Tag Archives: biased journalism

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/18/17: (Part One) The Frankenmedia

Wait, how does that go again? What is it that “dies in darkness”?

Good morning (or, as I first typed it, “good monging”), everyone!

1 CNN’s walking, talking, “mistake…CNN’s alleged ethics watchdog, Brian Stelter, is really an embarrassment. He sees his job as defending the news media, not making its conduct better through objective criticism. He especially works up a sweat defending CNN, perhaps the most rooutinely unethical of all…but then, CNN pays his salary, the fools. He’s useless.

In a podcast,, both he and CNN token conservative S.E. Cupp blamed the mean conservative media and commentators unfairly dwelling on “mistakes” to undermine public trust in journalism.  See Rationalization #19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”

This is a legitimate defense if, in fact, an individual has been accused of not being perfect.  Usually, however, it is an attempt to minimize the significance of genuine misconduct. When an act suggests that more than an honest mistake or single instance of bad judgment was involved, and that an individual’s conduct indicates a broader lack of character or ethical sensitivity, “Nobody’s perfect!” and “Everybody makes mistakes!” are not only inappropriate and irrelevant, but are presumptively efforts to change the subject. The fact that nobody is perfect does not mean that it isn’t necessary and appropriate to point out unethical conduct when it occurs. It also does not argue for failing to make reasonable assumptions about the ethical instincts of the actor if and when the unethical nature of conduct strongly suggests that it is not an aberration, but a symptom.

Though nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, we are all still accountable for the mistakes we make.

It’s not a mistake when CNN shows itself to be blatantly biased, it’s dishonest and a breach of integrity. It’s not a mistake when CBS, ABC and NBC refuse to report a Democratic Senator’s trial for bribery  until  it ends in a mistrial, its deliberate refusal to report the news. (CBS recently devoted 45 second to the President drinking from a water bottle.) It’s not a mistake when NBC reinstated a news anchor (Brian Williams) who was shown to have lied repeatedly, its contempt for journalism, and irresponsible. It’s not a mistake when ABC ignores basic conflict of interest principles to allow former Clinton staffer and current Clinton Foundation donor George Stephanopoulos to interview both Hillary Clinton (nice, easy interview)and the author of a book criticizing her (hostile interview), it’s incompetent journalism. Etc, meaning I could go on for, oh, 50,000 words or so without having to check my notes.

The fact that CNN lets an unqualified dolt like Stelter talk about ethics isn’t a mistake either.

When mistakes—and fake news, the description of misconceptions as facts, and bias-driven choices regarding which stories to cover and which to bury are not mistakes—by professionals reach a critical mass, they implicate trust.

2. Like THIS mistake, for example…Here, courtesy of Newsbusters, is veteran CNN journalist Gloria Borger spinning for Al Franken:

Borger …immediately went into spin mode by downplaying the fallout, stating that KABC radio host Leann Tweeden “did not call for him to step down or say he ought to step down” and didn’t render an opinion upon being told an investigation had been launched.

Gloria really needs to 1) read Ethics Alarms and 2) take Ethics 101. What a victim chooses to say about an unethical act that harmed her doesn’t alter the seriousness of the act in any way.

From there, Borger continued proving this segment as one of political tribalism, declaring that what matters most is “the context in which all of this occurring, which is Moore — Judge Moore — and that has been, you know, brewing and percolating, whatever you want to say, for days and days and days.” 

In other words, “Look over there!” This is also Ethics 1o1 stuff: Whether the conduct of individual A is better or worse, the unrelated conduct of individual B must be judged on its own ethics breaches. Borgia is appealing to Rationalization #22, “It’s not the worst thing.” (This is also the current favorite of my Facebook friends, who are embarrassing themselves. At least they aren’t posing as journalists.) Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/13/17: Rushing In Panic Around My Boston Hotel Room Because I Didn’t Get My Wake-Up Call Edition

It’s not a good morning…

(Gotta start teaching the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct in an hour, so this has to be quick. Sorry!)

1 Apparently Breitbart, aka Steve Bannon, has sent two investigative reporters to Alabama to discredit the stories of the four women who say Roy Moore courted them when they were in braces and poodle skirts. See, ethical news sources would be doing what we call “finding out if there’s anything the Washington Post missed.” Breitbart is trying to dig up dirt on four women who just responded to the Washington Post reporters’ questions. How do we know this? Well, 1) the untrustworthy hard-right website has been defending Moore and attacking the Post since the story broke; 2) it is appealing to its core group, made up of alt-right creeps and, you know, morons, by saying this is what they are doing; 3) it has already filed a story claiming that the ex-14-year-old who says 32-year-old Moore fondled her was contradicted in some aspects of her story by her mother. Then there’s 4), which is that the site is so slimy it makes eels gag.

Oh…Ann Coulter tweeted yesterday that it doesn’t matter if Moore is a theocrat, it doesn’t matter if the man who calls gays sub-human perverts is, in fact, a pervert himself; it doesn’t matter that he was kicked  off the bench twice as a judge for ignoring the law….what matters is that he’ll vote for Trump’s wall in the Senate. Get help, Ann.

2. On the other end of the ideological divide where it is just as scary, Media Matters is promoting a sponsor boycott of Sean Hannity to drive the conservative pundit off the air as punishment for saying nice things about Moore.  It has already bullied coffee-machiine maker Keurig into pulling its ads, and that has prompted, in turn, a call by Hannity to boycott Keurig. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/4/2017: Trump At His Worst, Justice Ginsburg At Her Worst, The Times At Its Worst…Yechhhh.

Maybe THIS will be good morning…

1  When I kept reading rants about President Trump’s comments in Puerto Rico, I naturally assumed this was just more of the same: the Trump Deranged seeking out the worst possible interpretation of his words to justify going on another orgy of Trump-Hate. Unfortunately, his remarks were arguably even worse than his critics made them sound. Ugh. Trump’s body language and tone were antagonistic from the start. The man couldn’t control his resentment of the flack he received, much of it unfair, from the mayor of San Juan, so he had a chip on his shoulder, and expressed his annoyance by being petty, arrogant, callous and insulting. It was embarrassing to watch it.

The man is an asshole. This is not news. Now and then I nurture hopes that he will learn, as other Presidents who were assholes—there have been many—have leaned, to suppress the worst of their proclivities in public. Doing this is in the best interests of the nation, and also is crucial to maintaining the power and influence of a Presidency. A display like this is like a face full of ice water for me.

I am officially certifying the Trump Presidency Ethics Train Wreck.

I agree: I’m about 9 months late.

2. Appearing before an audience at New York City’s 92nd St. YWCA, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked by CBS journalist Charlie Rose whether she thought sexism played a role in the presidential election results. She responded that anti-female bias was “a major, major factor” in Clinton’s defeat. As Jonathan Turley, who has repeatedly criticized this and other Justices for for making political statements that undermine the credibility and trustworthiness of the Supreme Court, takes pains to explain, this claim is unsupportable, except in Hillary Clinton’s tortured brain:

Hillary Clinton and her key aides have blamed the election in part on self-hating women who would not vote for Clinton — dismissing that women could have entirely independent judgment rejecting Clinton on the merits.  Indeed recent polls show that Clinton would still lose to Trump despite his unpopularity with many voters.  According to the New York Times, Clinton carried only 54 percent of the female vote against Donald Trump. However, nearly twice as many white women without college degrees voted for Trump than for Hillary and she basically broke almost even on college-educated white women (with Hillary taking 51 percent). Trump won the majority of white women at 53 percent.  Clinton’s continued criticism of women as being self-haters was denounced recently as itself a sexist argument.  In an interview with VoxClinton said white women just do what men tell them to do:

“All of a sudden, the husband turns to the wife, ‘I told you, she’s going to be in jail. You don’t wanna waste your vote.’ The boyfriend turns to the girlfriend and says, ‘She’s going to get locked up, don’t you hear? She’s going to get locked up. Instead of saying, ‘I’m taking a chance, I’m going to vote,’ it didn’t work.”

It is not hard to imagine what the response would have been to someone else dismissing female voters as just a bunch of clinging mindless voters following the directions of their men.  

Never mind: Ginsburg got her seat on the Court by being a woman’s issues advocate, and feminists have to bolster the narrative even when it is utter garbage, as this one is. She’s in her eighties, and clearly is well-into the “I don’t give a damn” phase of life. One of the things she apparently doesn’t give a damn about is judicial ethics.

The correct answer to Rose’s question, the George Washington University law professor points out, was “to say that justices do not, and should not, hold forth on political issues.”

Bingo.

3. It has come to this: Yesterday, the New York Time’s editorial was headlined “477 Days. 521 Mass Shootings. Zero Action From Congress.” It consisted of calendar graphs that claimed, for example, that there were 27 mass shootings in September, and implied that action from Congress could have reduced the number.

Here is an op-ed the same paper in December of 2015, before the Times went completely nuts and abandoned all semblance of responsible journalism:

At Mother Jones, where I work as an editor, we have compiled an in-depth, open-source database covering more than three decades of public mass shootings. By our measure, there have been four “mass shootings” this year, including the one in San Bernardino, and at least 73 such attacks since 1982.

What explains the vastly different count? The answer is that there is no official definition for “mass shooting.” Almost all of the gun crimes behind the much larger statistic are less lethal and bear little relevance to the type of public mass murder we have just witnessed again. Including them in the same breath suggests that a 1 a.m. gang fight in a Sacramento restaurant, in which two were killed and two injured, is the same kind of event as a deranged man walking into a community college classroom and massacring nine and injuring nine others. Or that a late-night shooting on a street in Savannah, Ga., yesterday that injured three and killed one is in the same category as the madness that just played out in Southern California.

While all the victims are important, conflating those many other crimes with indiscriminate slaughter in public venues obscures our understanding of this complicated and growing problem. Everyone is desperate to know why these attacks happen and how we might stop them — and we can’t know, unless we collect and focus on useful data that filter out the noise.

Now the New York Times wants to contribute to the noise.

4. The Times’ biases have their uses, of course. They sometime blind reporters to what their own stories actually tell us, thus letting some ugly cats out of the bag for all to see and smell. There is this article, for example,  in which various film-makers and academics discuss how to employ mass-distribution films to change public opinion regarding climate change with.

The article is endorsing indoctrination and propaganda, without ever acknowledging that this is what it is really being discussed. You know, like “The Triumph of the Will.”

The ignorant sheep-like public must be led to believe what we believe, because that is what will result in the greater good. We have a shining example of the danger to democracy when entertainment, popular culture and media are committed to one political ideology.

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The Kid Mowing The White House Lawn

Sure it’s a political stunt, but it’s a nice stunt. In the long tradition of Presidents responding to letters and news stories involving children, this is one of the better ones. It is certainly better than the last example, President Obama making a hero out of “Clock Boy,” a kid who was seemingly being used as a propaganda tool by his Muslim activist father.

Frank Giaccio, of Falls Church, Virginia., had written to Trump earlier this year, saying it would be his “honor” to “mow the White House lawn some weekend for you.”  In the letter that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read the letter at a press briefing last month, Giaccio wrote that he would cut the grass “at no charge.”

Any President with two brain cells to rub together would take up an offer like that and have photographers ready when the kid came to work. Sure enough, a throng was on hand as Frank was seen mowing in the Rose Garden after the White House invited him to spend the morning alongside the groundskeeper at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Diligent to a fault, he initially wouldn’t even stop mowing when the President spoke to him. Finally, he paused long enough to shake President trump’s hand.

Lessons? The President was humanized: he didn’t try to eat him.  The episode shows that America’s youth are still industrious and ready to work. It shows that patriotism lives. It shows that the rising generation is full of normal kids that love America, at least until they have been indoctrinated otherwise by high school and college teachers, and popular culture. Who could possibly object to this heart-warming scene? Continue reading

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From Acculturated, A Perfect Rationalization #22

The post by Mike Judge on the pop culture site Acculturated is such a perfect example of The Worst of All Rationalizations, #22 The Comparative Virtue Excuse, that I might add a permanent link to it in the Rationalizations List.

In case you have been out of the Ethics Alarms loop, here is #22:

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

Judge spends his post, titled “Why Are Some Journalists Acting Like Snowflakes?,’ mocking journalists who complain when the President punches down at them, which is unethical conduct on his part, or when the public is openly hostile to reporters, which is wrong, but it is the escalating bias and trustworthiness of the news media that arouses the public’s ire. In contrast, he reminds us that George Orwell (above) was shot in the neck when he was on assignment as a reporter, that young reporter Ernest Hemingway was hit with a mortar in World War I, and that Woodward and Bernstein thought their lives were at risk. Continue reading

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I’m Sorry To Have To Do Again This So Soon, But I Promised…Unethical Quote Of The Week: NYT Book Reviewer Jennifer Senior

I’m going to kill this fake history if it’s the last thing I do…

“But one thing we know for certain: History conspired against Clinton. No non-incumbent Democrat has succeeded a two-term Democratic president since 1836, and 2016 was a year when voters were pining for change.”

—-New York Times book reviewer Jennifer Senior, spinning for Hillary in her review of “What Happened”

I promised. I promised myself and Ethics Alarms readers that every time Presidential historian Doug Brnkley’s false election night statement that voters seldom elect the same party into the White house 12 years running is quoted as an explanation for Hillary Clinton’s loss, I would point out that this is a lie, and an especially awful one when issued on national TV by a supposedly-credible historian

Based on today’s New York Times review of Hillary Clinton’s excuse-and-blame fest in the wake of her defeat last November, I, and the truth, are making a little joint headway. Reviewer Jennifer Senior has refined Brinkley’s false history and now has a technically accurate but equally misleading version.

Yes, it is true: No non-incumbent Democrat has succeeded a two-term Democratic president since 1836. There is a threshold problem with even this reduction: why does the “rule” only apply to Democrats? Apparently Democrats can use the excuse that voters never vote in non-incumbents of the same party after 8 years, but Republicans can’t. Sorry, John McCain! Tough luck, Richard Nixon!

Democrats are so comfortable with the concept of double-standards when it benefits them. It’s scary.

The larger problem with this factoid is that it is deceitful. Using 1836 sounds impressive: Wow, this hasn’t happened for almost 200 years! No wonder Hillary lost! It’s not so impressive when one points out, as Senior doesn’t have the integrity to do, that there have been only three elections before 2016 when a non-incumbent Democrat had a chance to succeed a two-term Democratic President. Three. 3. III. I can flip heads with a coin three times in a row (or tails) any time I want to, in less than five minutes. The fact that in just three elections cheery-picked for certain similarities (though they were anything but similar) the same party lost proves, or even indicates, nothing. Suggesting it does is either ignorant or dishonest. (In Senior’s case, I vote dishonest, but I could be wrong.) Continue reading

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I Am True To My Vow: Once AGAIN, Partisan Historian Douglas Brinkley’s Excuse For Hillary Clinton’s Loss Is Incompetent And False History, And As Long As Ignorant Or Dishonest Hacks Keep Repeating It, Ethics Alarms Will Keep Reminding You That They Are Hacks…Like Brinkley

Yes, yes, I know I have written about this several times already. I will keep doing so, too, until this ridiculous piece of Fake History inflicted on the public consciousness by partisan historian Doug Brinkley when he went on CNN election night and lied, I will keep writing it.

Today’s edition comes courtesy of the increasingly inexcusable fools on ABC’s “The View,” who were engaged this week in a Hillary defeat excuse and alibi orgy. Whoopie Goldberg kept darkly hinting of some conspiracy that allowed Trump to triumph (“We may never know why she lost…” Whoopie intoned), while Joy Behar kept saying that Hillary DID win, as if the elections rules don’t count. They were embarrassing, and they were inartuclate, and they made everyone of their viewers dumber by about 50 IQ points, but never mind: I’m going to focus on this blather, by Whoopie…

“You know, there have been very few eight years of one party and eight years of the same party. It doesn’t generally go back to back. The last time I think was Nixon and whoever came in after him was the last. Ford. And he pardoned. That was the last time we had a long stretch. When it wasn’t Democrat, Republican, Democrat Republican. So given all the crap that Obama had to eat from his own party, I don’t think Bernie was going to — I don’t think any Democrat was going to–people were going to vote –“

If you can translate that—Didn’t Whoopie once know how to speak?—, what is rattling around in her head is Brinkley’s false historical note that eight years of Presidents from one party are seldom followed by the election of another President from the same party. This is not just untrue, but spectacularly untrue. As I last wrote here,

…esteemed Presidential historian Doug Brinkley, for reasons known only to himself, went on the air live on CNN and concocted a new alibi for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. using fake history to do it. He said that there were powerful historical patterns at work in Hillary’s defeat, and that it is always hard for any one party to hold the White House for three consecutive terms. Then, as exceptions to the rule and to show how rare the exceptions were, Brinkley cited Reagan successfully pushing George H.W. Bush on the nation as his “third term,” and then went all the way back to 1836 for his other exception, when popular Democrat President Andrew Jackson got his acolyte Martin Van Buren elected to succeed him.

For days after this, I kept hearing Brinkley’s observation cited by talking heads and my disappointed Democratic friends, yet what he had said was wildly, unforgivably untrue. On election night, I ticked off the instances where one party has held the Presidency for more than two terms on the spot, right after Brinkley’s fiction (much to the annoyance of my wife):

After Van Buren, there were a bunch of one term Whigs and Democrats, but Lincoln’s two terms (the last finished by Andrew Johnson) was followed by Grant for two more, Hayes for one, and Garfield/Arthur for four more years. That 6 straight Republican terms, Doug. Then, three terms later, McKinley was elected to two, Teddy Roosevelt for one on top of the McKinley term he finished out, and Teddy anointed Taft as his successor just as Jackson had with Van Buren. That’s four straight Republican terms, or as we call it around my house, “More than two.”

But wait! There’s more! After Wilson and Mrs, Wilson served out two Democratic terms, we got Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, another three Republicans in a row. Then the Democrats made up for those consecutive runs with five straight of their own, courtesy of FDR’s four and Truman beating Dewey. In short, Brinkley gave the nation fake history, which then became fake news.

Continue reading

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