When we can’t even figure out what ethical conduct is, it’s hopeless.

Mitt Romney’s appearance before the NAACP this week gives us a classic and depressing example of how the collision of confirmation bias, an unprofessional news media, impenetrable partisanship and political cynicism not only obscure the truth, but make it literally—and I mean literally literally, not as Joe Biden uses the term, which is to mean figuratively—impossible.


  • The media, in almost every case, highlighted the fact that Mitt Romney was booed by the NAACP audience when he swore to abolish “Obamacare.” Did you know that at one point in his speech, when Romney mentioned defending traditional—as in same sex—marriage, the audience applauded, and some stood? If you do, you only found out by digging into so-called “conservative media sources.” Why isn’t this more of a story than the booing? Why wasn’t at least part of the story? Isn’t that useful information? Why does the media want to show nothing but enmity between African-Americans and the Republican nominee? Why wouldn’t the fact that the audience was listening to the substance of his remarks and responding positively in some cases be significant?
  • The NAACP has criticized prominent Republicans for not accepting it invitations to speak, maintaining the fiction that this wholly owned  subsidiary of the Democratic Party is “bi-partisan,” as its charter falsely claims. Then when one of them accepts such an invitation, these gracious hosts boos him. Booing is bad manners at a baseball game; in this circumstance, it is infinitely worse. If Romney had advocated a return to Jim Crow or used a racial epithet, then maybe booing would be justified. He did not. He merely stated a policy position, repealing the Affordable Care Act, that audience members did not like. They boo him, and this indignity becomes the story, thanks to the media’s tunnel vision. Why would any Republican accept such an invitation? The NAACP has proved itself to be an unethical and abusive host.
  • Now the Democratic narrative is that Romney wanted the NAACP to boo him, so he could appeal, in the despicable words of MSNBC’s even more despicable Lawrence O’Donnell, to “certain racist precincts.” So Romney assumed that the NAACP audience was made up of boors who would boo his position on the Affordable Care Act? And O’Donnell assumes that this is enough to make NAACP boors boo? Who is the racist here? When Romney says he “expected to be booed,” which is significantly different from wanting to be booed, is he admitting that he, like O’Donnell, has low expectations for black audiences? Why shouldn’t Romney say that, since he was in fact treated rudely, as other Republicans have been in the past? Should he say, instead, that he was disappointed and shocked at the groups lack of respect and basic etiquette? Would that be better, or worse?

“Some say it’s to his credit that he didn’t pander, that he delivered the boilerplate he might serve to a sympathetic GOP town-hall rally. Nonsense. Politicians tailor their speeches all the time – to military veterans, women’s groups, police officers or Wall Street bundlers.”

So now it’s unethical not to pander, because ever other politician does it! (“Everybody does it” is, of course, the most famous unethical rationalization for unethical conduct, but to be fair: what would we expect a journalist to know about ethics?) Yet is there any question that if Romney tailored a speech to the NAACP, he would be criticized for being insincere and engaging in shameless pandering?

I fear that it’s hopeless. Not only is impossible for a candidate to know what is right, courageous, sensible, respectful and fair in this environment, it is impossible for the rest of us to agree on what right, courageous, sensible, respectful and fair mean.




Graphic: On Life Mag

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

3 thoughts on “Boooo!

      • Yeah, you’re right about the headlines. I just wanted to point out that the story I saw also indicated that there were some points in the speech where Mitt earned a few applause. Personally, I think the news story is the fact that he was booed. The fairness of the story would be to include the rest of the context, which CNN did right.

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