Anatomy Of A Fake News Story: The Rainbow Cake And The Christian School

Wow, what a coincidence!!!

The headlines:

  • NBC News: Christian school expels teen after rainbow sweater and
    cake were deemed ‘lifestyle violations’
  • Fox News: Kentucky student expelled from private Christian school
    over rainbow shirt and cake, mom claims
  • Courier Journal: Louisville Christian school expelled student over a
    rainbow cake, family says
  • BuzzFeed News: This Mom Is Claiming A Christian School Expelled Her
    Teen Daughter Over A Picture With A Rainbow Cake
  • NY Post:Teen expelled from Christian school after rainbow shirt,
    cake photo
  • Chicago Tribune: Girl expelled from Christian school after posing with
    rainbow cake
  • New York Daily News: Freshman expelled from school for wearing rainbow shirt
  • The Washington Post: “Christian school expels teen after she posed with rainbow birthday cake, mother says.”

All of these headlines are misleading and deceitful, and intentionally so. This combines several varieties of Fake News, including “Outright false stories” deliberately published to mislead, “Fake headlines and clickbait,” and “Incompetent reporting.”

The facts of the episode only incidentally involve a rainbow cake, and the incident in question was the culmination of an ongoing contractual violation, not the extreme homophobia that that the various stories represented it to be. The frequent use of “mom says” and “family says” were cover for deliberately incompetent reporting. The family was, to be blunt, lying, and the truth of the episode was readily available to anyone with the diligence and integrity to look for it.

The Post story was typical of media confirmation bias at work, and indeed was the one many other sources began with. Reporter Michael Brice-Saddler wrote that  Kimberly Alford bought a custom a cake to celebrate the 15th birthday of her daughter, Kayla Kenney.  Alford told the credulous reporter that she instructed the bakery to decorate a cake with bright colors that ‘pop,’ and by purest accident, the resulting rainbow design matched her daughter’s sweater that she just happened to be wearing though she is not gay. Mom took a picture of Kayla smiling next to the birthday cake, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

If anyone believes the story about the amazing rainbow coincidence, I have a bridge to sell them. Yet the Post reporter did, just as Post reporters chose to believe that a Catholic school boy in a MAGA cap was harassing and smirking at a helpless old Native American.

The Post story continued, Continue reading

Martin Luther King Day Ethics Overview, 1/20/2020: Another Warren Lie, The Times’ Misandry, Doris Kearns Goodwin Gets Dorian Grayed, And More

Let us be grateful today for Rev. Martin Luther King.

I have no doubt that the nation would be a worse place today without the leadership of Martin Luther King, and I believe a holiday dedicated to honoring him is appropriate. He is also a symbol, perhaps, of the toxic hypocrisy dividing the nation, as well as the excesses and exploitation of the civil rights movement since his death.

From Jonathan Rauch’s review of Christopher Caldwell’s new book, “The Age of Entitlement”:

In Caldwell’s telling, the Civil Rights Act, which banned many forms of discrimination, was a swindle. Billed as a one-time correction that would end segregation and consign race consciousness to the past, it actually started an endless and escalating campaign of race-conscious social engineering. Imperialistically, civil rights expanded to include “people of color” and immigrants and gays and, in short, anyone who was not native-born, white and straight — all in service of “the task that civil rights laws were meant to carry out — the top-down management of various ethnic, regional and social groups.”

With civil rights as their bulldozer, in Caldwell’s view, progressive movements ran amok. They “could now, through the authority of civil rights law, override every barrier that democracy might seek to erect against them”; the law and rhetoric of civil rights “gave them an iron grip on the levers of state power.” And so, today, affirmative action discriminates against whites and then lies about it; public and private bureaucracies trample freedom of association; political correctness stigmatizes dissent and censors language and even thought; “every single state must now honor” Martin Luther King Jr., “and affirm its delight in doing so.”

1.  Senator Warren’s latest lie! The previous post about Warren lying omitted her most recent one, which came up while I was drafting it.

Campaigning in Iowa,  Warren was asked  when she plans on using presidential authority for some of her policy agenda instead of relying on Congress. She responded in part,

“Let me remind you, I think, I’m the only one running for president whose actually been on the executive side. Remember, after the consumer agency was passed into law, Barack Obama, President Obama, asked me to set it up. So I set up a federal agency. We effectively went from two employees the day I walked in the door to about 1000 and spent a year getting it up and operational.”

Now, as I did yesterday regarding an alleged Trump lie, the use of “I think” can be a defense to an accusation of lying, since it means, “I could be mistaken.” In Trump’s case, what he erroneously thought (that he had been on more TIME covers than anyone else) could have plausibly been caused by not knowing facts that were not well known or easily found. There is no way that Warren could have thought that her smidgen of executive experience exceeded that of her competition for the nomination. Joe Biden was Vice President, also on the “executive side,” and was in charge of more than helping to set up one tiny agency. Bernie Sanders was once mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Mayor Pete is, after all, a mayor. Mike Bloomberg was Mayor of New York City, which many regard as the equivalent of being a governor. Continue reading

The Many Species Of Fake News

I should have  compiled this list  long ago; now I’ll be able to cite the exact variety of fake news we are discussing. Right now I have 19, but I will be updating and expanding this post and the resulting list. I’m certain I missed some. Suggestions from readers are encouraged.

1. Outright false stories deliberately published to mislead. This is what supporters of the news media want to be the only news labeled as fake. The infamous report that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump is an example. The category includes hoaxes that the purveyors claim are jokes, when nothing abut their content or presentation is humorous.

2. Fake headlines and clickbait. There is so much of this that I’ll just pick the first one that comes up in my Ethics Alarms search. In May of 2019, the headline “Ciara Accepted Into Harvard University’s Prestigious Business School”  (Ciara is a pop diva.) appeared in several sources. No, she was about to attend aBusiness of Entertainment, Media and Sports programat the B-school that lasted all of three days.

3. Incompetent reporting. This occurs because so many journalists and editors have the IQs of cucumbers and went to school in tents. Here’s a recent one: ABC reported that a third of Australia was on fire.

The story went on:

The size of the fires across the country are twice as large as the state of Maryland and bigger than several other states, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Not just wrong, but hilariously wrong. The actual comparative size of the wildfires to the US was this:

As blogger Stephen Green explained, ABC used  a map its staff didn’t understand. That map  reflects what a Japanese weather satellite picked up as hotspots on the continent. They weren’t fires. Continue reading

Is This The Most Unethical Book Review Ever?

It has to be close, because I don’t know how a book review can be more unethical.

The book in question is Ruth Marcus’s unconscionable hit piece on Justice Brett Kavanaugh, “Supreme Ambition.” The forum is the book review section of the New York Times, which has been trying to smear Kavanaugh since he was nominated for the Supreme Court, and even since the contrived attempt to defeat him by ancient and uncorroborated accusations of misconduct when he was a teenagerwhen he was a teenagerwhen he was a teenager (no three times is not enough repitition to emphasize how despicable this was) failed, as it should have. The objective, trustworthy reviewer the Times chose to assess the book was Adam Cohen. He writes speeches for and advises New York’s socialist mayor Bill de Blasio, and authored “Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court’s Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America,” coming out next month.

Yup, the perfect guy to provide an objective review of an anti-Kavanaugh book.

It is clear by now that progressives and the mainstream media have added the Brett Kavanugh confirmation hearing to the shooting of Mike Brown, the death of Trayvon Martin, and the fake Russian Collusion theory as narratives they will falsely characterize until the stars turn cold. Incredibly,  Cohen writes at the end of his review,

“As important as the Kavanaugh battle was for the court, however, there was something even more profound at stake: whether, on the most important questions, our nation is capable of putting the public interest ahead of partisanship, and whether the truth matters. The forces aligned for partisanship and against truth are stronger than ever.”

Cohen’s review is a prime example of the condition he claims to be condemning. What “truth”? Not a single fact was produced during the hearing that had any relevance to Brett Kavanaugh’s fitness to be a Supreme Court Justice. His record as a judge was impeccable and beyond reproach. Ah, BUT…Marcus and Cohen point to this: Continue reading

A Fake News Story About Fake News!

The New York Times end-of-year whine about how mean President Trump has been to the news media was headlined (in the print edition), “Trump Attacked News Media Even More in 2019.” That’s an assertion of fact. What does it mean? Well, the first sentence of the story reads, “On Twitter, President Trump deployed the phrase “fake news” 273 times this year — 50 percent more often than he did in 2018.” Is calling a story published by the news media “fake news” an “attack”? What if the story is objectively false or misleading as most—not all, but most—of those in question were?

For example, last week MSNBC aired an Iranian state media claim that the second round of rocket attacks on U.S. military installments in Iraq killed 30 U.S. soldiers, and that “we have just stepped over the precipice.” That’s irresponsible and lousy journalism. MSNBC hadn’t checked the claim, it just rushed it on the air. I don’t want to hear the Clintonian rationalizations that this wasn’t technically fake news, because the report was that the Iranians were saying that the 30 soldiers had been killed. It was a false report; it was misleading; it would upset the families of servicemen in the area (one journalist criticized it as “journo-terrorism”), and there was no excuse for it. If this kind of unprofessional hackery is criticized, by me, for example, is that an attack?

Such a characterization is more fake news. The news media is constantly pushing the dishonest and self serving position that to criticize journalists for their proven ethical breaches and betrayal of their duty to keep the public informed is to attack them, ergo this is an attack on journalism itself, hence it is an attack on Freedom of the Press, therefore it is an attack on democracy itself. Calling the news media on its now near complete transformation into a left-wing propaganda machine is, they surmise, is tarred by this false characterization built on successive unwarranted leaps of logic.

Journalists appear to really believe their own fake news in this case. I hear and read it over and over again: the decline in the public’s trust in news reporting, as reflected in many surveys and polls, is President Trump’s doing, as part of his grand plan to become a dictator. (See Big Lie #3). Their narcissistic delusion that they and their profession are beyond reproach is self-evidently in direct opposition to reality: the reason for the decline of American journalism’s credibility is its own, reckless , escalating dishonest, incompetence, bias and untrustworthiness.

The article is a good example of this itself. The second sentence in the piece says that the President “demanded ‘retribution’ over a ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch.” Yes, that was self-evidently stupid, but what does a late night comedy show have to do with the news media? Nothing.

The article then moves on to another Big Lie it has repeatedly advocated,  #6: “Trump’s Defiance Of Norms Is A Threat To Democracy.”

The “norm” in this case is, I guess, a President remaining passive and prostrate while most of the journalistic establishment openly allies itself with your adversaries—even foreign adversaries, like Iran— and dedicates its reporting to destroying your ability to govern. The Times writes, “Mr. Trump’s vilification of the news media is a hallmark of his tenure and a jagged break from the norms of his predecessors: Once a global champion of the free press, the presidency has become an inspiration to autocrats and dictators who ape Mr. Trump’s cry of ‘fake news.’”

Calling this a “jagged break from the norms of his predecessors” is another variety of fake news: fake history, in which the news media deliberately or incompetently makes the largely historically ignorant public more ignorant by falsely describing the past. My “favorite” example of this kind of fake news was when Presidential historian Doug Brinkley was put on the air by CNN on election night to salve the despair of Hillary supporters by explaining that America seldom elects the same party to the Presidency three terms in a row. What he said was completely wrong on the facts, not wrong as an opinion, just false. Nobody challenged him; there was no correction. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/2/2020: A Rich Assortment Of Jerks And Assholes To Begin The Year.

 It’s finally Getting Back To Normal Day!

I don’t know about you, but I feel like everything’s been one big, holiday/stress/disruption blur since I enlivened Thanksgiving dinner by keeling over. There should be  law preventing Christmas and New Years from falling on Wednesdays, which effectively kills two full weeks. I’m behind on everything, and I don’t know what I could have done to avoid it…

1. Sigh. This is what we have to look forward to in 2020…Ezra Klein, the Left-biased Washington Post journalist who founded Vox, which he then staffed with all Left-biased journalists, tweeted out the link a nine-month-old Post article stating as fact that counties hosting Trump rallies saw massive spikes in hate crimes compared to counties that didn’t host Trump rallies. By Wednesday afternoon, Klein’s tweet had been re-tweeted  more than 7,000 times and had more than 14,000 likes. It also polluted many Facebook feeds.

Klein didn’t tell his 2.5 million followers  that the article relied on a study that had been debunked months ago by  Harvard University researchers Matthew Lilley and Brian Wheaton.  “The study is wrong, and yet journalists ran with it anyway,” they revealed in in Reason magazine four months ago. That’s four. 4. IV. F-O-U-R.

Lilley and Wheaton tried to replicate the original study—if a study is valid, you can do that.  They discovered that “adding a simple statistical control for county population to the original analysis causes the estimated effect of Trump rallies on reported hate crimes to vanish. “Given how little scrutiny was required to reveal the flaws in the thesis that Trump rallies cause hate incidents, one cannot help but wonder whether its viral status was aided by journalists predisposed to believe its message,” the researchers noted.

Ya think?

Klein’s tweet is still up. It’s false and inflammatory, but it advances one of the key Big Lies (that would be #4), so he is running with it anyway. Do you wonder why those on opposite sides of the partisan divide have different views of reality? This kind of thing is a primary reason.

Enemy of the people.

2. The first “I don’t understand this story at ALL” of 2020:

 In July 2018, Michael J. Reynolds. a New York City police officer, was in Nashville for a three-night bachelor-party trip with six other officers. At one point in the festivities,  Reynolds, who is white, kicked in a black woman’s door in a drunken rage, threatening her (“I’ll break every bone in your neck…”) and her sons while calling them “niggers” and showering them with obscenities. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 15 days in jail with three years’ probation after pleading no contest to four misdemeanors, court records show. Nevertheless, he remains an employee of the N.Y.P.D. More than 10,000 people signed an online petition demanding his dismissal and supporting the woman whose home he invaded.

Theories? Never mind unions, due process and mandatory investigations: the incident took place a full year and a half ago. There is no excuse for this. Reynolds apologized and said that he was so drunk he doesn’t remember the episode. Oh! Then that’s OK, Officer! Let’s all forget the whole thing!

As it habitually does, the New York Times reached a false analogy, writing,

The case of Officer Reynolds is again focusing scrutiny on the pace of the Police Department’s disciplinary process. In a prominent example of how it can drag on, five years passed before Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a prohibited chokehold contributed to the 2014 death in police custody of Eric Garner, was fired and stripped of his pension benefits in August.

Ridiculous. There were legitimate issues involved in Pantaleo’s case that made the proper discipline in his case complicated and controversial. There are no reasons for controversy here. Continue reading

Movie Flop Ethics, Part I: “Richard Jewell” And The Alleged ‘Female Reporter Trading Sex For Scoops’ Smear

The two big flops among movies that opened last weekend were director Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” and “Black Christmas,” the second attempt to re-boot the 1976 slasher cult film. Both disasters have ethics lessons to teach, or not teach. Let’s look at Clint’s movie first.

“Richard Jewell” made lass that $4.5 million in its first weekend, and has also been snubbed by the various year-end awards. It is based on the now mostly forgotten  story of how Jewell, initially hailed as a hero for his part in foiling the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing plot,  was falsely accused  of complicity by local law enforcement, the FBI, and the news media. Conservative outlets loved the film, but the other side of the divide focused on a subplot, as the film’s screenplay  suggested that a named Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter, now deceased,  used sex to persuade a source to break the story.  The Journal Constitution has been attacking the film, denying that Kathy Scruggs would ever used he body to get a scoop. Her colleagues, friends and  family all insist that she would not have slept with a source, and reporters around the country circled the metaphorical wagons to proclaim they were shocked–shocked!—that anyone would even suggest such a thing. Jeffrey Young, senior reporter for HuffPost tweeted,  “The lazy, offensive, shitty way screenwriters so often treat female journalists infuriates me. Depicting women using sex to get stories is disgusting and disrespectful. It’s also hacky as hell. I was planning to see this movie but not anymore.’ Melissa Gomez of the Los Angeles Times wrote,  “Hollywood has, for a long time, portrayed female journalists as sleeping with sources to do their job. It’s so deeply wrong, yet they continue to do it. Disappointing that they would apply this tired and sexist trope about Kathy Scruggs, a real reporter.’ Susan Fowler, an opinion editor at the New York Times tweeted “The whole “female journalist sleeps with a source for a scoop” trope doesn’t even make any sense…”

This would be damning, except that while it may not be standard practice, there are plenty of examples of female journalists doing exactly what Eastwood’s film suggests.  Last year the Times—yes, Susan Fowler’s paper—reported on the three-year affair between  Times reporter Ali Watkins and James Wolfe, senior aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a regular source for her stories. In October,  an employee of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency was arrested for leaking classified material to two reporters, and he was involved in a romantic relationship with one of them. Both reporters are still employed by their respective news organizations, the  Times and CNBC, so its hard to argue that sex-for-scoops is being strongly discouraged.

Continue reading