Thursday, May 3, 2012

Trayvon Martin’s death has infected headlines since news of its occurrence became known to the public. Several media outlets have reported the story, commented upon the story, and even advocated manners in which to help the Martin family seek justice against George Zimmerman --the man that shot and murdered Martin in his gated, suburban Florida community. No media coverage of the situation has received more backlash than The Daily Texan. The Daily Texan, University of Texas at Austin’s school newspaper, published the following image in connection to a story they ran about the Martin case.

This above image created a large deal of uproar for four chief reasons.

  1. The image is overtly satirical with the descriptions “Big Bad” and “sweet, innocent.” 
  2. The image accused the media of sensationalizing the Martin case by labeling coverage of Trayvon Martin’s incident as yellow journalism. 
  3. The description of yellow journalism downplays the extremity of the situation and essentially pardons Zimmerman because he was a victim of stories hyperbolized in order to seem newsworthy.
  4. The illustration uses “colored boy” to describe Martin. The term “colored” is a racial slur in modern day society.

The Daily Texan’s Editorial staff responded in a manner that parallels the palaver tree’s values to appease critics of their initial publication about the Martin case. They worked to create harmony instead of promoting truth, for they released the following statement:

A controversial editorial cartoon on the Trayvon Martin shooting was published Tuesday on the Opinion page of The Daily Texan. The Daily Texan Editorial Board recognizes the sensitive nature of the cartoon’s subject matter.
The views expressed in the cartoon are not those of the editorial board. They are those of the artist. It is the policy of the editorial board to publish the views of our columnists and cartoonists, even if we disagree with them.

I doubt the final statement made in their release is true, for editors have the power and responsibility to control the flow of information that reaches their intended audiences. This is a part of the gate keeping function of journalism. I understand a desire to create harmony and minimize any discord between the UT community and its school paper. Creating harmony, however, is unethical when it allows or causes people in a position of power to avoid being accountable for their actions. If the editorial-board would have decided to not act in accordance to the palaver value of harmony but instead truth, I would have had more respect for the Daily Texan. They would have risked breaking bridges, true, but they would not have blamed one of their own to protect image. The accountability that they should have had is a true mark of integrity.

The Ethics Behind Siding with WBC

March 10, 2006 marked a monumental time for Maryland native Albert Snyder. Snyder’s son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, died in a non-combat Humvee accident in Iraq 7 days prior, and the 10th was the day of the funeral. On his way to the funeral, Snyder saw the tops of picket signs, but paid no attention to them, because the sorrow he bore in his heart felt like an elephant sitting on his chest. The funeral occurred, and Albert Snyder stumbled home with tear-filled eyes and snot-filled nostrils after burying his son. Looking for an escape for the emotionally crippling world surrounding him, Snyder turned on the television. A pulse surged through his body, however, as he heard both he and his son’s names on the news. His focus immediately drew toward the TV screen, and he found out that the signs he previously ignored contained the following messages in connection with his son’s soldiers: “‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers,’ ‘Fags Doom Nations,’ ‘America is Doomed,’ ‘Priests Rape Boys,’ and ‘You’re Going to Hell.’”
Unbeknownst to Snyder, Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) received permission to lawfully gather and peacefully protest at public areas near the funeral while Snyder was coordinating the pickup and burial of his son. The picketing occurred 1000 feet, nearly three and a half football field lengths, away from the Catholic Church in Westminster where the funeral was being held. It also occurred in accordance with all guidelines and rules given to the protesters before the funeral occur. The WBC protesters also never infringed upon the funeral procession or breached onto private territory during their peaceful condemnation of gays in the military and declaration of God’s angers and hates.

After the funeral, Snyder began feeling bouts of depression that he alleged were in connection to Westboro’s protest. Whenever Snyder spent time alone, the words from slogans etched on Westboro’s protest sign (including "God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”) constantly scrolled through his mind like scores on the bottom of ESPN. There was no way for him to escape the memories of either his son’s death or his son’s funeral. These images continued to flash in Snyder’s mind, and on June 5, 2011 Albert Snyder decided to sue Westboro Baptist Church for defamation of his son, intentional infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, publication of private facts, and civil conspiracy. In October of 2007 the case went to the U.S. District court of Baltimore and, through a process riddled by appeals, landed into the laps of Chief Justice John Roberts and the other 8 justices of the supreme court.

Although it seems that the Supreme Court should have sided with Snyder when one thinks of ethical choices, the Supreme whole.” This concept diluted becomes doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of number of people. Court made not only a lawful decision by siding with Fred Phelps and WBC but the true ethical choice. According to John Stuart Mill’s principle of utility, now known as utilitarianism, one has to “seek the greatest happiness for the aggregate According to the majority opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts:

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and - as it did here - inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course - to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.

Because American society highly aligns with utilitarianism when forging its subconscious code of ethics, Roberts’ sentiment makes sense. In order to protect the inalienable right of speech for all men and women, the court has to protect the inalienable right of people who use speech in an offensive and border-line abusive manner. Despite the hurtful nature of the speech’s content or the tastelessness of the speech’s context, the speech’s content was not to directly attack Matthew Snyder but rather the provide commentary on the state of religious, ethical, and political filth and corruption that America was currently in. Using utilitarianism as a basis for this decision was a great move, and ethically WBC had to win although they are the villains in this case. This victory may cause emotional and financial pain to Albert Snyder but it gives hope and power to the American public, for their First Amendment right to show political discontent,  express religious frustration, and evoke positive change through a public forum of ideas was protected and strengthened.

Hill's Alleged Assault

On April 30, 2012 Los Angeles Lakers reserve power forward/center was charged with a third degree felony for allegedly choking his former girlfriend of two years. Although expected to return to Houston--the site of the alleged incident--and be present at a 9:30 hearing at Harris County District Court on May 1st, Hill spent his Monday night snuggled in his bed at his Los Angeles home. Hill’s Tuesday morning was spent mentally preparing for athletic battle and his Tuesday night was spent in front of millions of viewers at Staples Center and on TNT.
Sure people deserve to be innocent until proven guilty; however, how can he be deemed innocent or guilty if he can circumvent the due process granted to him because of his status has a NBA player. When has playoff games or winning a championship become more important than justice in American society.
I am appalled that he was pardoned from his hearing and will continue to be indefinitely pardoned because American society wants Hill to appear at the court in the Staples Center Arena and not a court with judges and legitimate rulings. Even if the alleged crime didn’t occur, Hill should be proven innocent of the felony allegation in court before being allowed to continue game play with the storied NBA franchise. Delinquency, or rumors of it occurring, cannot be tolerated by an organization with as much financial and social clout as the NBA simply to appease basketball enthusiasts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an organization that prides itself on defending all animals from humans eating them, wearing them, experimenting on them, using them for entertainment, and any other actions that proliferate the abuse or exploitation of animals. PETA’s blind passion has led to several campaigns that are viewed by the general public as outlandish, libelous, misogynistic, sexist, and sexually exploitative. These advertisements --featuring nude women and women performing sexually suggestive acts with vegetables-- have become so infamous and tabooed that PETA is more known for using naked women showering together or posing to advertise a cause and less known for the actual cause they are intending to thrust into the national spotlight through controversy.
These trivial images are just the beginning for PETA’s sexually suggestive and erotic advertisements. PETA spokeswoman, Lindsay Rajt, announced in August 2011 an advertisement campaign sure to deter many supporters and further the abhorrence of negative pundits: is PETA’s audacious response to Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) authorization of the creation of .xxx domain names.
ICANN is an international non-profit organization and government affiliated agency housed in California. According to ICANN’s website, the organization’s chief purpose is to coordinate IP addresses, organize domain names, and manage other identifiers of internet locations across the world wide web.# As a part of their responsibility to organize domain names, ICANN is strongly encouraging pornographic websites to create .xxx domain names to facilitate internet safety by virtually creating a red light district for the internet.
.XXX domains are not only being used by distributors of the adult industry. Many corporations and schools have created .xxx domain names to prevent their brand from being tarnished from association or confusion with pornography. Another motive for organizations to block .xxx domains similar to their institution or organization’s name is to avoid cyber squatting-- the registration of domain names of well known organizations and brands to eventually resale for profit. Harvard University, for example, purchased and has reserved the website from registration. Other universities and organizations, such as Texas Christian University, Ohio State University, Red Cross, and MTV have done the same.#
PETA too bought a .xxx domain name with the appellation of PETA; however, instead of purchasing to block an outside force from using their title, they plan to soon launch a pornographic website to enhance their mission of “get[ting] the animal rights message out to as many people as possible.”#

While spreading their mission, PETA acts in a Machiavellian manner. Niccollo Machiavelli is an Italian writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He is Best known for writing The Prince which was published in 1532. In the Prince he write, “Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil.” No matter how you go about doing things (people will judge and hate you), thus you have to work to reach your end goals. Your ends will justify your means, so it doesn’t matter if they are good or ethically strong.
This concept--originally created by Machiavelli--has now been adapted in the ethical system consequentialism. This ethical standard basically states that the results/final consequences of an action determines whether or not that action was ethical in the first place. Although they feel that their advertisements get their message across, one has to ask if their means (exploiting women) justifies their ends (promoting the ethical treatment of animals).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ethical Elkind?

In honor of the recent visit by Mr. Elkind, I thought is was only appropriate to comment on what I found unethical about Elkind’s critically acclaimed novel The Smartest Guys in the Room. Although Elkind’s book easily captured me as a reader and brought me into both the general business world and the world of Enron with descriptive language and clear translations of business jargon to common English, The Smartest Guys in the Room wasn’t perfect. Elkind’s writing throughout the story showed one large flaw that could not be overseen: extremely poor attribution and sourcing.
First there was a great amount of use of anonymous commentary in the story. As a journalist, this bothered me. As stated in the 2009 AP Stylebook:
Under AP’s rules material from anonymous sources may be used only if: [a] The material is information and is not opinion or speculation, and is vital to the news report. [b] The information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source. [c] The source is reliable, and in a position to have accurate information…Explain in the story why the sources requested anonymity. And, when it’s relevant, describe the source’s motive for disclosing the information. The story also must provide attribution that establishes the source’s credibility; simply quoting “a source” is not allowed. Be as descriptive as possible.
The anonymity used could have been seen as a means to garner background information; however, the majority of the information gathered from anonymous sources were opinion. A great example of the frivolity of a large some of the anonymous comments comes when Elkind and McLean quoted a nameless credit officer from an unspecified Wall Street firm saying, “We thought Enron was a very funky animal that kept getting funkier and funkier” (340). This quote added absolutely nothing to the story. I had no idea who it came from, and the description of the source was so ambiguous that I paid it no mind. Further, the substance of the quote was poor at best. Also, Elkind and his co author never mentioned why any sources were anonymous. As a reader, I feel that this prevarication takes away a great deal of transparency. It is the author’s ethical obligation to provide the reader with a sense of legitimacy coupling his/her work. Without sourcing or attribute, I have no basis to believe whether or not the information he provided was truth. I am forced to go off of blind faith, and he remains free of not “abusing” his ability to utilize anonymous sources.
When sources were given a name and a face behind them, none of their quotes were attributed. There should have been hundreds of endnotes littering the last printed pages of the book. Instead, there is nothing and the reader is left contemplating the legitimacy of the entire story. Elkind and his co author empowered the readers with a great deal of trust, for the readers had no idea if the information presented to them by the authors was completely falsified or not. A lack of attribution is synonymous with a lack of credibility in the journalism world. This coupled with the inherent lack of credibility created through anonymity is the author’s major downfall in regards to the research and presentation of the book. Despite these “flaws,” The Smartest Guys in the Room was exceptionally engaging and entertaining. It provided an insider’s approach to the famous Enron story and by capturing the personalities and actions of the 125 characters noted in the story, Elkind and his co authour created an easily accessible work of non-fiction business literature.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Ethics of Eating Meat

As a member of modern day society, I feel that it is my moral obligation to eat meat. Meat isn’t just one of many sources that provides vitamins and nutrients. It isn’t just the remnants of an animal carcass. It is not just a by product of animal cruelty. Meat is a representation of a large network of industries that provides economic security to families and ensures health of both animals and humans.

Before I start trudging through my argument, let’s look at a world where no human is a carnivore. Without meat eating, the world would be devoid of a slew of restaurants, processing plants, packaging plants, and other job sources for the nation’s men and women. Deer would run rampant, because there would be no justifiable reason for hunting. Areas with deer overpopulation have a raised amount of car accidents, higher rates of dangerous illnesses like lyme disease, and have a population of dear that are weak and malnourished due to a high demand of nutritious food for them. There would be a large amount of deforestation (which is the removal of trees from land) to create fertile soil for crops. This would in turn run animals out of their present homes, take away their shelter, and reduce their natural mechanisms of survival. These animals will either adapt to their new environments or die. The cute farm animals whose lives we wish to save, will too most likely die, for they are protected by farmers and bred for the purposes of providing meat, eggs, milk, etc. Without this protection, they stand low on the totem pole of animals in the wild. Maybe you think this sounds wonderful, but I personally find this probable outcome of a world devoid of meat to be awful. If you are a vegetarian or vegan and don’t think this sounds like a beautiful place, maybe you should reconsider your stance on the ethics of eating meat and starting grilling a steak before you continue reading.

Now, I want to point out a common flaw in the quibble that most individuals have with meat eaters: People eat meat at the expense of killing an entity that is already living. Fruit, vegetables, and other plants are all living things as well. We take the lives of those things everyday to provide our bodies with sustenance. The easy counter argument to this is that plants don’t feel pain and animals do, but how do we know? There are no studies showing whether or not plants feel pain, so until we know for a fact it is ridiculous to make an assumption.

Many of you are probably laughing now, but let me delve further into this past idea. We are against killing animals for food because they feel pain and they are helpless. Killing animals, however, provides economic security through a creation of jobs, provides people with food necessary to survive, and in some cases reduces health issues from overpopulation (as with deer and duck). Isn’t this very similar to war? We send fleets of men and women to kill in order to provide a sort of security to our land just like we kill animals to provide security. The people who die at the hands of American soldiers feel pain just like animals do. The individuals who end up being killed are rendered helpless as well. They aren’t as well equipped as us, for they have inferior technology and weapons. More disturbing, they are actually people. Even worse, many times casualty numbers are forged by the deaths of innocent children, men and women just because they live in a certain location.

We as Americans have virtually no sympathy for the lives slaughtered intentionally during warfare, and those are our brothers and sisters inherently bonded to us by our common humanness in this global community. We justify killing other humans with a utilitarian outlook--saying that we are doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of Americans. We have to kill them to provide for ourselves and others. Killing animals for food is the same exact thing but with more justification. It is only right and necessary to eat meat.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Miami Heat Takes Bold Action

Before taking care of business on Friday night in a lopsidedvictory over the Detroit Pistons, The Miami Heat banded together to take care of business both socially and ethically by shedding light on the unfortunate death of a 17-year-old, hooded Trayvon Martin.
Nearly a month ago, Martin was shot and killed by the captain of his community’s neighborhood watch while he was returning home from a nearby convenient store after iced tea and skittles. The neighborhood watch captain, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, alleged that he shot and killed Martin as self-defense. Police reported that Martin was unarmed.
The police officials who handled Martin’s case initially dismissed what occurred. Those same police are now under heavy scrutiny for their lack of effort to seek justice for Martin. Many people believe the lack of follow through by the police was caused by Martin being African American.
In response to the event, the Miami Heat took a team photo where every individual was hooded in a similar fashion to Martin. NBA All-Star and Miami Heat small forward Lebron James tweeted the photo (seen below) prior to the game with hashtags #WeareTrayvonMartin, #WeWantJustice, #Stereotyped, and #Hoodies accompanying the photo. The team scribbled similar messages on their shoes to honor the murdered teenager. They wore them during their game against the Pistons.
The Miami Heat is a team that is considered to be the filled with villains of sports and stereotyped to represent all that is unethical in the National Basketball Association. The Heat’s poor reputation primarily stems from two events: Lebron James’ “The Decision” and Dwayne Wade’s hard foul on Kobe Bryant and subsequent comments earlier this season. Despite this, the members of the Heat did a bold thing.  They opened themselves up to criticism and public scrutiny by publically supporting the Martin family. They took this risk, however, because they are leaders in their communities and not just athletes. They did what they thought was ethical and used their prominence to bring the social inequalities/ racial undertones associated with the shooting of Martin to the forefront of both the media’s and the general public’s attention.

During the summer of 2010, free agent all-star Lebron James hosted the ill-advised “The Decision” on ESPN. During the special, he announced that he would leave the Cleveland Cavaliers—where he had been a stalwart for both the team and the city—and “take his talents to south beach.”
The Heat’s reputation for unethical discourse was furthered in early 2012 when all-star shooting guard Dwayne Wade showed little remorse after breaking the nose of fan favorite Kobe Bryant and leaving him with a concussion during the 2012 NBA all-star game.