Ethics Lunch, 4/14/2020: The Bad, The Ugly, And The Yummy


1. Remember when Joe Biden said that the President needed to stop saying whatever popped into his head? This is the kind of thing he was talking about.

He suggested last week during the White House briefing that insurance companies should pay out business interruption claims related to the pandemic, even if coverage for such an event  is not explicitly included in their policy. Trump said regarding insurance for an interruption of business,

“If I had it, I’d expect to be paid. All of the sudden they need it … and I don’t see the word pandemic mentioned. Now in some cases, it is. It’s an exclusion. But in a lot of cases, I don’t see it. I don’t see reference and they don’t want to pay up. I would like to see the insurance companies pay if they need to pay, if it’s fair….You have people that have never asked for business interruption insurance (payouts) and they’ve been paying a lot of money for a lot of years for the privilege of having it. And then when they finally need it, the insurance company says ‘we’re not going to give it.’ We can’t let that happen.”

Ugh. Insurance doesn’t work like that and can’t work like that, though I’m sure, as a businessman, Trump would take a shot at trying to make such a case. It is irresponsible, however, to misinform the public that such a claim would be reasonable. Insurance companies should have to meet their contractual obligations; Trump’s theory would cause premiums to explode.

2. Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck, “Ew!” Division:

[Pointer: Amy Alkon]

3.  Our trusted medical professionals... Health care workers at a Reno nursing home where the pandemic has killed two people were instructed to use surgical masks for two days and then to flip the mask inside out before wearing on the second day. CDC guidelines direct that masks to be re-used in emergency situations, but the outside surface of the mask,  which may be contaminated, should not be touched or come in contact with any other surface.

To be fair, the information on exactly how masks are supposed to help is still contradictory and confusing.

4. About yesterday’s Coronavirus Task Force press briefing. Yes, I agree that it is , and was, inappropriate and a bait-and-switch, ergo unethical, for the President to use the daily briefing as a blatant campaign stunt and as an adversary attack on the news media. Yes, by any previous standards, this was unpresidential.

Any approach I take to defend the episode collides with a rationalization. “These are not ordinary times.” ( 28A) “They had it coming.” (2A).  “He had no choice!” (25) There are many more. And yet…I can’t help thinking that a valid utilitarian justification applies, balancing all the factors, not even including the fact that I enjoyed the hell out of it, and the reactions of his two primary targets, CNN and MSNBC (They had it coming.)

If you missed it (it’s on YouTube here), the President summarized the state of the nation regarding the virus, and then introduced Dr. Fauci, who debunked the false spin given on his comments over the weekend that were widely publicized as criticism of the President’s response to the virus. He had said,

“You could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” he said. “Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated. But you’re right. Obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down.”

Well, duh.

This wasn’t criticism in any way, but rather an acknowledgment that in hindsight one can always say that things would have been better “if,” while ignoring the actual realities of decision-making. From this, the news medai manufactured a fake news theme suggesting that the President was furious and he was considering firing Dr. Fauci. After Fauci explained how his remarks were misinterpreted, CBS White House correspondent Paula Reid asked him, “Are you doing this voluntarily?”implying that he’d been forced to make this clarification for the President’s benefit. “Everything I do is voluntary,” he replied. ” Please… don’t even imply that.” The question was especially obnoxious because Fauci’s original comment wasn’t critical on its face. It did explain why the media’s relentless bashing of the President using the “If he had done things differently, things would be different”  argument is  irresponsible and misleading.

Here was the Sunday Times banner headline: “Despite Timely Alerts, Trump Was Slow To Act”  It might be the most unethical headline of the year, maybe the decade:

  • “Despite” assumes that any “alert” or “alerts” were definitive and unchallenged. They weren’t.
  • “Timely” is deceit: the word means that they came before conditions worsened or made their full impact apparent. Timely but unpersuasive; timely but premature: the word is loaded, and unethical.
  • “Alerts”: they weren’t alerts, they were opinions, made by some experts while other experts—notably Dr. Fauci—were advising differently. The word, like “Timely” is loaded with false implications. In every disaster or negative event, there were some people who “alerted” decision-makers that they should be doing something else. If the event doesn’t occur, we never hear who these people are.
  • “Was slow to act.” That’s pure opinion and speculation. It does not belong in a headline. “Slow” falsely states that knowing what was known, and the better known consequences of acting earlier, it would have been prudent and rational to “act” sooner.

After Dr. Gauci’s statement, the President presented a professionally produced 6 minute video of clips highlighting the news media’s hypocrisy and misinformation. Showing their journalistic integrity, MSNBC and CNN cut short their coverage. The networks’ talking heads were left sputtering on social media and on the air about the President’s attack all day.

They had it coming.


11 thoughts on “Ethics Lunch, 4/14/2020: The Bad, The Ugly, And The Yummy

  1. 1. We can wish, but, if wishes were horses…
    2. Hopefully, one of them wasn’t Chris Cuomo
    3. I don’t have a clue whether the Bandanna I’m using right now is even helpful. I can’t imagine having to make life or death decisions with masks.
    4. Now they’re spinning that the President used the briefing for “campaigning”. 🙄

  2. #4: It was definitely wrong for Trump to take a venue meant for educating and informing the public and turning it into a delivery mechanism for political propaganda.

    Which is why I can’t keep from smirking as I watch journalists and academics clutching their pearls over it, given they’ve spent the last several decades perverting their respective institutions in the same way.

  3. #4 If the media wants to make the claim that running their own quotes at them is “campaigning”, then does that mean that regular day of media broadcasting is “campaigning”? It’ like a Freudian slip of “yeah we’re hacks, but you saying we’re hacks is campaigning!”. I will not be clutching my pearls. Dean Baquet has yet to comment if this is a running, hot story.

  4. Business interruption insurance does exist but the Force Majure clause would eliminate the insurers obligation because government forced the closure.

  5. The term “Presidential” is one I have a,hard time grasping.

    Does Presidential mean that you calmly use obfuscating language at press conferences to lie about harrassing interns?

    Does Presidential mean that you publicly berrate a cop doing his job because it helps you frame your racial narratives?

    Does Presidential mean that you look great on TV while having numerous affairs with Hollywood starlets.

    I guess being Presidential means pretending to be something you are not when the publuc is looking.

    Let’s be honest these events with the press are not like real press conferences. They are more like debates where the press tries to undermine what they are being told.

    If the CNN reporter wants to badger Trump about how fast he acted then the 6 minute produced video was the equivalent of exposing a liar on the stand with contemporaneous statements made by them and others. If Trump wanted to really be an SOB he would have included Fauci’s statement on Feb 29, 2020 that Americans have no reason to be concerned and should go about their lives.

    Does anyone believe that any network would have televised the timeline about what he did when and the conditions on the ground at the time. I sincerely doubt it. It is neither unethical nor unprofessional to defend yourself against the unscrupulous.

    He should ask do you want me to follow the scientific data or not?

    • I can’t say this was bait and switch because the press did not come to information to report but to get statements that can be used to support their negative narrative. Trump just outfoxxed them

    • He should ask do you want me to follow the scientific data or not?

      Considering how intelligently the media treats climate change “science,” I wouldn’t hold out too much hope for for a satisfactory response on that score.

  6. 2. It could be that I just read/watched it for the first time, but this behavior gives me serious Rosemary’s Baby vibes.

  7. 4. My wife told me about that video and said it was pretty great. I just watched the link you provided and she is not wrong. It reminds me of the ending of “The Other Woman” – my wife LOVES that movie – when Don Johnson walks up and pops the cheating husband.

    President Trump could have gone a full fifteen rounds worth, taking a full press conference to show the media for the biased, Trump-hating, Left-wing lapdogs they are, but the six-minute right jab across the jaw was pretty entertaining. Six minutes…you know, we largely won the Battle of Midway in six minutes.

    The media had it coming, for sure. They’ve had it coming for years.

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