Comment Of The Day: ‘“The Popeye,” From The Ethics Alarms Ethics Estoppel Files: I Can Say The Republican Party Is Rotting…”, And My Epiphany About Investigative Reporting

This comment by Humble Talent, one of several COTD entries he has made lately, has to get up today before the ick that was the Alabama Senate Race subsides, and the comment feels moot—though it would not be.

But first, my epiphany about investigative reporting…

Humble’s comment made me realize something that was right in front of my eyes, and has been for a long time, and yet I never before connected the dots. This is especially galling because it involves distrust of the news media, and as you know, I think about this a lot.

What I only now realize, thanks to Humble Talent,  is that investigative reporting is virtually always partisan or agenda-driven one way or the other. It isn’t the highest form of journalism, as we of the post-Watergate era have been taught to believe. It may be the most sinister.

Journalists can’t investigate everything. They have to choose what to investigate, and when, and those choices are inevitably determined by biases and political agendas. If choices are made, and they have to be—what do we investigate, about who? When do we know we have something worth printing? When do we run it? What will happen if we do?—the choices will reflect biases, unless coins are flipped and lots are drawn.

I never thought about whether the timing of the Roy Moore teen dates stories the Post ran were timed to come out when they did. But Humble makes me think: did the Post bother to look for dirt on Jones? I doubt it. I think an editor said, “This guy Moore is horrible. I bet there’s some scandal out there that can take him down, maybe a sex scandal. Let’s dig.” The Post sees that as a public service—Moore is objectively horrible—but the “investigative reporting”  is essentially opposition research to benefit the Democratic candidate. Then the damning results of the investigation were published when they were deemed to be able to cause the most chaos in the campaign.

Why didn’t this occur to me when I was watching “Spotlight”? We see, in that film about the Boston Globe’s investigation into child abuse in the Boston Catholic Diocese, how the story was held up for months as a mater of tactics and politics. The story almost wasn’t run at all. Now, why did I just assume that it was random chance that…

  • The Harvey Weinstein esposé wasn’t released before the 2016 election?
  • Provocative passages in Barack Obama’s books about “considering” homosexuality and eating dog never were investigated or explored by the mainstream news media during the 2008 campaign?
  • The revelations about Hillary Clinton’s illicit private server were published by the Times 18 months before the election, giving her plenty of time to make them harmless?
  • No major news organization sought to do a Watergate-style investigation of the IRS sabotage of conservative group participation in the 2012 Presidential campaign, although the Obama Justice Department investigation was obviously a sham?

I’m an idiot. Was I the only one this gullible? I knew that the press could have ended JFK’s Presidency almost at will, but was intimidated out of doing so and wasn’t that unhappy about it. I knew the press intentionally kept the Clinton rape allegation from the public, for fear it would affect the impeachment outcome. I knew that CBS and Dan Rather’s investigative reporting about President Bush’s National Guard conduct was  devised and timed (and falsified) to give Kerry the election.

Investigative reporting regarding politics is always politically driven. It has to be.

Duh.

I am completely dedicated to the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of a free and unencumbered press. A democracy without a free press is doomed. I am also convinced that a free press that abuses its power and influence is as great a threat to democracy as no free press at all.

Here is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day on the post, “The Popeye,” From The Ethics Alarms Ethics Estoppel Files: I Can Say The Republican Party Is Rotting, Democrats, But You Can’t:

I think it’s important to realize that the Democrats who thought they were tanking Moore made a miscalculation. Not a huge one, mind you…. But you have to look at the time frame.

Roy Moore, even before this current campaign was universally reviled by Democrats, and not always top of the list for Republicans, and with good reason: He’s an ideologue on the bench, and that’s never good.

Because of that, and because of the length of investigation into Moore’s past, it doesn’t particularly surprise me that the shadiest parts of his life are on display right now (and although it wouldn’t surprise me if there was more, I feel that the barrel of what can be seriously alleged has probably been scraped). What DOES surprise me, if true (and I don’t believe it to be true), is that the story broke naturally 30 days before the general election.

How…. Fortuitous, no? See, If it had broken 90 days before the general, Alabama Republicans could have punted Moore and run someone else… Jeff Sessions springs immediately to mind. if it had broken 30 days after the election, voters could be forgiven, because they didn’t know and Moore probably wouldn’t resign, because even if true (and I accept that they probably are), the allegations are… creepy in the extreme, but almost certainly not criminal.

So the allegations broke at a very opportune time for Democrats, because one of a few things could happen: Moore could step down, and Republicans basically forfeit the seat, because there isn’t enough time to get a real candidate set up, Moore could keep fighting, and Republicans could reject him, allowing the seat to fall into Democrat hands, or Moore could stick it out, the Republicans could rally to him, and they’d still win, but it’d be a PR blow to Republicans.

Now… I’m not going to say that the people setting this up didn’t see all of these possibilities, and probably more, coming. But I am going to guess that they hoped for the first two. Voters, especially young voters, have the memories of mayflies, and as much as they’ll try to milk the situation for every headline they can get out of it, I think they’d have preferred the seat.

It also brings inadvertently a truth into the light: The people who ran this story… They care about politics more than the victims, more than their espoused principles, because if they cared about their principles, they wouldn’t have waited to time the story to do the most damage, they just would have run it. This breaks a tenets of journalistic ethics: Do as little harm as possible (although to be fair: snort! This isn’t the hill THAT died on.). It’s a golden rule violation, but more than that… it made the lives of the victims harder. Had the story broken 60 days earlier, and the Republicans been able to relatively painlessly replace Moore, pushback to the victims would have still been there—let’s be real—but there would have been less, because the entrenchment of party politics wouldn’t have been so strongly bulwarked.

But the people who did this… They didn’t care. Well, they cared about something.

 

34 Comments

Filed under Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

34 responses to “Comment Of The Day: ‘“The Popeye,” From The Ethics Alarms Ethics Estoppel Files: I Can Say The Republican Party Is Rotting…”, And My Epiphany About Investigative Reporting

  1. A.M. Golden

    I don’t think they’d cared all that much for the victims either. What do the victims get out of this besides some sound bite time and possibly costing Moore a close election?

  2. Humble Talent is absolutely correct. The same thing happened with Trump’s Billy Bush audio tape. That was held in the NBC archives since 2005 and, 30 days before the presidential election, someone at NBC discovered it. Coincidence? I think not. It was released to do maximum damage to the Trump Campaign. Likewise, stories critical of Hillary Clinton were released at times to do the least harm to her campaign.

    jvb

    • I understand why the media keeps focusing on stories about Russian inteference in tjhe election.

      They were projecting.

    • “Likewise, stories critical of Hillary Clinton were released at times to do the least harm to her campaign.”

      It’s worse than that, and it’s once you see it, you can’t unsee just how blatant it is. When Hillary was 10 points ahead in the polls, left leaning pundits seemed to think it was safe to criticize her, maybe so they could keep up the pretense that they were actually unbiased in their coverage. But basically the moment she collapsed at the 9-11 memorial service and was thrown into her car like a stack of cordwood, her numbers took a dip, and all of a sudden a Trump presidency wasn’t the most insane thing that the guy yelling at the corner ever screamed. It was like a light switch flicked, and the full 24/7 media spin machine was doing some serious PR work for the Clinton campaign.

  3. luckyesteeyoreman

    Second try…

    “I am completely dedicated to the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of a free and unencumbered press. “

    I’m not, anymore. Enough of this bullshit. A Fifth Estate of vigilante terrorists is needed, to bully, harass, intimidate, disrupt, and in general continually fuck with and lay low, the bigmouths with the big heads and small minds who try to control what most people get to know and when to know it and its relevance and importance in everyone’s lives. If they’re going to be fucking partisans, then fuck them – they deserve to get fucked with by, and fucked UP by, partisans for alternative viewpoints and worldviews.

    Hey: you don’t see much in the press “investigating” criminal enterprises like the Cntons’ or the Open Society Foundation – well, do ya?! So, there’s the answer: Be bad enough thugs, and you’ll never get bad press.

    (I’m pumping myself full of hate, rage, and self-righteousness, and then I’m gonna go out and get me one of those so-called investigative reporters or journalists…nah…I gotta get to some university staff first…)

  4. claude

    It’s sad, sad, sad to watch the slow descent of this blog.

  5. Really good comment HT!

    I personally believe without a shred of doubt in my mind that executives, editors and a fair amount of the staff in the most popular main street media outlets (other than Fox News) are directly colluding with prominent members of the political left and directly with the DNC.

  6. Other Bill

    I first noticed the media’s tendency to release stories in artificial ways when the local paper decided to do an expose, so called, on a downtown redevelopment deal that was being participated in and spear headed by a number of the partners at the locally prominent firm I was working for at the time. The story was debuted on a Sunday morning, and lo and behold, there were new developments every day of that week through the next Sunday morning. What a surprise. There was a new development every day a new paper had to come out. What a coincidence! Ironically, the newspaper ownership was also involved in the project and built their new HQ building next door to the “controversial” assemblage. I was also impressed by how factually incorrect the nearly all the reporting was.

  7. Chris marschner

    I have no idea what the actual truth is regarding Moore’s alleged behavior but I wonder- So, Jones wins – now what happens with the allegations of misconduct. If they were so important to have the story retold ad nauseum by the media will they just be forgotten now that the desired effect has been achieved.

    We should demand that the accusers go forth and continue in the courts to validate or invalidate these claims. Currently, we have numerous allegations against Trump but to my knowledge no civil suits lodged against him. Why not? More importantly when will they file a civil or criminal complaint. You just can’t say events happened and walk away without ever proving your assertions. Courage requires taking risk when believe you have been wronged.

    I cannot in good conscience automatically believe allegations of sexual impropriety that appear to be strategically timed for political reasons unless they stem from court filings. What could stop anyone from leveling a claim that never will be challenged through cross examination by a skilled lawyer.

    What I think we can agree to is that given the social reaction today regarding sexual harassment, impropriety, or assault claimants should barred from claiming fear as the reason for waiting years to lodge a complaint.

    • CM, this is what the allegations are all about. There is no ‘there’ there.

      There is no way to sue successfully such an event so long ago, sans a very partisan jury.

      The entire point was to throw the election. And it worked. Get ready for this tactic to be repeated a LOT.

  8. I admit, what a difference a day makes, I have a sock to dislodge from my throat, having just dug my shoe out. I really thought Moore was going to win. I stand by everything else.

  9. Arthur in Maine

    Okay, folks – we all defer to Jack on ethics; given that I dance with the devil (the press) for a living, grant me a brief hearing here.

    Why are any of you – including Jack – surprised? Media is, first and foremost, a BUSINESS. It doesn’t sell news – it provides news as a mechanism for generating advertising (in the case of NPR, underwriting and/or listener) support.

    The United States is one of the only so-called free nations that embraces the concept of objective media. In fact, the whole concept started in this nation – with Joseph Pulitzer (recognize the name?). In other words, the concept of objective media is an American conceit.

    Pulitzer’s drive towards so-called “objective” media certainly raised standards, but it wasn’t due to the noble idea that newspapers – pretty much the only game in town at his time – should be objective. Pulitzer was the visionary who recognized that the way news was being reported was scaring off the advertisers, and the advertisers were way more important than the folks who plunked down a penny or two to buy a copy at the news stand.

    American media at the dawn of the 20th century wasn’t dissimilar to the way it is today – and much like it has ALWAYS been in nations in which the media isn’t state-controlled. It’s rambunctious. It’s partisan. It wears its beliefs on its sleeve – both with regard to what it covers and the way it covers it.

    As an aside, did you know that three of the top-20 news websites in the US are actually British? They are, in order, the Daily Mail (downscale female-skewing libertarian), the BBC (benevolent government with a left-ish twinge) and The Guardian (left wing)..You can credit Drudge for at least part of their popularity, but that’s beside the point: Brit news media outlets understand to whom they’re selling and provides content accordingly.

    This is not necessarily a bad thing. If one is sufficiently curious, one can peruse a variety of British media sources and find vastly different takes on the same story. Given that journalists are human, and humans have biases, I’d actually argue that this is more honest than the way we do it here. One can see numerous different takes on the same story, from different perspectives, and make up one’s own mind – if, and it IS an if, one is sufficiently curious.

    Many people are not. The risk lies in the fact that people select their news sources based upon confirmation bias. But I would argue that this is actually healthier for free discourse. One can not lead a horse to water and demand that it drinks. But one CAN provide a variety of hydrating liquids and offer the horse a choice. From there, it’s up to the horse to determine whether or not to keel over in hypovolemic shock.

    A big part of our current problem as a nation lies in the fact that so many Americans don’t question the validity of its press. Heck, many journos don’t get it. We will all be better off once we learn that NO news source can be trusted, and that even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while. We must all be skeptical of what we read.

    Might take a generation or two, but as an optimist by nature, I suspect we’ll get there.

    • Joe Fowler

      Confirmation bias is a part of the problem, certainly. We all want to have our biases confirmed. There is a another problem with the news media that I think is an even deeper problem, and the reason I am adamantly skeptical of every news source.
      They’re wrong all the time.
      In ways big and small, either by omission or commission, intentionally misleading or simply incompetent, outright fraud to simple laziness, when you need information, the news media will get it wrong.
      Here is a simple test: Have you ever been involved in anything that was reported in the media? Perhaps a product launch for a large company, or a lawsuit, a disaster, a piano recital, or anything really that you had pretty good first hand knowledge of. In the media, were the facts thoroughly and accurately presented? If the answer is no, what reason does one have to assume that they do so with anything else? That they just blew it about the story that you have knowledge of?
      There is certainly slanted news, but I could live with that if the facts, data and logic of the story held up to scrutiny. If the headline said: “Recent study of 72 Princeton undergrads proves…” Instead of “Recent study proves…”, well, we could all draw our own conclusions about the value of reading further. I’m OK with a sports story that starts: “Vile Yankees’ filthy tricks result in big win”. Fine, the Yanks won, now get the score right.
      The news media is in richly deserved bad shape, and certainly the politicization of itself hasn’t helped at all. The forcing facts to fit a narrative, ignoring those that don’t, the fortuitous timing of ‘breaking’ stories, the self-affirming moral superiority of the media players, all contribute to getting the stories wrong. Whatever the cause, the consistently incorrect will inevitably be progressively disregarded. As is happening now.
      I long for the City Editors of old who would tell new reporters that they had to check, and double check, and verify sources: “If you write that your mother loves you, you better have another source that can verify it!”

    • Well said. The idea of an “objective” news media is a deceptive fantasy. The best journalists are going to be the ones who care about their beat, and nobody who really cares is going to spend years covering a subject without forming an opinion. And nobody is going to spend millions of dollars running a news organization unless they have something they want to accomplish. Their opinions and goals are going to affect their decisions about what constitutes news and when to report it. With the exception of (maybe) the weather, the idea that news can be objective is at best mistaken and at worst a lie.

      Jack, you show the same kind of biases here on your blog. You have hammered away for weeks now about sports figures kneeling during the national anthem, thus lending support to sociopaths like Trump and other right-wingers who are attacking these athletes. On the other hand, you’ve written very little about the way so-called “sex trafficking” is handled by law enforcement and reported in the media, making you complicit in all the lies. If you were unbiased, you’d be reporting every day on the “sex trafficking” moral panic, and you’d be ignoring the non-story of a few athletes kneeling at the wrong time. You are biased.

      Of course, I’m sure you disagree with my deliberately provocative characterization of your posts. If I still had an active blog, you’d probably say I was soft-peddling the ethical corruption and lack of patriotism of the kneeling players, and you might say that I was supporting lawbreakers and undermining society’s messages about sex trafficking. You’d say I was biased.

      The solution to the differences between us is not to pick one way of reporting these issues and declare it “objective,” because it can’t be. We have different values and those values inform our judgement. The solution is to make both viewpoints (all viewpoints) available and let the audience make their own decisions.

      Journalism is going to reflect the values of the people doing it, and there’s no way to stop it. We can enforce some basic fairness rules — fact checking to fight against errors and lies, allowing the other side to respond to factual assertions — but that’s about it. Anything else, such as stupid rules about journalists not revealing which candidates they support or their positions on issues, is going to do more harm than good. It will promote the false idea that news can be unbiased, and it will hide the journalists’ biases from the audience, thus denying them important information they need to evaluate the news they receive.

      Ultimately, journalists with opinions are a good thing for journalism. We learn more from the clash of views than we would from some imagined bland reporting of supposedly objective news.

      • Mark:

        1. Obviously I have been missing issues despite diligently searching all media, all the time. What sex-trafficking are you talking about? I know sex-trafficking goes on, and I’m on newsletters about it, but other than the fact that sex-trafficking is unethical, what is the ethics issue I am supposed to clarify? This isn’t a news blog. I’m like a customer at shooting gallery, trying to knock down as many ducks that parade by as I can in the time allotted to me. I guess I missed some sex-trafficking story/issue/development..now I’ll do dome research. But I’m not a full-time, professional journalist, nor even a full time, professional blogger. I’m a part-time, volunteer, gratis blogger who tried to provide a public service in a field that is bigger than the moon.

        2. The NFL protests are, in contrast, a major cultural story touching on sports, contract, rights, race, protests and politics. It has been on front pages for over a year. It’s also not a right/left story, or shouldn’t be, and I have never commented on it in that way.

        I don’t think the analogy is fair or helpful.

        3. Why don’t you have an active blog? That’s depressing. You have one of the best.

        • RE 1 & 2, my point was not specifically to pick at your choice of blog topics (and I certainly don’t expect you to look into sex-trafficking issues — I deliberately picked something that doesn’t really fit your interests) but to argue that just as you have to choose which topics to cover, so do professional news organizations. They have a lot more resources than you or I do, but they also take on a much heavier workload, including actual original reporting.

          News organizations have limits, and they make choices based on their values, and this will necessarily omit some topics and emphasize others. And investigative journalists always face a timing issue about when to publish: Publishing soon gets the scoop and gets attention, but the longer they wait, the more they learn, and maybe the bigger the story gets. So they make a choice, which reflects their values.

          I’m not saying it’s perfect, and I certainly don’t want to excuse incompetence and lies, but there are limits to how good they can be. It’s always been this way. I know it feels like they’ve gotten worse, but have they really? Or are they about the same, but in the modern cable-and-internet world are we just able to see it better?

        • (Clicked too soon.) So I think rather than worrying about the balance of individual media outlets, we should aim to have enough media outlets with different values that we hear all sides of these issues. I think we learn more from hearing from two (or more) opposing views than hearing only one that’s pretending to be neutral.

          As for 3, between new home ownership and changes in my day job, I’ve been having trouble finding time and energy. Also, the shift in power in Washington has changed which issues are important, and I’m not used to writing about them. I read a lot of left-ish media and posted my responses, but now that they are out of power, it seems less important to write about. I’m having trouble finding right-ish issues where I think I have something to say. I probably need to read more right-wing media, but I haven’t had time.

          • I’m writing this down here because it’ll nest better, but it’s probably more a response to your first comment, specifically:

            “Well said. The idea of an “objective” news media is a deceptive fantasy.”

            Well… See… Perhaps. But if it is, one might reasonably ask who it is that’s putting on the deception, and one might come to the conclusion that it’s the media themselves pushing it. But maybe that’s pandering, and we’ve asked for it, maybe we’ve come to unreasonably expect unbiased reporting, and so they’re attempting, or at least paying lip service, to a standard that they know they can’t attain. But what they could attain is honesty. If everyone is biased, and we make no bones about it, then maybe saying so, so the audience can adjust their expectations, curb their enthusiasm, and maybe take the coverage with a ten kilo bag of coarse salt.

            Meanwhile, I’d settle for competence. I haven’t seen anything so Ironically funny this year as CNN (whose slogan, by the way, is “The Most Trusted Name in News”,), doing the apple/banana commercial. Whether it’s a factor of an industry so afraid of getting behind on the headlines they attack topics they have no idea about like a tourettes addled squirrel on methamphetamine, or they’re so crippled by bias that they wouldn’t know real news or how to cover it if it shoved a three foot purple dildo sword up their collective asses, the fact of the matter is that News organisations are, with good reason, hemorrhaging credibility.

            • If this ad had been run by someone else about the condition of television news, it would be a sad social commentary. But CNN is clearly blind to the fact there’s NO TV news org that isn’t peddling weird stuff that isn’t necessarily factual anymore, including themselves. Sigh.

    • I’m late to this, AIM, but it’s a Comment of the Day. Thanks. I’ll have some more reflections on your post when I re-post it…

      • Other Bill

        Thanks Arthur. Two words to remember: “Citizen” and “Kane.” Or maybe two others: “yellow” and “journalism.”

      • Arthur in Maine

        I’m honored. Might I add that the idea of non-objective media, brought to full flower, grants NOBODY the right to be unethical – which includes witch hunts and just plain makin’ shit up.

  10. luckyesteeyoreman

    Second try…

    “American media at the dawn of the 20th century wasn’t dissimilar to the way it is today – and much like it has ALWAYS been in nations in which the media isn’t state-controlled. It’s rambunctious. It’s partisan. It wears its beliefs on its sleeve – both with regard to what it covers and the way it covers it.”

    That glosses over two facts that ARE dissimilar to the dawn of the 20th century – and getting worse:
    (1) the growth in power of the federal Executive Branch, and
    (2) the increased degree of collusion between media and certain power-players in the Executive Branch (which another commenter, Zoltar, noted in this thread before AIM commented).

    Rush Limbaugh thus very accurately declares most media as “state-controlled.” You can see it in the homogeneity of coverage of particular people, events and issues – often using identical key words and phraseology – while claiming “independence” and “objectivity” (!!). In reality, the vast majority of media in the U.S. behave as dutiful echo-amplifiers of Democrat Party talking points.

    “A big part of our current problem as a nation lies in the fact that so many Americans don’t question the validity of its press. Heck, many journos don’t get it. We will all be better off once we learn that NO news source can be trusted, and that even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while. We must all be skeptical of what we read…Might take a generation or two, but as an optimist by nature, I suspect we’ll get there.”

    Teaching Americans to question the validity of the press is a dying profession. That death is being encouraged by (drumroll) the press, who find it irresistible to recruit an ever-enlarging population of hook-line-and-sinker “consumers” of press products. Arthur is right – it’s done for business reasons. But, it is disastrous for a vibrant pluralistic society, because it makes profitable the complete disregard of the public’s need to access and process ALL relevant facts. Jeez – I think I might have even seen some beginnings of that dynamic in my public elementary school’s distribution of the Weekly Reader (perhaps some of you had read issues of those in your school, too), 60 years ago.

    Plus, it’s easy enough to see what results from open skepticism or contrarianism about what most of the press reports in virtually monolithic content and tone: for example, hive-minded mob attacks on dissidents and on anyone who validates the views of dissidents, with often coordinated smear campaigns to defame, discredit, and exhort broad public dismissal of all speech AND THOUGHT by dissidents, with the aim of inducing the largest possible population to pigeonhole and ignore dissidents as “deniers,” “racists,” “fascists,” “haters,” and worse. Here, the desperate-for-profits press finds (and excuses, and enables) eager helpers in the entertainment and celebrity-idol hives. They feed each other. It’s insidious, it’s destructive, and eventually, it’s going to make itself irrelevant to the impoverished, frustrated, angry public of the society it has wrecked with its web of one-party propaganda. It might take another generation or two, but as a pessimist by nature, I suspect we’ll get there sooner rather than later.

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