Tag Archives: fact-checks

Regarding Twitter, Free Expression, Alex Jones, Social Media Censorship, And “Fake News”

zipper on mouth

The journalism ethics site Poynter begins a story today , “Over the past couple of years, Twitter has done the bare minimum to fight fake news, avoiding the kind of negative press that has plagued Facebook in the process.”

Talk about a bad start. No social media platform is qualified to “fight fake news” except to allow participants to make their own cases regarding what is fake news and what isn’t. They can and do indulge in incompetent, biased and often partisan censorship, covering their tracks by employing “factcheckers” that themselves can’t be trusted not to indulge their biases and political agendas, of course. That’s what Facebook has been doing, and, proving that there is justice in the universe, suffering for it.

Twitter hasn’t been censoring what it calls fake news; it’s just been using double standards to ban conservatives for “hate speech” when parallel leftist rhetoric gets past the gate-keepers. Federalist writer Elizabeth Kantor, for example, was kicked off twitter for this tweet in tongue-in-cheek support for the new racist New York Times editor:

“@sarahjeong This whitey is cheering you on as you fight off the Twitter mob. Down with deplatforming! Plus, it’s clarifying abt. what kind of paper the NYT wants to be . . .”

Twitter told her had engaged in “hateful conduct” that violates Twitter’s terms of service: “Violating our rules against hateful conduct.You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin…”

Jeong, however, who had started the hashtag “#CancelWhitePeople” as well as many other anti-white, anti-male Twitter content, remains a valued Twitter user.

Twitter not only is partisan and biased, it also has no integrity. What upset Poynter is that Twitter didn’t join Apple, Facebook and others in their Sunday Night Purge of right-wing wacko Alex Jones. The fact that it banned Kantor for one innocuous political tweet and not her target for dozens of racist ones doesn’t seem to bother Poynter’s unethical ethicists, just that it hasn’t joined the effort to silence Jones online.  Twitter, its says, is failing its duty to combat “misinformation.”

Here was the message from the Twitter CEO, communicated, naturally, in a series of tweets:

We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday. We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does. And we’ll continue to promote a healthy conversational environment by ensuring tweets aren’t artificially amplified. Truth is we’ve been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past. We’re fixing that. We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories. If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction. That’s not us.Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.

In an earlier tweet from another Twitter account, Twitter stated,

“As we have stated publicly, we strongly believe Twitter should not be the arbiter of truth nor do we have scalable solutions to determine and action what’s true or false.”

Bingo. Continue reading

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Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/28/18: Expired Ethics, Sleeping Fact-Checkers, Ghosts, The Dumbest Ethics Train Wreck Of Them All…

It’s a beautiful morning!

1. When “Everybody Does it” isn’t just a rationalization. I was asked by a law firm to render an opinion as to whether particular conduct was a violation of the legal ethics rules.  A legal ethics opinion—bar associations issue these periodically to cover gray areas– in the jurisdiction said that it was, but the opinion was over 20 years old. The reasoning given in the opinion for declaring the conduct unethical was that the practice was “new to the jurisdiction” and might mislead or confuse the public.

Today, however, my research showed, the conduct is commonplace in that jurisdiction. Many, many law firms engage in it. What was new two decades ago is new no longer, and the reasoning for the opinion’s conclusion was based on conditions that no longer exist. Moreover, no firm has been punished for the conduct, and won’t be.

The firm was concerned that the legal ethics opinion had not been over-ruled or withdrawn. I said that it didn’t have to be. “Everyone” was engaged in the conduct it forbade, the bar had allowed “everyone” to do it, and if an issue was raised now, I am 100% certain that the old opinion would be withdrawn as no longer reasonable or germane.

2. One more human feature that makes ethics harder: the ability to simultaneously hold two contradictory and mutually exclusive beliefs.

I was watching one of the apparently inexhaustible supply of cable shows about haunting and paranormal investigations with my wife. This one climaxed in a session with a Ouija board, and the love of my life uttered, within seconds of each other, these two statements:

  • “It’s amazing how many otherwise intelligent people really believe in ghosts and demons.”
  • “Ouija boards! I wouldn’t allow one of those things in the house. I’m not taking any chances.

I have heard many other friends and acquaintances endorse both of these positions as well.

3. It is the study of how one discerns the truth, after all. Who needs it? They no longer teach ethics in our education system, and now apparently philosophy is on the way out. Claremont Graduate University in California will be closing the PhD program in philosophy and terminating two tenured faculty. Apparently the move was dictated by budget and “market considerations.” The Claremont colleges in Southern California are a distinguished and growing batch consisting of Pomona, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, Claremont-McKenna, and Pitzer. They still have a philosophy faculty, but I wonder for how long.

I was tempted to check the curriculum of these schools to see what kinds of courses were deemed worthy of support while a graduate degree in philosophy was not, but I decided that it would make my head explode. Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce Who Exemplifies Why This Anti-Gun Freakout Won’t Be Any More Successful Than The Last One: Senator Bernie Sanders

Bernie is still the presumptive leader in the 2020 Democratic Presidential sweepstakes, right? No wonder Democrats are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Senator Sanders said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last week  that “We have to end the absurdity of the gun show loophole. Forty percent of the guns in this country are sold without any background checks.”

This is a fake stat that has been disproved many times. Obama used it. As always happens, the anti-gun advocates simply won’t play fair and try to win this policy debate using facts and reason. They always default to emotionalism, fear-mongering, dishonest journalism (I’ll be writing about CNN’s disastrous “town meeting” later), lies, distortions, and fake statistics. When the emotional rush of the particular tragedy is over, and non-substantive cries like “Never again!”, “Your right to own a gun shouldn’t trump a child’s right to live!”, “Do something!” and “Kill the NRA!” lose their power to persuade people no longer in grade school, sufficient numbers of citizens stop and think, “You know what? We can’t trust these people! They lie.”

And so they do.

As some wags have said today, when the Washington Post can’t even resist pointing out that your anti-gun claims are nonsense, you’re really in trouble.

Glenn Kessler, the Post’s Factchecker, made short work of Bernie, hitting him with four Pinocchios and calling his “gun show loophole” a “zombie claim, false facts that keep getting repeated, no matter how often we fact-check them.” Continue reading

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How The Fact Checkers Cheat: A Case Study

“AHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”

A promising journalism watchdog website has come to my attention: Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC News). On the “About” page we learn that it

…is an independent online media outlet. MBFC News is dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices. MBFC News’ aim is to inspire action and a rejection of overtly biased media. We want to return to an era of straight forward news reporting….MBFC News follows a strict methodology for determining the biases of sources….MBFC News also provides occasional fact checks, original articles on media bias and breaking/important news stories, especially as it relates to USA politics…

This is a relatively new site, launched in 2015.  It is unusual in that it aims to find both conservative and liberal bias alike. It will be interesting if it can keep to the middle of the road with all the crazy traffic coming at it from all directions. As Ethics Alarms can attest, this is harder than it looks.

The first example of MBFC News’s work (for me) is promising. As readers know, I distrust  factcheck sites and fact-checkers, as well as the periodic fact-checking exercises by sources like CNN. While sometimes a particular fact-checker may be fair and responsible, the same source can be overwhelmed with bias in another instance, and use dishonest or misleading means to discredit some disliked politician, usually a Republican. Some prominent fact-checkers. like Snopes and Politifact, are routinely biased and exist primarily to make progressives smile. Others, like the Washington Post’s “The Fact-Checker,” Glenn Kessler, have good days and bad days. At least Kessler tries; like many of his breed, however, he never learned what a lie is.

My favorite of the fact-checker services has long been FactCheck.org., which also tries to be even-handed, and is more careful than Kessler. Thus I was impressed to see that when MBFC News set out to see how fair the fact-checkers were when they examined Donald Trump’s State of the Union Message, it examined the best. So did I, and was hunkering down as I prepared a post on what appears to be the Annenberg Foundation’s project’s capitulation to “the resistance.”

How I love it when someone else does my work for me, and does it well.  In an article that factchecks the Factcheck.org factcheck (whew!) of the speech,  Karen O’Connor Rubsam writes,

“First, there are some global observations regarding the Factcheck.org article. Factcheck.org seems only to identify what they perceive as incorrect statements.  To be unbiased there should be some commentary on the entire address along with an overall assessment as to how much was “factual” versus “not-factual.”  A more thorough reporting of the entire address can be found here. Additionally, as shown below, factcheck.org introduces opinion and “biased words” in much of their fact-checking. Further, there appears to be some bias in how factcheck.org transferred the salient points from their analysis to the Summary bullet points.  Accurately reporting in the summary bullet points is important since many readers will just read the bullet points.”

Read it all at the site, which deserves the traffic, much as I would love to put up the whole thing. Two examples should suffice: when I read the Factcheck.org analysis, these points, far from the worst,  caused me to conclude that the site had finally started playing typical factcheck games and gone over to the Dark Side, where bashing the President is deemed more important than being fair and truthful. (I promptly exiled it from the Ethics Alarms links): Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/16/18: “Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” The Institution Of The Presidency, And Thought Control

Good Morning, Ethics World!

1 “Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” Yesterday, finding myself in desperate straits thanks to our recent decision that premium cable TV stations were not worth the money, I watched the film version of “Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” How time flies! The always excellent Diane Lane was still playing ingenues, instead of the unusually lovely mothers she plays now. Wesley Snipes still had a career.

And this: after a bloodily murdered young woman is discovered in a White House bathroom, the head of security explains to the police why it is crucial to shield the President from any speculation or hint of scandal, saying,

“You won’t question the President! The Presidency is an institution, not a person.  And that institution will be protected at all costs.”

Gee, how old IS that movie? I just checked: it’s 20 years old. The novel was written by one-time first daughter Margaret Truman, who once lived at at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with her Democratic President father. The quote wasn’t considered remarkable at the time: it didn’t even make it into the IMDB’s quotes page for the film. The quote is certainly striking today. All it took was 20 years, a shocking upset and a President who “breaches norms” to make the Democrats, Republicans, the news media and much of the public forget that is in our interests as a nation to protect and respect the institution, and that the person occupying it is secondary.

I knew there was a reason I liked that movie, other than Diane Lane.

There’s another interesting quote from the film too:

“I think President Teddy Roosevelt said it best: ‘If I must choose between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness.'” 

Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/19/2017: #MeToo, A Fact-Denying Fact-Check, And A “Resistance” Hit Job

Good Morning to you!

1 The contrived anti-Trump controversy over his conversation with a Gold Star widow is so disgusting and cynical that I hesitate to comment on it. This was so obviously a set-up: an anti-Trump woman, angry and grieving over the death of her husband, allowed a virulently anti-Trump Democratic Congresswoman to listen in on the call, then collaborated to make the accusation that Trump’s words that her husband “knew what he was signing up for” were a calculated insult. The New York Times somehow found this worthy of an above the fold article. No other President would ever be subjected to this kind of despicable “gotcha!” attack. No matter how clumsy Trump’s words might have been, and we can only take the word of two women who were predisposed to interpret them in the worst light imaginable, a President must be accorded a presumption of good will in such a situation. This, however, has been withheld from him in all situations by major segments of the Left from the beginning. Representative Fredricka Wilson (D-Fla) boycotted the President’s inauguration, and has made her motives and character explicit by laughing about how this latest controversy has made her a “rock star.” Well, maybe in “the resistance”–I have a somewhat different description for her. Now she’s race-baiting too, calling John Kelly a racist for referring to her, in his defense of the President, as an “empty barrel” who “makes noise.” Yup, I remember hearing stories about Klansmen calling blacks “Empty barrels.”

What did the wife of La David Johnson expect such a partisan, vicious hack like Wilson to do when she chose her to listen to the conversation with the President? It was another episode in the fake “the President is a white supremicist” pageant, and to anyone with a scintilla of objectivity, a blatant one. The Washington Post’s resident race-baiter, affirmative action Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson, wrote an unforgivable column calling Trump’s comment “mindless cruelty”he never never made a genuine case that there is anything wrong with what Trump said…because, you see, there isn’t. If the wife of a soldier doesn’t understand that when he enlisted in the armed services he was putting his life on the line for his country and knew it, then that’s her misconception. My father, who had his foot blown up in World War II, made this point more than once: if you enlist to fight, you can’t say you didn’t know that the possibility of being killed or wounded wasn’t part of the decision. If it wasn’t, there would be no innate courage in volunteering for service. This, like so much else that the President does and says, is only wrong because it is him saying it. This is the plan. This is how “the resistance,’ Democrats and their core seeks to cripple the government and undermine the President of the United States. They don’t even hesitate to politicize a simple condolence call and the death of a soldier toward that un-American end.

I think my favorite part of the negative spin put on Trump’s conversation with Mrs. Johnson was that “he appeared not to know the name” of the fallen soldier. Any parent who can’t resist excessive creativity and who names a boy “La David” has condemned him to having everyone hesitate to say his name for the rest of his life, as “Wait, this can’t be right…” locks their brains. This is Naming Ethics. Similarly, don’t name your girl “Mister Nancy.”

Accolades are due to another Gold Star widow, Natasha De Alencar, who has released the audio of a call the President made to her in April after her husband, a  member of the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) became the first American killed in combat in Afghanistan this year. That conversation shows the President as compassionate and willing to spend all the time necessary to express his respect—and she and her were Hispanic, and we all know that Trump just hates Hispanics. That call alone should ensure the President the benefit of any doubt regarding whether he would “insult” a military widow, but it won’t; not for those who want to assume the worst, and want to  make as many people as possible believe that the President of the United States is a monster.

This was an unconscionable hit job. The Democrats and the news media seem incapable of comprehending that the more ruthless, unjust and vicious they behave in their opposition to Trump, the more those who are not already incurable Trump-haters will conclude that their cure is worse than the disease. Continue reading

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Let Us Praise The Even-Handed Fact Checker

pinocchio_4

Glenn Kessler, as I have noted before, tries. The primary Washington Post fact checker leans to the left, and often his biases get the better of him, but he tries. His bias showed up recently when he balked at directly calling the oft repeated propaganda that Obama had an administration that was “historically free of scandal,” the falsehood that it is, but I give him credit for touching the issue, which has become cant in his world of partisan loyalists. Kessler refused to give the claim a rating, saying that there were arguments for and against the proposition.

Kessler brushed up against reality when he wrote, “One thing that is apparent is that Obama has benefited from the fact that the independent counsel law lapsed in 1999, since in another era some of the controversies that have enveloped his administration might have resulted in an independent prosecutor.” Right. And that’s because there were many scandals—the IRS, Fast and Furious, Clinton’s e-mails, the Bowe Bergdahl exchange, the  pay-off for Iran hostages and its cover-up, the VA—that a complicit press didn’t pursue, and a political Justice Department allowed to fade away. Kessler’s job is to debunk false partisan narratives, and that’s is a whopper of one. He blinked.

He did come through last week with a post on Obama’s biggest lies, Four Pinocchios in Kessler-speak. And today, Kessler chose one of the many, many absurd assertions made at the Women’s March, by one of the truly embarrassing members of Congress. Maxine Waters (D-Ca), who said regarding Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos,

“What about that Betsy DeVos? A billionaire who he is picking to head Education who has never seen the inside of a classroom. She has no experience, she has no background. That’s dangerous for our children.”

Kessler takes the gloves off and not only festoons Waters with Pinocchios, he calls her statement “ridiculous,” which it is. Continue reading

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