Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/15/2019: Starring Two Of My Favorite Unethical Websites!

WAKE UP!

Oh, great: started this post at 7 am, hell broke lose at ProEthics, and now it’s after noon. Well, the hell with it: I’m not going back to change the headline or the intro, and I like Lenny’s version of the Stars and Stripes at any time of day.

So there.

1. Unprofessional and dangerous stuff from  Above the Law….as usual. The legal gossip and snark online tabloid is run and written by lawyers who are not practicing law, so they feel free to engage in conduct that lawyers are forbidden from engaging in, like misrepresentation.  Lately the cyber rag has been cyber-ragging on Jones Day, a long-time, distinguished D.C. mega firm. Why are they doing that? Come on, it should be obvious.

ATL takes the position—and it has company— that Jones Day is eeeevil and must be shunned because it represents the Trump campaign. Hence you get headlines like “IF YOU HAD TO GUESS WHICH FIRM WOULD DO THIS:New allegations claim Jones Day lightened the skin and narrowed the nose on the picture of one of their lawyers.” Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: JoeBiden.info, But Not For The Reasons Cited By The New York Times

We haven’t had an Unethical Website Of The Month here since 2018! Once upon a time, I had at least one desiganted every month, over at the currently-down-but -will-get-back-on-line-as-soon-as-I fight-with-the-cheap-hosts Ethics Scoreboard. This is an area where reader tips would help a great deal.

The home page you see above is that of Joe Biden.info, the most trafficked Biden website on the web. Despite the glowing text and cheery photo, however, it is not a pro-Biden project, but a Biden attack site, concocted by Patrick Mauldin, a Republican political consultant and who makes videos and other digital content for President Trump’s re-election campaign. With his brother Ryan, Mauldin, he runs the Vici Media Group, a conservative consulting firm in Austin, Texas.  (Mauldin has also set up parody campaign websites for at least three other Democratic candidates: “Millionaire Bernie,”  “Elizabeth Warren for Chief,”and “Kamala Harris for Arresting the People.” These, however are different in kind, for nobody except an idiot would confuse them with actual campaign sites.)

Now, I read through the site, and you may well ask, “What’s unethical about it?” The answer is very basic: taking a domain name designed to fool people into thinking the site is something it is not is unethical, that’s all. It is also unethical—though legal—to take another individual’s or organization’s name to make a deceptive URL. In my view, this should be illegal, or treated like a copyright infringement: Joe should be able to send a letter demanding that website using his name in a deceptive fashion be taken down.

Under current law however, the site is legal though unethical. It is  more transparent, in fact, than most parody sites. At the bottom of the first screen, and not buried deep in the site, we can see,

This site is political commentary and parody of Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign website. This is not Joe Biden’s actual website.
It is intended for entertainment and political commentary only and is therefore protected under fair use. It is not paid for by any candidate, committee, organization, or PAC. It is a project BY AN American citizen FOR American citizens. Self-Funded.

Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: Once Again, Snopes Proves It Cannot, Should Not, And Must Not Be Trusted

I definitively laid out how lazy, biased and deceptive Snopes is, here and elsewhere.  Yet Google and Facebook still rely on the fact-checking site. This is signature significance: it can only mean that these businesses want biased standards to rule the day. The Daily Caller just called out a typical example of Snopes’ unethical work. As with its spinning for Hillary Clinton that I flagged in 2016, this is egregious and irrefutable.

Here is a meme that has been circulating on the web:

It’s a lie, fake news, wrong, however you want to describe it. It’s just not true. The X’s are through some people who weren’t members of Congress. X’s also cover the faces of Jodey Arrington, Ron Estes, Liz Cheney, Michael Burgess, Patrick McHenry, Jason Smith, Bradley Byrne, Markwayne Mullin, Paul Mitchell, Glenn Grothman, Doug Lamborn, and Tim Walberg, all of whom were re-elected. There were other errors as well. Politico reporter Jake Sherman observed that the meme “is actually more incorrect than correct.”

In other words, a typical internet meme.

Nevertheless, Snopes fact-checker Bethania Palma ruled it accurate. To do so, she used Snopes favorite trick, falsely characterizing what the claim was. Palma rated it “true” that “The Congressional seats of almost three dozen Republicans who voted to repeal Obamacare were lost to Democrats in 2018” when the meme clearly said that everyone in the picture who was Xed voted for repeal and was voted out of office. Her claim is pure deceit. “In the meme, red ‘X’ marks were drawn through the faces of 33 lawmakers who purportedly were rejected by voters in the 6 November 2018 midterm elections,” Palma wrote. Wrong. They weren’t all “lawmakers,” and they weren’t all defeated. Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: HealthNews NJ.com

One of the most patently dishonest campaign tactics is for a candidate to put up a fake website purporting to report “news” that is really there to attack his or her political opponent. Who would do such a thing? Well, one good bet would be a U.S. Senator who already narrowly escaped conviction on bribery charges because his providing political favors to a “friend” who showered him with gifts could be proven to result from a quid pro quo arrangement.

Sure enough, the new website HealthNewsNJ.com, with the exception of a tiny-print disclosure at the bottom of its home page does all it can to convince readers that it is an independent news site.  In reality, it is a campaign-run hit site put up by the campaign of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to attack his opponent, Bob Hugin, the former CEO of the pharmaceutical company Celgene. A typical post on the website, which runs below a byline crediting it to “HealthNewsNJ Staff,” is titled: “How greedy drug company CEO Bob Hugin gouged cancer patients and enabled Donald Trump.” On Facebook, the site’s page calls itself  a “news and media website.”  Neither it nor the HealthNewsNJ  Twitter account mentions a tie to Menendez or his campaign.

Putting up a fake website like this is signature significance. Menendez is willing to deceive the public. He’s a liar, by definition. He cannot be trusted.

Luckily for him, he’s running in New Jersey, so it probably won’t matter.

Unethical Website Of The Month: The Student Loan Report

Drew Cloud is known as a journalist who specializes in student-loan debt issues.  He has been quoted extensively  in  The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and CNBC, as well as by blogs and websites that cover student debt developments.  Cloud founded The Student Loan Report, an “independent, authoritative news outlet” covering all things student loans, “after he had difficulty finding the most recent student loan news and information all in one place.”

This week, the Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that there is no such person, and that the website was stealth marketing tool by a loan financing company, LendEDU.

“After The Chronicle spent more than a week trying to verify Cloud’s existence, the company that owns The Student Loan Report confirmed that Cloud was fake. “Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education,” wrote Nate Matherson, CEO of

After The Chronicle spent more than a week trying to verify Cloud’s existence, the company that owns The Student Loan Report confirmed that Cloud was fake. “Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education,” wrote Nate Matherson, CEO of LendEDU.

Before that admission, however, Cloud had corresponded at length with many journalists, pitching them stories and offering email interviews, many of which were published. When The Chronicle attempted to contact him through the address last week, Cloud said he was traveling and had limited access to his account. He didn’t respond to additional inquiries.

And on Monday, as The Chronicle continued to seek comment, Cloud suddenly evaporated. His once-prominent placement on The Student Loan Report had been removed. His bylines were replaced with “SLR Editor.” Matherson confirmed on Tuesday that Cloud was an invention.

Pressed on whether he regretted deceiving news organizations with a fake source, Matherson said Cloud “was created as a way to connect with our readers (ex. people struggling to repay student debt) and give us the technical ability to post content to the WordPress website.”

Two questions:

>Why would anyone trust a finance company that thinks this kind of dishonesty is acceptable conduct?

>And what does this tell us about the diligence, professionalism and trustworthiness of journalists, who would present as an expert an imaginary person who shills for a loan firm?

(That’s a rhetorical question.)

___________________________

Graphic: My informator

Unethical Website Of The Month, “March For Our Lives” Edition: Change.Org

This page, the petition for gun control to “save our children” is what earns the “honor.” I see many Facebook friends, many on whom are genuinely gifted intellectually, surrendering to emotion and signing this junk, as junk it is. The petition neatly encapsulates the serial intellectual dishonestly,  misleading rhetoric and appeal to emotion that we will see bloviated all over the National Mall this weekend: I guess that has some value for historical purposes. Otherwise, it is an engine of ignorance designed to either attract the ignorant, make the less ignorant more so, or deceive.

Let’s look at this mess, shall we?

In the tragic wake of the seventeen lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now. Created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country, we will no longer risk our lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.

Nobody is saying that “now is not the time to talk about guns.” Who has said that? The statement is straw man. Agreed: now is a good time to talk about anything: guns, pangolins, acne, cabbages and kings. We have a First Amendment as well as a Second, something those Other Civilized Nations that are always being extolled in the gun debate don’t have.

Created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country, we …

Not to be pedantic, but a serious petition should be written by someone  who can speak the language. Signers are created by students? It’s bad enough that they are being led by students, who are after all, students. They do not know enough, either through knowledge or experience, to be seriously participating in a complex policy debate, much less leading it.  “We, the undersigned adults who are duty-bound to be teaching and leading our rising generation, are allowing them to dictate to us.” Good plan. How can anyone sign such a petition and not hide their head under a bag?

…will no longer risk our lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar.

This is pure appeal to emotion rather than reality. The existence of the right to own guns no more “risks lives” than the existence of anything else that is dangerous when misused. There are 10.6 deaths per 100,000 U.S. citizens due to guns according to latest statistics, including those of suicides and those killed by law enforcement. Three times that many die in alcohol-related automobile accidents. Nobody argues that we risk our lives because “someone” hasn’t taken “action” (aka, “do something,” “make it go away” “make us feel safe when nobody in a free society is ever safe”, aka. “ban and confiscate guns.”) regarding that risk we accept as part of living in a free society that includes jackasses, fools and criminals, and that’s just one of many.

There is no “epidemic” of school shootings. Students in school are safe; if they don’t feel safe, it’s because of fear -mongering from activists and the news media.

“We support the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms, as set forth in the United States Constitution.”

No, you obviously don’t. This is a pure lie (or inexcusable stupidity.) A movement called “Never Again” is either lying in its title by implying that any public policy, laws or regulations will guarantee no more gun deaths, in schools or anywhere else, or it is telling us its real purpose in the name, while lying about the movement’s real intent.

Many, many, if not most mass shooters were “law-abiding” until they started shooting. This statement either endorses pre-crime measures, profiling citizens to decide if they are a risk to eventually abuse gun rights—unconstitutional—is magical thinking, or is, again, a lie. The statement—and while it is always a fine time to talk about guns, it is never a fine time to resuscitate this zombie tautology that the NRA has been knocking down for decades—is self-rebutting.  Laws only affect law-abiding people, as long as they obey laws. Restrictive gun laws are violated by criminals, because they don’t obey laws. Nobody has ever explained how a law will not infringe “ the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms” while somehow keeping the same kinds of arms out of the hands of those who are not law-abiding. This is because it’s impossible.

“But with that right comes responsibility.”

As an ethicist, I object to a cynical use of the language of ethics to deceive, which is what this is. If the topic is responsibility, then we are talking about law-abiding citizens again, as well as ethical ones. They usually don’t use guns irresponsibly, or if they do (like killing themselves), such irresponsible use is not addressed by the measures proposed here. If I am a law-abiding citizen, I won’t be more likely to abuse my gun ownership whether I have had a background check or not. Irresponsible gun ownership includes not keeping guns where children—you know, citizens the age of the people “leading” those who sign the petition—can find them and hurt themselves and others. It includes not learning how to use a gun safely and appropriately. This petition isn’t about promoting responsible gun ownership. It’s about replacing the right to own guns responsibly with the right to own sling-shots.

We call on all the adults in Congress elected to represent us, to pass legislation that will protect and save children from gun violence.

There it is: “Think of the children!” A pure, unadulterated, inexcusable appeal to emotion over facts and reason. Continue reading

The Diggy Fiasco : Pit Bull Bigotry Madness With A Happy Ending. THIS Time.

My post of two years ago about the horrible anti-pit bull website dogsbite.org continues to attract comments from dog breed bigots who have either been deceived by dogsbite, or who go there to confirm their own ignorance. What is remarkable about these posts is that they are almost identical. They repeat the same falsehoods and the same debunked arguments, as if every one of their points hadn’t been thoroughly discredited by experts, dog breeders, researchers, and rational sites like Ethics Alarms. Pit bull hysterics simply will not yield to reality, and they don’t appear to care how many families their disinformation harms and how many loving dogs they kill with the “dangerous breed” legislation they extract from lazy lawmakers.

Here is a recent story showing  how deranged these laws are, their cruelty, and the kind of scenarios dogsbite.org and its fans encourage.

In June 2016, Waterford Township, Michigan, resident Dan Tillery and his girlfriend Megan  purchased their first home. The couple wanted to adopt a dog, and eventually found Sir Wiggleton, a big, white, happy canine nearing the end of his stay at a shelter after 100 days. Dan posted a photo of him with his new companions, with the caption,   “We know this photo is going to break the internet and we apologize, but we had to share…Sir Wiggleton and his new Dad are celebrating adoption day with huge smiles all around!”

Damned if the photo almost did “break the internet.”  But the viral picture of Sir Wiggleton, now renamed “Diggy,” inspired nightmares in some local pit bull phobic, so he or she reported Dan, Megan, and Diggy to the police.

The officers knocked on the door and informed Dan that he had violated Waterford’s ban on owning pit bulls. According to the township, pit bulls and pit bull mixes are considered to be “dangerous dogs.” Obviously Digby was a killer…

This possessing a vicious canine like Digby…

was a punishable crime. The dog police told Dana and Megan that Diggy would have to be returned to the Detroit Dog Rescue or else there would be consequences, even though Diggy’s adoption papers stated that he was an American bulldog. Continue reading