Mid-Day Ethics Warm-Up, May 1, 2018: Generally Disgusted

Good day to all, I guess.

Me, I feel like quitting.

1.  Basic ethics blindness regarding the White House Correspondents Dinner. The ethically obtuse responses I am reading in columns and blogs regarding the self-defining journalism ethics event–you know, as in none—doesn’t bother me too much. I assume these people have the ethics of jackals. The similar responses I am reading here from intelligent readers who have been supposedly paying attention, however, discourage me greatly. Really: why bother writing a couple thousand words a day about ethics when  your readers react to a high profile, unequivocal act of disrespect and rudeness by resorting to “I don’t like the guy, so I’m glad,” “he started it!” and “they had it coming”?

Or, my personal favorite, “this one insult everyone is talking about isn’t one if you spin it hard enough, so the other 30 insults don’t matter”?

There is no ethical defense whatsoever for inviting individuals to a formal dinner and intentionally making them feel like they are being singled out for abuse. Ever. Period. No exceptions. This is so obvious and uncontroversial that it prompt debate in a civilized society.  That anyone is trying to defend the association, and its hired gun, Ms. Wolf, simply validates my two years-and-running correct prediction that electing Trump as President will turn this into a nation of assholes, though I was expecting those transformed to be primarily young, shallow and easily influenced. I did not expect so many professionals to re-enact the donkey-scene in “Pinocchio.”

And yes, as far as I’m concerned, Wolf, with the journalists’ consent, insulted the President of the United States and his daughter to their virtual faces. It is just moral luck that Trump did not attend, and there is no reason to believe that Wolf changed her act one iota because he wasn’t there. She was prepared to call the President of the United States a pussy, a monster and a Nazi to his face, with him a captive audience member. The ethics-free, rationalized justification I am reading on this blog is , “Yeah, well he made fun of a disabled man in 2016!”  Wow. I really am wasting my time, I guess. How else can I interpret that?

Off the blog, some other ethically dim justifications have surfaced, like today’s New York Times column absolving Wolf from all responsibility because she performed the same kind of anti-Trump material that she always did. Funny, nobody gave Don Imus, the briefly ascendant shock-jock, that easy out when he embarrassed President Bill Clinton by calling him a “weasel,” among his less offensive terms, when he entertained the same group. Hey, protested the I-Man, I call Clinton a lying weasel every day on my show, why would anyone expect me to do any differently at the dinner? Why? Because professional entertainers have calibrated the appropriate content of their performances to their audiences’ tastes and sensitivities forever, that is why, and professionals are expected to be professional, which includes responsible. Go ahead, look me in the eye and tell me that Wolf would have made equally denigrating jokes if Obama was the President. Jokes about his flirtation with being gay. Jokes about eating dog. Jokes about him being a weenie with Putin and the “red line.” Jokes about the most “transparent” administration ever. Jokes about Joe Biden feeling up women during photo ops. About the IRS. About “you can keep your plan.”  No, the association always assumes that its entertainers would keep their material appropriate to the venue and the event. The argument being used to excuse Wolf would be like excusing infamous “blue” material comics like Buddy Hackett, Redd Foxx and David Brenner if they made dick jokes on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” No, they toned down their material, out of respect for the audience. Respect. What a concept. And this was an audience of middle class Americans, not the President of the United States.

Of course, Wolf easily could have assumed that she was expected to be uncivil, cruel and offensive, since she knew that her hosts, like her and her fellow professional Trump-bashers, constituted the “resistance’s” Agents of Presidential Destruction. That doesn’t relieve her of ethical responsibilities, though. The association was irresponsible to hire someone with her proclivities, and she is accountable for her own disgusting, divisive conduct. Continue reading

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

flag-american-crumbling

…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.

Continue reading

“Whining”

Whining

I said that we would learn a lot about individual political commentators fairness and integrity by observing their reactions to the nakedly anti-GOP bias displayed by the CNBC moderators, especially John Harwood, in the recent Republican debate, and indeed we have. To any objective analyst who isn’t poisoned by partisan prejudice—and no such analysts has any business practicing journalism until they are cured of the malady—the breach of objectivity and professionalism evinced by such antagonistic queries as…

 

  • “Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?” (Harwood to Trump)
  •  “I talked to economic advisers who have served presidents of both parties. They said that you have as chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms.” (Harwood to Trump)
  • “So what analysis got you to the point where you think this will work?” (Quick to Carson)
  • “You want to bring 70,000 pages to three? Is that using really small type? Is that using really small type? (Quintanilla to Fiorina)

…is obvious, alarming and unacceptable. Those are attacks framed as questions, and the moderators are not supposed to attack the candidates.  Debate questions should be tough; here is one of the first televised debate questions ever from journalist Sander Vanocur to Richatrd Nixon in the initial Nixon-Kennedy debate:

VANOCUR:  Mr. Vice President, since the question of executive leadership is a very important campaign issue, I’d like to follow Mr. Novins’ question. Now, Republican campaign slogans – you’ll see them on signs around the country as you did last week – say it’s experience that counts – that’s over a picture of yourself; sir- implying that you’ve had more governmental executive decision-making  experience than your opponent. Now, in his news conference on August24, President Eisenhower was asked to give one example of a major idea of yours that he adopted. His reply was, and I’m quoting; “If you give me a week I might think of one. I don’t remember.” Now that was a month ago, sir, and the President hasn’t brought it up since, and I’m wondering, sir, if you can clarify which version is correct – the one put out by Republican campaign leaders or the one put out by President Eisenhower?

Tough. Yet there is no sarcasm, or editorializing insults in the question, no mockery, as in the “really small type” crack. Indeed, Vanocur’s question could be from a friendly journalist and Nixon ally (giving him a chance to defuse an embarrassing incident) or a hostile one. That is professional journalism…ah, I had almost forgotten what it looks like! Faced with across the panel hostility, however, the 2016 class of Republican candidates had two choices: accept the status quo, represented by

  • CNN’s Candy Crowley interfering with the last 2012 debate and throwing President Obama a misleading life-line when he was being pressed by Mitt Romney on his participation in the same lie that Hillary’s e-mails exposed regarding the Benghazi attack
  • ABC’s Martha Raddatz allowing Joe Biden to flout debate ettiquette by constantly interrupting Paul Ryan in the 2012 Vice Presidential debate.
  • Anderson Cooper shutting out the one moderate in the Democratic debate, James Webb, several times not asking him questions that the other fur candidates were given chances to answer.*
  • Obvious and documented favoritism toward Barack Obama in both the 2008 and 2012 debate
  • The evisceration of Sarah Palin based on her “lack of experience” in the 2008 campaign, with Obama’s greater lack of experience virtually ignored,
  • The major news organizations, except for Fox, openly lobbying the public for Democratic proposed policy measures, like gun control, amnesty for illegal immigrants, the Affordable Care Act, and more.
  • Statistics showing that progressives outnumber conservatives in the media by more than 4-1.

…or to start objecting to it, as well as the dangerous warping of the democratic process it represents. They have, and it should be taken as a non-partisan boon to the nation.

It is not healthy, and indeed dangerous to have journalists so lopsidedly supporting  one party against  the other, so allied with the government, and so far from objective. The danger, and the fact that CNBC crossed any reasonable limits of bias and unfairness  were immediately acknowledged by such predictable liberals as Juan Williams, Piers Morgan, Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, Bill Maher, and Carl Bernstein, among others.

Another segment of the media, however, those who believe that their occupation gives them the license and obligation to tilt news reporting and public opinion the “right” way, as well as Democrats, who hope to hold on to power with the news media as their front line, hit on a proven strategy from the playground to marginalize and trivialize the issue. Dismiss the complaints as “whining.”

Those who abuse their power to the detriment of others have always used this unethical tactic. Continue reading

10 Ethics Observations On The CNBC Republican Presidential Candidates Debate

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The transcipt is here.

1. Seldom are the  verdicts on a presidential debate as near unanimous as those on last night’s CNBC affair, in which Gov. John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen.Ted Cruz, and Sen. Rand Paul took loaded questions from the CNBC panel of Becky Quick, John Harwood, and Carl Quintanilla. The questions and interjections from the moderators were so hostile, so disrespectful, so obviously concocted from a biased perspective, that the criticism came from all sides of the political spectrum.

Mostly the work of the CNBC trio was just unprofessional. The rules seemed arbitrary, the three talked over each other, they neither commanded nor deserved the participant’s cooperation. It was, correctly, called the smoking gun of news media bias, and a terrific honesty, fairness and integrity test for anyone watching. If you did and still say that it didn’t stench of a hostile exercise in media bias, then you lack all three. It was an embarrassment for CNBC and journalism.

2. Ironically, though the moderators were terrible, it arguably was the best debate yet for the Republicans. The hapless trio actually gave Sen. Ted Cruz a chance to show that you tangle with him at your peril, and to display his impressive mind and speaking ability. He said…

“Let me say something at the outset. The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions — Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues? The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every thought and question from the media was, which of you is more handsome and why? Let me be clear: The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense, than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Nobody believes that the moderators have any intention of voting in a Republican primary. The questions being asked shouldn’t be trying to get people to tear into each other, it should be what are your substantive solutions to people at home.”

Bingo. Cruz’s perfectly delivered reprimand is being sloughed off by many in the press as a repeat of Newt Gingrich’s trick, in the 2012 debates, of routinely beating up on moderators regardless of what they asked. This, in contrast, was fair, accurate, as perfectly delivered as it was impressive. I had followed the debate closely, and I wouldn’t have been able to run down the list of hostile questions like that without checking notes. Cruz is probably the smartest candidate in the race. Too bad he’s a rigid ideologue and a demagogue with the charisma of a chain saw.

3. CNN’s comment on the Cruz slap-down: “Here’s an attack all Republicans can love.” This means, I suppose, that only Republicans care about having a news media that isn’t trying to manipulate national elections. That conclusion should offend all Democrats—unless, of course, it is true. The desire to have an unbiased and competent news media should not be a partisan issue. Continue reading