1. I am afraid that today’s posts may be heavily tilted to the ongoing mainstream media implosion, depending on what other issues surface and what the Ethics Alarms ethics scouts sleuth out. Afraid, because I know that many readers here, like the news media itself (not surprisingly, but tellingly, the legacy news media isn’t reporting this story, but it is being thoroughly reported in the “new”–as in online–news media) want to pretend that it isn’t a story at all. The repeated deflection—they are deflecting, whether the mainstream media defenders can admit it to themselves or not, because the news media is destroying itself with unrestrained anti-Trump bias, and its defenders like anti-Trump bias, as they are suffering from it themselves—is “Isn’t an untrustworthy President worse than an untrustworthy news media?” The answer is absolutely not. A President’s job isn’t to be trustworthy, though being trustworthy is crucial to doing the job and maintaining the vitality of his Office. A President’s job is lead the government and use his power to keep the nation safe, free and prosperous while upholding the Constitution. A trustworthy President is more likely to accomplish those goals, and I insist that a trustworthy (that is, ethical) individual should always be preferred over an untrustworthy one who claims to have more popular policies in mind. Nevertheless, untrustworthy Presidents can have successful administrations, and have before in our history. Moreover, a President who is untrustworthy can be replaced in four years.
We don’t elect journalists. What is happening to our pampered, privileged, arrogant journalistic establishment cannot be remedied at the ballot box, and indeed impedes effective elections. A news media that increasingly sees its function as manipulating public opinion to serve its own ideological and partisan ends threatens democracy itself. That makes the rogue news media of today a far greater threat than one incompetent President, and the more urgent ethics concern.
How will this professional ethics abdication be addressed and repaired? It must be, and the starting point has to be the journalism field’s own recognition that there is a crisis.
2. There was a flicker of hope on the self-recognition front yesterday, when former CNN chairman and CEO Walter Isaacson, being interviewed on Bloomberg’s “What’d You Miss, lamented the current state of the media, saying that news coverage and bias was the at least partially at fault for the “enormous political divide” in the U.S. Now leading the Aspen Institute’s education and policy studies, Isaacson said that the polarization and partisan hostility “have been exacerbated by all forms of media. People are getting more and more partisan.” He also pointedly refused to accept the standard “It’s all Fox News’ fault” rationalization, saying, “I put everybody [in the media] in the category, including all of us, that we can step back from knee-jerk partisan elections…that would be good.”
Isaacson’s statements are too mild and meek, and not exactly a ringing rebuke, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’ll take what I can get.
3. The news media has cheered the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Russian allegations and related matters on the theory that a government cannot be trusted to investigate itself. The same principle should have been invoked several times during the Obama administration (Fast and Furious, the IRS scandal, Benghazi, Iran negotiations), but the news media was protecting that President. Never mind: if an independent counsel does the job ethically and fairly, it is good for the country. The principle now needs to be applied to the news media itself, which has shown itself to be unwilling and incapable of informing the public of its own misconduct.
The broadcast networks have refused to report on the conclusion of the huge defamation case against ABC News. ABC News and Beef Products Inc (BPI) reached a confidential settlement last month ending a 5-year-old defamation and disparagement lawsuit. BPI had filed a $1.9 billion lawsuit against ABC News in 2012 for reporting that the company’s lean finely textured beef (LFTB) was dangerous “pink slime.” If ABC had lost the case before a jury, it may have been liable for as much as $5.7 billion under South Dakota’s Agricultural Food products Disparagement Act.
ABC News ran a series of broadcasts in early 2012 claiming that BPI ‘s meat products were unfit for human consumption. The company was forced to close three of its four locations and lay off 700 employees in a single month. It then accused ABC News of making more than 200 “false and misleading and defamatory” statements about LFTB between March and April 2012. There was substantial evidence that this was a malicious journalism hit job from the start. The Hollywood Reporter’s sources revealed that ABC had pursued an anti-BPI tilt to the story before any research had been done, and intentionally omitted any subsequent findings that contradicted its desired result.
This news media embargo on stories that reveal its members own biases and incompetence is the rule, not the exception. If the news industry had integrity and was self-policing as a true profession must be, it would report such examples of unethical reporting more vigorously than other events, not less.
4. This is as good a place as any to plug Rick Jones’ superb post on his own blog about the Evergreen State fiasco. Rick, usually known here “Curmie,” is as articulate, thoughtful and fair an analyst as there is, and his recent return to the ethics wars after a work-imposed hiatus is a boon to Ethics Alarms and the culture at large. He deserves a wide readership, and his latest post shows why. Please check it out.
5. An ethics question about the North Korea crisis: do common sense ethics apply to foreign affairs? Listening and reading various experts and authorities, I am struck by how many seem to argue that negotiation with the North Korean regime is the only palatable option. The fact that this is simply and unquestionably agreeing to international blackmail by a resolute evil-doer seems to be either unrecognized or ignored. North Korea has been doing this for many years. It threatens its neighbors and the world, behaves menacingly, extracts the equivalent of extortion payments in the form of sanctions relief, then breaks whatever agreement it makes and starts the process again. The precedent emboldens other international rogue states, and leads to weak and irresponsible responses like Obama’s Iran deal, aka,”We’ll give you billions of dollars to support world terrorism if you’ll promise not to develop a nuclear bomb and liquidate Israel until I’m out politics and retired.”
I know nobody wants to swat the North Korean hornets nest, but when the hornets are making orders, it is unethical to keep playing Neville Chamberlain.
[Boy, it would sure be great if we had an international organization that was dedicated to keeping peace and could be counted upon to show united resolve to such dangerous states. I wonder why someone doesn’t start one?]
6. When I read almost identical headlines on multiple conservative media sites and blogs stating that former President Obama had made a speech abroad condemning “too much patriotism” on the Fourth of July, my Pavlovian response was, “Of course he did.” He did not, however. I read the speech, which was made before an audience in Indonesia. Obama didn’t talk about patriotism at all. The word isn’t mentioned, and no, “nationalism” is not a synonym for patriotism.
Oh, Obama was not so subtly bashing the current President on foreign soil, just as he frequently bashed past Presidents in other international locales. This is unethical conduct for a past President, but the Julie Principle applies. Obama’s not going to change. This is who he is: if you are going to tolerate or admire him, you have to accept this hardwired flaw. Nonetheless, if you are going to criticize Obama, criticize what he actually says.