“Whining”

Whining

I said that we would learn a lot about individual political commentators fairness and integrity by observing their reactions to the nakedly anti-GOP bias displayed by the CNBC moderators, especially John Harwood, in the recent Republican debate, and indeed we have. To any objective analyst who isn’t poisoned by partisan prejudice—and no such analysts has any business practicing journalism until they are cured of the malady—the breach of objectivity and professionalism evinced by such antagonistic queries as…

 

  • “Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?” (Harwood to Trump)
  •  “I talked to economic advisers who have served presidents of both parties. They said that you have as chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms.” (Harwood to Trump)
  • “So what analysis got you to the point where you think this will work?” (Quick to Carson)
  • “You want to bring 70,000 pages to three? Is that using really small type? Is that using really small type? (Quintanilla to Fiorina)

…is obvious, alarming and unacceptable. Those are attacks framed as questions, and the moderators are not supposed to attack the candidates.  Debate questions should be tough; here is one of the first televised debate questions ever from journalist Sander Vanocur to Richatrd Nixon in the initial Nixon-Kennedy debate:

VANOCUR:  Mr. Vice President, since the question of executive leadership is a very important campaign issue, I’d like to follow Mr. Novins’ question. Now, Republican campaign slogans – you’ll see them on signs around the country as you did last week – say it’s experience that counts – that’s over a picture of yourself; sir- implying that you’ve had more governmental executive decision-making  experience than your opponent. Now, in his news conference on August24, President Eisenhower was asked to give one example of a major idea of yours that he adopted. His reply was, and I’m quoting; “If you give me a week I might think of one. I don’t remember.” Now that was a month ago, sir, and the President hasn’t brought it up since, and I’m wondering, sir, if you can clarify which version is correct – the one put out by Republican campaign leaders or the one put out by President Eisenhower?

Tough. Yet there is no sarcasm, or editorializing insults in the question, no mockery, as in the “really small type” crack. Indeed, Vanocur’s question could be from a friendly journalist and Nixon ally (giving him a chance to defuse an embarrassing incident) or a hostile one. That is professional journalism…ah, I had almost forgotten what it looks like! Faced with across the panel hostility, however, the 2016 class of Republican candidates had two choices: accept the status quo, represented by

  • CNN’s Candy Crowley interfering with the last 2012 debate and throwing President Obama a misleading life-line when he was being pressed by Mitt Romney on his participation in the same lie that Hillary’s e-mails exposed regarding the Benghazi attack
  • ABC’s Martha Raddatz allowing Joe Biden to flout debate ettiquette by constantly interrupting Paul Ryan in the 2012 Vice Presidential debate.
  • Anderson Cooper shutting out the one moderate in the Democratic debate, James Webb, several times not asking him questions that the other fur candidates were given chances to answer.*
  • Obvious and documented favoritism toward Barack Obama in both the 2008 and 2012 debate
  • The evisceration of Sarah Palin based on her “lack of experience” in the 2008 campaign, with Obama’s greater lack of experience virtually ignored,
  • The major news organizations, except for Fox, openly lobbying the public for Democratic proposed policy measures, like gun control, amnesty for illegal immigrants, the Affordable Care Act, and more.
  • Statistics showing that progressives outnumber conservatives in the media by more than 4-1.

…or to start objecting to it, as well as the dangerous warping of the democratic process it represents. They have, and it should be taken as a non-partisan boon to the nation.

It is not healthy, and indeed dangerous to have journalists so lopsidedly supporting  one party against  the other, so allied with the government, and so far from objective. The danger, and the fact that CNBC crossed any reasonable limits of bias and unfairness  were immediately acknowledged by such predictable liberals as Juan Williams, Piers Morgan, Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, Bill Maher, and Carl Bernstein, among others.

Another segment of the media, however, those who believe that their occupation gives them the license and obligation to tilt news reporting and public opinion the “right” way, as well as Democrats, who hope to hold on to power with the news media as their front line, hit on a proven strategy from the playground to marginalize and trivialize the issue. Dismiss the complaints as “whining.”

Those who abuse their power to the detriment of others have always used this unethical tactic. Continue reading

“House of Cards” Ethics: Why Should We Believe TV Journalists and Pundits Have Any Integrity When They Don’t Value It Themselves?

Safer interviews "President Frank Underwood." Morley, Morely, Morely...

Safer interviews “President Frank Underwood.” Morley, Morely, Morely…

The third season of “House of Cards,” a Netflix series about the corruption in Washington, continues to corrupt real Washington journalists and talking heads. On the third season  episode I just watched, “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” was drawn into this alternate universe (or Hell) and George, along with regular panel members Donna Brazile and Matthew Dowd, rendered trenchant if predictable opinions about fictional President Frank Underwood with exactly as much passion and certitude as they do when they aren’t just playing themselves, but being professional analysts whose job it is to objectively enlighten the TV news audience. With that, they joined CNN’s John King ,Candy Crowley,and Carol Costello, Soledad O’Brien, now with Al Jazeera America, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Fox’ Sean Hannity, CBS’s Morley Safer of “60 Minutes,”  and Matt Bai as “House of Cards” journalist/actors. I’m sure I missed a few. The mystery is why none of these journalists (and whatever Sean Hannity and Brazile are) don’t hear ethics alarms ringing when invited to sully their already dubious credibility (they are in the news media, after all), by showing themselves reporting and commenting on fiction exactly the way they are seen reporting on reality. Brian Rooney, a media critic who writes “The Rooney Report,” states succinctly what’s the matter with this:

“The trouble with journalists appearing as themselves in entertainment is that the public already has difficulty discerning fact from fiction in the news. Reporters and news organizations survive on truth and trust. Readers and viewers need to believe what they are told so they can make informed decisions. When real reporters allow themselves to be part of fiction, the trust is shattered. They do it with a wink, like they are in on the joke, but it costs them their credibility.”

Well, it would cost them credibility, if they had any. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Montgomery County, Md. Police Chief Tom Manger

"Cops": Chaz Pando as the doomed perp; Nello DeBlasio as the hostage.

“Cops”: Chaz Pando as the doomed perp; Nello DeBlasio as the hostage.

My theater company is performing the 1976 Terry Curtis Fox drama “Cops” as we wind down this season after 20 years. I chose the show, and its companion piece in an evening called “Crime and Punishment in America,” William Saroyan’s classic one-act “Hello Out There,” in direct response to Ferguson, the growing controversy over police violence, the increased racial divide in the U.S. and the gun control debate. Both dramas, as cast, involve African American victims of violence in a law enforcement setting. “Cops,” in particular, features openly biased Chicago police (at least based on their choice of words) and the police execution of a disarmed and surrendering cop-shooter. As the lights fade, the police are discussing what their cover story should be.

I invited the Chief of Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, Tom Manger, to come to the production and field questions from the audience regarding its relevance to current controversies in Ferguson, New York City and across the nation. [Full disclosure: I have known Chief Manger and his wife for many years, and consider them friends] You might recognize him: he was a major figure in the apprehension of the D.C. Snipers, and has been seen and interviewed on the national news and on issue talk shows several times, most recently on CNN’s “State of the Nation” with Candy Crowley. Not only did Tom agree to come, but he let me schedule him twice, said the sessions could be videotaped, and that no question would be off limits.

The first of the talkbacks took place last week (I am moderating another this Sunday), and Tom was as good as his word—candid, blunt, open, and frank.  He was quizzed, hard, by our diverse, astute and always combative audience members about police training, police force diversity, bad cops, police who lie and cover-up misconduct, and racism in the ranks, as well as the details of specific shootings including the local one I have referred to here more than once, in which an unarmed white man, John Geer, was shot and killed by police as he stood in his doorway negotiating with them over a domestic dispute.

Since the episode in Ferguson, Chief Manger said, he has been meeting with community groups two or three evenings a week, doing everything he can to bolster community trust. Among his comments in response to questions: Continue reading

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

Outrageous.

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.

Donald Trump, Birther

Classy as ever, Donald!

Donald Trump, whose pseudo-entry into the Republican presidential sweepstakes has had the effect of making all the other candidates and near-candidates look classy by comparison, now is playing the despicable “birther” card. It figures. Everything about Trump’s career, personal life and properties, even his hairstyle, has been an exercise in bad taste.

This tactic plays to the lowest lights in the Republican party, about 70% of whose members harbor serious doubts about President Obama’s place of birth. This is not surprising: it is pure confirmation bias. Most Republicans don’t like Obama, and so don’t trust him. The confusion about his birth certificate feeds that distrust, and confirms it. It seems plausible to them that such an untrustworthy sort is hiding his true place of birth. To someone who trusts the President, this is not plausible. The slow-motion furor over his citizenship confirms their already formed beliefs too: that the Republicans are fools and racists. Continue reading