Tag Archives: deceit

Breaking Ethics Thoughts: The White House Bars The NYT And Others From Its Press Briefing

accessdeniedWASHINGTON (CBS SF/AP) — The Trump administration ramped up its war against the press Friday, blocking several major outlets from a scheduled White House press briefing.The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN and Politico were among the news organizations excluded from the meeting, reportedly an untelevised gathering with the press instead of the usual on-camera briefing with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

I am not aware of the specific reasons for the action, but:

1.  I read the New York Times daily. It is routinely making every effort to present the actions of the Trump Administration in a negative light, often engaging in outright deceit to do it. It is behaving, as it has for years, as a Democratic Party organ.

2. CNN simply teems with anti-Trump hostility, in the tone of panel discussions, in the framing of the news, in the sneers and body language of its talking heads. This is not ethical journalism.

3. Politico is left-biased, but I haven’t followed it closely. The LA Times has conditions for use that I can’t meet. I’m not sure how biased they have been.

4. There is nothing per se unethical about a Presidential administration deciding that a news source it considers untrustworthy, unreliable and allied with groups that want to literally bring it down should be treated accordingly. Competent, unbiased, fair and ethical journalism is not an excessive requirement.

5. The response to Trump’s very clear warning to the news media last week was, “You can’t stop us, and we will be as hateful as we please.” This is his response to that. Hubris has its consequences. After MSNBC’s “Morning Joe’s” co-host Mika Brzezinski ‘s comment this week, some attitude adjustment seems to be mandatory. She said of the President,

“He is trying to undermine the media and trying to make up his own facts. And it could be that while unemployment and the economy worsens, he could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control exactly what people think. And that, that is our job.”

No, Mika, actually leaders always  lead, which always means trying to persuade the public.  That is their job. You job is to keep the public informed without telling them what to think, since as this statement proves, you don’t think all that well. At all.

6.  I am surprised that the Washington Post wasn’t shut out as well, especially after a slime job like this story.

7. Would I recommend this action by Trump? No. But it is a defensible response to a real threat to his ability to govern, and an informed democracy. It may not be a responsible or prudent response.

8. The best response would be for journalists to start doing their real job, and report the news fairly and competently without aligning themselves with political agendas.

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Pointer: Zoltar Speaks!

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The Unethical, Depressing, Bar Complaint Against Kellyanne Conway

kellyanneThis post is one I do not want to write, and the fact that I have to write it is profoundly depressing. It requires me to criticize, indeed blow the whistle on,  professional colleagues in the fields of law and ethics, some of whom I know and admired very much, as well as fellow members of the District of Columbia Bar. Some of these colleagues are also members, like I am, in a distinguished association dedicated to the field of legal ethics. A superb book on the topic by one of the professors involved  sits in a prominent place in my office bookshelf.  I can see it right now.

Yesterday evening, I learned that a group of fifteen law professors and lawyers have filed a professional misconduct complaint against White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, claiming that she violated the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys by giving false statements to the media. The fifteen signed the complaint, which was filed with the D.C. Bar’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel. When I read the names, signed on a statement printed upon the official stationery of Abbe Smith, a distinguished full time professor at my alma mater, (and where I worked in the administration for four years), Georgetown University Law Center, my heart sank. While I did not need to read the whole complaint to know it was contrived and intellectually dishonest nonsense, I did, and it fulfilled my worst fears. The anti-President Trump hysteria that has caused so many previously fair and rational citizens on the Left to behave atrociously and to betray their previously held values has officially infected lawyers in the legal ethics field. They are now riding the rails on the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck.

To be absolutely clear and unambiguous: the complaint is a political attack, and a cheap shot at the President of the United States through his staff. There is no merit to any of its contentions.

The professors claim that they were “compelled” to file the complaint because D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 8.3 (a) requires that

“A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority.”

They are either addled by partisan political animus or lying, because there is no way, no way, these fifteen professors could know that, or even validly conclude it, based on what they have written in the complaint. To call their accusations against Conway a stretch is to be too kind. They are forced, exaggerated, trivial and manufactured. From what I have read in past commentary and opinions of several of them regarding other matters of lawyer misconduct, I have serious doubts about whether they believe them. I know that’s a serious charge, but I see no other explanation, other than temporary insanity.

To begin with, Kellyanne Conway is not working in a legal position in Trump’s White House. She is Counselor to the President, not White House Counsel. The President and Conway may choose, for his protection, to treat her non-legal policy advisor position as a legal representation, but the fact remains that she is not providing legal advice and services, only policy-related ones. Now, lawyers can violate D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4, Misconduct, while not engaged in the practice of law, but unless the conduct involved is criminal or displays “moral turpitude” sufficient to call into question the lawyer’s fitness to practice the likelihood of the conduct being regarded as sanctionable by the Bar is vanishingly slim.

From everything I can determines, Conway, though she is a member of the New Jersey Bar and an inactive (she needs to pay back dues and take my mandatory D.C. Bar ethics course before she can practice) member of the District Bar, has not practiced law in more than 20 years. She has been a pollster, an activist, a flack and TV personality as well as candidate  Trump’s campaign manager, but none of her professional profiles refer to her as a lawyer. The complaint alleges that Conway “engage(d) in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation” in breach of D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4 (c), and did so while not engaged in the practice of law.  In order to bring down the wrath of the Bar, such conduct must be extremely serious, criminal or bordering on it. Rule 8.3 “limits the reporting obligation to those offenses that a self–regulating profession must vigorously endeavor to prevent.” What kind of non-law-related “offenses” must “a self–regulating profession…vigorously endeavor to prevent”?  It is well established that questionable statements that an individual with a law license utters in the course of political activity and advocacy is not such conduct. Continue reading

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Update And Addendum To “The New York Times’ Unethical Headline (And Fake News)”

ice-raids

Following up on a theme:

Today’s center, above the fold, headline on the New York Times front page:

Migrants Hide, Fearing Capture On “Any Corner”

Emotional message sent: Poor, innocent immigrants whose only crime is being born in another country are trembling in fear as they are subjected to a police state style round-up evoking Nazi Germany, in a demonstration of nationalistic, xenophobic hate!  And that is exactly the message the headline is intended to send.  There is no mention of “illegal” in the headline, despite the fact that if legal migrants are in fear of “capture,” it is only because they have been reading the recent misleading headlines in the New York Times. The statement that migrants are hiding and fearing capture is deceptive and untrue. It begins…

No going to church, no going to the store. No doctor’s appointments for some, no school for others. No driving, period — not when a broken taillight could deliver the driver to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It is happening in the Central Valley of California, where undocumented immigrants pick the fields for survival wages but are keeping their children home from school; on Staten Island, where fewer day laborers haunt street corners in search of work; in West Phoenix’s Isaac School District, where 13 Latino students have dropped out in the past two weeks; and in the horse country of northern New Jersey, where one of the many undocumented grooms who muck out the stables is thinking of moving back to Honduras….

The word “illegally” makes its first appearance in paragraph three, 121 words into the article. The news story—again, this is the front page, and it is presented as news— is written to be read against a background of mournful violins. Poor, poor beset upon, persecuted migrants! The Times’ assignment of villains follows…

“For Mr. Trump’s supporters and longtime advocates of stricter immigration enforcement, they are a welcome move toward restoring law and order to a system that they say offered no deterrent to entering the country illegally. Undocumented immigrants, in their view, have filled jobs that belong to Americans, drained public resources and skipped the line for visas on which others waited for years.”

Wait…what does the Times mean  by”they say  offered no deterrent to entering the country illegally”? Continue reading

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The New York Times’ Unethical Headline (And Fake News)

immigrants-ellis-island

It is,  I have come to believe, the perfect example of dishonest, manipulative and partisan journalism, and here it is again: The Times headline on my morning paper—in ominous, “this is really important” block letters—

MORE  IMMIGRANTS FACE DEPORTATION UNDER NEW RULES

The headline refers to the President’s order yesterday concerning the enforcement of existing immigration laws. My maternal grandparents were immigrants from Greece at the turn of the 19th Century to the 20th. They did it by the book: Ellis Island, the whole thing. They were immigrants, not illegal immigrants, and the kind of rules this intentionally deceptive headline evokes would not have threatened them in any way. Yet they would have been alarmed by such a headline. Were they in danger of being sent back to Greece? Is the U.S. government now determined to deport immigrants?

That confusion is exactly what the Times and other news sources that have made a conscious decision to engender by eliminating the clear and material distinction between immigrants and illegal immigrants in news reports. The deceptive use of language allows partisans to tar the President and those who seek to enforce the law as “xenophobes,” and also to create fear among legal immigrants, who have nothing to fear.

We know that the Times does this intentionally, because an honest, informative, undeceptive headline is not elusive at all. “New Trump Deportation Rules Allow Far More Expulsions” is the web headline for the story, and that is accurate, since President Obama limited the number of law-breaking immigrants who would actually face enforcement of the immigration laws the violated and continued to violate. “Trump administration clears the way for far more deportations” headlines the LA Times: it’s not so hard to be clear and informative. The Times wants to  mislead. Continue reading

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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

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Sean Spicer, The Great Crowd Size Controversy, And A New Ethics Train Wreck

 trains_collision

Today the talking heads’ heads couldn’t stop talking about the Great Crowd Size Controversy.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer called a special press conference yesteray evening to berate the news media for, he said, misrepresenting the size of Friday’s Inauguration crowd. He said, 

“[P]hotographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall…This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period —both in person and around the globe.  These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

This was gleefully pounced upon by Spicer’s targets, who then ran story after story showing that 1) the 2017 Inauguration crowds were smaller than the previous two Inaugurations, 2) Spicer was lying, and 3) hence Trump was lying, so 4) Trump had berated the news media for simply telling the truth, and 5) Spicer had forfeited all credibility on his first day on the job, the fool.

Points of ethical clarification and exposition:

1. The news media had already destroyed its own credibility regarding the Trump administration before Day One, with its unfettered hostility and bias against the incoming President. No assessment of the Great Crowd Size Controversy can commence without understanding that context. Everything the mainstream news media prints or says about Trump from here on–unless the journalistic establishment changes course—will be interpreted in that light by fair-minded, non-gullible  people. In addition, nobody sane, or not determined to diminish Trump in any way possible no matter how petty, gives an urban rodent’s derriere how the crowd at Trump’s Inauguration compared to Barack Obama’s. Quick: was Truman’s crowd bigger or smaller than the assembled at FDR’s second swearing-in? Was Polk’s throng larger or smaller than Lincoln’s? Was Wilson’s larger than Taft’s? I’m a Presidential trivia nut, and I don’t know or care. it just doesn’t matter. At all. Ever.

2. Other “scoops” from last week prove how derangedly anti-Trump the news media has been.. The New York Times intentionally misrepresented facts to make Secretary of Energy Rick Perry look ridiculous, when one hardly has to misrepresent anything to make Rick Perry look ridiculous.  TIME published a demonstrably false story about Trump removing the bust of Martin Luther King from its place in the White House. Why did it do this? Why do you think? The average reporter has adopted the Democratic narrative that Trump is racistxenophobicmisogynisthomophobic, so TIME’s reporter believed bad information without checking it, because it reflected badly on Trump, and TIME’s editors did the same. Is this crappy journalism? Yes. Fake news? Yup. Did Trump have every reason to resent this? Sure. Does it reaffirm his own biases against the news media? Bingo. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz Follow-Up (And An Ugly One): The Congressional Art Competition Winner’s Painting [UPDATED]

clay-painting-back

Well now we have a definitive answer to the Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz that asked whether  it was responsible, fair, and ethical for Congressman Lacy Clay (D-Mo) to have the painting above displayed in the U.S. Capitol, and we don’t even have to use the ethics decision-making process I included in the post. (I note ruefully that readers were challenged to use the method to reach a conclusion, and none did.)

We don’t have to use it, because we now know some things we didn’t know at first, or at least I didn’t. Based on news reports when I first posted, I assumed that the work by high school senior David Pulphus was chosen by a designated committee, and that Clay was bound by the terms of the contest to hang the winning painting in the Capitol. That would have made the treatment of the obviously inflammatory artwork, which depicts the false Black Lives Matter narrative that Mike Brown was gunned down in Ferguson by a racist cop without cause, an ethics conflict, pitting the First Amendment and the obligation to fulfill  a commitment against the inclusion of racially divisive art in the Capitol, which is irresponsible.  Now we know, however, that Clay himself helped choose the painting, and that he did so despite the fact that the painting directly violated the rules of the contest, and thus was ineligible:

“While it is not the intent to censor any artwork, we do wish to avoid artwork that is  potentially inappropriate for display in this highly travelled area leading to the Capitol.Artwork must adhere to the policy of the House Office Building Commission. In accordance with this policy, exhibits depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature are not allowed. It is necessary that all artwork be reviewed by the panel chaired by the Architect of the Capitol and any portion not in consonance with the Commission’s policy will be omitted from the exhibit. If an entrant is unsure  about whether a piece of artwork is acceptable, he or she should contact the staff of his or her  Member of  Congress; the congressional staff can speak with personnel who can determine whether the artwork would be accepted.”

The painting is beyond question  “depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalist or gruesome nature.” In allowing the painting to be entered, participating in selecting it, seeing that it was chosen as the winner, and hanging such an inflammatory work in the Capitol, Rep. Clay was… Continue reading

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