Lunchtime Ethics Appetizer, 6/3/2019: Self-Censorship, Trump’s Ridiculous Jumbo, Turley On Mueller, And A College Ranking Scandal [Updated]

Bon Appettit!

1. To self-censor or not to self-censor. Right after expressing here my dilemma about whether to risk political and partisan backlash by raising current, important and legitimate legal ethics issues from the Mueller investigation, there were a flurry of articles and podcasts about the dangers of self-censorship in a climate where Americans are being systematically intimidated from opposing the Woke Collective. This is a classic ethical dilemma, with ethical considerations like integrity, duty, citizenship, honesty and responsibility, are opposed by non-ethical considerations, like keeping one’s job, paying the bills, and not being cast as a pariah in one’s profession.

I was also reminded of my problem by Instapundit referencing today an old  Washington Post article about Mao’s mass murders. My company lost a lucrative sexual harassment training deal after two Chinese nationals (that I did npt know were in the audience) too offense at a tangential comment about Mao’s exterminations dwarfing those of Hitler and Stalin  (but not Darth Vader). Both contacted me and demanded apologies, claiming that it was Western propaganda and that the Great Leader had “only” executed millions out of necessity. I refused (I know I have mentioned this before here) and said I was sincerely sorry they had been subjected to cultural influences that had warped their ethics, and that if I had been aware that this was a sensitve topic to anyone in the audience, I would have omitted the reference. Having spoken the truth, however, I was not going to deny or apologize for it.

“Why didn’t you just apologize?” my client asked. And I was reminded of the moment in “1776” when a royalist in the Continental Congress asks Jefferson why he called King George “a tyrant” in the Declaration. “Because he is a tyrant,” Jefferson answers.

I’m an ethicist, I said. I’m not going to whitewash the massacre of 45-60 million people because someone is offended by the truth.

That was the end of that contract…

2. The President issues a Jumbo. Why does he do things like this? I have no idea. It si the political equivalent of pushing a pie into his own face. In an interview with the British tabloid, The Sun tabloid, Trump responded to a query about his reaction to  Megan Markle’s statement  that he is a “misogynist” and her suggestion that “she’d move to Canada if you got elected; turned out she moved here.” He said, “Well, a lot of people are moving here, so what can I say. No, I didn’t know that she was nasty.”

Of course Trump was attacked for saying that to a British newspaper—it was racist, it was an insult, the usual. Of course the President shouldn’t stoop to personal swipes at anyone; on the other hand, that’s what he does when he is attacked himself.  “Tit for Tat” and “doing unto others as they did to you” are part of Trump’s “ethics.” Can’t we stipulate this by now? Can’t TRUMP stipulate it at this point?

Then he tweeted, “I never called Meghan Markle ‘nasty.’ Made up by the Fake News Media, and they got caught cold! Will @CNN, @nytimes and others apologize? Doubt it!” He did this knowing that the Sun had his statement recorded, and sure enough, the paper  released the audiotape.

See, the idea behind Jimmy Durante saying “Elephant? What elephant?” when caught stealing the biggest pachyderm in the world in a musical comedy is that it’s obviously desperate and ridiculous, and intended to be funny.

This is just self-destructive, disturbing, and really, really stupid.

3. Jonathan Turley on Mueller. The George Washington Law prof has consistently been a voice of reason and objectivity reagarding the Mueller investigation. He has recently written two excellent columns on Mueller’s public statement, here, and here.

Greg should send them to his ex-friend.

4. Why is this more damaging to a school than, say, falsely instructing students about justice, the right to representation, and due process?

From TaxProf Blog: “University Of Oklahoma Inflated Its Alumni Giving Data For 20 Years, U.S. News Strips Its #127 Ranking”

The University of Oklahoma admitted to  U.S. News that it had inflated its alumni giving data since 1999, which affects its placement in the National Universities, Best Value Schools, Top Public Schools, Best Colleges for Veterans and A-Plus Schools for B Students rankings and lists. For the 2019 Best Colleges rankings, the University of Oklahoma originally reported its two-year alumni giving rate at 14 percent. The school informed U.S. News the correct value is 9.7 percent. The average alumni giving rate has a weight of 5 percent in the Best Colleges ranking methodology.

And now,

A former OU student has filed a class action lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma as a result of the university being stripped of its U.S. News & World Report ranking. [Gretzer v. Oklahoma, No. 19-490 (W.D. OK May 28, 2019]

The lawsuit, which was filed May 28 on behalf of former OU student Elani Gretzer and all OU undergraduate students since 1999, alleges the university broke contract by providing false alumni giving data to U.S. News & World Report, inflating its ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” ranking as a result.

The lawsuit alleges the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the Price College of Business was a “material factor” in Gretzer’s decision to enroll at OU. … The suit is also filed on behalf of an estimated minimum of 350,000 people — all OU students who have enrolled since 1999, the year in which OU has admitted it began providing false information to U.S. News & World Report.

Morgan Cloud (Emory) & George Shepherd (Emory), Law Deans In Jail, 77 Mo. L. Rev. 931 (2012):

A most unlikely collection of suspects — law schools, their deans, U.S. News & World Report and its employees — may have committed felonies by publishing false information as part of U.S. News’ ranking of law schools. The possible federal felonies include mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, racketeering, and making false statements. Employees of law schools and U.S. News who committed these crimes can be punished as individuals, and under federal law the schools and U.S. News would likely be criminally liable for their agents’ crimes.

Some law schools and their deans submitted false information about the schools’ expenditures and their students’ undergraduate grades and LSAT scores. Others submitted information that may have been literally true but was misleading. Examples include misleading statistics about recent graduates’ employment rates and students’ undergraduate grades and LSAT scores.

U.S. News itself may have committed mail and wire fraud. It has republished, and sold for profit, data submitted by law schools without verifying the data’s accuracy, despite being aware that at least some schools were submitting false and misleading data. U.S. News refused to correct incorrect data and rankings errors and continued to sell that information even after individual schools confessed that they had submitted false information. In addition, U.S. News marketed its surveys and rankings as valid although they were riddled with fundamental methodological errors.

One question: why isn’t Harvard’s ranking being lowered? I suspect that it’s because maleducating students and systematically undermining American values and civil rights isn’t included in the criteria.

It should be.

15 thoughts on “Lunchtime Ethics Appetizer, 6/3/2019: Self-Censorship, Trump’s Ridiculous Jumbo, Turley On Mueller, And A College Ranking Scandal [Updated]

  1. I wish Trump would develop common sense and decency. But no. He seems unable to stop. What an embarrassment! (Not impeachable; just tooth flattening to witness as an American.)

  2. I regularly self-censor (including here, by use of a pseudonym).

    My law firm’s clientele is probably 70% immigrants.

    However, immigration law is only about 40%-50% of our practice.

    It is 0% of my practice, except on Court-litigation issues and to the extent that it relates to criminal cases (in which case, I consult with other attorneys in my firm).

    On the one hand, I am perfectly happy with the fact that my firm will help all kinds of immigrants (legal and illegal) vindicate whatever rights they may have under the law.

    On the other hand, if 100% of illegals were deported tomorrow, I would not really complain (though that is an unlikely scenario).

    From a business stand-point, kicking them all out or letting them all stay is good for my business; having no comprehensive plan for the situation we have is the problem.

    In any event, I don’t voice my personal views often because they have no bearing on the quality of services we will provide and the client should have no doubt about that.


  3. I am amazed that the USNR ratings of anything, let alone colleges and universities, hold such sway in making the decision. Is that student saying that choosing OU caused them some kind of harm? I always thought that the schools purchased their presence and position on the list, which I guess gives some link to the issue of overstating alumni contributions..

    Re #1– Explain how “nasty” in the description of a person, or their behavior, became racist. Impolite? Uncalled for? Yes to both. And, yes, he should have just smiled and said “next question”.

    • Oh, that last one is easy. The Big Lie is that Trump is a racist, so any time he says anything untoward to anyonee who isn’t 100% white, it’s because he’s a bigot. You’ve never heard of him calling a white Duchess “nasty,” have you?

      All right then.

  4. 4: Does anyone actually take listings like that seriously? Even in high school, I heard enough to wonder how some nearby schools with mediocre reps ended up higher on these lists. And really, how does ‘alumni giving’ reflect the educational programs? Could just mean the school has a more brazen squad to guilt more donations. And even a so-so overall school might have a top program for digital art, which will not be reflected on these lists. Lists are for ego-stroking alumni and suckering Barnum’s applicants.

    That lawsuit is just parading your foolishness for public record.

    • Not that it makes the overall idea of college rankings any better, but I can see “Alumni Giving” as a useful shorthand for “Our alumni have enough money to donate, they feel gratitude to us for helping them reach that point, we haven’t done anything colossally stupid lately to make the alumni withhold funds out of anger or shame, and there’s enough money coming in from THEM that we won’t need as much from YOU.”

      Whether those implications are accurate, or whether they’re worth 5% of the score, I have no idea- but they do at least seem to be worthwhile “soft” metrics of an element of school quality.

  5. On the Markle issue, Meghan Markle is part of the Royal family and was a potenial entrant to that family when she made that statement. She too has an obligation to avoid making inflammatory statements. I also find journalists that ask such inane questions unworthy of their press passes. Only children use other children’s statements to get a rise out of someone. How does Meghan Markle’s statement , made 2 plus years ago, provide an impetus to gain an understanding of US GB relations now? It doesn’t.

    I will not condemn Trump’s childish responses when the people instigating the response are acting equally childish. My unwillingness to condemn is not a signal of approval of Trump’s behavior but merely an acknowlegement that the press is getting exactly what it is asking for. When the press asks questions about real issues and Trump lashes out then my opinion will change but as long as they keep asking questions such as these I will pay no attention to these tabloid themes.

    • I have to agree, Chris. I do understand the need for the President to project class and decorum (something this President has trouble doing), but the press seems to relish all of the negativity surrounding the President’s visit. It would seem the baby balloon is out again and the arguments with Mayor Kahn aren’t helping. If the President isn’t being accorded the same respect and privileges given to previous Presidents, his natural tendency is to fight back, whether those insults are from an overrated actress who lucked into royalty or a mayor who repeatedly sees it his responsibility to insult his country’s guest.

      Oh, and, apparently, the internet can’t handle Mrs. Trump’s outfit….

  6. The problem with Trump’s statement is that he was rather clearly talking about Megan’s statements/behavior towards him, while otherwise engaged in a polite and decorous interview. He started by expressing surprise by her statements, but ultimately wishing Megan well in the same vain of thought. He, of course, has the verbal precision of a hand-grenade, and literally said the words “I did not know she was nasty“, rather than something more benign such as “I did not know she was saying nasty things about me“.

    He has certainly called enough people “nasty” with open disdain and ridicule, but that was really not the context of the statement within the interview. I very much doubt Trump even remembered saying it, particularly as the headlines reported it as though the statements were made in the latter context. The coverage of the statement was arguably deceitful.

    He impulsively tweeted out that it was “fake news”, as is his wont; he did not remember openly mocking Megan (which he didn’t), yet called the whole thing a fabrication (thereby shoving his foot into his mouth).

    Trump gets zero benefit of the doubt, and often takes the bait to make thing worse for him.

  7. 1. Self-censorship

    It’s interesting. I sometimes read articles about the dangers of self-censorship, since I find myself doing it relatively often, especially in the social media context.

    I think context is an important part of this subject. Take the example you gave — if you had known there were going to be Chinese nationals in the audience, would you have omitted the reference to Mao? I suspect you would’ve.

    But you were perfectly right not to apologize. I’d like to think I’d do the same in your shoes.

    If I say something I believe and someone is offended, or if I make a joke and somebody takes offense by claiming some sort of sensitivity or other, I will not apologize unless it was obvious that I was insensitive or careless.

    I once had that happen back when I was blogging, and I informed the offended person that he was being unreasonable and wasn’t going to do a thing about it. Your hypersensitivity, I told him, is not my problem. Even God has a sense of humor — after all, He made us in His image.

    But I believe if we know going in that confronting all and sundry is going to cost us friends and damage our familial relations, there is a contextual trade-off there. Just my opinion on it.

    2. Presidential jumbo

    Why does he do it? Because he has the sensibilities of a hypersexual 12-year old bully, that’s why.

    3. Turley

    I agree, but your said three and linked two.

  8. I wish the President was better at thinking on his feet. If I were Trump, Iwould have responded “Well, given your continual Orwellian surveillance, your criminalization of thoughts and opinions, your aristocratic institutions, and your severe restrictions of individual rights, I guess she came to the right country”.

    It wouldn’t be tactful or politically correct (but Trump isn’t), but you wouldn’t have to pretend it wasn’t true.

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