Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/18/19: Complainers, Climate Hysterics, Tiny Tims And Fake News

Good morning!

Good news! You won’t be thinking I’m dead any more, at least not until I am.  The combination of some complicated travel itineraries and the death of my laptop resulted in uncharacteristic interruptions of the dialogue here, twice causing soem readers to speculate on my demise, or at least incapacity. No, it was just that budgetary priorities made replacing the travel computer a bit less urgent than things like a new roof, a car that runs, things like that. Over the weekend I address the computer problem, and not a second too soon, as I will be setting off today on yet another New Jersey odyssey. Paul Morella and I will be presenting editions of our Clarence Darrow legal ethics program for N.J. lawyers in Brunswick and Fairfield,  sandwiched in between about 9 hours of driving, but I should be able to keep the ethics fires burning to some extent. Unless I’m dead, of course. As my fatalistic father liked to say cheerily , driving my morbid mom crazy, “You never know!”

1. God bless them, every one! This is one example of non-traditional casting I agree with: increasing numbers of “A Christmas Carol” productions are casting children with disabilities to play Tiny Tim. I would fight to the death for the right of a fully-able young actor to play the roles, as well as for the right of a director to cast one. However, the show presents such an ideal opportunity for a child who normally might not  have many chances to a play any  role on stage  because of his physical limitations that it seems like a shame to let it pass. I also agree with the directors who opine that having a genuinely challenged Tiny Tim gives some extra oomph to the show.

Is it exploitative? Sure, to some extent. That, however, is show business.

I draw the line, however, at casting Cratchit children who are different races than their parents, making it look like Mrs. Cratchit has been turning tricks to make ends meet, or “Tiny Tina.”

2.  Here’s another kind of “fake news”…Yahoo! News felt that an entire post was necessary to inform the world that the President had screened “Joker” at the White House. Why is this news, or even mildly interesting? It’s a big movie, with lots of buzz. Presidents have screened movies at the White House for decades, usually without comment from the news media. Now, if he had screened the original “Birth of a Nation,” like racist Woodrow Wilson, or “Tusk,” that might be worth a small news item.

Let’s see, what other fake news items (as in thins that don’t qualify as news) are there on Yahoo!? How about “Michelle Obama Looked Incredible in a Yellow Corseted Schiaparelli Gown at the American Portrait Gala”? For some reason, I thought the fawning over Michelle, which as always hyperbolic and excessive, might have abated since she left the White House, after all, the news media quit going bonkers over every Jackie Kennedy ensemble once she wasn’t First Lady any more. Then there’s the matter of the gown Yahoo! is raving about… Continue reading

The Most Important Question Raised By Another Fake Hate Crime Story: How Much Lousy, Irresponsible, Divisive, Biased Journalism Will The Public Tolerate And The News Media Refuse To Fix?

All over the major newspapers and news media last week was the ugly tale of another “hate crime.” 12-year-old Amari Allen, a black sixth-grader at a Christian, Northern Virginia private school, said that three white boys held her down and  cut off some of her dreadlocks.

The New York Times  and other news sources decided this was national news, just like a white Catholic school boy not having the right expression on his face when he was being harassed by a Native American activist.  More proof of racism in America! “They put me on the ground,” the girl recounted in an emotional phone interview”One of them put my hands behind my back. One put his hands over my mouth. One cut my hair. They were saying that my hair was ugly, that it was nappy.”  Why was this alleged episode of childhood bullying worthy of national attention? It was because Mike Pence’s wife Karen teaches at the school, theImmanuel Christian School in Springfield, about 15 minutes from my home.

This was cognitive dissonance manipulation. Pence’s wife teaches at a school where a black girl was racially harassed, thus the school is racially biased, thus Karen Pence is facilitating racism, thus her husband consorts with a racist, and it all leads back to that racist, President Trump. ( Big Lie #4)

With the same motivation,  the left wing websites enthusiastically promoted the story. Here’s the always shameless Daily Kos:

See the white supremacy hate crimes that Trump, Pence, and Republicans foster? The local NAACP immediately got into the act, talking about lawsuits.

Except that it didn’t happen. The Washington Post reported today that the girl has recanted, and her grandparents, who are raising her, have apologized.  Continue reading

Observations On Neil Cavuto’s Oddly-Timed Scolding Of President Trump

Fox News host Neil Cavuto decided to vent his frustration with President Trump yesterday, delivering a direct rebuke, addressing him in the second person. You can read the whole statement below after the commentary, or before, if you prefer.

I like Neil Cavuto. He’s a nice guy, he’s sincere, and he tries to be fair. He even had me on his show once. The format he chose, the Keith Olbermann direct address [Keith: “And why is it, SIR…”], I detest, and feel is pompous and inappropriate. Its a fake confrontation: Cavuto wouldn’t talk to the President like that if he were really in front of him, so it suggests boldness on his part that is illusory rather than real. It’s also arrogant grandstanding. Who is Cavuto to reprimand the President? He can give his opinion like anyone else, but talking to him through the camera like he was a naughty child is presumptuous.

In general, Cavuto’s point is undeniable: Trump’s constant puffery, exaggerations, contradictions, spontaneous utterances  and recklessness with the facts undermine his credibility, infuriate both allies and foes, and give ammunition to those who want to destroy him. In short, his habit is stupid. However, this was a known feature of the man’s style and character a decade ago. No, he can’t or won’t change, and that’s a weakness.  But who didn’t know this? Does Cavuto really think his tirade adds anything to the public’s knowledge? Does he think the President is going to reform because Neil Cavuto takes him to task?

In the specifics of his argument, however, Cavuto’s logic is so shaky that I wondered if he really thought his rant through, or, in the alternative, is not as smart as I thought he was. His initial sally is a non sequitur: the fact that President Trump frequently mangles the truth doesn’t make the news media  any less dishonest, incompetent and untrustworthy. Since a vast amount of the fake news polluting the public’s understanding of the issues involves fake news designed to undermine Trump, he has every right, and I believe a duty, to call it what it is.

Is Cavuto’s showboating just a member of the journalists’ club standing up for his colleagues against their adversary? It sure sounded like it.  He seemed to be mouthing the same excuse I hear from Facebook enablers of the biased media: “Yeah, well, OK, Rachel Maddow was hyping the Russian story and using dubious evidence, but Trump lies even more!” President Trump’s job is to run the country. Not being truthful can get in the way of that, but being accurate is not his job, nor is it one of his duties. Journalists, in contrast, are ethically obligated to inform the public truthfully no matter what whoppers a President may tell. The President doesn’t make the news media lie, so to say he provides the “ammunition” for fake news is nonsense. Cavuto is excusing lousy, dishonest, and divisive journalism. Continue reading

Reporting The Mysterious Ukraine “Scandal”: Once Again, I’m Fighting The Urge To Conclude That These Are Just Corrupt, Terrible People

 

And losing.

When the first notice of the unnamed whistle-blower’s complaint about—well, something involving the President and the Ukraine surfaced on the New York Times front page, in an article that was so devoid of facts, details and corroboration that its only excuse for publication was to titillate Trump-Haters, I wrote,

“This is what the Times considers front page news now. Instantly, “resistance” members and Democrats will leap to the conclusion that whatever it is, it’s impeachable. Those who are thoroughly sick of the successive coup attempts will assume that this is one more concocted sliming by the Deep State, so we can have a “Russiagate” style investigation that will hamstring President Trump’s second term… For my part, I’ll wait for actual facts, thanks. I don’t trust “the intelligence community” not to manufacture ways to undermine the Presidency, not after Comey, McCabe, the FISA fiasco, the FBI lovebirds texts, and Mueller’s statements, among other smoking guns. I don’t trust the Times reporting, I don’t trust President Trump not to do or say something that crosses ethical or legal lines, and I certainly don’t trust Congressional Democrats to determine what are serious transgressions by this President and what are typical maneuvers that have only become ominous because he isn’t Barack Obama.”

Well, I’ve been waiting. As predicted, Democratic impeachment-mongers and Presidential hopefuls are screaming to the skies, and the mainstream media has been flogging the as-yet non-story, another species of fake news, as if it were the Second Coming. Yet here is how the New York Times itself explained the alleged scandal:

What did Mr. Trump do?

In a July 25 phone call, Mr. Trump is said to have pressed the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Mr. Biden’s younger son, Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Mr. Trump has seized on an unsubstantiated theory that Mr. Biden was trying to protect the company from prosecution when he called for the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor in 2016. Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers, has pushed the Ukrainian government to investigate the matter.

Is “said to have”? By whom? This is not news reporting, it’s gossip. The Biden theory is unsubstantiated? The theory the Times has published multiple stories about regarding the President’s interactions with the Ukraine is far less substantiated.

Why is this coming up now?

Because of an intelligence community whistle-blower who filed a complaint last month about the president’s actions. An inspector general deemed the complaint “credible” and “urgent” and forwarded it to the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who has refused to share it with Congress….

Amazingly, it has now been revealed that the “whistle-blower” did not have  direct knowledge of the communications between President Trump and the foreign leader in question. An official who has been briefed on the matter, however, told CNN that the whistleblower “didn’t have direct knowledge of the communications.” The official said that the concerns and subsequent complaint came in part from the whistleblower “learning information that was not obtained during the course of their work.” That’s hearsay by definition, and means that the report has no probative or evidentiary value whatsoever until it is independently verified. Until then, it is also not news.

What did the whistle-blower claim?

The full extent of the whistle-blower’s complaint, as well as the whistle-blower’s identity, is not publicly known. Reporting by The New York Times and others has established that the complaint involves Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukraine and a phone call with a foreign leader — possibly, but not necessarily, Mr. Zelensky. It is not clear if it includes other matters.

This is really what the Times itself says. A “whistleblower” from the intelligence community made a complaint about something he was told by an an unnamed party about a private phone call with a yet to be identified official.

Here’s my favorite, though: Continue reading

Signature Significance (Again) From the New York Times: A Trustworthy Newspaper Does Not Do This [CORRECTED]

That would be a more useful rule, of course, if there were any trustworthy newspapers.

The most recent Ethics Alarms filing under “Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias!” appeared yesterday.  A story headlined Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not appeared in the Sunday Times, with the sub-head, “Deborah Ramirez’s Yale experience says much about the college’s efforts to diversify its student body in the 1980s.” And why were Yale’s efforts to diversify in the Eighties suddenly worthy of a Times feature in September, 2019? Because the real purpose of the article was not to talk about Yale, but to smear Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh —again.

Ramirez was Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate  who had told The New Yorker last year during the justice’s confirmation hearings that she’d been severely inebriated at a party at Yale in her freshman year when “something” had happened. She said that “a male student pointed a gag plastic penis in her direction” and  a “third male then exposed himself to her.” The assumption is that the flasher was Kavanaugh, though Ramirez never directly named him. New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly tried to verify the story, and could not. Never mind: they wrote a book anyway.

In “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation,”  they quoted the same individuals the New Yorker had tracked down who said that they “heard about” the incident, as well as Ramirez’s mother, who says—now this is a smoking gun if there ever was one—that  she was told at the time that “something happened” at Yale.

Nevertheless, the Times reporters are convinced that Ramirez’s claim is correct. They wrote,

A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. 

Not “fit to print,” apparently, was the that Stier was not only a non-profit executive but also had served as one of Bill Clinton’s defense attorneys. Heck, why should that be relevant to his credibility? But I digress… Continue reading

Late-Starting Week Ethics Warm-Up, 9/3/2019: Why We Have Fake News

A post-Labor Day mess in San Francisco…

Good morning!

1. Why we have fake news, Part A: “Journalists just make stuff up.” From the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

A survey of American Jews showed continued disapproval of President Donald Trump, with anti-Semitism high and Israel low on the priority list for Jewish voters. The survey, conducted for a liberal-leaning Jewish organization, the Jewish Electorate Institute, by Greenberg Research, which does polling for Democratic candidates, showed 71 percent of likely Jewish-American voters disapprove of Trump and 29 percent approve, commensurate with polling since Trump’s election…The survey released Wednesday of 1,000 Jewish voters nationally was taken between May 6 and 12, and is consistent with past polling of a constituency that leans strongly Democratic…The poll showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favorable/unfavorable score as 45/38. Netanyahu used to score high approval among American Jews, but his sustained clashes with Obama on Palestinian and Iran policy, and his closeness to Trump appear to have eroded American Jewish support.

Gallup:

….Our aggregate from January through August of this year shows a 29% Trump job approval rating among Jews, with 69% disapproval….

Now here’s ABC News Chief Political Analyst Matthew Dowd on Twitter:

Dowd is just citing statistic pulled out of the air, apparently. How can anyone trust these people? Continue reading

Labor Day Weekend Kick-Off Ethics Warm-Up: The “I’m Baaaack!” Edition

Excellent work in the Open Forum, everybody.

Thank-you.

As it happened, there would have been no way I could have written a post yesterday, except after I arrived home following a 6 hour drive from New Jersey following my three-hour seminar. At the point, however, my IQ had fallen below Joe Biden levels, so it would have been unethical for me to opine or analyze anything. I’m slightly better now, at the Kamala Harris level and rising, so I’m going to get right back on the metaphorical horse.

I hate missing a day like that, mostly because it puts me behind in covering the ethics news, but also because I view Ethics Alarms as a commitment to the loyal readers who come here.

1. Well this is good news…The College Board is dropping its proposed “adversity score” from the SAT. The ill-considered device, which Ethics Alarms metaphorically spat at here, would have assigned a score based on the socioeconomic background of each student, artificially raising his or her score based on socioeconomic circumstances.

Of course, this was an unusually transparent ploy to facilitate race-based college admissions .As I wrote in May,

This is a cynical and dishonest device to give cover to colleges and universities as they try to base their admissions on race and ethnicity while avoiding legal prohibitions on discrimination based on race and ethnicity. That is all it is, and exactly what it is.

2. And MORE good news! A new Rasmussen Reports survey shows that most voters believe the average journalist is liberal, and few are conservative. Moreover, a majority believe it is appropriate for politicians to criticize reporters and hold them to the same scrutiny as those they cover.

Of course  it is. For more than three years, we have been hearing that President Trump’s condemnations of the news media and specific news organizations and journalists represent a threat to the freedom of the press and democracy. For those same three years, the Ethics Alarms position has been that while the President’s rhetoric and tone is often irresponsible, the threat to democracy is being created by a mainstream media journalistic establishment that is no longer interested in being fair or objective, not by criticism of this dangerous trend.

The survey analysis found that 61% of likely U.S. voters believe reporters at major news organizations are public figures who deserve critical scrutiny of their conduct and biases.  Only 61%? 19% directly disagree with that contention. How  can they disagree? What would give journalist the unique right to be immune from criticism of bias, competence, and abuse of power? Elected officials are not immune, nor are scholars, artists, lawyers or judges. Continue reading