“Oh The Humanity!”

Today is the anniversary of one of the most vividly recalled disasters in U.S. history.  On May 6, 1937, the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg, a flying equivalent of The Titanic,  burst into flames while trying to dock with its mooring mast at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The conflagration was captured in spectacular and now iconic newsreel footage, as well as in dozens of photographs.

Many  are surprised to learn that there were only were 35 fatalities in the explosion, 13 passengers and 22 crewmen,  among the 36 passengers and 61 crewmen on board (There was one fatality on the ground). The accident looked far more horrible than it was.

The appearance of the accident was so spectacular that it ended the passenger airship business That’s a  classic example of the Barn Door Fallacy, in which the reaction to  predictable and often inevitable disasters leads to  emotional over-reactions, as if by retroactively making an event impossible it can be reversed. Airships were a safe mode of travel (and a luxurious one: remember “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”?) in good weather when they were filled with Helium. The Hindenburg and other German Zeppelins used highly flammable hydrogen, making them flying tinderboxes, just waiting for a spark. But once the fireball that the ship became was gasped at world wide, no  explanations could make the visceral image recede. Nobody wanted to get on those things again. Continue reading

Visual Bias Ethics

Let’s see: Hack, hack, probably a hack, and hack.

One aspect of broadcast journalism ethics that the Old Guard—Murrow, Cronkite, Brinkley, Huntley, Thomas and the rest— observed and respected was a neutral demeanor. They knew (and today’s hacks know as well, but with different results), that tone of delivery, body language and facial expressions can convey a journalist’s personal views and biases as clearly as a direct statement. Their practice, therefore, was to maintain a poker face and a matter-of-fact delivery. When Walter Cronkite brushed away a tear while announcing JFK’s death in 1963, it was considered newsworthy because Walter did not bring his own feelings into the news. The consensus was that hee could be forgiven this one time.

If that professional practice is taught in journalism classes any more, it is ignored. Now broadcast journalists and reporters deliberately use every tool at their disposal to signal to viewers what they think, and thus what the viewers should think as well. The election of Donald Trump represented a full-on, industry wide rejection of objectivity by the broadcast media, as many reporters allowed themselves to appear in mourning, or close to tears.  Unlike the assassination of JFK, however, this  was not an excusable exception, or, as we have learned, an exception at all.

Look at the faces of last night’s CNN panel reporting on what had been built up as a bellweather election in North Carolina that, should a Democrat have won, would be string sign that President Trump and Republicans were in trouble nationwide. Is there any doubt who they were rooting for?

This is not only unethical journalism, it’s incompetent journalism.

But that’s the way it is.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/13/17

Good Morning!

1. I owe Robin Meade an apology. The astoundingly bright-eyed, bushy-tailed HLN morning host has been used here as an an example of the sexism of broadcast news media producers, and it is true that she is uncommonly attractive even by “news babe” standards. However, I have come to realize that she is also a unique talent, and more than just a pretty face and figure. Meade has natural presence and charisma, projects genuine optimism and and an up-beat nature, and most unusual of all, doesn’t spin the news or tilt her delivery to signal her own opinion. She’s really good at what she does. I’m sorry Robin; I was biased against you because you are attractive, which is just as wrong as being biased for you. You’re a pro, through and through.

2. Constitutional law expert Eugene Volokh (who is also my favorite candidate for a Supreme Court post if one opens up) published what I consider to be a definitive refutation of the claim that receiving opposition research, as in “damaging information about Hillary Clinton,” is a crime under current law. He also makes a case that it couldn’t be criminalized under future law:

“It would raise obvious First Amendment problems: First, noncitizens, and likely even non-permanent-residents, in the United States have broad First Amendment rights. See Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135 (1945) (“freedom of speech and of press is accorded aliens residing in this country”); Underwager v. Channel 9 Australia, 69 F.3d 361 (9th Cir. 1995) (“We conclude that the speech protections of the First Amendment at a minimum apply to all persons legally within our borders,” including ones who are not permanent residents).

Second, Americans have the right to receive information even from speakers who are entirely abroad. See Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965). Can Americans — whether political candidates or anyone else — really be barred from asking questions of foreigners, just because the answers might be especially important to voters?”

The professor concludes not. I hadn’t even considered the First Amendment issue in determining that the election law prohibition against receiving “anything of value” benefiting a candidate from a foreign nation or individual was not intended to preclude mere information, but Volokh’s argument seems air tight. Continue reading

From The “Why We Can’t Trust The News Media” Files: The Megyn Kelly- Alex Jones Interview Fiasco

Here is the sequence of events:

1. Newly minted NBC “star” Megyn Kelly announced that she would be interviewing infamous right wing political troll and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on a segment of her new show.

Jones is a fringe media figure and a proven liar, but he has been cited positively by President Trump, and has successfully caused some wide-spread comtoversy and offense, such as when he claimed that the Newtown massacre was a hoax. There is nothing wrong with interviewing such figures; indeed, it is important to interview them. provided ethical journalism standards apply.

Unfortunately, as this episode demonstrates, journalists no longer know what those standards are.

2. In order to persuade Jones to agree to the interview, Kelly promised him—Jones had a tape—that he would be treated fairly. Note: when you tell someone they will be treated fairly in order to have him trust you, your definition of “fair” must be his definition of “fair.”  If he is thinking, “Ah! She will be neutral rather than adversarial, and will not be looking for gotchas!,” but she meant, “It’s fair that I fillet you like a trout, you bastard!” then the interview subject has been deceived.

3. The parents of the victims of the Newtown shooting, as well as their sympathizers and allies, protested the interview, as I wrote about here, saying that NBC was giving Jones a platform. Sympathy and grief are not excuses for censorship. The fact that the parents hate Jones suggests that they shouldn’t watch him be interviewed. They should not seek to interfere with my right to see how he presents himself, and companies (like J.P Morgan) that responded to the threatened boycott by pulling their ads told me that they will go as the winds blow, no matter how totalitarian the direction it might be.

Good to know. To hell with them.

4. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking of progressives with muddled values,  wanted NBC to pull the segment.. The NBC affiliate in Hartford refused to air the episode because the “wounds of that day that have yet to heal.”

Yes, by all means, journalists should never report news or do stories that might upset anyone.

5. Showing the integrity of a sneak-thief, NBC and Kelly furiously re-cut the interview and added a segment in which some Newtown parents could attack Jones.

6. Before the interview aired, Alex Jones released audiotape showing how egregiously Kelly misled him.

7. The interview aired last night, and reviewers were satisfied that Kelly was “tough enough” with Jones, and signaled with her voice, facial expressions, tone and questions that she thought he was scum. “Short of waterboarding him,” one critic wrote, “I don’t know what more Kelly could have done to expose Jones’ dark methods.”

Ugh.

Ethics Observations: Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Fox Sports And Major League Baseball

The ex players are (R to L), Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, banned Pete Rose, rapidly being forgotten Raul Ibanez, and the nearly universally detested Alex Rodriguez.

The ex players are (R to L), Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, banned Pete Rose, rapidly fading from memory Raul Ibanez, and the nearly universally detested Alex Rodriguez.

Among the commentators at the desk in the pre- and post game show for FS1 (that’s Fox Sports One) as it carries the National League Championship Series between the Cubs and the Dodgers, are Pete Rose, and Alex Rodriquez.

Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, is banned from baseball for gambling on the game while a manager. This has been taboo since the 1919 World Series was fixed by gamblers. (Donald Trump has never accepted that the Cincinnati Reds won). Rose lied about whether he bet on baseball for over a decade, then he lied about whether he bet on his own team a little longer. In the meantime, he served prison time for tax evasion.

Alex Rodriquez eventually was suspended from baseball for more than a season for using banned performance enhancing drugs, years after he tested positive for steroid use and told the public sincerely that it was “one mistake” and he’d never do it again. He is also a serial liar. Eventually the increasingly cynical and ethically-addled younger sportswriters may vote him into the Hall of Fame, but he is second only to Barry Bonds as the worst of the worst. Currently, he is regarded as flunking the Hall’s character and sportsmanship requirement. Duh. Continue reading

This Just In From PBS: Ethical Journalism Is STILL Dead, And Unethical Journalism Is Being Funded By Your Tax Dollars

To be fair, this photo should only show about 40% of Jill Stein's face...

(To be fair, this photo should only show about 40% of Jill Stein’s face…)

Last week, PBS featured an interview with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. It began as a live interview on Facebook, but what was broadcast on the PBS’s NewsHour was significantly different from the actual interview. Here. courtesy of Newsbusters, are Stein’s missing comments, in bold:

JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS: You’ve made it clear you think both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would be terrible presidents for the country. So are you saying that literally that Hillary Clinton is every bit as bad for the country as Donald Trump?

GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE JILL STEIN: I wouldn’t say there are no differences, but the differences are not enough to save your job, because Hillary Clinton, you know, and now her transition director Ken Salazar, y’know, they’re big proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is basically NAFTA on steroids. And, uh, most observers believe that it will send our jobs overseas, as well as undermine American sovereignty by bringing in these international tribunals that get to pass judgment on our laws, on our public health protections, on our worker protections.

So we, you know, we can’t count on saving our jobs, saving our lives — 1 in 3 Americans now cannot afford health care under Obamacare — or saving the planet, because Hillary has been a big proponent of fracking, as is Ken Salazar, her transition director.

So we feel that in this election, we’re not just deciding what kind of a world we’re going to have, but whether we’re going to have a world or not going forward, and knowing that the majority of Americans is unhappy with these two party choices, this is the time for us to open up.

Americans have not only a right to vote, but a right to know who we can vote for.

So we’re pushing for opening up the debates, and then let’s see how the chips fall.

WOODRUFF: Dr. Jill Stein, with the Green Party. We thank you.

STEIN: Thank you, Judy.

You can watch the unedited version of Stein’s answer on a PBS livestreamed Facebook clip, beginning after the 6:40 mark. On  the PBS website and on PBS’ YouTube clip, however, all you’ll find is the edited answer. Even if Woodruff says, “You can hear the entire interview at…,” it doesn’t undo the damage. When an interviewer says this, do you assume that the “entire interview” means “the internal sentences and paragraphs we cut out to completely misrepresent what the actual answers were”? I don’t. Why don’t I, by now? Boy, am I an idiot.

Idiot or not, I am still the victim of an ethics foul, and disgustingly so. If the NewsHour has to cut some of the interview for time, fine: cut a question and its answer, don’t distort the answers by cutting out the middle of them, and the parts which just happen to be critical of—SURPRISE!—Hillary Clinton. If PBS does this, it is also ethically obligated to tell viewers that it has cut her answers, and where they can find what she really said. It didn’t do this.

It is absolutely unethical to distort the answer to a question in an interview by redacting it like that, and the fact that the whole interview is available intact on another medium—one could only find Stein’s unedited answers on Facebook if one knew where to look even as one was being deceived on TV—is no defense, and no more of one more than if the unmanipulated interview could be found buried under a rock with a map to it available online.

I apologize for the high dudgeon, but how dare PBS do this? How dare a publicly funded news source so blatantly play Pravda for the party in the White House? Continue reading

Update: CNN Is Doing It Again

I just had to flee my TV.

No longer funny. Deadly.

No longer funny. Deadly.

On CNN just now, “New Day” interrupted its coverage of the ambush and murder of five police officers last night to go to a Minnesota demonstration in response to the police shooting of Philando Castile . The girl friend and family of Castile were front and center; in the background, along with a throng of African-Americans (exclusively) we heard a woman weeping loudly and uncontrollably. (“Hey, Joe, see if you can make that sobbing as loud as possible. This is great!”)

The segment went on and on, longer, in fact, than any segment previously shown regarding the deaths of the Dallas police officers. We were told by the angry demonstrators that Castile was murdered (undetermined at this time, in fact), that “everything was on the video” (the video began after the shooting) and that local officials were incapable of fairly investigating. We were made to understand that the shooting was racially motivated (there is, at this time, no evidence to support this.) Typical of the whole scene was the statement made and supported by several individuals in the protest, that the coronor had ruled the death of Castile a “homicide,” so this means that the police officer must be charged with murder. Crowd: “Yes!”, “Uh-huh,” “That’s right!”  Interviewer Chris Cuomo: “____” This is how you make all of America more ignorant, CNN. “Homicide” means only that Castile died from being shot: he was killed; he did npt die of accidental or natural causes. It does not mean that he was illegally shot, or murdered. Cuomo had an obligation to correct them, and if he thought that it would be too “insensitive” to correct misinformation being broadcast to millions, then he shouldn’t do the interview, or is in the wrong profession.

I suppose that there is always the chance that Cuomo doesn’t know that homicide and murder are not synonymous. There is a lot he doesn’t know. Continue reading

It’s Gender Issues Confusion Monday! PART 1: Observations On “Sweatergate”…You Know, One Of Those Stupid Social Media Controversies That Has Some Genuine Issues Buried Inside

SWaetergate

The 8 a.m. Saturday broadcast on KLTA in Los Angeles area featured  Liberté Chan in a black, shimmery, shoulder-baring  cocktail dress, giving her report on the day’s weather. Suddenly, weekend anchor Chris Burrous’s arm appeared on the side of the screen, holding a gray cardigan sweater.

“What’s going on?” she said. “You want me to put this on? Why? Cause it’s cold in here?”

“We’re getting a lot of emails,” came the offstage voice of her male colleague. Then his hands placed the cardigan on Chan.

“There you go,” he said. “That’s nice.”

“OK. I look like … a librarian,” she says.

Whereupon social media “erupted,” as the current cliche goes, with many on Facebook, Twitter and whatever else there is out there in the social media jungle condemning the station for sexism. Others insisted that Chan’s cocktail dress was inappropriate attire, sending a message that “The Weather Girl is just eye candy, like the women in bikinis at boxing matches.”

Chan, in a post on her own blog, had this to offer…

I …didn’t think there was anything that inappropriate (the beads/sequins were probably a little much for the morning, but what girl doesn’t like something that sparkles?!), so I played along and put on the sweater.

That prompted a barrage of tweets and more emails from viewers, some of which I included below.

To be perfectly honest, the black beaded dress was a backup.  The pattern on my original black and white dress didn’t work on the weather wall (for some reason, it turned semi-transparent), so after my first weather hit at 6am, I changed.

For the record, I was not ordered by KTLA to put on the sweater.  I was simply playing along with my co-anchor’s joke, and if you’ve ever watched the morning show, you know we poke fun at each other all the time.

And, also for the record, there is no controversy at KTLA. My bosses did not order me to put on the cardigan, it was a spontaneous moment..  I truly love my job, I like my bosses and enjoy working with my coworkers.  Since talking to my team, I want our viewers to know it was never our intention to offend anyone. We are friends on and off the air and if you watch our newscast, you know that. More importantly, I hope my viewers were able to plan their Saturday once they heard my forecast and enjoyed the sunny weather after the clouds cleared.

Observations:

1. I was just watching MLB’s Heidi Watney on “Quick Pitch,” where she reviews the highlights of all the baseball games of the previous day, standing up in the middle of a studio. She was wearing a shoulders-baring cocktail dress much flashier than Chan’s,  my wife, not for the first time with Heidi, went nuts, complaining how the outfit was unprofessional and demeaning to women. She has similar reactions to the outfits of the Fox Blondes, and my favorite of the breed, Robin Meade, who frequently looks like she just returned from a wild night after a Vegas party. Is this kind of attire unprofessional? Well, it depends, doesn’t it? It depends if the job being done is seen as informational or  performance. If  it’s performance, then a costume is appropriate. If it is a professional conveyance of information to an audience only, a sound argument can be made that professional attire enhances trustworthiness.

Here’s a typical Heidi outfit: Continue reading

Observations On The Civility Meltdown On Fox News

Swear_wordsMonday  was “Talk like Jon Stewart Day” on Fox, as two Fox News contributors were quickly suspended after they used vulgarity while discussing President Barack Obama‘s Sunday night address on terrorism. Ralph Peters, a Fox Business analyst called the President a “total pussy,” and Fox News’ Outnumbered panelist Stacey Dash, who said Obama doesn’t “give a shit” about terrorism.

Observations:

I. Yes, the incursion on traditional news reporting by alleged comedy and satire shows like Bill Maher’s HBO conservative-bashing orgy and the various clown nose off and on with lightning speed political commentary shows on Comedy Central was bound to lead to this. It is kind of unfair: Maher can call Michele Bachmann a cunt without consequence, and Jon Stewart can throw “fuck” around like confetti, but their favorite target, Fox News, is limited in its rhetoric as the wits are not. Well, that’s Fox’s burden, and its obligation. It can’t sink to the level of Maher and Comedy Central. This is a clear line. Comics are not obligated to have respect for anyone (even if they do suck up to Democrats more often than not.) Journalists and their guests are required to adhere to professional levels of civility, even when delivering harsh criticism. Continue reading

“Elfin’ Around,” Best Buy? Really?

bestbuy_logoBest Buy just became the latest TV advertiser to conclude that it’s astonishingly clever and hilarious to evoke “fuck” in a commercial, one that I just heard at 7:54 PM. The spot extolling Christmas shopping at Best Buy (it isn’t even Halloween yet) featured a cheery announcer pointing out that when you shop there, you won’t be “elfin’ around.” Get it? It sounds like “effin,” a cover-word that means “fucking,” and is meant to be heard as “fucking.”  But, see, it’s SO clever, see, because it’s NOT “effin’,” but “ELFin’,” and this is a Christmas ad! Wow! Christmas AND Fake Fuck in the same word! There must have been high fives all around when the writers came up with this one.

An ethical management would have told them to grow up, and fired the lot of them. This is 2015, however, a banner one in the coarsening of America, so Best Buy decided it was cool to join Verizon, Booking.com, CNN, and President Obama —you know, our national role model?— in following the lead of K-Mart’s disgusting  “ship my pants” ad in 2013. Continue reading