Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/8/2018: Regrets, “It Rings True,” Bannon The Weasel, And “But It Would Be Wrong…”

Good Morning, everyone!

1 On the other hand, “Bite me!” I find myself feeling bad about a Facebook retort yesterday laying out an old friend, also a former Democratic official’s staff member, for taking a snide shot at my “bias” after my answer to a query about anti-Trump legal ethicist Richard Painter. Painter has been on the “remove Trump by any means possible” bandwagon since the 2016 election, and because he was an ethics advisor to the Bush White House, he has been a favorite go-to source for CNN and MSNBC while authoring bizarre op-eds that distort the Constitution.  My response about Painter was that he has apparently been driven mad by the whole Trump experience, and is now in the process of wrecking a very fine reputation as his colleagues in the field, like me, roll their eyes and weep. (Painter is a Bush family loyalist, and the guessing is that he is following the lead of the two Georges, who hate Trump to pieces.) Yes, Richard was among the first to advocate Plan E, removing Trump because he is “unable” to do the job, so he’s especially hot right now.

I feel bad because I’m a nice guy, but I’ll be damned if I will put up with being called “biased” for correctly pointing out what is dishonest and wrong about the various plots to circumvent the election. It’s not a “bias” to believe that an entire party attempting to undermine an elected President is wrong, and that lawyers and ethicists who pander to that mob have slipped a professional cog. I sent my friend to this website to find any evidence that I am a Trump fan, other than being the apparently rare critic who will give the President credit when he deserves it, and who will defend him against fake news and dishonest accusations. I’m a passionate supporter of U.S. values, the system, our institutions, the Presidency itself and elections. That’s not bias. That’s called being an ethical citizen.

2. Signature significance for a weasel. Five days after his reported quotes in “Fire and Fury” including one accusing Don Jr. of “treason” caused President Trump to slam him on Twitter, former White House aide and Breitbart power Steve Bannon sent an “apology” to Axios, of all places. This is known as ” crawling back.” Bannon, while at the White House, leaked to reporters and played both ends against the middle to further his own agenda, and betrayed the President’s trust and confidence by aiding and abetting sleazy political gossip-monger Michael Wolff.  Now, after Bannon’s split with Trump has obviously cost him support, influence and credibility, the man who chomped on the hand that fed him wants a do-over. Only the worst species of unethical and unprincipled weasel would try something like this. If he genuinely regretted the quotes, he would have  immediately said that they misrepresent him, and repudiated them. Waiting five days makes it clear that Bannon was waiting to see how the episode was playing in the media and public to decide whether to stand by his own words or not. The short version of this is: “Integrity? What’s that?”

Moreover, the text of the “apology” shows that Bannon isn’t very bright. Why bother looking pathetic and weak if you aren’t even going to do it effectively? He doesn’t even apologize:  he says that he regrets his “delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”

Ha! I bet he does. But this is a Level 10 apology on the Apology Scale:

An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.

3. Is expressing “regret” the same as an apology? Let’s look closely at which mainstream media outlets call Bannon’s statement an “apology.” Axios does. When President Obama was making his so-called “apology tour,” as it was dubbed by the Right, journalists rushed to his defense, arguing that saying in multiple nations that he “regretted” the policies of his predecessors and the past actions of the United States was not the same as apologizing for them.

4. Somewhere, Dan Rather is smiling...I’m putting this in the Warm-Up because, as you may have noticed, yesterday’s posts were dominated by “the resistance’s” Plan E and the news media’s dutiful assist by hyping “Fire and Fury.” Incredibly—yes, I’m an idiot: the degree to which the news media will abandon core journalism ethics if it means bringing Trump down still surprises me–there was little effort on the news shows yesterday to hide the fact that much of Wolff’s book is unreliable,  and that the author admits it. Nonetheless, they reported on the salacious quotes and accounts, debated in panels whether it “proved” the President is disabled, and generally presented the book to the public as fact, not fiction.

How can journalists possibly justify this? It can’t be justified, but the news media’s anti-Trump bias has made them stupid and incompetent.

For example, CNN MEDIA ETHICIST—I have to place both hands over my head to prevent an explosion when I type that, which means I have to type with my noseBrian Stelter tweeted,

Big picture point: Wolff’s errors are sloppy, but many Trump experts say the book “rings true” overall.

This, you will recall, was Dan Rather‘s rationale for presenting forged documents as evidence that George W. Bush had been AWOL in the Air National Guard, because “even if the documents are false, the underlying story is true.” To Jake Tapper‘s credit (although he still insisted on trying to grill White House aide Steve Miller about the book), he tweeted back to his CNN colleague,

“Having many errors but “ringing true” is not a journalistic standard.”

Correct, Jake!  But why are you and the rest of your network still talking about a book of gossip and rumors?

Ann Althouse did an especially good job slamming the news media’s handling of “Fire and Fury,” writing in part,

“Read the book. See if you don’t feel like you are with me on that couch in the White House. And see if you don’t feel alarmed…”

So said Michael Wolff on “Meet the Press” today, after Chuck Todd confronted him about “a lot of little errors” — “One page had three in one. Some of them may be copy edits, small, factual errors. But it adds up. Why shouldn’t a reader be concerned about some of these mistakes?”

Wolff’s answer was just “I think a reader should read the book. The book speaks for itself” and that quote I put in the post title, which I thought was a very weird answer. Wolff wouldn’t defend the book and the method and care he used. He just insisted that people read the book. Questions about whether the book is true should be determined by readers simply feeling whether it’s true.

…It felt like a complete concession that the book was fiction. Because that is how fiction works. It isn’t reporting, but a different way of getting to the truth. If it feels true, it is true, for the purposes of the mental life of the reader. What’s out there in the real world is… oh, what is it? Is that “real world” you speak of anything at all? I’m here in my own head, where whatever is felt is.

Here’s Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine…

“…I do think… there are very significant journalistic critiques that you can throw at this book. But I also think the “it rings true” truth about this is absolutely valid.”

Ah ha ha ha ha. He’s buying the feel-the-truth-at-you/fiction-is-truth theory that sounded like bullshit when Wolff said it.

….Notice how much Wolff sounds like a novelist. Nothing wrong with being a novelist. But there is something wrong with reading a novel and not realizing it’s a novel. Remember, recently, the internet went wild talking about the New Yorker short story “Cat Person,” and it seemed rather obvious that a lot of people were just talking about it as if it were a blow-by-blow account of a real relationship? Come on, people! That’s incompetent reading. Fiction is different.

I have to interject here that I am having an increasingly difficult time not getting emotional about this. How dare the news media betray us ? The chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine is cheering on a book that he knows is substantially fiction because it “rings true”? On ABC yesterday, George Stephanopoulis hypothesized that the book is “50%  true,” and then continued to lead a Trump-bashing round table discussion about its implications.

I can’t respect these people any more. I can’t trust them, and I can’t believe them.

Do read  David Harsanyi‘s essay,, Don’t Let Wolff’s ‘Fire And Fury’ Normalize ‘Fake But Accurate.’

5. “But it would be wrong…”  Wikileaks just released Wolff’s book on a pdf, free of charge. Yes, this is illegal. Yes, this is unethical. Yes, I’m tempted, because I don’t want to but a nickel in Michael Wolff’s pocket, but I’m often tempted to do unethical things. If you read the book this way, it is too close to stealing. Don’t do it.

But I do think there should be an investigation into whether the President colluded with Wikileaks to hurt book sales. After all, it “rings true.”


34 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/8/2018: Regrets, “It Rings True,” Bannon The Weasel, And “But It Would Be Wrong…”

  1. ‘“rings true””

    This means only one thing: “Confirms my biases”.

    If the phrase is some vague sensory allusion to anything other than “is true”, then it is not true.

    This tastes true.
    This smells true.

    I mean, the phraseology, when parsed, reveals that it is all about confirmation bias and picking and choosing only tidbits of information to claim accuracy. When appealing to a single sense as confirmation of truth, we are ignoring all other senses and logic that all deny the truth claim that “rings true”.

  2. “I have to interject here that I am having an increasingly difficult time not getting emotional about this. How dare the news media betray us like this?”

    It makes sense once you view our nation through the paradigm that we are in a Cold Civil War.

  3. Would it be great is Bannon had a large media platform for which to tell his tale instead of talking to Axios? I wonder if he should get on it.

    1. And did your friend take your advice?

    5. I’ll admit, I find this rather funny. A guy went through deception, slander outright lies to make a ton of money to have another unethical and dubious organization tear it out from underneath him.

    • Would it be great is Bannon had a large media platform for which to tell his tale instead of talking to Axios? I wonder if he should get on it.


  4. 5: Let me take a moment to remind people of a wonderful invention called the public library. The odds are your local library has already ordered a copy and/or obtained ebook lending rights through overdrive. If they haven’t you can go in and make a request.

    Recommendation: Stop by the research desk and make an offering. Chocolate is often an acceptable form of tribute. You may not often make use of the research librarians but when you need them, they are like unto gods.

    • ”Stop by the research desk and make an offering.”

      Librarians susceptible to graft…I mean “offerings?”

      That will make for interesting conversation the next time I talk to my SIL, who is employed as one in Gunnison/Crested Butte, CO.

    • I find abject and gratuitous genuflection to be of as much use as chocolate, and far cheaper on my pocket book.

      But it only works on the paid employees: the volunteers respond to a smile and a kind tone.

  5. Fortunately, this Fire and Fury tempest will be last week’s news by later this week. Unfortunately, it will be the case because by around Thursday, the Dems and the media industrial complex will have moved on to the next Plan as directed by whoever it is that is orchestrating this non-stop anti-Trump crusade. Maybe it will be that Trump should be impeached because he and his wife aren’t sleeping together. Or maybe Trump eats too many french fries. Or maybe his hands are too small because he puts arsenic on his jelly donuts and is mentally incompetent. Hard to tell but the sun will come up tomorrow.

  6. Everything about the post modern world is “if it rings true, it is true”, and journalists are very much into post modern bullshit.

  7. I think it’s becoming quite clear that the book “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff is 100% Class-A anti-Trump propaganda; it’s time to follow the money and support behind the creation of the book. This seditious book was published to intentionally fuel the four alarm fire created by the anti-Trump resistance that’s suffering from traumatic political stress disorder in an obvious effort to create a conflagration.

    We are in for a rough ride folks.

    • Soros? I don’t think even Bannon would go THAT far, but, then again, cash in large sums will change almost anyone’s mind.

      • I don’t think this is a ideological shift in society due to a random event. I’m think this propaganda war that we are in the middle of is absolutely no coincidence, there likely to be “a” source for all the money that is being spent to fund it and “a” source for all the think-tank psychology being used to generate all the propaganda.

        It’s either that or a vast majority of “we the people” have literally been brainwashed.

  8. I don’t know who Wolff is, and I’m not planning to read his book, but Ann Althouse’s conclusion that it’s fiction is, itself, kind of made-up. She says that Wolff’s answer to an interview question “felt like a complete concession that the book was fiction.” Elsewhere she says he “sounds like a novelist.” That’s a perfectly reasonable gut feeling, but it’s no more objective journalism than what she’s accusing Wolff of doing.

    • Windypundit,
      It’s propaganda and at the very core of propaganda is implications/innuendo/fiction/etc. Althouse’s opinion is not “made up” it’s a reasonable conclusion based on available information and does not appear to be wrong. This propaganda book feeds those that do not use critical thinking and instead rely on correlation equals causation.

      Propaganda: information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

      • I disagree…

        “So said Michael Wolff on “Meet the Press” today, after Chuck Todd confronted him about “a lot of little errors” — “One page had three in one. Some of them may be copy edits, small, factual errors. But it adds up. Why shouldn’t a reader be concerned about some of these mistakes?”

        Wolff’s answer was just “I think a reader should read the book. The book speaks for itself””

        CT: “What do you have to say about all the factual errors in your book”
        MW: “The book speaks for itself.”

        The leap to fiction doesn’t require subjective interpretations. there are objective factual errors in the book, and when asked to reconcile those errors with a book that people are supposed to take seriously, he says the book speaks for itself. Let that sink in for a second… What does that even mean when the book says things that aren’t true, and he doesn’t defend its accuracy?

        This is similar to my stance on journalism in 2018: Some of it is fake news. Some of it, most of it, is real, but I can’t innately tell which. There’s statements of fact that I can check for accuracy, and then there’s things I can’t check…. And because I can’t verify them, and because we don’t know how much of the work is fiction (Note: We aren’t settling on whether the work contains fiction or not, we’re figuring out how much). Then the reasonable thing to do is verify what you can, and treat the rest as if it were fiction, because it’s coming from an untrustworthy source.

        Coaching this in the language of feeling might have been a mistake, but it doesn’t make it less true.

        • Humble Talent wrote, “he says the book speaks for itself. Let that sink in for a second… What does that even mean when the book says things that aren’t true, and he doesn’t defend its accuracy?”

          What does “the book speaks for itself” mean?

          It’s bait.

          Be honest; what would you say if you wanted to promote the sales of a your book that you know is full of “anti” propaganda against a high ranking political figure that you absolutely despised? You’d say just anything that maintains the controversy and increases book sales; bad news about the book contents is good news for the book sales and good news for spreading its propaganda.

          At this point Trump must think that any news about Trump is “good” news because it feeds Trumps core narcissism; he’s eats up this nonsense.

          • If we want to understand propaganda and those that actively use it then we need to give equal attention to what’s being said, who is saying it, and why it’s being said. The why is the hardest for most people to understand but I think it’s the most important.

            Motivation isn’t optional, everyone is motivated to do nothing or to do something, either negatively or positively.

        • I saw a snippet of Wolff yesterday on the news. They asked him ‘What do you say about Donald Trump’s claim that you didn’t interview him?’ and Wolff’s answer was ‘ He may not have considered it an interview, but we spoke’. Eh!? An official interview for a book would be stated as such up front, as the material will be published. This sounds like the psychiatrist’s fudge about ‘briefing’ a Republican lawmaker about Trump’s mental state, meaning they ran into each other somewhere. ‘We spoke’ could mean anything. I would love to know exactly how much he actually talked to Trump.

        • This is similar to my stance on journalism in 2018: Some of it is fake news. Some of it, most of it, is real, but I can’t innately tell which. There’s statements of fact that I can check for accuracy, and then there’s things I can’t check…. And because I can’t verify them, and because we don’t know how much of the work is fiction

          Welcome to my world… we only disagree as to the percentages of reality versus fiction, and of course on the date we took the stance.

          My take is that MOST of journalism the past decade is fake news, in that it is written to advance an agenda. This is also known as propaganda. Most statements are not fact, and cross checking reveals that they are some sort of spin on a fact.

          I crossed the line to not trusting ‘progressive leaning’ news sources when the ‘Bush lied’ crap started. Conservative (actually, formerly conservative or moderate) news sources as a whole have more recently crossed this line for me, starting somewhere in late 2015. No longer do I attempt to determine if a source is biased; now it is more important to identify the bias correctly so as to apply a corrective lens to the slant, in an attempt to get closer to the truth.

          Trust any of it I do not.

          • What I find kinda sad are the never say die supporters of media as an institution… I feel like this might be a generational thing, because it’s rarely ever espoused by someone under the age of 40. So long as the field was willing to police it’s own, to hold itself to a higher standard of excellence, then deference to the field makes sense, but in today’s reality, where competent, honest journalism is more of an aspiration than a standard, why on Earth would anyone treat it with any more credibility than any other source?

      • I’ve been re-thinking this, and I think I may be missing an implied step in Althouse’s argument. From what I hear, the book is thinly sourced, with many sources being unnamed and not even described. So it’s not like other journalists can re-interview Wolff’s sources and ask for confirmation. Consequently, rather a lot of the credibility of the accounts in the book depends on how much credibility Wolff has as a journalist, and in that case maybe it does matter whether Wolff’s answers are the kinds of answers that a legitimate journalist would give when asked those kinds of questions. Wolff is saying the book rings true, and she is responding that his whole presentation doesn’t ring true.

        It’s a pity, really, because given his access, and given his willingness to burn that access to tell a story, this could have been great journalism.

  9. No. 1: Bite me

    A snide shot, especially an unfunny one meant to hurt, deserves a “bite me” at minimum. A picture of your fist with the third finger raised would also be within the realm of acceptable responses.

    No. 2: Bannon the weasel

    You mean all the other unethical crap he said up until now didn’t qualify as signature significance? Okay, I guess. Bannon is an opportunist deserving exactly as much trust as the proverbial scorpion. He is exactly what I thought he was.

    No. 3: Regret vs. apology

    When you are a Democrat, yes, a regret is an apology, or whatever you need it to be, because shut up.

    When you are a Republican, there is no apology, however abject or humbling, that will suffice, because you are an irredeemable fascist white male (regardless of your actual race or gender) with all the redeeming qualities of an elevator fart.

    No. 4: Dan Rather’s smile

    Just one year ago yesterday:

    Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather has been tapped to teach an online journalism course called “Finding the truth in the news.”

    If Dan can teach a course about finding the truth, how can “fake but true” be anything other than an acceptable media practice?

    What all these execrable idiots are telling us is that they want us to believe all of this book, but have to settle for the parts that can’t be easily proven false. Therefore, it “rings true” even if it has about as much in common with reality as Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Or maybe it’s like the craziness going on in some of the DC comic book character TV shows — “It’s true on Earth 2!” No doubt. Where are the Legends of Tomorrow when you really need them?

    No. 5: Free Wolff book

    I’d rather be poked in the eye by Chet the Unicorn than read a boring work of made-up partisan offal. He has nothing to fear from me cutting into his profits.

    • I saw Bannon as a snake yet weasel fits as well and both have been proven true. I have been a people watcher for 67 years and, although I try to see good in everyone, I still know a snake when I see one. I once worked with an uneducated man who some deemed not bright as a result but he always said the following about a person he didn’t trust: “I handle him with a long handle spoon”. Not that’s wisdom and that is what is lacking in this country today.

      • Bannon is neither a snake nor a weasel: both snakes and weasels have some redeeming qualities.

        Bannon, on the other hand, is what you’d get if someone accidentally placed Frosty The Snowman’s magic life-giving hat on a drum of radioactive sludge.

  10. Stephen Colbert coined a word for the property of “ringing true”. He called it “truthiness”.

    I find people who are prone to mocking others tend to become an ironic mockery of those they mock. The benefit of humility is avoiding this fate.

  11. 1. It is a progressive tactic, taken from the pages of soviet communism, to move the goal posts such that the entire discussion is shifted their way, then to dismiss an objective, substantive point (such a the statement of a fact) biased. After all, everyone (who matters) has decided on a self serving version of reality, and therefore you are spinning… and shut up. Welcome to my entire life as a conservative, Jack. The opposition is fierce and unscrupled, but we have the best cookies.

    2. Bannon is about Bannon, full stop. Since Trump lived in a world (high finance, NY real estate, large businesses, construction, etc…) where this is expected, he is blind to the consequences of such a person in politics. Being Trump, he may or may not learn about this truth.

    3. Democrats can do pretty much whatever they want, and very rarely experience any consequences. This has been true my entire life, with the media pandering/covering/omitting such details in stories for the public. Case in point is the recent witch hunts that netted big fish: ‘everyone’ knew, but covered it up until it was not possible.

    4. The mainstream media is the propaganda arm of the progressive movement, just as the Democratic party is their political arm. Nothing they say should surprise one who has paid attention as well as Jack has. I don’t expect anything fair or decent from such (see ‘scorpion’ reference above) and thus have lower blood pressure than I would otherwise. I even get pleasantly surprised when actual truth is told, albeit rarely.

    5. Russians… or something. No fear of me wasting precious junk mail filing time on reading such drivel…

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