Gene Autry Misinformation Update: Believe It Or Not, It Happened Again!

"Wild Bill" Donovan, who should have had nothing whatever to do with my ethics seminar today, but did anyway...

“Wild Bill” Donovan, who should have had nothing whatever to do with my ethics seminar today, but did anyway…

Yesterday I wrote about a lawyer in a legal ethics seminar interrupting me with a revelation about Gene Autry that was completely false.

Today I taught another legal ethics seminar, this time for a government agency. I was discussing was the various government ethics dilemmas in “Bridge of Spies,” the story of how lawyer Jim Donovan helped secure the release of downed U.S. flyer Francis Gary Powers in a famous incident during the Cold War. Many of the issues covered in my presentation were explored in this Ethics Alarms post.

As the film portrays it, Donovan, an insurance lawyer, does such a tenacious job defending an accused Soviet spy from U.S. government prosecution that the CIA recruits him to broker the trade of his now-former client, convicted and in prison, for Powers. In discussing the classic government lawyer dilemma of “who is the client?,”  I noted that the CIA agent who recruited Donovan told him that he would have no client. “Why did the CIA trust Donovan?” I asked socraticly. “Why did Donovan, an insurance lawyer, think he was qualified to engage in this kind of representation, it it was a representation?”

For the second time in nine days, an attendee piped up with an amazing piece of information.

“I suspect some of the answer to both questions is that James Donovan was the son of “Wild Bill” Donovan, who is considered the father of the Central Intelligence Agency,” he said.

This was not quite as shocking as the previous lawyers claim that cowboy singing star Gene Autry was a pornographer , but it was even more disruptive, because it was actually relevant to legal ethics issue. Why of course Donovan would be attractive to the CIA, if his father was Bill Donovan! This explained a lot, and I was annoyed that the film made no mention of it. I thanked the lawyer profusely,and apologized to the class for not being as informed as I should have been. I know about World War II spymaster  Wild Bill Donovan (and his even more interesting British counterpart, Bill Stevenson, a.k.a “The Man Called Intrepid”). This was embarrassing. Donovan, Donovan—why didn’t I make the connection?

As with the Gene Autry slander however, this “fact” wasn’t true either! When I got back to the ProEthics office, I reviewed Bill Donovan’s biographical information. He had two children, but neither of them were James Donovan.

Now approximately 200 lawyers for a government agency think that Jim Donovan was Bill Donovan’s son. There is certainly no shame in that, but once again, one of my seminars was used to spread a rumor and false biographical fact.

Teaching is hard enough without being shadowed by people determined to spread fiction as fact.

 

20 thoughts on “Gene Autry Misinformation Update: Believe It Or Not, It Happened Again!

  1. If anybody would be knowledgable about the Soviet’s and East German’s intentions it would be “Wild Bill”
    Donovan. He had over 24,000 OSS agents working under him during WW2 including the baseball player Moe Berg, Julia Child, and Arthur Schlesinger. Why his background wasn’t really mentioned during “Bridges of Spies” escapes me.

  2. How annoying. Jack, you need to amend your speaker’s contract to include the host company or school’s provision of a Googler-Verifier in attendance.

    • I was just thinking that. I don’t know how many times a train of thought I’ve been on in conversation has been disrupted by someone interrupting with a declaration that I am not able to verify at that exact moment but which inevitably turns out to be false.

    • I’d like that for conversations. Most of the time I can check discreetly within a few minutes, but the goofbaThatlls spreading the lie get angry and want to know why their story being wrong matters, Someone misremembered and created that link as there just couldn’t be two unrelated people with the same last name.

  3. Why don’t you correct them on the spot? You cant just keep letting people say things like that and not have them prove it . With a modern phone or tablet you can access that information immediately.

    • A seminar doesn’t work that way. People are taking it for essential professional credit, and I have a program and an agenda, all subject to strict time constraints: because I don’t lecture, but work through the material with hypothetical, questions, discussion and exposition, I can’t just stop dead to check on a statement that is substantively irrelevant to the subject matter. Most attendees would be annoyed. It’s admittedly a juggling act, but think of it as the equivalent of an actor breaking character in a performance to admonish an audience member for something. It’s a big deal, and usually not worth the cost. It would be widely regarded as going off on a tangent. It’s one thing, in discussing the innate similarities of ethics codes and using Autry’s as an example, to add some information about who Gene Autry was. It’s a step too far to get into side debates about Autry himself. If it was a full day seminar, sure, I agree, I’d do it. But we’re talking about three and two hour programs, strictly timed.

        • It’s a downside of my approach, which is interactive and greatly dependent on audience participation. You give up a certain amount of control…like when someone decides to make a speech, or someone launches into a long statement with a speech impediment. It’s constant reaction and crisis management while trying to get through X amount of substance.

          Like Johnny Carson, I am reliably sick before every seminar until the adrenaline kicks in.

    • Trivia brought up during a seminar is nice, but taking the time right then and there to verify it does two things: 1) It takes time away from the attendees who paid to attend the seminar and don’t really need you to divert attention away from them and what you are actually there for and 2) It’s the Golden Rule. Would any of us want another person to go to extra lengths to see if a tidbit of information is correct, especially in a public setting like that? Especially if the info turned out to be true?

      It’s just better to encourage people to be more certain of their facts, rather than passing along gossip they might have heard once, before they contribute to a public discussion like this.

  4. If it were me teaching a class (and I’ve taught hundreds of classes both military and non-military); I wouldn’t validate the “rumor” in any way. I’d immediately put the person on the spot and directly challenge them to provide documented evidence to support their claim to me (so I can adjust the class information if needed, if valid) and also provide said evidence to every person in the class. The rumor-mill individual made the claim, it’s their responsibility to back it up, it’s not my responsibility or the other students responsibility to believe them. Of course that documentation should be provided after the class is completed and they should do their own research on their own time.

    Furthermore; I move through the class syllabus a little faster to provide extra time for the person to stand up in front of the class and present what they know about the claim they made; of course I’d spring that on the person that made the claim without warning and put them on the spot in front of the class. These kind of people won’t stop their one upmanship interruptions until they are put on the spot in front of others and they either they properly back up their claim or they make a fool of themself; it’s their choice to make such claims, and they should suffer the consequences of their actions.

    • Ethics instructors to experienced lawyer don’t have that kind of innate authority. I am always fighting for credibility, and it’s very much me against them. The crowd will always sympathize with a fellow class member. I can’t challenge them like that…indeed, as they are taking me at my word, I have to take them at theirs unless I can authoritatively correct them on the spot.

      Why would a lawyer bring documentation about Gene Autry’s alleged porn business to a legal ethics class?

      • Jack Marshall asked, “Why would a lawyer bring documentation about Gene Autry’s alleged porn business to a legal ethics class?”

        I didn’t say or imply that they would or should; in fact I clearly stated that “of course that documentation should be provided after the class is completed and they should do their own research on their own time”; after the class is over can be whenever the student get’s done with their research, a day, week, month later – it’s their choice to back up their claim or not. You gotta put the onus on the individual making the claim.

        • Yes, but lawyers don’t come to ethics seminars to be challenged like that, or to do homework. It’s a great theory, but all it would do is cost me engagements. trust me on this.

          • Jack Marshall said, “Yes, but lawyers don’t come to ethics seminars to be challenged like that…”

            Aaaaaa…….but yet they are fully willing to challenge you regarding your presented materials with unsubstantiated rumors?

            Jack Marshall said, “Yes, but lawyers don’t come to ethics seminars to be challenged like that…”

            … and you aren’t teaching ethics seminars to have students make unsubstantiated claims that might put your class materials into question without them backing up their claim.

            I said, “You gotta put the onus on the individual making the claim.”

            I stand behind that statement 100% regardless of who is sitting in the room. If they are willing to make such claims, it’s the right thing to do to request that they back it up their claim in a way that doesn’t disrupt the ongoing class. It is their choice to make such a claim that might directly or indirectly challenge the validity of your class materials; it’s your choice how to react to that challenge.

            Personally I think it’s unethical for a person to make such claims without having reasonable evidence to back it up, especially in an ethics seminar.

            I’ll leave it at that.

            • Personally I think it’s unethical for a person to make such claims without having reasonable evidence to back it up, especially in an ethics seminar.

              Yes, and you don’t need the “especially” part.

  5. . . . I don’t lecture, but work through the material with hypothetical, questions, discussion and exposition,

    The very best way to teach anything. The only addition I can think of would be role play. ….Though the costumes and makeup would take up way too much time ….

Leave a Reply to pennagain Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.