Finis: The New Black Panthers Voter Intimidation Affair

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, a careful, professional, non-partisan group charged with reviewing allegations of U.S. Government attorney misconduct, released the report on its investigation of the contentious Civil Rights Division handling of the case of two paramilitary-clad members of the New Black Panthers, one carrying a club, who appeared to be at a Philadelphia polling place in November 2008 for the purpose of intimidating voters. The men were videotaped, and the YouTube  video of them standing at the polling place was provocative, to say the least.

To briefly recap:  Voting Rights Act prosecution was initiated by the Bush Justice Department, and subsequently scaled down by the Obama Justice Department. Two career Civil Rights Division attorneys resigned over the handling of the incident, alleging that political appointees within the Obama Administration had pushed a policy of not prosecuting African-Americans under the Act—in other words, race-based enforcement. Continue reading

Verdict on the New Black Panther Voter Intimidation Controversy: Race-Based Enforcement At DOJ Is Real

The Washington Post, to its everlasting credit, has published a thorough and excellent piece of investigative journalism examining the continuing controversy over the Obama Justice Department’s reluctance to follow through on the prosecution of two paramilitary clad Black Panthers, one brandishing a club, who menaced voters at a Philadelphia polling place. You can, and should, read the whole piece here…especially if you were one of the throng claiming that the story was a trumped-up “conservative media” fabrication. It is true that the conservative media kept the story alive, but that is because the mainstream media inexcusably ignored or buried it, for due to a blatant bias in favor of shielding the Obama Administration from embarrassment, no matter how ell deserved.

It remains a mystery to me how opposing polling place intimidation of any kind, by any group, in favor of any candidate, and insisting that the enforcement of the laws against such conduct be administered without respect to race or politics, could possibly be attacked as a “conservative” position. Or, for that matter, how excusing race-based enforcement could be described as a “liberal” position, or a responsible, fair or ethical one. But they have been, repeatedly, which is why the report by the Washington Post, as one of the media groups that initially ignored the story (and was criticized by it independent ethics watchdog for doing so) is so useful and important. Continue reading

Hypocrisy of the Year: The Islamophobic New York Times Company, Washington Post, Et Al.

The New York Times, as well as the Washington Post and other major newspapers, have piously condemned those who raised objections to the proposed Islamic center in Manhattan, near the site where nearly 3,000 Americans met their death at the hands of Islamic extremists. The Times, the Post, their fellow papers and many of their columnists and bloggers proclaimed that a peaceful religion was being smeared by bigoted Americans and political leaders smitten with “Islamophobia.”

Then, on October 3, a Sunday installment of the prize-winning comic strip “Non Sequitur” was censored from the pages of the Post, the Times-owed Boston Globe (the Times itself has no cartoons) and almost 20 others. The strip, you see, jokingly suggested that an image of Muhammad the Prophet, which strict Islamic principles decree must never be shown or ridiculed under threat of a fatwah, might be hidden among the depicted happy characters in the manner of the “Where’s Waldo?” children’s books. Continue reading

Despite Evidence, Obama’s D.O.J., Democrats and News Media Stonewall Black Panther Case

The bizarre conduct of the Obama-Holder Department of Justice in refusing to to fully prosecute a 2008 instance of blatant voter intimidation at the polls by members of the New Black Panthers in Philadelphia has been denied by D.O.J. (despite a video that proves the Voting Rights Act violation ), ignored or buried by most major news sources (despite Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander chiding his own paper for failing the public with inadequate coverage of the story) and attacked as manufactured by Republicans by partisan Obama defenders  (despite the fact that, well, it just isn’t.) It is both disturbing and depressing that this conduct persists, long after the event itself, months after one Justice Department Civil Rights attorney quit to expose the episode publicly, and while the non-partisan U.S. Commission Civil Rights holds hearings on the case.

At issue is racial bias in Attorney General Erik Holder’s Civil Rights Division, which the Obama Administration must not permit, tolerate or excuse, but appears to be anyway. Continue reading

“Hyping,” Reporting, Responsiblility, and Race

On Aug. 6 in Washington, D.C., a violent brawl broke out among  70  people, most of them teenaged or close to it, at the Gallery Place Metro Station.  There were arrests, and several people landed in the hospital. Pitched battle in the usually staid D.C. subways are not daily occurrences, yet the Washington Post apparently found itself short-handed, faint of heart, or both: its initial and follow-up stories on the event had little information. What started the fight? What happened? Who were the combatants? How long did it last? Continue reading

Ethics, Ethics, Everywhere…

Stories with ethical implications are popping up everywhere, in many fields. I’m running hard to keep up; if you want to join the race, here are some recent developments and notes:

  • A prominent Harvard professor and respected researcher just retracted a major paper and has been put on leave, as an investigation showed irregularities in his methods and results. “This retraction creates a quandary for those of us in the field about whether other results are to be trusted as well, especially since there are other papers currently being reconsidered by other journals as well,’’ wrote one scientist. “If scientists can’t trust published papers, the whole process breaks down.’’
  • A Wisconsin lawyer bought a farm from his own client in a bankruptcy matter, a classic conflict of interest. The lawyer’s defense was amusing: since his license had been suspended, he no longer had a fiduciary duty to his now former client. The court canceled the sale. The story is on the Legal Profession Blog.

The Left’s New Black Panther Rationalizations

“All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye” (Alexander Pope, 1711)  could have been written about the media handling of the New Black Panther voter intimidation case. To conservatives, it is ominous proof of race-conscious law enforcement in the Obama Justice Department. To liberals, it is more proof that the Right is determined to stir up racial suspicion about Barack Obama’s administration.

I don’t think the incident proves anything conclusively at this point, except this: liberal journalists and commentators are embarrassing themselves and misinforming the public by arguing that the case is trivial, and employing intellectually dishonest arguments to do it.**

Whatever the case is, it isn’t trivial. Voter intimidation isn’t trivial; it strikes at the core of our system of government. I would argue that the government should be unequivocal, strict and unyielding regarding the prevention and punishment of it, by white or black, no matter how manifested. If you don’t think so, then I challenge you to explain why. If there is any conduct that should receive no tolerance by law enforcement, this should be it. There is no excuse for it.

Nevertheless, supposedly respectable commentators like columnist E.J. Dionne feel compelled to make excuses for the Justice Department’s actions while intentionally or incompetently misrepresenting the facts.  Continue reading

The Washington Post: Embarrassed into Covering the News

Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander wonders why it took his paper so long to cover a story with obvious importance and disturbing implications: the seeming race-based decision of the Obama Justice Department to avoid pursuing a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panthers, even though a YouTube video showed persuasive evidence that an offense was real and substantial. Ethics Alarms, for example, wrote about the story more than two weeks ago.

Alexander is to be saluted for raising, though his conclusion is unsatisfying and more than a little weaselly. Continue reading

Journalistic Ethics Cluelessness: Weigel, Outrageous Bias, and the Washington Post

There can be no doubt : the main-stream media is so ideologically biased that it can’t recognize obvious bias anymore, even when it undermines its credibility. That is the only conclusion one can reach from the amazing story of David Weigel, who was awarded a Post website blog to write about “inside the conservative movement.” David Weigel, as his recently leaked e-mails to a mailing list shows, detests conservatives, conservatives views, positions, commentators and leaders. He does so not in a possibly manageable “there are evident problems with the extremists in this movement and some of its underlying philosophy” fashion, but it a “I hate these morons and wish they’d all die” way, which is exactly the sentiment many of his messages convey.

Giving someone like Weigel the role of reporting on conservatives is exactly as responsible and fair as letting Michelle Malkin cover the progressive movement, asking Senator Inhofe to cover climate change developments, asking Gloria Allred to keep us up-to-date on the life of Tiger Woods, or giving Helen Thomas the assignment of covering Israel. And yet that is exactly what the Washington Post did. Continue reading

Reporters, Spouses, Conflicts, and Dissonance

The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, recently wrote a column discussing the seeming conflict of interest created for a Post reporter because of who she married.

Juliet Eilperin covers climate change for the paper. Her husband, Andrew Light, is an expert on the same topic, and coordinates international climate policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Alexander says that while Eilperin often gets quotes from her husband’s organization, he is never involved, and that the Eilperin-Lights maintain a strict separation of their careers. None of which answers the question: can she be an objective reporter on her Post beat, which happens to be in the same field where her husband makes his living?

The Post ethics rules, Alexander duly points out, say the Post is “pledged to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest, wherever and whenever possible.” Obviously, there is an appearance of a conflict of interest here. Perhaps Eilperin would be vigorously critical of a policy pronouncement coordinated by her husband, or maybe she would consciously or unconsciously allow her affection and commitment to her husband color her reporting. We don’t know, and she may not even know. One might think that we would know she was unbiased if she filed stories that put her husband, his views or his employers in a bad light, but even that isn’t certain. It might mean she was over-compensating for bias. It might mean that her views on climate change policy had soured because Andrew was in the dog house, or that she had come to resent his work for the Center, because it took time away from the family. Either way, the fact that Eilperin’s husband is linked to the climate change issue and particular views on that issue must exercise a powerful influence over her judgment.

The principle in force at work here is cognitive dissonance, often referred to in the media but seldom correctly. A psychologist named Leon Festinger devised a scale—-vertical, with zero in the center, extending upwards from +1 to +100, and downwards from -1 to -100. The Cognitive Dissonance Scale is used to measured how positive and negative attitudes toward people and things subconsciously influenced attitudes toward other people and things that they had connections to and associations with, through the involuntary reduction of cognitive dissonance. For example, you dislike an author and his books. You love a particular political cause. You discover that the author is a vocal supporter of that cause. This creates cognitive dissonance that your mind must resolve; you cannot continue to hold such a low opinion of the author and such a high opinion of his cause. You will change the values to bring them more into line with each other; you will reduce the dissonance.

If you love the cause more than you detest the author (using Festinger’s scale, imagine that the author is a  minus 6, and the cause is a plus 16), the cognitive dissonance will be resolved by your gradually feeling more positively toward the author, and conceivably, less positively toward the cause, so they eventually they meet or almost meet around plus 10. Suddenly, you have more interest in the author’s books. Your attitude has been adjusted. You may also be more open-minded when listening to adversaries of the cause you once blindly supported, because its value is lower, even though you didn’t consciously change your opinion. Cognitive dissonance and the process whereby it silently adjusts and manipulates attitudes explains much of advertising, political affiliations, biases, and how powerful, popular leaders, celebrities and institutions  influence public culture for good or ill. It also explains why close relationships can create conflicts of interest.

There are many movies about lawyers in which, for dramatic or comic effect, a trial pits an attorney-husband against his attorney-wife (“Adam’s Rib”) or an attorney-parent against an attorney-son or daughter (“Class Action”). But in real life, these adversary situations usually require informed consent by the clients, because they raise suspicions. Would a husband really go all out to make the woman he was married to look like a fool in court? In the movies, there is usually a manufactured competition between the related lawyers, but the appearance of conflict still remains. Depending on the situation, one attorney-spouse’s relationship to the other could create such a likely conflict that even client consent wouldn’t justify continuing the adversary representation. Suppose, for example, that the attorney-wife knew that her husband’s job at the firm depended on him winning. She has a stake in him winning the case now. How can she give all her loyalty to her client, who is paying  her to defeat her husband?

She can’t. And though ombudsman Andrews ties himself in knots to argue that Eilperin is in a different position, she isn’t. She has a stake in her husband’s success, which is on only one side of the climate debate.  She also has a stake in keeping his love, respect and trust. Can we trust her to be completely unbiased? Presumably, if he isn’t in her dog house, Andrew Light is very high on Juliet Eilperin’s dissonance scale. If she is to be properly objective as a reporter, his positions and those of his employer should be right at the middle of the scale—zero, neutral. But that will create dissonance. That position will eventually, inevitably carry a positive value, because she associates it with her husband.

Her marriage creates, therefore, at least an appearance of bias, and probably actual bias. There is nobody to consent to the conflict, because the equivalent of the lawyer’s client for a reporter isn’t the paper she works for, but the public itself. Short of the Post holding a public referendum, the public can’t  consent or refuse to consent. Nor should they have to. Surely Eilperin can report on another topic. Surely the Post has other qualified reporters who aren’t married to warriors in the climate change wars.

Alexander closes his article by giving Eilperin the benefit of the doubt: “It’s a close call, but I think she should stay on the beat. With her work now getting special scrutiny, it will become clear if the conflict is real.” Wait a minute…what about that “appearance” phrase in the Post’s own Code? Real or apparent conflicts are prohibited; the whole point is not to wait to see “if the conflict is real,” meaning, I suppose, that Eilperin starts obviously slanting her climate change reporting. Some observers think she’s doing this already, and that’s the point. Because of who she married, we can’t trust that she will successfully battle cognitive dissonance and give objective analysis.

If the Post cares about its integrity and avoiding the appearance of conflicts of interest, they need a new climate change reporter, and Juliet Eilperin needs a new beat.