The President Is Right About The Mainstream News Media, And It Can’t Handle The Truth, Part I: This Morning’s New York Times Headline

mar-a-largo

I actually had dreams, nightmares really, about this theme as it rattled around in my head last night. It began with a planned post titled “The President vs. The  Press,” but it  dawned on me, as I was “lying awake with a dismal headache and repose was tabooed by anxiety,” that even that headline would fail to convey the important ethics story beneath. When I got up, too early, I grabbed my morning paper off the front walk to see if the New York Times had once again manufactured an attack piece on the President as its main story.

It had. This one was titled “For, $200,000, A Chance To Whisper in Trump’s Ear At Mar-a-Lago.” It is a special variety of fake news, the kind that the biased news media defenders deny is fake news, because it contains facts and is merely deceitful, misleading, hyped and given far more prominence than the facts deserve. But all that makes it fake, because it misleads readers, and is intended to. It’s on the front page, so this must be important, think the Times’ readers, forgetting, or ignoring, the fact that this very paper vowed to jettison journalistic ethics in October to make sure Donald Trump never won the Presidency. Now it is using its power and influence to prevent him from being President.

He called them on it last week, unleashing their fury. More on that later…

This wasn’t the worst of the endless trail of Times stories sowing distrust, but it was what greeted me this morning. The headline suggests that Trump is selling influence for cash—you know, like the Clinton Foundation, or like Bill did when he rented out the Lincoln bedroom to rich Hollywood donors. The story’s placement in the paper suggests this is crisis-worthy. But we knew all about all the components of this “crisis” before.

We knew Trump’s corporation (not Trump personally, which is intentionally blurred in the article) owns a lot of properties, including this one. We knew this created a conflict of interest, and that it would allow critics to claim self-dealing whenever they thought it would help smear the President, as with the ridiculous claim that the seven Muslim nations on his Middle East travel halt were chosen because he owned no hotels in any of them.

We knew that Trump had been spending weekends at the resort since he took office.  Aside: The Times, cable news, and others are bashing him for that. Having made sure that Washington, D.C. is hostile territory, filled with marchers, protesters, people carrying signs insulting him and a population that voted 97% against him and wants him dead, the news media also wants him to be the Prisoner of the White House…all the better to kill him with stress and prompt the psychotic break they are sure is coming and that they can’t wait to occur. The President would be mad NOT to flee to his Palm Beach resort on weekends. I would. So would every hateful reporter, if they weren’t certain that The Golden Rule doesn’t apply to Donald Trump, like fairness and most other ethics principles.

We also have known for a month  the private club had doubled its dues since the Inauguration. That was an obvious, if ruthless,  business decision by the management. I doubt Trump had anything to do with that call, but then I’m rational and fair, unlike most on the left today. The club members are literally all mega-millionaires and billionaires, and $200,000 is not an unusually high figure for dues at  top-line exclusive golf clubs. $200,000 sounds like a huge expenditure to the typical American reading the Times. It’s not,  for these members.

Moreover, there are few memberships open, and almost all of the 500 current members predate Trump’s campaign:

“Membership lists reviewed by The New York Times show that the club’s nearly 500 paying members include dozens of real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives and others whose businesses could be affected by Mr. Trump’s policies. At least three club members are under consideration for an ambassadorship. Most of the 500 have had memberships predating Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and there are a limited number of memberships still available.”

You know, their businesses could have been affected by Mr. Trump’s policies whether they were members of the club or not. What’s the implication here, that the President is going to calibrate his policies to benefit duespayers? If these people were friends of the President (the news media has been telling us that he has no friends, but that was in a different set of hit pieces), he could meet with them, text with them, have a phone conversation with them any time he chose. Ah, winks the Times, but if they pay their $200,000, “the President himself could stop by your table for a quick chat”!

What a deal. Do the reporters and their editors really think that successful “real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives” and others are morons, or are they the morons? Or do they just count on their readers to be gullible fools? Continue reading

Are No Professions Safe From The 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck? Now Even Restaurant Critics Have Gotten On Board!

circus-train-wreck

As a professional ethics specialist, I find the enthusiasm with which alleged professionals have used the election of Donald Trump to excuse their abandonment of such ethical values as fairness, responsibility, respect and citizenship deeply discouraging, and I am seriously considering becoming a beachcomber. I already knew that the journalism profession no longer could distinguish ethics from a hairy crab, so this wasn’t too surprising, nor was it too much of a shock that the New York Times has become a non-stop anti-Trump fear-fest and rant machine. Let’s see, in today’s edition alone  there is a hit piece on Trump advisor Steve Bannon called “Bannon’s Coriolanus Rewrite,” then  “Donald Trump’s Racial Ignorance,” “Where the Right Went Wrong,” (an amazing title, given the current balance of political power after Hillary’s botched campaign), “How the Truth Got Hacked,” “Is Democracy in Danger?” “Trump, the Russian Poodle,” and “Is This Collective Trauma?” The  last, I guess,  explains why mass trauma is inevitable for progressives, moderates and “Never Trump” Republicans when “the political order they long took for granted — defined by polarization, yes, but also by a commitment to basic principles of democracy and decency — is suddenly gone.”  One would almost wonder from that sentence which side of the political spectrum is calling for armed insurrection, pre-inaugural impeachment, and the overturning of the election results. The Times is also a showcase for columnists whose minds have snapped like dry branches in the wind,  causing them to leap manically onto the Trump Hysteria Express. Economist Paul Krugman has long been a hyper-partisan scold for whom fairness is alien territory, but this tweet was spectacularly vicious even for him:

“Thought: There was (rightly) a cloud of illegitimacy over Bush, dispelled (wrongly) by 9/11. Creates some interesting incentives for Trump.”

An ethical newspaper wouldn’t want someone capable of such a comment working for it.

Many broadcast journalists were stunningly unprofessional, indeed amateurish, on election night. Martha Raddatz choked up with emotion reporting Clinton’s loss; now there’s an objective reporter. Rachel Maddow described the evening as a “nightmare.”

Education has been racing journalism to the ethics barrel bottom for years, but I did not expect universities to send such intimidating messages to their students that they were expected to either be in mourning or on the verge of emotional breakdowns because the Democrats lost. Once, higher institutions of learning aimed to teach students critical thinking skills so they could make up their own minds regarding civic affairs. High school administrators and teachers also forgot their duties, and allowed students to skip school because, you know, TRUMP!!!!, and “ARRRGHHHHH!!!!”

Lawyers have lost their ethical bearings, of course, as have law professors, with perhaps the best example of the latter being the Georgetown Law Center adjunct who claims that the Constitution is unconstitutional, because following it will elect Donald Trump. My law alma mater isn’t faring too well in the train wreck: another professor, Paul Butler, argued that Supreme Court justices shouldn’t normally attack a President Elect, except when it’s Donald Trump.

Other academics have disgraced themselves. A prominent historian, for example, even resorted to making up history to provide an excuse for Democrats losing to such a horrible creature. Professor Larry Lessig of Harvard Law, who heads an ethics institute there, is encouraging electors to be “faithless,” as in “double-cross the voters who elected them.” Some ethics institute you have there, Harvard!

Artist, actors and show business professionals have debased themselves even more than usual, beginning with the Broadway cast of “Hamilton’s” breach of the Performer’s First Commandment: DON’T ABUSE THE AUDIENCE. They have even started turning on each other: Jon Voight, whose sin was that he expressed support for the man elected President, was booed at recent awards show by his fellow actors. Nice.

But as bad as this has been, I didn’t expect food critics to be corrupted. Continue reading

Holiday Ethics Reading Assignment: Ken White, Eric Raymond, And The New Republic

Mother And Daughter Reading At Fire Place On Christmas Eve

Each of these would sustain a separate post, but there are a lot of issues looming, and I promised myself not let the 2016 Ethics Alarms Awards get swamped by events, like what happened last year. (Oh–if you have nominations for the Best and Worst of the year’s ethics, send them in: jamproethics@verizon.net.)

1. The New Republic published a transcript of what it calls a discussion among “five leading historians and political observers” regarding President Obama’s legacy. The group was really made up of two hard left journalists, two hard left historians, and Andrew Sullivan. No, balance was not a concern. Dropped in among the transcript were various other historian’s opinions, based on what appears to have been a questionnaire. I read it to learn: surely these devoted Obama supporters would be able to explain why Barack Obama should be regarded as a great President, a conclusion I find complete unsupportable. What I encountered was something very different: five partisans desperately spinning and distorting reality to try to manufacture what all of them appeared to know didn’t exist. In this respect, it’s a case study of how bias eats integrity. That none of these purportedly rigorous thinkers had the integrity to correct their colleagues when the self-contradictions and rationalizations reached toxic levels was shocking.

The big revelation for me was that when you come right down to it, the only major accomplishment the group agreed on was that being the first black President was his legacy. Stumped for substantive accomplishments, the discussion kept defaulting to Obama’s style. Infuriating but familiar for his failures were repeated ( Explaining the Trump election: “I don’t think it has anything to do with him personally, except that he’s a black man. The election of Trump was a gut-level response to what many Americans interpreted as an insult eight years ago, and have been seething against ever since.” Explaining Hillary’s loss: “I don’t think she was a lousy candidate. But for a candidate to lose to someone who’s never been in the military, who’s never held public office—he’s not like any candidate who’s ever run before. So there were other forces at play here, most notably her gender.” This is a petri dish to observe the mechanics of progressive self-deception.

Notably, nobody corrected certified myths, lies and howlers, like claims the Republicans vowed to make Obama a “one-term President” from “day one,” that its difficult for any party to win three straight terms (ARRGH!, and here’s the debunking of that convenient fiction), and the utter fake news that the Obama Administration was virtually scandal free, which is another way of saying that if the news media refuses to report your scandals or call them scandals, it’s amazing how easy it is to be “scandal free.”

There was also no serious mention of what I would finger as the single most destructive legacy of Obama’s years, the complete collapse of racial trust. Instead, we get this kind of self-parodying hagiography, and I’m not making it up, it’s really there:

ANDREW SULLIVAN: At some point in the future, with the possible bloodshed and civil unrest in this country that we’re about to engage in, he may be a key person as a post-president—a bit like a monarch who might be able to hold us all together.

NELL IRVIN PAINTER: [Applauding] Well said, Andrew, well said! 

ANNETTE GORDON-REED: That’s exactly right.

Good lord. Continue reading

Post-Election Morning Ethics, Early Edition [UPDATED]

hillary-loses

Initial ethics observations following an amazing night in American history:

1. Give Trump a chance, and take note of those who will not.

He is now in the most difficult job in the nation at the age of 70, with less relevant experience and preparation than any previous occupant of the office. For once, it’s a good thing that he’s an egomaniac and a narcissist, because otherwise he might be perseverating in terror right now. One cannot say that he begins with the most daunting set of problems any POTUS has ever faced, but it’s close. Give him a chance. Nobody becomes President wanting to fail, and not wanting to do a good job for his country and his fellow citizens.  Begin with that, and let’s see what happens.

2. Those who are capable of being fair and objective should salute the shades of Mr. Madison, Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Adams, Mr. Hamilton and their colleagues. The Founders wanted a system that was capable of peaceful political upheaval when the public was dissatisfied and demanded change, and their unique creation was strutting its stuff last night. So much has taken place over the last year—the last eight years, really—that has undermined our democracy that it is refreshing to see its resilience and vitality. As before, I still believe that Trump is a cautionary tale about the danger when people who don’t understand leadership, ethics and government become the majority. On the other hand, it’s their country too, and the “elites” (how I detest that word) forgot that, repeatedly, shamelessly, and in many ways.

Jefferson would have reviled Donald Trump, but he would approve of the uprising.

3. Trump’s victory speech last night was widely reviewed as statesmanlike and gracious, which it was. It was also unusually coherent for him. Still, who can’t give a gracious victory speech? The effusive praise being lavished on this shows how low expectations are.

4. Hillary Clinton’s decision to not to appear in person at her headquarters and concede, also graciously, was a failure of character. On CNN, ex-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and ex-Obama flack Van Jones got in an argument over this, but for once in his life, Lewandowski  was right. Given the backdrop of Clinton and the media questioning whether Trump would “accept defeat,” the decision by Clinton was just plain wrong: unfair to Trump, unfair to her supporters, hypocritical. Continue reading

Donald Trump Candidacy Ethics Train Wreck Passenger List Update: Georgetown Law Prof. Paul Butler Scores A Perfect Rationalization #28

We're real sorry about this, but these are not ordinary times...

We’re really sorry about this, but these are not ordinary times…

The human ethics train wreck named Donald Trump is now in the process of exposing how thin the veneer of professionalism is for many alleged intellectuals, scholars and lawyers. On an e-mail list of most of the legal ethicists in the country, one of them posted this in reaction to Justice Ginsberg’s unethical and unjudicial shots at Donald Trump:

“I love RBG way too much to be critical of her in any way . Long may she live!”

This opne expression of willful denial, from not merely a lawyer, but an ethics specialist! It is the epitome of one of my father’s favorite quotes, “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts.” I responded to the list that it was the most depressing statement I had ever read from any of the list’s participants.

Paul Butler’s op-ed in the New York Times isn’t much better. The Georgetown Law Center professor defended Ginsberg’s indefensible comments by arguing that these times are special, and thus suspend the ethics principles that must govern judges if the judiciary is to engender any respect or trust at all. He writes:

“Normally Supreme Court justices should refrain from commenting on partisan politics. But these are not normal times. The question is whether a Supreme Court justice – in this case, the second woman on the court, a civil rights icon and pioneering feminist — has an obligation to remain silent when the country is at risk of being ruled by a man who has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a sexist and racist demagogue. The answer must be no.”

No, Professor, the answer must be “yes.” Continue reading

A Smoking Gun For So Many Things…

Beschloss

Beschloss

By 2008, I had given up on Don Imus, whose occasional moments of conventional wisdom shattering clarity and truth-telling were overwhelmed by the egotism, self-promotion, and the sexism and vulgarity of his toadying side-kicks. Thus I missed this exchange with historian Michael Beschlost, which in retrospect explains so much that has taken place since:

Historian Michael Beschloss: Yeah. Even aside from the fact of electing the first African American President and whatever one’s partisan views this is a guy whose IQ is off the charts — I mean you cannot say that he is anything but a very serious and capable leader and — you know — you and I have talked about this for years…

Imus: Well. What is his IQ?

Historian Michael Beschloss: …our system doesn’t allow those people to become President, those people meaning people THAT smart and THAT capable

Imus: What is his IQ?

Historian Michael Beschloss: Pardon?

Imus: What is his IQ?

Historian Michael Beschloss: Uh. I would say it’s probably — he’s probably the smartest guy ever to become President.

Imus: That’s not what I asked you. I asked you what his IQ was.

Historian Michael Beschloss: You know that I don’t know and I’d have to find someone with more expertise…

Imus: You don’t know.

Continue reading

Hiroshima Ethics And The Washington Post’s Misleading “Five Myths” Feature

Atom bomb cloud

The Washington Post’s Sunday “Five Myths About…” feature is a weekly irritation, as it begins with a misleading definition, and proceeds to a series of dubious and sometimes dishonest conclusions. In spirit it is like the fact-checking columns,  (though, ironically, the Post’s less than most) in that it claims to “disprove” opinions. This week’s installment, however, was too much.

Gregg Herken was this week’s guest bloviator, and the Post gave the emeritus professor of U.S. diplomatic history at the University of California a chance to plug his books on the atomic bomb, so I don’t blame him for taking it. I do blame him for allowing the column’s format and the editors to turn what could have been informative and edifying into lazy scholarship, sophistry, and nit-picking. Now I don’t want to read his books.

His entry was called “Five myths about the atomic bomb.” As is typically the case, no myths were debunked. Myths, in the parlance the Post is evoking, are a “traditional stories of ostensibly historical events that serve to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.” They are, by definition, false. Herken, however, neither identifies nor disproves any true myths. What he does is offer contrary opinions to those of others that are as provable as true as the opinions he claims to be debunking, which is to say, not provable at all. That means that the headline/title states an unprovable assertion as fact: “These statements are untrue.” Herken cannot ethically say that, but he does anyway.

Bad historian. Bad.

Herken starts off well:

“On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Another bomb fell Aug. 9 on Nagasaki. Decades later, controversy and misinformation still surround the decision to use nuclear weapons during World War II. The 70th anniversary of the event presents an opportunity to set the record straight on five widely held myths about the bomb.”

His first myth is that “The (Hiroshima) bomb ended the war.” Continue reading

Independence Day Ethics: Historian Hype, Liberal Bias, And The Great Punctuation Mystery

founding-fathers-declaration-of-independence

First, a little background…

I have often found it depressing that historians so often lack the ethical integrity necessary to do their jobs. If there was any profession in which avoiding bias would seem to be paramount, historical research and analysis would seem to be it, but that just isn’t the case. Because historians are academics and scholars, and because academia has become almost exclusively a hot-house of left-ward ideology for more than half a century, too many historians view their duty as using the past to manipulate the present and future.

My introduction to this came early, when I was a fifth grader suddenly fascinated with the U.S. Presidency as the first national election that I could follow approached. I read various assessments of who the greatest of our past POTUSes were, and there was near consensus, it seemed. Washington and Lincoln, naturally, were “the berries,” and they were joined as “greats” by Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson, FDR, and Truman, Democrats all. Teddy Roosevelt was “near great”; Eisenhower was a dud. What a great party this Democratic Party must be! Of course, Jefferson’s racial hypocrisy, Jackson’s lawlessness and persecution of Native Americans, Wilson’s racism and bungling of the peace after World War I and FDR’s complicity in locking loyal Japanese-Americans in prison camps was never mentioned. Over time, I learned that even the most respected American historians were likely to be pursuing partisan agendas. The classic example, of course, was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who carefully and unforgivably culled the facts he deemed worthy of revelation in order to add John Fitzgerald Kennedy to that list of brilliant Democratic Presidents. Was I surprised when a large number of prominent American historians signed a petition opposing the impeachment of President Clinton, a Democrat, thus asserting that a degree of dishonesty and lack of trustworthiness that was sufficient in every state in the union to mark a lawyer as unfit to practice was nonetheless not sufficient cause to remove a President from office?

I was not.

This brings us to the Case of the Missing Comma, brought to us by Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., aided and abetted by her left-leaning allies. Allen (who by the purest coincidence has a book out!) claims a major discovery. The iconic sentence in the Declaration of Independence“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–”—was not intended to end in a period, as all current quotations and reproductions show, and the official transcript produced by the National Archives and Records Administration indicates.  Allen claims that her extensive research indicates that the period at the end of that phrase almost certainly did not appear on the original parchment version of the Declaration, and was mistakenly included in later versions. Just in time for July 4th (when Allen’s publicist calculated that her “Eureka!” would get maximum exposure) Allen explained to the New York Times that the extra period contributes to a “routine but serious misunderstanding” of the famous document signed by the Second Continental Congress in 1776. Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Week: Jeff Shesol

“Berg is not uncritical of Wilson’s biggest lapses — his tolerance of segregation, his suppression of civil liberties and his “highly questionable” actions (or paralytic inaction) after the stroke he suffered in 1919, during his grueling campaign to win Senate approval of the League of Nations.”

—Former Clinton Speechwriter and author Jeff Shesol, in his Washington Post book review of historian Scott Berg’s new biography of Woodrow Wilson, “Wilson.”

All right, he was a racist, but he was GREAT racist, right, Jeff?

All right, he was a racist, but he was GREAT racist, right, Jeff?

There is a nasty piece of dishonesty in this quote, all the more sinister because it slides right by, altering your understanding of history and reality without you even knowing it. (Is it any surprise that Shesol wrote speeches for Bill Clinton?) Did you catch it?

It is the phrase, “[President Woodrow Wilson’s] tolerance of segregation.”] Continue reading

What America Has Learned From Sarah Palin

Thanks for the enlightenment, Sarah!

When Ethics Alarms last left Sarah Palin, she had delivered a description of Paul Revere’s famous ride on the evening of the 18th of April in 1775 that would have earned her an F in speech class and, at best, an Incomplete in American History.  Incredibly, however, Palin and her indomitable supporters have tried to turn the tables on her critics, aided by several history pedants, by claiming that her collage of words and thoughts was really a sophisticated account of Paul’s evening that her historically ignorant critics failed to appreciate.

Uh huh. Let’s revisit her statement, shall we? She said:

“[Revere] warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”

This was, by any standard, an eccentric representation of Paul Revere’s ride, and a spectacularly inarticulate one. In assessing whether Palin’s statement can, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to indicate that she either said what she meant to say or has the vaguest idea of what Revere’s ride was all about, we answer these questions: Continue reading