Category Archives: The Internet

A Plague Of Misleading Headlines

Fake headline

The mad quest for clicks appears to be leading websites that should know better to sink to misleading or outright dishonest headlines on the web. For someone like me, who has to scan these looking for possible ethics issues, it is an increasingly annoying phenomenon. Readers need to speak up. The practice is unethical, and moreover, suggests that the source itself isn’t trustworthy.

Here are three current examples;

1. The Daily Beast: “Idiocracy’ Director Mike Judge: Fox Killed Our Anti-Trump Camacho Ads”

Boy, isn’t it just like that conservative, Trump-promoting Faux News to help The Donald by using its power, influence, lawyers, something to stop the makers of “Idiocracy,” that comic classic, from being used to save the country from American Hitler?

That’s sure how the Daily Beast wanted its largely Democratic readership to react to its headline over the story about a fizzled effort to use the the film’s character  of ex-porn star future U.S. President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Drew Herbert Camacho, played by Terry Crews, in a series of comic spots ridiculing Trump’s candidacy. The story, however, never quotes Judge as saying Fox—that would be the movie side of Twentieth Century Fox, not Fox News, which had no say in the matter: the company produced the film and owns the right to it and all of its characters—killed the project.  All Judge says is that the idea of doing a series of such ads didn’t come to fruition, for a whole list of reasons which might have included Fox’s distaste for the project.. Of  Fox, he says this..

“I think also Fox… yeah, they… even though they’ve probably forgotten they still own it…”

The writer then suggests that company owner Rupert Murdoch might not like the idea, and thus prompted, Judge replies,

“Yeah. That’s the other thing. I think there was a roadblock there, too…I just heard that [the proposed ads] were put on the shelf, so it looks like they’re not going to happen.”

Based on this, the author, typical Daily Beast hack Marlow Stern, writes, “It looks like Fox refused—and the ads are now dead.” Stern never says that Fox refused; it is the “reporter” who says it. Meanwhile, when the Daily Beast writes about “Fox,” it is referring to Fox News 99.9% of the time, and knows that’s what its readers will think when they read “Fox.”

The headline is intentionally misleading, and a lie.

(Incidentally, the movie is a great concept that under-delivers on its premise and potential, and should be a lot funnier than it is) Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, language, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, The Internet

Comment of the Day: “The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit”

There is an Ethics Alarms post “going viral” right now, at least as viral as any post on an ethics blog is likely to go. For two weeks now, my post at the end of July about how the “urban legends” site Snopes had descended into  dishonest, spinning, fact-distorting partisan/ left “factchecking” hackery has lapped all others here, and been shared to record levels on Facebook (nearing 11,000 shares) and Reddit.

This is nice, of course. It has brought a few (though not many) new commenters to the blog, and presumably more readers who stayed to peruse other topics. It has made August 2016, usually a fairly dead month, the most heavily trafficked month in Ethics Alarms annals. The post alerted some people to why Snopes is untrustworthy, though not, apparently, the Washington Post, which cited it as authority just a few days ago. It also prompted, on Reddit and Facebook, several thousand smug “this is not news, I’ve known this for years” comments. Where were your blog post, jerks?

The post’s wide circulation through the web also made me aware that a conspiracy theory holding that Democrats and the Hillary Corrupted maintain a team of attack commenters who go to blogs and attempt to muddy the waters when the truth about Clinton threatens to break through the denial dam might be accurate. I have received four or five almost identical comments on that post attempting to deny my dissection of Snopes’ pathetic attempt to prove that Hillary didn’t defend a child rapist, didn’t discredit his young victim in the process, didn’t know he was guilty when she did it, and didn’t laugh about the case in a recorded interview. None of the four commenters  read all of my post, which echoed a previous one in pointing out, as I always do, that a lawyer defending a criminal is not unethical, that the attacks on Hillary for doing so were ignorant and unfair, and that Hillary Clinton has nothing to apologize for in this case. Never mind: all four of these commenters ( and some others which never made it onto the blog) shifted into similar boilerplate language claiming I was attacking her too,  and preceded to repeat Snopes’ dishonest “factchecking” as if the documentation of its falsity I presented in the post didn’t exist.

Nonetheless, the Snopes revelation was not the Ethics Alarms post I would have chosen to “go viral.” There have been many essay in the last six year that I was, and am, especially proud of and believe were original, perceptive and important, and that have been barely read by anyone, never linked to or shared, and that have had all the impact of a shell thrown into the surf. How I wish my warning to the Republican Party , for example, urging it not to permit Donald Trump to participate in the primaries, had received similar attention. Not a single editorial board or pundit saw the peril looming, or at least  they didn’t write or talk about it if they did, because having The Donald spouting his inanities would be good copy and “fun.”

One such post dates back to the first full year of Ethics Alarms: The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit, from August 2010. In six years, it has amassed about the same number of views that the Snopes piece amassed in half a month. Yet the topic, how mouthwash manufacturers profit significantly by hiding the widespread use of their product by alcoholics who use mouthwash to conceal their destructive disease from family members and co-workers, is barely mentioned  on the web—a few places, and almost all of them since the post. Still, Congress hasn’t held hearings, regulatory agencies haven’t noticed, and the products still carry warnings that fool non-alcoholics into believing that the stuff is poison, so nobody drinks it. Lives could be saved, marriages rescued, and endangered businesses might survive, if what I wrote was generally known

I’ve done the original research and put the problem out there. At least I’ve tried, and I will continue to write about the problem, which I have learned about first hand.

My efforts  haven’t been completely futile. I have received some gratifying comments and off-site e-mails from family members who read the article, discovered that a loved one was secret drinker, and got them help. I have also received a few responses that confirmed my work, though none quite like this one from new reader Dave, an alcoholic himself.

Here is his remarkable and  cryptic  Comment of the Day on the post, The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit. Is it intentional irony? Is it sarcasm? Is it support, in the form of criticism? You decide:

Halfway through your article I decided it would be a good idea to go to shoppers and grab myself a bottle. I’d been so triggered today, only being a week sober prior. It’s great, you know, the mouthwash deception as you call it. I spend roughly $3.50 on a bottle of Life brand yellow mouthwash and it gets me radically twisted, with zero hangover. So not only does it make it easier for me to be a functioning alcoholic based on its inexpensiveness and zero hangover qualities, it is also amazingly convenient in that within 10 minutes I have three different 24 hour grocery stores I can go to in order to get a bottle.

Alcoholism is a shitty disease, believe me, I have lost much at the expense of it.

Continue reading

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Unethical Quote Of The Month: Wonkette Writer Rebecca Schoenkopf

juanita

I can absolutely see Bill Clinton doing this (then, not now) and not even thinking of it as rape, but thinking of it as dominant, alpha sex. I can see a LOT of men doing that during that time period, before we started telling them in the ’80s, “hey, that is rape, do not do that.” I can see YOUR NICE GRANDPA doing that, back then…I think good men can rape, and be sorry, and not do it again. This is very bad feminism…To sum up, I think Bill Clinton could very well have raped Juanita Broaddrick; that it doesn’t make him an evil man, or irredeemable (I’m Catholic; we’re all forgiven, if we’re sorry, and Broaddrick says Bill Clinton personally called her up to apologize). It doesn’t even necessarily make him a bad feminist — you know, later, once he stops doing that.

  Rebecca Schoenkopf, writing in the progressive blog Wonkette, talking about Juanita Brodderick’s rape accusation against Bill Clinton

Broaddrick’s claims are back in the news, now that it was noticed that the Hillary Clinton website quietly pulled its statement about the victims of sexual assault having “the right to be believed,” Clinton’s jaw-dropping assertion—given her despicable role in silencing and discrediting Bill’s various victims—that Ethics Alarms discussed when it was first made.

I awoke to multiple rightish blogs, and Ann Althouse, who is dead center, going bonkers over this piece, and rightly so. My initial query is, why only right wing and moderate blogs? Is the left this corrupted by Bill and Hillary? (Okay, that’s rhetorical: the answer is “Damn right they are.”) When did it become progressive to argue that “good men can rape”?

I thought that was a misogynist pig position scrawled on the walls of a troglodyte’s cave.

Good men do NOT rape. Ever. Rape—do I really need to say this?—is signature significance. It was in the 80s, it was in the 60s, it has always been. If you rape (and if you defend rape), you’re not good, you’re not ethical, and you’re not trustworthy. And–do I really have to say THIS?–you’re not just a bad feminist, you’re a phony feminist. (By the by way, you gotcha-masters out there: I am not saying that there is anything wrong with a lawyer defending an accused rapist, like Hillary Clinton did. That is not defending rape itself.)

So why aren’t the indignant, politically correct, feminist, war-on-women-deriding left-leaning web sites, commentators and bloggers collectively retching at the Wonkette post? Explain that to me, someone. Explain why it isn’t evidence that integrity hasn’t died in their skulls, and is stinking up their ethics like a dead rat under the floor-boards. Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Kaboom!, Law & Law Enforcement, The Internet, This Will Help Elect Donald Trump, U.S. Society

Was It Ethical For Donald Trump’s Former Lawyer To Trash Him In The Huffington Post?

Backstabbed

That’s an easy question.

The answer is maybe, and no.

A couple of weeks ago, a real estate lawyer named Thomas M. Wells provoked a lively debate in the legal ethics community when he authored a Huffington Post piece titled “Donald Trump Hired Me As An Attorney. Please Don’t Support Him For President.” I’m proud to say that I flagged the issue for my colleagues first, in part because they unanimously detest Trump, even the tiny minority who aren’t full-blooded Democrats or progressives, and may have been blinded by that bias.

For me, the issue was crystallized by the headline. Wells’ headline (it doesn’t matter if it was really his or the site’s: as a lawyer, he is obligated to make sure that his article doesn’t breach legal ethics rules and principles, and the headline is part of his article) suggested that he had some special knowledge and authority regarding Trump because of what he had learned while representing him decades ago. The ethics rules prohibit lawyers from revealing client confidences, which are usually defined as what a lawyer learns about a client during the course of a representation that the client would not obviously want revealed to the world. Confidences can be revealed by actions, as well as words, and the headline comes very, very close to saying “I know things you don’t about Donald Trump because of what learned when I was his trusted lawyer.” What follows from that may be  a reader’s conclusion that the post reflects secret information. Thus the headline made my legal ethics alarms sound.

Wells has the same right as you or I to register a public opinion about his former (or current, for that matter ) client, as long as the opinion doesn’t interfere with his representation. Lawyers do not give up free speech right by being lawyers. That’s where the “maybe” comes from. There is strong disagreement in the profession about whether the answer to “Is this unethical?” should be an outright yes. The status of loyalty among the legal ethics values hierarchy is as hotly contested now as it ever has been. If a lawyer wants to attack a former client in a matter unrelated to the representation and no confidences are revealed in the process, is that a legal ethics breach? If it is, it would be a very tough one to prosecute. I think it’s a general ethics breach, as in wrong and unprofessional. It is disloyal, and clients should be able to trust their lawyers not to come back years later, after a client let the lawyer see all of his or her warts, and say, “This guy’s an asshole.” It undermines the strength of the public’s trust in the profession. Continue reading

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The Pitzer College “POC Only” Roommate Wanted Ad [UPDATED]

"Now THAT's not racism. Why do you honkies have so much trouble understanding this?"

“Now THAT’s not racism. Why do you murderous honkies have so much trouble understanding this?”

A roommate-wanted notice posted on Facebook by a Pitzer College student has turned into yet another racial controversy. The student, along with two Pomona College students,  were seeking a fourth to join them in an off-campus house. The notice included “POC only” –person of color only—and this got them immediately called out as racists by some other students.

The ad is not racist. The text reflects a bias, as in “preference,” but that isn’t necessarily racism. Everyone has freedom of association in this country, or should. Human beings are more comfortable with those whom they perceive as being more like them. There is nothing wrong with that, but even if there is, it is human nature. There is nothing to be done about it, and there shouldn’t be anything done about it other than to help each other understand that tribalism is divisive and  a pre-programmed bias that we should fight, because getting past it makes us better neighbors, members of society and human beings.

Still, I don’t want to live with someone who doesn’t want to live with me, but who is going to accept me into a living situation based on a feeling of obligation. A house seeking someone else to share the rent isn’t a public accommodation, and there is no ethical principle demanding that the roommates can’t or shouldn’t specify the kind of individual they think would best complete the group. What if the other three are all white, and are seeking someone different from them to make the house more diverse? Is it equally offensive if the ad sought an athlete, or someone overweight (who wouldn’t make the three hefty roomies feel unattractive), or a good student, or an actor, or someone with a good sense of humor? Why? Such requirements are not a per se indication of anything but personal preferences, and personal preferences aren’t racism.

Is the “POC only” addendum unethical? Technically, it fails Kant’s “what if everybody does it?” test,  for if everybody did it, white students would have nowhere to live. There you have an example of where Kant’s Rule of Universality is worth musing about but often isn’t applicable. Some conduct is ethical despite Kant because the idea that it would become universal is too ridiculous. I want to live with a baseball fan. I don’t want to live with someone who is going to be listening to punk rock. If three roommates can look for a female fourth, or a gay fourth, or a Spanish-speaking fourth—and they can without nicking any ethics principles at all—then they can insist on racial or ethnic qualifications too.

Is it better ethics to be accepting of all equally? Sure it is. But not exhibiting exemplary ethics isn’t unethical. Again, it’s just human.

There is more to the story however. When some students commented on Facebook that the notice was racist, the replies from the students posting it and others expanded the controversy.

The Claremont Independent, a student paper that covers all five of the Claremont colleges (as well as two graduate schools), of which Pitzer is a member, published some of the comments, and they show the anti-white animus and double standards now roiling race relations in the U.S. Continue reading

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More Headline Ethics: Was This Apology Really Perfect? Or Even Necessary? No.

United States' Simone Manuel leaves the pool after winning a women's 100-meter freestyle semifinal during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Salon is hailing what it calls a “10” apology (that would be a Category One apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale) from the San Jose Mercury News. My tireless ethics story scout sent the Salon account to me for a reaction, and here it is.

To be fair to Salon, though the headline is “An Olympic-sized gaffe: This newspaper’s apology, at least, gets a perfect 10,” the story doesn’t match the headline. (There’s a lot of that going around lately.) What the post said was,

“So let’s give a modest round of applause this week to San Jose’s The Mercury News, for at least hitting the bar of appropriate responsiveness after screwing up its initial coverage of Thursday’s historic night for the U.S. Olympic swim team.”

I find nothing incorrect about that assessment, if I accept the premise that the paper screwed up, which I only do mildly, if at all.  Salon’s angle is that there is generally a reluctance to apologize, so the San Jose Mercury News being willing to apologize is newsworthy all by itself. Actually, newspapers apologize all the time; not enough, but frequently.

So why is this apology so important? This is Salon, remember. It’s an apology for perceived racial insensitivity, which in Salon’s politically correct world is about the worst crime there is.

Last week,  31-year-old Michael Phelps scored his 22nd career gold medal in the 200-meter individual medley. The same night, Simone Manuel, 20, tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle to win an individual gold medal in swimming, and set a new Olympic record. The Mercury News headlined the night “Olympics: Michael Phelps shares historic night with African-American.” 

The Horror.

To Salon, this headline demanded an apology, and the paper received some complaints. Why was it apology worthy? Here’s Salon, which first took offense that Manuel wasn’t named in the headline: Continue reading

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Observations On The University Of Houston’s Anti-Free Speech Oppression

zipper on mouth

Prelude

I gave an ethics training session for a local non-profit yesterday. At the end of the two hours, a staffer who was pursuing U.S. citizenship was obviously stimulated by the various issues and principles we had discussed and had many provocative questions, which he struggled to articulate in his second language, for he was Sorth Korean. “Why is it right for me to pay taxes to assist illegal immigrants?” he asked. “In Sorth Korea, they say we are decades behind the US is democracy, but Korean laws are enforced no matter who the law-breaker is. I see that law-breakers in the US who are rich and powerful or famous get special dispensations from the law. Doesn’t that mean that Korea is ahead of the U.S., at least in that respect?” (Gee, I wonder who he was referring to…)

He had insightful observations, as recent immigrants to the U.S. so often do. Finally he said, “Do you agree that political correctness is a great threat to liberty and democracy?”

Yes. Yes I do. I thought so the first time I heard the term “politically correct” in the Seventies, and was so certain that the concept’s loathsomeness (and the parallel loathsomeness of its advocates, frankly), ensured that it would be a short-lived phenomenon.

Which shows how smart I am…

***

Shortly after the July 7 massacre of  five police officers in Dallas, Rohini Sethi, the vice-president of the University of Houston’s Student Government Association, posted this on Facebook:

BLM tweet

The student governing body suspended her from her office and the group.

From the Houston Chronicle…

Student body vice president Rohini Sethi has been suspended by the SGA and is temporarily barred from participating in group activities. She is also due to attend a “diversity” workshop per the ruling….The University of Houston issued a statement this week that said the move is not a university action and doesn’t impact Sethi’s academic standing. “The University of Houston continues to stand firm in support of free speech and does not discipline students for exercising their constitutional rights,” the statement said.

The action came after minority student groups on campus condemned her statement as racist or “insensitive,”and demanded her removal. The accommodating president of the SGA complied. For her part, Sethi apologized and agreed to take a three-day cultural sensitivity workshop, though she wrote several Facebook posts defending her actions. Ultimately she was brought to heel, made a public statement along with the SGA head, and like a brain-washed prisoner of war, grovelled..

“I have chosen to take these steps on my own because of the division I’ve created among our student body. I may have the right to post what I did, but I still should not have. My words at the time didn’t accurately convey my feeling and cause many students to lose their faith in me to advocate for them. I will always continue to learn and be ready to discuss these issues.”

Observations: Continue reading

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