Friday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/19/2019: There’s More To Ethics Than Mueller Freakouts, You Know…

Happy Easter weekend

(For me and other Greek-Americans, Easter presents a yearly choice: Greek Easter is calculated on a different calendar (it also has only boring red eggs), and just once in a red moon coincides with the non-Greek holiday.  This year it’s a week later, so we’re not putting our eggs in any baskets until next Sunday. We celebrate Greek Easter in honor of my Mom, who was fanatic about all holidays. The Greek Orthodox Church was dead to us once a priest told the congregation that the offspring of “mixed marriages”–that is, Greek and non-Greek spouses like my parents—were considered illegitimate by the Church. (My dad walked out of the service.)

(The other Churches became dead to us a bit later, and for varying reasons.)

1 A brief Mueller interlude…a) Rep. Gerald Nadler is grandstanding by demanding the full, unredacted report. Giving secret grand jury testimony to Congress would be  illegal. Anything to inflame the public, I guess…b) It’s incomplete, but Scott Horton, a smart libertarian who has been tracking the various complexities of the Russiagate investigation far more closely than I have, tears the Mueller report to shreds in convincing fashion. I’m accepting the conclusions of the report on faith, but Horton demonstrates how open to attack the investigation may be. The post is long and overly colloquial, and I don’t have time to check Horton’s facts, but it is worth reading. c) April Ryan, the CNN hack who has a long history of attacking Trump press secretary Sarah Sanders, now says Sanders should be fired for “lying.” Sanders at one point said that “countless” FBI agents had said that they had lost trust in James Comey, then later said that “countless” was a misstatement. With very few exceptions over the last 50 years, Sanders’ job is that of a paid liar and obfuscater; I got tired of flagging all of the lies and spin issued by Obama’s three spokesmen. They all should be fired, I guess, but not for offenses like using the word “countless” when the correct word would be “plenty.” Heck, I even heard through contacts and back-channels that FBI agents were disgusted with Comey. How could they not be?

2. And now for something completely different: Walrus Ethics. This isn’t a Climate Change Denial post, it’s a “See, this is why so many people don’t trust climate change doomsday scenarios” post.

Netflix’s climate change propaganda documentary  “Our Planet,” narrated by David Attenborough, showed masses o the walruses climbing up cliffs in northeast Russia because, we were told, of a lack of sea ice. Then we saw the large pinnipeds over the cliff edges onto the rocks below, leaving hundreds of dead animals piled on the shore. Attenborough said their poor eyesight made it hard for them to return safely to the ocean.

 Dr. Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist specializing in evolution and the ecology of Holocene mammals (including polar bears and walrus), claims that the scene was a hoax. She called Netflix’s narrative over the “Our Planet” scene i“contrived nonsense… fiction and emotional manipulation at its worst”:

“The walruses shown in this Netflix film were almost certainly driven over the cliff by polar bears during a well-publicised incident in 2017.” Even if the footage shown by Attenborough was not the 2017 incident in Ryrkaypiy, we know that walruses reach the top of cliffs in some locations and might fall if startled by polar bears, people or aircraft overhead, not because they are confused by shrinking sea ice cover.”

Anthony Watts, a weather technology expert and author,  also suspects the footage captured was the 2017 Siberian incident.

I’ve been able to show that Crockford’s supposition about the geographical origin of the footage is correct: analysis of the rock shapes in the film and in a photo taken by the producer/director both match archive photos of Ryrkaypiy. The photo was taken on 19 September 2017, during the events described by the Siberian Times.

But whereas the Siberian Times and Gizmodo website, which also reported on the 2017 incident, were both quite clear that the walruses were driven over the cliffs by polar bears, Netflix makes no mention of their presence. Similarly, there is no mention of the fact that walrus haulouts are entirely normal. Instead, Attenborough tells his viewers that climate change is forcing the walruses on shore, where their poor eyesight leads them to plunge over the cliffs.

This is all very troubling as it raises the possibility that Netflix and the WWF are, innocently or otherwise, party to a deception of the public.

If the climate change urgency is as real as we are constantly told, why can’t it be demonstrated with real facts rather than fakery like this?  Is it any wonder the public is skeptical? [Pointer: Legal Insurrection] Continue reading

Hey, Oprah: Why Is Michael Jackson A Child Molester Now If He Wasn’t A Month Ago?

Stipulated: I have long-believed that Michael Jackson was a probably a pedophile. The circumstantial evidence is voluminous; he was obviously beset with psychological and emotional problems, he had the wealth and influence to cover up his conduct, and a grown man who admits to sharing a bed with young boys and insists there is nothing wrong with it is justifiably suspect. However, the plain facts are that Jackson has never been proven to be a child molester.

In case you haven’t followed this story, here is the Wikipedia entry on Jackson’s first molestation scandals—it’s long, but we can’t fairly discuss it without common reference points. A bulleted summary from that article: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/27/18: Welcome Nausea, Disillusionment, Guilt, And Apathy…

Well, it’s morning.

1. Nausea. This is a real headline from this morning’s New York Times:

Truce on Trade Follows Route Obama Paved; Trump Claims Victory in Crisis He Started

Gee, the Times morphed into Media Matters so slowly that I hadn’t noticed!* In fact I had noticed, but that headline is a virtual declaration that the Times is now a fully committed partisan organ of the Democratic Party, and is no longer even pretending to be practicing ethical or objective journalism. Not only does the headline represent opinion rather than reporting, the Times was so desperate to color the story of the European Union tentatively reaching a new trade agreement with the U.S. that it felt it had to project its bias before anyone could read the story.

*With a nod to blogger Glenn Reynolds, who uses this as a regular jibe

2. Disillusionment. Netflix has finally concluded “The Staircase,” the now 13 episode documentary following the bizarre case of novelist Michael Peterson, who was convicted of murdering his wife Kathleen in 2001. Directed by French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the first eight episodes aired on the Sundance Channel in 2005 and were an immediate sensation. It would be unethical to spoil the story or the documentary for you if you haven’t seen it, but a couple of spoilers lie ahead.

Anyone who continues to argue that it is ridiculous and “treasonous” for anyone to challenge the competence, objectivity, motives and trustworthiness of law enforcement, including the FBI, and prosecutors after watching this horror show has astounding powers of selective outrage.

The series also made me want to throw heavy objects at the TV screen as a result of the lazy, passive, indefensible conduct of the prosecutors and the North Carolina judge, who resided over every iteration of the case for 15 years. Since there was no way a rational jury could find Peterson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence, ethical prosecutors would never have charged and tried Peterson. (A jury finding a defendant guilty on inadequate evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that the case was a just one.) It is especially infuriating for the viewer (so imagine what Peterson thinks) to hear the judge today blandly concede that two controversial pieces of evidence he allowed into the trial were, upon reflection,  unjustly prejudicial, and that he believes that there was ample reasonable doubt for the jury to acquit. Then he tries to make the argument that the “system works” based on a mess of a case and an investigation that still hasn’t explained how Kathleen Peterson died.

It does explain, however, why so many Americans don’t trust the justice system or the alleged professionals who run it. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/7/ 2018: Murder, Fake Journalism, Hatch Act Games, And California Defiance

Good Morning!

1  “A Murder in the Park.” The 2014 documentary about how the Northwestern University “Innocence Project” freed a guilty murderer hours before his execution and framed an innocent man who was eventually exonerated is now available on Netflix. I wrote about the case, which had the unanticipated consequence of causing Illinois to ban the death penalty, in 2014. Then I concentrated on how badly the whole mess reflected on the justice system. As I watched the documentary last night, however, what struck me was the self-satisfied smugness and certitude of the journalism students who participated in selective investigation, advocacy instead of objective reporting, manipulation of witnesses, cause driven conclusions and more. The documentary shows us why journalism has become whatever it can be called now–certainly not journalism. Northwestern has one of the elite journalism schools in the nation, and David Protess, then the professor who ran “The Innocence Project,” was teaching students that corrupt journalism was honorable. Protess at the time was perhaps the most praised journalism teacher in the nation. It seems that he was less the exception than the rule.

2. Real discipline would be nice for a change. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) informed the Trump yesterday that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act twice.  The  findings were referred to President Trump “for appropriate disciplinary action.” The White House promptly denied the charges, so we should assume that Kelly won’t be disciplined at all.

The Hatch Act allows federal employees to express their views about candidates and political issues as private citizens, but forbids them from using their official government positions try to influence elections. Of course Conway violated the Act. On Fox and CNN, she made it clear that voters in Alabama should reject Democrat Doug Jones. The White House ludicrously claims that Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate. Nah…she just told Fox viewers last November,

“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime, weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners.”

On CNN,  she said in part,
Continue reading

“The Keepers,” The Catholic Church, And Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

I began watching Netflix’s new “true crime” series “The Keepers” last night. I may not last through all seven episodes. In addition to the documentary story-telling methodology, which moves at the pace of a slug-race, the story of how unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun might  be part of  (yet another) horrific cover-up by the Catholic Church made me so angry and frustrated that I quit in the middle of the third episode. The series makes the case that the nun, Sister Catherine “Cathy” Cesnik, was killed because she was about  to reveal ongoing sexual abuse of young teenage girls by the priest running the Archbishop Keough High School for girls.

The abuse and the extent of it is not speculation. As in so many other places, the Catholic Church in Baltimore eventually paid millions in damages to multiple victims of multiple predator priests who the Church moved around the  region—so they could molest and assault new victims—rather than handing them over to law enforcement. It is hard to imagine any priest worse than Father Joseph Maskell, however, if even some of the allegations against him are true. Victims say he used student files and illicit police connections to target teenage girls who were already being sexually abused. He manipulated them using a sick combination of religion, guilt, hypnotism and intimidation, sexually abused them, and even delivered some over to members of the Baltimore police department for more abuse.

The documentary focuses on the school’s Class of ’69, though there must have been equally abused girls before and after. The conspiracy of silence began to crack in 1992, when an especially  victimized member of the class suddenly realized that she had repressed memories of horrible experiences, and finally complained to the Baltimore Archdiocese, setting off the kind of despicable Church defensive strategies too familiar to anyone who has seen “Spotlight.”

This documentary isn’t good for my state of mind. It makes me wonder not only if all is lost, but also if all wasn’t lost long ago. I was raised in a largely Catholic community. I am not religious, but as an ethicist I recognize the important, civilizing role religion has played in teaching and enforcing moral principles for the majority of the public for whom ethical analysis is too challenging. Episodes like the Father Maskell scandal raise questions that I rebuke myself for asking, like “How can this be?” “Jane Doe,” the star witness in the documentary, is still a devout Catholic. Her immediate response to every dilemma is to pray. I don’t get it. She was savaged, threatened and abused by a priest that she knows the Church allowed to prey on the vulnerable students entrusted to him. Why would she still trust the Catholic Church?

Why would anyone? Continue reading

Silence U Part 2: Indoctrination At Yale, and Beyond

A new, intensely short documentary about the cultural rot underway at Yale (but not only at Yale) is worth viewing, if you have a firm grip on your skull. Yale, is, of course, the source of many U.S. leaders and opinion-makers, including Supreme Court justices and recent Presidents. As one can see from the video, it is either indoctrinating the young minds in its charge in oppressive, anti-speech and liberty ideology, or, to give a large benefit of the doubt, failing to disabuse students of toxic and anti-democratic ideas that the educational system has also seeded.

Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, Yale is an elite institution, a role model for others, and supposed to represent the best of higher education. Its students will take their place among the intellectual and economic elite. Nobody who has been paying attention to the logical and legal contortions being used by the supporters of “the resistance” should be surprised that our most promising students are being trained to reason like this. The question is: does it make sense for a nation to actively support an educational system that appears to have become dedicated to undermining the basic values its founding was based upon?

The former-Provost of Stanford University, John Etchemendy, recently gave a speech he called “The Threat From Within” in which he said in part.

Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country – not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines – there, we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. . . . We need to encourage real diversity of thought in the professoriate, and that will be even harder to achieve. It is hard for anyone to acknowledge high-quality work when that work is at odds, perhaps opposed, to one’s own deeply held beliefs. But we all need worthy opponents to challenge us in our search for truth. It is absolutely essential to the quality of our enterprise.

The problem bites when a particular ideological sect gains power, and meticulously and systematically sets out to make diversity of thought inaccessible. Professors and scholars inhospitable to progressive cant are becoming extinct on college campuses, by design, just as they are an endangered species in newsrooms and Hollywood. Over at the increasingly had-left legal website “Above the Law”—you know, the one that kept erasing my e-mail alert requests every time Ethics Alarms criticized the site; the one that employs Ellie Mystal, a black lawyer who has advocated that black jurors refuse to convict black defendants—writer Joe Patrice  mocked the concept of advocacy for “viewpoint diversity” as argued in this letter from a group of law professors: Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms “Fake News That Deniers Of Mainstream Media Bias Claim Isn’t Fake News But It’s Still Fake News” Files: The New Michael Brown Video And CNN

As we all remember, teen-aged African- American Michael Brown was arrested and subsequently shot to death by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after he was attacked  by Brown. The narrative, based on a lie told by Brown’s friend and accepted as fact by the news media, that the teen was shot while shouting “Don’t shoot!” and holding his hands up, sparked riots in Ferguson and demonstrations elsewhere, as well as racial tensions that still continue. Much to its disappointment, the Obama Justice Department couldn’t find evidence that Wilson behaved improperly under the circumstances, and he was never charged.

From the New York Times:

[P]olice released a security video from a nearby store that showed Mr. Brown pushing a worker and taking cigarillos minutes before the shooting. But a second, previously unreported video from that same convenience store included in a new documentary is raising new questions about what happened in the hours before the shooting on Aug. 9, 2014.

The footage shows Mr. Brown entering the store, Ferguson Market and Liquor, shortly after 1 a.m. on the day he died. He approaches the counter, hands over an item that appears to be a small bag and takes a shopping sack filled with cigarillos. Mr. Brown is shown walking toward the door with the sack, then turning around and handing the cigarillos back across the counter before exiting.

Jason Pollock, a documentary filmmaker who acquired the new tape, says the footage challenges the police narrative that Mr. Brown committed a strong-armed robbery when he returned to the store around noon that day. Instead, Mr. Pollock believes that the new video shows Mr. Brown giving a small bag of marijuana to store employees and receiving cigarillos in return as part of a negotiated deal. Mr. Pollock said Mr. Brown left the cigarillos behind the counter for safekeeping.

What does the new video, which the store owners deny shows what Pollack says it does, have to do with the circumstances of Brown’s shooting, and whether Officer Wilson was in fear of bodily injury, requiring him to use deadly force?

Nothing. Not a thing.  Nada. Zippo. What occurred hours before Brown encountered Wilson had no impact on the subsequent events. It doesn’t matter whether Mike Brown was selling drugs, stealing something, making funny faces, or clog dancing. It doesn’t change the evidence that he tried to wrest Officer Williams’ gun from him, fled the police car, and turned and charged the officer.  The video literally doesn’t matter, any more than a video of “Pootie Tang” or “The English Patient.”  Because it doesn’t matter, the video has no significance to what does matter, whether the police shooting was just, or racially motivated.  It isn’t news. It isn’t useful or enlightening. If it is represented as news, then the public is being misled. Continue reading

Signature Significance: Katie Couric “Regrets” The Deceptive Editing Of Her Anti-Gun Documentary, But Isn’t Going To Fix It.

I'd think she'd want to have that fixed...

I’d think she’d want to have that fixed…

Today Katie Couric made all of her defenders look just as bad as I said they were.

“I can understand the objection of people who did have an issue about it,” Couric said at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast in New York this morning, when asked to address the intentionally deceptive editing in “Under the Gun,‘ the anti-gun documentary she produced. “Having said that, I think we have to focus on the big issue of gun violence. It was my hope that, when I approached this topic, that this would be a conversation starter.”

She then said that the documentary will not be re-edited to fix the lie it contains.

This is signature significance: all by itself, it proves beyond a shadow if a doubt that Katie Couric is a dishonest journalist. No more evidence is needed, for an honest journalist would never make this choice. Not once, not ever.

“The objection of people who did have an issue about it” clearly states that Couric herself had no “issue with it,” meaning that, as I wrote, she only regrets the controversy, not the lie. Continue reading

UPDATE: Even More Reasons To Distrust Katie Couric, Which Means More Reasons To Distrust The Journalists Who Want To Excuse Her

film editing

The Washington Post criticized Katie Couric’s role in approving the deceptive “Under the Gun” documentary edit but also noted that it is “one instance of bad judgment in a long career.” This was an instance of the “Just One Mistake” rationalization…

20. The “Just one mistake!” Fantasy

Related to #16 but still distinct is the excuse that a particular unethical act should be ignored, forgiven or excused as an aberration because “it was just one mistake.” This argument intentionally glosses over the fact that one mistake can be so blatantly unethical and harmful that an ethical person literally never does such a thing, and thus the “one mistake” is a reliable indicator that the actor does not deserve to be trusted. Abuse of power is in this category. Defenders of the unethical also often use this excuse dishonestly and deceptively to designate as one mistake an ongoing episode of continuous unethical conduct. For example, Bill Clinton didn’t make “one mistake” regarding Monica Lewinsky, but hundreds of them, involving lies, deceits, cover-ups and betrayals.

The versatile excuse was applied by one member of the liberal-biased school of journalism to another, and says more about the Post writer ( Callum Borchers) than it does about Couric. He was actually right on the money when he wrote, only to say later it was “unfair,” this:

Couric thinks the media needs to be tougher on Trump. The reality is the current level of toughness hasn’t dented his campaign. What’s the next level of toughness? One could conclude, based on the misleading edit in Couric’s gun documentary, that it involves distorting interviews to produce manufactured flubs, in hopes that one of them will accomplish what no organic mistake has done so far.

Why yes, one could not only conclude that, but witness it in the media’s successful efforts to turn a dumb Trump quote about a judge’s reasons to be biased against him in a law suit into an imaginary smoking gun that proves he’s a racist. Journalists have been eager to allow the public to forget about Couric’s endorsement of misleading and dishonest editing techniques in the service of the anti-gun rights agenda, because her methods are their methods. The woman should be fired. Journalists must be regarded like accountants and auditors: one they have shown that they will lie, even once, they are worthless. Is that a fair standard? I believe it is. Why then are journalists eager to have Couric held to a lower standard? Easy: they don’t want to be held to the appropriate ethics standard either.

The apologists for Couric have been especially revealing; once again, any journalist who defends Couric can be safely placed along with her in the UNTRUSTWORTHY File. Here’s Mediaite’s Rachel Stockman embarrassing and indicting herself, for example, saying that people are being mean to Katie for impugning her integrity… Continue reading

Update: “A Message From Katie Couric”… A Really Damning One

But she's so cute! How can someone so cute be such a lying, untrustworthy weasel?

But she’s so cute! How can someone so cute be such a lying, untrustworthy weasel?

Katie Couric’s approval of intentionally deceptive editing in the anti-gun documentary “Under the Gun” (which Ethics Alarms discussed here) was and should be regarded as a definitive nail in her metaphorical coffin as a serious and trustworthy journalist. The revelation that she facilitated an unequivocal lie in the documentary, and her failure to acknowledge its unethical nature once it was exposed (instead, Couric endorsed the documentary-maker’s evasive non apology and said she was “very proud of the film” ), has no remedy other than to ignore Katie Couric forevermore. She’s a liberal agenda-driven hack who is not above distorting the truth to bolster policies she likes, in this case, banning guns. After this fiasco,there is no question about it.

CNN’s wishy-washy media ethics commentator Brian Stelter noted in a recent post about the incident that “an assortment of media critics and conservative writers” thought the documentary-maker’s fake apology that Couric rubber-stamped “was not sufficient.” Huh! Excuse me for being impertinent, but why is the practice of alleged journalists with national reputations using lies as a tool of advocacy a partisan issue?

Why are only “conservative writers” bothered when a documentary produced by Katie Couric intentionally uses a deceptive edit to make a group of gun owners look like fools who can’t come up with a response to a basic question about background checks? Why don’t liberal, moderate and honest writers protest as well? Are intentionally dishonest techniques all right with the latter group, as long as they have the purpose of destroying public support for the Bill of Rights?

The flagrant shredding of both documentary ethics and journalism ethics by long-time media darling Couric (who has always been as biased as a journalist can get) received some grudging attention from the non-conservative media, but nothing like the wave of indignation that would have followed a similar breach that made gun opponents look foolish in a documentary by, say, Britt Hume. Compare the treatment of Couric’s deception to the way the mainstream media attacked and discredited the hidden videos of Planned Parenthood ghouls talking about aborting fetuses like it had all the significance of clipping toenails.

Couric signaled, clearly and obviously, that she felt the uenthical edit was just fine, thank-you, when she allowed days to pass without any comment other than that she was “very proud of the film.”  That’s how she feels, folks. There’s no ambiguity or confusion. If she was sorry, or realized she screwed up, or didn’t believe that the scourge of gun violence didn’t have to be stopped “by any means necessary,” including deception, she would have issued a genuine mea culpa immediately. She didn’t.

This is called doing a “Dan Rather.”

Then Katie decided that it wasn’t working. Many of the same “conservative writers” who wouldn’t let NBC shrug off the fact that Brian Williams was a compulsive liar were writing that Couric’s career was toast, so she apparently huddled with her PR crisis gurus and released this on Monday, titled “A Message From Katie Couric”. Here’s the whole, wretched thing: Continue reading