Tag Archives: confirmation bias

The Attorney General’s “Island In The Pacific” Gaffe

I guess we’re going to have to get used to this sequence over the next 4-8 years (yes, 8: at the rate the Democrats are disgracing themselves, President Trump may stick around):

1) President Trump and/or one of his surrogates, spokespersons or appointees make a carelessly worded statement

2) Democrats, activists and the news media intentionally, wilfully and maliciously interpret it in the worst way possible under the convetions of the English language

3) They widely represent the statement to the public as expressing malign thoughts intent and principles

4) The Trump-related speaker, being rhetorically-challenged to begin with, fails to clarify the confusion and makes himself or herself look worse the more he tries.

5) Nobody, almost literally nobody, bothers to examine the statement from an objective point of view.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last week, referring to the Hawaii -chambered federal judge Derrick K. Watson, who last month blocked Trump’s revised temporary halt on travel from sslected terrorist-rich Muslim countries just before it was to go into effect,

“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.”

It was an off-hand remark on conservative talk show host Mark Levin’s radio program, but it immediately provoked ridicule and attack. Sessions didn’t know Hawaii was a state. Sessions doesn’t respect Hawaii.  President Trump doesn’t like Hawaii. Just a few minutes ago, I watched ABC’s George Stephanopoulos confront Sessions about the remark. Sessions’ humina humina reply: “Nobody has a sense of humor any more.”

I understood the meaning of Sessions’ statement to Levin the minute I heard it, because I thought the same thing at the time of the judge’s ruling: Hawaii is the weirdest place for Trump’s order to be litigated, since the state  is uniquely insulated from the illegal immigration problems facing the other 49 states, has never had anything close to a terrorism attack, and has a negligible Muslim population. The particular problems that the President’s order purports to address is an abstract one for Hawaiians, more than any other state. Sessions’ comment was rueful, intended as irony (to a friendly interviewer), and none of the vile things it was subsequently accused of being. Continue reading

47 Comments

Filed under Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement

Case Study Of A Story News That Media And Web Bias Makes Impossible To Check: Susan Rice’s “Unmasking”

I am not going to write about the ethics issues in the latest Susan Rice controversy, but I am going to write about why I can’t get an objective enough assessment of what the story is to write about it competently.

Susan Rice, President Obama’s National Security Advisor,  sought to “unmask” the identities of members of President Trump’s campaign and transition team who were incidentally mentioned in foreign surveillance intelligence reports. This was first reported over the weekend by conservative conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, which meant that no commentators on the Left believed it, but then it was confirmed yesterday by Bloomberg’s Eli Lake.

Many conservatives treated this as confirmation of President Trump’s much-derided claim that the Obama administration “wiretapped” him. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board issued an op-ed this morning, saying,

All this is highly unusual — and troubling. Unmasking does occur, but it is typically done by intelligence or law-enforcement officials engaged in anti-terror or espionage investigations. Ms. Rice would have had no obvious need to unmask Trump campaign officials other than political curiosity.

On Medium, Mike Doran wrote,

“In late December, the administration launched an information campaign designed to depict President-elect Trump as Moscow’s Manchurian candidate. Vladimir Putin had installed Trump in office by “hacking the election,” so the argument went; Hillary Clinton, therefore, was the rightful president.

The claim that Susan Rice was unmasking merely to arrive at the ground truth of Russian behavior would be easier to swallow if the information she gleaned from unmasking had not been used to perpetrate a fraud on the American public. The leak to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius about General Michael Flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak (which I discuss in this article) is the most egregious example of a senior administration official using material gathered from illicit unmasking in order to tell a very big and very pernicious lie.”

The New York Times, sadly predictable in its knee-jerk defense of Democrats rather than resolving to get at the truth,  immediately argued that there was nothing to the story at all: 

Former national security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the requests as normal and said they were justified by the need for the president’s top security adviser to understand the context of reports sent to her by the nation’s intelligence agencies.

Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum mocked the story as pure conservative fantasy regarding a favorite villain:

But! Susan Rice is also a Republican bête noir, the villainess of Benghazi who LIED ON TV repeatedly and tried to get everyone to believe that the attacks were due to an INTERNET VIDEO when we knew all along they were really the work of RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS, a phrase that OBAMA WAS UNWILLING TO UTTER.Here’s what we can say about the Rice situation at this point.

Sarcasm is used by Drum here to hide the fact that Rice did lie about Benghazi, and was part of an Obama administration effort (that included Hillary Clinton) to blur the fact that it was a planned terrorist attack, not a spontaneous reaction to a video, which would have undermined Obama’s campaign assertions that he had “decimated” Al Qaeda. ( Mother Jones readers will not believe anything negative about Obama, Democrats, or progressives.)

The Federalist, meanwhile, called foul on CNN, which immediately moved to discredite the latest Rice story: Continue reading

33 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement

The Washington Post’s Very Bad, Very Revealing Day: How Often Does This Have To Happen Before Journalists Decide Their Bias Is Making Them Stupid…And Untrustworthy?

Yesterday, the Washington Post, one of the three alleged standard-bearers of U.S. print journalism, published gossip and lies as news, got caught and humiliated..twice!.., and again illustrated vividly why the distinction between hoax stories, what the mainstream media condemns as “fake news,'” and their own false reporting due to incompetence and bias, is illusory.

First, the Post published a weird and alarming story about how Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was behaving like a sultan and ordering subordinates to lower their gaze in his presence:

“Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact”

This, of course, sparked widespread ridicule by the Left’s bloggers, commentators, journalists and other tweeters, despite the fact that no sources were named to back up the claim. We have here an example of confirmation bias at its most foolish,  on the part of the reporter, the editor, the paper, and the eager partisan bigots who think businessmen are monsters and the Trump administration is made up of freaks and creeps.  The Huffington Post happily published a collection of celebrities, politicians and random social media users reacting to the  story, including Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu , who said he found the article “disturbing.”

So do I. I find it disturbing that the Post, like the New York Times, cannot be trusted to check out inflammatory slurs against public official before declaring them facts. Note that the quote says the diplomats SAY they have not met him, but that some HAVE been instructed not to make eye contact. The Post stated what sounds like obvious holdover-staff rumor-mongering and sabotage as truth, opening the door for widespread contempt and disrespect of the Secretary of State without justification. Yes, that’s disturbing.

It was fake news. I didn’t believe it. I assumed this was the Post’s anti-Trump bias once again seeping into its deteriorating organizational brain. To his credit, Associated Press reporter Mike Lee immediately called foul, B.S., and fake news. Lee said that he had heard the allegation about employees being forced to avert their gaze in the presence of the Secretary of State two weeks before the Post’s story was published, and after checking into the claim,  determined that it was a rumor without basis.

“It’s compelling gossip. I have looked him  in the eyes and not turned to stone. At least not yet…This is not true and people repeating it are making it more difficult to address very real issues.”

When challenged to back up his statement that the story was false, Lee replied,

“Because I have covered State since 1999. Because I know people who didn’t start in 2009 [that is, Obama era partisans].”

Can anyone defend this Post sliming as anything but biased hackery?

But wait, there’s more! Continue reading

28 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Religion and Philosophy

Comment of the Day: “Update On The Jeff Sessions-Russian Ambassador Fiasco: A Confederacy Of Ethics Dunces”

1984, Washington State, USA --- A fierce bear growls and bares its teeth. | Location: Washington, USA.  --- Image by © Michael T. Sedam/CORBIS

Glenn Logan undertook the herculean task of reading and critiquing one of the New Yorker’s endless partisan essays, this one by Ryan Lizza, who has foun himself in the Ethics Alarms bomb-sights before. It’s a masterful job by Glenn, and nicely dissects a persistent and contrived Democratic excuse for Hillary Clinton blowing the election, thus triggering one of the most amazing instances of self impeachment—by her party and supporters–in world political history.

Here is Glenn’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Update On The Jeff Sessions-Russian Ambassador Fiasco: A Confederacy Of Ethics Dunces”:

I read the article, which confirmed my suspicions of almost everything coming from The New Yorker and similar left-leaning news sources — that they accept the idea, as yet still both unproven and highly suspicious, that the Russians were working to get Trump elected.

This is exactly where bias always leads; once you have evidence of a conclusion you want to reach, you stop looking for other possible explanations.

There is no real information in this article worth knowing. It tells us Democratic senators are all wound up about possible Russian interference in the election, but we knew that. It mentions every Democrat’s favorite Republican — John McCain — and tries very hard to lead us to believe that all the Democrats’ worst fears about Russia and Trump are not just true, but being hidden, apparently by both the Obama and Trump administration, although for different reasons.

In other words, this article is a conspiracy theory. It offers nothing new, no penetrating analysis or new revelations. It describes, in very long and unnecessarily complex style meant to appeal to “intellectuals,” Putin and Russia as using a hacking strategy as a prong in geopolitical disinformation campaigns, and using Obama’s own feckless foreign policy to annex Crimea and generate a plebiscite so fast that American leadership’s heads were still spinning in the opposite direction.

But this is exactly what I would be doing in Russia’s place if I were a despot like Putin. They are opponents, and are trying to weaken our country just as we tried for years under Reagan to weaken them. If you want to shape the world, and Putin clearly does, you use information to shape perception so that when you do use force, it won’t be universally condemned. Continue reading

17 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

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

trump-as-hitler

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

83 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics

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

light-on-the-truth

“[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

16 Comments

Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Quotes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Jumbo

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

jfk-oval-office

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

24 Comments

Filed under Character, Ethics Train Wrecks, Family, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership