Tag Archives: confirmation bias

Comment Of The Day: “The Unethical, Depressing, Bar Complaint Against Kellyanne Conway”

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This Comment of the Day by Isaac—not his first—again raises the issue that Ethics Alarms periodically faces in querulous e-mails from subscribers who announce their withdrawal by accusing the site of covering politics rather than ethics. As the facilitator/proprietor here, I struggle with this every day. Ethics Alarms, as the title suggests, conerns applied ethics, not Plato’s Cave. The mission is to assist the culture’s ongoing and never ending search for beneficial, rational and effective standards of right and wrong. This is best accomplished by monitoring and analyzing all corners of the culture and society, including its institutions. Government is both a reflection of the culture’s values and an enforcer of them; politics is the means by which a government’s values, priorities and methods are determined. It is literally impossible to examine the march of ethics without politics and political ethics, as well as the institutions that influence them, notably the news media, taking a central role. 

Here is Isaac’s Comment of the Day on the post “The Unethical, Depressing, Bar Complaint Against Kellyanne Conway”:

I stand by my theory that the Left is suffering from such serious cognitive dissonance right now that they are almost literally mass-hallucinating. They believe that Trump is lighting the Constitution on fire and dancing on it. If he isn’t, they will create their own reality in which he is.

Look at how angry they get whenever a media outlet portrays Trump as a human being. “They’re NORMALIZING his EVIL!” “Don’t they know he’s Hitler?”

The Left is acting like a Doomsday cult typically does, in the months after the predicted Doomsday fails to arrive. In those situations most cult members have invested so heavily in the cult-leader’s scam, that they’d rather go on following than just admit that they were taken for fools. And so the cult goes on, even as its predictions keep failing.

These people bet everything on Trump being an unelectable devil. Just watch that clip of Ann Coulter from 2 years ago on the Bill Maher show being laughed at by everyone, to her face, for declaring Trump the most likely to win. What do you do when you were so horribly, horribly wrong, and you spent months mocking, cursing, and shunning everyone who turned out to be right? You either humble yourself and be decent, or you double down. Human nature is to double down. In this case, that means the Left NEEDS Trump to be Hitler. They need to believe that his election was a “white-lash” even after the numbers come in to prove it wasn’t. They now need to believe not only that Trump is Hitler, but that millions of American voters are willing, aspiring Nazis who made the biggest mistake in all of history. If Trump isn’t Hitler, they will MAKE him Hitler. They are doing it for their own psychic well-being. Continue reading

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An Ethics Quote Of The Day From The Washington Examiner and A Jumbo From The Editor Of The Washington Post

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“[T]he mainstream media has dropped its standards since President Trump was sworn in. Rather then adjusting adeptly to Trump’s easy relationship with the truth and his tendency to abuse members of media, by dialing up their standards, a significant number of journalists have tripped over themselves recently to repeat every bit of gossip and half-cocked rumor involving Trump and his administration….Now this isn’t to say that all coverage of this new administration has been slipshod. Rather, it’s to say that there has been a disturbing and unusually large number of stories that have turned out either to be overhyped, inconclusive, half-true or flat-out incorrect. There have also been a number of reports whose sourcing is so thin, that to believe them would be to take a major leap of faith.The one thing that these reports have in common is that they fail to provide readers with a clear and indisputably accurate picture of what is really going on at White House. The press’s most important role is to shine a light on those in power. Bad reporting only muddies the waters, and it gives powerful people more room to do as they please. After all, whom are you going to believe: the guy at the top or the newsroom with a recent track record of botched reporting? We didn’t get to the point where people find the press less credible than the Trump administration by some freak accident.”

—-The Washington Examiner, in a story today called “Mainstream media errors in the Trump era: Your catalogue of the media’s bias-fueled failure-fest.”

What the Examiner calls its database of biased and incompetent reporting since January 2o can be found here.

It’s a fair list, and I will quote the exactly accurate point above when I get another comment that says, “Why do you think the mainstream media reporting is more important than Trump’s outrageous conduct?”  and “How can you say the news media is untrustworthy when the Times, Post and Wall Street Journal do excellent investigative reporting?”

President Trump is trying to do his job, as he promised he would, as well as he can. To have any chance of doing it successfully, he will require more than the usual amount of patience, support, and responsible criticism from the nation. He may well fail, but no respectable and patriotic American or organization, news or otherwise, should be trying to make him fail. ( I refer you to this post, For The Last Time: This Is Why The Post-Election Attacks On Trump And His Election Are Unethical)

(Yes, in case I haven’t made this clear before: The so-called “resistance” is undemocratic, unethical, and thoroughly despicable.)

Journalists, in contrast, are not doing their jobs, and indeed are doing the opposite of their job, which is properly and ethically to convey facts, not to distort them for their own political purposes. At this point in the post-election left-wing freak-out, the news media doesn’t even see its own obvious bias, just as  fish aren’t aware that they are in water. Continue reading

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A Presidential “Othering” Ethics Puzzle: What IS This Statement? Misleading? Ignorant? Biased?

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In a column today, Washington Post political columnist Chris Cillizza writes,

“The simple fact is that Trump has never had real friends in the sense you or I think of the term. The relationship world of Trump has long been split into two groups: (1) his family and (2) people who work for him. And people who work for you are rarely your actual friends.”

This was written in the context of an article titled “The very peculiar isolation of Donald Trump.”

What’s going on here? It is definitely one more “othering” exercise from the news media, part of a concerted effort to avoid “normalizing” this President so that tactics previously regarded as unthinkable, undemocratic and unAmerican will be accepted by the public when they are used against him. The message is that this President is strange, weird. He’s not like us. He’s a monster. Today, for example,  MSNBC’s Katy Tur insinuated that the President might be planning to start murdering journalists, asking a guest.

“As we know, there’s, since 2000, been a couple dozen suspicious deaths of journalists in Russia who came out against the government there.Donald Trump has made no secret about going after journalists and his distaste for any news that doesn’t agree with him here. Do you find that this is a dangerous path he is heading down?”

I was struck by Cillizza’s column  because the topic is one of several upon which I wrote my honors thesis in American government. (If you are in Cambridge, Mass., you can find a copy in Widener Library.)  Cillizza’s statement made me realize, for the first time, really: Ah! There’s at least one aspect of his personality that is typical of American Presidents!” I studied exactly that aspect of Presidential biographies to test my thesis that the U.S. Presidency attracted a specific character type, and the type was not “normal” by the public standards. Continue reading

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Esquire’s Ridiculous Book List Smear

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To paraphrase Michael Corleone, every time I think I’ve gotten away from having to comment on the extraordinary unethical performance of the national media toward the President, they puuuull me back in.

What is the correct and fair reaction to the latest media cheap shot on the President of the United States? This one would have been contemptible to inflict on a candidate before the election; now, almost three months after it, the feature is something to behold. Godwin’s Law is invoked far too often, but in this case, it tells the tale.

Esquire’s embarrassing article is called “20 Essential Books to Prepare You for What’s Next: A handy reading list featuring not-so-speculative dystopian fiction, political memoirs, and cautionary tales from Nazi Germany.” The point being made, of course, though already hackneyed, dishonest and thoroughly debunked, is that the President is Hitler. This contention requires ignorance of the United States culture and institutions, Germany, world history, Hitler and the President, but never mind: hate and fear is all the article is intended to generate, not perception or understanding. Taking it seriously requires blocking out the fact that it is the President’s opponents who are flirting with totalitarian methods, using violence to stifle dissent, trying to overthrow lawful elections, calling for coups, and co-opting the news media. The list is an insult without substantiation or justification; Esquire might just as well have published a full page reading: “The President of the United States is a Poopy-Face, and We Hate Him!” There is no substantive difference.

For anyone who has read the books and is not deranged regarding the President to the point of delusion, Esquire’s book list is kind of hilarious. “1984,” for example, is a vision of Soviet-style totalitarianism, with a news media that distorts facts  to support a political party similar to the way our current news media manipulates it against the current administration, but previously did to bolster the Obama. Indeed, Esquire’s book list itself is Orwellian, using mass communication to control public opinion with deception, emotion and fear.

Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here” was considered hysterical when it was written in the Thirties. Including “The Handmaiden’s Tale” as a guide to “what happens next” is about as silly an example of fearmongering as one could imagine: Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions

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Ethics Alarms is grateful to reader Greg, the author of this first Comment of the Day of the New Year, for supplementing the recent post here, and providing a critical and more detailed assessment of the intelligence community’s much ballyhooed report on its conclusions regarding Russian cyber-attacks during the 2016 election, with the alleged purpose of defeating Hillary Clinton.

I am particularly relieved that he shares my own reaction to the report, which simply did not deliver on what was promised by James Clapper in the hearings earlier in the week. Oddly, the news media and almost everyone I know miraculously seem to think it did.  The two key issues I, and I assume everyone, wants clarified is 1) whether Russia was indeed trying to elect Donald Trump, as opposed to generally gumming up the works, embarrassing the likely President (Clinton, of course), undermining public faith in the democratic system, and basically making everyone involved look like fools, knaves, and boobs (Note that Trump appeared to be handling his side of that task all by himself) , and 2) did their efforts in fact have any effect on the results? Answering the first clearly and decisively is essential to understanding the second: to most people, if Russia’s actions were designed to make Trump President, and in fact Trump did shock the world by becoming President, this creates a rebuttable presumption that in fact the Russian Government, and Vladimir Putin in particular, did affect the results of the election. That millions of people regard the matter in this way is certain, because we know that millions of people are desperately searching for some conspiracy or sinister outside agency to explain an event that shattered their expectations and world view.

We also know that the false belief that the sequence Conduct  A is intended to cause Result B, A occurs,  B occurs after A, ergo A caused B, is widely accepted, because public school  teachers are too busy teaching that the United States oppresses minorities  to get around to logic.  Now, that sequence is utter crap, validating, among other things, superstitions and rain dances, but never mind most people think that way.

Yet the report provides no evidence to support the intelligence community’s conclusions in either matter. I find that incomprehensible, and also irresponsible. What the report does  say, in essence, is, “Trust us, we’re experts,”  and leaves the rest to confirmation bias. Could the authors not have provided some evidence to support these conclusions? If not, why not?

Here is Greg’s Comment of the Day on the post, The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions:

This so-called “25-page report” is almost entirely padding and filler. I read it and I don’t see anything in it that adds to what we knew before the report was issued. Continue reading

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The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions

The first page of the Joint Analysis Report narrative by the Department of Homeland Security and federal Bureau of Investigation and released on Dec. 29, 2016, is photographed in Washington, Jan. 6, 2017. Computer security specialists say the technical details in the narrative that the U.S. said would show whether computers had been infiltrated by Russian intelligence services were poorly done and potentially dangerous. Cybersecurity firms ended up counseling their customers to proceed with extreme caution after a slew of false positives led back to sites such as Amazon and Yahoo Inc. Companies and organizations were following the government’s advice Dec. 29 and comparing digital logs recording incoming network traffic to their computers and finding matches to a list of hundreds of internet addresses the Homeland Security Department had identified as indicators of malicious Russian intelligence services cyber activity. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

From The New York Times today:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, the nation’s top intelligence agencies said in an extraordinary report they delivered on Friday to Mr. Trump.

The officials presented their unanimous conclusions to Mr. Trump in a two-hour briefing at Trump Tower in New York that brought the leaders of America’s intelligence agencies face to face with their most vocal skeptic, the president-elect, who has repeatedly cast doubt on Russia’s role. The meeting came just two weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration and was underway even as the electoral votes from his victory were being formally counted in a joint session of Congress.

Soon after leaving the meeting, intelligence officials released the declassified, damning report that described the sophisticated cybercampaign as part of a continuing Russian effort to weaken the United States government and its democratic institutions. The report — a virtually unheard-of, real-time revelation by the American intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them — made the case that Mr. Trump was the favored candidate of Mr. Putin.

The Times story is a mostly fair, if incomplete, description of the report itself, which is a provocative, disturbing and infuriating document. Damning? I don’t know about that. Anyone can damn something, but to be sure the damning is just requires evidence.

Observations and Questions:

1. The report isn’t evidence of anything. It just isn’t, and anyone or any source that states otherwise is misleading us. It would not be admissible as evidence if Russia or Putin were on trial in the U.S. for trying to influence the 2016 election. The document is a statement of opinions after analysis of material and sources we are not allowed to see. At the beginning, the report goes to great lengths to explain why this is, and the explanation is sound. Unless, however, the position we are supposed to take is that the intelligence community is to be assumed to be 100% correct, uninfluenced by bias, and  ought to be believed without reservations despite the presence of hard evidence, the declassified report is a statement by experts of an analysis based on experience and study, of exactly what, we don’t know.

2.Regarding the Times story: the intention of the news media to undermine the Trump Presidency and bolster Democrats who want to blame their candidate’s defeat on anything but her own weaknesses and conduct  appears to be on display in the Times story. For example, we have this statement:

“The Russian leader, the report said, sought to denigrate Mrs. Clinton, and the report detailed what the officials had revealed to President Obama a day earlier: Mr. Trump’s victory followed a complicated, multipart cyberinformation attack whose goal had evolved to help the Republican win.”

The leaping to the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefor because of it”) is both a human tendency to be avoided and well-known. This statement appeals to it, intentionally, or incompetently. The fact that Trump’s shocking victory came after the cyber-attacks does not mean or even suggest that the attacks were responsible for that result. The Times immediately, in the next sentence, even states that “The 25-page report did not conclude that Russian involvement tipped the election to Mr. Trump.” Well, those are mixed messages. Do I, based on the uninterrupted anti-Trump attitude of the Times in its headlines, placement of stories, tone and pitch of news reports, op-eds and editorials, conclude that the mixed message is intentional or sparked by negligence seeded by bias?

I do.

3.  Much further down in its story, the Times admits, Continue reading

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Major Ethics Alarm: American Journalism Is Crumbling Before Our Eyes [Post Script: Glenn Greenwald]

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Muckraking journalist Glenn Greenwald provided excellent background and searing commentary today on this issue, in his essay, “WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived.” Read it, please.

Some highlights:

In the past six weeks, the Washington Post published two blockbuster stories about the Russian threat that went viral: one on how Russia is behind a massive explosion of “fake news,” the other on how it invaded the U.S. electric grid. Both articles were fundamentally false. Each now bears a humiliating editor’s note grudgingly acknowledging that the core claims of the story were fiction: The first note was posted a full two weeks later to the top of the original article; the other was buried the following day at the bottom.

The second story on the electric grid turned out to be far worse than I realized when I wrote about it on Saturday, when it became clear that there was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid” as the Post had claimed. In addition to the editor’s note, the Russia-hacked-our-electric-grid story now has a full-scale retraction in the form of a separate article admitting that “the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility” and there may not even have been malware at all on this laptop….

***

After spreading the falsehoods far and wide, raising fear levels and manipulating U.S. political discourse in the process (both Russia stories were widely hyped on cable news), journalists who spread the false claims subsequently note the retraction or corrections only in the most muted way possible, and often not at all. As a result, only a tiny fraction of people who were exposed to the original false story end up learning of the retractions.

*** Continue reading

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