Ethics Dunce: House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.)

This is really bad.

Yesterday, Twitter flagged an outrageously  manipulated video clip posted by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise  (R-La.) that deliberately alters the text of a question from activist Ady Barkan to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“No police. Mob rule. Total chaos. That’s the result of the Democrat agenda,” Scalise tweeted. “Ask yourself: Is this what you want in your town next?”

Good question! However, Scalise added what was supposed to be a link to the  Biden interview with Barkan, who uses a computerized artificial voice because he suffers from Lous Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). The interviewer asks Biden if “we agree that we can redirect some of the funding” for police departments toward public safety and mental health services. Biden responds, “Yes.”

Scalise tweeted a version of the clip that inserts the words “for police” into Barkan’s question by duplicating his computer-generated voice.

That’s about as low as you can go.

Observations:

  • Twitter has been justly criticized by applying double standards in deciding what tweets to flag and what accounts to suspend, but there’s no criticizing this.
  • Scalise has enjoyed a decree of sanctification as a shooting victim of the Bernie Sanders supporter who attacked a House softball team practice. This is a particularly grubby and stupid way to toss any lingering sympathy away.
  • Why would he bother injecting “police” when the question already mentioned shifting funds from police departments to other areas? If the point is that Biden, who claims he doesn’t want to defund police, supports defunding police departments, isn’t that double-talk obvious on its own?
  • Barkan, who contacted The Hill about the deception, tweeted to Scalise in part, “You owe the entire disability community an apology.” No, he owes everyone an apology. Count on a progressive  activist to make everything about a minority group.
  • I regard this as signature significance, as something that an individual with functioning ethics alarms won’t do, ever.  The GOP should make him resign as Whip. No party should tolerate conduct like that, but both parties do.
  • If a member of Scalise’s staff was responsible and the Congressman had no knowledge of it, Scalise is still accountable. Staff members don’t get ideas like this unless the culture where they work is already corrupt.

_________________________________

Pointer: Valkygrrl

 

19 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.)

  1. Because I refuse to have a Twitter account and would not follow virtually anyone on that service, I assume the crux of this issue is that the ethical breach of the Scalise tweet was that he or his staff added the words to mock either Biden’s stuttering or the interviewer’s inability to speak. Mocking anyone for a physical condition is wrong and unethical.

    However, editing mistakes do happen and once out on the web it is forever thanks to the Wayback machine. Well, to borrow a phrase from the mainstream media. The claim of malicious intent is not supported by any other evidence.

    Politics has become a cesspool. It could be that Scalise was mocking others and it could be something else. I don’t know.

    What I do know is every claim made by Republicans is reported by the media as without evidence. So, please prove the intent with evidence.

    I also want to see the evidence that systemic racism and voter suppression is prevalent with real evidence. The opinion that x will suppress Y’s vote is never supported by actual evidence; itvis conjecture. What is not conjecture are those convicted of voter fraud.

    As long as this “without evidence “claim is uttered everytime an opinion or belief based on experience runs counter to the media narrative I am going to demand similar evidence when opinion is established as a fact.

  2. I’m just blown away… This is so stupid. Stipulated: All the bad things people are saying about him generally, because really…. This is indefensible. It’s also insanely stupid.

    Let’s say that you’re a person of low moral character, and you don’t mind the idea of putting your credibility and reputation up on the block; Why on Earth would you do it in such an obvious and easy to debunk way? This is a critical junction of ethically bankrupt and technologically useless.

  3. I’m not sure I agree that this was necessarily unethical. Everything I am reading indicates that the editing the words “for police” into the question was to add clarity to what the question was about. This seems to me to be no different than “doctoring” something someone wrote for clarification, so that a smaller chunk of text could be used. Typically we denote that something is substituted [for clarification] by using braces to denote the text that has been altered from its original. To take this a step closer to the video, we will do the same in transcribing someone’s speech. What line exactly is crossed in doing so in a video? Is it the lack of the braces that make the editing clear?

    Everything I read said that the substance of the message was not altered. The question was about taking funds from the police and using them on other services. The exact question did not explicitly mention the police, but the context of the broader conversation was specifically about that. Doctoring video to give the impression that someone has a different stance than they do is lying, no mistake, but that does not appear to be what is happening here.

    • Whoa. Clarification is one thing. Taking advantage of the fact that a speaker has to use a computer generated voice to actually alter what he said is something else. It’s a lie, and its deception. Whether it is substantive doesn’t matter…its still intentionally deceptive.

      • Is the issue that the interviewer uses a computer generated voice? Would the analysis be different if the spliced words were spoken by a natural voice? As I said before, if the splice is intended to alter the meaning of what someone said, it is unethical regardless of whether the speaker uses his own voice or a computer generated one. But is it still unethical if the splice is a gloss intended for clarification (which is Scalise’s defense)? I will grant that splicing words into computer generated speech is far easier, since there’s no worry about synchronizing audio with lip movement, but it can’t simply be unethical in the case of computer generate speech because it is easier. It is far easier to manipulate written words, yet we allow that because we have certain devises, such as ellipses and braces, to denote when the text is altered for clarification. This is why I asked if the crossed line was that splicing the video doesn’t have clear markers to indicate there is a splice. I guess another question to ask is: if there had been a disclaimer during the ad that stated the words “for police” were edited in to provide context to the interviewer’s question, would the splice still be unethical?

        Let me try one last time to phrase my primary line of inquiry: is editing a video to insert words into someone’s speech ipso facto unethical, or are there conditions, some that would not make it an ethical breech, and others that make it clearly unethical?

        • “Is the issue that the interviewer uses a computer generated voice? Would the analysis be different if the spliced words were spoken by a natural voice? ”

          “is editing a video to insert words into someone’s speech ipso facto unethical, or are there conditions, some that would not make it an ethical breech, and others that make it clearly unethical?”

          Yes and no, to both. It’s like taking the prosthetic off an amputee and beating them with it. At the end of the day, assault and battery is assault and battery, but taking the tool designed to empower someone disabled and turning it against them is particularly egregious.

          We’ve spilled a lot of ink here on what does and does not constitute “deceptively edited”. We decided, for instance, that taking a quote from a speaker than makes them look bad, particularly where there is no mitigating context in the rest of their speech, is not deceptive editing, it’s just bad for the speaker (and this constitutes a good sized chunk of what Democrats referred to as “deceptively edited” for a while), on the other hand, we decided that slowing a video down to .75 speed to make the speaker look slow is deceptive editing. This is different than either, if still obviously bad, what should be most important when quoting someone is using the words they actually said, not playing Dr Frankenstein with the audio to suit your needs. Splicing words a speaker did not say “for clarity” seems a very Clintonian spin on the practice.

          • It’s like taking the prosthetic off an amputee and beating them with it. At the end of the day, assault and battery is assault and battery, but taking the tool designed to empower someone disabled and turning it against them is particularly egregious.

            I agree with what you say, but I don’t feel the analogy helps me much because assault and battery is definitely wrong, but I’m still working out for myself whether the splicing itself is an unethical act.

            Splicing words a speaker did not say “for clarity” seems a very Clintonian spin on the practice.

            But we do it in writing. That’s the key reason I’m questioning the analysis.

            • But when we do it in writing, we give cues that it’s being done. [P]arenthesis around letters that are being capitalized, parenthesis around ellipses when we’re cutting (…) out, Marks to note spelling arrers(sp) or grammar bads(gr). These corrections for clarity are up front and clear in their intentions, and I cannot think of a single instance when whole words were added to quotations “for clarity” and pawned off as the original writer’s words. What Scalise did is in essence making up his own quotes for his political purposes and pretending his opponent said them. I don’t think it matters whether Scalse’s edited audio better explained the position he wanted to attack, what’s important is his opponent did not say them.

              • But when we do it in writing, we give cues that it’s being done

                That’s been my whole point. In writing, we have all the items you’ve listed to show when the original has (or has not) been tampered with, whatever the reason is. If that is the fundamental difference between making modifications in writing and making modifications in video, then can the modifications in video be approved if certain conditions (like adding disclaimers) are met?

                I don’t think it matters whether Scalse’s edited audio better explained the position he wanted to attack, what’s important is his opponent did not say them.

                Some of the articles I read said that the inserted words “for police” were lifted from earlier in the interview. (I have not listened to the original myself, so I risk making the typical error of assumption, but I’m more interested in discussing the principles than this one specific event.) Or at least, the interviewer earlier talked about funding for police, and the question that was altered to include “for police” was in that same context. I don’t think this is splitting hairs to say that the interviewer did say the words, and that adding those words back in, even if the exact transcript did not have those words at that moment, is not making the interviewer seem to say something he didn’t say.

                If I mention the “Ice cream store” earlier in the conversation, and then later mention the “store”, and I mean the ice cream store, I don’t think anyone could claim that if someone doctored in “Ice cream” in front of “store” in a shortened clip of my conversation that it would be making me say something I didn’t say.

                • Again…. In writing, “clarity corrections” do not come in the form of adding words or playing word scrabble with real quotes. If the interview did not produce a good soundbite for the Scalise campaign to use, that does not mean they get to make one up.

                  But let’s play devil’s advocate here. As technology progresses we’re going to be able to do this like this with audio and video more and more cleanly. What are the limiting factors? If lifting entire parts from quotations to make a message more digestible for an opposition campaign is acceptable, what keeps me from quoting your comment as: “I like ice cream”? I mean, you said all those words, in that order. I assume you like ice cream, what’s the problem with that?

                  • Again…. In writing, “clarity corrections” do not come in the form of adding words or playing word scrabble with real quotes.

                    I see clarifying words added all the time news articles, exactly of the kind I mentioned regarding the Ice Cream Store, which is why I keep bringing them up. Yes, in writing, you would see it properly denoted the [Ice Cream] store. I also seem them of the type jvb mentioned, with proper nouns substituted in for pronouns, and I even see instances where prepositional phrases are appended to someone’s statement for clarity…when that phrase was previously used and the context is clear that the statement is still referring to that phrase.

                    I’m not advocating word scrabble. I think that is misconstruing what I’ve been examining, and your example of “I like ice cream” goes beyond clarification to altering the meaning of what I have said. I’ve already stated previously that altering the meaning of what someone said is unethical, so I haven’t been considering that case in my questioning.

        • I agree with Ryan that splicing the words is not necessarily unethical, whether it was done by computer voice modulation or otherwise. If it adds clarity to the statements, whic h I think it does, then it seems it is not unethical. The outrage, though, is that Scalise’s team (allegedly*) used the same computer voicing to add some misleading statement into a conversation whether the interviewer directed questions via voice modulation because he has ALS, as if the rest of the interviewer’s comments and questions are beyond reproach because of a disability. For instance, we do that all the time in written form where clarification or context is included in a quote with brackets. Example: “Trump said ‘he [Biden] fell face-first into a chocolate cake. How can you trust this guy?” The bracketed name shows that Trump was talking about Biden and not someone else. That is not unethical, misleading, or heretical.

          jvb

          *Ed. Note: I say “allegedly” because I have seen nothing confirming that Scalise and his team modified the video. If there evidence that his team did it, then I will review it. Scalise could have retweeted someone else’s alteration without knowing it was altered.

  4. I was about to post the same thing (less eloquently), so instead I’ll just note that apparently that video by Scalise also used a lot of out-of-context quotes by Democrats and activists, and those did not stir up the kind of ire that two words added for clarification did.

  5. Is Scalise really an ethics dunce? I am not certain he is For context, here is a YouTube video of Biden’s interview with Ady Barkan:

    Why am I supposed to be outraged? Because someone may have spliced some words into a video using a computer voice to sound like Barkan? Doesn’t that supposed splice add context to Biden’s comments? He answered “yes” and “Yes, absolutely” to Barkan’s questions about redirecting funding from the police to social services programs and social workers somehow trained in police tactics. According to Merriam-Webster, redirect means, “to change the course or direction of”. Synonyms include deflect, divert, swing, turn, veer, wheel, and whip. Examples of usage in sentences include:

    “Yet the majority of protesters don’t seem to take it literally, understanding it instead as a call to redirect some funds away from police departments and into other community services.”

    Melissa Mohr, The Christian Science Monitor, “A slogan whose ambiguity serves a purpose,” 13 Aug. 2020.

    So, what is the basis of the outrage? That Scalise’s team may have edited the video? Because the interviewer is disabled and speaks with the aid of a computer? Does that mean we simply have to accept the presuppositions of Barkan’s questions as gospel truths because he is disabled and that we can’t question the validity of those suppositions because of his disability? Barkan thinks the apology should be directed to the disabled community, so I guess that means . . . what . . . exactly?

    Where in that video is the phrase spliced in? It seems to me that the entire video is spliced between conversations. Are we even sure that Scalise and his team spliced the words into the video? Did Scalise just repost an already spliced video and he caught the flack because he is just the highest profile reposter?

    jvb

    • JVB

      Biden lied about rehabilitation of prisoners. I fought him on this issue from 1994 to 1995. The Omnibus crime bill he authored put in place all the draconian rules relating to harming rehabilitative programs. That bill BANNED, I REPEAT BANNED FEDERAL FUNDING FOR
      HIGHER EDUCATION. The only educational programming remaining was GED for minors under 21, some low level voc – ed, and job training at the State Use Industried plantation.

      My head exploded when he talked about rehabilitation.

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