Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/30/2020: The “Let’s Have A Morning Warm-Up That’s Actually In The Morning” Edition

Good morning!

1. I have a theory on mainstream media bias deniers..Maybe it’s more sympathetic than they deserve, but I think people don’t notice how sloppy, incompetent and stupid reporters and pundits are because they don’t read newspapers carefully or consistently, and because other news sources are so packed with distractions and emotional manipulation (not that newspapers are not) that it’s hard to concentrate on the details. This is why I read the Times. I figure that it’s supposed to be the best, and if the best is stupid and biased (stupid makes you biased, and vice-versa), then we can be pretty sure that the rest are worse.

It is amazing how much disinformation the Times allows, or in many cases, promotes. Here’s a trivial but telling example: Sarah Lyall is a Times reporter who also writes a column reviewing thrillers in the New York Times Review of Books, wrote recently that she always wanted to be “the Henry Fonda” of a jury, “single-handedly” “exonerating” a “wrongly accused” defendant, like “Twelve Angry Men.” This is a factually and legally false description of Reginald Rose’s script. Juror 8 (Fonda) doesn’t “single-handedly” do anything except keep deliberations going. The defendant isn’t “exonerated”—all the jury does is collectively figure out that he wasn’t proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt–you know, like OJ. And he probably wasn’t wrongly accused. In fact., he’s probably guilty. The whole point of Rose’s screenplay is that “probably” isn’t enough.

Newspapers are supposed to enlighten readers, not make them dumber. I know most people think that “Twelve Angry Men” is like mystery where someone is accused of murder and is proven innocent by a relentless sleuth, but it’s not. Did Lyall not really watch the film, meaning she was lying, or did she not understand it, indicating that she should be judged too stupid to be a reporter? The same can be said of her editor. The Times can’t get the easy things right; why would anyone trust it to analyze more complex matters more reliably? Continue reading

Tales Of The Slippery Slope: Amazon And Censorship

From the New York Times:

Amazon has removed the online listings for two books that claim to contain cures for autism, a move that follows recent efforts by several social media sites to limit the availability of anti-vaccination and other pseudoscientific material. The books, “Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism” and “Fight Autism and Win,” which had previously been listed for sale in Amazon’s marketplace, were not available on Wednesday. The company confirmed that the listings had been removed, but declined to discuss why or whether similar books would be taken down in the future.

And what does “similar books” mean?

Based on what I’ve seen from our tech giants, “similar books” could soon include a scientist’s arguments against climate change, a hagiography of President Trump, or an expose of the  misconduct of the Obama Administration. Amazon has decided that anti-vax arguments are dangerous and wrong, and though I happen to agree with them, it is not Amazon’s job to decide what ideas, positions, opinions and theories are worthy of public consumption. Amazon dominated the book retail business (and many other businesses as well). Its censorship policies constrain debate, the free expression of ideas, and the expression of dissent from the majority.

Defenders of civil liberties and freedom of speech must express their disapproval of Amazon’s Big Brother act, even if it has the “right” to abuse its power, and even if it isn’t the government choosing which citizens to muzzle. Conduct like this places me squarely on the side of Elizabeth Warren, who is advocating breaking up companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook. When we start allowing speech labeled “dangerous” or “untrue” to be blocked, no matter who is doing the blocking, then we are damaging our democracy and the free circulation of ideas, as well as abetting elite attempts at thought control.

 

Announcing: The Incompetent Elected Official of the Month

"What, me legislate?"

With this post, Ethics Alarms announces a new continuing category for ethics infamy: Incompetent Elected Officials.

We tend to focus on corruption, dishonesty, conflicts of interest and lies when identifying unethical public officials, but it is the wildly incompetent of the breed who might carry the most ethics baggage of all. An incompetent elected official not only is irresponsible for taking on leadership that he or she is unable to deliver due to a lack of brains, skill, experience or judgment, but also keeps a more deserving and able individual from a distinguished position that needs him, jeopardizes the public, and undermines trust in the government generally. The public’s ethics are also implicated by the incompetent official’s ascension to power, as the truly inept can usually be identified with a modicum of diligence and care. Incompetent and irresponsible officials require the assistance of incompetent and irresponsible voters.

Thus incompetent elected officials warrant special attention. And the first incompetent elected official to be honored as the Ethics Alarms Incompetent Elected Official of the Month is….Alabama Republican State Senator Gerald Allen! Continue reading

The Citizens United Opinion and the Post’s Unethical Poll

Is the Washington Post story on  the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court opinion and the public’s reaction to it  dishonest, sinister, or just incompetent? I’m not sure, but I am sure of this: it is a classic example of why polls are a terrible way to guide national policy and lawmaking. The Post article begins…

“Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, and most favor new limits on such spending, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.”

The statement is false and misleading. Whatever the merits or deficiencies of the Citizens decision may be, the vast majority of the American public has no idea what the Supreme Court ruling was, or why it was made. Continue reading