Ethics Quote Of The Week: Michael Kinsley

“As the news media struggles to expose government secrets and the government struggles to keep them secret, there is no invisible hand to assure that the right balance is struck. So what do we do about leaks of government information? Lock up the perpetrators or give them the Pulitzer Prize? (The Pulitzer people chose the second option.) This is not a straightforward or easy question. But I can’t see how we can have a policy that authorizes newspapers and reporters to chase down and publish any national security leaks they can find. This isn’t Easter and these are not eggs.”

—-Pundit and former editor of Slate Michael Kinsley, reviewing the book by Edward Snowden co-conspirator Glenn Greenwald’s book, “No Place to Hide.”

This is the heroic image the press has of itself, as it protects useful criminals and traitors. Unfortunately, it's a self-serving fantasy.

This is the heroic image the press has of itself, as it protects useful criminals and traitors. Unfortunately, it’s a self-serving fantasy.

I lost much of my respect for Kinsley (full disclosure: we’re college classmates; he’s a celebrity journalist, I’m not) when he was shouting liberal talking points at Robert Novak every week on “Crossfire.” I knew Mike was more nuanced than that, and later he admitted as much in various essays: it was all for show. He later admitted that he sometimes endorsed books without reading them completely, and began writing these odd op-eds that appeared to mock the very position he seemed to be taking. Kinsley is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease*, and perhaps that’s a factor in his self-conscious sense of remove from his own writings, but the impression he has given for decades now is of a detached intellectual who looks down his nose at the very profession that feeds him, and who finds it amusing that the rubes still hang on his words, when he doesn’t give them much thought himself.

This quote from his review of Greenwald’s book (hmmm…did Kinsley actually read this one?) fits the bill. It is sloppy, but sufficiently specific to be unethical. He is essentially suggesting censorship of the press, which is an irresponsible position. The publishing of leaks should not be infringed. Chasing them down, however, is another matter. Current laws, if Democrats would leave them alone, are currently sufficient to discourage criminal acquisition of national security documents: just throw journalists who won’t reveal their criminal—that’s what they are you know, like Snowden—sources in jail until they crack, rot, or both, for obstructing justice When journalists actively aid and abet the theft of documents and data, like Greenwald did, before they are acquired and published, prosecute them too, along with their souces. Publishing such documents or using them for investigations are legitimate and First Amendment-protected activities, but nothing in the Constitution protects the leakers, traitors and thieves, or journalists who conspire to help them break the law—which is the stealing, not the publishing.

I have called what the press does with stolen material “information laundering.” That function, unfortunately, is too important to the role of the press in our democracy to regulate or constrain it, no matter how often it is abused. Still,  this should not make those who aren’t journalists immune from prosecution, or journalists who cross the line that divides reporting the news from making it.

* This is a correction; the original post said MS. I apologize for the error; I shouldn’t have relied on memory.

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Sources: New York Times

Cartoon: Doyle, Baylor

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Jeff Shesol

“Berg is not uncritical of Wilson’s biggest lapses — his tolerance of segregation, his suppression of civil liberties and his “highly questionable” actions (or paralytic inaction) after the stroke he suffered in 1919, during his grueling campaign to win Senate approval of the League of Nations.”

—Former Clinton Speechwriter and author Jeff Shesol, in his Washington Post book review of historian Scott Berg’s new biography of Woodrow Wilson, “Wilson.”

All right, he was a racist, but he was GREAT racist, right, Jeff?

All right, he was a racist, but he was GREAT racist, right, Jeff?

There is a nasty piece of dishonesty in this quote, all the more sinister because it slides right by, altering your understanding of history and reality without you even knowing it. (Is it any surprise that Shesol wrote speeches for Bill Clinton?) Did you catch it?

It is the phrase, “[President Woodrow Wilson’s] tolerance of segregation.”] Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Novelist R J Ellory

“Jellybean”

Yes, he really did: best-selling British crime novelist R J  Ellory actually went on Amazon, and using fake names like “Jellybean” and “Nicodemus Jones,” wrote rave reviews of his own books . In one review, he called one of his novels a “modern masterpiece” and wrote that it “just stopped me dead in my tracks.”

How embarrassing. Sales a little soft lately, R J? He also used fake identities to post negative reviews of his rivals’ works. Continue reading

The Strange and Telling Case of the Illiterate Novelist

True, it was a lousy book, but at least the sentences were grammatical.

I have noticed of late a disturbing trend, the literary equivalent of those who play their car radios and sound systems at ear-splitting volume with the windows down, or youths who converse in shouts in public places. The trend is proliferation of the proud and unapologetic illiterates,  authors of e-mails, blog posts or even published material who regard the basics of punctuation, grammar, spelling and rhetoric as an annoying inconvenience, and who not only pay little heed to these archaic matters, but also display no regret about the barely readable products that result.

At this point, I am less concerned with why so many of those who communicate in writing are so shamelessly sloppy, and more interested in what the trend signifies for our society. Perhaps some insight can be gained by examining a recent exchange between a grammar and spelling-challenged novelist and a reviewer of her work on a book review blog called “Books and Pals.” Continue reading