Tag Archives: fake news

Major Ethics Alarm: American Journalism Is Crumbling Before Our Eyes [Part 1: Signature Significance]

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…and without trustworthy journalism, democracy cannot survive.

There was reason to hope that following its beyond miserable performance in its coverage of the campaign and election just concluded, American journalism would respond to reality and dedicate itself to repairing its broken relationship with traditional professional ethics. Poll after poll shows that the news media’s standing with the public has never been lower. Because the profession itself ought to be more keenly aware than anyone of how vital honest, fair and competent journalism is to the health of a democracy, one would expect that this would be a moment demanding brutal self-examination and rapid reform.

This is not what we are seeing, however. Consider:

  • Last weekend, ABC’s Jonathan Karl interviewed Donna Brazile in a New Year’s Day review of the election. I couldn’t believe it. She was introduced as a respectable commentator with no acknowledgment of her role in the Clinton fiasco and the news media’s disgrace. As Ed Morrissey wrote,

Why is Jonathan Karl interviewing Brazile in the first place? …It has been 62 days since CNN severed their ties with Donna Brazile over the fact (no longer an “allegation”) that she cheated during one of the Democratic presidential primary debates and attempted to cheat during a second one in Flint, Michigan. And yet ABC News is inviting her to sit down for a casual New Years Day chat like any other political analyst.

CNN shouldn’t have allowed her to be a staff member to begin with, since she was a partisan political operative. She used that relationship and exploited her conflict of interest to try to do what she could to  rig the election. She was exposed, lied by denying it, and fired. Now, after the election, she behaves as if nothing has changed, and ABC again presents her as a reliable analyst.

  • After WikiLeaks’ publication of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta revealed collusion and shockingly unethical ties between prominent journalists and the Clinton campaign, as well as the campaign openly referring to such journalists as allies, none of the journalists so exposed have been disciplined, nor have any of the news organization employing them indicated that they were so much as troubled by the revelation.

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The “Russian DNC Hacks”: Who Do You Believe, And Why Should You Trust Them?

russia-sign

Here at Ethics Alarms, the starting point for ethical analysis is the question, “What’s going on here?” It’s impossible to reach a fair and useful conclusion about where any conduct falls on the right/wrong scale unless one has a clear picture of what the conduct is--what happened and why. The still percolating saga of the  hacked Democratic National Committee e-mails so far defies ethical analysis, because so many of the key facts are in doubt, so much of their impact is a matter of speculation, and virtually all of the participants, sources and advocates for one interpretation or another are untrustworthy.

I have never seen anything like it.

“What’s going on here?” I really have no definitive answer, but lets slog though the muck:

I.   Some of what’s going on here is that Democrats, progressives and Clinton bitter-enders are making a concerted effort to use the fact that troubling DNC e-mails were released to the news media and the internet late in the Presidential campaign to prove the theory that Russian interference with the election was responsible for the victory of Donald Trump. This, they argue in turn,  justifies regarding Trump as an “illegitimate President,’ thus justifying ignoring the election results, defying the election results, impeaching Trump immediately, blocking his swearing in, treating him in discourse and conduct as if he had just been convicted of beastiality rather than elected President, “doing something” to “stop him,” and obstructing anything he tries to do to govern.

Another way of putting it is that Democrats want to throw the nation into something perilously close to a Constitution crisis, a revolution, a civil war, and the unraveling of the nation itself because they couldn’t manage to win an election that should have been a breeze, and they refuse to accept accountability.

2. This, I can say without restraint, is unethical beyond question, and despicable as well.

3.The Russian hacks theory is the fourth wobbly leg of the Democratic Party’s  “We refuse to accept the results of the election because Trump is unfit to be President as shown by the fact that he said he might not accept the results of the election” position. The other legs: 1)  the Electoral College isn’t a legitimate way to choose a President, even though it would have been if it elected Hillary Clinton, and should be retroactively repealed, discarded or defied 2) Trump was elected by morons, racists, xenophobes, woman-haters and morons, while the virtuous, intelligent Americans voted for Hillary, and they know best, and 3) The head of the FBI, who saved Clinton’s candidacy by a very generous interpretation of her highly suspicious conduct after a strangely informal interrogation, thus causing Republicans to question his independence and integrity, intentionally sabotaged Clinton’s coronation by keeping his public promise to Congress that he would alert it if there were any new developments.

Since these are 1) ignorant 2) anti-democratic and 3) ridiculous, all adding up to pathetic and desperate, the weight of the whole effort now rests on Leg #4.

4. Much of the mainstream news media is bolstering that leg by short-handing the story in headlines and print as Russian “hacking of the election.” This characterization is a lie. The ongoing Ethics Alarms Fake News Project, which is dedicated to settling on what “fake news” is (another “What’s going on here?” inquiry) questions how this is any less fake news than “Pope Tells Followers To Support Trump.” Both are intentional lies, designed to confuse and mislead, with the mainstream media lie far more insidious, since only microcephalics are even a long-shot to buy the Pope story, whereas the Democratic Deranged, unhinged by confirmation bias and an inexplicable trust in journalism, are eager to accept the Russian lie. Fact: nobody, anywhere, has alleged that the Russians “hacked the election.” The only way an election gets hacked is when there is interference with the vote totals. “The claim that the ‘election was hacked’ is a bit of a misnomer,” writes former CBS reporter Sheryl Atkinson. “There’s no standing allegation by U.S. officials that the Russians (or anyone else) “hacked” into our elections system or altered vote counts.”

No, the term “bit of a misnomer” is a misnomer for “lie.” I would describe Atkinson as a hack by engaging in such equivocation to shield her colleagues, but that might confuse people. Continue reading

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The Ethics Alarms “Fake News” Project: Seeking Ethics Distinctions Among Web Hoaxes, False Narratives,”Fake News” And Negligent, Incompetent or Biased Reporting (PART I: The New York Times School Voucher Headline)

I LOVE this story! I wish it WERE true!!!

I LOVE this story! I wish it WERE true!!!

Yesterday’s New York Times included a story headlined  Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It, and it stated,

The odds are good that privatizing education will be part of the agenda for President-elect Donald J. Trump’s administration. […] You might think that most economists agree with this overall approach, because economists generally like free markets. For example, over 90 percent of the members of the University of Chicago’s panel of leading economists thought that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft made consumers better off by providing competition for the highly regulated taxi industry.But economists are far less optimistic about what an unfettered market can achieve in education. Only a third of economists on the Chicago panel agreed that students would be better off if they all had access to vouchers to use at any private (or public) school of their choice.

While economists are trained about the value of free markets, they are also trained to spot when markets can’t work alone and government intervention is required.

That summation, however, was misleading to the point of falsehood. As the Scott Alexander points out at his blog Slate Star Codex,  the source for the story indicated something quite different—materially different:

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Got that? Scott Alexander writes:

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Ah! So THAT’S What’s Going On In North Carolina!

Somehow the story isn't clear without Elsa in the picture, it it?

Somehow the story isn’t clear without Elsa in the picture, it it?

While national Democrats were desperately and embarrassingly search for some way, any way, to overturn the election of Donald Trump, the mania reaching apotheosis in the unhinged rantings of Michael Moore—“Trump is not president until 12 noon on Jan 20th. So we’ll continue to fight & hope to find a legal, nonviolent way to stop this madness,” the “madness” known as “losing an election”—Democrats, news media, and op-ed writers in the New York Times (but I repeat myself) have been loudly condemning the North Carolina Assembly as part of a condemnation of Republicans generally. After narrowly losing the State House, the overwhelmingly Republican legislature has been passing measures to limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor  in a lame-duck legislative session. The changes drastically reduce the number of officials the governor can appoint within state government, require legislative confirmation of Cabinet-level appointments, eliminate partisan majorities in the state board of elections and strip the governor of the power to make appointments to the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees.

This is, according to Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, for example, a “last-minute power grab” that “marks an alarming departure from basic democratic norms—a blatant attempt to overturn the results of an election by curtailing judicial independence and restructuring the government to seize authority lawfully delegated to the incoming Democratic governor.” By the end, he is foaming at the mouth with indignation:

“What’s happening in North Carolina is not politics as usual. It is an extraordinarily disturbing legislative coup, a flagrant effort to maintain one-party rule by rejecting democratic norms and revoking the will of the voters. It is the kind of thing we might expect to see in Venezuela, not a U.S. state. It should terrify every American citizen who believes in the rule of law. This is so much more than a partisan power grab. This is an attack on democracy itself.”

I was preparing to write something similar, but unlike Stern, I did some research first. What I discovered, however, thanks to the work of Volokh Conspiracy contributor Jonathan Adler, a Case Western law professor, was that as unethical as the General Assembly’s power grab is, the tactic is business as usual in the Tarheel State. Adler points his readers to the research of John Hood, who informs us…

Precisely four times in modern North Carolina history, voters have elected a new governor or lieutenant governor of one party and legislative majorities of the other party. In all four instances, the legislature stripped the newly elected executives of some power.

In the first three instances — Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser’s election in 1972, Republican Gov. Jim Martin’s election in 1984, and Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner’s election in 1988 — a Democratic legislature did the stripping. As Martin’s biographer, I’m most familiar with his experience. Lawmakers limited his ability to staff agencies (including the State Board of Elections), subjected other appointments to constraints or confirmation, and withdrew gubernatorial control over state construction and administrative hearings, among other actions.

In each case, Republicans cried foul. Democrats insisted they were simply carrying out North Carolina’s longstanding preference for legislative supremacy….

Democrats upset with the special session might have been more persuasive had they chosen a different rhetorical strategy. Every time they accused GOP lawmakers of “unprecedented” acts, of “contempt for democracy,” of being “sore losers” and the like, all Republicans heard was hypocrisy. What happened in 2016 was different in detail, but not much in degree, from what happened in the past. A better argument would have been, “Yes, we Democrats went too far when we were in power. It often came back to bite us. Don’t make the same mistake.”

I am all for breaking the cycle. That will inspire greater trust and long-term thinking, from both sides.

That pretty well sums up my position too. Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Trump Sons’ Influence Peddling Story

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To catch you up: Celebrity gossip website TMZ  hyped the launch of new Texas nonprofit led by Donald Trump’s adult sons Donald Jr. and Eric based on what it called a “draft” of a soon to be released event brochure. The non-profit was offering, we were told, access to the new President during inauguration weekend  in exchange for million-dollar donations to unnamed “conservation” charities.  Prospective million-dollar donors to the “Opening Day 2017” event on  January 21, the day after inauguration, were to receive a “private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,” a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team, ”as well as tickets to other events” and “autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.”

The Center for Public Integrity was on this like a shot…and so was the news media. I received a link in an e-mail from someone who archly noted that “You seem to be interested in influence peddling,” a reference to my many posts about the real purpose behind the Clinton Foundation, “so perhaps you will find this of interest [Unsaid but understood: “…you Donald Trump enabling, racist, fascist bastard!”] In the link, TIME took the hand-off from the Center, and got a series of quotes from critics, like Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign reform organization.“This is problematic on so many levels,” Larry said.  “This is Donald Trump and the Trump family using a brand new organization to raise $1 million contributions for a vague goal of giving money to conservation charities, which seems a way of basically just selling influence and selling the ability to meet with the president.”

Noble cautioned that the details of the event and its association with the new nonprofit listing the Trump brothers as directors were still unclear. “It’s really hard to identify all the problems when they’re so vague,” he said.

True. As of today, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are no longer listed as directors of a that non-profit. Papers removing their names from the Opening Day were processed by the state of Texas,  a spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state told CNN Money.

Never mind!

Observations: 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

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A Special Ethics Alarms “Fake News” Friday Bulletin: Obama Calls The Hacked DNC E-Mails “Gossip” [UPDATED]

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As I write this, President Obama is using his press conference to spin the Russia-Wikileaks hacked e-mails story. In addition to snidely implying that Americans are idiots for allowing such relative trivia to sway their votes when so much of substance was at stake (note that there is no evidence that any votes were thus swayed), the President referred to the content of the DNC e-mails as “gossip.” Gossip is generally defined as “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.” Calling the contents of Podesta’s e-mails and others “gossip” is deliberate disinformation by Obama—a lie. The most important revelations were definitely not “gossip.” Like these:

  • A 12-page memo written by Doug Band,  longtime aide to Bill Clinton, describes using his consulting firm to raise money for the Clinton Global Initiative as well as direct personal income for the former president. It describes how Band rallied clients of his firm, Teneo, to contribute directly to Mr Clinton for “in-kind services for the President and his family – for personal travel, hospitality, vacation and the like” referring to that fund as “Bill Clinton Inc”.

The memo confirmed that several companies directly paid the former president for his speeches or advice, while making contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative.  One client, Coca Cola, received a face-to-face meeting with the former president at his home in 2009, after contributing millions to the non-profit foundation.

Verdict: Not gossip, but smoking-gun evidence of Clinton influence peddling.

  • On the fateful day that news of a private email server broke, John Podesta emailed Neera Tanden, who worked for the Clinton campaign in 2008 and has remained a close adviser, to complain, saying, “We’ve taken on a lot of water that won’t be easy to pump out of the boat”, he wrote in September 2015 as Clinton staff feared that Vice President Joe Biden would join the Democratic primary race. “Most of that has to do with terrible decisions made pre-campaign, but a lot has to do with her instincts. Almost no one knows better [than] me that her instincts can be terrible.” In the email exchange, Mr Podesta also complained that Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall, and former State Department staffers Cheryl Mills and Philippe Reines “sure weren’t forthcoming here on the facts here”. Mrs Tanden responds “Why didn’t’ they get this stuff out like 18 months ago? So crazy.”

Tanden later answered her own question saying, “I guess I know the answer. They wanted to get away with it.”

Verdict: Not gossip. These were assessments of those who know Clinton best, and their questioning her judgment was significant, as is the last comment, which completely undermines the year-long Clinton camp denial that there was anything amiss with Hillary’s handling of e-mail at State. It would be admissible in court to show state of mind and that the Clinton camp had lied. Continue reading

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