Topic: Government & Politics

Michael and Me : The Meaning of Ethical Balance
(7/14/2004)

My webmaster (Lauren Larson of Right Brain Computing, recommended highly) just chastised me for what she has discerned as a rightward tilt in the choice of recent topics. That has been unintentional, and, I would argue (and did) attributable to the coincidence of several recent and egregious examples of ethical misconduct by Democrats and liberals…Clinton's rationalizations in his autobiography, the manipulated half-truths in Fahrenheit 9/11, the forbidden Bush-bashing comments of a federal judge. Over the same period, the equally or even more egregious unethical conduct emanating from the right have either been well-publicized elsewhere (the CIA's distorted and incompetent intelligence on Iraq's weapons); are continuations of old stories (the Rigases finally getting their just desserts for looting Adephia); have already been discussed on the Scoreboard (Tom DeLay's ethically dubious conduct on multiple fronts); or have been appropriately highlighted elsewhere on the web or in the media.

A prime example of the latter was the outrageously wrong-headed response of many conservative radio and TV commentators regarding the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. It was certainly a full-fledged disgrace that should make even the most dyed-in-the-wool conservatives re-think their opinion show loyalties: Rush Limbaugh comparing the abuse to "hazing;" John Gibson fatuously arguing that because our enemies behead hostages, the Abu Ghraib abuse is somehow justified; Sean Hannity saying ad nauseum that the despicable conduct "of a handful" of soldiers shouldn't be permitted to sully the noble service of the rest of the American troops, as if it's a new phenomenon for the reputation of groups, races, organizations and nations to be savaged by the transgressions of a prominent few. After multiple articles condemning efforts to excuse the Abu Ghraib abuse, as well as the Scoreboard's unwavering ethical position that torture should be forbidden under all conditions as a matter of US values, law and policy, we decided to leave the condemnation of Rush and friends to others, who did not disappoint.

Nobody reads introductions, we know, so there may be readers here that do not know that the purpose of this site is to bring some clarity to ethical issues as they are raised by current events across the social and cultural spectrum. John Kerry's statement about his abortion beliefs, for example, is a living, breathing, virus of ethical confusion, and had to be highlighted here. The commentary could have been about President Bush, if he had made a speech saying that he believed all wars were immoral and unjustified, but didn't feel it was appropriate to apply his core beliefs in office. But he didn't say that. The commentary on Kerry here was motivated by ethical analysis and events, not political leanings.

Nonetheless, Ethics Scoreboard recognizes that it is important to strive for balance along the ideological spectrum. Neither left nor right has demonstrated any long term ethical superiority, and a disproportionate focus on the ethical failings of one side or the other would have the effect of creating a false impression to the contrary. Over any brief period of time, the Scoreboard may appear to be inveighing more heavily against one side or the other, but give it time. The ledger will be balanced soon. Sad but true.

And now a word as to what ethical balance is not. It is not a balance of unethical conduct; there is no such thing as a balance of unethical conduct. Several newspapers have printed accounts of the debates among viewers of Fahrenheit 9/11, and they all report the same exchanges. Someone points out that Mr. Moore distorts the facts, and a fan of the movie replies, "And the CIA didn't distort the facts?" or "What about Rush Limbaugh's distortions?" This response seems to becoming more and more common when either camp is called on its whoppers, and it does not bode well for the nation's ethical IQ. The lies, deceits, and distortions, real and imagined, of the Bush administration do not justify or excuse the lies, deceits and distortions of Michael Moore, nor do they make the use of dishonest advocacy techniques ethically acceptable. Just as it is fair to say that if there was a legitimate case for invading Iraq, it should have been made using accurate data and straight-forward arguments, it is correct to say that if Michael Moore cannot make his case against Bush without factual slight-of-hand and deceit, his arguments should be evaluated accordingly.

Ethics Scoreboard hereby vows to say no more about Moore and his film. He is one of those clever self-promoters with an agenda who obviously believes that ethics is for suckers, and that getting the bad guys, as he defines them, justifies virtually any tactic. As such, he is just too inviting a target: righteous, successful, unscrupulous, and a cultural ethical pollutant. But before we leave him, Ethics Scoreboard recommends the following article by Dave Kopel, carefully written and well-researched, about Moore's documentary. It deserves to be read by Moore's fans and detractors alike. I will gladly pass along any rebuttals to Mr. Kopel, who is still refining his analysis, as long as they are not based on the theory that one lie excuses another.

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