Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/23/2018: An Overdue Pardon, A Questionable No-Hitter, A Stupid Tweet, A Modest Hero…

Yes, I’m still here…

For one of the very few times since 2009, there were no posts yesterday. I’m sorry. I was pressed on a client’s urgent deadline from 7 am to 11 pm, with errands and sanity breaks in between, and never could get my schedule or brain cleared sufficiently to work on Ethics Alarms.

1 This is the news media. This morning, HLN  has spent 5-10 minutes every hour covering the birth of Queen Elizabeth’s latest grandchild. He’s a boy, in case you were on pins and needles. This isn’t fake news, it’s non-news. Why is this important? What possible use does detailed information regarding the latest addition to the succession train (he’s fifth in line) of an increasingly anachronistic monarchy have to the U.S. public? I’m looking at the morning New York Times, and literally 98% of its contents are more newsworthy.

Among the events broadcast in connection to this non-event was an elaborately dressed “town cryer” in London, ringing a bell and reading from a scroll to announce the royal birth. After CNN’s remote cameras recorded this memorable moment, it was revealed by a London correspondent that the elderly man dressed like a Tower Beefeater is a wacko, with no official significance whatsoever. Then a half hour later, HLN showed the wacko’s act again, sans any wacko label, but text that said, “Moments ago.” Thirty minutes is “moments”? Then we got new post-birth news, the London odds-makers take on what the likely name of this completely unimportant future prince will be. The odds on “Jack” were 9-1. Said Robin Meade’s sidekick Jennifer Westhoven: “Jack? Wouldn’t that be ‘James’?”

No, you ignorant moron. A., Jack is a real name. I can prove it, and B. It is a nickname for John, not James.

Yeah, we should trust these people.

2. Trump Tweets. Okay, what is this? President Trump, flush with success over questionable reports that North Korea has decided to halt nuclear testing (you know, like Iran, and equally trustworthy), tweeted,

Now, it is easily determined that the North Koreans have not agreed to “denuclearization.” Meetings haven’t even taken place. The tweet is fantasy. This is the kind of thing the mouth-foaming Trump haters point to as an example of the President’s “lying.” A statement that can’t possibly deceive anyone else, coming from someone who habitually makes such statements, is a falsehood, but whether it is a lie is questionable. Does Trump believe this tweet, at least when he wrote it? I suspect so. He communicates–indeed, he thinks— in cloudy generalizations and concept clouds. Is this tweet and its ilk spectacularly irresponsible and self-destructive to his ability to be respected and believed? Oh, definitely. Stupid and embarrassing too. But a lie? I’m not sure. “Trumpism” might be a better term.

Calling out NBC with “fake news” in front of a tweet with fake news is certainly audacious stupidity, however.

3. Now the Good Trump (maybe): Reportedly, spurred by the suggestion of Sylvester Stallone, the President is considering a pardon for Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion (1908-1915) who was hounded by the government and personally destroyed, mostly because of his proclivity to have relationships with white women. Johnson’s primary crime was being a successful, defiant, black man at the height of Jim Crow. The play (and movie) “The Great White Hope” tells his story, which is an American tragedy; Ken Burns also made a superb documentary about Johnson.

Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act, for transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes, in his case, miscegenation. Eventually he served time in a federal penitentiary. There have been calls to grant Johnson a posthumous pardon for at least a decade. A 2008 bill requesting President George W. Bush to pardon Johnson in 2008 passed the House, but failed to pass in the Senate. Senator McCain,  Representative Peter King, Burns and Johnson’s great-niece requested a presidential pardon for Johnson from President Obama in 2009, and again in  2016, in honor of the 70th anniversary of Johnson’s death in a car accident. A vote by the United States Commission on Civil Rights also called on Obama to “right this century-old wrong.” There was also a Change.org petition. Obama never acted, causing a firestorm of protest from the Congressional Black Caucus.

No, I’m kidding: it was hardly mentioned in the news media or by black activist groups. And Jack Johnson’s life, despite the fact that hardly anyone under the age of  50 could tell you anything about him, mattered. If President Trump finally does the right thing and clears Jack Johnson’s name, I wonder how progressives and the news media will attack him for it?

4. Wait, why wasn’t he texting, “I’m so terrified!”? James Shaw Jr., 29, rushed a shooter armed with an AR-15 (and not wearing pants) who had opened fire yesterday in a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee.  Four people had been shot dead and many other were injured before Shaw grabbed the gun’s barrel, pulled it away and threw it over the Waffle House counter. He suffered a gunshot wound and burns from grabbing the gun’s barrel.  Although his actions are credited with saving many lives,  Shaw Jr. denies that he’s hero. “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it,” he says.

Real heroes seldom regard themselves as heroes. The fact is that he took action, placed himself at risk in doing so, and had the right instincts, exactly the ones this culture is supposed to nurture but increasingly does not: take control of your own fate, and do what needs to be done.

Trust me on this, James (can I call you Jack?): You’re a hero. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/13/17

Good Morning!

1. I owe Robin Meade an apology. The astoundingly bright-eyed, bushy-tailed HLN morning host has been used here as an an example of the sexism of broadcast news media producers, and it is true that she is uncommonly attractive even by “news babe” standards. However, I have come to realize that she is also a unique talent, and more than just a pretty face and figure. Meade has natural presence and charisma, projects genuine optimism and and an up-beat nature, and most unusual of all, doesn’t spin the news or tilt her delivery to signal her own opinion. She’s really good at what she does. I’m sorry Robin; I was biased against you because you are attractive, which is just as wrong as being biased for you. You’re a pro, through and through.

2. Constitutional law expert Eugene Volokh (who is also my favorite candidate for a Supreme Court post if one opens up) published what I consider to be a definitive refutation of the claim that receiving opposition research, as in “damaging information about Hillary Clinton,” is a crime under current law. He also makes a case that it couldn’t be criminalized under future law:

“It would raise obvious First Amendment problems: First, noncitizens, and likely even non-permanent-residents, in the United States have broad First Amendment rights. See Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135 (1945) (“freedom of speech and of press is accorded aliens residing in this country”); Underwager v. Channel 9 Australia, 69 F.3d 361 (9th Cir. 1995) (“We conclude that the speech protections of the First Amendment at a minimum apply to all persons legally within our borders,” including ones who are not permanent residents).

Second, Americans have the right to receive information even from speakers who are entirely abroad. See Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965). Can Americans — whether political candidates or anyone else — really be barred from asking questions of foreigners, just because the answers might be especially important to voters?”

The professor concludes not. I hadn’t even considered the First Amendment issue in determining that the election law prohibition against receiving “anything of value” benefiting a candidate from a foreign nation or individual was not intended to preclude mere information, but Volokh’s argument seems air tight. Continue reading

Update On Stephen Colbert’s “Cock Holster” Slur: Questions Answered Regarding The Comic, CBS, His Fans And Supporters…And The News Media

As discussed here yesterday, Stephen Colbert strung a gross, vulgar, precedent-shattering string of ugly ad hominem insults against the President of the United States this week, a volley that included the homophobic slur “cock holster,” insinuating, because such an image is so hilarious, that the leader of his country fellates Vladimir Putin. Last night he answered the collective criticism. Here is what he said, and said with the repulsively smug “aren’t I clever and amusing!” smirk that has always made this comic hard to watch for me (Samantha Bee does the same thing). As a professional director, I think it’s bad technique, and hackish. But I digress…back to Colbert:

“I’m your host, Stephen Colbert. Still? I am still the host? I’m still the host!!…Now, if you saw my monologue Monday, you know that I was a little upset at Donald Trump for insulting a friend of mine. So at the end of that monologue, I had a few choice insults for the president in return. I don’t regret that. He, I believe, can take care of himself. I have jokes; he has the launch codes. So, it’s a fair fight…While I would do it again, I would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be.”

Then he pandered to the critics who condemned his “cock holster” joke as homophobic by blathering briefly about how anyone who expresses love for any human being is a “hero” [Translation: “I love you all, Gay Progressives! Don’t be mad at me! Remember when you got mad at Alec Baldwin for calling a photographer a cocksucker? You forgave him because he votes for the right party, and so do I! “], and introduced gay actor Jim Parsons, who plays the uber-nerd in “Big Bang Theory” to prove it.

What did this moment tell us about Stephen Colbert?

Stephen Colbert doubled down on using the phrase cock holder on the air in a high profile network show. He did not apologize or retract the worst vulgarity that has ever been allowed to go out to millions on a pre-taped network show, and that record-worst vulgarity was directed at the President of the United States, who, like it or not, is the representative of our democracy world-wide and who, like it or not, carries the mantle of all who preceded him.

Colbert’s  justification for this is that the President insulted Colbert’s “friend,”  “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson [if you believe that Colbert and Dickerson are any more real friends than Colbert and the CBS cafeteria ladies, I have a bridge to sell you], so this justified exporting obscenity, uninvited, into millions of American homes, and further polluting political discourse and civil society.

This is signature significance. Stephen Colbert is an irresponsible, hateful, fame-addled, unprofessional asshole without the decency or ethical awareness to know when he has crossed a big, bold, long-standing cultural ethics line, or the courage to accept responsibility for it. His ethics ignorance was on display in his scripted–scripted! Like “cock-holster,” somebody was paid to write this garbage—comments. He expressed or embraced the unethical logic of Rationalizations #2, 7, 13, 14, 19A,  52,  and more.

Revealingly, Colbert, an alleged comedian, did not cite #54, The Joke Excuse, though as a holder of the Jester’s Privilege, that one was properly available to him. This signaled that Colbert was NOT joking, but being genuinely and intentionally hateful and insulting the President of the United States in as gross and demeaning a manner as he could, and that he meant it. Well, that’s an abuse of his position and the platform provided to him by CBS.

Meanwhile, Colbert stacked all of his chips on  Rationalization #11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?” He knows he can get away with conduct that would get lesser lights suspended or fired, so, like all organization high-performers who double as ethics corrupters, Colbert acted accordingly. Not only that, he gloated about it. “See? Can’t fire ME!”

There needs to be a special word for “contender for king of the assholes.”

On the plus side for Ethics Alarms, Colbert did give me a new Rationalization for the list, which I will add today: “The Pest’s Justification.” That’s when misconduct and abuse is justified because the abuser is less powerful than the abused. Abuse is abuse. “He can take care of himself” is not a justification.

Finally, the statement that he would change “a few words” is cowardly and slimy, displaying the character of a banana slug. Why would you change those words, Asshole? Because they got you in trouble? Why were they “cruder than they needed to be”? Needed to be for what purpose? If you won’t apologize for using those words, then say what the words are, again, right here, so we don’t think  you meant “Pricktator.” Continue reading

What Today’s Broadcast News Regards As “Credentials”

"Yes, yes...journalism degree, experience at a local affiliate, blah, blah...but no rapes? Arrests? Scandals? Sexual abuse? Miss, you have NO credentials that make you valuable as a network reporter! Wait--what's your bra size?"

Good for media ethics pundit Howard Kurtz for blowing the whistle, however gently, on ABC News’s hiring of Elizabeth Smart as a contributing on-air expert on missing children cases. “Does that strike anyone as odd?” he writes.

Well, it depends what you mean by “odd,” Howard.

If you mean, does it surprise me that a broadcast media outlet, one of the journalistic mutations that hired Eliot Spitzer, fresh off his prostitution disgrace, to headline a current events show on CNN, that puts a giggly fold-out-come-to-life  like Robin Meade in charge of Headline News’ morning, and that, like Fox News, chooses its female newsreaders and guest pundits according to their degree of resemblance to Mamie Van Doren or Raquel Welch, would hire a young, attractive blond woman with no credentials other than her role as the victim of kidnapping, sexual abuse and rape, as a correspondent, why no, I don’t find it odd at all.

If you mean, do I find it odd that a supposedly professional news network would so blatantly abandon professional standards  just to cash in on the Casey Anthony uproar, however, then…wait, no, I don’t find that odd either. Revolting, but not odd. Continue reading

Fracking Ethics

The Eric Massa affair quickly revealed itself as the spectacle of a foolish, narcissistic, dishonest man trying to milk every drop of attention out of the well-deserved implosion of a political career that never should have begun in the first place. Fortunately, there was a side benefit: its reporting by the media exposed the dishonesty of the practice of fake civility. Genuine civility is one of the foundations of ethical conduct, though admittedly a shaky one right now. Fake civility, however, is cynical, dishonest, disrespectful and, on top of all that, silly and ineffective.

One of the inappropriate supervisory moments that punched Massa’s ticket out of Congress was that he told a male staffer, in the presence of others, that “I should be fucking you.” Someone at the Mainstream Media High command issued a memo that the gentile and classy way of reporting this statement was “I should be fracking you.” Not that there was any pretense about what the word signified. On the Headline News morning show with giggly news-bimbo Robin Meade (an in-your-face insult to every serious female broadcast journalist in America), Meade listened to the “fracking” account and said—every one of the times the story was repeated during the program— some version of “Gee, I never heard that word before (giggle)!” Whereupon the newsreader replied with some form of “I know (snicker) neither have I!” They were far from the only ones. Dana Milbank used the same code in his account of Massa’s messes in the Washington Post.  “Fracking” is the euphemism of the week. Continue reading