Ethics Alarms has been tracking the increasing political bias exhibited by Snopes, once the definitive “Urban Legends” web source to identify false stories on the internet, e-mail hoaxes and other pollution of public information. The website has made the disastrous decision to wade into political topics and to hire some new social justice warriors and wanna-be Democratic Party operatives to cover them, resulting in the site becoming a bad imitation of PolitiFact.
The disturbing trend really established itself this month, but it was in evidence earlier. For example, Snopes rushed to defend Hillary Clinton when the story of her defense of a child rapist was used to smear her. (Ethics Alarms explained, correctly, unlike Snopes, what was unethical about the attacks on Clinton—all defendants deserve a zealous defense, no matter what the charge, and a lawyer isn’t endorsing or supporting a client’s crimes by doing her professional duty.) The Snopes defense, in contrast, was dishonest and misleading. Quoth Snopes, via its primary left-biased reporter, Kim LaCapria.
Claim: Hillary Clinton successfully defended an accused child rapist and later laughed about the case.
WHAT’S TRUE: In 1975, young lawyer Hillary Rodham was appointed to represent a defendant charged with raping a 12-year-old girl. Clinton reluctantly took on the case, which ended with a plea bargain for the defendant.
WHAT’S FALSE: Hillary Clinton did not volunteer to be the defendant’s lawyer, she did not laugh about the the case’s outcome, she did not assert that the complainant “made up the rape story,” she did not claim she knew the defendant to be guilty, and she did not “free” the defendant.
Notice that the TRUE and FALSE sections don’t match the claim. That’s because Snopes is playing the logical fallacy game of moving the goalposts and using straw men. The claim, as stated by Snopes, is 100% true.
Clinton did successfully defend her client; very successfully, in fact. Getting a beneficial plea bargain that is the best outcome a client can hope for is a successful defense. LaCapria is displaying her ignorance. Acquittal isn’t the only successful defense outcome.
Clinton also laughed about the case. What would you call this? ( from FactCheck.org)
In 2014, the Washington Free Beacon published the audio of an interview that Arkansas reporter Roy Reed conducted with Clinton in the 1980s. In the interview, Clinton recalls some unusual details of the rape case, and she can be heard laughing in three instances, beginning with a joke she makes about the accuracy of polygraphs.
Clinton: Of course he claimed he didn’t. All this stuff. He took a lie detector test. I had him take a polygraph, which he passed, which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs. [laughs]
At another point, Clinton said the prosecutor balked at turning over evidence, forcing her to go to the judge to obtain it.
Clinton: So I got an order to see the evidence and the prosecutor didn’t want me to see the evidence. I had to go to Maupin Cummings and convince Maupin that yes indeed I had a right to see the evidence [laughs] before it was presented.
Clinton then said that the evidence she obtained was a pair of the accused’s underwear with a hole in it. Clinton told Reed that investigators had cut out a piece of the underwear and sent the sample to a crime lab to be tested, and the only evidence that remained was the underwear with a hole in it.
Clinton took the remaining evidence to a forensic expert in Brooklyn, New York, and the expert told her that the material on the underwear wasn’t enough to test. “He said, you know, ‘You can’t prove anything,’” Clinton recalled the expert telling her.
Clinton:I wrote all that stuff and I handed it to Mahlon Gibson, and I said, “Well this guy’s ready to come up from New York to prevent this miscarriage of justice.” [laughs]
That is certainly laughing about the case. Then Snopes tries equivocation, saying that Clinton didn’t laugh about the outcome of the case. I see: she laughed (three times!) while talking about the case, but wasn’t laughing about the case’s outcome, just…the case.
Similarly ridiculous is Snopes’ claim that Hillary “did not assert that the complainant ‘made up the rape story.'” She pleaded that her client was not guilty, meaning that she argued in court that he didn’t rape the victim. Hillary claimed that her client was not guilty of rape while the victim was saying he raped her. Again from FactCheck.org:
Clinton filed a motion to order the 12-year-old girl to get a psychiatric examination. “I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and engage in fantasizing … [and] that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body,” according to an affidavit filed by Clinton in support of her motion.
Clinton also cited an expert in child psychology who said that “children in early adolescence tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences and that adolescents with disorganized families, such as the complainant’s, are even more prone to such behavior,” Clinton wrote in her affidavit.
If Snopes is arguing that Hillary didn’t use the precise words ‘made up the rape story,’ that’s deceit. Obviously her defense was that the child said there was rape when there wasn’t one. In the meme Snopes was using in its post, “made up” is reasonable short hand for “falsely claimed that she was raped.”
Contrary to Scopes’ denials, Hillary also made it clear, in her quotes in the interview, that she thought her client was guilty. What else could “I had him take a polygraph, which he passed, which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs” mean?
No, she didn’t volunteer for the case, and saying that she “freed” him is self-evidently sloppy in describing any criminal defense representation. Judges, juries and prosecutors free defendants; no defense lawyer has that power. Did Clinton’s efforts on behalf of the rapist make him a free man long, long before he would have been without Clinton’s efforts? Unquestionably. He was sentenced to just one year in a county jail and four years of probation, according to the final judgment signed by the judge.
Conclusion: Snopes was dishonestly spinning for Hillary, even though what she had done in this case was simply competent lawyering, and entirely honorable.
As I explained here, there was nothing wrong, unethical or hypocritical about Clinton’s work in this case. Her laughter in the interview is a little unsettling, but Hillary’s laughter is often unsettling. She did her job as a defense lawyer, ethically, and well. The accusation that what she did was unethical is ignorant, but Snopes’ deceitful and misleading denial of what she did is just partisan spin.
In June, Snopes decided that the outrageous news story about a school calling the police to grill a fourth grader about something he said at a class party warranted undermining. After all, we can’t have people thinking that our schools abuse students based on hysterical political correctness and race-baiting. Snopes then titled its post, dishonestly: “Police Called Over ‘Racist’ Brownies?”
No news reports claimed that the police were called because of the brownies. None. Police were called because a student made some statement about brownies that another student deemed racist, and the school staff called the police. It’s really easy to debunk a claim that was never made. Does the Snopes story prove that the story is false in any way? No. Why was it written then?
In July, we learned that the trend was no aberration. Snopes apparently felt that the inspiring Facebook post by officer Jay Stalien needed to be discredited, so it had LaCapria write this, which suggested by the inherent innuendo of presenting such a post on a hoax-exposure site that readers should be skeptical. The Stalien post expressed anti-Black Lives Matter sentiments. And Kim couldn’t prove that Stalien exists.
Come to think of it, I can’t prove that Kim exists.
When did Snopes start fact-checking Facebook opinion posts? It started when the site decided to choose sides, that’s when.
Last week, several sources, all so-called “conservative” news media, noted that the American flag was conspicuous by its absence on the set of the Democratic National Convention on its first day. Liberal media went into full-spin mode, scoffing at the criticism. Ethics Alarms concluded that the omission was intentional, at least to some extent:
…the Democratic Party has morphed into an organization that is increasingly dependent on the pleasure and approval of anti-American groups. The supporters of illegal immigration, some of whom advocate returning the Southwest to Mexico; angry black liberation movement activists, who regard the United States as a racist nation and culture; radical internationalists, who believe the United States should not only behave like “other first world nations,” but allow itself to be governed by them; progressives whose view of the United States, nourished by indoctrination in the public schools and colleges dominated by far left faculties, is relentlessly negative; growing numbers of socialists, anti-capitalists, anti-law enforcement activists and fans of soft totalitarianism—-these are increasingly the voting blocs that the professional politicians who run the Democratic Party feel they must pander to and satisfy….These groups that the Democrats feel they have to prostrate themselves before don’t like the Constitution, free speech or the separation of powers; they don’t respect or care about democracy, as the conduct of the Democratic National Committee revealed in the leaked e-mails proved; they don’t honor the sacrifices of veterans in foreign wars; and they view the history of the United States as nothing better than a parade of genocide and discrimination. The United States flag is affirmatively offensive to the Democrats’ core constituencies, so the Democratic Party has apparently decided that so few of its members or supporters have a genuine love of country and respect for its history that the central symbol of both is no longer welcome at its national celebration.
I believe my interpretation is valid. Flag imagery is so central to the history of political conventions that its sudden reduction by 2016 progressives could not have been a mere oversight. Protests registered on Ethics Alarms from commenters arguing that “Democrats don’t care about symbolism” were belied by the recent Democrat-led efforts to purge the Confederate flag from the cultural scene, even to the extent of banning the sales of memorabilia and souvenirs bearing the symbol in Civil War battlefield gift shops, because of what it symbolized.
I also made two observations: “Let’s see how many mainstream media journalists notice the missing flags, or care that they are gone” and “If there is sufficient criticism, watch how the DNC will suddenly make sure the flags re-appear, because forgetting to show the flag in a traditional celebration of American democracy is a mistake anyone could make.”
Observation #1 was borne out by the near total denial of the issue, or rationalization for it, in the mainstream media and from Democrats. My prediction, the second observation, came true by the second day of the convention, when more physical flags suddenly appeared.
Then Snopes, in full spin mode, issued a rebuttal of the no-flag observation, complete with a couple of photographs showing when the flag appeared in digital form, a bunch of flags stuffed away somewhere, and a few individual Democrats in flag-themed garb. I expressed my skepticism about Snopes’ “proof.” It turned out that the rebuttal was worse than I suspected. The site was just busted by The Daily Caller, which checked the photos.
The DC’s findings: the photos offered by Snopes consisted of a screenshot from PBS’ coverage of day one, taken during the pledge of allegiance at the very beginning of the convention, before the physical flags were removed, and a screenshot of C-SPAN’s day two coverage. Snopes falsely claimed that photo was from day one of the convention. Mallory Weggemann, the paralympic swimmer who gave Tuesday’s pledge of allegiance, is seen to the left of the C-Span logo, sitting in her wheelchair as the flag-bearers walk past her…
The verdict: Snopes lied. It deliberately presented a Day 2 photo as being taken on Day 1, because it was desperate to disprove the claims by “right wing sites” that the Democrats were minimizing the presence of the American flag.
That’s the end for Snopes. Even one example of bias-fed misrepresentation ends any justifiable trust readers can have that the site is fair, objective and trustworthy. Snopes has proven that it has a political and partisan agenda, and that it is willing to mislead and deceive its readers to advance it.
Can it recover? Maybe, but not without…
…Getting out of the political fact-checking business.
…Firing Dan Evon, who used the misleading flag photos, as well as Kim LaCapria.
…Confessing its betrayal of trust and capitulation to partisan bias, apologizing, and taking remedial measures.
With all the misinformation on the web, a trustworthy web site like Snopes used to be is essential. Unfortunately, a site that is the purveyor of falsity cannot also be the antidote for it.
I’ll miss Snopes, but until it acknowledges its ethics breach and convinces me that the site’s days of spinning and lying were a short-lived aberration, I won’t be using it again.
UPDATE (10/12/16): Popehat’s estimable Ken White has finally written about the Clinton rape defense, no doubt because the victim in the case has been recruited by the Trump campaign, and makes most of the same points I have, earlier and above. The representations of Clinton’s critics are largely accurate, but their assertion that Clinton’s conduct was wrongful is largely mistaken, based on a mistaken view of the legal profession. Snopes, intent on running interference for Hillary, spins to deny the facts of her representation rather than explaining that she was just doing her job, and well at that. Ken does make an important legal ethics point that I never flagged that was Hillary’s one major breach in the case. In her radio interview, she breached her duty of confidentiality by suggesting that she thought her client was guilty. Ken writes:
Clinton just suggested that she believed her client did what he was accused of, and a fair inference is that her belief may be premised in part on her confidential communications with him. That’s a violation of her ethical obligations of loyalty and confidentiality, and it’s not goddamn funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s easing her ethical duty to the former client in order to get a laugh line in an interview. The fact that it’s common for attorneys to put their egos ahead of their obligations to the client doesn’t make it right.
Snopes, meanwhile, is apparently still spinning for Clinton, or so I’m told. I’m never going back there, and I have to rely on the accounts of others.