Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/11/2020: NBC’s Tipping Point, Joe’s Gaslighting, A Judge’s Dead Ethics Alarms, And Kroger’s Grandstanding Backfires

It’s May!

1. More thoughts on “Meet the Press” and Chuck Todd. Pause now to reflect on last night’s post on the “Meet the Press” cheat, leaving out the key portion of AG Barr’s answer to an interview question, then having anchor Chuck Todd criticize Barr for not saying what he in fact said and that he withheld from his audience.

  • Does anyone think NBC’s “oops!” apology after being called on this by CBS (from whence the original interview came) and Justice (in a tweet by Barr’s spokesperson) is credible? The only way one could believe this was accidental is to assume there are no standards of review and oversight in network news. With all the preparation that goes into a weekly show, how could the anchor not review the entire interview he is planning on discussing? True, Todd is uniquely stupid for an anchor, somewhere in the Chris Cuomo range, but applying Hanlon’s Razor here strains the rule. This was almost certainly malicious.
  • The example ought to be aggressively and relentlessly shared on social media, with enablers and apologists being dealt with harshly. (I just posted it on my Facebook page. I know what’s coming. To hell with them.) This is a smoking gun and signature significance: a journalism culture where this happens is corrupt and agenda-driven The episode also ought to be a tipping point where the public, all of it, wakes up to how it is being manipulated by propagandists. Note I say “ought” but not “will.”
  • For this reason, the episode isn’t just about news, it is news. It should be a headline on every news broadcast and in every newspaper. “Meet the Press,” even as diminished as it is, still holds a symbolic place in the industry. This is a scandal, and an important one.
  • Is it of greater national and historical importance than most of the items on my Times front page this morning? Absolutely.
  • To those who will argue that Todd’s cheat was an innocent mistake that conservatives, Republicans and “Trumpers” are “pouncing” on, I would ask, “Where is the parallel instance of an Obama official, a Democratic leader, or a progressive being similarly misquoted on a network news show?” The closest example I can recall was when NPR falsely edited an interview with…Ted Cruz.
  • The standard increasingly becoming the norm in the mainstream media is not “how can we inform our viewers?” but rather “how can we advance our agenda by manipulating the content and get away with it?” The latter begins with the assumption that their partisan and ignorant audiences will tolerate being deceived, and that is how democracies die.

2.  The point when I stopped reading Joe Biden’s op-ed in the Post:President Trump is reverting to a familiar strategy of deflecting blame and dividing Americans. His goal is as obvious as it is craven: He hopes to split the country into dueling camps…”

The reason shifting blame and dividing the country is a familiar strategy is that Biden’s party has been doing this continuously from the moment Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “deplorables.” Well, let’s reconsider that: maybe the strategy started when President Obama’s mouthpieces began using “racist!” as the default response to any criticism of him, and “xenophobe!” as the response to those wanting to enforce our borders. Either way, Biden’s attack ( or that of whoever wrote it for him while he was working on his coloring book) is gaslighting. Imagine anyone trying to divide Americans over public policy!

PS: Here’s an Atlantic article from a few days ago: “The Coronavirus Was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying.”

Post Post Script: Why look! “Dr. Gregg Gonsalves, who teaches about microbial diseases and law at the Ivy League school, took to Twitter recently to slam the administration, saying:

“How many people will die this summer, before Election Day? What proportion of the deaths will be among African-Americans, Latinos, other people of color? This is getting awfully close to genocide by default. What else do you call mass death by public policy?”

3. In related news...Yesterday, Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms  called the shooting death of  black jogger Ahmaud Arbery “a lynching”and blamed President Trump.

“It’s 2020 and this was a lynching of an African-American man. My heart goes out to the family,” the Democratic mayor said. “With the rhetoric we hear coming out of the White House, many who are prone to being racist are given permission to do it in an overt way we wouldn’t see in 2020.”

I’m sure Joe Biden will have a thoughtful response.

4. Here’s a funny headline, sparked by the declassified Flynn documents: “It’s Time for the Left to Stop Pretending Obama Was Scandal-Free.” I’d say that time was long ago, during Obama’s Presidency, and many times.

5. This is what virtue-signaling and grandstanding reaps...Kroger announced it will end its $2 hourly “hero bonus” to its workers in this month. Naturally, the decision has prompted widespread protest from chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers union across the country.

Kroger workers were no more “heroic” than anyone who has continued to work outside of their homes during the lockdown. Indeed, they aren’t heroic at all, any more than any human being who incurs necessary risks to go through life. My son’s a master technician at a car dealership, which is an essential business. He’s risking getting sick, but he’s glad to still have his job, loves what he does, and wants to get paid for it. That’s not “heroic.”  Would I teach a live ethics seminar if I could tomorrow? Damn right I would, and unlike most Kroger “heroes,” I’m in a high risk group–several, in fact. Would that make me a hero? Be serious.

Kroger was grandstanding when it came up with the “hero bonus,” and it deserves all the flack it is getting now.

6. The Shelley Luther saga. Hair salon owner Shelley Luther was sentenced to seven days in jail last week by Dallas Judge Eric Moye for reopening her business a few days ahead of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order allowing all hair salons throughout the state to reopen. She antagonized the judge for refusing to apologize as the judge demanded, and was fined as well as sentenced  to a week in jail.

This was classic civil disobedience, and only the judge’s excessive sentencing blew up the script. Her case, plus the stench of Laredo police  running a sting and arresting two women for reopening their nail salon triggered a lot of backlash that hasn’t receded yet. Dead ethics alarms! Across the country during the lockdown, judges have released about 16,000 convicts from prison to protect those convicts from infection by the Wuhan virus, and now another judge was putting a small business owner in the place deemed too dangerous for convicted criminals because she breached a safety order regarding the same health threat.

Brilliant.

21 thoughts on “Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/11/2020: NBC’s Tipping Point, Joe’s Gaslighting, A Judge’s Dead Ethics Alarms, And Kroger’s Grandstanding Backfires

  1. 6. I hadn’t caught the fearful symmetry of this kerfuffle until you pointed it out. Too bad judges can’t be removed for bringing dishonor to the justice system.

  2. 1. This is in addition to the recent ‘Claiming footage of a gun range in Kentucky is a Turkish attack on a Syrian city’, ‘Having a doctor read a false script about the lack of ventilators in her hospitals’, ‘claiming footage of Italian hospitals is actually NYC’, and ‘staging a line of cars at an outdoor coronavirus testing site’. All of them were explained as ‘accidents’. Add to it all the examples of the mainstream press staging ‘protest’ videos and faked weather disaster coverage(standing on their knees to make floodwaters look deeper, etc) and you have to wonder if anything you see on the news is real. Believing that any of this is incompetence is just wishful thinking.

    BTW, has anyone been able to verify that the Turks even attacked a city in Syria, or that the city even exists?

    3. Calling Ahmaud Arbery a ‘jogger’ may be deceptive. It seems that he may indeed have been burglarizing homes in the neighborhood and was seen leaving a construction site just before the altercation.

    https://www.kron4.com/news/national/video-appears-to-show-ahmaud-arbery-at-construction-site-just-before-death/

    https://www.news4jax.com/news/georgia/2020/05/09/gbi-reviewing-additional-video-in-case-of-ahmaud-arbery/

    So, this changes it from a ‘racist lynching’ to ‘vigilante justice’. Still not OK, but let’s at least categorize it properly. Is the left incapable of finding actual racism?

    • Re: No. 3; Joggingly Ahmaud Arbery.

      See, there you go again, wanting to argue about details. One of my legal, lawyerly colleagues, saw that same factoid about burgling the construction sites and said, “well, you know, Ahmaud could have stopped at the site to go to the bathroom. There is no evidence he burgled anything.” (I paraphrase, but you get the gist.) Another legally imbued colleague declared that Ahmaud was the victim of racists who hunted him down and shot him like a dog in the street! (Again, I paraphrase.) Another brilliant legal scholar (who used to be a really great guy but has since swallowed way too much progressivism, quoted the following with approval and the proper amount of disdain for white people, from Adam Serwer’s piece in The Atlantic:

      “The implied terms of the racial contract are visible everywhere for those willing to see them. A 12-year-old with a toy gun is a dangerous threat who must be met with lethal force; armed militias drawing beads on federal agents are heroes of liberty. Struggling white farmers in Iowa taking billions in federal assistance are hardworking Americans down on their luck; struggling single parents in cities using food stamps are welfare queens. Black Americans struggling in the cocaine epidemic are a ‘bio-underclass’ created by a pathological culture; white Americans struggling with opioid addiction are a national tragedy. Poor European immigrants who flocked to an America with virtually no immigration restrictions came ‘the right way’; poor Central American immigrants evading a baroque and unforgiving system are gang members and terrorists.”

      Ugh!

      Yet, anyone suggesting that, “yes, the video is awful but we should really wait and see what the facts are before we execute the accused” (that would be me!) has been meted with a resounding, “There! Look at your white privilege, you racist!” I did see that Benjamin Crump, that esteemed and learned Florida lawyer of Trayvon Martin’s fame, is on the case, so that’s a good thing. Al Sharpton is pissed Crump scooped him. Sharpton couldn’t get to Georgia fast enough ahead of Crump to lead the calls for “Justice for Arbery!” because, well, COVID-19 had him hunkered down in his house. Damn luck, that.

      Being that I am a lawyer (and, according to some, not a very bright or good one), I subscribe to some Facebook lawyer blogs and pages. I haven’t seen many people defending the accused. Most have posted that the accuseds are:

      Pieces of shit (nicely written as “POS” so as not to be too vulgar);
      Racist POS;
      POS who are racists;
      POS racists who are really POS, and
      Racists.

      Who willfully and intentionally, with malice aforethought, stalked an innocent, unarmed African American male, and with the full weight of their white privilege, forced an altercation so as to justify killing him in cold blood (that Truman Capote book sounds good right about now), with anti-African American animus intending to spark a full-on conflagration to begin the race war. So, those budding Oliver Wendell Holmeses seem to call for skipping over pesky little things such as an investigation, an indictment, a trial, a verdict, and sentencing, preferring to move right into the “let’s hang ’em in the town square” phase. Some of them are actually criminal defense counsel. Imagine that?!

      And about that video. Anyone care to share how it was released to the press? I would as it is quite interesting. The police had it in their possession, but racists that they are, they sat on it and refused to release it to the public (something about an on-going investigation.) Over at Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield suggested that a criminal lawyer chose poorly. Why? Interesting point of order: It seems that Alan Tucker, a criminal defense lawyer, said that the video had come from the cellphone of a man who had filmed the episode, and that he (Tucker) later gave the footage to a radio station. Mr. Tucker’s role was confirmed by Scott Ryfun, who oversees the station’s programming.

      Well, that’s not the interesting part. It seems that Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, (collectively referred to as “The Arrested and Accused”) had “informally” consulted with Tucker. Yet, there is no such thing as an “informal consultation” with a lawyer. The effect of the consultation belongs with the potential client, and most bar associations don’t really require that the client slide a ten spot across the table to establish an attorney-client relationship. Yet, Tucker decided to release the video (on the theory he wanted to dispel myths that the pickup did not, in fact, have a Confederate flag flying at half-staff in the bed of the truck), which resulted in his clients being subjected to the Lynch Mob, and got them arrested.

      Greenfield: “But Alan Tucker isn’t just some random guy entitled to do whatever he feels is just. He’s a lawyer. He’s a lawyer who engaged with clients, no matter how formal the circumstances or how little the pay. And his decision to send the video over to a radio station so that ‘the truth’ would come out is why the McMichaels are wearing jumpsuits . . . Most people will argue that Tucker had a higher duty, a duty to the truth, a duty to justice, than his duty to his clients not to do what would almost certainly result in their arrest and prosecution. That, however, isn’t how criminal defense works. Our highest duty is to the client, no matter how awful he may be. We don’t do justice. We defend our clients..”

      Oh, by the by: did you see the reference to Trayvon I casually dropped above? Funny you should wonder about that. Many of the news stories about this Arbery incident were sure to point out that this year marks the eighth – EIGHTH!!! – anniversary since Young Aspiring L’il Travyon’s promising life was tragically and evilly cut short by a most heinous and racially motivated White Hispanic murderer.

      jvb

  3. I don’t think your analysis of #6 is complete.

    To my understanding, she was served with a cease and desist order. She tore it up. She said, in essence if not explicitly, that she would not obey any such order.

    What is the Judge to do with someone who refuses to obey a lawful order? You hold them in contempt, right? You pretty much have to do something, right? Can the Judge ignore simple defiance of a Court Order? I don’t think so. That would be a neglect of the Judge’s duty.

    And, if, as you say, this is civil disobedience, she should accept her punishment, right?

    What should that punishment be?

    That is where judgment comes in. I do not want to get into the different forms of contempt but, to my understanding, what he did impose was within what is defensible punishment of direct contempt. Perhaps more defensible would be: 1) holding her until the order expires (essentially enforcing the order by detaining her); or 2) holding her until she agrees to comply with the order (giving her the keys to her own cell, as they say). What the Judge did, especially as it regards demanding an apology, smacks of poor judgment to me. Had I been in her position, I might have had some additional choice words for that Judge.

    -Jut

    • Well, people who have committed assault, burglary, etc were released from jail and prison because it was ‘too dangerous for them there’. To put a small business owner whose means of providing for her family and her business have been eradicated by a (probably needless) government order in a place considered too dangerous for actual threats to the public tells you that the judge values career criminals over normally law-abiding citizens. The proper response would be to fine her if she has to be punished.

      She could have been more creative and claimed she was doing it for her health. With more and more studies showing the people sheltering-at-home are at a higher risk of contracting coronavirus than those people still in the workforce, it may be safer at work. More people need to protest these nonsensical rules and arbitrary ‘justice’.

      https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/06/ny-gov-cuomo-says-its-shocking-most-new-coronavirus-hospitalizations-are-people-staying-home.html

      • Do you know if THIS Judge believed THIS jail was too dangerous for actual threats to the public?

        You argument turns on looking at trends that may be taking place in other parts of the company and applying them here.

        For all I know, this Judge is a hanging Judge that has denied 5000 requests for release from prisoners through the country.

        I suspect that is a bit of an exaggeration, but absent evidence that he has let anyone out, should his actions surprise you?

        -Jut

        • Jut, I don’t think whether this judge has let anyone out of jail because of the disease is relevant to Jack’s drawing the parallel. Judges are letting convicts out of jail while this one is putting a very skeptical business woman IN jail. I find that very incisive and telling.

          • Other Bill,
            The exception I would take to this is that I think it is dumb to let those people out. Putting people in? That is another thing. I have a guy who is set to be sentenced and we are just going to string along the report date because the jail has concerns about bringing people in. That’s fine. I get it. They should know their situation better (part of it has to do with bringing in “work release” people who will come and go every day). But, if I think it is dumb to let people out for this reason, how do I know that this Judge does not feel THE EXACT SAME WAY? And, if he does, should I expect him to do something I think is stupid just because OTHER PEOPLE don’t think it is stupid. I think that is flawed logic, though I am not up to analyzing which fallacy or combination of fallacies it is right now.

            -Jut

    • Oh, agreed agreed agreed. She was angling to be a martyr, and succeeded beyond her wildest dreams, I’d guess. It reminds me a bit of Errol Garner. The guy was selling loose cigarettes, and you tackle him with 4 officers? Talk about making a martyr. What does one do if someone insists on violating a bad law? When the enforcement appears more of a crime than the crime, you’ve got a problem. You’ve got to keep arresting her and fining her, or giving her community service, but sending her to jail is just dumb. Or you give up and change the law, or refuse to enforce it.

      • Well, the order to allow her shop to open had already been announced and just hadn’t taken place yet. You wouldn’t really have had to do this again.

        This is like arresting people for smoking marijuana a week before the recreational use law goes into effect and throwing the book at them.

      • Jack: “Or you give up and change the law, or refuse to enforce it.”

        Yes, but I think what ticked the Judge off was not that she broke the law, but that she defied THE ORDER OF THE COURT. That is HIS power she was thumbing her nose at. (That is why I think the stupid notion of an apology came in; it almost sounds like the Judge took it personally). But, that is where the Judge faces the tricky dilemma. Most rules of decorum are “silly,” and could be ignored, but Judges have an obligation to enforce them to maintain the dignity of the system. This is a step or two above that, but that makes the obligation higher.

        -Jut

    • I don’t think the judge was wrong to issue a punishment, I just think that under the current situation, there was a range of options. He could’ve issued a fine that escalated every day she remained in business on top of the one for contempt of a judicial order. That would’ve a) punished her appropriately and b) served as a method to prevent her return to business until permitted.

      He also could’ve deferred the jail term to be served after the current crisis, or issued mandatory community service, or a range of other alternatives. I think that it’s generally unwise to put any but the most dangerous criminals in jail during a pandemic, as that’s where the virus is most likely to spread. Here in Kentucky, we have one correctional institution that recently had 309 cases diagnosed in a single day, and it’s by far the most afflicted place in the state. Even if others aren’t yet, they are at extremely high risk.

      So placing a healthy person in jail for a week, where their risk is extreme, is unconscionable. Under normal circumstances I would applaud it, but circumstances aren’t normal. So I fault the judge for not taking the situation into proper consideration considering the a) minor nature of the crime and b) the danger to which he exposed a misdemeanor offender.

    • I have to disagree. She should not have torn up the ticket – it shows disrespect to legitimate authority.

      But, the issue is whether the county’s order was lawful. I submit it was not. It would fail a Constitutional challenge on the grounds that it is vague (the county’s definition of “necessary” businesses is vague, ambiguous and capricious), which did not meet a compelling state interest (because the reasons were unclear: was the order issued to slow the infection or to prevent overwhelming the hospital system), with no less restrictive alternative (the government can’t pick winners and losers who can remain open or must close, along with the fact that closing certain businesses but not others is irreconcilable with the state’s powers).

      This judge imposed both civil (fines and an apology) and criminal (detention until a the purged herself if the contempt, which could have been indefinite). Therefore, he exceeded his state and federal authority.
      Moreover, the appeals court voided the judge’s order almost immediately.

      jvb

  4. 6. I have this nagging tendency to think of police who arrest without legal justification as unsanctioned citizen kidnappers and a subsequent nagging desire to see them treated as such by a mob of heroic do-gooders. I don’t think I’m alone in that, and I don’t think the society protected by resisting those nagging thoughts will be worth the mental strain for very much longer.

    What differentiates a cop who arrests a hair stylist for styling hair from a random armed thug in a police costume? What differentiates a judge who sentenced a wrongfully-arrested stylist for rudeness in the face of textbook wrongful arrest from an incoherent hobo in a trash bag authoritatively banging a ball-peen hammer? As the answer approaches ‘nothing’, why not revolt? It wouldn’t even be a revolt so much as a just response to an ongoing, unchecked revolt carefully disguised as business-as-usual by savvy application of trash bags and police uniforms. One can hardly ignore the restrictions placed on him by the legal source of his authority while at the same time claiming to have legal authority. A summons for failure to refrain from doing business certainly carries less meaning than a “fine” from one of those traffic cameras or even any other form of junk mail and belongs, without any reservation or hesitation, in the trash. At least the third-party camera may have evidence that a light was run or the junk mail some useful coupon, but none of them indicate any obligation on the recipient’s part.

    • That is what this police officer discussed. It looks like it got him fired. His agency holds that if the governor or mayor gives an unconstitutional order, they are to follow it anyway.

  5. 1. Chuck Todd

    Jack said:

    The standard increasingly becoming the norm in the mainstream media is not “how can we inform our viewers?” but rather “how can we advance our agenda by manipulating the content and get away with it?” The latter begins with the assumption that their partisan and ignorant audiences will tolerate being deceived, and that is how democracies die.

    Well, if that’s true, we can kiss our democratic republic goodbye. Because there is no question but that partisan and ignorant audiences have and continue to tolerate, and even embrace, this kind of agenda reporting.

    It was nice while it lasted.

    2. Reading anything from a leftist politician (or for that matter, almost any big-city newspaper) these days is a quick way to another nail in the coffin of your sanity.

    5. Kroger

    Jack said:

    Kroger workers were no more “heroic” than anyone who has continued to work outside of their homes during the lockdown. Indeed, they aren’t heroic at all, any more than any human being who incurs necessary risks to go through life.

    Thank you for saying that. I have been making this point for a long time, to deaf ears. People who work at their jobs for pay are not heroes, especially when they have the option of not doing so. That goes for doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals as well as grocery store workers, drug store workers, and other critical industries.

    Indeed, I have even said, and continue to say, that serving in the military doesn’t make one a hero. Nobody holds a gun to a person’s head and makes them serve in an all-volunteer service, and you know going in you might have to go into harm’s way. Military service, because it is low-paying, voluntary, and potentially dangerous does deserve respect and even gratitude, but it’s not heroic. The same can be said of police and firefighters, although at least for police, the pay is better.

    We have cheapened the term “hero” to mean anybody doing a job we don’t want to do. That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.

    6. Shelley Luther

    Jack said:

    Dead ethics alarms! Across the country during the lockdown, judges have released about 16,000 convicts from prison to protect those convicts from infection by the Wuhan virus, and now another judge was putting a small business owner in the place deemed too dangerous for convicted criminals because she breached a safety order regarding the same health threat.

    Not only dead, but perhaps nonexistant. Judges who allow themselves to be caught up in the moment and do silly things like this are violating their oath of impartiality. An impartial judge would be aware that to sentence someone engaging in civil disobedience to jail during the height of a pandemic is to risk their infection, a punishment far out of proportion to the crime. The only reason it happened is because the judge was angered at her refusal to obey his command, and didn’t have the temperance or presence of mind to consider the consequences of his action.

    I thought that’s what judges were for! It is irrelevant if his action was legal, it was profoundly unethical, dangerous, and even reckless.

  6. “It’s 2020 and this was a lynching of an African-American man. My heart goes out to the family,” the Democratic mayor said. “With the rhetoric we hear coming out of the White House, many who are prone to being racist are given permission to do it in an overt way we wouldn’t see in 2020.”
    I wonder if this bitch blames Obama for violence in the ghetto.

    Hair salon owner Shelley Luther was sentenced to seven days in jail last week by Dallas Judge Eric Moye for reopening her business a few days ahead of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order allowing all hair salons throughout the state to reopen. She antagonized the judge for refusing to apologize as the judge demanded, and was fined as well as sentenced to a week in jail.

    Shelley Luther was a criminal.

    Just like Rosa Parks was a criminal.

  7. Re: No. 3; Biden Enters the Fray.

    Too late. Biden issued a “blistering statement” last week, calling the shooting a “grave injustice” and the incident amounted to a lynching “before our very eyes” and demanding a “transparent investigation.”

    He also said this: “This family and the country deserves justice and they deserve it now. They deserve a transparent investigation of this brutal murder. But our nation deserves it as well. We need to reckon with this, this goes on. These vicious acts call to mind the darkest chapters of our history,” Nice. “Lynching,” “murder”, and “grave injustice”. Don’t prejudge the situation, Joe.

    https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/biden-slams-arbery-shooting-grave-injustice-demands-investigation-n1202291

    jvb

  8. 5. Any company, when announcing a bonus, should also announce an end date for that bonus otherwise the employees will expect that bonus to go on forever. Kroger in not doing so deserve whatever flack that they get.

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