Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/30/2020: Fact Checks, Fear-Mongering, The Emmys, And Another Cancellation

Yes, it’s time again for Gene, Debbie and Donald to begin the day with the level of enthusiasm that I wish I could muster. A Jack Russell Terrier would also help.

1. “Nah, there’s no news media bias!”The New York Times costs the Marshalls $80 a week. The last two editions were essentially anti-Trump campaign brochures, front to back. Even the sports sections had gratuitous anti-Trump vibes. The Washington Post is worse than the Times, but it’s much cheaper, being a home town paper. Nonetheless, I feel badly enough paying Jeff Bezos for digital access. At least the Times didn’t smear Catholic school boys because an established Native American propagandist told them to.

Yet these are, really and truly, the best newspapers in the country. Think about that. One close relative of the hard-left persuasion subscribes to no papers, and the holes in her basic knowledge of what’s happening would fill the Albert’s Hall. (She relies on MSNBC.)

Newspapers… can’t live without them, can’t have a functioning democracy any more with them. And progressives still tell me to my face that I’m imagining it: the claim that the news media is partisan and biased is a “conservative conspiracy theory.”

2. Fact check! I saw this “fact check” of Barr’s testimony two days ago in my Times today, knew what was coming, decided I didn’t feel well enough to have my temperature raised, and then commenter Dr. Emilio Lizardo was cruel enough to send me a link and a precis.

As with so much of the news media’s fake news and biased analysis, I’d assume that savvy readers can smell the stennch of these things, but maybe not. The good doctor writes,

“This is misleading” – 4 occurrences
“This is exaggerated” – 2 occurrences
“This is false” – 1 occurrence
“This lacks evidence” – 1 occurrence

Nothing like using subjective terminology to demonstrate your objectivity.

Here was my favorite:

What Mr. Barr SAID:  “According to statistics compiled by The Washington Post, the number of unarmed Black men killed by police so far this year is eight. The number of unarmed white men killed by police over the same time period is 11. And the overall numbers of police shootings has been decreasing.”

This is misleading. Mr. Barr accurately cited a database of police shootings compiled by The Washington Post. But the raw numbers obscure the pronounced racial disparity in such shootings. (The statement was also an echo of Mr. Trump’s technically accurate, but misleading claim that “more white” Americans are killed by the police than Black Americans.When factoring in population size, Black Americans are killed by the police at more than twice the rate as white Americans, according to the database. Research has also shown that in the United States, on average, the probability of being shot by a police officer for someone who is Black and unarmed is higher than for someone who is white and armed.Nationwide, the number of police shootings has remained steady since independent researchers began tracking them — declining in major cities, but increasing in suburbs and rural areas.When Representative Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana, took issue with Mr. Barr’s presentation of the data, Mr. Barr responded, “You have to adjust it by, you know, the race of the criminal.” But some research has shown that even when controlling for the demographics of those arrested, there are still racial disparities in the use of police force.

In other words, “misleading” means “contrary to the narrative Democrats and activists want to push.” Got it. Continue reading

You Have The Floor In Another Open Forum, With Some Preliminary Opening Observations

I’m going to open up the floor to comments on whatever you want to talk about, ethics-wise. This day looks chaotic for me, beginning with an interment of a dear friend at Arlington National Cemetery. I’ll visit mom and dad while I’m there…

Let me append a footnote. Althouse, who lives in Madison, directs readers to this article: “Two women arrested in beating of state Sen. Tim Carpenter during night of protests in Madison.” I remember the incident and the frightening video. From the article,

Police arrested Samantha R. Hamer, 26, and Kerida E. O’Reilly, 33, on suspicion of being parties to the crimes of substantial battery and robbery with use of force. They were both in custody Monday night, according to online records from the Dane County jail.

He fell to the ground after he was punched and about 10 people hit and kicked him, one witness told police. Stunned, Carpenter told them he was an ally and had long fought for the kinds of policies they were seeking.

Paramedics treated him but he declined to go to the hospital that night. A week later, he said he had surgery in St. Francis for injuries he suffered during the attack.

Observations:

  • I have to believe that sooner or later the cognitive dissonance scale will work its silent magic, to the advantage of Republicans and the detriment of Democrats. These are ugly, scary people who are behind the rioting and statue-toppling, and the classic types that have fueled totalitarian take-overs throughout history (Yesterday was the anniversary of the revolutionaries turning on Robespierre.).

Yet Democratic leaders are fearfully giving them their seals of approval.

  • Not for the first time, I’m wondering if it’s fair to publish mug shots. Professor Turley is addicted to them, but they  encourage people to judge others by their appearances, and publicizing an individual’s appearance at a time when they can’t possibly be at their best seems gratuitously cruel. The photos of the two arrested women…

…prompted lots of mockery among Althouse’s commentariat, most of whom resorted to stereotyping

What the President said, in response to a question about the incident, was, “The person they beat up was a Democrat who happened to be gay and he was probably out there rooting them on or something because Democrats think it’s wonderful they’re destroying our country.”

Typical “fact-check.” This kind of dishonesty has been going on for almost four years, but I’m sure that Washington Post will add it to its “lie list.”  The state senator is gay and is a Democrat. Saying what he was “probably” doing is not a “claim” but an opinion, and based on Carpenter’s own protestation, it’s probably an accurate one. By the basic rules of English, there is no way one can fairly say that the President “falsely claimed” that Carpenter was rooting the statue-topplers on.

That’s enough from me.

“Over to you, Clarence…”

High Noon Ethics Showdown, 7/14/2020

“High Noon” is an ethics movie to be sure, but a very strange one. I put it on a list of ethics movies in 2016, but as I wrote then,

“High Noon” is a Western that shows the American people at their worst, refusing to help a single law man threatened on his wedding day, and cringing in fear and denial when their values need to be fought for.

I have long felt that the movie is like a “Twilight Zone” episode, or a Western version of “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers.” What’s wrong with those people? However, it feels less like a Rod Serling parable now, when I find myself thinking “What’s wrong with those people?” several times a day as I surf the news feeds.

It is reported that John Wayne was offered the role of the desperate law man, eventually played by the Duke’s friend, Gary Cooper. Wayne, who was always protective of the heroic character he had created over the course of his career, hated the script, and turned it down. I cannot imagine John Wayne running around a town begging for help as four gunfighters are on the way to seek revenge, and apparently neither could he. In response to “High Noon,” Wayne and Howard Hawks made “Rio Bravo,” about a sheriff who keeps refusing assistance as a rancher hires gunfighters to free the sheriff’s prisoner, his brother.  At every turn, people keep saving the sheriff anyway.

I think one reason Wayne wanted to star in “True Grit” so much is that Rooster Cogburn, old and fat, takes on four villains by himself, charging them on horseback with the reins in his teeth and guns blazing.

1. It’s amazing that everyone isn’t sick of this yet. The latest Times “fact check” of President Trump, like so many others, relies on an interpretations of the notoriously sloppy-speaking POTUS that nobody fair and attentive could possible  think was his intended meaning. The statement at issue was that “99% of which are totally harmless.”

By “totally harmless,” the hyperbole addicted President meant “aren’t fatal.” The game, however, is to pretend the Presidents words, whatever they are, are lies. (The Washington Post just updated its hilarious Trump lie database. I challenge anyone to pick ten entries at random that even include a majority of “lies.”)

The Times even writes, “Studies that have calculated the death rate based on broader antibody testing that takes these silent cases into consideration suggest an infection death rate of less than 1 percent, said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the faculty director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.” Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Twitter

Twitter crossed the digital Rubicon this week, as we had to know it would sooner or later.  It added qualifying links to two of President Trump’s tweets  about mail-in ballots, in which he claimed they would cause the 2020 Presidential election to be “rigged.” The New York Times, typically, wrote that he “falsely” predicted that result, and there you have it: social media now is choosing to use its power to tell the public what opinions are “true.”…just like the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media.

The links — which were in blue lettering at the bottom of the posts and punctuated by  exclamation marks — urged people to “get the facts” about voting by mail. Clicking on the links led to a CNN story that said Mr. Trump’s claims were unsubstantiated and to a list of bullet points that Twitter had compiled rebutting the “inaccuracies.”

Because CNN is where reasonable people go who want “the facts.”

Twitter, as a private rather than a government communications platform, can do this if it chooses, and the consequences to the company are likely to be far less serious than the consequences to public discourse. There is no way this kind of policing of speech, from the President or anyone else, can be done fairly, consistently and even-handedly. Already, Twitter has demonstrated hard ideological bias in its choices of which Twitter users to suspend or otherwise censor, and this escalation opens the door wide to more abuse. Will Twitter be similarly vigilant in calling out Democrats, activists, pundits and journalists on their excesses? You know they won’t; they couldn’t if they tried. Twitter’s wan excuse is that Trump’s tweets are special. I suspect the company is setting itself up for some serious federal regulation. Continue reading

As An Ethics Alarms Public Service, Here’s Another Reminder Of What A Phony, Dishonest, Brain-Dead “Factcheck” Site Snopes Is

Judge websites, social media platforms and your friends who rely on this flagrantly unethical site  as authority accordingly.

For some reason there has been an outbreak of tips to Ethics Alarms involving the usual Snopes stunts, including its factchecking  the conservative satire site, the Babylon Bee. Reader Pennagain reminded me of this classic though, which nicely sums up Snopes in a concise, stinky package.

The Snopes question it supposedly examined (but didn’t) in a 2018 “FactCheck” has resurfaced because there is a new podcast about the Banks tragedy. (I can tell when Banks’ story is attracting attention again when the EA post about Wanetta Gibson starts picking up traffic.)

Here’s the rest of that “factcheck”:

Snopes pulls this bait and switch trick a lot. The answer to linkbait question ‘Was Banks wrongly convicted of rape?” is  “Yes”, and any assertion to that effect isn’t “mostly true,” it’s absolutely, 100% true. Beneath the question that heads the “inquiry,” Snopes significantly rephrases the “claim” which it then “debunks” by giving us the breathless revelations that Gibson didn’t recant ON Facebook, she contacted Banks through Facebook and then confessed in person, and that Banks “only” served 5 years and two months, not “six.” Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “The Many Species Of Fake News”

Few things make me happier than when a commenter relieves me of the duty of writing about a topic.

In 2017, after the New York Times published a spectacularly dishonest list of President Trump “lies” since his inauguration,  I wrote a post demonstrating just how outrageously the Times was warping the meaning of “lie,” and also applying a biased standard to Trump’s statements. I wrote,

In presenting this unethical project, the Times took unethical advantage of its readers’ confirmation bias. When the “Lie” list was printed, the Times made certain that it would require super-human dedication and extraordinary eyesight to read it, through the devices of listing every item and the Times commentary in horizontal sequence and in half the usual size type-face. (See above) This ensured that almost no readers would make the Herculean effort to read the whole thing , especially since the well-trained Times readers already “knows” that Donald Trump is a liar. In addition, the explosion of tiny words created the visceral response of “Wow! Look at all those lies!” which is exactly the effect the Times editors wanted.

But that isn’t reporting, and it isn’t journalism. The “list” was a page-size, visual, ad hominem attack. The Times wasn’t seeking close scrutiny of its list, nor was it interested in making any rebuttal easy or likely.

We have learned that the Times list was largely assembled from various fact-checker columns. That is a red flag, and explains many of the most embarrassing inclusions on the list. None of the fact-checkers are trustworthy. All of them are biased, Snopes and PolitiFact worst of all, and they consistently register opinions that the writer disagrees with as “false.” Many, many of the items on the Times list are in this category.

The entire exercise was an extension of #16 on the Fake News list, “Dishonest Factchecks. Here was a typical “lie” according to the Times, and its “proof”:

Jan. 21 “A reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.”

Says the Times, “Trump was on the cover 11 times and Nixon appeared 55 times.”

Trump was making the general point that he had been on TIME’s cover a lot. He guessed that the number was 14 or 15; it was 11. That is what is known as a  non-material misrepresentation: it’s meaningless and harmless, and certainly not an intentional deception. (“Heh, heh…I’ll make those poor, gullible fools think I was on TIME”s cover 14 times when it was ONLY ELEVEN!! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!) Then he said he “thinks” that’s a record. When someone says “I think” it means the speaker is acknowledging that he may be wrong. But Trump is not accorded the usual leeway given to everyone else, including other elected officials.

When a list includes something this clearly contrived, that list has no credibility. I found going through the Times list annoying, then shocking, and finally infuriating. So when the Washington Post pulled the same stunt, I kept putting off giving it the same treatment that I did the Times’ exercise in lies about lying.

Thus I was thrilled to receive this Comment of the Day from stalwart Steve Witherspoon, on the post, The Many Species Of Fake News: Continue reading

The Lying Game Continues: Was There A 9-11 Switcheroo In North Carolina?

A Paul Krugman column this week titled Republicans Don’t Believe in Democracy” began,

Item: Last week Republicans in the North Carolina House used the occasion of 9/11 to call a surprise vote, passing a budget bill with a supermajority to override the Democratic governor’s veto. They were able to do this only because most Democrats were absent, some of them attending commemorative events; the Democratic leader had advised members that they didn’t need to be present because, he says, he was assured there would be no votes that morning.

Elizabeth Warren (via tweet), the Washington Post and other news outlets repeated the same story. It wasn’t true. NPR’s North Carolina affiliate checked the facts with local reporter Paul Specht of the Raleigh News & Observer. He explained how the rumor—for that’s what it was, despite Warren, Krugman, the Washington Post et al. reporting it as fact—got started.

“It’s hard to tell where it started,” Specht told NPR.  “You know, in some cases the news and reporters and other observers were victims of circumstance.’

Baloney, by the way. The “circumstance” here was that reporters didn’t verify the story. Specht is covering for his habitually unethical colleagues.

“The vote happened the morning of September 11. And that morning, as we all know, there’s a national moment of silence…And you, know, I think people just took all that information — they heard keywords, they heard, you know, “Republicans vote,” “Democrats absent,” “9/11,” morning of. And then people jumped to assumptions about where the Democrats were. There were a few outlets both locally here in Raleigh, WTVD, and then national outlets, too, they got it wrong. Whether it was Now This, which posts viral videos, the Washington Post, also, its headline was inaccurate. It took it a little while to correct so misinformation was all over the place.”

Wow! Is American journalism terrific, or what? Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/6/2019: State of the Union Ethics, And More

Hello, Austin!

At least, that’s what I’ll be saying later today, as I arrive in the Texas capital to give my country music ethics seminar, sung by the remarkable Mike Messer, to a group of over a thousand corporate lawyers. It’s certainly better than lying around coughing, which is what I’ve been doing lately.

1. Update: Facebook still won’t accept Ethics Alarms links. This is seriously depressing me. I can’t get Facebook to respond or explain, and so far WordPress hasn’t been any help either. In the past, posts here have attracted tens of thousands of Facebook shares; most got at least a couple. Now there are none. This affects traffic, it affects everything. On one level, I’m tempted just to leave Facebook entirely. It’s not a very pleasant place these days, and the company is despicable. That doesn’t solve the problem though. After all the work and time I have spent trying to develop the blog, watching its readership and circulation go backwards is infuriating. I also don’t know how paranoid I should be about all of this.

2. State of the Union notes. The speech is always political theater, and largely irrelevant unless it is botched or something weird happens, like “You lie!” or Obama attacking the Supreme Court. I find it amazing that so many pundits couldn’t keep their cognitive dissonance in check, and give some semblance of an honest, if grudging, analysis of what one would have to call an excellent performance—and that’s all the SOTU speech is, a performance— by Donald Trump standards, and a wise performance from a Presidential perspective. At a time of near maximum divisiveness, the speech was upbeat, optimistic, and patriotic. You have to really, really hate the man to condemn that speech….and that’s how most of journalists and pundits feel. I especially liked Salon’s “Donald Trump 2019: Same lying racist he was last year.”  CNN’s Van Jones was also self-indicting, saying,  “I saw this as a psychotically incoherent speech with cookies and dog poop. He tries to put together in the same speech these warm, kind things about humanitarianism and caring about children, and at the same time he is demonizing people who are immigrants in a way that was appalling.”  On the other side of the wacko divide, Ann Coulter called the speech “sappy” and was upset because Trump didn’t talk more about the wall. Is there anyone other than Coulter than wants him to talk more about the wall? We need a special confirmation bias clinic for these people. Also: Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: Once Again, Snopes Proves It Cannot, Should Not, And Must Not Be Trusted

I definitively laid out how lazy, biased and deceptive Snopes is, here and elsewhere.  Yet Google and Facebook still rely on the fact-checking site. This is signature significance: it can only mean that these businesses want biased standards to rule the day. The Daily Caller just called out a typical example of Snopes’ unethical work. As with its spinning for Hillary Clinton that I flagged in 2016, this is egregious and irrefutable.

Here is a meme that has been circulating on the web:

It’s a lie, fake news, wrong, however you want to describe it. It’s just not true. The X’s are through some people who weren’t members of Congress. X’s also cover the faces of Jodey Arrington, Ron Estes, Liz Cheney, Michael Burgess, Patrick McHenry, Jason Smith, Bradley Byrne, Markwayne Mullin, Paul Mitchell, Glenn Grothman, Doug Lamborn, and Tim Walberg, all of whom were re-elected. There were other errors as well. Politico reporter Jake Sherman observed that the meme “is actually more incorrect than correct.”

In other words, a typical internet meme.

Nevertheless, Snopes fact-checker Bethania Palma ruled it accurate. To do so, she used Snopes favorite trick, falsely characterizing what the claim was. Palma rated it “true” that “The Congressional seats of almost three dozen Republicans who voted to repeal Obamacare were lost to Democrats in 2018” when the meme clearly said that everyone in the picture who was Xed voted for repeal and was voted out of office. Her claim is pure deceit. “In the meme, red ‘X’ marks were drawn through the faces of 33 lawmakers who purportedly were rejected by voters in the 6 November 2018 midterm elections,” Palma wrote. Wrong. They weren’t all “lawmakers,” and they weren’t all defeated. Continue reading

Nah, Snopes Isn’t A Spinning, Left-Biased Fake Fact-Checking Organization! OK, I’m Kidding, It Really Is. [UPDATE]

If you hear about a social media company of a media organization that cites Snopes and a reliable authority, that’s all you need to know. They’ll lie to you, just like Snopes, and probably to assist a progressive political agenda.

Here’s an especially blatant example of Snopes’ fake fact-checking, as opposed to what they claim to do, which is to check fake facts, from 2016. It’s actually pretty funny.

The fact being checked:

Bernie Sanders has been criticized as hypocritical for only paying his interns $12 an hour despite his campaigning to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Snopes’ unbiased and objective analysis:

WHAT’S TRUE: Bernie Sanders pays his interns $12 an hour.

WHAT’S FALSE: Bernie Sanders pays his staff workers $12 an hour.

Ah! It’s misleading to say that Bernie, who said during the campaign,

“Millions of Americans are working for totally inadequate wages. We must ensure that no full-time worker lives in poverty. The current federal minimum wage is starvation pay and must become a living wage. We must increase it to $15 an hour over the next several years.”

was a hypocrite who, as a meme circulating in 2016 claimed, he only payed his “staff interns” $12 an hour while simultaneously campaigning to raise the national minimum wage of $15.

Says Snopes, spinning like mad: Continue reading