Labor Day Weekend Kick-Off Ethics Warm-Up: The “I’m Baaaack!” Edition

Excellent work in the Open Forum, everybody.


As it happened, there would have been no way I could have written a post yesterday, except after I arrived home following a 6 hour drive from New Jersey following my three-hour seminar. At the point, however, my IQ had fallen below Joe Biden levels, so it would have been unethical for me to opine or analyze anything. I’m slightly better now, at the Kamala Harris level and rising, so I’m going to get right back on the metaphorical horse.

I hate missing a day like that, mostly because it puts me behind in covering the ethics news, but also because I view Ethics Alarms as a commitment to the loyal readers who come here.

1. Well this is good news…The College Board is dropping its proposed “adversity score” from the SAT. The ill-considered device, which Ethics Alarms metaphorically spat at here, would have assigned a score based on the socioeconomic background of each student, artificially raising his or her score based on socioeconomic circumstances.

Of course, this was an unusually transparent ploy to facilitate race-based college admissions .As I wrote in May,

This is a cynical and dishonest device to give cover to colleges and universities as they try to base their admissions on race and ethnicity while avoiding legal prohibitions on discrimination based on race and ethnicity. That is all it is, and exactly what it is.

2. And MORE good news! A new Rasmussen Reports survey shows that most voters believe the average journalist is liberal, and few are conservative. Moreover, a majority believe it is appropriate for politicians to criticize reporters and hold them to the same scrutiny as those they cover.

Of course  it is. For more than three years, we have been hearing that President Trump’s condemnations of the news media and specific news organizations and journalists represent a threat to the freedom of the press and democracy. For those same three years, the Ethics Alarms position has been that while the President’s rhetoric and tone is often irresponsible, the threat to democracy is being created by a mainstream media journalistic establishment that is no longer interested in being fair or objective, not by criticism of this dangerous trend.

The survey analysis found that 61% of likely U.S. voters believe reporters at major news organizations are public figures who deserve critical scrutiny of their conduct and biases.  Only 61%? 19% directly disagree with that contention. How  can they disagree? What would give journalist the unique right to be immune from criticism of bias, competence, and abuse of power? Elected officials are not immune, nor are scholars, artists, lawyers or judges.

3. Can you stand all this good news? Finally, an official confirmation of what  objective observers knew long ago: ex-FBI director James Comey is a dishonest, hypocritical, self-aggrandizing creep whose continued tenure as head of the F.B.I. was itself prejudicial to the administration of justice.

The Inspector General’s report on Comey was released yesterday while I was somewhere near Trenton, and to call it “critical” is an understatement. It says that Comey violated bureau policies and his employment agreement by drafting, leaking and retaining memos documenting discussions with the President. While this is not a crime, as distributing classified information would be, it is clearly unethical.

The report points out that such conduct sets a dangerous example for the “over 35,000 current FBI employees—and the many thousands more former FBI employees—who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information.”

The memos contained proprietary FBI information, including sensitive investigation data, and Comey had no excuse or justification  for him to send the contents to a professor friend to redirect to a reporter, though he has said that the goal was to force the appointment of a Special Counsel. From the report:

The responsibility to protect sensitive law enforcement information falls in large part to the employees of the FBI who have access to it through their daily duties. On occasion, some of these employees may disagree with decisions by prosecutors, judges, or higher ranking FBI and Department officials about the actions to take or not take in criminal and counterintelligence matters. They may even, in some situations, distrust the legitimacy of those supervisory, prosecutorial, or judicial decisions. But even when these employees believe that their most strongly-held personal convictions might be served by an unauthorized disclosure, the FBI depends on them not to disclose sensitive information….Comey’s unauthorized disclosure of sensitive law enforcement information about the Flynn investigation merits similar criticism. In a country built on the rule of law, it is of utmost importance that all FBI employees adhere to Department and FBI policies, particularly when confronted by what appear to be extraordinary circumstances or compelling personal convictions. Comey had several other lawful options available to him to advocate for the appointment of a Special Counsel, which he told us was his goal in making the disclosure. What was not permitted was the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive investigative information, obtained during the course of FBI employment, in order to achieve a personally desired outcome….Comey violated these Department and FBI policies by failing to surrender his copies of Memos 2, 4, 6, and 7 upon being removed as FBI Director and by failing to seek authorization to retain them. Comey’s explanation for his conduct was that he considered the Memos to be personal records, but for the reasons previously described, this assertion is without any legal basis. In view of the clarity of relevant provisions of law, policies, and Comey’s Employment Agreement, the assertion that the Memos were personal records was not reasonable. We found it particularly concerning that Comey did not tell anyone from the FBI that he had retained copies of the Memos in his personal safe at home, even when his Chief of Staff, the FBI’s Associate Deputy Director, and three SSAs came to Comey’s house on May 12, 2017, to inventory and remove all FBI property.

4. Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias! Here’s an example of why the Rasmussen survey noted about points the way it does.

Earlier this week, perpetually angry MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell  reported  that  President Trump had made a financial arrangement with  “Russian oligarchs.” The report was apparently based on a single source, and not checked out or confirmed.

Attorney Charles J. Harder sent a letter on behalf of the Trump Organization demanding that the network and NBCUniversal, its parent company, “immediately and prominently retract, correct and apologize for the aforementioned false and defamatory statements….These statements are false and defamatory, and extremely damaging.” Harder’s letter added that  without a retraction and an apology, the Trump Organization would consider “immediate legal proceedings” against Mr. O’Donnell and NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast.

And because he didn’t have a legal or journalistic leg to stand on,  O’Donnell, probably after some stern words from his bosses, capitulated, admitting that  the report “didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process…I shouldn’t have reported it, and I was wrong to discuss it on the air,” O’Donnell said. “Tonight, we are retracting the story.”

Right. “Rigorous verification and standards process.”

He should be fired, and if MSNBC wasn’t a den of hacks, he would be. These “journalists” are so determined to bring down the President that nothing, not even a basic survival instinct, stops them from reporting any possible rumor or hint of scandal that might accomplish that goal.

13 thoughts on “Labor Day Weekend Kick-Off Ethics Warm-Up: The “I’m Baaaack!” Edition

  1. 3. Hubris and gall, thy name is Comey.

    4. Commercial banks don’t make big loans to borrowers have to get “co-signers.” Loans are made to borrowers and often guaranteed by guarantors, usually the principals of the borrower to expose the principals to personal liability. Maybe teen-aged children get their parents to “co-sign” a car loan, but major loans? No. That’s why the story struck me as oddly bogus. Besides, the Brooklyn Nets are owned by a “Russian oligarch.” Are all the other owners in the league “Putin’s cock holsters?” I guess so. But O’Donnell get fired? Hah! That would be like CBS firing Walter Cronkite. O’Donnell is the vicious face of MSNBC.

      • 3. Like McCabe, I wonder if Comey is typical of FBI guys who are not very bright and law school graduates who’ve never practiced law. But drunk with power. Not a good look for the FBI.

  2. 3: With the right connections, you never have to worry about breaking the law; you are, at worst, just “careless” or “violate procedures”.

  3. For more than three years, we have been hearing that President Trump’s condemnations of the news media and specific news organizations and journalists represent a threat to the freedom of the press and democracy. For those same three years, the Ethics Alarms position has been that while the President’s rhetoric and tone is often irresponsible, the threat to democracy is being created by a mainstream media journalistic establishment that is no longer interested in being fair or objective, not by criticism of this dangerous trend.

    I believe it is possible to say that *more and more people* are developing a necessary critical perspective to the distortions of the present. But my impression might be subjective.

    I found this following piece to be quite interesting. My impression is that the first part of it is sound and by that I mean that it deals on genuine and important concerns that would be hard to deny. There is an enormous burden placed on a thinking person who chooses to think deeply about what is going on.

    In this piece at a certain point just over halfway through the Rhetorical Engines seem to get revved up and there is slight distortion of rhetoric. But these people are still young! 🙂

    I need to listen to it again to double-check. But this is a very solid critical piece and is worthwhile listening to all the way through:

  4. 3. The frustrating thing, though, is that most of the public has been misinformed and deceived about the Inspector General’s report. Comey immediately claimed the report had cleared him, on the grounds that it said he did not leak “classified” information. You know and I know that nobody had ever accused Comey of leaking national security secrets, so the report had “cleared” him of an accusation that had never been made, while finding him guilty of all of the accusations that had actually been made. But most people have no idea about this.

    For a few minutes after the report came out, MSNBC, CNN and the other usual suspects played it straight: they admitted that the report was damning of Comey. But then they immediately fell into line: The IG had “cleared” Comey of leaking classified information but “criticized” him for “violating departmental policy.” It had “criticized” him, “scolded” him and “reprimanded” him; but it had “failed to vindicate” Trump and had “contradicted Trump’s accusations.” The IG’s report “found that no crimes were committed” and “acknowledged that Comey was candid with investigators.” It contained “nothing new that hasn’t been known for two years.” And, of course, Republicans have “pounced” on the report to make a “power grab.” The New York Times editorialized that the report was “boring,” while criticizing the IG for making a fuss about nothing. The Washington Post editorialized that “Comey saved democracy with his memos.”

    Proof of gross misconduct, some of it criminal, by top officials at the Justice Department, the FBI and the CIA will continue to gush out of the ongoing investigations, but the anti-Trump media will continue to report all of this evidence as “no big deal,” “old news,” “clearing” the guilty, and “contradicting” Trump.

    Conservative bloggers are convinced that the gusher of proof of crimes committed by the deep state is going to propel Trump to a huge victory in next year’s election. But the vast majority of voters don’t read conservative blogs or watch Fox News. They will hear nothing about any of this proof, except to the extent that they come away with the impression that the investigations have come out with more dirt about Trump.

  5. If a piece can get even on air without going through your “rigorous verification and standards process”, isn’t that proof that your verification and standards process isn’t particularly rigorous? Shouldn’t the core tenet of such a process, if were truly “rigorous”, be that nothing gets put on the show that hasn’t gone through the process?

    This is like a car dealer saying, “We have a stringent 250-point inspection process, but also sometimes we sell cars with faulty brakes and loose lugnuts.”

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