An Ethics Train Wreck, Indeed

As any reader of Vlad knows, May 20th was the first annual Everybody Draw Mohamed Day, and with it, many debates as to the ethics and rational of drawing a 14th century war lord when it pisses off so many morons.

Below, is the text of a debate between Gates of Vienna’s own Baron Bodissey, and an appointed ‘ethicist’ for the other side. The side that says we should not do things that offend other people and I have no idea where that is supposed to end. I guess none of us say anything.

Turns out, the ethicist had a rather unique set of ethics. I think they will be well detailed below:

Eeyore for Vlad:

The recent debate I took part in at Public Square has taken an interesting twist. Not only was my final post in the series refused for publication, but as various readers have discovered, my opponent, Jack Marshall, is not entirely what he seems to be. In addition to his deficiencies in logical reasoning, certain of Mr. Marshall’s credentials as a lawyer and an academic appear to be less than were stated in his CV.

I apologize to our readers for allowing myself to be snookered into such a shabby event. However, in my defense, I had only a couple of hours to prepare before beginning the debate — not enough time to do a thorough investigation of my opponent.

Dymphna will have more to say on the credentials issue later.

After submitting my final response for review, I posted it here, expecting that it would appear shortly at Public Square. However, instead of my post, an additional response by Mr. Marshall, “Ten Steps to An Ethics Train Wreck”, appeared two minutes before the noon deadline.

I’m not going to address what he says in his post — it’s similar to what went before, and y’all can read it for yourselves if you’re so inclined. I’m more interested in the fact that my final post was denied publication.

I wrote to the site’s owner to find out what happened, and he responded with this email:

Baron,

I can’t publish your last post as-is because I interpret most if it as a dig at PublicSquare.net itself. Attacking your opponent is one thing; going after the host of the debate is quite another. If you do not intend it that way, please edit your post accordingly and I’ll be happy to post it.

My reply:

My post contains valid criticisms of your site, which are relevant to our recently-completed “debate”.

To bill the process as a “debate” and to describe Jack Marshall as a “professional ethicist” is misleading at best. Mr. Marshall would be more accurately described as “an attorney who describes himself as an ethicist.”

To allow this type of discourse to proceed unhindered is, of course, your prerogative as the site’s administrator. In my opinion, however, to describe the process as a “debate” is a misrepresentation.

My criticisms were valid and to the point, and were clearly, reasonably, and civilly stated. If you choose to deny them a public airing on your forum, I obviously have no recourse.

I will, however, publicize this fact at our blog, and include our correspondence (with your name omitted, of course). Our blog has a wide readership, and posts of interest often go viral. So who knows? This may well increase your traffic at Public Square.

I shall also suggest to our regular readers that they visit Bloggerheads and avail themselves of the opportunity to comment on some of the posts in question, if they are so inclined.

Respectfully,
Baron Bodissey
Gates of Vienna

He wrote me one final email:
– – – – – – – –

Baron,

I’ll go over all of the posts again to see if there’s anything I should have edited differently, but you cannot expect me to post content on my own site that would dissuade others from participating in similar exchanges in the future. What you do on your own site is, of course, your own business.

Thank you for your participating and best wishes.

So that’s it, folks. I’ve been shut out for voicing honest, civil, and valid criticism of the site that hosted the “debate”.

If you decide to avail yourself of the privilege of commenting over there, please play by Gates of Vienna’s rules. We don’t want anyone’s muddy boots tracking up the pristine carpet covering the Common Ground at Public Square.

The posts at Public Square: #1 (Baron), #2 (Marshall), #3 (Baron), #4 (Marshall), #5 (Baron), #6 (Marshall), and #8 (Marshall)

My four posts here at Gates of Vienna (including the unpublished one): #1, #3, #5, and #7

Keep an eye on this space for some of the lesser known career details about the lawyer, scholar, and ethicist Jack Marshall. Dymphna is working on it.


Note: I corrected two typos (a single orthographic metathesis and a repeated word) and a mistakenly used word (“Blogbusters” for “Bloggerheads”) in my email response to the site’s owner. Otherwise the email exchange reproduced above is verbatim.

“One is Not an Ethicist Because One Says So”

by Dymphna

The Baron has already presented the facts of this debacle , that is, the purported “debate” between him and a self-appointed ethicist named Jack Marshall on the merits of “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day”.

Speeding around the learning curve can be dangerous. Not having much time, we failed to practice due diligence in checking out the Baron’s opponent. As a result, Gates of Vienna ended up stuck in one mess of a tar baby — one that was put in our path by a website named Public Square. However, we could have gone around that mess instead of jumping in. Our bad, but then that’s the nature of tar babies: they look so darn attractive.

But as soon as I saw the first paragraph by this fellow, Jack Marshall, I knew things wouldn’t go well:

My name is Jack Marshall, and I’m a professional ethicist, which means that I think about, write and teach how we determine what is right and wrong for a living. I apply ethical analysis to everything under the sun on my own blog…

Leaving aside the condescension in this blurb, look at the sentence construction, specifically,

“I think about…etc…how we determine what is right and wrong for a living”…

So how does this fellow determine what is right and wrong about a living? Obviously, he doesn’t. What he had attempted to say, however syntactically garbled, was that he made a living by teaching, writing, etc., about ethics.

This syntactical confusion was a bright red flag, a warning that the Baron’s opponent in this debate wasn’t a clear thinker.

He is worse than that. The judgment of his peers on Mr. Marshall finds him wanting ethically. That is, he presents himself as having credentials and experience he doesn’t possess.

But let me start at the beginning, when Mr. Marshall was fisked three ways to Sunday for his humorless attack on another lawyer.
– – – – – – – –
It seems that Eric Turkewitz, an attorney practicing in New York, had played an April’s Fool joke on the New York Times by claiming that he’d been appointed to serve as the official White House law blogger. On April 2nd, he gleefully retold the story:

Welcome to April 2nd. And that means a deconstruction of what happened on April Fool’s Day when I announced that I was going to become the official White House law blogger.

The basic idea was this: A bunch of law bloggers would try to punk the political bloggers, whose reputation is to grab any old rumor and run with it. Fact checking hasn’t always been the strong suit of this community.

But the political bloggers, to their collective credit, didn’t bite, despite wide dissemination of the story. Not on the right or the left. Instead it was the vaunted New York Times that ran with the story without bothering to check its facts. The Times, of course, had no sense of humor about it when the angry phone call came to me a couple of hours later.

Here’s how it played out: Knowing that the premise of me getting such a gig was, shall we say, a tad far-fetched, I enlisted some heavy-duty muscle to give it credibility. Without others watching my back, I knew the ruse wouldn’t get off the ground…

Most people appeared to find this at least mildly amusing. Most people, that is, except our prime Exhibit A, Mr. Marshall, who accused Mr. Turkewitz of “professional misconduct”. The latter brushed this claim off and proceeded to eat Mr. Marshall’s lunch (the links embedded have been omitted. Go to the original post to follow them):

Marshall claims that there is no exception for humor. I disagree. More importantly, I believe that the courts will stand behind me. And that is based on the recent legal battle over New York’s 2007 amendments to our attorney ethics rules in Alexander v Cahill. As it happens, I’ve written plenty of posts about this ongoing legal struggle over what can, and cannot be used in legal advertising.

And one of the things that the court had to decide was whether deliberate misrepresentations by a lawfirm were ethical when done with humor to make a point.

In Alexander v. Cahill, the State of New York took aim at the ads of Alexander & Catalano, as they claimed, among other things:

Lawyers being retained by aliens;
Lawyers having the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound;
Lawyers stomping around downtown Syracuse, Godzilla-style.

The State Attorney General claimed the ads were unethical because they were literally false. They actually made this argument (not on April 1st) and you can read the State’s brief if you want. (My tax dollars at work, thank you very much.)

But the ads were upheld by the District Court when the rules were found unconstitutional, and more importantly, upheld again by the Second Circuit when it likewise found the rules unconstitutional. It was all about First Amendment protections of free speech.

The Second Circuit wrote that the use of humor was not only OK, even if a false portrayal took place, but that it might actually be beneficial in some circumstances…

Thus, fooling the Times was an exercise in free speech. As Mr. Turkewitz notes, The Wall Street Journal fact-checked his assertion and passed on the story.

Mr. Marshall’s attack was both humorless and wrong, as plenty of fellow attorneys were willing to tell him. One, Scott Greenfield wrote about the story. In a post titled “Jack Marshall Can’t Take a Joke”, Scott Greenfield says of attorneys:

We maintain the right to express ourselves, to use the rhetorical mechanisms available to the rest of society, to have opinions and to be silly and frivolous, as in having some fun. We retain the right to be human, even though we’re lawyers.

Marshall lays at Eric’s feet the responsibility to behave “professionally and ethically” toward the Times because the Times trusted him. That it was April Fools Day doesn’t enter into the mix for Marshall. That Eric is a notorious April Fools prankster is ignored. The Times trusted Eric, so Eric is now obliged to wipe that silly smile off his face?

I am a huge proponent of ethical behavior by lawyers. But I am not a proponent of those who would impose bizarrely unrealistic and simplistic ethical proscriptions that would strip lawyers of their human nature, not to mention their freedom to have some fun. No one was harmed, nor was there any potential for harm. …

That Jack Marshall may not have found Turk’s prank funny is another matter. I did, but humor is personal and not everyone finds it in the same place. But his complaint isn’t that the joke was lousy, but that it was unethical. That’s a horse of a different color. Marshall, whose bio says he’s a graduate of Georgetown Law and a former criminal defense lawyer, is the proprietor of a business called ProEthics, Ltd.

[…]

It’s unclear what makes Jack Marshall an ethicist, beyond the same qualifications that make someone a social media guru. But if one is going to set oneself up as an authority on a subject like ethics, then it’s incumbent upon such an expert to do a far better job of thinking than appears here.

I suggest you read the comments at Simple Justice, which include a long, turgid response by Mr. Marshall, and at Mr. Turkewitz’ post. At the latter, you’ll find evidence for the distributed intelligence that can work so well in the blogosphere. Mr. Marshall gets on the comments there and says:

I don’t “claim” to be a legal ethicist, I am recognized as such by the New York Bar and elsewhere, teach the topic full-time in law firm and bar associations across the country, and will be launching a new three-hour legal ethics CLE program at the DC Bar’s Judicial Conference this week.

Not a smart move. Mr. Turkewitz nails him:

By the way, since you have now invoked the New York Bar, I decided to look you up to check on your registration.

And the online directory indicates that there is no one registered as an attorney by the name of Jack Marshall in the State of New York.

Readers can do their own checking at this site:
http://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/attorney/AttorneySearch

I emailed Mr. Greenfield, the attorney at Simple Justice, telling him about the hornets’ nest in which we’d found ourselves and asking if he wanted to look at the posts. He said in reply:

Yeah, Marshall is a piece of work, busily using loaded ad hominem while whining that everyone else is attacking him. You are absolutely correct, he wouldn’t know ethics if it bit him in the butt. I apologize for not reading the debate, but he infuriates me. He’s purely a self-aggrandizing self-promoter, and I really can’t stomach him.

He’s always the snide horses ass. It’s unfortunate you weren’t aware of Marshall’s lack of bona fides as an ethicist (he is an ethicist solely because he calls himself one; he has no real credentials) and his pandering, fallacious arguments. Sorry that you wasted your time with him.

Yes, of course I got permission to post his email. By way of response when I asked, he said:

Feel free to use my quote. I say nothing I don’t mean, and nothing that I won’t stand behind.

That he claims to be an ethicist is the most offensive thing of all.

Then he sent another thought:

A bit more info on Marshall. He was an adjunct prof in (I believe) 2006, but hasn’t been since. His claim that he is an adjunct is false and misleading. He was, briefly. He is not.

As to his “recognized as such by the New York Bar” there is no such thing as “the New York Bar” that recognizes anyone as an ethicist. What he is referring to is that he’s received approval for participation in a CLE (continuing legal education) program that provides ethics credits. BFD. I’ve done a dozen CLE lectures in ethics, but that has nothing to do with making me an ethicist. If the subject matter is ethics, and you otherwise fulfill the CLE rules, you are “recognized”. It means nothing as to one’s bona fides as an ethicist.

One is not an “ethicist” because one says so.

Somehow, that doesn’t prevent some people from making that claim.


Many thanks to Zenster and 4Symbols for their diligent research.

About Eeyore

Canadian artist and counter-jihad and freedom of speech activist as well as devout Schrödinger's catholic

3 Replies to “An Ethics Train Wreck, Indeed”

  1. the guy ends his stupid statement by saying:
    “Thank Allah it’s over.”

    Lets forget for a second that Kafers are not allowed to speak as though Allah is their god.

    how does he figure this is over? When did Islam surrender?

    WoW this had more of an influence then i thought.

  2. It’s my conviction, since several years now, that we have passed the point where we could afford to loose ourselves in (pseudo) academic debates with the irredeemable. Baron Bodissey should have considered his first analysis to also be the final one. (One comment of the self proclaimed ethicist: the Pakistani shutting down Facebook and Youtube has cost these companies hundreds of thousands of dollars? It’s one thing to gratuitously state such a claim, another thing to actually prove it with the breakdown of costs. Why didn’t he just?).

  3. @Fred Vanhees–

    You’re right. It was a stupid time-waster. Which I stipulated to in the begining of the post — i.e., that we got stuck in that tar baby they laid out in the road for us to see. We could’ve just gone around it; the Baron refuses those things all the time. However, the opportunity to promote Draw Mohammed Day seemed worth it in the moment. Wrong!

    They were smart: they offered something attractive — a debate — and didn’t give enough notice about it for other than cursory checking. It was our readers who performed due diligence on this self-promoter, and we are most grateful. Better to know the lack of merit in your opponent even if you learn it after the fact.

    As I said, speeding around the learning curve can be dangerous. Every once in a while, you get caught by an obstacle on the road…

    As for the argument from utility, the B nailed that one down. The response he got was gibberish. Hard to believe this guy actually makes a living in the real world.

    Interestingly, we presumed that as an “ethicist” he was an academic. What he appears to be is a failed attorney.

    Here’s a REAL ethicist who risked his well-being by publishing the Mohammed images that Yale University Press was dhimmied into pulling:

    http://www.muhammadimages.com/index.php

    Dr. Hull did a great job. The book is a slim volume which includes the cartoons plus images of Mohammed thru the ages. The one by Dali is something! The cost of the book is about 9.00 USD. I encourage people to buy it. The foreword alone is worth it.

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