What Is The White House’s Obligation To Journalism And Journalists When They Are No Longer Behaving As Journalists Nor Abiding by Journalism Ethics?

I know: I’m full of questions lately, and short on answers. I certainly don’t have an answer to this one, and the urgency of finding an answer, and a solution to the underlying crisis, is critical.

Here was Camille Paglia last week describing the state of American journalism:

“It’s obscene. It’s outrageous, OK? It shows that the Democrats are nothing now but words and fantasy and hallucination and Hollywood. There’s no journalism left. What’s happened to The New York Times? What’s happened to the major networks? It’s an outrage. I’m a professor of media studies, in addition to a professor of humanities, OK? And I think it’s absolutely grotesque the way my party has destroyed journalism. Right now, it is going to take decades to recover from this atrocity that’s going on where the news media have turned themselves over to the most childish fraternity, kind of buffoonish behavior.”

(I would link to a non-right wing source, but for some reason the mainstream media didn’t feel Paglia’s assessment was worth reporting. I wonder why?)

Now here was Peggy Noonan, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

“Dislike of Mr. Trump within the mainstream media is unalterable,” she wrote. “It permeates every network, from intern to executive producer and CEO. Here is a theory on what they’re thinking: They’re thinking attempts at fairness and balance in this charged atmosphere get them nowhere. They’re attacked by both sides. And anyway they think Mr. Trump is insane. They live on ratings, which determine advertising rates. Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Mr. Trump, so the anti-Trump audience is larger.

Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Mr. Trump, so the anti-Trump audience is larger. Moreover, people who oppose Mr. Trump tend to be more affluent, more educated, more urban. They’re more liberal, of course, and they’re younger. They’re a desirable demographic. The pro-Trump audience is more rural, more working- and middle-class, older. A particularly heartless media professional might sum them up this way: “Their next big lifestyle choice will be death.”

So, if you are a person who programs or sets the tone of network fare and you want to take a side—you shouldn’t, but you want to!—you throw your lot with the anti-Trump demo, serving them the kind of journalistic approaches and showbiz attitudes they’re likely to enjoy.

Mr. Trump, you are certain, won’t last: He’ll bring himself down or be brought down. You want to be with the winning side. So play to those who hate him, exclude others, call it integrity and reap the profits.”

Both women are substantially right at worst, despite the furious head-shaking you get from journalists, who are either in denial or corrupt, and most progressives and Democrats, who have every reason to deny the phenomenon because 1) they are the beneficiaries of it and 2) they have been leached of all integrity by emotion, arrogance, and bias.

Currently the mainstream news media is having a collective conniption because the White House is increasingly limiting reporter access. The journalists regard this as an ominous effort to constrain the free press, which it would be, except that the “free press” is not conducting itself as honest and trustworthy journalists are obligated to do.

If a lawyer practices law in blatant violation of the ethics rules, he or she doesn’t get to practice law any more. If a doctor breaches the ethical tenets of the medical profession, he or she is barred from treating patients. Journalism styles itself as a profession, meaning that it exists for the public good. Its ethical principles demand fairness, competence, responsible reporting, independence and objectivity. For a long, long time, what we still call “journalism’ for lack of a better name has not met any of these ethical ideals with sufficient consistency, and since the 2016 election, it has openly, shamelessly allied itself with the partisan effort to undermine and destroy the legally elected Presidency of Donald Trump. To do this, the mainstream news media has jettisoned its ethical values, and its right to be trusted by the public. As polls show, the public doesn’t trust them. The public still gives them more trust, out of habit, that they deserve.

For example, here’s a news flash: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/24/17

This morning, my mind is occupied by one long-standing ethics issue, and the rest seem trivial in comparison. Let’s warm up by trying to find some way out of this mess.

The ethical problem seems increasingly beyond our ability to solve. Yesterday there was second mistrial in the retrial of Raymond M. Tensing, the former University of Cincinnati police officer who has been charged with the 2015 murder and voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting Samuel DuBose, an unarmed motorist.  This is the third example of a police officer shooting a black man under questionable circumstances being found short of being criminally responsible in a week:

In St. Paul, police dashboard video showed Officer Jeronimo Yanez shoot into the car where Philando Castile was sitting with his fiancée and her daughter, and acquitted the officer. In that case, the officer appeared to have panicked after Castile reached into his pocket for his wallet after telling the officer, unasked, that he was carrying a firearm. In Milwaukee, jurors acquitted Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown after watching frame by frame as he shot once at fleeing armed suspect, Sylville K. Smith, then fired a second time after Smith tossed the gun he was holding and lay on the ground. Now, in Cincinnati, jurors couldn’t agree on the proper culpability of Officer Tensing. He stopped  DuBose for a missing license plate, then asked him for his driver’s license. Instead of producing it, DuBose pulled the door closed with his left hand and restarted the car with his right hand. The officer reached into the car with his left arm, yelled “Stop!” twice, and used his right hand to fire his gun directly, into Mr. DuBose’s head, killing him.

What can we say about these scenarios, and many others? Continue reading

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From “The Ethics Incompleteness Principle” Files: Anomalies And The Boston Red Sox Uniform Number Retirement Standards

The Ethics Incompleteness Principle argues that no rule works in all circumstances, so you have to be alert to when making exceptions is appropriate. The concept is illustrated by how the Boston Red Sox retire uniform numbers.

I will explain…

Major League Baseball teams retire the uniform numbers of players who they want to honor in perpetuity. The number is displayed somewhere in the ballpark, and no player on that team can ever wear it again.

Doing this requires standards, however, or else the honor becomes diluted and the retired numbers include those that seem increasingly strange and arbitrary as time goes by. The New York Yankees have retired so many uniform numbers that no single digit will ever again grace the back of a Yankee star. Moreover, several of the individuals who sanctified those numbers include players who never were and never will be called “great,” like Bernie Williams, who led the league in exactly one category, once, in his entire career, and whose Similarity Score index contains all very good but not great outfielders, the most similar being Paul O’Neil, a former Yankee star whose uniform is not retired. Another retired Yankee uniform number is that of Roger Maris, who only played for the Yankees for six years, many of them unremarkable. Having one’s uniform retired in the Bronx along with those of Babe, Lou, Mickey and Joe appears to mean “Somebody in charge really liked him.”

Well, at least that’s a standard that is easy to maintain.

The Boston Red Sox, in contrast, were not going to have a retired uniform glut. The franchise established an iron set of criteria for the honor, with three prongs:

1. The player must be an inarguable Red Sox great who played at least 10 years with the team.

2. The player must be an elected member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

3. The player must retire as a member of the Red Sox.

Today the Red Sox are retiring the number of David Ortiz, who retired himself at the end of last season. While he might well be voted into the Hall of Fame, he may not, for complex and controversial reasons. The Red Sox, who could reasonably argue that Ortiz has been the most popular and important player in the team’s history (though Ted Williams was the best) rightly concluded that to delegate to the  Hall of Fame voters the determination of whether Ortiz’s #34 would be retired with lesser Boston heroes made no sense. Thus his uniform number will momentarily obliterate that second prong, which had already been waived once. In that case, the beneficiary was Johnny Pesky, a classic anomaly and line-blurrer. Continue reading

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Sought: An Ethical Reason Why This Professor Should Not Be Fired Immediately, And Never Hired For A Teaching Position Again, Anywhere

 

Meanwhile, for Trinity College, the countdown has started.

After Professor Johnny Eric Williams, associate professor of sociology at Trinity College in Hartford, approvingly posted a Medium article titled “Let Them Fucking Die” on Facebook, he went on to endorse the article’s thesis ( potential rescuers like those who helped Rep. Steve Scalise should let imperiled white people die as a form of combating white supremacy) in his own Facebook posts:

The Medium article concluded with this advice regarding one’s responsibilities as a citizen and a human being when a white person is in mortal peril… Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/23/17

1. When I am forced to be away from Ethics Alarms for a long time, as was the case yesterday, it often renews my musings about whether I respond too much to reader comments. Everyone generally does just fine when I’m silent, and sometimes I find that fascinating and unexpected new topics have not only sprung from whatever ethics fertilizer I left behind,  but have grown and flourished like bamboo.

Unfortunately, I have also noticed that there have been a lot ( as in “too many”) of extended arguments between commenters that not only extend beyond reasonable limits, but also explode into personal attacks. I admit that Ethics Alarms is, for a moderated blog, unusually tolerant of this phenomenon. One reason for that is that sometimes such epic confrontations are both entertaining and enlightening, as when liberal commenter and Ethics Alarms immortal tgt and uber-conservative commenter Steven J. Pilling engaged in the Ethics Alarms equivalent of the Lincoln Douglas debates, only occasionally snapping and calling each other names.

However, while the occasional emotional outbursts are excusable, they should be rare. Reprimanding a commenter for  commenting style and habits is certainly fair, but doing it repeatedly is boring; and I want to remind everyone that while it is often frustrating, allowing someone to have the last word is not capitulation, especially when that last word is not particularly persuasive.

We also owe ourselves and everyone else self-awareness. When a commenter finds himself or herself repeatedly embroiled in long, heated exchanges, that commenter should consider the possibility that he or she is the problem.

The general principle is that we should strive to have all comments contain substance that advances the discussion. “You’re an asshole” is occasionally justified (when a comment has objectively revealed a commenter to be an asshole, and even then is not mandatory), but rarely.

2. When President Trump issued his trolling tweet about James Comey and the possibility that there were “tapes” of their conversations, I wrote that it was the President’s dumbest tweet to date. (I think he has made worse ones since, but at this point any tweet by the President is evidence of crippling stubbornness, impulsiveness and bad judgment). I did not think that what was obviously a bluff without substance would still be considered a headline-worthy issue many weeks later. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/22/17

1.  I’m trying to get this up while I prepare for a new legal ethics seminar, teaming once again with the brilliant D.C. actor Paul Morella who has toured the country in the Clarence Darrow one-man-show he and I collaborated on more than a decade ago, using Darrow’s career and courtroom oratory to analyze modern legal ethics.  Readers here have encountered a lot of those Darrow-related discussions already. For once, I’m grateful most lawyers don’t frequent this blog.

2. This now viral photo of the faces of CNN’s talking heads and analysts at the moment they realized that the Democrats had lost the Georgia Sixth District special House election that was hyped to be the beginning of a surge to the Left rejecting Donald Trump…

…and this one…

…are more than just gags. They are smoking gun evidence of the stunning lack of professionalism in journalism, and especially CNN. If there was any sensitivity or commitment to ethics on that set or in that production chain of command, every one of these arrogant hacks would have been told, “I want poker faces up there at all times. Objective and fair news reporting includes body language and facial expressions. Your attitudes warp your reporting. If anything about your demeanor betrays your personal preferences or political biases, you’re getting suspended. Got that? This isn’t a cheerleading squad.

3.  This warrants its own post, but today will be a squeeze, so I’ll focus on the astounding chutzpah of  that race’s loser here and now. Losing Georgia Six Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff was interviewed by NPR’s Rachel Martin, and this exchange resulted: Continue reading

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Illegal Immigrant Ethics Do’s And Don’ts

DON’T do this:

A customer’s cell phone video caught  a  7-Eleven clerk on Tampa, Florida screaming at a customer and asking about his immigration status after the customer used the Spanish word for ‘green’ to ask the clerk for a specific brand of cigarettes. The clerk demanded Hernandez speak English, and is is heard saying, “Are you here legally? Do you have papers? Do you have papers?”

This isn’t the clerk’s job, and if the company has not directed that all customers should not be treated with dignity, courtesy and respect, no employee should be going free-lance ICE on anyone.

A spokesman for the 7-11 owner  wrote, “Every customer is important. The statements made by the sales associate were inappropriate and offensive. We are investigating the matter and will ensure it is handled appropriately.”

“Appropriately” means firing the clerk. In addition to acting ultra vires, the clerk is also making the store unpleasant and unwelcoming for other customers, risking an escalating confrontation, and being a jerk while representing the enterprise. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

However…

Continue reading

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