Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/23/2018: An Overdue Pardon, A Questionable No-Hitter, A Stupid Tweet, A Modest Hero…

Yes, I’m still here…

For one of the very few times since 2009, there were no posts yesterday. I’m sorry. I was pressed on a client’s urgent deadline from 7 am to 11 pm, with errands and sanity breaks in between, and never could get my schedule or brain cleared sufficiently to work on Ethics Alarms.

1 This is the news media. This morning, HLN  has spent 5-10 minutes every hour covering the birth of Queen Elizabeth’s latest grandchild. He’s a boy, in case you were on pins and needles. This isn’t fake news, it’s non-news. Why is this important? What possible use does detailed information regarding the latest addition to the succession train (he’s fifth in line) of an increasingly anachronistic monarchy have to the U.S. public? I’m looking at the morning New York Times, and literally 98% of its contents are more newsworthy.

Among the events broadcast in connection to this non-event was an elaborately dressed “town cryer” in London, ringing a bell and reading from a scroll to announce the royal birth. After CNN’s remote cameras recorded this memorable moment, it was revealed by a London correspondent that the elderly man dressed like a Tower Beefeater is a wacko, with no official significance whatsoever. Then a half hour later, HLN showed the wacko’s act again, sans any wacko label, but text that said, “Moments ago.” Thirty minutes is “moments”? Then we got new post-birth news, the London odds-makers take on what the likely name of this completely unimportant future prince will be. The odds on “Jack” were 9-1. Said Robin Meade’s sidekick Jennifer Westhoven: “Jack? Wouldn’t that be ‘James’?”

No, you ignorant moron. A., Jack is a real name. I can prove it, and B. It is a nickname for John, not James.

Yeah, we should trust these people.

2. Trump Tweets. Okay, what is this? President Trump, flush with success over questionable reports that North Korea has decided to halt nuclear testing (you know, like Iran, and equally trustworthy), tweeted,

Now, it is easily determined that the North Koreans have not agreed to “denuclearization.” Meetings haven’t even taken place. The tweet is fantasy. This is the kind of thing the mouth-foaming Trump haters point to as an example of the President’s “lying.” A statement that can’t possibly deceive anyone else, coming from someone who habitually makes such statements, is a falsehood, but whether it is a lie is questionable. Does Trump believe this tweet, at least when he wrote it? I suspect so. He communicates–indeed, he thinks— in cloudy generalizations and concept clouds. Is this tweet and its ilk spectacularly irresponsible and self-destructive to his ability to be respected and believed? Oh, definitely. Stupid and embarrassing too. But a lie? I’m not sure. “Trumpism” might be a better term.

Calling out NBC with “fake news” in front of a tweet with fake news is certainly audacious stupidity, however.

3. Now the Good Trump (maybe): Reportedly, spurred by the suggestion of Sylvester Stallone, the President is considering a pardon for Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion (1908-1915) who was hounded by the government and personally destroyed, mostly because of his proclivity to have relationships with white women. Johnson’s primary crime was being a successful, defiant, black man at the height of Jim Crow. The play (and movie) “The Great White Hope” tells his story, which is an American tragedy; Ken Burns also made a superb documentary about Johnson.

Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act, for transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes, in his case, miscegenation. Eventually he served time in a federal penitentiary. There have been calls to grant Johnson a posthumous pardon for at least a decade. A 2008 bill requesting President George W. Bush to pardon Johnson in 2008 passed the House, but failed to pass in the Senate. Senator McCain,  Representative Peter King, Burns and Johnson’s great-niece requested a presidential pardon for Johnson from President Obama in 2009, and again in  2016, in honor of the 70th anniversary of Johnson’s death in a car accident. A vote by the United States Commission on Civil Rights also called on Obama to “right this century-old wrong.” There was also a Change.org petition. Obama never acted, causing a firestorm of protest from the Congressional Black Caucus.

No, I’m kidding: it was hardly mentioned in the news media or by black activist groups. And Jack Johnson’s life, despite the fact that hardly anyone under the age of  50 could tell you anything about him, mattered. If President Trump finally does the right thing and clears Jack Johnson’s name, I wonder how progressives and the news media will attack him for it?

4. Wait, why wasn’t he texting, “I’m so terrified!”? James Shaw Jr., 29, rushed a shooter armed with an AR-15 (and not wearing pants) who had opened fire yesterday in a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee.  Four people had been shot dead and many other were injured before Shaw grabbed the gun’s barrel, pulled it away and threw it over the Waffle House counter. He suffered a gunshot wound and burns from grabbing the gun’s barrel.  Although his actions are credited with saving many lives,  Shaw Jr. denies that he’s hero. “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it,” he says.

Real heroes seldom regard themselves as heroes. The fact is that he took action, placed himself at risk in doing so, and had the right instincts, exactly the ones this culture is supposed to nurture but increasingly does not: take control of your own fate, and do what needs to be done.

Trust me on this, James (can I call you Jack?): You’re a hero. Continue reading