Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/30/18: The State Of The Union Stinks Edition

Good Morning, everyone!

1 Well, it’s good to know you have kept an open mind…New York Times Trump-Hater Michelle Goldberg, who has written for just about every left and far left website and publication imaginable,  on today’s Times editorial page:

“No matter how well Trump delivers the lines in his State of the Union — announced theme: “Building a safe, strong and proud America” — he will not become presidential. There will be no turning of corners or uniting the country. At best, Trump will succeed in impersonating a minimally competent leader for roughly the length of an episode of “The Apprentice.”

Has any major newspaper, prior to a President’s first State of the Union message, given prominence to such an unfair and disrespectful bit of hate-punditry? I doubt it very much.

2. ‘Where have you gone, Pres’dent Gerald Ford, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…woowoowooThe only President to begin his State of the Union negatively was President Gerald Ford, in 1975: I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good.” He was right, and courageous, to do so, and President Trump would be right and courageous to do so now, though for different reasons. Ford was speaking of the economy, but economies get better. The State of the Union is also not good when it is being torn apart by hyper-partisan warfare, and both parties are attempting to increase the divisions among citizens while exploiting them. Of course, the current President, who has some useful skills Gerald Ford lacked, but not a flea’s nose’s portion of his character, would never dream of using his time in the national spotlight for anything less than an orgy of self-congratulation. Continue reading

And Now, How A RIGHT Wing “Watchdog” Views The World…

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In commenting on today’s early post about Mediaite inexplicably neglecting to mention that the “ethics watchdog”now accusing Rep. Louis Gohmert of skimming off his campaign funds is in fact part of the Media Matters left-wing hit squad, commenter Steve-O-in-NJ observed…

“As has been pointed out many, many times on this site both by yourself and others, most Americans have some shade of partisan goggles on that makes it harder to see ethical violations by those they are sympathetic to and easier to see them by those they are not. It doesn’t help that there are any number of partisan dyes (racism, sexism, patriotism) we can release to further cloud the waters we swim in with these goggles on. Eventually there’s so much dye in the water and the lenses become so tinted that everyone forgets what clear water actually looks like.”

Truer words were never uttered. To prove Steve’s point from the other side of the political spectrum, I present Newsbusters, which holds a higher level of esteem from me than CREW by being transparent about its skewed perspective: the site, part of arch conservative Brent Bozell’s empire, acknowledges that it exists to show liberal bias in the news media, and Lord knows, there is plenty to show. Unfortunately, Newsbusters is addicted to the same silly routine its counterpart Media Matters employs, the “X spent this much time on this story but only this much time on this story that exposes the rank incompetence and corruption of a politician/program/party we hate” bit. The complaint has legitimacy when the news media is deliberately burying an important development and hiding facts from the public, as the mainstream media has done with the IRS scandal and attempted to do with Jonathan Gruber’s revelations, or as Fox did with results of the Congressional investigation of Benghazi. More often, however, the real complaint is “Why don’t the biased news sources adopt our biases instead of their biases?”

Today brings a classic example on Newsbusters: Continue reading

Ah, Mediaite? CREW Is NOT An “Ethics Watchdog Group,” It’s A Partisan Media Matters Hit Group

See, Congressman, it works this way: if you were a Democrat, CREW would ignore your junket to London, and so would Mediaite. Fox News, however, would be all over your ass...

See, Congressman, it works this way: if you were a Democrat, CREW would ignore your junket to London, and so would Mediaite. Fox News, however, would be all over your ass…

Did Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Tx)*, one of the prominent conservatives in the Republican-led Congress, misuse over $6,000 in campaign funds on a speaking trip to London? Maybe; it sounds like one of those typical gray election law controversies, and one of the lesser ones, except that Gohmert is on a lot of partisan hit lists. If he did misuse the funds, I’d want to see him fined, or whatever the violation warrants, and chastened too.

That’s not my concern right now, though. What interests me is that the alleged misuse of funds was flagged by Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and in reporting it, Mediaite said, in a story headlined, Ethics Watchdog Accuses Gohmert of Misusing Campaign Funds:

“An ethics watchdog group has filed a complaint against Rep. Louie Gohmert, accusing the Texas Republican of misusing campaign funds to foot the bill for a trip to England that included a 5-star hotel and a $200-plus taxi ride.The complaint, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), was addressed to the staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics and demands an investigation into whether Gohmert violated House rules by using campaign money for a trip that seemingly had nothing to do with his campaign.”

CREW, as I have repeatedly pointed out for years, is no “ethics watchdog.”  Continue reading

The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2014 (Part 3)

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2014 Conflicts of Interest of the Year

  • Conflicted Elected Official: Philadelphia State Senator LeAnna Washington. This is always an entertaining category. Washington was convicted of using her tax-payer financed staff to organize a yearly campaign fundraiser around her birthday party. When one staffer complained that this was illegal, she reportedly replied, according to his grand jury testimony:

“I am the fucking senator, I do what the fuck I want, and ain’t nobody going to change me. I have been doing it like this for 17 years. So stop trying to change me.”

  • Conflicted Journalist: CNN sent Jay Carney, fresh off his assignment as President Obama’s official spokesman, defender and spinmeister, to cover his ex-boss’s speech.
  • Conflicted  “Non-partisan” Watchdog: CREW. The Center For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and its chief, Melanie Sloan, finally came clean (after falsely claiming non-profit status as a non-partisan organization for years) by making David Brock, head of the openly partisan, foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Republican media watchdog Media Matters its Chairman of the Board, essentially merging the two groups.
  • Appearance of Impropriety Award: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La), Republican Whip. It is not certain yet whether Scalise knowingly spoke to a group of white supremacists in 20o2, inadvertently spoke to the group, or just spoke to another group meeting in the same venue before the David Duke-affiliated group of racists started comparing sheets. It isn’t even clear that Scalise knows, but everyone should agree that it looks awful no matter how you categorize it, making the fiasco a classic appearance of impropriety situation. If the Republicans were smart, they would dump him.

Unethical Attire of the Year

Offensive shirt

This.

Unethical Political Candidate of the Year

Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, whose campaign materials were largely plagiarized from the materials other candidates.

Ethically Clueless Voters of the Year

New York’s 11th Congressional District, which contains Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. These alert and ethical citizens sent back to Washington thuggish and crooked Rep. Michael Grimm (R), then facing a 20-count indictment by federal authorities for fraud, federal tax evasion, and perjury, having earlier distinguished himself by threatening to kill a reporter and being recorded doing so.

  Unethical Advertising of the Year

Lawyer Division:

Public Service Announcement Division:

TV Program Division:

The Discovery Channel’s campaign for “Eaten Alive!” which did not, in fact, feature anyone being “eaten alive,” or at all.

Private Sector Product Division:

Halos. Or perhaps this is the Child Abuse Division:

Political Campaign Division:

Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for Texas Governor, offered an ad attacking her wheelchair- bound opponent that 1) appealed to bias against the disabled 2) misrepresented the duties of a state attorney general 3) misrepresented the facts of the cases the ad referred to and  4)  deceived the public regarding the ethical duties of lawyers, which Davis, a lawyer, presumably understands. Continue reading

Shock: CREW Finally Comes Clean… It Wasn’t So Non-Partisan After All!

Yes, David Brock really does wear his hair like that, and yes, I admit being biased against anyone who does.

Yes, David Brock really does wear his hair like that, and yes, I admit to being biased against anyone who does.

There is a real need for a fair, non-partisan, non-ideological ethics watchdog organization in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, what we are stuck with is the Center For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, headed by Melanie Sloan, and it is none of these things. The only clue on the group’s website, however, is the fact that Republicans are somehow found to be engaging in unethical conduct at a rate of about three times that of Democrats, and the Democrats CREW does criticize are so blatantly unethical that an old, blind and deaf watch dog would be disgusted by the stench. The mainstream news media, and which on the whole is about as unbiased as CREW is, still cites the Center as a “non partisan” source, all the better to attack Republicans with a semblance, though a deceptive one, of objectivity. CREW has operated, and quite dishonestly, as a nonprofit registered under a section of the Tax Code — 501(c)3, which prohibited partisan activity.

To be clear: CREW has done some excellent work flagging unethical conduct by Republicans officials. It is the lying about being objective that makes it an unethical organization. I wrote about CREW’s facade here, and here, and also noted when it briefly dropped is pose when Sloan briefly joined that famously objective operative and lobbyist Lanny Davis’s firm—this is the same Lanny Davis who became a familiar fixture on TV spinning his friend and client Bill Clinton’s conduct during the Monica scandal—shortly after CREW blatantly pushed the interests of Davis’s clients on its website.

Continue reading

CREW and the Problem With Partisan “Non-Partisan Watchdog Groups”

There is a new website called “CREW Exposed,” which is pretty brief and to the point: it highlights statistics showing the degree to which Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government ethics watchdog that does not identify any partisan or ideological allegiances in its materials, concentrates its criticism, investigations, formal complaints and ethical exposes on Republicans and conservatives rather than Democrats and liberals at a ratio of about 5 to 1.

Continue reading

Zombie Ethics

By joining PETZ, you can help prevent needless zombie misery...

People for the Ethical Treatment of Zombies (PETZ) is now officially accepting members.

The watchdog organization flags inappropriate zombie jokes from celebrities,  advocates humane treatment of the living dead (  “Keep your zombie well-refrigerated…Reattach any limbs that have fallen off immediately…Brush your zombie’s remaining teeth regularly…”), boycotts companies that test their products on zombies (who are not capable of informed consent), companies such as KFC, Sephora, and Men’s Warehouse, and publish recipes for the zombie palate.

PETZ is also lobbying for the passage “Proposition Z,” which would “amend the California Constitution to include all persons resurrected in the State of California, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are residents of California. The State shall not make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of other residents of the State; nor shall the State deprive any infected person of life, un-dead life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any infected person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This could be a joke, but then I think a lot of PETA’s initiatives are equally ridiculous, and they are serious.

You never know.

Ethics Quiz: Can You Undo A Past Confict of Interest or Appearance of Impropriety?

In November, Ethics Alarms noted that Melanie Sloan, the head of the ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was involved in exactly the kind of Washington insider conflict of interest that the group typically slams politicians for engaging in:

“Melanie Sloan, long the leader and public face of CREW, announced that she is joining the new firm of lobbyist Lanny Davis, a long-time Democratic ally and famous for being Bill Clinton’s most ubiquitous apologist during the Monica Lewinsky scandal…Over the summer,  CREW aligned itself with the for-profit schools industry.  “Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (“HELP”), asking the committee to consider the financial motives of critics of the for-profit education industry,” a July CREW press release began. Later, Sloan again attacked the motives of for-profit school critics in a CREW blog post that linked to an op-ed piece Davis had written defending the for-profit industry. That industry then became a client of Davis’s lobbying firm.

“Got that? Sloan and CREW pushed the interests of Davis’s clients, then Sloan went to work for Davis, where she will, in part, be enriched by the very people whom she assisted in the name of ethics—by attacking the financial motives of for-profit school opponents! This is precisely the kind of D.C. two-step that CREW mercilessly exposes when elected officials do it, and now here is the very same CREW leader who once condemned such corrupt practices, doing it herself.”

Now, for reasons yet undisclosed. Sloan will not be leaving CREW after all.

Does that make everything all right, obliterating the conflict of interest exposed by her decision to take the lobbying job for a firm representing the same interests that CREW had defended? Is the stain of that apparent conflict now erased? Continue reading

CREW Gets Hoisted: For Ethics Watchdogs, Integrity’s a Bitch

CREW—Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—is one of the most active and fairest of political watchdog groups. It has a definite liberal bias, for approximately twice as many Republicans as Democrats manage to attract CREW critiques, but that’s all right: plenty of elected officials from both parties have had their shady dealings exposed by the group, which is notable for its lack of sympathy for Washington’s traditional myths and excuses to allow guilt-free corruption.

An ethics watchdog, however, can never engage in the same conduct it criticizes in others. The reason for this is as much practical as ethical. A group that made a strong case that certain behavior shouldn’t be tolerated by the public in its elected champions doesn’t diminish the validity of its arguments by violating its own principles, but it does symbolically consent to accepting the same standard of review for its own actions that it demanded for its targets. This is what Will Shakespeare called being hoisted by your own petard—blowing yourself up with a bomb of your own construction.

As Shakespeare also noted, the previous quarry of the one who is thus hoisted just love to see this happen. It doesn’t really make what they did any less wrong or the ethics watchdog any less right to have condemned it, but when the critic gets caught doing something similar, it can make the conduct seem less wrong. This also will often guarantee that future criticism by the watchdog will be greeted with more suspicion than respect.

Salon has a posted a well-researched account of how CREW hoisted itself recently, and the prospects for the organization maintaining its previous level of respect and credibility are not good. Continue reading