Tag Archives: columnists

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/12/17: Hurricane Reports, And Poor Charles M. Blow Needs A Vacation

Good morning.

1 There is supposedly a controversy regarding the on-the-spot hurricane reports: is it ethical for networks and news stations to place reporters and camera operators in mortal peril by having them scream into a mic while being buffeted by wind, rain and debris?

What’s the controversy? Of course it’s unethical. In addition to sending ridiculously mixed and self-contradictory messages—“I’m standing here in the storm telling citizens in the area that they shouldn’t be in the middle of this storm!”—it is also bad Ethics Chess. This stunt will continue until the first reporter is blown into a wall and sustains permanent brain damage, or is injured by a flying piece of debris that impales her, maims her, or cuts her in half. It is entirely predictable that this will happen eventually, and once it does, reporters will stop doing it. Why not stop this before a the inevitable tragedy occurs?

TV stations do it for ratings, that’s all. It’s great visual programming. It’s not necessary. Half the time, we can’t make out what the reporter is screaming, and what they are screaming is redundant and stating the obvious.

Apparently the first reporter to do this was Dan Rather.

Figures.

2. What is the mission of a pundit, a talking head, a columnist? It has to be—don’t you think?—to enlighten readers, to convey a constructive, useful analysis of complex issues, to reliably filter facts and controversies through a unique view-point without so completely tainting his or her output with bias that it actively misleads.

Yesterday New York Times columnist Charles Blow issued a column titled “Soul Survival in Trump’s Hell on Earth.” This was the apotheosis of the kinds of columns Blow has been writing almost exclusively now for months; at least I hope it’s that, for I can’t imagine where he goes from here. This column, like the others, is nothing, literally nothing, but a nearly fact free exposition on the theme, “I hate the President. I really do. I do so, so much. I know you do too, and if you don’t, I hate you too. ARRRGGGGHHH!”

The headline isn’t hyperbole; Blow, if he is to believed, really thinks Americans are living in Hell because Donald Trump is President. Not because there is a Great Depression hovering over the land, not because we are embroiled in a Civil War, or the existential threat of a world war, or the daily threat of an  international stand-off igniting into world-wide thermonuclear obliteration, but because a President was elected that offends the ideological and partisan sensitivities of Charles M. Blow.

Hell.

Seriously.

How can the New York Times continue to justify publishing the weekly primal screams of this pompous, doctrinaire, and now apparently deranged pundit? Exaggerating problems and pronouncing that we are all but doomed is not a service. It is harmful. The only readers who will be persuaded by a column like this are the ones who decide that something has to be done and that it’s time to build that bomb. Moreover, when a pundit reaches the stage that Blow has, where the simple act of a government not agreeing with his views and enacting policies that he does not favor launches him into hysteria, that pundit needs a vacation. Or maybe another career.

What are Blow’s arguments that justify his diagnosis that the United States is now Hell on Earth? Is it that a major party and its supporters have set out deliberately to undermine American institutions by rejecting a national election, seeking to remove an elected President by non-electoral means? Is it that the  international fumblings and ditherings of the previous administration are, as predicted, resulting in increased threats to the United States and the rest of the world? Is it that American journalism and its uniquely free news media, beyond question the app that makes democracy function, has now become, by its own abuses, so completely politicized and untrustworthy that it has become a threat to the nation, rather than its watchdog?

Nah, none of this appears to bother Blow at all; as far as I can detect, he approves of all of it. Here is his Bill of Biased Generalities that add up to Hell on Earth: Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Family, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, Workplace

Are No Professions Safe From The 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck? Now Even Restaurant Critics Have Gotten On Board!

circus-train-wreck

As a professional ethics specialist, I find the enthusiasm with which alleged professionals have used the election of Donald Trump to excuse their abandonment of such ethical values as fairness, responsibility, respect and citizenship deeply discouraging, and I am seriously considering becoming a beachcomber. I already knew that the journalism profession no longer could distinguish ethics from a hairy crab, so this wasn’t too surprising, nor was it too much of a shock that the New York Times has become a non-stop anti-Trump fear-fest and rant machine. Let’s see, in today’s edition alone  there is a hit piece on Trump advisor Steve Bannon called “Bannon’s Coriolanus Rewrite,” then  “Donald Trump’s Racial Ignorance,” “Where the Right Went Wrong,” (an amazing title, given the current balance of political power after Hillary’s botched campaign), “How the Truth Got Hacked,” “Is Democracy in Danger?” “Trump, the Russian Poodle,” and “Is This Collective Trauma?” The  last, I guess,  explains why mass trauma is inevitable for progressives, moderates and “Never Trump” Republicans when “the political order they long took for granted — defined by polarization, yes, but also by a commitment to basic principles of democracy and decency — is suddenly gone.”  One would almost wonder from that sentence which side of the political spectrum is calling for armed insurrection, pre-inaugural impeachment, and the overturning of the election results. The Times is also a showcase for columnists whose minds have snapped like dry branches in the wind,  causing them to leap manically onto the Trump Hysteria Express. Economist Paul Krugman has long been a hyper-partisan scold for whom fairness is alien territory, but this tweet was spectacularly vicious even for him:

“Thought: There was (rightly) a cloud of illegitimacy over Bush, dispelled (wrongly) by 9/11. Creates some interesting incentives for Trump.”

An ethical newspaper wouldn’t want someone capable of such a comment working for it.

Many broadcast journalists were stunningly unprofessional, indeed amateurish, on election night. Martha Raddatz choked up with emotion reporting Clinton’s loss; now there’s an objective reporter. Rachel Maddow described the evening as a “nightmare.”

Education has been racing journalism to the ethics barrel bottom for years, but I did not expect universities to send such intimidating messages to their students that they were expected to either be in mourning or on the verge of emotional breakdowns because the Democrats lost. Once, higher institutions of learning aimed to teach students critical thinking skills so they could make up their own minds regarding civic affairs. High school administrators and teachers also forgot their duties, and allowed students to skip school because, you know, TRUMP!!!!, and “ARRRGHHHHH!!!!”

Lawyers have lost their ethical bearings, of course, as have law professors, with perhaps the best example of the latter being the Georgetown Law Center adjunct who claims that the Constitution is unconstitutional, because following it will elect Donald Trump. My law alma mater isn’t faring too well in the train wreck: another professor, Paul Butler, argued that Supreme Court justices shouldn’t normally attack a President Elect, except when it’s Donald Trump.

Other academics have disgraced themselves. A prominent historian, for example, even resorted to making up history to provide an excuse for Democrats losing to such a horrible creature. Professor Larry Lessig of Harvard Law, who heads an ethics institute there, is encouraging electors to be “faithless,” as in “double-cross the voters who elected them.” Some ethics institute you have there, Harvard!

Artist, actors and show business professionals have debased themselves even more than usual, beginning with the Broadway cast of “Hamilton’s” breach of the Performer’s First Commandment: DON’T ABUSE THE AUDIENCE. They have even started turning on each other: Jon Voight, whose sin was that he expressed support for the man elected President, was booed at recent awards show by his fellow actors. Nice.

But as bad as this has been, I didn’t expect food critics to be corrupted. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Social Media

I LOVE This Story! If You Don’t Love This Story, Something’s Wrong With You…Or You’re A Mainstream Media Journalist

pointing and laughing

Following the Orlando terror attack, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, convinced that the attack wouldn’t have occurred if only we had sufficient gun regulations, decided to demonstrate how easy it would to obtain an AR-15 in Illinois. [This was already a bad start to his investigative reporting, since Steinberg didn’t investigate the gun used in Orlando: it wasn’t an AR-15. Then again, since anti-gun zealots don’t care about such details (“All guns BAD”) and low-information citizens still trust the news media not to misinform them, this didn’t matter to the reporter. But I digress…)

A background check was triggered by Steinberg’s application for the weapon,  and he was rejected. It seems the reporter had an “admitted history of alcohol abuse,” and there was a charge for domestic battery on his record.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Children: here is the meaning of “to be hoisted by your own petard.” Say thank you to Mr. Steinberg! Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights

Ethics Dunce: Petula Dvorak (And Introducing The New Ethics Alarms Term, “Dvorak”

Congratualtions, Petula! Now you're a word---I mean, in addition to "Idiot"...

Congratulations, Petula! Now you’re a word—I mean, in addition to “Idiot”

Washington Post Metro columnist Petula Dvorak just modeled hypocrisy, stupidity and willful complicity with irresponsible public policy and exploitation. Her sole justification is “everybody’s doing it.” She apparently thinks this is funny. It’s not. It’s typical human conduct, but there’s nothing funny about it. It’s tragic.

In a column yesterday titled, “I despise lotteries, but I bought four Powerball tickets anyway,” Dvorak, who has been justly scorned on Ethics Alarms for ethics idiocy before, goes to great length to describe what is wrong with state lotteries–they are corrupt, they prey on the poor, they are regressive taxes that substitute for real taxes that would require political courage, they promote gambling addictions—even going so far as to call them “evil.” Then she cheerily tells us that she couldn’t help participating in the current lottery craze, because just think of all the things she could buy if she won a gizzillion dollars!

Dvorak apparently believes that by acting irrationally and irresponsibly and thus supporting what she claims to revile, she can make a more powerful point about how seductive lotteries can be. Or she’s an idiot. Wait–the two are not mutually exclusive.

It’s not complicated, Petula, not at all. When you identify a system,  an enterprise or a movement that is harmful and corrupt, don’t support it, participate in it or strengthen it. That’s all. Every ethical system dictates that result. If you think, indeed, as your column proves, you know, that state lotteries are corrupting, cowardly scams, don’t play them. If you know that pro football makes billions by inducing healthy young men to destroy their brains, don’t watch pro football. If you know that illegal drugs ravage the poor, destroy livesm businesses and families don’t use illegal drugs.  If you know that American politics are corrupt, stop supporting corrupt politicians.

There are so many societal evils that could be eradicated or significantly weakened if those who understand what is wrong about them just had the integrity, personal responsibility, courage and determination to reject them unequivocally, and show others with less certitude and resolve that it is possible and right. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, U.S. Society

David Brooks’ Dirty Hit On Ted Cruz: How Pundits Lose Credibility

That's some role model you've chosen there, David

That’s some role model you’ve chosen there, David

…or at least deserve to.

Here is how New York Times columnist David Brooks begins his character evisceration of Ted Cruz:

“In 1997, Michael Wayne Haley was arrested after stealing a calculator from Walmart. This was a crime that merited a maximum two-year prison term. But prosecutors incorrectly applied a habitual offender law. Neither the judge nor the defense lawyer caught the error and Haley was sentenced to 16 years.

Eventually, the mistake came to light and Haley tried to fix it. Ted Cruz was solicitor general of Texas at the time. Instead of just letting Haley go for time served, Cruz took the case to the Supreme Court to keep Haley in prison for the full 16 years.

Some justices were skeptical. “Is there some rule that you can’t confess error in your state?” Justice Anthony Kennedy asked. The court system did finally let Haley out of prison, after six years.”

From this, Brooks goes on to conclude…

…Cruz’s behavior in the Haley case is almost the dictionary definition of pharisaism: an overzealous application of the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy….Cruz’s speeches are marked by what you might call pagan brutalism. There is not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy. Instead, his speeches are marked by a long list of enemies, and vows to crush, shred, destroy, bomb them.

Cruz’s behavior in the Haley case [Dretke v. Haley] does nothing of the sort. The columnist intentionally—I’m assuming that he read the case, now—misrepresented what the case was about, how the court reacted, and what Cruz’s ethical duties were regarding it. As it happens, I share much of Brooks’ dislike of Cruz’s rhetoric. This case, however, tells us nothing about Cruz’s character. It tells us that that as Solicitor General of Texas, Cruz did his job, which was to represent his client’s position.

James Taranto, the pretty damn brilliant Wall Street Journal blogger, wit and conservative pundit, nails Brooks to the wall. He writes in part… Continue reading

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The Washington Post Drops Its Resident Op-Ed Socialist. Good.

Workers Unite

The Washington Post has jettisoned Harold Meyerson, who has been the leftest of the leftists on the Washington Post op-ed pages for about 13 years…not surprising, as he also serves as editor at large for The American Prospect. Mayerson, according to his last column, was told that he was a goner because he was losing readers and because his columns were repetitious, which they certainly were. How many times, after all, can one read “Workers Unite!”?  From Occupy Wall Street to BlackLivesMatter, there was no revolt of the oppressed and downtrodden that Meyerson didn’t support, nor any standard issue socialist/progressive position that he did not wholeheartedly embrace.

The Post has other kneejerk leftists among their pundits, a disproportionate number in fact (this was also part of the Post’s motivation to let Meyerson go), but I found Meyerson more infuriating than the others because he seemed so much more intelligent than his positions and statements would suggest. He was the epitome of an opinion journalist whose opinions seemed to be calibrated to achieve a grander agenda, rather than honest expressions of truth or even what he really believed. He is a columnist in the Saul Alinsky tradition of liberalism, willing to bend truth for the greater good, to win converts for the Great Worker Rebellion, or whatever it would be.

No newspaper should employ a journalist who is willing to deceive its readers, even on the pretense of saving the world.

Continue reading

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Filed under Character, History, Journalism & Media, Religion and Philosophy

Robert Samuelson’s Objective, Reasonable Analysis Of Climate Change Policy: Now Watch Him Get Called “A Denier”

samuelsonI’ve been reading and marveling at Robert J. Samuelson’s commentary on economic matters for decades. He lacks the panache of George Will, the certitude of E.J. Dionne, the passion of Charles Krauthammer, the comforting wishy-washiness of Kathleen Parker, and the partisan alliances of almost everybody. He’s just smart, articulate, observant scholar who gives his readers a sharp and objective analysis that often defies conventional wisdom. He annoys conservatives and liberals in equal measure, and I suppose is not a scintillating presence, since he is almost never on TV talking head panels.

Finally, he put his cerebral skills to work on the issue of climate change policy. Here, in part, is what he has concluded… Continue reading

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