Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/27/18: Redux And Déjà Vu!

Good Morning.

1 Yes, “enemy of the people” is accurate. I searched all over cable and network news this morning to find an outlet that wasn’t dominated by the breaking news that a President-to-be had an adulterous affair with a porn star 12 years ago. I couldn’t find one. The media-wide effort to undermine an elected President and his respect in the nation and the world at a time of great challenges and peril on all fronts is irresponsible, destructive, and demonstrates the collapse of journalism as a bulwark of American democracy.

Journalists don’t have to behave like this: they have chosen to, because they discern that a critical mass of citizens–bad ones–would rather see the President of the United States humiliated and weakened nationally and internationally based on his past than to permit him the same crucial advantage  that every other President since George Washington has been conceded and used. That is the inherent dignity and honor of the office itself. As I wrote here before, almost every President could have been embarrassed in this way, and some far more.  In the past, the public wouldn’t have tolerated it. A full year of “the resistance” and non-stop media attacks made this President uniquely vulnerable to ad hominem attacks, and the only protection left intact between sensational smears and responsible journalism were ethical standards, which is to say, with today’s journalism, nothing at all.

This is no less than a ruthless, ratings- and bias-driven attack on American institutions, and every future President, and the nation, and our democracy, and the world itself, will suffer for it. Ironically, Trump may suffer from it least of all, since no one who supported his candidacy cared about traditional standards regarding who was fit to inherit the legacy of Washington, Lincoln and the rest. Still, this concerted effort to reduce his tenure to endless character assassination does undermine him, and us.

I don’t know what the President meant when he dubbed the news media the “enemy of the people;” he does not use words with anything approaching precision or consistency. I do know what I mean by the phrase, however: an institution that exists to strengthen American democracy has been deliberately engaging in conduct designed to weaken it. That is the conduct of enemies of the people, and that is what the mainstream news media has become.

2. The next Black Lives Matter bandwagon. The news media was also playing tabloid in the Stephon Clark shooting controversy this morning, showing the dead man’s grandmother weeping, asking why he had to die, and asking why the officers couldn’t have shot him “in the arm.” We won’t see a resolution of this case for a long time, but that hasn’t stopped the NAACP, Al Sharpton, Clark’s family and the large number of police-haters on the left from concluding, before any investigation, that he was “murdered.” The family has also hired the same lawyer, Ben Crump, who represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, neither of whom were murdered, and both of whom are still referred to a murder victims on the Black Lives Matter website.

Déjà vu.

In Sacramento, California, on March 18, two officers responded to a radio call regarding a man who was breaking car windows.  The uniformed officers were checking the area on foot when a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter pointed them in the direction of a possible suspect, Clark.

He was seen running through a back yard, jumping over a fence, then looking into a car parked in the driveway of what was later revealed to be his grandmother’s house. The officers approached Clark, guns drawn, and ordered him to show them his hands,  a standard command.  Instead Clark ran, with the officers in pursuit. They ordered  Clark to stop, but he ran around the corner of the house and out of the officers’ view. Again the officers followed, then ducked back behind the house, shouting “Show me your hands! Gun!”, then “Show me your hands!” followed immediately by “Gun, gun, gun!” Both officers opened fire, emptying their guns, killing Clark.

Clark had no gun, just a cell phone. The video is inconclusive.

I know what will occur here, and you should as well. Those who either distrust the police or who want to ramp up racial tensions will assert that Clark was executed because he was black. Those who believe that most police officers perform an impossible and perilous job with good faith and dedication will argue that they must be accorded the benefit of the doubt. They will get that benefit, aided greatly by the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Connor, which set the standards for how courts, juries and prosecutors should evaluate such incidents:

“The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force, must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight…The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

 Graham was a case in which police used force on a man who had not committed a crime, but whose behavior gave officers a reasonable basis to believe that he had.

Clark’s officers will either not be charged or acquitted if the are, and the verdict will be falsely and unethically attributed to racism, with the news media pushing that time-worn narrative. Again.

3. Life imitates ethics art. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a great ethics film, and it also is serving as a different kind of inspiration. Kat Sullivan, who alleges she was raped in 1998 by a male teacher at the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York rented three billboards to call out her attacker and to push for passage of the proposed Child Victims Actin New York.  She rented one billboard on a highway near Albany, one in Fairfield, Connecticut, where her alleged rapist once lived and taught, and one in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he now lives.

Sullivan was a student when was sexually abused and raped by a former teacher at the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York in the 1990s. A report commissioned by the school found that  teacher Scott Sargent had been fired for sexually abusing her, but was still given letters of recommendations to teach elsewhere. The statute of limitations ran out long ago.

One of the messages that will rotate through the three billboards says “NY Pass The Child Victims Act,” proposed legislation that would give victims up to age 28 to file criminal charges and allow them to sue in civil court until age 50. The law would also create  a one-year “lookback” window that would allow any case, no matter how old, to proceed in court. The statutes of limitations in New York covering the sexual abuse of children are among the most restrictive in the country.

The proper length of time for statutes of limitations to run for various crimes is too complex to examine here. They are undeniably necessary to protect the rights of the accused, even though they also allow some criminals to escape punishment, as in this case. The “lookback” window is a bad idea, though I sympathize with any victim who has been robbed of justice for supporting the concept. If statutes of limitation are valid, and they are, then deciding to suspend them for a year cannot be ethical or wise. There would be some isolated examples of justice if murder laws were suspended for a year too, but on the whole, it would be a disaster.

4. And yes, the U.N. also is as terrible as Trump says it is. Bret Stephens, the Times’ alleged conservative op-ed writer (who wants to repeal the Second Amendment), did a surprisingly excellent job visiting the taboo subject of the United Nations’ near absolute ethical void. In a column called “John Bolton Is Right About the U.N.”—saying anything positive about the new National Security Advisor is also heresy in progressive circles–he writes in part,

Confronted with the record of failure, U.N. defenders typically deflect and demand: the former, by pointing to the bad behavior of individual states as the cause of U.N. failures; the latter, by insisting that the U.N.’s core problem is a dearth of financial resources and legal authorities….Contrary to the belief that the U.N. runs on a shoestring, total expenditure for the U.N. system in 2016 was around $49 billion. That’s up 22 percent since 2010. And the abuse of the U.N. system by states such as Russia to protect clients like Bashar al-Assad is a feature of the system, not a bug.

So is the chronic mismanagement. Two years ago, Anthony Banbury, a former assistant U.N. secretary general, wrote an op-ed for The Times explaining why he resigned his job. “I was unprepared for the blur of Orwellian admonitions and Carrollian logic that govern” U.N. headquarters, he recalled:

“If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.”

And that’s from a self-described believer in the U.N.’s ideals and mission. But the truth of the U.N. is probably worse, since fixes to the system never seem to work.

The Obama Administration’s policy was to attempt to surrender  more and more American policy-making autonomy to this corrupt international body that is extolled in the U.S. based on its stated ideals rather than its depressing reality.

Facts (#2): San Francisco Chronicle; Jack Dunphy

50 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/27/18: Redux And Déjà Vu!

  1. It is bad enough to use the irresponsible and dangerous “enemy of the American people” slur when the media reports lies about Trump, but now you are using it to describe the media when they report the truth about Trump. This is absurd.

    And you are still ignoring the meat of the story: the potentially illegal payoff. The mainstream media actually did ignore the story until the payoff was confirmed; it was only after that that the media started giving it the type of attention we are seeing now. You have written not one word about the potentially illegal payoff, and have repeatedly misrepresented the story by omitting the centerpiece of it in order to pretend it is merely about an affair. I don’t know how you can be trusted to judge the media as “the enemy of the American people” for running this story when you don’t even seem to know what the story is.

    • Keep wishing and hoping, Chris. If this wasn’t about a porn star and a way to attack Trump personally, there would be no story at all. The illegal payment theory is yet another Hail Mary pass. Michael Cohen may have breached ethics rules, but the rest of the theories are silly.

      • I’m not sure what this means.

        What am I “wishing and hoping for?” If you’re implying that I think the payoff could be an impeachable offense, you’re wrong.

        If this wasn’t about a porn star and a way to attack Trump personally, there would be no story at all.

        Even if this were true, I don’t see how it justifies you repeatedly leaving out the payoff part of the story–which is the most damning part, and the part that made the story really take off in the mainstream media.

        But as I just said in response to a comment of yours on another post where you admitted that Trump debased the office…I don’t even think it would be wrong for the media to cover this story even if the payoff hadn’t come to light. Yes, it’s a tabloid-style story…but Trump is a tabloid-style president. The media is not “the enemy of the people” for covering him accordingly.

    • Today’s headline: Womanizer had sex with women

      10 years ago.

      2 years ago, accepted $130,000 in confidentiality agreement.

      3 months ago, Realized she could make more if she reneged.

      Please explain how paying a porn star is a “potentially” illegal campaign contribution.

      • Today’s headline: Womanizer had sex with women

        10 years ago.

        That’s not the headline, as you know, since you (unlike most here) acknowledged the payoff right after.

        Please explain how paying a porn star is a “potentially” illegal campaign contribution.

        Read a newspaper. The former FEC chief–a Republican–says that due to the timing and method, it could count as an illegal campaign contribution.

        Even if he’s wrong, that a sitting president’s lawyer paid a porn star to keep quiet about an affair during an election is still newsworthy, and should be under any president.

  2. #3 My poor NY Capitol District just can’t shake loose this bad run! RPI administration being mini-Mussolinis, Gov. Cuomo and his corruption allegations (not to mention his brother on CNN, nuff said), and now this rape case in Troy. Oi vey!

  3. 1. I said two posts ago that the media lost its credibility in the 2016 campaign. It might have lost it a year before that during the early GOP debates. The fact is that industry wants to rule this nation by having a monopoly on who is approved and who isn’t. Those they approve, they soft-pedal, so they can skate right through today’s news cycle and this year’s election cycle without doing much. Those they don’t, they relentlessly fact-check, opine against, bash, and out-and-out assault. If that’s not enough they whip out the October surprise, as they did with Bush the elder, tried to do with Bush the younger (twice) and couldn’t do with Trump because one guy they didn’t have their claws deep enough into (Comey) went the other way. Their attempt to put Hillary on a glide path to the White House by putting her up against someone they thought was a buffoon and who no one would vote for backfired, and now they can do nothing but battle the monster they themselves created, and they don’t give a tinker’s dam if they destroy the country doing it, the damage they do is unlikely to reach them in their corner offices, or so they think.

    2. Yawn. Places everybody, we know how this drama is supposed to unfold and we know how it’s going to end, but it must needs be played out.

    3. A lookback window sounds good in theory, but in practice would probably do more harm by taking resources away from more current cases to pursue old ones that wouldn’t have a very good chance of getting a conviction. Memories fade, witnesses die, move out of the jurisdiction, or become incompetent to testify, evidence gets lost (the property room moves, there’s an event like Katrina, etc) or becomes unusable (due to chemical changes, etc) and so on. I don’t want to see police and prosecutors taken away from a current murder case to give a rape victim from 20 years ago false hopes.

    4. Why we haven’t given the UN six months to vacate the building and move to the Hague is beyond me.

    • The error of the United Nations was building it off of the extremely ad hoc alliance of World War 2. A cluster of nations that only found itself allies through military expedience and not though shared values or a shared worldview.

      The United Nations was born with serious serious flaws.

      There is no reason to have ever expected it to work.

      And it hasn’t and it will not.

  4. I searched all over cable and network news this morning to find an outlet that wasn’t dominated by the breaking news that a President-to-be had an adulterous affair with a porn star 12 years ago. I couldn’t find one. The media-wide effort to undermine an elected President and his respect in the nation and the world at a time of great challenges and peril on all fronts is irresponsible, destructive, and demonstrates the collapse of journalism as a bulwark of American democracy.

    The question of whether a President’s sex life matters was conclusively settled in 1999.

    Clark’s officers will either not be charged or acquitted if the are, and the verdict will be falsely and unethically attributed to racism, with the news media pushing that time-worn narrative. Again.

    But taking a knee to protest police brutality is just so 2017.

      • You surely can’t mean this? The pre election conduct of any candidate for very high political office matters, be it in war, commerce, sport, family, or personal matters; whether illegal or not. How else can the electorate reasonably assess character and competence? It follows that any attempt to withhold or distort relevant history (be it re Swift Boats or shady business dealings) is at least ‘unethical’.

        • It matters before the election, AW, and only then. No aspect of Trump’s conduct and character related to this past episode was unknown to voters, the media or the public. A President is judged according to his conduct in office.

          • Well someone must have thought differently ( the extent to which Trump’s ‘conduct and character’ was known to voters) otherwise there would have been no point in trying to keep it quiet (by paying hush money).

              • What, please, am I missing?

                “Cohen has acknowledged using his personal money to pay Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. She has said the payment was designed to keep her from sharing details of an affair she says she had with Trump in 2006. Cohen has said he was not reimbursed for the payment, which was made 11 days before the 2016 US presidential election. He has also denied that Trump had an affair with Daniels.”

                • You are missing that she had twice earlier claimed the affair in the news media. She was paid not to create an “October surprise” by resurfacing right before the election, but the affair itself had already been in the news media.

            • Exaaaaactly, Andrew.

              Jack, I think you overestimate the intelligence of the die-hard Trump supporters. There are genuinely people out there who claim Stormy Daniels is lying, that Trump would never do this, that he’s a good Christian, etc. Obviously, there are people who will not accept the facts about Trump’s conduct and character.

              And even if your belief that a president’s pre-election conduct shouldn’t matter once a candidate has been elected is right (it isn’t), surely a president’s conduct eleven days before the election matters. Again, we don’t know whether Trump was involved in the payoff/coverup, or if Cohen is telling the truth that he paid out of pocket to keep Daniels’ silent about an affair he claims never happened and that he never told Trump about any of this (insert laughing emoji here). But that’s a fair question for the media to investigate.

              • It doesn’t matter if she is lying–she might be; she has no credibility. If it wasn’t her, it was someone else, or many someones. Having affairs isn’t illegal, and Trump can’t be accused of hypocrisy. This isn’t a sexual abuse allegation either. It really was what Clinton’s enablers falsely claimed the Lewinsky affair to be: consebsual private sexual conduct. It tells us nothing new or even especially shocking about Trump.

                • I’m going to ask you once again to stop pretending the story here is just about an affair. The payoff is new information. Shocking? No, of course not. Trump is notoriously corrupt. That doesn’t ethically forbid the news media from reporting on any newly discovered instance of Trump’s corruption. By the “shocking” standard, the news media couldn’t report anything about Trump at all, as nothing he does is shocking at this point.

                  • Again, no, the pay-off is neither illegal nor corrupt. He stupidly had an adulterous affair with a self-promoting, unscrupulous woman, who could have and did sell her story to the highest bidder. Nobody objective takes the “illegal pay-off” theory seriously. The story is sex and trying to embarrass Trump and the First Lady. That’s all. Cohen’s conduct is troubling, but he’s not President. Give it up.

                    • I don’t know if he is objective or not—he’s wrong, just like Former Bush ethics officer Richard Painter has been repeatedly wrong with his crackpot theories. Any ex-official or professor can come up with a new justification to impeach Trump, and the news media will report it as if its the gospel truth.

                    • Now you are strawmanning. He never said the payoff was a way to “impeach Trump.” That is merely an assumption based off of your anti-anti-Trump bias.

                    • 1. No assumption whatsoever. It’s a bogus position, and is, of course, part of “the resistance” effort, and a weak one.
                      2. By “pretty good,” I meant the phrase was pretty good. There is no bias involved in recognizing bias, especially when the same kinds of junk have been in evidence since November 2016.

                    • 1. Huh? I already pointed out what your false assumption was—that the former FEC chief’s position was a “justification to impeach Trump.” You are also assuming he identifies with “the Resistance.” I don’t know if that’s true, but you’ve given zero counterargument to his position and instead tried to smear him by claiming that he’s engaged in a Resistance effort to impeach Trump.
                      2. “Anti-anti-Trump bias” means you are biased against anti-Trump arguments. Point number 1 shows why that’s bad and leads to bad arguments.

                    • 1. It is just that: all of the contrived theories on alleged lawbreaking have been that. This one especially, in fact.
                      2. Bias against that which is wrong and dishonest is a good bias to have, and I freely admit it: I am biased against those who begin with an anti-Trump bias, because that is unethical, and damaging to public discourse and the nation. The ethical position is objectivity regarding an elected President.

                      This isn’t as hard as you make it seem.

                    • 1. You’re just doubling down on assumptions. You don’t know why the former FEC chair holds this position; you haven’t even tried to explain why it’s wrong. I haven’t heard *anyone* say this could get him impeached.

                      2. Smearing critics of Trump without engaging in their arguments, baselessly imputing their motives, and branding the media the “enemy of the people” for truthfully reporting on a story that you can’t even fairly and accurately describe is not “objective,” Jack. It’s bias of the sort that makes people stupid.

              • I live in the heartland surrounding by trump supporters Chris. I’ve never heard one of them say thatt. Because I’d be all over them if they did. Maybe the west coast trump supporter is a unique animal.

  5. 1. When I first saw the mention of hush money paid to a “professional” as a potentially illegal campaign contribution I assumed I had wandered into the sphere of “The Onion.” But, alas, it was real and not imagined or a clever fabrication. Quite naturally the left and a good portion of the media will run with this until their legs tire and they move back to golf tees or another issue that gives me a yawn. But this is just another example of Trump being so “un-presidential” even if he was not the president.

    I have not quite figured out who is a greater embarrassment: The unrelenting confusion put forth by a narcissist blowhard or the concerted effort by the left to do as much possible to debase Trump? Trump seems to do rather well without any assistance, but, hey – piling on with as much or more blather than Trump does you can’t go wrong.

    I could care less about how Trump handled himself prior to the office. I knew exactly what he was just as I knew exactly what Clinton was. Clinton just managed to continue it. Maybe Trump has? Is there a lineup of lovelies that have been ushered in and out of the WH? Now that would be newsworthy and maybe some crockery will be tossed?

  6. I have to agree with your legal assessment of the Stephon Clark case, however, I can’t say I much care for the way Graham v. Connor has essentially allowed police to write their own rules on deadly force. Yes, it’s possible that Granny could be reaching into her purse for a derringer instead of a hard candy. No, I don’t think society should be OK with you blowing away old ladies for reaching into their purses. Yet police culture indoctrinates recruits into thinking of the derringer, and that then becomes what is considered “reasonable” by police officers, and thus permissible.

      • He did show his hands. That’s when they shot him. Daniel Shaver was also complying, and he got shot. But even if “Comply or Die” is the law, how did it become so? Congress didn’t decide that. The courts didn’t decide that, at least not directly. There wasn’t a rule proposal with a 90-day public comment period. It grew organically out of police culture, which via Graham v. Connor, has been allowed to make its own rules without public input or review. That’s a recipe for disaster.

        • It is unclear when and how he showed his hands—that’s why they have investigations. Shaver is not a fair comparison—he was not only complying, he wasn’t fleeing or resisting, and that video was clear and undeniable.

          It’s not “comply or die”—but if you resist arrest or flee, that increases an officer’s reasonable fear that he or she is in danger. EA has discussed this many times. Police officers are held to a different standard because of the dangers and stresses of their job. It’s not statutory, it’s human nature, and its also pragmatic: if we want proactive police work, there has to be a reasonable of margin of error. The standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is very hard to meet with police shootings, and should be.

          How did “be hostile,” “resist arrest” and “run” become SOP for African Americans when confronted by police?

          • How did “be hostile,” “resist arrest” and “run” become SOP for African Americans when confronted by police?

            Because the media, racist groups like BLM, and progressives have been stoking the fires, telling them that this is what they should do.

            Why? So we get more shootings to keep race shill’s pockets lined, and political hay can be made.

          • Shaver is not a fair comparison—he was not only complying, he wasn’t fleeing or resisting, and that video was clear and undeniable.

            Yet the shooter was acquitted, under the very same standard, despite -as you put it yourself- clear and undeniable video. If we mean to judge the standards allowed under Graham v. Connor, then it’s not only fair to include it, but essential.

    • Granny?

      I’d be willing to take the bet that most police officers approach granny with far less apprehension than they approach young men or men who appear strong. Enough lower apprehension that reaching into a purse, though heightening apprehension some, won’t to the point of engaging in lethal force.

      And should it?

      Should we demand every single situation receive the exact same cookie cutter artificial intelligence response? Or should we be somewhat comfortable with police profiling at some level that they may make distinctions between young strong men and old frail grannies?

      • Certainly not every situation receives the same cookie-cutter response. We don’t expect a cookie-cutter response from civilians, either, but that doesn’t stop us from holding civilians to a standard of reasonableness. We don’t allow those living in bad neighborhoods, for instance, to insist that juries disregard their own understanding and defer to the defendant’s view of reasonableness, because they live with a higher degree of risk. But that’s effectively what we do with police.

          • Of course I understand the rationale, that doesn’t mean I agree with it. The supposed danger to police is routinely exaggerated, outrageously so. And while we rightfully apply the judgement of other professionals when it comes to judging the performance of tasks unique to that profession, the defense of self with deadly force is not unique to police. It may take another heart surgeon to know what another surgeon did or did not do wrong during open-heart surgery, but ordinary people do in fact confront criminals, and may face threats to their lives from them. Police certainly deal with criminals more routinely*, but certainly not to the degree that structural engineers do more finite-element stress simulations than laymen. For this reason, and because the circumstances under which police may intentionally kill members of the public are of direct and obvious concern to the public, I believe we go too far in discounting the common man’s understanding of reasonable force in favor of police.

            *Whether they actually face deadly threats from criminals, compared for instance to inhabitants of high-crime neighborhoods, is questionable.

            • The closest parallel is the military, and the military does not apply strict liability in civilian deaths, for similar reasons. My Dad, who was a stickler for military discipline, nonetheless objected to civilian assessments of what constituted “war crimes.” He was especially unsympathetic in situations where combatants were not in uniform, and I am persuaded by his logic.

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