Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/17/2017: Sick Of Train Wrecks, Sick Of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside!,” Sick Of Being Lied To. Merry Christmas!

Good Morning, And Merry Christmas!

(and no, my tree isn’t decorated yet. As usual, there were complications…)

1 “You’re one of THEM, aren’t you?” Curse everyone on all sides of the political spectrum who have, by shear repetition, turned the mere act of saying “Merry Christmas!” into a presumptive partisan greeting. A recent study indicates that about 90% of the public celebrates Christmas, not some amorphous holiday, either in its religious or secular form on and around December 25th. There should be nothing malign about the salutation at all, and yes, the polite and pleasant response to “Merry Christmas!” is “The same to you!” or “Merry Christmas!” Yesterday, I received a silent glare and a scowl from a merchant to whom I gave the happy wish, and he was selling Christmas tree stands!

2. Not AGAIN! This is one of those periods during a year when the same ethics issues hang around like a bad odor, and I am faced with the choice of intentionally avoiding them, even though they continue to make news and to be the topic of conversation online and on TV, or to keep covering them no matter how bored I get. In fact, all of 2017 feels that way. Every day now, I have to face a new swerve of the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck, and its cultural, ethical, and political implications. (Chris Matthews! Rep. Bobby Scott!). The news media disgraces itself daily in its partisan hatred of the President of the United States. “The resistance” and Democrats (but I repeat myself) continue to unethically push the nation into a constitutional crisis as their remedy for the longest loser’s tantrum in recorded history, and, yang to their yin, President Trump continues to be as unpresidential in his manner, words and actions as I thought he would, but hoped he wouldn’t, feeding the flames of division.

3. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside!”  Here is an article protesting the movement to “ban” (figuratively, not literally), the seasonal duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”  for “being insufficiently PC in the sexual assault/harassment realm.” Ethics Alarms called the song “date-rapey” two years ago, so while I don’t exactly want to ban the thing, I am sick of hearing it on Christmas playlists. On Sirius-XM’s “Holly” station, I’d estimate that over 50% of the “Holiday songs” have to do with sex (none have to do with the religious holiday, by design), and I blame “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which on the alternative Christmas channel, “Traditions” —where every song is sung by someone who is dead, with the exception of a few hangers-on like Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis, either of whom could drop any second—“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is played every hour, sometimes more than once. Pearl Bailey (dead), Steve and Eydie (dead and dead), Sammy Davis Jr, and Carmen MacRae (both dead), Dean Martin (dead). Writes the blogger, Continue reading

“Cockholster” Update: Still Unethical, Not Illegal

Or to put it another way, Stephen Colbert’s ugly, vulgar and uncivil slur against President Trump may have been unfunny, biased, demeaning to the audience and the network (CBS), and corrosive to political discourse and the culture—it was all of these—but he didn’t violate any regulations or laws.

Yes, it’s always legal to be smug, pandering, hypocritical jerk.

The FCC spokesman confirmed the commission was not launching an investigation regarding the episode in which Colbert broke new ground in gutter language on network TV.For one thing, the “Late Show With Stephen Colbert”  is exempt from the FCC’s policies on profanity and indecency because its indecent rules only apply to TV and radio shows airing between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.,  when children are supposedly not in the audience.

That would not save Colbert if his words were judged legally obscene (and thus not protected speech), but Colbert’s comments would not be found obscene under established court standards. Concludes Constitutional law expert (and Supreme Court appointee-in-waiting) Eugene Volokh:
Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Tech Dirt’s Mike Masnick On The Internet Privacy Bill

“We don’t solve problems by misrepresenting what the real scenario is. It’s true that ISPs have way too much power over these markets, and they can see and collect a ton of information on you which can absolutely be misused in privacy-damaging ways. But let’s at least be honest about how it’s happening and what it means. That’s the only way we’re going to see real solutions to these issues.”

Mike Masnick on Techdirt on the ignorance of  supporters, critics, and the public regarding consumer broadband privacy protections, which were just repealed by straight party line votes in Congress, as part of the Congressional Review Act, which allows the legislative branch to eliminate regulations and limits an agency’s ability to issue similar rules to the ones being struck down. President Trump is expected to sign the bill.

I can see both sides of the Internet “privacy” debate. All I ask is that the average screaming head on TV knows what she’s talking about, and that the news media try to educate citizens on the issue, not portray it as another Obama did it so it’s wonderful, Trump is overturning it, so it’s the end of the world. This morning I watched Morning News Babe Robin Meade roll her eyes while “describing’ what the bill does completely inaccurately. The bill, her unhappy face broadcast is baaaad like everything the Trump Administration and Republicans do is baaaaad. Then she explained that the bill would allow internet service providers, browsers and “search engines” to take your internet history and sell it to big corporations.  Then she giggled about how Max Temkin, inventor of some card game* I have never heard of, promised in a tweet…

“If this shit passes I will buy the browser history of every congressman and congressional aide and publish it.”

Robin, not having the foggiest idea what the bill really did, thought this was so funny and cool. She did not inform her audience, some of whom were actually seeking reliable information and not just tuning in to ogle, that..

  • The bill only undoes the Obama FCC regulations that stopped ISPs from gathering data on its customers’ internet use, and they hadn’t taken effect yet. In other words, it changes nothing.
  • Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other browsers and internet services still can gather anything they get their grubby cyber paws on. The FCC doesn’t regulate them.

You can’t buy Congress’ internet data. You can’t buy my internet data. You can’t buy your internet data. That’s not how this works. It’s a common misconception. We even saw this in Congress four years ago, where Rep. Louis Gohmert went on a smug but totally ignorant rant, asking why Google won’t sell the government all the data it has on people. As we explained at the time, that’s not how it works*. Advertisers aren’t buying your browsing data, and ISPs and other internet companies aren’t selling your data in a neat little package. It doesn’t help anyone to blatantly misrepresent what’s going on.

When ISPs or online services have your data and “sell” it, it doesn’t mean that you can go to, say, AT&T and offer to buy “all of Louis Gohmert’s browsing history.” Instead, what happens is that these companies collect that data for themselves and then sell targeting. That is, when Gohmert goes to visit his favorite publication, that website will cast out to various marketplaces for bids on what ads to show. Thanks to information tracking, it may throw up some demographic and interest data to the marketplace. So, it may say that it has a page being viewed by a male from Texas, who was recently visiting webpages about boardgames and cow farming (to randomly choose some items). Then, from that marketplace, some advertisers’ computerized algorithms will more or less say “well, I’m selling boardgames about cows in Texas, and therefore, this person’s attention is worth 1/10th of a penny more to me than some other company that’s selling boardgames about moose.” And then the webpage will display the ad about cow boardgames. All this happens in a split second, before the page has fully loaded.

At no point does the ad exchange or any of the advertisers know that this is “Louis Gohmert, Congressional Rep.” Nor do they get any other info. They just know that if they are willing to spend the required amount to get the ad shown via the marketplace bidding mechanism, it will show up in front of someone who is somewhat more likely to be interested in the content.

That’s it.

Got that, Robin?

Probably not. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai

First-Amendment-on-scroll1

“The text of the First Amendment is enshrined in our Constitution, but there are certain cultural values that undergird the amendment that are critical for its protections to have actual meaning. If that culture starts to wither away, then so too will the freedom that it supports.”

—FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai  to the Washington Examiner, in an interview where he expressed concern that respect for First Amendment principles were diminishing, particularly on college campuses.

Isn’t it fascinating that so many of those who are concerned about the freedom of speech being diminished by political correctness have responded by supporting a Presidential candidate who regularly abuses the right of free speech, and whose response to protesters at his own speeches is to abuse them?

But I digress.

Today’s example of what Pai is talking about comes from California State University Los Angeles (CSULA), where president William Covino, responding to expressions of dismay from the same kinds of students who needed counseling at Rutgers, cancelled a scheduled speech by conservative pundit and Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro, and in a particularly Orwellian touch, did so citing the need for the “free exchange of ideas.” Continue reading

“The Ortiz Standard,” With An Ethics Note To High Appointed Officials: If You Can’t Say Something Responsible And Intelligent, Please Shut Up!

Gee, thanks, guys. Fuck.

Gee, thanks, guys. Fuck.

Apparently April is officially “Let’s Make The U.S. Permanently Vulgar and Uncivil Month.”

We’ve had a University of Maryland sorority lovely ream out her charges with a rant that would, in the words of Henry Higgins, “make a sailor blush.” Kmart launched a potty-minded commercial based entirely on the hilarious similarity between the phrase “ship my pants” and “shit my pants,” including two happy seniors boasting how they “shipped our pants.” In Bismarck, North Dakota, a local station’s brand new anchor man’s very first words to the audience were “…fucking shit!” because he didn’t know his mic was live.  And, of course, given the honor of representing his team during the Boston Red Sox’s pre-game ceremony honoring the heroes of the past week in their terror-besieged city, slugger David Ortiz told 35,000+ spectators, including many children, and a large TV audience, also including young children, watching the event, “This is our fucking city!” He was then unanimously praised for his passion.

Not to be left out of this full-throated endorsement of public incivility and locker room banter as the new normal, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski sent out a tweet for those wondering how Ortiz’s outburst would be received by the FCC, which has previously threatened fines of networks that didn’t take sufficient precautions against live obscenities. He wrote,

“David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today’s Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston – Julius.” Continue reading

Standards of Decency: Where Ethics Belongs, and Law Does Not

If this is the Super Bowl half-time show, will the FCC fine the network?

Slate legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick drives me crazy on a regular basis, but she hit a home run with her tongue-in-cheek account of the oral argument before the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency policy, which has broadcast networks shivering in their boots over the possibility of another “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl or another trash-mouth star saying “fuck” as she picks up an Academy Award. The particular topic before SCOTUS was momentary nudity in TV drama, such as walrus-like actor Dennis Franz’s mega-butt flashing by our horrified eyes on “NYPD Blue.” In an Ethics Hero-worthy moment, attorney Seth Waxman, representing ABC, showed the Court how absurd and arbitrary it is to try to regulate taste and decorum in art. Lithwick writes: Continue reading

Attention FCC: What the News of the World Scandal Reveals About Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

Concluding that the News of the World scandal in Great Britain shows that Rupert Murdoch has less than a sufficient reverence for ethics, journalistic or otherwise, is an intellectual achievement well within the powers of Forrest Gump.  Concerns about the integrity of the Australian media magnate have been voiced since he first stuck his kangaroo’s nose in the American media tent. As is too often the case here, legitimate points were minimized by their linkage to political bias: was Murdoch bad for American journalism because he was unethical, or because he was conservative? His most vocal critics, being from the Left, regard the two as the same, which allowed Murdoch to accumulate defenders on the political right who should have been just as wary of his methods and ethical deficit.

Now his flagship tabloid, The News of the World, has folded in the midst of a still-unfolding scandal. You can read details here; the important thing to know is that the tabloid was essentially lawless. Continue reading