Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/16/18: “Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” The Institution Of The Presidency, And Thought Control

Good Morning, Ethics World!

1 “Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” Yesterday, finding myself in desperate straits thanks to our recent decision that premium cable TV stations were not worth the money, I watched the film version of “Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” How time flies! The always excellent Diane Lane was still playing ingenues, instead of the unusually lovely mothers she plays now. Wesley Snipes still had a career.

And this: after a bloodily murdered young woman is discovered in a White House bathroom, the head of security explains to the police why it is crucial to shield the President from any speculation or hint of scandal, saying,

“You won’t question the President! The Presidency is an institution, not a person.  And that institution will be protected at all costs.”

Gee, how old IS that movie? I just checked: it’s 20 years old. The novel was written by one-time first daughter Margaret Truman, who once lived at at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with her Democratic President father. The quote wasn’t considered remarkable at the time: it didn’t even make it into the IMDB’s quotes page for the film. The quote is certainly striking today. All it took was 20 years, a shocking upset and a President who “breaches norms” to make the Democrats, Republicans, the news media and much of the public forget that is in our interests as a nation to protect and respect the institution, and that the person occupying it is secondary.

I knew there was a reason I liked that movie, other than Diane Lane.

There’s another interesting quote from the film too:

“I think President Teddy Roosevelt said it best: ‘If I must choose between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness.'” 

2. How’s this for a seque? I also finished 2014’s  “The Roosevelts” last night for the second time (enjoying PBS though I am still waiting for the Republicans to cut it out of the budget, as they keep promising) and found myself reflecting upon which was more dangerous for the nation, a President who receives no respect and is widely denigrated at every turn, regardless of merit or fairness, or a President who is widely fawned over , not just domestically but world wide, and who comes to be regarded as a perfect, unassailable leader, and who is determined to stay in the job for life? I’m pretty sure what my late father would say, even though as a veteran and a Depression kid he respected FDR’s accomplishments and skill as a leader. “He was as close to a dictator as the country has ever had,” he told me. “Too close.”

My father’s assessment, not unique to him,  is not expressed in the Ken Burns documentary. Being a PBS product, it seems determined, even now, to burnish Roosevelt’s iconic image, never being more than conditionally critical of the Presidential narcissist and borderline sociopath that was FDR, or even calling attention to his obvious and stunning hypocrisies, like the fact that the same man who proclaimed his commitment to spreading the “Four Freedoms” after the war handed over Eastern Europe and its millions of human beings to the domination of Stalinist Russia.  As vivid as the “The Roosevelts” is, like all of Burns’ films, it is still propaganda and political manipulation. The smoking gun for me is that despite ten and half hours, Burns somehow never found time to highlight FDR’s internment of American citizens solely because they were of Japanese ancestry. The civil rights outrage is only alluded to in passing, as part of a list from a biographer preceding the nostrum, “All great leaders make mistakes.”

3. And speaking of manipulation...Some have suggested that Mark Zuckerberg is owed an Ethics Alarms Ethics Hero award, since he immediately lost more than 3 billion dollars in wealth when the stock market plunged because of this:

Facebook has introduced sweeping changes to the kinds of posts, videos and photos that its more than two billion members will see most often, saying on Thursday that it would prioritize what their friends and family share and comment on while de-emphasizing content from publishers and brands. The shift is the most significant overhaul in years to Facebook’s News Feed, the cascading screen of content that people see when they log into the social network. Over the next few weeks, users will begin seeing fewer viral videos and news articles shared by media companies. Instead, Facebook will highlight posts that friends have interacted with — for example, a photo of your dog or a status update that many of them have commented on or liked.

The changes are intended to maximize the amount of content with “meaningful interaction” that people consume on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview. Facebook, he said, had closely studied what kinds of posts had stressed or harmed users. The social network wants to reduce what Mr. Zuckerberg called “passive content” — videos and articles that ask little more of the viewer than to sit back and watch or read — so that users’ time on the site was well spent.

“We want to make sure that our products are not just fun, but are good for people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “We need to refocus the system.”

This arrogant pronouncement that an internet giant feels that it should decide what is good for us to read should scare the hell out of people, not that I’ll especially miss the idiotic Occupy Democrat memes and the Charles Blow columns posted by Facebook friends who could not fetcht the wit or information defend either on a bet. Facebook’s paternalistic and Orwellian policy change also came on the heels of Google’s new fact-check feature, which so far, at least, appears to be reserved only for conservative websites.

Google’s margin verdicts are also often wrong, biased, or misleading, like virtually all fact-checks. The Daily Caller, which for some reason has been the target of a disproportionate percentage of Google’s attention, found,

When searching for a media outlet that leans right, like The Daily Caller (TheDC), Google gives users details on the sidebar, including what topics the site typically writes about, as well as a section titled “Reviewed Claims.”Vox, and other left-wing outlets and blogs like Gizmodo, are not given the same fact-check treatment. When searching their names, a “Topics they write about” section appears, but there are no “Reviewed Claims.”
In fact, a review of mainstream outlets, as well as other outlets associated with liberal and conservative audiences, shows that only conservative sites feature the highly misleading, subjective analysis. Several conservative-leaning outlets like TheDC are “vetted,” while equally partisan sites like Vox, ThinkProgress, Slate, The Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Salon, Vice and Mother Jones are spared…Big name publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times are even given a column showcasing all of the awards they have earned over the years.

Another smoking gun: Google treats as a respectable fact-checking service, when that site  need a fact-check more than most.

I presume, as with the pervasive tilt of news media bias, the civil liberties and freedom of thought warriors on the Left will shrug-off  this sinister abuse of power as conservative alarmist—since it benefits their “side.”

44 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/16/18: “Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” The Institution Of The Presidency, And Thought Control

  1. 1. I reviewed Aaron Sorkin’s “Molly’s Game” yesterday, and the key point I came away with, as with “Pearl Harbor” and “Braveheart” is that it isn’t necessary to turn to fiction when fact is just as compelling. Fiction just wraps the message up in a brighter, neater package, but real life isn’t always wrapped up neat with a red ribbon. The idea that the president is somehow untouchable is a lot older than 20 years, and was trotted out in real life right about the time of this movie to shield Bill Clinton from persistent accusations of acting like a pig. After all, he was the president and he had important work to do.

    GWB sure as the devil wasn’t treated like he was untouchable, although he received some deference from 9/11 until the Iraq occupation started to go south. Once Katrina hit and the media successfully shifted the blame for the magnitude of the disaster that hit New Orleans from the state and local authorities to the Feds, he was doomed in the public eye. Bush the elder did a little better, since the media of the Reagan era still generally deferred to the presidency as an institution, as shown by one reporter’s decision not to expose how clueless Reagan appeared during a 1986 interview and pronounce him senile. Perhaps the American populace of the time would also not have bought that accusation, and that’s part of why she decided not to go there.

    Since then, this nation has had almost 3 decades of parties moving farther and farther away from the center, an embarrassing sex scandal that resulted in one party throwing principle out the window to defend their guy, one election that came down to a few hundred votes in one state and another that completely defied the polls, both of which resulted in a GOP president who didn’t win the popular vote, and a decade of social media, where anyone can and anyone does say whatever they want to the world with little fear of actual consequences. It’s also had a few decades to coarsen dialogue more and more, a curse word here, a direct insult there, and now no one bats an eye at Keith Olbermann tweeting 140 characters of “fuck you” and “Nazi” or Charles Blow writing and the NYT publishing whole columns that are nothing but invective against the president.

    It should come as no surprise that the presidency no longer receives the deference it once did. It also perhaps should come as no surprise that the president and his allies have chosen to inveigh back, since taking the high road didn’t do GWB any good. The result, however, is the proverbial nation of assholes that you correctly predicted would happen, but fell a little short on just how bad it would be.

    2. Conservative scholarship still has a ways to go to catch up to liberal scholarship, which still has a much bigger megaphone on liberal networks, of which PBS is the most respectable. JFK has come a little loose on his pedestal as the facts about his affairs, sometimes questionable competence, and just how bad of physical shape he was in start to eclipse his assassination, as they should, what someone did in life is far more important than how he died. FDR has not, and he may never, given his much greater continuing influence (one of the only presidents to essentially fill the SCOTUS with his own people) and the fact that he led this nation through the most difficult time it has ever seen both domestically and abroad. Congress was right to create term limits on the presidency to prevent any such entrenchment of leadership, together with the vacuum that always follows when a leader who has been in power too long dies, from happening again. It boggles my mind that almost a decade ago after Obama was elected, lefty people inquired as to whether it was possible to make him able to be electable for life. I don’t know which I find more frightening, the concept of any one person being able to get a lock on the presidency for life, or the fact that there are people out there who would be ok with that idea.

    3. Controlling information and controlling the method of communication is the easiest way to control people and what they think. There is no question that both Facebook and Google are controlled by liberal people, in fact Google’s staff is borderline fascist liberal, with conservative individuals not even allowed to enter their campus to have lunch with employees. It should come as no surprise that both are looking to bend things the liberal way. Since both are technically private property and not public utilities, they are probably ok to do that…until conservative competition springs up.

    • I didn’t write that protecting the President as an institution BEGAN in 1997. I wrote that it had vanished SINCE 1997. The fact that I noted that the quote wasn’t considered noteworthy at the time pretty clearly states that it was stating the status quo.

      • Moreover, I would not claim that the treatment of Bush, and certainly not Obama, was so extreme as to wound the institution of the Presidency. This began with the resistance, and Trump. Not before.

        • Hmmmm, let me explain a little farther – the idea of protecting the president as an institution had been around for some time, but I believe it started to fray with the end of the Cold War and come apart in earnest with the impeachment of Clinton. It has definitely almost collapsed since 1997. I believe that it was on its way to where it is now before Trump, and Trump just was what caused it to really explode.

      • Have you ever compiled a list of events that most added to America’s distrust of itself or of its system (which all this inevitably boils down to…some of which merely occurred, while some seems quite intentional…)?

        I think:

        1) Kennedy assassination

        2) Watergate

        3) Vietnam (which either on its own undermined confidence, or was another event that was the object of other efforts to undermine our confidence)

        4) Civil War (to a degree, though it can be said Civil War also bolstered confidence)

        5) The DNC-led Media-carried treachery towards the Trump Presidency

        6) ….?

        One could add many pre-WW2 government-business scandals, but I think Americans were robust enough to recognize that wasn’t a flaw in the system as much as it was a call to hold officials accountable. But I don’t think that robustness exists anymore, we’ve just been convinced to hate the system.

          • If the DNC of Maryland doesn’t completely shut Manning out in the primary by a landslide and Manning lands more than 2% of the primary vote, then that settles the judgment that something would be very sick indeed in the Maryland Democrat Party.

              • I don’t care that he’s trans either (full disclosure: though I am MUCH less open minded towards trans individuals than I was a few years ago, I am still being generally open minded towards them). My comment derives entirely from his treachery against the Nation.

                    • It was a mistake, that’s all.

                      Although the idiot convinced me of idiocy while male, so I might have chosen to write “he” intentionally, just as we had a discussion about whether it makes sense in talking about Caitlin Jenner to say “she” won the Mens’ Olympic Decathlon. (I don’t think so.) Or maybe, since feminist bigots maintain women are smarter than men, it’s fairer to call the idiot a male and presume that being feminized made Manning smarter, Even then, I should have written :”he WAS an idiot.”

                      But it was just a mistake, They were/are both idiots. And a traitor.

                      Good luck on your “gotcha!” hunt, though!

                    • Except it reads entirely as a gotcha hunt. The use of the very active verb “swapping” implies you think Jack intentionally swapped pronouns.

                      If you had not intended to rile something up, you would have approached it from a more guarded angle, allowing for the possibility of passive error…more like:

                      “was this a typo?”

                      See, typos are accidents. Swapping is purposeful.

                      I think Jack was completely right in interpreting your inquiry the way he did.

                    • Nope. Not being baited into your word games today, Tex. As far as I can tell the issue has been resolved and you’re continuing on trying to start an argument, so who’s really playing “gotcha?”

                    • I’m glad it’s resolved. But you don’t get to squirm out of it without being called on it.

                      You’ve been called on it, so I consider the matter complete now.

                    • And your misuse of gender pronouns clearly *is* purposeful, Tex, so I really don’t think you want to have this conversation.

        • The real issue is whether the distrust lasts or not, and has lasting damage. Also when it kicks in. Among the candidates (mostly in order):

          The failure of the Declaration to ban slavery
          The 3/5 compromise.
          The Mexican War
          The Dred Scott decision
          The Trail of Tears
          The Civil War
          The broken Indian treaties.
          Lincoln’s assassination.
          The Johnson impeachment
          Grant administration scandals.
          The 1876 election.
          WW I
          Jim Crow
          Teapot Dome
          The ’29 Crash
          Pearl Harbor
          The Japanese internments
          The St. Louis.
          Tuskegee experiments
          The Red Scare/ McCarthy
          JFK assassination
          Clinton impeachment
          2000 election
          Iraq War
          2008 campaign bias by the news media
          IRS scandal
          FBI investigation into Clinton e-mails
          The Merrick Garland block
          2016 Election
          The Post 2016 Election Ethics Train Wreck


    • Steve-O-in-NJ,
      Really good comment!

      P.S. Recently I’ve personally noticed that you’ve been walking a very eloquent path, I applaud this trend; I too am trying to walk that path more although I’ve been a little less successful.

      • Thanks. As I said earlier, we should all be partially proud, and partially ashamed of the last two years. Looking ahead, we have to do better. Sometimes it might mean we have to stay out of discussions we don’t have time to write a quality response to. Sometimes it might mean recognizing everything that could be said has already been said. It should always mean NOT ranting.

    • “There is no question that both Facebook and Google are controlled by liberal people”

      David Horowitz does a great job in the “The New Leviathan” demonstrating that one of the Left’s key points of propaganda:

      That the Right is about Big Business and Government being in bed with each other

      is an outright lie. That it is much more prevalent for large business organizations that benefit from government protectionist policies to be in bed with the DNC.

      • In my view, it’s about what KIND of biz and which portion of the gubmint gets in the bed. If it’s defense contractors, they have no use for most liberals, because there’s always a potential peacenik. But internet/tech tend to lean liberal. So there’s all sorts of weird, mostly behind-the-scenes, handshake, heads nodding together stuff happening; it’s just differing between whom. It’s all potential collusion if they aren’t careful, so they ARE careful on both sides to make sure people inside the camps are watching for where collusion could be sniffed and avoid it. And all of them try to keep it all out of the public view where it could get iffy.

    • My job IN TEXAS was impacted by winter weather Tuesday, so I had a chance to hear Rush Limbaugh on the radio, mentioning that media war against Trump. Uh-oh…hold on…lights are flickering…Trump AGAIN!

  2. I’ve finally figured out what bothers me so much about Ken Burns and his ubiquitous oeuvre: He thinks there’s a commonly shared and wonderful view of America and it happens to be his. The problem is his view is limited to old photographs and film. If there’s no visual record of something, Ken doesn’t cover it. His work has the specific gravity of those books put out by TIME magazine that recount some historical event by… wait for it… reprinting TIME magazine’s archival photos of same! It’s propaganda, Ken. Slick and engaging, but propaganda. Give us a break and take your shtick somewhere else. Maybe the former Soviet Union. I’m sure those countries would love to be lectured on the good old days.

    • I think in some cases, he still picks and chooses, because there’s plenty of evidential material about the Japanese internment. But I bet when they were making it (post production takes a while, y’all), it might have been less noisy and he thought he could gloss over it. Or he just wanted to gloss over it no matter what. He gets to be king on his stuff.

  3. RE: #3 and the Facebook changes.
    This is a magnificent piece of misdirection by Facebook. The are clouding the waters with “societal considerations”, when what they have actually implemented is an advertising rate hike. Without getting into the algorithms that drive what posts you actually see on your Facebook page, suffice to say that any business page that you “liked”, (the Italian restaurant you and the spouse love, the movie theater that has special deals, the dance studio your kid takes lessons at), will now be restricted in their ability to reach you through Facebook, unless they pay.
    To be clear, the businesses that you have chosen to receive notifications from on Facebook, will be unable to have you see their posts, unless they pay to reach you. Should you decide to “like” and “share” a business post, (free ice cream cones for kids under 7 on Saturday!), with your Facebook friends, it’s distribution will be severely limited among your Facebook friends.
    This is being touted as a way to avoid fake news re-posts, but is really a way to keep that local dry cleaners that you “like” from distributing coupons to you for free, and having you “share” them with your friends. All perfectly legitimate business, but done under the cover of re-focusing Facebook, and “de-emphasizing publishers and brands.” Brands=businesses. Facebook wants all businesses, from the corner pizzeria to the NYT to pay to reach it’s users. Even if a user has opted-in by “liking” a particular business or publisher.

    • Facebook is all in on progressive narratives, whatever they are at that moment. The most consistent progressive narrative is socialism, meaning control of the masses and money reserved for the elite.

      This fits that to a T

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