Another Morning Ethics Warm-Up Delayed Until Afternoon By Exigent Circumstances, 10/22/2020: Three Weird Stories That May Indicate That Everything Is Spinning Out Of Control

I would have mentioned tonight’s debate in the headline, but I’m not fond of thinking about the future of American democracy resting on the ability of Donald Trump to speak coherently and to control himself. Who came up with this script anyway?

Then again, God works in mysterious ways…

1. In Alaska ethics news…Here’s an ugly ethics train wreck, and one of the best examples I could imagine of the old adage, “Don’t sleep with anyone crazier than you are,” except it doesn’t seem like there was sleeping involved.  

The mayor of Anchorage, Ethan Berkowitz, resigned last week after admitting that he had engaged in an “inappropriate” “consensual messaging relationship”— I’m not even sure what that is”—with an Anchorage news anchor.  

Berkowitz’s resignation followed an unsubstantiated claim in a video posted to social media by the news anchor, Maria Athens, promising viewers an “exclusive” story showing that the mayor engaged in sex act with underage children. When the mayor responded by calling the allegations “slanderous” and false, Athens posted what she said was an image of the mayor’s bare backside, and added a laughing emoji.

Yes, she is apparently insane. The Anchorage Police Department said it had worked with the F.B.I. to investigate the allegations about the mayor and “found no evidence of criminal conduct.”

Before Athens posted her video online, she had left a voice message for him in which she engaged in an emotional rant, made  anti-Semitic references and promised that she would be exposing the mayor as “a pedophile.” “I’m going to get an Emmy, so you either turn yourself in, kill yourself, or do what you need to do,” Ms. Athens said, according to the audio clip. She then said she would personally kill him and his wife.

That must have been some messaging relationship.

Athens, 41, is—well, was– the main news anchor for two outlets, KTBY and KYUR. The station owner said the video she posted had not been approved. After her video went up, Athens was arrested following a physical altercation with her boss at the station, and was charged with misdemeanor assault, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.

So remember, kids, never engage in an inappropriate messaging relationship with someone crazier than you are.

2. Apparently news anchors are going nuts all over. How’s this sequence for strange?

  • Rush Limbaugh spoke sincerely and emotionally to his audience about his lung cancer, which he says is terminal, and appeared to get choked up on the air.
  • Reliably vile conservative talk-show host Michael Savage, who makes Rush seem like Tom Hanks by comparison, tweeted,

“Limbaugh’s crying about his cancer on air! Worst 15 minutes in radio history! Spilled a large coffee all over counter and floor. I PROMISE MY AUDIENCE THIS- I WILL NOT DRAG YOU DOWN WITH ME! Best wishes RUSH, but stop and leave the stage with dignity.”

Then he criticized Rush for not being like Lou Gehrig. He really did. You know, if there are two people I always associate with each other, it’s Rush Limbaugh and “The Iron Horse.”

  • In response, unemployed former Fox News, former NBC news anchor Megyn Kelly shot back, “I think I speak for, oh, pretty much everyone when I say STFU you absolute douchebag.”

Somehow, I can’t imagine Barbara Walters, David Brinkley or Walter Cronkite …or even Dan Rather…tweeting something like that.

3. Yet another story I don’t understand at all. It all began with the satire site the Babylon Bee mocking Senator Hirono, who deserves to be mocked, with one of its lesser efforts, writing facetiously,

WASHINGTON, D.C.—After two days of Amy Coney Barrett gracefully and stoically answering questions with perfect recall and no notes, suspicions grew on Capitol Hill that she might be a practitioner of the dark arts. “Oh, she’s a witch alright, just look at her!” said Senator Hirono. “Just look at the way she’s dressed and how she’s so much prettier and smarter than us! She’s in league with Beelzebub himself, I just know it! We must burn her!”

Senator Hirono then pulled a live duck out of a massive burlap sack next to her and announced: “In addition to being a Senator, I am also quite wise in the ways of science. Everyone knows witches burn because they are made of wood. I think I read that somewhere. Wood floats, and so do ducks– so logically, if Amy Coney Barrett weighs as much as this duck I found in the reflection pool outside, she is a witch and must be burned.”

The Democrat senators nodded in solemn approval while the Republicans yelled and pounded on their desks a bunch before pouncing and booking interviews with Tucker Carlson.

Congressional aides brought in the bathroom scale from Jerry Nadler’s office in order to weigh ACB against the duck. Fortunately, disaster was averted when Mitch McConnell entered the room and put a stop to the proceedings.

Ha ha! Okay, that was pretty lame, but lamer still was the next development: Facebook deleted the post for “inciting violence,” and demonetized the Bee’s site as punishment.  The satire site  appealed, causing a human being to check the work of the computer algorithm, and the allegedly real person concluded that Facebook’s decision to delete the post was valid.

The culturally literate among us recognize the Bee’s gag as a recycled bit from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Then blogger/law professor Ann Althouse, whom I believe has been slowly driven bonkers by the Presidential campaign, wrote this bizarre analysis:

The threat of burning and the verbal image of burning a human being — a specific, famous person — is violent. It’s certainly not a true threat, because witch burning is a familiar trope in American discourse and because, if somehow we’re confused about whether literal witch burning is a possibility, we can be confident that Barrett weighs significantly more than a duck…

I’m not impressed by the “regurgitated Monty Python” argument. Not everyone knows the movie. I saw it long ago but didn’t remember this part, which actually isn’t a good reference point if the aim is to make Hirono look stupid and wrong….[She then shows the clip]

There, you see that the character who proposes the duck-weight test is attempting to devise a method of convincing the mob that the woman is not a witch. So the Bee lacks originality — cutting and pasting text from a movie script — and it isn’t even very good at selecting what text to use.

But Facebook doesn’t have a policy against unoriginality, inapt quoting, and lame humor. Facebook teems with that stuff. The question is whether equivalent violent language — with reference to a real person — is censored the same way when it is posted by non-conservatives. I don’t know the answer, but if [The Babylon Bee] wants to make an argument that works on me, he needs to point to similar things from the other side that Facebook has not targeted.

What? WHAT?

This gets my “Murder by Death” clip:

No, professor, what’s wrong with banning the post isn’t that it might not be even-handed or shows a double standard. What wrong is that it’s stupid. The spoof article doesn’t “incite” violence by any possible analysis. The fact that the “verbal image of burning a human being” is violent is beside the point: since it’s an obvious joke to anyone with a couple of live neurons to rub together, it cannot possibly “incite violence.”

What’s happened to you?

Finally, last night,  Facebook reversed the decision and apologized in a statement to Fox News, saying,  . 

This was a mistake and we apologize that it happened. Satire can be difficult for our systems to identify, but we’ve restored the article and their ability to monetize.”

The Babylon Bee CEO was not impressed, and neither am I.

“Why did it have to take getting the media involved to fix this? And why did it happen in the first place?” Dillon asked in response.. “This was not just an algorithm flagging an article in error. Yes, that happened. But then a manual review took place and the ruling to penalize us was upheld. I notice they left that part out.”

Well, to be fair, apparently Ann Althouse wouldn’t have caught the “mistake” either….

What’s going on here? What was going on was that Facebook was clumsily trying to protect The Dumbest Senator Alive from just mockery, and was acught making a fool of itself. Again.

40 thoughts on “Another Morning Ethics Warm-Up Delayed Until Afternoon By Exigent Circumstances, 10/22/2020: Three Weird Stories That May Indicate That Everything Is Spinning Out Of Control

  1. I’m not impressed by the “regurgitated Monty Python” argument. Not everyone knows the movie.

    I find that argument really hard to accept. Not everyone knows it, no, but many people do. And references crop up all over the place. Here’s an odd example: OSISoft is a programming company who produced a popular historian and data-visualization suite called PI. One application in the suite is called Processbook, and in its graphical object library is a duck. If you hover over it, the tooltip reads “weighs as much as a witch”.

    Yup, a programmer in a professional environment embedded that little gem, and it still makes me smile even after 10 years working with the product.

    • And even if you don’t understand the specific gag from the specific movie, the idea of the witch hunts is ingrained enough in the American conscious that most adults should understand the analogy. No sane person can honestly declare that this is a legitimate threat to anyone.

    • I have concluded that as brilliant and perceptive as she is on many matters, Althouse is just strange. She has huge gaps in her cultural literacy, especially regarding TV and movies. She has a sense of humor, but it also is strange.

      I don’t know what was going on in her head this time.

      • I think sometimes she gives a strange angle on purpose to spark discussion in the comments. But this was just SUCH a convoluted take.

      • Ann Althouse is demonstrating her “extreme moderation perspective” but ties herself into a pretzel to deride the Babylon Bee as knuckle-dragging and boorish. Ann and her commenters are missing the bigger point about why the joke may have fallen flat and had been flagged by Facebook’s algorithmic censors. It’s not that the joke employs dated absurd or culturally obtuse Monty Python references, or that witch burning conjures up images of burning a human being, or that the Babylon Bee lacks proper amount of sophistication and originality, or that there is some kind of one-sided political ideology at play.

        No. The joke fails because Sen. Mazie Hirono is just crazy enough say and do something so mind-bogglingly stupid and outrageous as to suggest the Senate should test if Judge Coney Barrett weighs as much as a duck and, if so, is a witch and should be burned at the stake. Some may have missed the subtlety of the joke (even though “satire” is emblazened on the website and any one with an IQ above room temperature understood it to be satire) simply because Sen. Hirono is possibly the dumbest person in the Senate, who has embarrassed the Senate so many times with crazy things over the years, that some may wonder if she actually said it.


    • I don’t know the movie and didn’t get the reference.

      Nonetheless, I found the Babylon Bee article funny. And, perhaps, given some of the questions the Senator did ask, maybe she would have looked better pulling out a duck as opposed to what she really asked.

      Also, was their sense of humor surgically removed at birth? Do they perhaps identify these days as totally humorless human? Can one really be considered truly human if one has had one’s sense of humor surgically removed? Inquiring minds want to know!

      • Exactly. I mean, every human being with an Internet connection and a willingness to expose themselves to more than just Twitter and Facebook or the Leftist bubble knows that the Babylon Bee is a satire site, whether or not they are aware of its conservative bent. Facebook certainly knows. And anyone who has ever used Google could find out the source of this satire with the simplest of searches. Even Google hasn’t yet seen fit to censor Monty Python.

        And regardless, it was funny even without knowing it was a Monty Python reference. The whole reason it was funny in Monty Python because it was inherently so, not just because it was their spoof. I didn’t need someone to remind me Monty Python did this before the Bee to find it humorous, and frankly, I had forgotten about it because I saw the movie so long ago.

        Althouse is a victim of her own hubris. She is so sure she is above the fray, she often strays into a kind of self-absorbed naval-gazing that looks like insanity. Perhaps it is, a bit — when we try too hard, we often over-correct. I think this was an over-correction, and sometimes, over-corrections go beyond the bounds of sanity.

    • I’m a big one-up on you Michael: I live in San Francisco.

      Anyone from Portland O? ( and, no, Mrs. Q wouldn’t count even if she were still living there)

  2. FB and its fellow traveler Twitter continue to provide all the proof one needs in just how they attempt to control the narrative. Selective enforcement apparently is well entrenched in the corporate playbook. I will not even get into the banning of EA. I do not wish ill will upon anyone – even Yankee fans, but I have a whole pant load of schadenfreude for FB from Zuckerberg to the janitor.

  3. #3. So strange! As a Monty Python fan since my teens, which was a long time ago, I thought the post was funny and I shared it on Facebook from the Bee’s website on October 17. I always caption shared posts from the Bee with ” ***SATIRE*** ” because I have had a few people lacking the “satire” gene take some of the Bee’s posts literally and try to fact-check me. My posting was not blocked or removed.

  4. I hate to make the same comment again and again (rationalization: “it’s a sickness!”), but that Murder By Death clip always gladdens my heart!

    One of the (many, many) things I enjoy about Jack are his sometimes-on-the-sly movie references, but I equally enjoy the clips.

  5. #1 “So remember, kids, never engage in an inappropriate messaging relationship with someone crazier than you are.”

    This reminds me of some good advice from the (satirical) Hot Crazy Matrix: “Above the crazy line we have your danger zone. This is your redheads, your strippers, anyone named Tiffany, your hairdressers. This is where your car gets keyed, you get a bunny in the pot, your tires get slashed and you wind up in jail.”

    Highly recommended (satirical) viewing for any man considering a relationship, whether appropriate or inappropriate, with someone crazier than they are.

  6. #2 While I may agree in general with the sentiment expressed by Meghan Kelly toward Michael Savage, I take issue with her expressing it that way. If I recall correctly it was Kelly who played the innocent waif when Trump made a crude statement relating to women’s biological cycles with respect to her reaction to him during an interview. Kelly actively played up the claim of misogyny. Many rallied around her saying such comments were misogynistic and helped solidify women against Trump. Why is it that if such language is unacceptable when uttered by a man but little fuss is made when a woman behaves in the same manner. Crudeness is crudeness.

    • Simple, double standards. It’s perfectly ok for a woman to call me a prick, but not ok for me to call her a cum-catcher.

      • Steve
        I understand there is a double standard. What I am having a hard time understanding is why they exist.
        Double standards are a power play. Do we allow the double standard to balance the playing field between the genders? Are double standards a proxy for believing that women are incapable of competing with different genders so they get a pass? Or, are we just so socialized that we can’t believe women can be as crude and disgusting as some men?

        • JVB and Glenn

          I agree it needed saying but I was using the episode to highlight the fact that we treat women like Polly Purebread when they are attacked with vulgarity but ignore the fact they can engage in vulgarity without consequence.

          We see Kelly’s comments as just attributable to her but Toobin’s unconscionable behavior seemed to be associated to others with a similar chromosomal makeup. I, for one, have never worked with any male who exposed himself at work or anywhere for that matter.

          I am cautious about how to discuss this because I botched a similar attempt earlier. My goal is to understand what rules apply to people like me and why they don’t apply to others who lack a Y chromosome.

          If the goal is to have equitable treatment across the board we cannot permit one group to have special rules that exempt them from consequence.

          Why do Xena(s), warrior princesses, need to have a Lancelot as a protector unless we as men have a deep seated but unconscious attitude toward women’s abilities that suggests they are inferior needing men to defend their honor? And, is this unconcious attitude nurtered and exploited by women because it grants them special benefits.

          This may not be the correct forum to develop answers to these questions so I doubt if I will broach the subject here anymore.

          • I agree and no slight was intended whatsoever. Kelly is given a pass because she is a Never Trumper and Michael Savage is a brute. What should be addressed is the Lefts celebration of Limbaugh’s diagnosis of terminal cancer.


          • I agree it needed saying but I was using the episode to highlight the fact that we treat women like Polly Purebread when they are attacked with vulgarity but ignore the fact they can engage in vulgarity without consequence.

            This is, perhaps, an over-reaction to days before social media, when such “manly” exchanges were frowned upon by society when performed by women. The women’s “rights” movement has made such opprobrium socially unacceptable — men and women should be able to say the same things without gender-based consequence.

            What we see now is the latter carried too far. Women are now granted a special status by “polite” society that enables them to say things without social consequences that men could not, much like black people can use the n-word without consequence. Of course, the backlash against this “new normal” by men is both understandable and justified.

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