Jim Webb to remove images of her late husband from his TV ads. Though Webb is being criticized by his Republican opponent Senator George Allen for refusing to do so, he is right. The families of deceased Presidents don't own the words, pictures and images of their related Chief Executives while they were in office representing the nation. All of that is history now, and not family heirlooms. They should have no more say over who uses or evokes that history and for what purpose than any other citizen. True, Webb has a lot of chutzpa evoking Reagan after Webb, who was the a Republican, noisily resigned from the post the Gipper had given him with some less than diplomatic parting shots. But that is a separate issue. As when President Bush spurned Caroline Kennedy's angry protest over Bush's evocations of President Kennedy during the 2004 campaign, Webb has a duty to make it clear who owns historical figures and what they represent. All of us, and none of us. But definitely not the presidential families alone. [10/1/2006]

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