Ethics Alarms Verdicts: The Second Debate

Some Ethics-related conclusions on Wednesday’s second Presidential debate:

Were the candidates uncivil?

I didn’t think so. There were a lot of Twitter comments about Gov. Romney being disrespectful to the President. The deference due to the President of the United States isn’t an issue when debates hew to the formal, detached format of the past. In those debates, the tone of the exchanges are so muted that the two candidates could be in different time zones. Once a different tone is set, with either candidate directly challenging statements while the other candidate is speaking, that tradition has fled, as it did last night. The challenger to a sitting President can hardly be told that he needs to be deferential in a debate; that is the equivalent of asking him to fight with one hand tied behind his back. I thought that both candidates were within the bounds of civility under the circumstances. It was certainly not the civility that I complimented in the second debate—it was a heated, sometimes rancorous argument, but it was the argument of two passionate, forceful, serious public servants, and it served the public well. Neither candidate displayed the contemptuous, rude attitude that Joe Biden adopted in the Vice-Presidential debate. Biden crossed the civility line, but the President and his challenger did not.

Was the moderator biased? Continue reading

Debate Alarm: The Fake Statistic Strikes Again


That damn statistic again. Well, there goes THAT head!

Candy Crowley, disgracefully, chose another question at a Presidential debate—the last one was 12 years ago—based on the completely false and misleading statistic, made up by activists, that women earn “72%” of what men do in the workplace, suggesting that there is widespread gender discrimination in wages. It’s not true; it hasn’t been true for decades. It’s a myth, and one that misleads the public by being given this kind of publicity and credibility. ( The question Crowley allowed even lowered the fake percentage an extra, and fake, 5% from the “77%” Bernard Shaw negligently used in a question to Joe Lieberman. in 2000.) I’m glad Romney didn’t dignify it with a direct answer—he was placed in the position of either telling the questioner, “That stat is imaginary,” or furthur imbedding it by treating it as reality.

I’m generally a fan of Candy’s, but this was irresponsible, and I’m disappointed in her. Public policy debate shouldn’t be framed by simple-minded, misleading factoids, and it is the duty of journalists to insist on facts.

Liars For President

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a liar as President. I’m not talking about the kind of lies that are periodically unavoidable in leadership and governance, as much as we would like to pretend they are not. I’m talking about “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” type of lies, intentional falsehoods designed to deceive the public for  political advantage with no benefit to the nation or its occupants whatsoever. Unfortunately, we are about to elect a liar as President, because lying in political campaign ads, and particularly negative ads, is sunk deep into the system like an inoperable brain tumor. It is fair to say that every President since George Washington has done it, and thus the public accepts it, and the news media shrugs it off. Continue reading

The 77% Lie: Just Because a False Statistic Is Useful and Traditional Doesn’t Make It Less Unethical To Keep Using It.

Sure, lie to us, Mr. President. As long as its for a good cause.

In 2000, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw used the statistic that “women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar men receive for the same work” in a question to Joe Lieberman during the Vice Presidential candidates debate, prompting me to turn or the TV and write a letter to CNN. The statistic had long been debunked as misleading and inaccurate for years by every objective observer who examined it. The unspoken assumption that figure is meant to convey is that this supposed gap reflects sexism in the workplace. It dates from the early days of NOW and the feminist push for the Equal Rights Amendment, an activist-concocted lie, like many of the global warming “facts” mouthed by Al Gore, designed to simplify a complex phenomenon into something unequivocally persuasive. For Shaw, a journalist, to repeat a false and misleading statistic as fact in a nationally televised debate was inexcusable, and irresponsible journalism.

Did I mention that this was in 2000?

The 77% stat is one of my two pet fake statistics (the other being the statement that 50% of all U.S. marriages end in divorce, used by culture warriors on both the left and right), and I have vowed not to let either pass without a red flag until I either drop dead or people stop lying. So I don’t care to hear, thank you, about how I’m picking on the President Obama when Mitt Romney has been using some misleading facts too. I know he has. But when a President of the United States whose supporters laud as a genius and scholar, and who pledged not to mislead the American people promotes his campaign with a widely publicized statistic that he has to know misinforms the public, I believe that’s alarming, insulting, and infuriating.  The fact that Democrats and feminists have been using the same lie for over three decades doesn’t make it less offensive, but more. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Wall Street Journal Blogger James Taranto

Useful fact: Mitt Romney is running for President, and Maureen Dowd isn't. You can't use her to judge his ethics, just as you shouldn't use him to judge her hair.

Oh James, James. What am I going to do with you? For the third time this year you have barged into Ethics Dunce territory, surely a place one of the most consistently perceptive, witty and reasonable of conservative commentators never belongs.

But what is an ethicist to do when you attempt to trivialize an outrageously dishonest and misleading campaign ad by Mitt Romney, in which a statement by President Obama [ “Sen. McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote: ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,’ “referring to the 2008 economy under Bush ] is edited to suggest something completely different [ “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,” implying that “we’ means the Democrats] from what he was really saying, by showing that other politicians and New York Times columnists play the same unethical game? So what? How do the unethical journalistic practices of the Times columnists you deftly expose on a regular basis in any way make Romney’s ad less reprehensible? Continue reading

Ex-Rep. Steve Driehaus and Sore Loser Ethics

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), who lost his seat last November to Republican Steve Chabot, is suing an anti-abortion group for making statements that he says misled voters about his stance on abortion, leading to his demise at the polls.

In his defamation lawsuit, Driehaus argues that the Susan B. Anthony List lied about him in public statements and then sued him for trying to stop the group from posting misleading billboards, thereby “depriving him of his livelihood.” Driehaus, who campaigned as an anti-abortion candidate, voted for the controversial national health care law, which many anti-abortion activists maintain supports taxpayer-funded abortion. Driehaus argued and still maintains that the claim was false, and that the law bars any federal funding of abortion.

Driehaus’s suit is unethical and  ridiculous. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Jack Conway Defenders

Democrat Jack Conway has been anointed by fair commentators of the Left, Right and center as the hands down winner of , as the New Republic called it, the “Most Despicable Political Ad of the Year.” The attack on opponent Rand Paul, which he continued in the debate between the candidates for the open Senate seat in Kentucky, consisted of questioning the propriety of Paul’s religious beliefs, making an issue out of a college prank, and characterizing the prank in question as a crime,  though the anonymous “victim” has acknowledged that she knew it was intended in jest and did not feel threatened. As Jason Zengerle noted, “…no candidate over the age of, say, 30, should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony…and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits. If it’s disgusting when conservatives question Barack Obama’s Christianity, then it’s disgusting when Jack Conway questions Rand Paul’s.”  This, from the same journalist who originally reported the tale of Paul’s various rebellions against the Christian pressures at Baylor when he was a student there, including the faux worship of “Aqua Buddha.” Continue reading

Attack Ad Ethics: Rep. Alan Grayson, Sinking to Expectations

Rep. Alan Grayson (D) of Florida has his defenders, which means you can pretty much forget about fair play when you are dealing with any of them, too. The Florida Congressman is infamous for saying and repeating outrageous things about opponents and refusing to acknowledge that he was wrong or inappropriate. As I have written here often, some unethical conduct is so egregious that it precludes the possibility of it being an aberration or a mistake, and Grayson could be the poster boy for that principle. He has little regard for fairness, civility and truth, if defying any of these serves his purposes. Thus it is both unsurprising and comforting that the most unethical attack ad in this early campaign season come from him—comforting, because it proves the point. For Alan Grayson, unfair and dishonest attacks aren’t mistakes. They are a habit.

In a TV spot called “Draft Dodger, Grayson accuses his opponent of evading the Vietnam War draft, because “he doesn’t love this country.” Continue reading