Ethics Verdict: Everyone Stinks. A Case Study

This is why we can’t have nice things…

…or even be certain what nice things are.

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was Jake Tapper’s guest  on CNN’s “State of the Union,” since he wasn’t going to talk about Tara Reade. Jake asked Pelosi, “Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign told me earlier this month that he supported President Trump’s partial travel restrictions on January 31st blocking foreign nationals from China from coming to the United States. Do you agree that it was the right move by President Trump at the time?”

She answered, “Tens of thousands of people were still allowed in from China. It wasn’t as it is described as this great moment, there were Americans coming back or green card holders coming back. If you’re going to shut the door because you have an evaluation of an epidemic, then shut the door.”

It’s a despicable, despicable response.

First, let’s go back to the question. Tapper, had he been the fair and objective journalist I once said  he was (I apologize; I was wrong. He’s a hack.) should have noted that Biden’s approval now is a flip-flop. The day after President Trump issued his Chinese travel ban, Biden called him xenophobic. This was important context for Tapper’s question, but Jake doesn’t think his audience cares about context, or something.

Well, let’s go back even further, shall we?

On March 26, President Trump said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, “I had Biden calling me xenophobic. He called me a racist, because of the fact that he felt it was a racist thing to stop people from China coming in.”

PolitiFact, the very partisan and untrustworthy factcheck site that I see has now been taken over by the Poynter Institute but maintains its previous biases, decided to spin for Biden in fact-checking Trump’s statement. Biden called Trump ‘xenophobic” the day after the travel ban was announced. What a coincidence! PolitiFact sees no reason to conclude Trump’s major announcement the previous day had anything to do with Biden’s tweet. Completely unrelated. After all, Biden’s camp pointed out that he’s always called the President xenophobic, which is true.

Now, is that self-evident spin or not? Obviously Biden was having a lucid moment and hedged his bets. He called Trump xenophobic after the China announcement because the Democrats have called every travel ban xenophobic, including bans on people breaking the law to enter our country. The timing of Biden’s tweet wasn’t accidental. But it allowed him to say, wink-wink,nudge-nudge, ‘Oh no! I never called the travel ban xenophobic! I called the President xenophobic, because he is.’

And a supposedly “non-partisan” factcheck operation  accepts that, and tells its gullible readers that they should accept it as well.

Of course, Trump also told Hannity that Biden called him “racist,” so that makes the President a liar. Surely that will be added to the Washington Post’s list of thousands. This is how the President’s incurable sloppiness in his rhetoric makes him such an easy mark. Trump thinks, “Racist, xenophobic, whatever. What’s the difference? Close enough.” Indeed, when he is called xenophobic, it is the equivalent of an accusation of racism, it is meant to be heard that way, and it inevitably comes from people who say and think that the President is racist. Nevertheless, Joe did not call him a racist on the first of February, so PolitiFact can justify saying Trump’s statement was untrue.

It also called untrue Trump’s statement that Biden’s criticism was “because of the fact that he felt it was a racist thing to stop people from China coming in.”   Their logic? “Biden did not spell out which part of Trump’s tweet was xenophobic.”

That’s actually funny. See, Biden was among those who had accused the President of being racist because he called the Virus That Came From China the “Chinese virus.” So because the same tweet that announced the travel ban on January 31st also referred to the Chinese virus—I prefer Wuhan virus myself—PolitiFact uses one unfair accusation to serve as plausible deniability that Biden wasn’t making another one!

Meanwhile, Trump’s assertion is an opinion. The news media do this all the time; it’s the psychic breed of fake news. True, the news media misrepresent their mindreading as fact, but saying what someone is thinking or believes is always an opinion. Who knows what Joe Biden thinks? Who knows, at this point IF he thinks? (I don’t believe Biden composes his tweets.)

I should also note, however, that the popular statement repeated by the conservative media that Biden “called the China travel ban issued by President Donald Trump in late January ‘xenophobia”‘ (like here) is, as PolitiFact said, not literally true.

OK, now let’s return to Pelosi.

She didn’t attack the China travel ban at the time; for the most part, Democratic officials did not, and didn’t have to. They knew the news media, their complicit and unethical allies, would do it for them. Thus the Washington Post, the same day of the ban announcement, posted a news story with a dubious tone, full of references to the move as “drastic” and “unprecedented” while emphasizing that WHO had advised against travel bans. It  ended with an appeal from China authorities:

But even before U.S. officials announced such a drastic escalation in travel restrictions on Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry criticized the United States for making “unfriendly comments” during the coronavirus outbreak and said a U.S. warning against travel to China went against recommendations made by the World Health Organization to not restrict travel or trade. “In disregard of WHO recommendation against travel restrictions, the US went the opposite way,” the ministry’s spokesman said in English-language messages on Twitter on Friday. “Where is its empathy?”

News and commentary websites, like the purely partisan Vox, had  declared that “The evidence on travel bans for diseases like coronavirus is clear: They don’t work.” Vox also tweeted on Jan. 31: “Is this going to be a deadly pandemic? No.”

Still, one can’t accurately call Pelosi’s answer to Tapper a reversal. It is disgusting nonetheless. We know and she knows that had Trump banned Americans from flying home from China, she would have led a campaign of outrage like we have seldom seen. In fact, Americans returning from China were quarantined. Her statement is also, as has been the entire span of criticism of the Trump administration’s efforts to control the pandemic here, overt hind-sight bias and second-guessing.

Now back to the conservatives. The Federalist, an allegedly scholarly and professional source,  was indignant after Pelosi’s appearance on CNN, reporting her answer as hypocrisy:

Pelosi had previously joined the chorus of Democrats criticizing the travel ban as racist. “The Trump Administration’s expansion of its outrageous, un-American travel ban threatens our security, our values and the rule of law,” Pelosi said in a statement at the time.

I guess the Federalist doesn’t expect its readers to click on its links. Yes, Pelosi said that “at the time,” January 31. Yes, she used the words discrimination, hatred and bigotry, but not “racist.” More importantly, however, the statement the Federalist referred to and that its own link brought up had nothing to do with the China travel ban! Here it is (bolding mine):

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi released this statement after the Trump Administration announced it is adding Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Tanzania and Sudan to the travel ban that the President instituted three years ago:

“The Trump Administration’s expansion of its outrageous, un-American travel ban threatens our security, our values and the rule of law.  The sweeping rule, barring more than 350 million individuals from predominantly African nations from traveling to the United States, is discrimination disguised as policy.      

“America’s strength has always been as a beacon of hope and opportunity for people around the world, whose dreams and aspirations have enriched our nation and made America more American.  With this latest callous decision, the President has doubled down on his cruelty and further undermined our global leadership, our Constitution and our proud heritage as a nation of immigrants.In the Congress and in the Courts, House Democrats will continue to oppose the Administration’s dangerous anti-immigrant agenda.  In the coming weeks, the House Judiciary Committee will mark-up and bring to the Floor the NO BAN Act to prohibit religious discrimination in our immigration system and limit the President’s ability to impose such biased and bigoted restrictions.  We will never allow hatred or bigotry to define our nation or destroy our values.”

The statement had nothing to do with China or the virus at all.

Let’s recap, then:

  • Jake Tapper and CNN misled its viewers
  • Speaker Pelosi engaged in disingenuous and unfair criticism
  • PolitiFact and the Poynter Institute (which supposedly promotes ethical journalism) spun for Biden, assisting a deceitful plan.
  • Biden or his ventriloquist played racist dog-whistle games while preserving plausible deniability.
  • The President exaggerated and hyped, as usual.
  • The left-wing news media served as partisan agents
  • The right-wing news media repeatedly misstated the facts, and
  • The Federalist lied outright.

Ethics Verdict: They all stink.

We cannot trust anyone or any institution to be honest and straightforward, to do their job well, or to meet their basic ethical obligations so we can have the informed public essential to a functional democracy.

9 thoughts on “Ethics Verdict: Everyone Stinks. A Case Study

  1. “Racist,” “xenophobic,” “China” “other countries being added to the ban originally relating to China.” Too much fine parsing in my book. Doesn’t “xenophobia” include racism when it’s directed at a country (China) that’s composed exclusively of little yellow people? You know, the chinks? The coolies? The ones over running the Ivy League and the University of California schools so American kids can’t get in anymore? Jeeze, they even test better than Jewish kids! Trump speaks in word clouds but Dems message with the precision of appellate lawyers? I don’t buy it. But I ignore entirely this fairly recent phenomenon of “fact checking.” I think it’s media made-up BS and just misdirection and distraction.

  2. Jack, I’m going to defend the Federalist to some extent here.

    First of all, your quote after “…hypocrisy:” lacks context, in that it doesn’t indicate the conflation of two separate paragraphs. The quote should read:

    “Pelosi had previously joined the chorus of Democrats criticizing the travel ban as racist.

    “The Trump Administration’s expansion of its outrageous, un-American travel ban threatens our security, our values and the rule of law,” Pelosi said in a statement at the time.”

    Read this way, the Federalist offered an opinion on Pelosi’s remarks, which say in relevant part:

    “The sweeping rule, barring more than 350 million individuals from predominantly African nations from traveling to the United States, is discrimination disguised as policy. [my emphasis]”

    “Discrimination” in this context can be read no other way than the equivalent of “racist.” It can be argued otherwise if you parse the hell out of the English language, but in context, it’s clear that she meant “racist.”

    Now, lest I defend them too much, the Federalist’s writing seems to suggest that Pelosi was talking about China when she was not, which you correctly point out. That is definitely worthy of criticism, but not the characterization of her remarks as calling the President racist. It is clearly intended in Pelosi’s statement, if not used explicitly, even though the object of the charge was not China. That does matter, of course, but I think your characterization of it as an outright lie is unfair. It was misleading and unfair, but I don’t think it qualifies as a lie.

    • Whoa. The Federalist specifically contrasted Pelosi’s claim that Americans should have been banned with what it called her criticism —forget what words were used—of the CHINA travel ban, then linked to Pelosi’s statement about a completely different matter. There’s no ambiguity here.

      • I don’t agree. They get a lot more lattitude on their reporting from me than others who have proven over and over to be unreliable. Your mileage may vary.

        I think this was a poorly-constructed article that may have been an intentional attempt to mislead, but I’m not willing to rule out incompetence rather than malice with them.

  3. If we’re going to parse the Federalist’s words this closely, it’s still a lie.
    “Pelosi had previously joined the chorus of Democrats criticizing the travel ban as racist.”
    When only one travel ban is discussed the article, “the travel ban” can only mean that particular travel ban. Had it been phrased as “a travel ban,” it would be true on a technicality. As it is written, it’s a lie.

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