The Ethics Lesson Of Breitbart’s Implosion: Unethical Cultures Are Deadly, And So Is Donald Trump’s Touch

Nice job, Andrew!

Nice job, Andrew! That’s some legacy!

The Breitbart conservative website empire is in the process of wrecking itself through its own corruption. Good. This is an invaluable lesson in the field of organizational culture, and perhaps it will prompt other unethical organizations to reform their cultures before it is too late.

I had  the good sense to abandon Breitbart as a trustworthy news source long ago, after I was burned by the site’s doctored Shirley Sherrod video. Conservatives, like liberals, often hold on to their heroes long after they have proven themselves unworthy of reverence or even respect; Andrew Breitbart was an especially unfortunate example. He created a group of websites that really delivered news the way Fox is unfairly accused of reporting. They ignored stories that impugned the honesty, integrity or reliability of conservatives, and actively sought stories that showed the worst of progressives, and often slanted those stories to mislead readers, shamelessly appealing to their confirmation bias. The corrupt culture he built, cheered by prominent conservative pundits who should have known better like Glenn Reynolds (Breitbart was “punching back twice as hard,” you see: Rationalization #2 A. Sicilian Ethics, or “They had it coming”), predictably became worse after its architect’s untimely death. Nothing showed this more vividly than Breibart’s decision to become, as resigning editor Ben Shapiro called it today, “Donald Trump’s personal Pravda.”  It attacked Trump’s critics and rationalized Trump’s outrages. I dissected a particularly disgraceful example here, but there were many others.

Then came, as almost always does, a chance event that has shattered Breitbart along its rotting fault lines. Continue reading

Dishonest Headline and Story Of The Month: Breitbart And Reporter John Nolte

"Trump Telling The Truth" is about as believable...

“Trump Telling The Truth” is about as believable…

When Andrew Breibart died, the conservative punditry world befouled it self with weepy odes to his bravery and dedication to right’s mission, whatever it is. In fact, he was a sloppy and unethical ideologically biased pseudo journalist, who made Fox News really look fair and balanced and MSNBC seem like the epitome of professionalism. Journalism with an agenda isn’t journalism, and Breitbart’s website never let nuances like facts get in the way of a good smear or a dubious accusation.

Earlier this week I read for the first time—since I avoid Breitbart like I avoid centipedes—that there were rumors that The Donald was sending favors the way of the website, and in return, it had grabbed the niche of pro-Trump media mouthpiece, thus setting itself up to run the Ministry of Truth when he gains power and begins rounding up the Unsuitables. THere’s no proof of this, but it could explain articles like this one today, titled Trump 100% Vindicated: CBS Reports ‘Swarm’ On Rooftops Celebrating 9/11.

To cut to the chase, nothing in the article vindicates  or supports Trump in any way, and certainly not “100%.” That’s pure linkbait, though the disgraceful story holds on to the like like grim death, tossing excuses, equivocations, deceits and logical fallacies at it as if this junk can turn lead into gold. Continue reading

When Your Genius Is A Dunce: The Depressing Self-Outing of Rays’ Manager Joe Madden

I trusted you, Joe. You broke my heart..

Organizations and institutions tell us a lot about themselves by the individuals they hold up as exemplary. To cite an example much on my mind these days, the conservative blogosphere’s canonization of the late Andrew Breitbart, master of the intentional half-truth, makes me dubious about its reliability and integrity. On  the other side of the spectrum, the fact that so many Democrats, and especially Democratic women, worship Bill Clinton reflects horribly on their values and tolerance for hypocrisy. Now, in the wake of Roger Clemens’ well-deserved acquittal for denying under oath acts that he almost certainly did, we have strong confirmation that a prominent individual Major League Baseball holds up as exemplifying, in the immortal and irritatingly pretentious words of “Terence Mann” about that corn field in Iowa, “all that once was good and it could be again”* is in truth an Ethics Dunce, and a big one at that. His name is Joe Madden, the American League’s 2011 Manager of the Year, and I am disappointed and depressed. (Yes, I have named Joe an Ethics Hero in the past.) Continue reading

Your Weekend Ethics Update

Sure, it's touching..but is it sincere?

Here’s what you may have missed if your attention was focused on non-ethical considerations over the weekend:

  • A Washington, D.C. Charter school has been using scenarios out of horror movies to teach math—to third graders.
  • Saturday Night Live gave fallen child star Lindsay Lohan a chance to be something other than an addict and scofflaw again. Was it exploitation or was it kindness? Kind exploitation, perhaps?
  • Rush Limbaugh became a victim of his own mouth, attacking a Georgetown Law student’s advocacy of insurance-covered contraceptives not by questioning her logic—which is questionable—but her character, and in crude and degrading terms. Indefensible.
  • At least two NFL team, it was revealed, put bounties on the heads of opposing teams’ stars, offering thousands to players for knocking them off the field and into hospital beds. Unethical, a violation of league rules, cheating, and criminal…and the reaction of players is, “What’s the big deal?” A culture problem perhaps?
  • While conservatives were rending their garments in grief over the sudden death of conservative web warrior Andrew Breitbart (and too many liberals were disgracing themselves by applauding an early demise that left his young children fatherless), a far more influential and infinitely more ethical conservative voice left us: scholar, author, social scientist, philosopher, historian…and Ethics Hero Emeritus… James Q. Wilson.
  • Rush apologized after his sponsors began to flee. With great power comes great responsibility, and Limbaugh has more power than he can possibly be responsible for. He still is accountable.
  • Finally…Is a forced apology a “real” apology? It depends.

Ethics Hero Emeritus: James Q. Wilson (1931-2012)

“Denmark or Luxembourg can afford to exhibit domestic anguish and uncertainty over military policy; the United States cannot. A divided America encourages our enemies, disheartens our allies, and saps our resolve—potentially to fatal effect. What General Giap of North Vietnam once said of us is even truer today: America cannot be defeated on the battlefield, but it can be defeated at home. Polarization is a force that can defeat us.”

James Q. Wilson wrote that, in an essay on America’s polarization. The scholar, author, philosopher and social scientist who died yesterday at the age of 80 was a passionate conservative who believed in winning arguments, influencing policy and changing conduct with the power of ideas, facts, studies and analysis. That the media, especially the conservative media, treated the death of Andrew Breitbart as a thunderclap and the death of Wilson as a footnote tells us as much as we need to know about our culture, values and intellect. I watched GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum respond to the news of Breitbart’s death as if the culture warrior was the equivalent of Martin Luther King. Breitbart died too young, at 43; he had a family, and reputedly was a nice guy. But his contribution to the American scene was to use his various websites to increase the intensity of partisan warfare, and to help banish fairness, compromise, civility and mutual trust from public discourse. One of the last videos of Brietbart showed him screaming insults at Occupy protesters.

I had stopped using Breitbart’s sites for source material: I couldn’t trust them. The editing of James O’Keefe’s ACORN sting was one strike; the misleadingly truncated Shirley Sherrod speech was another. I wasn’t going to wait for a third. It tells me something alarming about conservatives in this country that such an unethical new media figure could be so lionized upon his death, when his methods were so frequently aimed at destruction rather than elightenment.

Wilson, in contrast, got substantive and wide-ranging results.His 1981 essay “Broken Windows” argued that community policing, rather than mere law enforcement, was the secret to changing urban culture. He wrote (with co-author George Kelling): Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Shirley Sherrod, Striking a Blow for Accountability

The Department of Agriculture, in a desperate effort at damage control (and to make amends for its unprofessional and unfair treatment of her), offered Shirley Sherrod another job. She has turned it down, saying, “I know [DOA Secretary Tom Vilsack] apologized, and I accept that. And a new process is in place, and I hope that it works. I don’t want to be the one that tests it.”

Excellent.  Brava! Continue reading

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

More Lessons from the Sherrod Ethics Train Wreck

Gordon Peterson, venerable host of “Inside Washington” and long-time Washington D.C. news anchor, began the show’s segment on Shirley Sherrod this way:

“Some of you may remember the good old days of newspapering and TV and radio news when you had hours to work on your story, and your editors and producers had plenty of time to sift through your stuff for accuracy. If you remember that, you’re a dinosaur. Welcome to the blogosphere, the burnout pace of online news and the 24 hour instant deadline. Which brings me to the story of ousted Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod who was let go on the basis of a single piece of internet video that was edited out of context, posted on a conservative website, picked up on Fox News, and bought lock, stock and barrel by the Obama administration.”

That’s right, Gordon. And, as Charles Krauthammer immediately pointed out on the show, you have succumbed to the blogosphere’s unethical standards, because you didn’t check the accuracy of that statement. Continue reading

Race, Politics and Cowardice: the Unethical Victimization of Shirley Sherrod

The forced resignation of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod, an African-American, is far more significant than it appears. By itself, it is a deplorable example of an innocent citizen being victimized by a convergence of unethical conduct by the media, the Obama Administration, and the N.A.A.C.P. Sherrod’s fate, however, is also a warning, a frightening sign that racial and political tensions are rapidly spinning out of control in America, and that the very institutions we should be able to trust to apply reason, competence, courage and fairness to the issue of race are displaying cowardice, dishonesty and opportunism instead. I hope this is an isolated incident. Everything tells me it is not.

This sudden ethics train wreck developed when Andrew Breitbart, proprietor of the provocative, entertaining and thoroughly Right-leaning website, posted a grainy video that he said showed Shirley Sherrod, U.S.D.A.’s state director of rural development for Georgia, speaking at a March 27 NAACP Freedom Fund banquet. Continue reading