Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/4/2018: A Frivolous Lawsuit, An Unscripted Actress, A Lesson In Assuming, And Fake News

Good Morning!

1 On feminist integrity. The reader poll on the post about the interesting silence of US women’s rights organizations and their component feminists as their Iranian sisters protest oppression in Iran has already had more participation that the last four Ethics Alarms polls combined. Why is that? In more news related to that post, some determined spinners here claimed that the feminists have been burning up the blogs and websites with supportive essays and blog posts, so the radio silence is a myth. No, THAT was a myth: there is nothing on those sites, or if there is, it didn’t surface when I checked Ms., Jezebel, NOW and four prominent blogs. (Update: Reader Humble Talent has checked two more. Also nothing.)

Please don’t make up stuff or assume facts you haven’t checked when you don’t want to accept reality, friends. It’s not fair, and it’s not ethical debating practice. Because I trust and respect the commenter in question, I just assumed she was right, because I assumed she had checked. No, it appears she had assumed, and was not right.  And you know what Felix Unger proved happens when you assume..

2. This is why they give actors scripts. I enjoy actress Meryl Streep as an artist, but for me she is fast entering Alec Baldwin territory, a performer whose personal character deficits are becoming so overpowering that even her undeniable talent can’t make watching the performer on screen endurable. Streep is in a deep hole she keeps digging. Being a Harvey Weinstein acolyte and beneficiary for years (and a Roman Polanski apologist), she is denying culpability as an enabler of his serial sexual predation because, she says, she didn’t know. Almost nobody finds her denial credible. Yesterday the Times published a joint interview with Streep and her “The Post” co-star, Tom Hanks. Told by the interviewer that in light of the doubts about what she knew, the public wants to hear more from her, she responded,

“I don’t want to hear about the silence of me. I want to hear about the silence of Melania Trump. I want to hear from her. She has so much that’s valuable to say. And so does Ivanka. I want her to speak now.”

Streep locks up the 2018 Whataboutism of the Year title with that one, along with adding a ridiculous sentence into my personal collection of statements that deserve note because they had never been said before in the history of the English language. I started my collection decades ago at a family Thanksgiving dinner, when my sister said, “You know, the fish looks so good, I think I’ll wear my bra on my head.” And a collection was born.

“I don’t want to hear about the silence of me” has an elegant simplicity about it. In addition to being a strange sentiment, Streep also misses the whole concept of an interview—surprising, since she has done so many of them. See, Meryl, these questions are about what the public wants to hear about, not what you want to hear about. Was that really unclear to you until now? This was not an open invitation to announce all the things you’d like to hear about that have absolutely nothing to do with Harvey Weinstein. This is “Look! Squirrel!” carried to a demented extreme. Streep revealed herself as seriously Trump Deranged, as she thinks that the way out of every personal crisis is to declare, “But what about TRUMP????”

Looks like I won’t be watching “The River Wild” again. Pity. (I won’t watch “The Dear Hunter” again either, but then you never could have made me watch that thing a second time, not under torture or extortion.)

3. Now THIS is a frivolous law suit.  From CNN:

Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman indicted on money laundering and other charges, filed a lawsuit challenging the broad authority of special counsel Robert Mueller and alleging the Justice Department violated the law in appointing Mueller. The suit brought Wednesday in US District Court in Washington, where Manafort and another former Trump campaign aide are charged, challenges Mueller’s decision to charge Manafort with alleged crimes that they say have nothing to do with the 2016 campaign, but rather relate to lucrative lobbying work Manafort and his deputy did for a former Russia-friendly government in Ukraine. That work ended in 2014, the suit says.

The lawsuit is bonkers, and will be thrown out of court almost immediately. The assignment given to Mueller included any criminal conduct he uncovers while investigating the Russian “interference” conspiracy theory, and as Jonathan Turley said on TV this morning, courts tend not to be sympathetic when accused felons say, “I was caught by the wrong cop!”  Moreover, the suit is that true rarity, a genuine frivolous suit where the lawyer bringing it knows, or should know, that it is hopeless.

Turley called it a “message suit,” a term I’ve never heard before. A message suit is when the point of the lawsuit isn’t to win, but to make a statement. (By that measure, I guess the defamation suit against me by a commenter whose feelings got bruised is also a message suit—but he’s not a lawyer.) The problem is that message suits are unethical. That’s not what the legal system is for, and a lawyer who files such a suit is breaching his or her ethical duties.

It’s also a stupid suit. When Manafort loses, the anti-Trump media will report the decision as more proof that Mueller is about to indict the President, and that his investigation is a pure as the driven snow.

4. Also stupid…Not quite frivolous—a lawyer can ethically try a Hail Mary law suit hoping for a reversal of established precedent— but equally stupid is the cease and desist letter sent by the White House lawyers to rogue ex-aid Steve Bannon. Trump attorney Charles J. Harder of the firm Harder Mirell & Abrams LLP, said in a statement, “This law firm represents President Donald J. Trump and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. On behalf of our clients, legal notice was issued today to Stephen K. Bannon, that his actions of communicating with author Michael Wolff regarding an upcoming book give rise to numerous legal claims including defamation by libel and slander, and breach of his written confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with our clients. Legal action is imminent.”  The same lawyers have demanded that Woolf’s book not be published. I’m guessing both are bluffs, especially the latter. Under established First Amendment law, a public figure like the President can demand that the courts censor a book, but the demand is futile unless the text includes information that endangers the national security, and even then it’s unlikely to prevail.

Turley correctly pooh-poohs this one on his blog, writing in part,

The threat of legal action is highly dubious and the suggestion of a prior restraint order or injunction would go against decades of precedent. Much of what Bannon states is obviously protected opinion…

The letter..adds, rather unconvincingly, that “Legal action is imminent.” If so, this would be a uniquely self-destructive filing. It would fail in achieving any meaningful results while opening a new front (with potentially damaging discovery) for an already overloaded Trump team. It would also likely lead to another court loss, which would undermine the President’s standing on the issue.

While private companies (like those once headed by Trump) can impose contractual limitations on former employees from speaking against the company or revealing confidential material, the first amendment protects much more speech when the subject is a president of the United States.

5. Is this fake news? Ann Althouse raises the question about NBC/MSNBC reporter Katy Tur tweeting this from Wolff’s still unreleased book:

By the Ethics Alarms definition, the answer is yes. It is unsubstantiated rumor presented as fact, for a partisan, ideological or other agenda rather than to legitimately inform the public.




20 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/4/2018: A Frivolous Lawsuit, An Unscripted Actress, A Lesson In Assuming, And Fake News

  1. 4. “…a public figure like the President can demand that the courts censor a book, unless it includes information that endangers the national security, and even then it’s unlikely.”

    Jack, I think you left out an intended “not” between “can” and “demand.”

  2. “The River Wild” was good. As was “Kramer vs. Kramer.” And “Sophie’s Choice.” But I will not be paying to see “The Post,” and probably would not watch it even if it was a free viewing. I’m souring on Tom Hanks, too, despite how much I liked “Bridge of Spies.”

  3. Perhaps this is all a charade. When the dust settles and it becomes a huge seller to the anti-Trumpers, will Bannon simply say when statements are proven to be lies ” it sold alot of books, didn’t it – ala Harry Reid.

  4. As for Bannon’s lawsuit, a former Deputy AG for the DOJ pretty much stated the same but he also stated that it could force disclosure of information by Mueller that he, Manafort, is proscribed from disclosing under an existing gag order, and would disclose why Rosentein OK’d the expansion of the investigation to include events many years prior to the campaign. In short he stated while he probably won’t win it could help with his defense against the charges he currently faces.

  5. Complete non-sequitur, but have you been keeping up with the election in Virginia? Apparently they just decided the election in favor of the Republican by… I can’t make this up…. Typing their names on a piece of paper, putting the names into… I can’t make this up…. old film canister containers…. and drawing one out of a…. I can’t make this up… ceramic bowl.

  6. The same lawyers have demanded that Woolf’s book not be published.

    So the Republican president is calling for a book ban.

    Does that mean we can stop pretending the only threats to free speech come from the left?

  7. Complete non-sequitur that I’m sure you’ve never heard of:

    Two years ago, a man in Scotland who goes by the online handle “Count Dankula” thought it would be funny to teach his girlfriend’s pug to seig heil salute every time it heard “gas the Jews”, and post it on Facebook. Now, I have all kinds of opinions about the stupidity of that, but I don’t think the man is actually a Nazi, I think he thought it was funny. He was wrong, painfully, but I think that most, if not all, the people in here can agree…. The response was…. We’ll call it inappropriate. Because today, and Americans: let this sink in… “Count Dankula” is being tried, and the verdict is expected. The crown prosecutors want to send him to jail for a year, for the crime of teaching his pug to seig heil, and the chances of it happening aren’t negligible.

    • Verdict is down: Guilty under the “Threatening Communications Act of 2012”, three months in jail, 200 hours of community service, no access to the internet for a year.

      People were adequately threatened by a Nazi saluting pug that they thought it was reasonable to send a man to jail for three months.

      I’d like to take this moment to say:

      “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
      What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
      Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
      Over the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
      And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
      Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
      Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
      Over the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

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