More On The Atlantic’s Big Lie

The news media and politicians keep using the Big Lie tactic because, sadly, it works.

One reason such lies work is that, unfortunately, people just aren’t, on average, very smart or attentive. The Atlantic Monthly’s two-year old “scoop” that the President had denigrated American servicemen during a trip abroad according to four “officials” who nonetheless didn’t have the integrity or courage to take responsibility for their story was self-evidently a pro-Biden smear job, identifiable both by its timing and its journalistic inadequacies. It arrived when there was legitimate news that was favorable to the President, yet the phony story received most of the ink and air time, even from Fox News and the conservative media, the latter of which discussed the rottenness of the tactic rather than its substance.

As Big Lies go—this was a micro-Big Lie, other than the recurring and still surfacing  macro-Big Lies that have served as the foundation of the relentless anti-Trump assault since the 2016 election—this one was rather well constructed, being based as it was on one of Trump’s stupidest and most damaging utterances, his campaign swipe at  John McCain and Vietnam prisoners of war. It was not a sub-Big Lie, relying on one of the Big Nine, because, after all, this one draws its strength from a fact: the President is an asshole, and unlike other recent asshole Presidents like Obama and Clinton, he doesn’t even try to hide it.

Nonetheless, the fact that a well-proven anti-Trump organ published this just as the riots were starting to take their toll on Joe Biden’s hate-fueled support and had to use anonymous sources to create it was, or should have been, plenty to allow even the semi-dim among the public to discern what was going on. Then came the multiple claims that Fox News and others had “confirmed” the story, which, of course, they hadn’t. This was incompetent and embarrassing, and it was immediately obvious to me, as it should have been for anyone with a modicum of education and two brain cells to rub together. I saw the “confirmation” report right after completing the September 4 post about news media disinformation, and wrote,

Fox saying it “corroborated” what Trump said is flat out false. If someone tells NBC I’m an anteater, and I deny it, then ABC talks to the same lunatic who says I’m an anteater and he repeats his accusation, did ABC corroborate that I’m an anteater?

Yet, incredibly—yes, after all this time, I still find the the lack of basic critical thinking skills among so much of the public hard to believe–a lot of people couldn’t see this. I know it sounds arrogant, but I have to regard this episode as either an IQ test or a corruption test: if you don’t see what’s going on, either you’re not very bright, or you are allowing yourself to enable lie.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a whole essay for the slow-witted about what the news media is doing here , unfortunately, slow-witted Americans don’t read The Intercept. He begins by recalling one of the worst CNN false reports pushing the Russia collusion coup effort, now down a memory hole, as CNN (and its fixer Brian Stelter) still insist that the networks reporting on that debacle was impeccable. Greenwald writes,

Very shortly after CNN unveiled its false story, MSNBC’s intelligence community spokesman Ken Dilanian went on air and breathlessly announced that he had obtained independentconfirmation that the CNN story was true. In a video segment I cannot recommend highly enoughDilanian was introduced by an incredibly excited Hallie Jackson — who urged Dilanian to “tell us what we’ve just now learned,” adding, “I know you and some of our colleagues have confirmed some of this information: What’s up?” Dilanian then proceeded to explain what he had learned:

“That’s right, Hallie. Two sources with direct knowledge of this are telling us that congressional investigators have obtained an email from a man named “Mike Erickson” — obviously they don’t know if that’s his real name — offering Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. access to WikiLeaks documents. … It goes to the heart of the collusion question. … One of the big questions is: Did [Trump Jr.] call the FBI?”

How could that happen? How could MSNBC purport to confirm a false story from CNN? Shortly after, CBS News also purported to have “confirmed” the same false story: that Trump Jr. received advanced access to the WikiLeaks documents. It’s one thing for a news outlet to make a mistake in reporting by, for instance, misreporting the date of an email and thus getting the story completely wrong. But how is it possible that multiple other outlets could “confirm” the same false report?

It’s possible because news outlets have completely distorted the term “confirmation” beyond all recognition. Indeed, they now use it to mean the exact opposite of what it actually means, thereby draping themselves in journalistic glory they have not earned and, worse, deceiving the public into believing that an unproven assertion has, in fact, been proven. With this disinformation method, they are doing the exact opposite of what journalism, at its core, is supposed to do: separate fact from speculation.

The effectiveness of this technique depends on confirmation bias. A late, periodically lamented left-biased commentator here insisted that he knew Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election because that’s the kind of person he is. This, of course, is bigotry as well as confirmation bias, but that kind of thought process is driving the willingness of so many to accept an inherently unreliable story. Continue reading

Comment(s) Of The Day: “The Insidious News Media Disinformation Campaign”

Soon after I designated Diego Garcia’s comment on this post a Comment of the Day, I  realized that it had to have the context of the Chris Marschner comment that Diego was responding to in order to be appreciated. So this is another rare tag team Comment of the Day on the post, “The Insidious News Media Disinformation Campaign.” I’ll have a brief comment at the end of the two COTDs.

First, Chris:

What exactly was the purpose of our involvement in Viet Nam? I know what we were told that it was to stem the rise of Communism in the world where countries in Asia would fall like dominoes if we did not intervene. If Communism will collapse upon itself because it is inherently flawed why do we need to hurry it along by killing people? You don’t win hearts and minds with coercion.

Wasn’t it learned that General Westmoreland falsified data to show we were actually winning when in fact we were mired down in a quagmire that only benefitted the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about?

Maybe we were all duped. Maybe we are still being duped. Maybe we were all seen as suckers by Kennedy and Johnson. Maybe politicians and the public have been being duped for years by guys with scrambled eggs on their hats and stars on their epaulettes whose retirement plans include running Lockheed Martin or Boeing or just sitting on boards as they collect millions for a few days work because of what they know about defense contracts.

Maybe the smart parents were the ones that spirited their 19 year old’s off to Canada or paid their way to college and then on to Canada. I have no idea. However, those who served did so as patriots but even patriots can be suckered by politicians. I got suckered by Romney and McCain. I thought they were honest brokers of information until Trump forced them to expose themselves. I learned that integrity takes a back seat when someone challenges their power.

Why are we still in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years? Why is it that modern warfare lasts for generations while a poorly resourced rag tag bunch kicked the British ass in far less time? How could we defeat two enemies, forcing them to unconditionally surrender at the same time in roughly the equivalent of one presidential cycle? Could it be that the wars prior to Korea were existential imperative while today profits from equipment and expended munitions help keep the defense industries highly profitable? One has to ask, with all the budget hikes to improve the military’s readiness along with the positive changes in services for veterans, why do all these Generals have an ax to grind with the President who sees war as wasteful. Could it be that their business is war and part of their mission is to keep the public believing that these never ending wars are beneficial because it keeps them all in business. Tell me General’s Mattis and Kelly, which wars did you win to make you both experts on ending war?

If I recall correctly John Kerry told school kids to work hard and study because if they don’t they will wind up in Iraq. Maybe, just maybe Kerry and Trump have something in common. They can see when war is a gross waste of blood and treasure. They just have different ways of stating it.

Diego Garcia replied,

Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Food Lion

I suppose the silver lining in our various corporations and businesses groveling to anti-American groups and movements is that their owners and leaders lack any convictions, values, principles or integrity, so they will abandon stupid decisions as  thoughtlessly as they made them. Remember how quickly Cracker Barrel  did a mid-air double backflip when it first condemned “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson, then changed its corporate mind the second it realized its original position would forfeit more profit that the reverse? That’s Food Lion. That’s most of these spineless, weasel-wired organizations.

Yecchh. Continue reading

August 2, A Date That Should Live In Infamy, But Doesn’t

I usually check the historical significance of dates. This time, I discovered that August 2 is one of the most ethically disastrous in history.

  •  In 1934, Chancellor Adolf Hitler became the absolute dictator of Germany with the death of German President Paul von Hindenburg. I think we can all agree that this wins the prize as the worst event on this date. The German army quickly took an oath of allegiance to its new commander-in-chief, and Germany’s democratic government was erased, with  Hitler’s Third Reich taking its place.

The result was genocide, world war, and the deaths of millions.

  • On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. This, in turn, led to the Persian Gulf War, which resulted in at least 25,000 Iraqi soldiers killed and more than 75,000  wounded in one of the most one-sided military conflicts in history. Only 148 American soldiers were killed and 457 wounded. The war also ended the lives of an estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians who died from wounds, lack of adequate water, food, or medical supplies. As Saddam Hussein exploited corruption in the U.N. and played games with the terms of the cease fire,   about a million more Iraqi civilians died as a result of the U.N. sanctions.

The Persian Gulf War led directly to 9-11, the Afghanistan War, and the invasion of Iraq, and indirectly to too many horrible results to count. Continue reading

Reflections On The Penobscot Expedition

Remember the Penobscot Expedition? Of course you don’t. Today’s history lesson has many aspects worth pondering, but I only recall some mention of the fiasco from growing up in Arlington, Massachusetts. It struck me now as notable thanks to valkygrrl’s Great Americans contest, still generating comments here. One commenter suggested Paul Revere: I wonder if this episode in his career was considered. I assume not.

On July 19, 1779, in the middle of the Revolutionary War, the would-be state of Massachusetts, on it own and without consulting either Continental political or military authorities, set out on  badly planned a 4,000-man naval expedition that ended up as the biggest naval disaster in U.S. history until the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The commanders were Commodore Dudley Saltonstall,  Adjutant General Peleg Wadsworth, Brigadier General Solomon Lovell aaaaand Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere.   19 warships, 24 transport ships and more than 1,000 militiamen set out  to capture a 750-man British garrison at Castine on the Penobscot Peninsula, then part of Massachusetts, but now known as “Maine.”

On July 25, the Massachusetts forces launched a series of disorganized land attacks, largely leaving their naval forces, which were mostly manned by untrained sailors,  out of the battle. This gave the British crucial time for reinforcements to arrive. General Lovell, the commander of the land assault,  saw Sir George Collier’s seven British warships arrive and retreated, expecting Commodore Saltonstall to oppose them. Instead, Saltonstall, quickly decided that resistance was futile and  surprised everybody by fleeing upriver and burning his own ships. Continue reading

Another Vote For “The Washington Code Talkers”

The Washington Redskins ownership finally was forced to capitulate in the decades long- battle to force a beloved and fanatically supported NFL team to ditch the name that fans were beloving on the dubious theory, rejected by most native Americans and people capable of  critical thought, that despite all outside appearances having a team carrying a  Native American name dishonors Indians rather than keeps their story up front and vital in American consciousness and culture. Because the decision was a sudden biproduct of the George Floyd Freakout, the D.C. team wasn’t prepared for a change, and had no names in reserve. (It apparently had a shot at the name “Warriors,” which alliterates at least, but was late moving on the copyright and trademarks, so that name has, as they say, left the wigwam.

Meanwhile, gag names are flying around like arrows at the Little Big Horn, so ending the mockery is urgent. We are hearing calls for the Washington Weasels, the Washington Swamp-Dwellers, the Washington Investigators, the Washington Slime, The Washington Bootlickers…even the retro “Washington Murderous Savages.”  (I was an early advocate for “The Washington Concussions.”) However, one serious suggestion offered by the President of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez is brilliant: the Washington Code Talkers.

I second, with enthusiasm.

Few professional sports team have nicknames carrying any historical significance. Most are generic animals, birds, even reptiles. Some of the oldest names are meaningless, like “Red Sox.” Just a few refer to or referenced history: the now defunct Chicago Fire, the San Francisco 49’ers, the Philadelphia 76ers, and a few others. One great virtue of the Code Talkers, in addition to keeping the Native American connection to the D.C. team, is that it would compel the team’s fans to learn some history for a change. (I assume that the 2002 Nicholas Cage bomb, “Windtalkers,” did not have sufficient reach to educate most Americans.)

Who, or what,  were the Code Talkers? Continue reading

Guest Post: Who Are The Greatest Americans?

by Valkygrrl

[Introduction: Ethics Alarms opined that the President’s proposed “Garden of American Heroes” was badly conceived, and his initial nominations for inclusion proved the point. Mercurial commenter Valkygrrl  took the initiative to devise a process for Ethics Alarms readers to compile a better list, and also to organize the results, which I found fascinating. Any further reactions will be confined to the comments.]

The Rules:

1: No presidents, always some controversy, we have other ways of honoring them.
2: Any person who held office must be chosen for something they did outside of said office, no honoring for using the mechanisms of the state no matter how beneficial to society.
3: No Confederates (obvious divisiveness.)
4: You may have only one living person on your list.
5: Your list must be made in good faith. You may not choose anyone you believe will upset or anger me; no “owning the libs”. Honest mistakes accepted.
6: Do not remove someone from your list because they were mentioned by someone else. I want to see if we can find some consensus. That means people Trump or Jack mentioned are allowed.

Here’s the list of nominees as submitted by participants (editorial descriptions mine);

Marian Anderson: Singer, Civil rights activist, Medal of Freedom recipient.

Neil Armstrong: Aviator, Astronaut, First human to set foot on Luna

Isaac Asimov: Teacher, Author of the Foundation series; Seven-time Hugo Award winner (Plus one Retro-Hugo awarded in 2016), Democratic party activist, serial sexual harasser

Irving Berlin: Composer of famous patriotic music

John Brown: Hero, undaunted, true and brave, And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save; Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave. Popular legend holds that his soul continues to march.

John Moses Browning: Industrialist, Firearms designer.

George Carlin: Humorist, Mentor to time-traveling Gen-Xers.

Andrew Carnegie: Industrialist, Philanthropist, Union buster.

Joshua L. Chamberlain: Union General, Medal of Honor recipient.

Meriwether Lewis  and  William Clark: Explorers, Naturalists. Two very different people presumably nominated for a single achievement alone. Clark was a bit of a bastard.

Samuel Colt: Firearms manufacturer, used assembly line principals before Henry Ford.

Clarence Darrow : Country lawyer, Civil libertarian, Attention whore, Cigar aficionado. Continue reading

Independence Day With Ethics Alarms 2… Observations Upon Re-Watching “Gettysburg”

I began the Fourth of July this year by watching the last 90 minutes of “Gettysburg,” Ted Turner’s epic 1993 film.  My wife and I had begun watching on July 3, the date of Pickett’s Charge and the final day of the 1863 Civil War battle, but the more than four-and-a-half hour running time took me to Independence Day.

This was the extended version, the Director’s Cut, which adds 17 minutes of deleted  scenes to the version shown in movie theaters, itself one of the longest movies ever offered to the American public. We had last watched the un-extended film from beginning to end on a VHS tape almost 30 years ago.

Observations:

  • “Gettysburg” is an ethics movie, and a great one. I don’t know why this didn’t come through to me the first time I watched it. Primarily it celebrates the Seven Enabling Virtues discussed in yesterday’s post, but the film teaches us a lot about leadership, integrity, compassion, duty, loyalty, and conflicts of interest.

If the film isn’t routinely shown in schools, and I’m sure it isn’t, that is a lost opportunity. A whole course of study could be based on the film alone, and it would be more educational than most history courses.

  • Some of the added minutes extend the Pickett’s Charge re-enactment, and the length of the sequence adds to its horror and wonder. How could anyone enthusiastically follow orders to attempt such a deadly march into enemy artillery and rifle fire, while lined up like tin rabbits at a shooting gallery, in an open field, even having to climb over fences?

The film makes it clear, and this is accurate, that it was the men’s trust and admiration, almost worship, of Robert E. Lee that made such insane valor possible. At Gettysburg, Lee abused that trust. He was warned that the plan was madness, and he was so certain of his own invulnerability that he persisted.

  • The film made me realize that it is likely that Lee’s famous “It was all my fault!’ refrain to his returning shattered troops signified his realization that  his vanity and pride had been the direct cause for the Pickett’s Charge fiasco, and indeed the entire engagement. After the fiasco, the film shows Lee as a shattered man. General Longstreet, who repeatedly advises Lee to go around the Union entrenchment and take up a position on high ground between Pennsylvania and Washington, reminds Lee that even after the failed Confederate assault on Little Round Top on July 2, it is not too late for his plan to work. Lee replies that such a maneuver would be tantamount to a retreat, saying that he had never left the field of battle with the enemy  in control, and is not about to start.

If General Lee was capable of listening to what he was really saying, he would have realized that he was using a personal motive to justify a decision that could not be justified rationally. Continue reading

Third Of July Ethics Concert, 2020, Part 1: Pickett’s Charge, Custer’s First Stand, And More

Charge!

The anthemic music is the finale to the 1993 film Gettysburg, which has one of my all-time favorite scores, by Randy Edelman. I have worn out three CDs, and this particular selection, “Reunion and Finale,” almost lost me my drivers license once when I was playing it loudly in my car and blew past the speed limit by 25 mph or so.

I will be interested to see if any channel shows Ted Turner’s epic this weekend. I’m sure it is now regarded as politically incorrect because the film does not portray the Southern generals and soldiers as vicious racists, and the balance that the film was praised for when it was released is now regarded as “pro-Confederacy propaganda.” That is a fatuous take on the film, which is about human beings, not politics, and arguably the most historically accurate historical drama ever made, based on what may be the best historical novel ever written, “The Killer Angels,” by Michael Shaara, just a wonderful book. Read it. You can thank me later.

Unlike July 2, one of the most significant dates in U.S. history with multiple major events, July 3 stands out for one momentous event. Even in the sequence of events leading to American independence, July 3 was relatively boring:  it was devoted to the debate over Jefferson’s Declaration, resulting in more than eighty additions and redactions.

July 3  was the final day of the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, reaching its bloody climax in General Robert E. Lee’s desperate  gamble on a massed assault on the Union center. In history it has come to be known as Pickett’s Charge, after the leader of the Division that was slaughtered during it.

At about 2:00 pm this day in 1863, near the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg,  Lee launched his audacious stratagem to pull victory from the jaws of defeat in the pivotal battle of the American Civil War.  The Napoleonic assault on the entrenched Union position on Cemetery Ridge, with a “copse of trees” at its center, was the only such attack in the entire war, a march into artillery and rifle fire across an open field and over fence. When my father, the old soldier, saw the battlefield  for the first time in his eighties, he became visibly upset because, he said, he could visualize the killing field.

The battle lasted less than an hour. Union forces suffered 1,500 casualties,, while at least 1,123 Confederates were killed on the battlefield, 4,019 were wounded, and nearly 4000 Rebel soldiers were captured. Pickett’s Charge would go down in history as one of the worst military blunders of all time. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Virginia Hall (1906-1982), “The Limping Lady”

World War II continues to be the richest source of forgotten or obscure ethics heroes, and no figure fits that description better than American super-spy Virginia Hall.

Only in the last few years, as newly intense focus has been placed on  women’s contributions to society and history, has Hall’s story come out of the shadows: three books about Hall have been published, and  two movies are awaiting release, one to be streamed on Netflix. In Hall’s case, her anonymity was substantially her own doing. She had no interest in fame or accolades, and decisively rejected them. Hill left no memoirs, granted no interviews, and spoke rarely about her exploits, even to her family.

She was born into a wealthy and privileged Baltimore clan that assumed its daughter would follow the well-trod path of a debutante and eventually the wife of an appropriate young man from her own class. But Virginia was different, “capricious and cantankerous” in her own words.  She liked guns and adventure. She once went to school wearing a bracelet made of live snakes, just to shake up her teachers and class mates.

Hall attended Radcliffe and Barnard, then went abroad to study in Paris. She wanted to be a diplomat or even an ambassador, but received no support from the State Department. There were only six women among the 1,500 U.S. diplomats at the time, so she settled for a clerical job at a U.S. consulate in Turkey. While hunting birds in her spare time, she accidentally shot herself in the foot, and gangrene set in. Her left leg was amputated below the knee. Hall named the wooden leg that became her constant companion thereafter “Cuthbert.”

In 1937, she again applied to the Department of State to enter the diplomatic corps , this time being turned down because of a rule against hiring people with disabilities as diplomats, an especially odd restriction for a nation led by a disabled President. She quit her job as a consular clerk two years later, and at 34, joined the war effort before America did, becoming an ambulance driver in France in 1940. When France was invaded by the German army, Hall fled to Great Britain.  By purest chance she came in contact with a representative of British intelligence. Hill offered her services to the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), which trained her in weapons, communications, security, and resistance activities.

So it was that an American woman with a wooden leg  became one of the first British spies sent into Nazi-occupied France in 1941, posing as a reporter for the New York Post.

Primarily working out of Lyon, Hall organized agent networks and recruited French men and women to run safe houses, all while evading the Gestapo, which called her “The Limping Lady.” She became a master of disguise, often changing her appearance several times in a day and managing to become invisible despite the impediment of “Cuthbert.” She even had her nice, straight, American teeth ground down so she could pass as an elderly peasant woman, which was a favorite false identity. Continue reading