From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “The Siena Research Institute’s Lousy Independence Day Gift: Misleading, Biased and Incompetent Presidential Rankings”

Now and then an old post suddenly get a lot of clicks. Often this will draw my attention to an essay I had forgotten: such was the case with this post from 2010. Someone on Reddit put it up for discussion, and last week the old post had hundreds of views. I was intrigued and re-read it. Good post!

I would change a few observations—in the intervening years we have learned that Woodrow Wilson was even worse than I thought—and add some, but the post was long, and a thorough evisceration of this embarrassing survey’s results would require a book.

***

The Siena College Research Institute persuaded over 200 presidential scholars to participate in a survey designed to rank America’s forty-three Chief Executives. There is great deal to be leaned from the resulting list that the Institute proudly released on July 1; unfortunately, very few of the lessons have anything to do with the men on it.

The list shows us that:

  • A survey is only as good as its design
  • Historians who call themselves “presidential scholars,” working together, could do no better in their supposed area of expertise than to arrive at a ranking that would get most 7th Graders a C in junior high school History, raising serious questions about how history is taught in our universities, but perhaps explaining why Americans choose to be so ignorant of their nation’s past.
  • Historians are, as a group, biased toward liberal causes, against conservatives, and in favor of people who are like them.
  • They are unable to recognize their biases, even when a list like this one makes them stunningly obvious.

Lists are mostly for fun and to start arguments. When one purports to make historical judgments, however, and the individuals doing the judging are supposed to be experts, there is still a responsibility to try to do the task fairly, competently, and responsibly. Continue reading

Question: How Do You Spot A Biased Newspaper?

Slanted? Waddya mean "slanted"?

Slanted? Waddya mean “slanted”?

Answer: Read the Letters to the Editor.

I now subscribe to the New York Times, and the uniform one-way slant of the Letters to the Editor is palpable and fascinating. I’ve been tempted many times, including today, to do a post critiquing the biases in all the Times letters in a single edition. Maybe some day.

80% of the letters list progressive or Democratic talking points, either because that’s the approximate proportion of liberals among the Times readership, or because that percentage (it is remarkably consistent, day to day, paper to paper) reflects the bias of the editors choosing which letters to print.  I have concluded that the letters are probably even more weighted to the left than the reader opinions published reflect. The Times just feels obligated to include a non-conforming, aka “conservative,”  view here and there so its bias won’t be screamingly obvious. It’s an objective paper, after all.

Today’s mail call was dominated by one letter after another excoriating Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments, which was also the theme of today’s Times editorial. In particular, the appointment of Exxon Mobil’s chief executive, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State was a target of the correspondents’ disgust.  The majority view was stated in one letter this way:

“Like Donald Trump, Mr. Tillerson has no experience in the delicate and sensitive art of diplomacy.”

It wasn’t until the fourth letter (out of five: 80%!) that a commenter mentioned the obvious, and exactly what I was thinking as I read all the expressions of  horror: Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Politico

experience

“This is the fundamental tension of being Clinton’s chief speechwriter: How do you write effectively for a policy-driven candidate who is allergic to campaign-speak? …But it’s also deeper than just a speechwriting problem: It’s about how the most experienced person to ever run for the White House continues to struggle with one of the most basic parts of the job: committing to a message that helps establish a general sense of affection from the electorate.

—-Annie Karnie in Politico, in a post called “Has Hillary finally found her voice?”

The news media has become so biased, so incompetent, so arrogant and so dishonest that I could fill this blog every day with only posts aimed at exposing the horrific and damaging “profession” of journalism. The increasing boldness with which reporters and editors aim to manipulate public opinion and government policy by intentional disinformation is staggering. In focusing on Politico’s Big Lie about Hillary’s credentials, I chose not to write about several others, such as, for example, Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Jessie Balmert, who wrote that the number of murders in the U.S. last year was 15 times higher than it actually was. Another candidate was liberal website ThinkProgress, which headlined a story “GOP Platform Proposes To Get Rid Of National Parks And National Forests.” (It proposes nothing of the sort, but ThinkProgress’s false headline operates as both clickbait and confirmation bias fodder for its readers.)

I chose Politico’s bland statement as fact what is not a fact, but rather easily disprovable pro-Hillary propaganda, because this technique is so insidious. The  biased news media repeats falsity over and over again until it is accepted as truth. No, Trump did not say that “Mexican immigrants were rapists.” No, equally qualified women do not get only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. Those two examples however, have some arguments, however unfair and warped, to justify them. By no possible interpretation can it be claimed that Hillary Clinton is “the most experienced person to ever run for the White House.”  It is an unequivocal falsehood, perpetuated by the news media out of incompetence and ignorance, or in order to intentionally mislead the public. Continue reading

Facebook Manipulation, Ben Rhodes And Hillary’s Tech Minion’s Missing Emails: Seeking A Path To Objective Analysis (PART 1 of 2)

mind-control2

There are at least three news stories sending off toxic fumes right now, all—coincidentally?—suggesting sinister doings on the Left.

First, we have the Ben Rhodes story, where a key Obama foreign policy aide (with no experience in foreign policy but a degree in creative writing) boasts to a journalist on the record about how the Obama Administration, under his brilliant management, tricked journalists into misleading the public.

Second, we have Facebook employees revealing that Facebook is working hard at indoctrinating its users by pushing news items favorable to the Great Progressive Awakening while suppressing stories that might create sympathy for rightward politicians and causes.

Finally, we have the interesting news that the State Department can’t find Bryan Pagliano’s emails from the time he served as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior information technology staffer during her tenure there.

In order for citizens to have any chance of processing these events so as to have an accurate, as opposed to comforting, view of the forces directing their fates, they must banish all biases while simultaneously keeping a firm hold on their accumulated experience. How do we do that? Is it even possible?

The immediate, reflex reactions to stories like these, are, in no particular order,

I don’t believe it.

AHA! I knew it!

So what?

ARGHHHH! We’re doomed!

Good.

So how did the Mets do today?

The last one, sadly, is the most common. It is also arguably the most unethical, for the corruption of democracy thrives on apathy almost as much as it feeds upon, and nourishes, ignorance. Most Americans don’t know or care who Ben Rhodes is. Most don’t understand why Hillary Clinton’s emails are such a big deal, and are happy to accept that false narrative, fanned by Hillary herself, that it’s all a big invention by the right-wing conspiracy. Continue reading

Ethics Lessons And Ethics Dunces: The Two Young Men Who Knocked On My Door

missionaries-men-mormon2I was exhausted yesterday after five hours teaching lawyers and accountants about ethics when there was a knock at my door. I could see through the window that the visitors were two young men wearing nametags, holding clipboards, forms and brochures, and I was in no mood for a sales pitch or to being asked to help some Mormons travel to Tangiers. I opened the door prepared to give them the bum’s rush.

They were good, though. Their pitch involved a free estimate and a discount for replacing our home’s casement windows. It was a local business using recent college grads, they explained. I explained in return, curtly, that I wasn’t interested, but they persisted, being personable and low key all the while. I decided that I admired their persistence and interpersonal skills—it helped that my dog liked them–and ultimately I agreed to let them give me an estimate on roof repairs, as our roof had sprung some small leaks and we might even need a new one.

They called their office as I listened and scheduled a free assessment and estimate for today at 10 AM. I gave them my phone numbers. I took their cards. Though I was exhausted and had planned on giving them less than five minutes of my time, I ended up talking to the two for twenty minutes. I felt good about it too: they were just starting out in the workplace jungle, and had done an excellent job. They were personable, professional, and determined, spoke well and had a pleasant demeanor. One was black, the other Hispanic. I thought they had earned some positive reinforcement.

Well, it’s 11: 22 AM the next day, and they haven’t shown up, and haven’t called. When they do, I’m going to tell them that they blew it: I’m not trusting a company that can’t keep its first appointment. I don’t know why they missed their promised time, and I don’t care. The key factor is that they missed it. Continue reading

Joe Biden, The Republicans, And The Lawn Chair Test

lawn chairs

I’m not exactly disappointed that Biden passed on challenging Clinton and Sanders for the Democratic nomination, in part because if I ended up having to vote for him next November, I might have gone directly from the voting booth to the bridge. Still, ol’ Lunchbucket Joe would have offered some hope that a presidential candidate would emerge in this election cycle that it wouldn’t be historically irresponsible to vote for.

Conservative pundits keep writing that Biden would be identical to Obama, his third term. In our history, do you know how often that assumption has proven accurate.? Never. Van Buren was supposed to be Andy Jackson’s third term; Taft was Teddy’s, Bush was Reagan’s. The only difference now, and it is significant, is that in those three instances, the previous POTUS was strong and effective. Obama, on the other hand, has been weak, ineffective, destructive and incompetent. It is difficult to imagine how Biden could be worse.

Forget about Obama, though: why would Biden have been preferable to the Democrats who are serious candidates? Chafee and O’Malley aren’t worth discussing; they aren’t going to be on the ballot. As for the rest… Continue reading

See How They Spin: Justifying Hillary Clinton Fans’ Ignorance

Anything to avoid admitting the truth...

Anything to avoid admitting the truth…

Apparently Mark Halperin still has a job with Bloomberg after his atrocious interview with Ted Cruz, since he is back in the news. He held a discussion with some Iowa voters who think Hillary Clinton is just wonderful—you know, morons—and when he asked them to name her accomplishments in the one job she has held requiring leadership and management, Secretary of State, they couldn’t come up with anything. None of them. This has caused comment among pundits and consternation among Democrats.

Well, what did Halperin expect them to say? Clinton was a disaster as Secretary of State, as evidenced by the fact that President Obama’s foreign police has reaped the wild wind. Hillary’s tenure left the U.S. with ISIS, a failed state in Libya, chaos in Iraq,  a more nuclear Iran, Hamas attacks on Israel, a North Korean government that felt it could threaten a U.S. corporation with impunity, Russian incursions into the Ukraine, continuing violence in Syria, and, of course, a Mexico that encourages its citizens to have contempt for the laws of the United States. Meanwhile, she used her office to attract foreign and domestic interests to give large amounts of cash to her foundation, while paying her family large amounts of money through speaking fees that look suspiciously like access fees. Of course, it’s doubtful that these classic low information voters knew anything about her failures and misdeeds, either. The incident was nothing more nor less than supplementary proof that Hillary Clinton’s supporters have turned their brains and/or consciences off, and want her to be President in the absence of evidence or in defiance of it, not because of any rational analysis.

Nonetheless, the Hail Hillary team in the news media rushed to explain what needed no explanation, using a lot of rationalization and spin. In the Washington Post, Hunter Schwartz does himself proud with his skill in rationalizing and changing the subject:

“[N]ot being able to name specific things politicians have done isn’t that unusual for the average voters.  Quick, name something that John Kerry has done as Secretary of State. Right. Think Iowa Republicans could do much better naming significant things Jeb Bush did as governor or Marco Rubio has done in the Senate? So, yes, while the stumped Democrats’ response might be short-term vindication for Republicans, it not necessarily that damaging for Clinton.”

Ugh. Continue reading

Accountability Check: No, Sarah Wasn’t “Sacrificed” And She Has Nobody To Blame But Herself

Yeah, that's all you need, Sarah...

Yeah, that’s all you need, Sarah…

When one woman who drives me crazy sets out to defend another one using ethics-crushing illogic, I cannot withhold my hand.

Or gorge.

The wimpiest pseudo-conservative op-ed columnsit who ever roamed the Earth, Kathleen Parker, has delivered a column titled “The Sacrifice of Sarah Palin.” Its thesis? “Blame for her general collapse beginning in 2008 can be placed in large part upon her own party, which used her and cast her aside.”

Well, Parker proves with her fatuous essay that blame can be placed on Republicans, but she doesn’t prove that it should be. Sarah’s reputation is on life support after delivering a speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit that included passages like these… Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong”

Obama float

Rick Jones, a drama professor, deep thinker and superb writer, weighed in on the controversy over the tasteless Independence Day float in Norfolk, Nebraska. (As an aside: did my trip to Nebraska last week unleash something in the Ethics Cosmos? First this story, then the Nebraska judge telling the Supremes to “stfu”?) Rick courageously wades into the messy and contentious area, often discussed here, of racial motivations behind criticism of Barack Obama. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, The Obama Outhouse Float: Not Racist, Just Wrong:

I’ve written about this incident, as well, and we generally but don’t totally agree.

I’m intrigued by the discussion of racism. Certainly I agree that nothing in the events described qualifies as inherently racist… but I think the word “inherently” matters here. The fact that there is not an obvious racial motivation for what is clearly an intentionally offensive float, one which displays its creator’s “disgust,” does not mean that it is intrinsically devoid of such volition. Even the little boy who cried “wolf” was right once. Similarly, whereas there are those who reflexively scream “racism” at every criticism of the current President, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t expressions of anti-Obama sentiment which really are grounded in the fact that he has a little more melanin than you or I do.

In this case, Ms. Kathurima and her daughter have experienced racism—or believe they have—and you say that you “don’t blame her” for perceiving it in this instance. Nor do I. That Mr. Remmich intended to insult the POTUS, I think goes without saying. Why, specifically, he set out to do so is an open question. Maybe it’s racial. Maybe it’s political. Maybe he knows his neighbors and pandered to their predilections. I certainly don’t know, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t, really, either.

I grapple with a variation on this theme constantly in my professional work, especially in the area of communication theory as it applies to aesthetics. Oversimplified a little, the modernist/positivist view is that the sender of a message creates and encodes meaning, and the receiver’s job is to “find” the meaning through a process of decoding. The post-positivist view, however, is to argue that the sender catalyzes rather than creates meaning, that meaning is in fact created by the receiver of the message. To me, the two positions are equally valid.

One of my standard approaches to this dilemma is to suggest to students that “somewhere in this room is someone who has had a major fight with a loved one because what one of you thought you said was not what the other thought he/she heard.” Moreover, whether the “blame” for a misinterpretation should be placed with the sender or the receiver is likely to be influenced in your mind not so much by philosophical or theoretical concerns as by which of those positions you happened to occupy on the occasion in question.

We are left, then, with two significant questions, neither or which I am prepared to answer with confidence. 1). Is the meaning of a communication determined by the sender, the receiver, or by some presumably objective external agent? 2). At what point does a particular reaction pass from confirmation bias into, well, experience?

_______________________

Continue reading

KABOOM! My First Head Explosion Of 2014: “Management Experts” Just Realized That The President Is A Poor Manager

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Appearances to the contrary, this is not a post about what a weak, inept and dangerously incompetent leader President Obama is. I wrote so many of those last year that I started waking up every morning praying that there wouldn’t be another story in the news like this one (I know I’ve linked to it before), showing that our great nation is being run by a collection of arrogant amateurs and fools with flat learning curves who would run a bed and breakfast into ruin. No, this is a post composed after picking up my brains following the head explosion fused by this passage (and those surrounding it) in a hot-off-the-presses feature in Politico, the left-leaning political news and commentary website:

“To what extent do Obamacare’s early problems reflect the limitations, in experience and intellectual interest, of its namesake? The heart of the issue, many of these people say, is that Obama and his inner circle had scant executive experience prior to arriving in the West Wing, and dim appreciation of the myriad ways the federal bureaucracy can frustrate an ambitious president. And above all, they had little apparent interest in the kind of organizational and motivational concepts that typically are the preoccupation of the most celebrated modern managers. ‘No one asked you to write code or be a technical expert, but the expectation is you can set up a process,’ said Kellogg School of Management professor Daniel Diermeier. ‘Companies do it every day.'”

Ugh. Now see what you made me do? I put that in large, bold type, and it caused an aftershock explosion, and now I’m picking pieces of skull and ick out of my keyboard. Continue reading