Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/5/2018: “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” Edition

Good Morning!

(I’m happy to report that my Clarence Darrow ethics program for a lawyer group yesterday in Annapolis was received wonderfully, in no small part due to actor Paul Morella’s moving and powerful recreations of Darrow’s courtroom oratory. As is often the case, attendees said that they didn’t realize a legal ethics presentation could be so interesting. If fact, there is no excuse for any kind of ethics NOT being interesting…)

1. I call this “cultural defacing.” At 10:30 last night, I watched the end of “The Princess Bride,” and was thrilled to arrive just as the final showdown between Ingo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and Count Rugen (Christopher Guest). Here is the scene, a classic one, which begins with the Count apparently fatally wounding Inigo with a dagger:

Inigo Montoya: Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

[Inigo advances on Rugen, but stumbles into the table with sudden pain. Rugen attacks, but Inigo parries and rises to his feet again]

Inigo Montoya: Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

[Rugen attacks again, Inigo parries more fiercely, gaining strength]

Inigo Montoya: Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!

Count Rugen: Stop saying that!

[Rugen attacks, twice. Inigo avoids and wounds Rugen in both shoulders. Inigo attacks, bellowing:]


[Inigo corners Count Rugen, knocks his sword aside, and slashes his cheek, giving him a scar just like Inigo’s]

Inigo Montoya: Offer me money.

Count Rugen: Yes!

Inigo Montoya: Power, too, promise me that.

[He slashes his other cheek]

Count Rugen: All that I have and more. Please…

Inigo Montoya: Offer me anything I ask for.

Count Rugen: Anything you want…

[Rugen knocks Inigo’s sword aside and lunges. But Inigo traps his arm and aims his sword at Rugen’s stomach]

Inigo Montoya: I want my father back, you son of a bitch!

[He runs Count Rugen through and shoves him back against the table. Rugen falls to the floor, dead]

Except “you son of a bitch” was cut!

We settled this when the TV showing of “Gone With The Wind” let Clark Gable’s iconic exit line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” remain uncensored, and later,when John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn uttered the words, “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” before charging Ned Pepper and his gang. It is unfair and disrespectful to wreck the best work of writers and actors for the few remaining people on earth who take to their fainting couches when rude language meets their ears. You don’t edit Rhett, or Rooster, or Inigo, or even John McLane when he says, “Yippee ki yay, mother fucker!” Show the movie, or don’t show the movie, but don’t ruin the movie for the most easily offended in the audience. Continue reading

On “Media Watchdogs,” NPR, Ted Cruz, And Unethical Editing


Newsbusters is a “media watchdog” site that doesn’t pretend to be non-partisan: it goes after the liberal mainstream media for bias. I am tempted to conclude that agenda-driven watchdogs are more credible than so-called objective watch-dogs, like CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” which are almost as biased but pretend not to be.

Newsbusters does good work sometimes, then comes up with something like Matthew Balan’s sneering attack on the news media’s praise of “Spotlight” ( CBS Celebrates ‘Very Powerful,’ ‘Fantastic’ Liberal Reporter Movie) which didn’t contain a word about why the media shouldn’t be praising it. (I don’t think Balan saw the movie.) It’s an embarrassing piece, Newsbusters at its biased worst. The writer keeps telling us that actor Mark Ruffalo. who plays one of the reporters in the film,  is “left wing,” as if that is relevant to the role he played in the film (it isn’t). Apparently Balan thinks that a remarkably accurate movie about good investigative reporting and a scandal involving harm to hundreds of thousands of children shouldn’t be made because it doesn’t make organized religion look good, and does make a liberal newspaper look good.

He’s nuts. Are religious conservatives that deranged, that a straightforward, true account of the news media doing its job (for a change) and the historic and world-shaking scandal it uncovered confirms their suspicions of a progressive Hollywood conspiracy? The movie isn’t political in any way! It was praised by CBS and other critics because it’s a terrific movie that has only one agenda, which is to tell an important story compellingly. Sorry that it gives the Catholic Church the treatment it deserves, Newsbusters.

On the left is Media Matters, David Brock’s site that makes Newsbusters look like the epitome of non-partisan analysis. It’s not even a watchdog, and barely pretends to be any more: it is a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Is there a good, objective, non-partisan media watchdog site that isn’t trying to prop up parties and candidates? The closest is probably, (Wait, why isn’t this in the Ethics Alarms links? Better fix THAT…), out of the Poynter Institute, which has the broader agenda of teaching and promoting good and ethical journalism. The site doesn’t—can’t—cover all the misconduct in the media. It does a good job when it does, though: here’s a current post on the media’s race-baiting Justice Scalia, which I covered yesterday. It concludes…

“The New York Times duly noted that one Scalia remark “drew muted gasps in the courtroom.” (The New York Times) But “far from being racist, that proposition is an acknowledgment of racial inequality — and it’s central to the argument for racial preferences. Those preferences wouldn’t be necessary if applicants from all racial and ethnic groups possessed exactly the same paper credentials.”(The Los Angeles Times) Unfortunately, the digital age brings a few too many reporters sitting at desks and doing facile, Twitter-friendly rewrites of stuff they know little about.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Back to Newsbusters: When it is good, it can be very good, as it was yesterday exposing an outrageous distortion of a Ted Cruz interview on NPR. I knew that interviewers edit interview answers for broadcast. I did not know that any major news organization would think it was ethical to distort the emphasis, thrust and meaning of a Presidential candidate’s words this blatantly. (But then Cruz is a conservative.) NPR duly posted the unedited interview transcript online, which is not good enough: how many listeners are going to check what they heard driving to work to discover what was really said? How many suspect that what they heard was sliced and diced like gazpacho? Not many, and NPR knows it.

In checking what Cruz really said and what the broadcast of his interview with NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep made him out to say, Newsbusters reporter Tim Graham found text that showed the Cruz’s answers were shortened by mid-paragraph cuts, blunting his points and also censoring his most critical comments about the Obama Administration and its current policies. Here is the section of the interview containing the most edits. Graham has bolded the cuts; what is not bolded is what the NPR audience heard. I’ll break in here and there, in italics.

Continue reading

Now THIS Is Hypocrisy: Steven Soderbergh’s Copyright Exemption

Raiders_B and W

Few ethical concepts are as misidentified as hypocrisy, which is the opposite of integrity. The judge who secretly engages in crimes by night that he harshly sentences poor defendants for committing when he wears his black robe by day is a hypocrite; the parent who punishes his child for conduct she defiantly engaged in when she was the same age is not. The anti-hate speech zealot who uses what she would call hate speech in attacking others is a hypocrite; the closeted gay Baptist who opposes same-sex marriage is not. There is no danger of confusion where director Stephen Soderbergh’s copyright militancy is concerned, however. He’s a perfect hypocrite, one who distinguishes  right and wrong this way: if anyone other than  Soderbergh does it, it’s wrong.

Soderbergh is an outspoken copyright infringement hun who has testified  before Congress on behalf of the Director’s Guild of America, calling for tough legal penalties against online copyright infringers. He was also the lead plaintiff in the 2006 case of Soderbergh et al v. Clean Flicks of Colorado et al., seeking to shut down a company called Clean Flicks  that distributed versions of previously-released films edited by them to be more “family friendly.”

Soderbergh suit was successful, with the court ruling that the edited versions prepared by Clean Flicks violated his rights under sec 106(2) of the Copyright Act  by creating derivative versions of the films – defined as “works based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted”—and held that that Clean Flicks was responsible for “irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies.”

But what’s this? Now Soderbergh is posting his own specially-edited versions of the classics “Psycho,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” on his own website. Want to see how good Raiders looks as a black-and-white film for example? Soderbergh’s color-free edit will show you. And how is editing the color out of the Lucas-Spielberg film ethically and legally distinct from editing out the naughty words and images from Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape?”

I have no idea. Ask Soderbergh, whose answer, I suspect, will be “because I did it, not someone else.”



Pointer: Volokh

The Bill Cosby Follies: Idiotic Blog Post, Atrocious Apology, Lame Justification…Thanks, “TheWrap,” For This Lesson In First Amendment Abuse


TheWrap is a web Hollywood news and gossip site. Picture TMZ crossed with Gawker.  It published an immediate candidate for the most unethical blog post of the year, always a closely contested category, a piece of cyber-offal by an industry writer named Rich Stellar that issued a combined attack on the women coming forward to prove Bill Cosby is a serial rapist, and the media’s coverage of it. I was happily unaware of Stellar, barely aware of The Wrap and definitely unaware of this utter crap until it was flagged in a Salon piece, which was in turn flagged by one of my indispensable scouts, Fred. What unfolded before me was a horrible spectacle of a despicably and dumber than a box of rocks opinion piece that no competent editor should allow to avoid the trash, a subsequent apology of sorts from the writer that shows such an ethics deficit that he should probably have a 24-hour keeper, and, finally, his editor’s defense of her wretched editorial judgment based on the theory of the First Amendment, which she appears to think means “You have to publish any garbage any fool writes no matter how poorly conceived or reasoned, or you are unAmerican.”  But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Blog Post.

Read it all if you dare. Here’s Stellar’s money quote, which distills most of the cretinism without forcing you into Hell: Continue reading

The Obligation To Know Something About What You Are Writing About

Believe it or not, this isn't the most ridiculous feature of the Slate essay it comes from.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the most ridiculous feature of the Slate essay it comes from.

I am constantly being reminded of an old Bob and Ray skit (no, I can’t find it online) they did on late night TV where Bob played an interviewer of a longshoreman (Ray) who had just published a thousand page history of the U.S. that was riddled with errors. “Here, for example,” the increasingly perplexed interviewer sputtered, “you say that Abraham Lincoln was born in 1943 in Bailey’s Mistake, Maine!” Because the internet permits anyone to publish authoritative-sounding nonsense and lies without penalty, that skit seems less and less absurd with each passing day.

Even the content of supposedly legitimate, respected on-line sources cannot be relied upon , because 1) the job of “editor” appears to be obsolete, and 2) if there is an editor, he may be an ignoramus too. For example, a day after after the World Health Organization released a stunning report announcing that citizens of Greece were intentionally giving themselves AIDS so they could get health benefits, it retracted the statement, saying, through  a spokesman, “There is no evidence of people in Greece or anywhere else in Europe deliberately infecting themselves.” What happened? It was an editing error. Oh, well then… wait, what? And nobody other than the editor read the ridiculous release before falsely accusing an entire country of breeding idiots?

This brings us to this “correction” that appeared yesterday on Slate….you know, that sophisticated, erudite, eclectic online cultural  commentary magazine:

“Correction, Dec. 10, 2013: This article originally misidentified penguins as mammals. They are birds.” Continue reading

The Best Of The Ethical Ann Althouse


In a recent post, I criticized blogger Ann Althouse for an ethics commentary misfire, along with the error of not allowing readers to comment on it, and thus point out where her analysis went wrong. I would not want to leave the impression that this was typical of Althouse in any way, or discourage any reader here from sampling her generally fascinating and well-written observations. Luckily, today she delivered a post which I would put among her best, a measured and deft take-down of Slate’s often silly feminist blogger L.V. Anderson, for a classic diatribe dripping with manufactured accusations of gender bias in a news story where none exists.

This is the real Ann Althouse, and you should read the entry, here.


Sources: Althouse, Slate

Graphic: Oceansbridge

Quick Ethics Quiz….

I routinely edit blog comments for typos and minor grammatical mistakes, both to assist with clarity and reading and also as a Golden Rule exercise—I have typo issues myself, as regular readers well know.

This comment just turned up on Edward Carney’s Comment of the Day (from September of 2011) about flying the Confederate flag:

“I know what the confederate flag means. I am not racist. I wanted to show that I am not for whats going on in this country. Their is a lot of people like me.You cannot change history.You can make new history with it.”

I was tempted not to fix it (there are four errors) but I decided that would be unfair.

Should I have left it as it was?

Unethical Quote of the Week: Detroit News Business Editor Sue Carney

"The new model is so ugly that...What's that? They give us HOW much ad money? Uh..hey, what a GREAT looking car!

“We made several changes to the online version of Scott’s review because we were uncomfortable with some of the language in the original. It should have been addressed during the editing process but wasn’t. … the changes did not fundamentally change the thrust of Scott’s piece … a car dealer raised a complaint and we took a look at the review, as we would do whenever a reader raises a flag. The changes were made to address the journalism of the piece, not the angst of a car dealer.”


Sue Carney, business editor of The Detroit News, lying her head off to rationalize a disgraceful instance of a newspaper changing its content—a car review— to serve the interest of an advertiser.

How often does an ethical news publication publish an article then go back after it has run and change the text, over the objection of the reporter who wrote it, not correcting an error but softening an opinion? Answer: never, by definition. Continue reading

To Edit, or Not to Edit: A Blogging Ethical Dilemma

I was just simultaneously reading an excellent, if not particularly revolutionary, article about blogging ethics and checking out the latest comments on the Immortal Tide (with Acti-lift!) Debate. Suddenly I found myself wishing that the author, whose essay concentrated on editing blog posts, had also addressed the issue of editing blog comments.

Unlike some blog platforms, WordPress does not have a feature that allows commenters to review or spell-check their own posts. Despite this, many of the regular commenters here have a better record of avoiding typos than I do, and I have preview and spellcheck features. When they make a spelling or grammatical error (and I notice it), I will fix it for them: WordPress allows me to edit comments. Sometimes a commenter will e-mail me personally and request an edit, and I am happy to oblige.

A while ago, one new commenter whose post was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors accused me of letting her errors stand to make her look unintelligent because she had disagreed with my original post, while I continued to edit comments that were more friendly. In her case, I actually hadn’t read the previous typo-infested comment that she was referring to, and treated her complaint as a request to edit it, which I did. But it was a mess, and I wondered then if it made sense, or was even fair, to turn an inarticulate, careless comment into a clear and persuasive one.

Today I have read several posts on the endless Tide commercial thread from a 15-year-old girl. The post is in text-speak, essentially, without capitals, punctuation or any attention to style. It is a clear comment, however,even if it is obviously the expression of a 21st Century teen. Should I edit her comment to give it more credibility, by punctuating it, for example?

What is an ethical editing policy regarding comments on an ethics blog? The options, as I see them, with their ethical pros and cons: Continue reading

Mr. Friedkin? Mr. Hawks? Meet Mr. Madison and Mr. Twain

It was Saturday Censorship at the Movies last night in Cable Land.

First, I got to watch that manly channel, Spike, blanch at showing a possessed 12-year-old girl use the work “fuck”, which, as you horror devotees know, is a word rather central to showing how she has been taken over, like Helen Thomas, by the demon Pazuzu. There was Linda Blair, as the suddenly possessed Regan O’Neill, bouncing rhythmically on her bed as her horrified mother and physician looked on, shouting “—Me!—Me!—Me!”, apparently horrifying them with a noisy outbreak of egocentricity. The later scene in which the Demon Child is found masturbating with a crucifix was also clumsily chopped up so it was impossible to figure out what was going on. Continue reading