1. I owe Robin Meade an apology. The astoundingly bright-eyed, bushy-tailed HLN morning host has been used here as an an example of the sexism of broadcast news media producers, and it is true that she is uncommonly attractive even by “news babe” standards. However, I have come to realize that she is also a unique talent, and more than just a pretty face and figure. Meade has natural presence and charisma, projects genuine optimism and and an up-beat nature, and most unusual of all, doesn’t spin the news or tilt her delivery to signal her own opinion. She’s really good at what she does. I’m sorry Robin; I was biased against you because you are attractive, which is just as wrong as being biased for you. You’re a pro, through and through.
2. Constitutional law expert Eugene Volokh (who is also my favorite candidate for a Supreme Court post if one opens up) published what I consider to be a definitive refutation of the claim that receiving opposition research, as in “damaging information about Hillary Clinton,” is a crime under current law. He also makes a case that it couldn’t be criminalized under future law:
“It would raise obvious First Amendment problems: First, noncitizens, and likely even non-permanent-residents, in the United States have broad First Amendment rights. See Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135 (1945) (“freedom of speech and of press is accorded aliens residing in this country”); Underwager v. Channel 9 Australia, 69 F.3d 361 (9th Cir. 1995) (“We conclude that the speech protections of the First Amendment at a minimum apply to all persons legally within our borders,” including ones who are not permanent residents).
Second, Americans have the right to receive information even from speakers who are entirely abroad. See Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965). Can Americans — whether political candidates or anyone else — really be barred from asking questions of foreigners, just because the answers might be especially important to voters?”
The professor concludes not. I hadn’t even considered the First Amendment issue in determining that the election law prohibition against receiving “anything of value” benefiting a candidate from a foreign nation or individual was not intended to preclude mere information, but Volokh’s argument seems air tight.
3. It doesn’t have to be air tight, though, to render the position that Donald Trump, Jr. attempted to violate the law weaker than Olive Oyl. If our best lawyers can’t agree what is banned and what isn’t, and the law has never been enforced against a campaign for receiving mere information, then the citizen involved in requesting or receiving opposition research under such circumstances could not reasonably have been expected to know that his actions were criminal. There goes mens rea. Ignorance of a clear law is not a defense; mistaken understanding of one that has never been defined (and that may be void anyway) is a very powerful defense. So why is the news media, and so many Democrats, and my Facebook Trump-haters, and many commenters here so certain that this is a scandal, a major story, and proof that the Trump campaign “colluded” with “the Russians” to allow them to illegally influence our election?
The answer is that they want this to be true so much that they are unable to examine the evidence and analysis with any objectivity at all. That’s an ethics failure: we have a duty to acknowledge our biases and take them out of the equation when we’re trying to understand something. Focusing accusations, criticism and personal attacks on anyone, yes, even a Trump, based on willfully biased conclusions is both incompetent and unfair, as well as a Golden Rule breach.
4. I used one of the moderating options in the Comment Policies yesterday, suspending (for a week) one of the blog’s most active and helpful contributors. The provocation was the phenomenon above: insisting repeatedly and endlessly that the Trump, Jr. meeting proved that Donald Trump and his campaign had colluded with the Russians to tilt the election. This kind of “my mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts” approach is toxic to any discussion or inquiry, and anathema to an ethics blog. I have to make that clear to all. The fact in question is that there is–still— no evidence whatsoever that the Trump campaign did anything illegal in concert with the Russian government to affect the 2016 election.
In 2015 an active participant here named “Liberal Dan” would not accept the fact that that George Zimmerman didn’t murder Trayvon Martin based on the known facts, sequence of events and available evidence. I liked Dan; I even was a guest on his radio program. He was obsessed, however. I banned him from commenting on post related to Martin’s shooting after he finally had made the statement that Zimmerman was a murderer—after being acquitted, after the prosecution’s own investigator testified that his own inquiry did not contradict Zimmerman’s account—one too many times. Several too many times, actually. He quit the blog in a snit.
Confirmation bias is a societal malady. And the whole mainstream news media is suffering from it, making the entire nation a victim once removed.
5. Verizon exposed 14 million subscribers to having their records acquired by third parties, thanks to a Verizon contractor’s gross negligence and incompetence. If tech firms can’t be trusted to have sufficient cyber-security, who can? If they can’t guarantee the safety of the personal information they demand, why should they be permitted to demand it? In addition to civil damages, such breaches should trigger criminal fines by the government. Unfortunately, the government is even less trustworthy in this area. How do we punish that incompetence?
6. A note from Ethics Scout Fred:
A handful of Republican operatives close to the White House are scrambling to Trump Jr.’s defense and have begun what could be an extensive campaign to try to discredit some of the journalists who have been reporting on the matter.
Their plan, as one member of the team described it, is to research the reporters’ previous work, in some cases going back years, and to exploit any mistakes or perceived biases. They intend to demand corrections, trumpet errors on social media and feed them to conservative outlets, such as Fox News.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/category-5-hurricane-white-house-under-siege-by-trump-jrs-russia-revelations/2017/07/11/1e091478-664d-11e7-8eb5-cbccc2e7bfbf_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_whitehouse-910pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.52ac032a00f8 via Talking Points Memo via Daily Kos.
Digging up truthful information to challenge the credibility of an accuser is in general ethical. So why does this creep me out?
It’s creepy, Fred, because it is attacking the messenger. That’s what wrong with opposition research too: digging up dirt on an adversary to destroy his or her reputation as an alternative to rebutting his or her arguments or position. It is both a form of ad hominem attack and intimidation when used against commentators, pundits and reporters. When the ethics line is crossed is tricky, but a safe rule is to discredit the argument, not the individual who makes it.