Late-Starting Week Ethics Warm-Up, 9/3/2019: Why We Have Fake News

A post-Labor Day mess in San Francisco…

Good morning!

1. Why we have fake news, Part A: “Journalists just make stuff up.” From the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

A survey of American Jews showed continued disapproval of President Donald Trump, with anti-Semitism high and Israel low on the priority list for Jewish voters. The survey, conducted for a liberal-leaning Jewish organization, the Jewish Electorate Institute, by Greenberg Research, which does polling for Democratic candidates, showed 71 percent of likely Jewish-American voters disapprove of Trump and 29 percent approve, commensurate with polling since Trump’s election…The survey released Wednesday of 1,000 Jewish voters nationally was taken between May 6 and 12, and is consistent with past polling of a constituency that leans strongly Democratic…The poll showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favorable/unfavorable score as 45/38. Netanyahu used to score high approval among American Jews, but his sustained clashes with Obama on Palestinian and Iran policy, and his closeness to Trump appear to have eroded American Jewish support.


….Our aggregate from January through August of this year shows a 29% Trump job approval rating among Jews, with 69% disapproval….

Now here’s ABC News Chief Political Analyst Matthew Dowd on Twitter:

Dowd is just citing statistic pulled out of the air, apparently. How can anyone trust these people?

2. Why we have fake news, Part B: “Too many journalists and pundits just aren’t very bright.”  The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, perhaps the most thoroughly and obviously Trump-Deranged  of any conservative pundit, authored a jaw-droppingly ignorant spin job for poor Joe Biden, arguing that even though bumbling Joe looks like a good bet to botch the debates, it won’t matter. She wrote in part,

❝ There are precious few instances in which a candidate’s debate performance destroyed his chances. President Gerald Ford’s infamous remark “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe . . . I don’t believe the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union” was the rare exception to the rule that a single answer can doom a candidates. Then-Vice President Al Gore’s sighing, eye-rolling and obvious disdain for then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 general-election debates did him no favors, but it’s hard to conclude those debates were decisive in an election that was essentially a tie.❞

Ignorant, false and stupid, a pundit hat trick!

There have only been routine features of Presidential campaigns since the 1976 election. One reason is that the Nixon-Kennedy debates werewidely regarded as being responsible for Nixon’s loss to a relative unknown, Jack Kennedy. In that case, it was Nixon’s appearance that did him in, a factor that pasty, shockingly aged and enervated Joe Biden should worry about. It took 16 years for candidates to venture into the uncertainty of debates, and in the majority of cases, a poor performance by a candidate or a ill-advised remark paved the road to defeat:

1976: As Rubin mentions, Ford’s bizarre claim about Poland reinforced the public impression that he was a boob.

1980: In the late-campaign debate between President Carter and Ronald Reagan, Carter launched into an obviously phony tale about a conversation with his 13-year-old daughter Amy. “I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was,” he said. “She said she thought nuclear weaponry and the control of nuclear arms.” I remember it well: my father called me from Boston laughing. Carter’s schtick was that he never lied, but nobody believed that story, and it was regarded as an insult to the public’s intelligence. Reagan won in a landslide, though polls up to Carter’s Amy anecdote showed the race to be a dead heat.

1984: Many felt that Sen. Walter Mondale had a chance to defeat Ronald Reagan’s bid for a second term, but he was a horrible debater, making lame jokes and laughing at them himself, looking and sounding like a Senator seeking out the Peter Principle.

1988: How could Rubin forget the infamous debate moment that sank Michael Dukakis, when CNN’s Bernie Shaw through him a metaphorical batting practice pitch right over the plate to allow te Massachusetts governor to dispel the impression that he was cold and unemotional, asking the democratic nominee if he would support the death penalty should his wife, Kitty, be raped and murdered. Duke replied with all the passion of a man discussing corn futures.

The moment was widely cited as the tipping point that elected  George H. W. Bush.

1992: Who can forget the “town hall” three way debate, where Bill Clinton showed his skill in connecting with people, Ross Perot appeared passionate and engaged, and President Bush was caught doing this,

…as if he couldn’t wait for it all to be over.

1996: No gaffe necessary; Bob Dole was such a terrible candidate that even Clinton’s pervasive scandals weren’t going to make him President.

2000: Gore wasn’t just bad in one debate, he was bad in all three, because he appeared to be three different people. Saturday Night Live’s Darrell Hammond probably won the election for Bush by his spot-on impression of Gore being an asshole in debate #1, then looking anesthetized in #2.

2004: John Kerry, like Dole and Mondale, was such a bad candidate and unattractive personality that he didn’t need to be terrible in a debate to lose.

2008: Once the economy crashed, McCain didn’t have a chance. His stilted, awkward debate style, in contrast to Obama’s slick and glib presentation, didn’t help.

2012: Romney “won” one of the debates decisively, was derailed in another by Candy Crowley falsely contradicting his assertion about the games the Obama administration (and Hillary Clinton) had played regarding Benghazi, but didn’t commit any gaffes.

2016: Again, no gaffes. Hillary made all of her fatal mistakes outside of the debates.

So let’s look at the score, shall we? No significant tipping points, gaffes or embarrassments occurred during the debates in six of twelve campaigns, including 1960. In the others, however, debate flubs and fiascos played significant roles in the losing candidate’s defeat. That’s 50%.

Rubin is spreading fake history.

But wait! There’s more! As Ann Althouse pointed out, Rubin’s claim that Gore’s debate embarrassments didn’t matter because “the election …was essentially a tie” defies logic. She writes (on her son’s blog): “It’s maddening to hear that “it’s hard to conclude those debates were decisive in an election that was essentially a tie.” If it is the case — and I think it is — that Gore ought to have won easily, then falling back to the tie position is a big difference. It’s EASY to conclude the debates were decisive.”

As I began—like too many of her colleagues, Rubin is not very bright, in addition to not knowing her Presidential election history while opining on it.

3. Why we have fake news, Part C: “The news media has no integrity,” and Part D: “Bias makes them stupid.”

Two years ago, Washington Post factchecker Glenn Kessler declared White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be a liar assigning  her two “Pinocchios” for saying that James Comey’s actions “were improper and likely could have been illegal.” Now the Inspector General’s report shows that Sanders was quite correct. Wrote Jonathan Turley at the time of the original Kessler column,

“Sanders later repeated a litany of laws and regulations to support this claim from FBI employment agreements to nondisclosure rules to the Privacy Act of 1974. Every line of that statement is unassailably true. The FBI has already indicated that these were FBI documents and nonpartisan Justice Department officials has indicated that they should have been treated as privileged or confidential and not disclosed. Moreover, as discussed below, even the Post recognizes that they “could have been illegal” depending on the outcome of any investigation.”

Now he writes,

Those comments have now been reaffirmed by the Inspector General in its recent report. Will the Post now issue its own correction with the removal of two noses? More is at issue than political cosmetics in correcting the record on Comey’s conduct…The inspector general has confirmed what was clear and obvious. The memos were FBI material, and Comey did violate provisions of the Federal Records Act and FBI rules clearly barring their removal and disclosure. Moreover, the inspector general agreed that it was not necessary to guarantee an investigation into Trump. Investigations were ongoing and the report cites other “options” that Comey refused to use. The report concludes, “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.”…It is now established that Comey’s actions were clearly “improper” and that [Sanders’] statement that they “could have been illegal” is accurate. While the Justice Department (as I previously predicted) declined to prosecute, the report clearly establishes that he committed the very violations previously discussed — and ignored — by the Washington Post….Now a correction is in order.

Don’t hold your breath, Professor.

14 thoughts on “Late-Starting Week Ethics Warm-Up, 9/3/2019: Why We Have Fake News

  1. I assume all political news is fake news these days. It’s all spun and headlined in ways to maximize clicks, often telling two conflicting stories at the same time.

    So I am forced to read a bunch of different reports from different angles hoping I can, as we used to say in the nuclear Navy, “Nuke it out” and get within shouting distance of the truth. I am usually successful, but alas, not always.

    It’s a shame that our media has come to such a pass.

    • The “Biden’s gaffes are not important and they’re not even gaffes” is obviously a DNC talking point running rampant through the party and the mainstream media currently. There seems to be a growing realization that Biden is the only presidential contender that can even win the nomination, never mind defeat the Orange Man. So Biden needs to be doctored and bandaged up and pushed along. There’s also another factor at work here. I think these people like Rubin are not deranged in this case. They think even if Joe is a boob and a bumbler, that will be sufficient to get everything “back to NORMAL” because he’ll just sit in the oval office, pick his teeth and trim his nails, while all the Deep State and the Media and the elites control and pull all the levers of power and things will be NORMAL again. No more outsiders on the inside, God forbid. Joe will be The Tin Man while everyone ignores the man behind the curtain. And all will be well again.

      • I’m actually *REALLY* surprised he’s lasted this long…. The man is a walking gaffe machine and his history, (referring both to his legislative record and his absolute inability not to invade the personal space of women around him*) I thought his first day would be his last day.

        But I think it’s calculated, and I think OB nailed it. Biden’s polling numbers represents the difference between Centrist to moderate democrats, and progressives. I think that the party writ large isn’t actually prepared to drink the Kool-aide, and dive in on intersectionality, and so even the progressive media entities are propping Joe up as the most electable candidate to call to the center. Heck. Maybe they *did* learn a lesson from 2016 and figured out that winning elections is more important than virtue signalling.

        Because frankly, if the Democrats nominate a lunatic progressive, Trump wins. Progressives are a very small, very vocal minority but they can’t do it on their own, and I think they’d push swing voters over to hold their noses and vote Trump again. If however, they nominate Biden, despite the fact that the roof of his mouth is covered in shoe polish and the rampant #metoo hypocrisy, Biden would be seen as a return to normalcy.

        Honestly… I see the appeal. I like the results of Trump’s presidency. He has governed much more conservatively than I thought he would, and he’s managed to get all sorts of good results…. But this is exhausting. I don’t think I could pull the lever for Joe, but I could leave the top ballot blank, because I think the constant gong show is so very stupid, and it stopped being amusing at some point.

        *As a caveat, it struck me as I wrote this how hollow the “Joe’s a physical guy” comments are. He doesn’t hug men, or give them cheek kisses, or smell their hair. This is uniquely a behavior he exhibits around women (and girls ick ick ick), and even though it’s been pointed out to him, and I’m sure his personal coaches are spending entire sessions on nothing else, he’s still managed to give photo ops to his adversaries *since* his candidacy announcement.

        • HT, I really think Trump would wipe the floor with Sleepy Joe. Can you picture the two of them in a debate? Are Americans really willing to elect a Commander in Chief who will appear as feckless and inept as Joe will when confronted by Trump five or ten feet away in front of cameras? Sure, it will be mostly a ninth grade student council level exercise, but Joe will be clobbered and ninth grade is two grades above seventh grade, the grade school level litigators are trained to consider their jurors to be at.

          But maybe I’m hoping rather than thinking. Electing a Democrat to undo all the good things Trump has done will be depressing, at least to me. I’m hoping another four years of Trump will collapse the Resistance.

            • Yeah, that’s probably right. If Joe can come off as harmless enough and not dangerously stupid, which is a big ask, he probably could convince some people that a vote for him is at least a step away from the chaos of Trump.

      • They think even if Joe is a boob and a bumbler, that will be sufficient to get everything “back to NORMAL” because he’ll just sit in the oval office, pick his teeth and trim his nails, while all the Deep State and the Media and the elites control and pull all the levers of power and things will be NORMAL again.

        If they think this, I suspect they are right. At least about how the government would work.

    • Along Glenn’s line, I saw an article a few weeks ago calling Real Clear Politics the nation’s paper of record insofar as it is objective by paring opposing pieces on topics rather than taking a position. Triangulating is the only way to get a picture. The NYT just caters to NYT readers, a breed apart.

    • Glenn
      You are so correct.

      Consider how most stories are covered the basic facts are given short shrift but then a guest is asked a loaded question and asked to “react”.

      The game seems to be let’s inflame the situation by getting guests to get mad.

      • Fox News is partially, maybe mostly, to blame for this. They perfected the format of asking some right-leaning talking-head to respond to an outrageous comment from the other side. That gradually became the format for most of their pundit’s shows, and devolved into shouting matches when the other side was asked to join.

        Now, due to Fox’s success, everybody does it.

        This is not news in any form. It is the mainstreaming of opinion as news, and of conflict as analysis. It is nothing of the sort.

        • Not sure who started it but it reminds me 9 graders saying ” did you know so and so said this about you?” The idea is to create friction.

          • Yeah, I agree.

            Conflict and noise is the desired result, it gets people worked up, exercised, and interested. Not me, not anymore.

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