Tag Archives: fact-checks

Ethics Observations On President-Elect Trump’s First News Conference

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1. I watched the introductions and about half of Trump’s opening remarks, and had to bail. I just had to. Not that Trump’s manner and speaking style were any worse than before; it’s just that the thought that young people will see this as acceptable public presentation and speaking clarity was too horrible to bear. Even with the verbalization-challenged Bushes, the level of basic language skills and vocabulary wasn’t nearly this bad.

I had to watch an old video of JFK wittily fencing with reporters to get the thought out of my head:

2. Thus this discussion is based on the transcript. I had to search a bit to find an online transcript that wasn’t constantly interrupted by editorial comments and “fact-checks.” These contained a lot of nit-picking and suggestions of deception (and some useful clarifications).  It seems to me that the “fact-checks” of Trump feel adversarial, while the recent fact-check of President Obama’s final speech were consistently friendly, and voluntarily refused to take issue with genuinely misleading statements. For example, Obama said, “If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.”  NPR’s annotation:

“Via The New Republic: “From 2000 to 2010, a decade during which the white population as a whole grew by just 1.2 percent, the number of white children in the United States declined by 4.3 million. Meanwhile the child populations of Hispanics, Asians, and people of two or more races were increasing.”

But that’s not the fact to check. Who says that anyone is “unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us“? That’s a straw man, and should have been called out (I threw a pillow at the TV screen) as one. Clear-thinking citizens are unwilling to invest in the children of illegal immigrants because they shouldn’t be here, and the more we “invest” in them, the more encouragement we give to foreign citizens to break our laws.

But NPR likes illegal immigration, so this wouldn’t occur to them, I guess.

3. I think it’s fair to say that no previous POTUS or PEOTUS press conference began with a frontal assault on the press for publishing fake news. That’s how this one began, with Sean Spicer attacking the already infamous Buzzfeed story. He also attacked CNN for reporting on Buzzfeed’s report. Here was NPR’s annotation, in part:

“BuzzFeed and CNN both reported on Tuesday about documents alleging that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump,” as CNN reported, though the two news organizations presented the information in vastly different ways. CNN mostly focused on who had seen the documents and when, citing unnamed sources and U.S. officials in different places. However, CNN said that while it had reviewed the “35-page compilation of the memos” alleging that link, it was “not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations.”

NPR’s distinction doesn’t excuse CNN. The news media does this kind of thing all the time, it’s true: it reports the fact that an irresponsible news source has reported a rumor, unsourced claim, ora lie, and thus further circulates an account that never should have been published in the first place. Later, Trump was asked about his tweet asking if we were now living in Nazi Germany. (It’s cute to see my Facebook friends fuming about that tweet, when they have been absurdly calling Trump a Nazi for months. Has anyone contacted Harry Belafonte for his comments?) Trump’s response:

“I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public. As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequences. They already are.”

Crude, but fair. It would be been nice if Trump had the wit and historical perspective to remind the assembled, and perhaps teach his audience,  what the Big Lie technique championed by Josef Goebbels was and how the Buzzfeed-CNN handoff would have pleased him. I’ve got to learned to lower my expectations. Nevertheless, the Nazi reference in that context was well-earned. It is disgraceful that the dossier was leaked by U.S. intelligence personnel. “Failing pile of garbage”  is not Presidential rhetoric (sigh) but the sentiment is correct. CNN capped a week of neon-bright biased and inaccurate reporting across the news spectrum by giving this slimy story greater visibility, thus advancing a Big Lie. CNN deserved its comeuppance, which was soon to come. Continue reading

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Signature Significance: President Obama’s Farewell Speech Jumbo

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“Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say.”

It’s funny: when I was searching Google after entering this quote, I found one site the had as a headline, “2o Quotes From President Obama’s Farewell Speech That Will Melt Your…” and that’s where it cut off.  Which was it, I wondered, “heart” or “brain”? It was heart….and the 20 also included the quote about race relations.

I also checked the Washington Post, which “fact-checks” major speeches with annotations. In the transcript, that line was indeed highlighted—I thought there was a 50-50 chance, knowing the Post’s pro-Obama bias, that it would let that whopper slide. The annotation by reporter Aaron Blake in its entirety:

Obama has seen the polls. A July Washington Post-ABC News poll [showed 6 in 10 thought race relations were bad, and a majority thought they were getting worse](Poll: Majority of Americans think race relations are getting worse)

Now that’s a tentative fact-check! Obama has seen the polls, so …he must know something we don’t? Obama has seen the polls, so…he’s basing this certitude on his own impeccable wisdom? Obama has seen the polls, so….he’s having a little fun with us? Obama has seen the polls, so…he’s lying through his teeth? What is the Post saying?

For this is rather significantly counter-factual. Yet demonstrating the hard-hitting investigative reporting that the Post is renowned for, the paper recently launched an investigation into whether Donald Trump was LYING when he told the Times, in one of his typical, off-hand, “this just popped into my head” moments, “There will be plenty of movie and entertainment stars [at the Inauguration] All the dress shops are sold out in Washington. It’s hard to find a great dress for this inauguration.” AHA!  This is NOT TRUE! This is further proof that the man is NOT FIT TO BE PRESIDENT! And EEEEVIL!!! A Post reporter actually interviewed multiple dress shop owners, and concluded,

“It’s hard to imagine how Trump came to his conclusion, and a transition team spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But for all of the president-elect’s promises about economic stimulus, it doesn’t seem that he’s making Washington dress-shopping great again.”

In contrast, when the first African-American President of the United States, having seen his performance lead to the devastation of his party and the installment of a new President so antithetical to his world view as to risk the two of them exploding if they shake hands, makes a completely ridiculous assertion about a crucial American problem like race relations, we get a 27 word shrug and a link.

American journalism in 2017. Continue reading

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From The “Is The News Media Trying To Destroy Any Credibility It Has Left, Or Is It Just Too Biased And Stupid To Help Itself?” Files: The New York Times’ “Fact Check”

who-can-you-trustIn July 2016, Donald Trump said, in one of his more accurate public statements:

Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent.

In July 2016, “Last year” meant 2015, as absolutely everyone understood. Homicides in D.C. did increase by 54 percent in 2015, from 105 in 2014 to 162. The statement was accurate.

Now, however, it’s 2017. This means that “last year” doesn’t mean 2015 any more, but 2016!  Figures on the year just completed show that homicides in D.C. fell in 2016 to 135. Thus the New York Times–you know, that flagship of trustworthy American journalism—through its reporter Emily Badger, decided to “fact-check” that statement by Trump from July, and found that he deceived us. Again. Badger wrote:

“Another end-of-year fact-check, while we’re at it: Mr. Trump claimed during the campaign that the homicide rate in his new home in Washington rose by 50 percent. In fact, it fell by 17 percent in 2016.”

There he goes again! Lying his head off! Citing fake statistics! But trust us, folks, we’ll be right there at the ready for the next four years, so he can’t get away with this constant deception!

Notice how the Times uses “claimed” to imply that Trump was making stuff up.  But he wasn’t making stuff up. The Times was making stuff up by “claiming” in this fact-check that Trump  misstated the facts, when he did not.  He wouldn’t have even been wrong, as Eugene Volokh points out, if he had been comparing 2016 to 2014, the year he was comparing 2015 to in July. The homicide rate in D.C. rose by  28 percent from 2014 to 2016.

‘Trump falsely stated that crime rose in Washington D.C.’ is a lie. It is fake news.

Writes the law professor, using far more restraint than I would (or will):

There’s a lot to be said for not focusing too much on year-to-year changes in homicide statistics, which can be volatile. Even a rise over two years doesn’t tell us that much, though it’s troubling. And we should indeed remember that homicides and other crimes have generally declined sharply from their 1991 peak (though of course we want to be watchful for any reversal of the trend). If the argument is simply in favor of caution about reading too much into yearly statistics, I’m all for that.

But the New York Times “fact-check…” suggests that Trump got his facts wrong (he “claimed” one thing but “in fact” it was something else), and I think it misleads readers into missing the fact that, even counting the 2016 decline, the homicide still rose sharply from the reference year Trump was using — 2014 — to the present.

Continue reading

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Fake News Update: Fake History, Santa’s Number One Elf, And The Ornery Irishman

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Consider this three-headed post an exploration of just how tangled and gray the Fake New Ethics Train Wreck really is.

Let’s start with…

1. The Irishman.

Last week the obituary of Chris Connors was viral on social media. The first part of it read,

Irishman Dies from Stubbornness, Whiskey

Chris Connors died, at age 67, after trying to box his bikini-clad hospice nurse just moments earlier. Ladies man, game slayer, and outlaw Connors told his last inappropriate joke on Friday, December 9, 2016, that which cannot be printed here. Anyone else fighting ALS and stage 4 pancreatic cancer would have gone quietly into the night, but Connors was stark naked drinking Veuve in a house full of friends and family as Al Green played from the speakers. The way he died is just like he lived: he wrote his own rules, he fought authority and he paved his own way. And if you said he couldn’t do it, he would make sure he could…

I instantly liked Chris, as did millions of others. This was published on the obituary site, Legacy.com. People like me sent the obituary  around to friends, thought about it, and talked about it, because it made us feel good. Now there’s someone who did not go gentle into that good night!

Do I have any idea if this obituary is 100% accurate, or accurate at all? No. How often are obituaries fact-checked, if they aren’t written by a reporter? For normal people, like Chris Connors, almost never. Do you care? Do you care in this case? I don’t I am pretty sure that the obituary gives a fair sense of the kind of man Chris Connors was, even if it is hyperbolic, as I assume it was. Nevertheless, the obituary made me feel good, as it was supposed to. Christmas is starting to depress me as the years mount up: too many memories, too many lost loved ones, the sense of time passing too, quickly , of time running out. Chris’s story, which may have been only partially true, was a great, bracing, much-needed slap in the face. He had the right idea, or if he didn’t, whoever wrote his obituary did. Is there any harm anyone can attach to this inspiring farewell? If it was fake news by Facebook’s new standards, does it matter?

2. Santa’s Number One Elf

Continue reading

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Unethical Quote Of The Month: Michelle Obama; Runner-Up: Her Husband

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“We feel the difference now. See, now, we are feeling what not having hope feels like. Hope is necessary. It’s a necessary concept and Barack didn’t just talk about hope because he thought it was just a nice slogan to get votes. He and I and so many believe that — what else do you have if you don’t have hope,What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope?”

First Lady Michelle Obama, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey broadcast last week.

I was going to ignore this unforgivable  statement, as there have been so many notable melt-downs from progressives and Democrats that if I commented on all of them it would be all freak-out, all the time on Ethics Alarms. However, the video really bothered me, and the timing of the remarks were so inappropriate—Let’s ask Syrians, who your husband decided to abandon in their desperation when he allowed his promise of a “red line” to  evaporate  as Assad turned his chemical weapons on them, how much hope they have, Mrs. Obama!—that I tried to think of any previous First Lady who so blatantly abused her role as a non-partisan symbol of stability and optimism for all Americans. There hasn’t been one. No First Lady, even the outspoken Barbara Bush or the activist Eleanor Roosevelt, has come close to declaring that hope was dead in America. It is especially irresponsible for a First Lady to talk like this as her husband leaves office. His predecessor was gracious, and the First Family owes its successor the same courtesy and respect. Continue reading

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Observations On The First Trump-Clinton Debate

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It was as predictable as it was tragic: on Drudge shortly after the debate, his debate poll showed that over 90% of Matt’s readers—almost as high a percentage as that of black Americans who believe Barack Obama has been a great President—believed that Donald Trump won. At CNN, the percentages weren’t as lopsided, but still reversed: about 70% believed Hillary won. Confirmation bias rules supreme in such settings, and bias makes us stupid. Fortunately, as my analysis of these two awful candidates should have proven by now, I have no biases in this race. I would like to see both candidates lose,and badly. Indeed, as both are the political equivalents of virulent cancers on the culture and potentially the office they seek, I would like to learn that both have mysteriously vanished without a trace, like Judge Crater, Ambrose Bierce, Rick Moranis, or Gilbert O’Sullivan

Observations on last night’s debate:

1. The conservative websites are whining about Lester Holt serving as the “third debater” last night. In a word, baloney. Holt did all right, not great,  in an impossible role, primarily by letting the combatants talk; in fact, a heavier moderator hand would have been preferable.  The birther question to Trump and the “Presidential look” questions were undoubtedly moderator shots at Trump, but shots like that are opportunities too. Trump didn’t handle either well. Character is the issue with Trump, not policy, and those were character questions that he should have been prepared for. Maybe he was; maybe those pathetic answers were Trumps’ idea of good ones. Yes, Holt pressed Trump on the ultimately irrelevant issue of whether he was or was not in favor of the Iraq invasion and when, but that was also an appropriate approach for a moderator, and it gave Trump a chance to clarify his position, if one can ever use “clarify” and “Trump” in the same sentence.

As an aside, I wonder if “Sean Hannity can back me up” is the lamest defense ever uttered in a Presidential debate. It may be.

2. Trump was Trump, that’s all, and perhaps a slightly less offensive and more substantive version than usual. Hillary was smug, with a frozen smile and an expression that said, “Boy, is this guy an idiot!” all debate long. That’s a big mistake, for virtually nobody likes smug. Trump’s expression toward Hillary was usually one of a wary and respectful foe. He was listening, she was sneering. Her repeated call for “fact-checking” was weak, and appeared to be appeals for assistance. Continue reading

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The New York Times Proves Why Journalists Can’t Be Trusted To “Fact-Check” Since They Don’t Know What A Lie Is

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Ugh.

I finally grabbed a barf bag and read the New York Times attack piece from the weekend titled “A Week of Whoppers.” Silly me: Donald Trump lies so often that I simply took it on faith that the Times would have no trouble finding real and substantive lies to expose from The Donald. Instead, what I found were a few genuine lies of no great significance lumpod with statements that were obviously not meant literally, off-the-cuff remarks that any objective listener would assume were just generalizations, self-evident hyperbole, or opinion. None rose to the level of outright attempts to deceive on the magnitude of “I never sent or received classified material,” or “wiped? Like with a cloth?”

Needless to say, but I’ll still say it, none came within a Washington mile of lies like “I did not have sex with that woman,”  which is one Hillary Clinton attempted to facilitate. It is depressing that any reporter, editor or reader would find the analysis that all 31 of these alleged “lies by Trump were “lies” fair, rational or convincing. Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman prove themselves to be partisan hacks with this weak piece of anti-Trump hype. The statements flagged here are so clearly the result of a concerted anti-Trump bias that editors must have assumed that few would actually read them, and just take the headline and sheer size of the feature as proof that the Times had legitimately proven massive dishonesty.

And it had: its own.

Here are all 31 alleged Trump “lies,” with the Ethics Alarms verdicts on each. Continue reading

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