I must say, this is the sort of thing that makes the heart of an ethicist, or at least this ethicist’s, swell with joy as the strains of “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life At Last I Found You!” take control of his brain, and the song bursts, full-blown and soaring, from his lips…You’ll have to excuse me…
Glenn Kessler’s “Fact Checker” column in today’s Sunday Post is a cornucopia of wonderful topics, including…
- The dishonest conduct of media “fact-checkers” in using their columns not to dispute facts but to take issue with opinions, usually on partisan grounds, with which they disagree.
- The misuse of “lies” and “lying” to describe either mistakes or opinions, neither of which are lies.
- People who lie themselves while accusing others of lies.
- Fact-checkers who misstate facts while accusing others of misstating facts.
- The common misunderstanding that “consent” makes a boss’s sexual relationship with his or her subordinate ethically acceptable.
- Rand Paul!
- Bill Clinton!
- Rand Paul attacking Bill Clinton!
- ANYONE defending Bill Clinton’s conduct involving Monica Lewinsky.
- The news media’s already evident intent to defend against all attacks, direct or oblique, on the liberal establishment’s choice for President in 2016, Hillary “The First Enabler” Clinton.
It just doesn’t get much better than this.
Let us begin with the root of Kessler’s column and his inspiration, this statement by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky):
“Yeah, I mean, [former president Bill Clinton is] a predator, a sexual predator, basically. Repetitive — you know there’s dozens or at least a half a dozen public women who have come forward.”
It would be hard to find a public statement that so clearly signals its status as a statement of general opinion rather than authoritative fact. Paul says Bill Clinton is “basically” a sexual predator. I think Clinton is basically a sociopath, and that Paul is basically a wacko—both are clearly opinions. Neither could sue me for defamation based on such a statement, even if they weren’t public figures. Paul also says there are “dozens or at least a half a dozen public women who have come forward,” which is also not a definitive assertion. It means “a lot—more than six.” I think, myself, that for a President of the United States two is a lot, as in too many. Glenn Kessler is free to disagree.
Now let’s look at the headlines that grace Kessler’s column. In its text, Kessler says,
“We are interested in his use of numbers. He first referenced “dozens” of women but then amended that to “at least a half a dozen public women who have come forward. Is that really correct?”
Now here are how his paper headlines his examination of the “numbers”. From the print edition:
“Rand Paul calls Clinton a ‘sexual predator,’ but the facts don’t support his claim”
1. Kessler said his dispute was about the numbers, not Paul’s characterization of Clinton, which isn’t a claim, but an opinion—one that I agree with, incidentally. The headline is a false characterization of what Kessler himself says is the basis for his column.
2. I know—“the Post writers don’t compose the headlines.” I am sick of this dodge. Kessler’s the author, and his by-line is under the headline. Kessler is accountable, as is the Post.
3. The false headline—this is an opinion as much as Paul’s, and the column is supposedly about “facts”—is designed to mislead the substantial number of casual perusers of the Post who just read headlines…especially those looking for rationalizations not to regard Bill Clinton as the lying bounder he most certainly has proven himself to be.
Now the online header, which is amazing:
“Paul’s claim that ‘at least half a dozen’ women called Clinton a ‘sexual predator’”
Read the quote from Paul that Kessler says is what he is “fact-checking.” Is there anything in it about ‘at least half a dozen’ women calling Clinton a ‘sexual predator’? Why, no, come to think of it, there isn’t! So a Washington Post column called “the Fact Checker” is headlined on the web with an unequivocally false fact. In this case, however, Kessler can’t blame the headline writer, for he is the one responsible for this whopper. He writes:
“Paul needs to get his facts straight, rather than cavalierly toss out claims of “dozens” or “half a dozen” women publicly claiming that Clinton was a sexual predator. That’s a very serious charge to make…”
It might be, if Sen. Paul made such a charge. Yes, the Fact Checker concludes his authoritative “check” of Rand Paul’s statement with a false and inaccurate statement of what Paul said!
Oh, no! My heart is swelling again…
Sorry: I hope that is the last time. (But that Victor Herbert could really bring it, you know?)
Let us now jump to the end of Kessler’s piece, after he falsely states that Paul asserted that multiple women called Clinton a sexual predator, where he awards Sen. Paul “three Pinocchios” for stating that he thinks Clinton is a sexual predator (as do I). Pinocchio, as we all know from the Disney movie, was prone to lying, and thus the term Pinocchio, used as Kessler uses it, denotes the intent by a speaker to deceive. Paul obviously believes Clinton is a sexual predator; he is an M.D. too, which gives his opinion on matters pathological a little more authority than that of a newspaper fact checker who can’t keep his facts straight. Whether Paul is correct or not—and unless and until Clinton gets a clinical diagnosis from an expert in the field, we will never know for sure—his statement is still an opinion. It might be a mistaken opinion or even a reckless opinion, but unless Paul does not believe that Clinton is a sexual predator, his statement does nor deserve, one , two, three or any “Pinochios,” because these symbols label what he said as a lie.
Verdict: The wielder of the Washington Post’s designation for lies and liars either doesn’t know what a lie is, or worse, is lying himself.
Finally, let’s examine Kessler’s rebuttal of Paul’s statement, noting at the outset that as a “fact checker,” he’s not supposed to be debating or rebutting, but checking facts that were misstated by a public speaker. Kessler jumps back and forth like a kangaroo rat here, beginning by repeating the Merriam-Webster definition of sexual predator: “a person who has committed a sexually violent offense and especially one who is likely to commit more sexual offenses.” This is not the basis on which Paul should be challenged. He should be challenged on the basis of what is commonly meant by sexual predator in public and private discourse, an individual constantly on the prowl for sexual conquests, using whatever means and opportunities are available to him. Wikipedia has it right (and I checked there only after writing the previous sentence):
“The term sexual predator is used pejoratively to describe a person seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a metaphorically ‘predatory’ manner. Analogous to how a predator hunts down its prey, so the sexual predator is thought to ‘hunt’ for his or her sex partners”
I assume this is how Paul used the term in connection with Clinton, but it really doesn’t matter. If any common use and understanding of the term fits Paul’s use of it, and several do, the fact that the Merriam-Webster definition does not is irrelevant. Kessler cherry-picked the definition that would best support his attack on Paul….unethical tactics for a “fact checker.”
He then writes..
“…Paul appears to be placing Monica Lewinsky on the list of so-called Clinton victims.That was a consensual affair, in which Lewinsky was an eager participant, but Paul appears to take umbrage at the fact that she was 22 when the affair started and Clinton was the boss. “Having sex with an intern at the office is inappropriate by any standard,” he told Newsmax TV. On C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” show, he described Clinton as “some kind of abusive boss that uses their position of authority to take advantage of a young woman … a perpetrator of that kind of sexual harassment.” Paul’s point is a bit muddled. On the one hand, he is using terms that suggest he is talking only about women who were allegedly the subject of sexual violence. But then he also cites women who became lovers when Clinton was in an executive position.”
- “So-called” Clinton victims. Nice. Kessler outs himself as a shameless Clinton apologist, and should be banished to the icy Potomac. Let’s examine what the life of Monica Lewinsky has become as a result of Clinton’s exploitation and its aftermath, and the permanent transformation of her name as a synonym for “blow-job.” No career, no husband, no family, and a cultural pariah, all of which would probably not be the case if the President of the United States had the character to behave like a President of the United States, or even an honorable man. So-called victim indeed.
- “That was a consensual affair, in which Lewinsky was an eager participant, but Paul appears to take umbrage at the fact that she was 22 when the affair started and Clinton was the boss.” I give corporate trainings in sexual harassment, and there is no such thing as a “consensual affair” when the disparity of power is as great as that between Clinton and Lewinsky. That used to be the position of NOW and feminists too, until Gloria Steinem quickly revised the definition to accommodate her political ally when he was caught, literally, with his pants down. As long as a woman is subject to adverse employment measures from her partner, the relationship is unequal by definition, and her “consent” cannot be presumed to be voluntary or unaffected by adverse influence or coecion. Paul’s “umbrage” is 100% justified; Kessler is wrong.
- “On the one hand, he is using terms that suggest he is talking only about women who were allegedly the subject of sexual violence. But then he also cites women who became lovers when Clinton was in an executive position.” No, Kessler is the one injecting violence into the equation, as I pointed out above. Paul didn’t mention violence.
Then Kessler, incredibly, briefly recaps seven of the known cases where women claimed either adulterous, forced, or workplace related sexual encounters with Clinton—seven, to prove that Clinton isn’t a sexual predator. Here is what he writes about the most disturbing of those, Juanita Broaddrick :
“The nursing home administrator emerged after the impeachment trial to allege that 21 years earlier Clinton had raped her. Clinton flatly denied the claim, and there were inconsistencies in her story. No charges were ever brought.”
In case you have forgotten, here is Broaddrick’s story, and a later Slate post examining her credibility. If true, it even meets the violence standard that Kessler is determined to apply. Ultimately, the story’s credibility rests on who one chooses to believe: a middle-aged woman who desperately wanted to avoid the spotlight and who had nothing to gain from manufacturing such a story, or a politician with everything to lose, a history of sexual misconduct, and a documented record of being a prolific and skilled liar. I don’t think it’s a tough call, myself. Apparently, neither does Rand Paul.
Finally, Kessler airily dismisses accounts of far more Clinton victims, conquests and sexual prey—21 in all—using this tortured logic:
“But Paul can’t possibly be citing claims concerning unnamed accusers. When sexual harassment claims were made against GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, Paul dismissed them because the women refused to publicly identify themselves. He said such anonymous allegations should never have been the subject of a news story. “To libel someone’s character and not put your name on it, I think is inappropriate and shouldn’t be printed,” he told the National Review.”
Huh? There is nothing inconsistent or hypocritical about Paul taking such anonymous accusations into account as he forms his opinion about Bill Clinton’s character, and his saying earlier that anonymous accusations should not be the sole basis of a news story designed to derail a Presidential candidate, Herman Cain. In Cain’s case, a series of accusations of sexual harassment against him by women who declined to be identified were used as the basis for news stories sinking Herman Cain’s Presidential campaign. That was unfair, as I wrote at the time and Paul correctly stated. Prior to those allegations, Cain had never been accused in public of similar conduct. Kessler is trying to make the absurd argument that the existence of 21 unnamed accusers of a public figure with an already long list of named women on his record and a reputation as a Lothario should be accorded no more probative reliability than three anonymous accusers of a public figure who had no previous accusations attached to him.
Finally, Kessler sinks to this:
“Under the most generous accounting, one can find just three women who publicly came forward with claims of sexual assault, but none was ever proven in a court of law.”
Does this man read his own articles? “Just” three? Just three women alleging sexual assault by the man whom the Democrats chose to be their highest profile speaker at a national convention celebrating the rights of women? Just three women alleging sexual assault by the man who is the top fundraiser and most popular figure of the political party proclaiming that the other party shows disrespect for women? Just three women alleging sexual assault by the man enabled, defended and supported by the supposed feminist icon who is being anointed as the 2016 Presidential nominee of this party? Just THREE?
Can anyone name me any other political figure, including likely sexual predator Jack Kennedy—another icon of “the party of women”—who had three such accusers? Or two?
And to conclude with “but none was ever proven in a court of law”! So what!! Who says that the standard for uttering an opinion about anyone’s likely misconduct is the legal standard for conviction in a criminal case—guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?
You know what else has never been proven in a court of law?
- That John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln.
- That Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy.
- That O.J. killed Nicole and Ron.
- That Clinton lied when he said “I did not have sex with that woman.”
- That Nixon committed impeachable offenses.
Is that the new standard the Fact Checker is going to apply to stated facts that he “checks”?
Glenn Kessler ignored his own previous standards, obliterated his credibility and thoroughly embarrassed himself with this edition of “the Fact Checker.”
But he made my day!
Take us home, Beverly Sills….!
Sources: Washington Post 1,2; Slate
21 thoughts on “Thank You, Washington Post “Fact Checker” Glenn Kessler For Being The Best Ethics Alarms Ethics Dunce EVER!”
This is what happens when there’s no football on.
Anybody that reads the Washington Post anymore for “fair and balanced” journalism has got to be an idiot.
Yet it is infinitely more objective than the Times…especially editorially.
That isn’t saying much.
I’m an awesome and caring guy, if you compare me to Jeffry Dahmer.
Not exactly something I’d brag about, though…
I go for Volokh and Balko. There are no other reasons to read the WaPo.
Defenders of Clinton seem to be de facto ethics dunces. And de facto “full on Monet.”
Great analysis, Jack. Even though I’ve put EthicsBob on hold to do some pro bono work for the city of Los Angeles, I am still an avid fan of ethicslarms.
At least Gary Hart (whose conduct was still wrong) did not involve a subordinate.
I’m just grateful for the 3 excellent renditions of Victor Herbert’s “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life.” But I kept hoping that you’d include the very brief clip from Young Frankenstein with the fabulous Madeline Kahn singing it to the Monster.
I was tempted. But that’s been pigeon-holed as THE rendition, when the song is more than a joke.
Lousy Clinton-focused wormhole, screwing up the calibration of my instruments. It seems to me that every Democrat and Progressive *I* know swears up and down that the Republicans and Conservatives HATE women, are waging WAR on them, in fact, for “attacking the victim” by pointing out when a sex crime accuser’s story didn’t hold together and didn’t go anywhere.
A legal, not ethical, question. Ms. Lewinsky was an unpaid intern correct? Is the same employer/employee relationship formed? I understand that you would argue that it “should” be, I’m just curious as to the law on this one.
I agree that Rand Paul most likely is a wacko. I’m not sure Clinton is a sociopath. Sexual predator definitely. And most assuredly an egomaniac, but sociopath? Sociopaths have no concept of right and wrong — and don’t care. Clinton believes that he is right even when he is doing something objectively wrong. To me, that is the calling card of an egomaniac.
What is the calling card of the wacko?
I’m not sure. But a desire to shut down every single government agency should be on there.
Yeah, shutting down 17% of the government… What a nut!
I imagine what Beth perceives as the ‘calling card of a wacko’ consists of whether or not they vote for sound fiscal policy and smaller government. I’d imagine if yes to both of those questions, he or she is probably a wacko (in Beth’s mind).
Actually, Beth, being diagnosed (which I must say should never happen from a news story) as a sociopath is somewhat more complicated that that. If you are interested, I would bet that your local library has a copy of the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual, or DSM, which will give you the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. It’ll be pretty dry reading, but interesting. Just for your own amusement, I suggest checking out the criteria for the “psychopath” diagnosis, as well.
Yes, but that book is constantly changing. 🙂
It is that. When I first started in the field, in 1974 or thereabouts we were on DSM 3… now we’re on what 7? Maybe 8? Don’t know, I’ve been retired for 6 years. However, sociopaths do know the difference between right and wrong, they just don’t care. They are almost certainly going to be involved in criminal activity, and may be given to violence. What you might be thinking of is sanity versus inanity, terms which have no meaning to psychology, but would in the legal system, (Jack, correct me if I am wrong) as not knowing the difference between right and wrong