Misrepresentation, Manipulation and Lies About Arizona, E-Mails and More, Brought to Us By Those We Trust

Within a span of about three minutes two days ago, I heard Tony Kornheiser on his sports radio show and Joy Behar on her whatever-the-heck-it-is cable show describe the new illegal immigration statute in Arizona in almost exactly the same words: “So the police can go up to anybody for any reason at all, ask them to prove their citizenship, and arrest them if they can’t.” Now, the law specifies “reasonable suspicion,” so whatever the Arizona law permits, Tony and Joy’s version is clearly not it. Nonetheless, this is what a large proportion of the public believes, because this is what they are being told by reporters, bloggers and elected officials…and, disgracefully, the President of the United States, who once pledged to use his gifts and power to unite rather than divide us. Speaking about the Arizona law, Obama said..

“One of the things that the  law says is local officials are allowed to ask somebody who they have a suspicion might be a illegal immigrant for their papers. Now, suddenly, if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re gonna be harassed. That’s something that could potentially happen.”

His statement is intentionally misleading and dishonest, and irresponsible leadership. As Obama, a distinguished legal scholarand a former professor of Constitutional law, well knows, the Arizona law specifies “reasonable suspicion,” not “suspicion.” If someone is harassed, which is illegal, it cannot not be “reasonable,” by definition. A law enforcement official who is following the law cannot legally harass anyone, because the law doesn’t allow that—although Obama says it does—since the law only permits inquiries based on reasonable suspicion.

In other words, President Obama intentionally misrepresented what the law permits in order to build public sentiment against it. In more inflammatory but equally accurate words, he lied.

The Fourth Amendment, again well-known to the President, who taught it, uses the term “reasonable search and seizures.” A large body of legal opinion and scholarship has accumulated over the centuries that makes it very clear that the term “reasonable” does not and cannot mean “Hey, here’s a guy buying ice cream for his children. Let’s harass him!”  Obama using his position and credibility to convince the public otherwise. People should be able to rely on their President, especially in an area where he has special expertise. He apparently believes it is worth betraying this trust and misinforming the public in order to discredit the Arizona law.

The President is incorrect. He is also wrong. Obama owes an apology to Arizona, the public that trusts him to avoid misleading them with spin and deceit, and yes, even Joy Behar, who probably doesn’t know the difference between the Fourth Amendment and the Fourth of July, and based on her comments, probably has a shrine erected to Obama in her home.

Sure, members of the public could do the research and learn that Obama misled them, but he knows most of them won’t. The same tactic of intentional misrepresentation is being used to ruin the reputation of the hapless Harvard Law student under fire for her politically incorrect e-mail to some fellow students. A blog called “Long Island Sweet Tea” described her e-mail this way:

“In a nutshell, she sent out an e-mail to a group of people after attending an event, where she wanted to clarify her statements.  In case she was not abundantly clear, she wanted them to understand that she was not wavering and adamantly believed that ‘African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.’  I guess this young lady would make an exception to the African-American students in her law school class or simply chalk them up to good ol’ affirmative action.”

This is a complete misrepesentation. The student did not write that she “adamantly believed that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.” There is no way that what she wrote could be fairly read to say that. She didn’t suggest that she believed this at all. She said that she did not rule out the possibility. There are many things that you and I may not believe that we still cannot rule out as a possibility. I don’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that a plesiosaur is swimming in there somewhere. I don’t believe that the health care reform bill is going to do more good than harm, but I wouldn’t rule it out.  The blogger couldn’t make the student sound like a racist without intentionally misstating what she wrote, so that’s what he did.

His outrageously unfair conclusion about how she views her African-American colleagues at law school doesn’t follow from what she wrote, and it doesn’t even follow from his distortion of what she wrote. If she were convinced that African Americans on average were less intellectually gifted than whites on average, this still would not justify assuming that any individual black student was less able than any individual white student.

Answering protests about his intentional misrepresentation, the blogger was unrepentant:

“I provided a very brief synopsis of the young lady’s quote because my intention was not to debate her theory. I also provided the link so that readers could obtain the full story.”

More lies!

  • A fabricated version of a story is not a synopsis; it is a deception.
  • There was no “theory” to debate! The e-mail said she would not rule out the possibility that there were differences in intelligence among the races, or “obviously” the possibility that there were not. When one expresses equal openness to diametrically opposed points of view, one has not proposed any theory at all.
  • A blogger who intentionally misrepresents facts cannot cleanse that ethical misconduct by including a link that will allow readers so inclined to discover his lie, any more that the availability of the Arizona law on-line relieves President Obama of responsibility for his dishonest statement.

There is so much information available to the public on the web, on cable TV, and in the traditional media, and yet it is increasingly difficult to avoid forming opinions based on inaccurate information, and sometimes dishonest information. In these cases, which are only two of too many recent examples to count, intentional misrepresentations  have been offered to convince that public of racism where none is in evidence. If it was, nobody would have to fabricate facts, would they?

Unscrupulous, lazy, arrogant, ignorant, or incompetent reporters, bloggers, celebrities, pundits and elected officials are using communications media to misinform and mislead those who trust them to convey the truth. All of us, regardless of whether we like the individuals involved or sympathize with their motives, have to recognize this, protest it, and condemn it. If we don’t, we will no longer be able to tell what is true, and what is not.

3 thoughts on “Misrepresentation, Manipulation and Lies About Arizona, E-Mails and More, Brought to Us By Those We Trust

  1. The reason the 3L was racist was that there are 3 possibilities that actually exist.
    1) Group A is less intelligent than group B
    2) Groups A and B are equally intelligent
    3) Group B is more intelligent than group A.

    The third possibility was never discussed. She never said ‘yes, and I don’t rule out the possibility that African Americans are more intelligent than whites.’

    Her confirmation bias is what makes her email racist.

    As for the blogger, he misrepresented her words perhaps. I am not sure if he misrepresented her intentions.

    • Oh, there are a lot more possibilities than that. “Intelligence” means too many things. Do we mean IQ? Do we mean social intelligence? Creativity? Problem solving? Memory? What “groups” are we talking about? Which “group” does President Obama belong to?

      She didn’t say “I don’t rule out the possibility that the Red Sox lousy start is a statistical anomaly that will be corrected as soon as the team gets its bearings,” either, but she still might feel that way. You can’t make any judgements about her based on what she didn’t write in one e-mail; don’t be silly. The one being guided here by confirmation bias is you.

      By representing her words dishonestly, he made it impossible for anyone to make a fair assessment of her intentions—not that it matters. Her intentions may have been to be a devil’s advocate, or to be provocative, or to think out loud, or to make people actually defend a position rather than just assume it. What she clearly didn’t intend was to have her musings publicized beyond a small circle, because she correctly presumed that an academic environment is not a re-education camp but rather a place where any ideas can be debated without censorship or punishment. She was wrong about this, but she shouldn’t have been.

  2. Pingback: Bully Pulpit Ethics: Obama’s Alarming Flat Learning Curve « Ethics Alarms

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