Morning Ethics Warm-Up: Hoaxes, Hoaxes Everywhere…

Still thinking about today’s “factcheck” post...I have noticed that Snopes, which has endured some scandals of late and is fundraising to stay afloat, has been trying to signal objectivity by choosing some anti-conservative, anti-Republican falsehood to “factcheck.” This one was amusing: Snopes felt it had to factcheck whether this obvious hoax Christmas card was genuine…


..writing, “In early December 2021, former U.S. President Donald Trump appeared in a Christmas card with a festive and quite phallic design. The image was shared heavily by left-leaning and anti-Trump social media accounts. The @duty2warn Twitter account claimed: ‘Yes, this is real.’” Of course, Snopes rules the assertion “False.” Only the most deranged of the deranged could think Trump would send out such a thing. Besides the badly photoshopped “phallic” tux, the card is dark, ugly, he’s scowling, the fonts don’t match, and the Santa sleigh drawing looks like a shower head spewing water on Trump’s head. Snopes’ partisan propaganda can’t work if nobody trusts it, so they have to try to throw in an occasional genuine factcheck that supports their usual targets now and then. Don’t be fooled.

1. On Bob Dole…Dole’s death and the (somewhat surprising) outpouring of praise from all sources for his long public service and wit made me retroactively happy and relieved that when I had a chance opportunity to pay Dole my respects, I acted. The story is here, from 2018. I will remember that encounter, and Dole, whenever the unexpected occasion arises to express personal thanks and appreciation to someone I don’t see very often. The lesson is to not hesitate, and do it.

2. There is hope…Jussie Smollett was convicted. Several commentators on Smollett’s ridiculously dishonest testimony in his fraud trial expressed worries that he would be acquitted, O.J.-style, because he is black and a celebrity. No, he was convicted, and pretty quickly too. Hate crime hoaxes are destructive, and if we are going to have special punishment for so-called hate crimes, then hate crime hoaxes should carry equivalent penalties.

The conservative media, especially Fox News, is using the Smollett case to bash the eagerness of the mainstream media to hype dubious stories that support the progressive/Democratic cause. Good. It’s an excellent example of that phenomenon. The reliably CNN-ish CNN hack Oliver Darcy protests, “Propagandists know that their power increases substantially when they can convince their audiences not to trust other sources of information. And so, Smollett’s case is very valuable to them. They can hold up Smollett’s guilty verdict and then attempt to extrapolate it onto other stories which are politically inconvenient for them.” Yes, Oliver: that’s how it works, and rightly so. A witness in a trial who can be shown to have lied before has had his credibility impeached, and a news organization that routinely assumes that negative stories about groups it opposes are true and continues to hype them cannot be trusted. That’s not extrapolation, it’s called signature significance. Then, as if to prove CNN’s untrustworthiness, Darcy says that the Russian collusion narrative wasn’t a hoax (it was), and calls the January 6 riot an “insurrection.”

Tell us again about that Capitol police officer who was killed by the rioters, Oliver!

3. Speaking of hoaxes, this one is stupid and obvious, but still unethical. The New York Times really thinks this deserves front page attention? A college drop-out has launched a fake conspiracy theory that isn’t even especially clever (it claims that birds have been replaced by bird-like drones to spy on Americans) that he “explains” (the guy is stunningly inarticulate) is designed to show how ridiculous conspiracy theories are….you know, like the crazy conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton’s campaign triggered the media-hyped claim that Donald Trump conspired with the Russians to steal the 2016 election, or the nutty theory that Hillary used a private server that violated her own department’s policies and circulated classified information, or the theory that CNN staff fed CNN town hall questions to Clinton in advance. Of course, there have been crazy conspiracy theories long before Hillary…like that whopper about the government secretly infecting black men with syphilis, or Richard Nixon using back-channels to sabotage Vietnam peace talks so he’d have a powerful issue to run on. Everybody know all conspiracy theories are absurd, just like think birds are really spy drones.

This dumb stunt suggest that all suspicions about organized misconduct on a grand scale are foolish, which is itself foolish, and demonstrably false. Meanwhile, I counted at least 12 stories in the Times A section more “fit to print” than the “Birds Aren’t Real” saga, including…

4. “Father and Son Are Arrested In Huge California Wildfire.” More than 220,000 acres burned in California in the middle of August, in a fire that was widely cited—in the Times among other sources— as more proof that climate change was becoming deadly. Even the Times story today that says the Calder fire appears to have been the result of “reckless arson” repeats the narrative that climate change made it worse. Somehow I think it will be a lot easier to discourage assholes like David Scott Smith his son Travis Shane Smith from setting fires than to address California wildfires by spending trillions to lower the world’s temperature.

Oh…about the label “assholes.” I have been getting some criticism off-post by readers who accuse me of employing “ad hominem” tactics. The use here of asshole, jerk and idiot, among other derogatory terms is a reaction to what I increasingly find is equivocal criticism of conduct that demands clarity. I am often reminded of the scene in “1776,” when Continental Congress critic of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence object to his characterization of King George III as a “tyrant.” “He is a tyrant,” is Jefferson’s final word on the matter. “Ad hominem” occurs when critic employs an insult as a substitute for substantive criticism. But setting fires isn’t wrong because the arsonist are assholes. They are clearly assholes because they set the fire, and because they are assholes, they need to be designated so.

5. Creepy. A “Buffy the Vampire-Slayer” episode in Season I involved the mother of a high school daughter using witchcraft to steal the girl’s body and trap her daughter in her middle-aged form. Then the mother goes on the make the cheerleading squad, and seek out young boyfriends. This story is about as close to that as we will encounter in the real world (I hope): Laura Oglesby attended classes at Southwest Baptist University in Mountain View, Missouri as a 22-year-old undergraduate student named Lauren Ashleigh Hays. She lived near campus, worked at a public library, and dated other students. However, she was really a 48-year-old woman, She stole her estranged daughter’s identity: first she received a Social Security card in her daughter’s name, then obtained a fraudulent Missouri driver’s license. She enrolled at the university and obtained $9,400 in federal student loans and $5,920 in Pell Grants.

“I have never seen an ID case like this at all, whether from fleeing from abuse or any other type,” MPD assistant chief Stetson Schwien told the media. “Usually, the ones I see, people are trying to assume an ID for financial gain, like credit card fraud, [but Oglesby] had completely adopted a younger lifestyle: clothing, makeup, and personality. She had completely assumed becoming a younger person in her early twenties.”

At least she isn’t a witch.

6 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: Hoaxes, Hoaxes Everywhere…

  1. Jack: “and the Santa sleigh drawing looks like a shower head spewing water on Trump’s head.”

    Considering the phallic nature of the picture, I think the spewing is supposed to be going in the opposite direction.


  2. 4–Calling someone an a$$hole, without context, might be construed as ad hominem.

    You “include” context, explaining WHY someone is an a$$hole; big difference, and something the recipient ought to note.

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