Tag Archives: biased journalism

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/17/18: Mueller And A Movie

Good afternoon..

1 Well, we have some exit poll results…on my integrity and denial question in the Mueller indictment post I started at 4 am, hence the late Warm-up. Based on the comments so far, I am going to be disappointed: the “Trump is guilty of something” crowd is, so far, arguing that an indictment statement including  “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election” means that the President’s election was illegitimate and that he is guilty of wrongdoing. We also have such jaw-dropping moments as a commenter praising the Mueller investigation for not leaking the indictments beforehand—wow. Leaks are unethical, and when a grand jury is involved, illegal. The leaking from the Mueller investigation and the Justice Department have been a national disgrace, and we are now at the point when government lawyers not breaking the law is deemed worthy of praise in some quarters.

Of course, we don’t know what was leaked. Since leaking grand jury testimony is so serious and always sparks its own investigation, I wouldn’t bet against reporters having been tipped off, but using the advance notice to prepare their “Trump’s still guilty!” responses.

A better example could not be found of how the the news media and the intentionally divisive partisan rhetoric of the past decade have caused a fracture in the ability of Americans to perceive facts unfiltered by confirmation bias. I find this disheartening. But exit polls are not always accurate…

2. An unexpected take on the indictments. Eccentric conservative blogger Da Tech Guy  had some interesting observations:

“Section 1 and section 24 notes that it’s against US law for “certain foreign nationals” to enter the US without a visa providing truthful and accurate information to the government. Apparently these laws don’t apply to dreamers and those who brought them…section 41 talks about identity theft including social security numbers; again, this could be a charge against the DACA kids…Section 85 completes the list, the illegality here is that they pretended to be Americans and didn’t register as foreign agents while doing activities that if done by Americans would be completely legal…Does that mean that DACA folks and illegals who have held political rallies will be indicted next?…Section 89-95 on count 2 and section 96 again notes identity theft and moving money via such theft., boy this could be an indictment of the illegal alien DACA crowd if they wanted. But they don’t.”

3. Ethics movie review! I watched Denzel Washington’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” twice last week, in part because it is a legal ethics movie, and in part because Washington’s portrayal of an idealistic autism-spectrum civil rights attorney whose ethics alarms get corrupted is so unusual for him. I’ll basically pay to watch Denzel play canasta. Continue reading

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The Mueller Indictments: Observations And A Spin Report

Late yesterday afternoon the Justice Department announced that it had indicted thirteen Russians and three Russian companies for participation in a scheme to interfere in the United States political system. From the Justice Department website:

“The Department of Justice announced that a grand jury in the District of Columbia today returned an indictment presented by the Special Counsel’s Office. The indictment charges thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 Presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called “information warfare against the United States,” with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

The full 37-page indictment is here, giving citizens a rare example to read everything reporters know and to thereby be able to gauge exactly how accurate and fair their reporting is, if the citizens are so inclined. SPOILER ALERT: The spin efforts thus far have been staggering.

The press release also tells us in part:

According to the allegations in the indictment, twelve of the individual defendants worked at various times for Internet Research Agency LLC, a Russian company based in St. Petersburg, Russia. …Internet Research Agency allegedly operated through Russian shell companies. It employed hundreds of persons for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support, with an annual budget of millions of dollars. Internet Research Agency was a structured organization headed by a management group and arranged in departments, including graphics, search-engine optimization, information technology, and finance departments. In 2014, the agency established a “translator project” to focus on the U.S. population. In July 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project….To hide the Russian origin of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located within the United States in order to set up a virtual private network. The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, making it appear that the accounts were controlled by persons within the United States. They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular political candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media.

Also:

The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment, the Americans did not know that they were communicating with Russians.

Thirteen paragraphs into the release is this statement: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Talk about burying the lede!

Observations: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/3/2018: Lists, Lust, Tweets and Twits…[UPDATED!]

Good Morning, Ethics Lovers!

1 Fake news or just bad journalism? These year-end lists are sometimes very valuable. The Washington Examiner has published what it calls “our catalogue of the shoddiest political reporting beginning Jan. 20, 2017,” It’s no surprise that most of the items appear to spring from anti-Trump bias, but not all. I’m certain the list is not complete; I’m very certain that Fox News is treated far too leniently. It’s still a useful list.

This example from the list is the kind of misleading spin that Ethics Alarms will continue to label fake news: anti-Trump distortions designed to further a Democratic constituency’s false narrative. This one was generated by a reporter’s confirmation bias that the White House was hostile to LGBT citizens, then not checked, and given a pass by an editor who was also influenced by confirmation bias:

March 29: The Golden Easter Egg

The Claim: In a first for the White House, the eggs used for the annual Easter Egg Roll will be gold instead of the usual rainbow and pastel colors.

The Source: A New York Times reporter.

The Facts: This was not the first time that the White House has used golden eggs for the annual hunt. The Obamas had golden eggs as did previous administrations.

Hell, I knew about the golden eggs. It would have been easy to check, but the journalists leaped to the conclusion that would support anti-Trump fearmongering.

2. Add it to the list! Ann Althouse caught this one:

I’m reading “Trump’s claim that he prevented air-traffic deaths is his most questionable yet” by Philip Bump at the Washington Post (and similar attacks on Trump elsewhere). But what Trump tweeted was:

“Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news – it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!”

Those are 2 separate sentences. They do create the impression that they have something to do with each other, but he’s only claiming that he’s been “very strict on Commercial Aviation.” (Don’t get me started on the capitalization.) He never says because of my strictness there have been zero deaths. If you see a claim, you made an inference.

Bingo. And inferences should not be published in major newspapers as facts. Trump did not claim that he prevented air-traffic deaths, and even if he had, it certainly would not be “his most questionable yet.”

3. He just can’t help himself.  I wonder how many extra approval points President Trump would have if he just had a smart, savvy, responsible tweet editor with veto power. Stupid tweets like yesterday’s retort to “Rocket Man”…

“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

…are nothing but destructive. a) This kind of flippant talk involving nuclear war is per se irresponsible. b) It reinforces fears that the President is reckless and untrustworthy. c) It is childish, and reduces international diplomacy to playground taunts. d) It shows a flat learning curve and a frightening lack of discipline and judgement. e) It’s crude, and unpresidential.

But you knew that without me having to explain it, right? So why didn’t he?

Continue reading

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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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