1. Self-Promotion Dept. I’m heading off to New Jersey today, to present one of my musical legal ethics seminars—3 hours!—for the New Jersey Bar Association. The real star is my long-time partner in these shows, New York-based singer/musician Mike Messer, who channels Freddie Mercury, Bob Dylan (with harmonica!), Paul Simon, even Johnny Cash in the various song parodies. This one is called Ethics Rock Extreme, and ends, like all of my musical seminars, with a sing-along. Yes, we get lawyers to sing the chorus of the “Piano Man Parody”…
Sing us the Rules, you’re the ethics man
Sing us the Rules tonight!
We’re stuck in an ethics dilemma here
So tell us what’s wrong and what’s right!
(No, “Back in the USSR” is not one of the songs we do.)
2. First Amendment for me, but not for thee: In an embarrassing episode that is also telling, the Newseum has capitulated to a storm of protests from journalists and will no longer sell its popular “Fake News” mercahndise…like this shirt…
online or in its gift shop. “We made a mistake and we apologize. A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people,” the Newseum announced Saturday in a groveling blog post. “Questions have also been raised regarding other merchandise. As an organization that celebrates the rights of people from all political spectrums to express themselves freely, we’ve historically made all types of political merchandise available for our guests to purchase. That has included former and current presidential slogans and imagery and merchandise from all political parties. We continue to do so in celebration of freedom of speech.”
Translation: “In celebration of free speech, we will acquiesce in the censoring of a particular expression of opinion on a humorous T-shirt, because it hurts journalists’ feelings.”
Again, I ask: why does anyone trust journalists and the organizations they represent? Continue reading
I’ve been following the Gallup organization’s yearly polls on public attitudes toward institutions and occupations for a long time. The results are in for 2017. I’ll discuss the ethics implication of the Gallup occupations poll first; Part 2 will cover the institutions.
The occupations poll tends to fluctuate more year to year, and is most interesting as viewed a competition. Who are most trusted and regarded as most honest? Who are least trusted? Nurses have been ranked #1 in public trust for 16 straight years. I guess this means not too many people watch “Nurse Jackie.” I assume the consistently high rating is because we tend to trust people we have to trust, thus confirmation bias, and because there haven’t been any major nursing scandals or “Angels of Death” in the news. As you will see from the chart, medical doctors are trusted much less. I think that’s the result of an illusion.
Only six professions rate as more than 50% “high” or “very high” for honesty and ethical standards: nurses, military officers, grade school teachers, medical doctors, police officers and pharmacists. The honesty rating of pharmacists dropped five points since 2016, however, and it an occupation that has sometimes finished right behind the nurses. Gallup guesses that the opioid crisis is to blame, and maybe that’s right, though I would think the doctors who prescribe the drugs are more to blame then the druggists who sell them.
Public views of the clergy have fallen like a Chinese space station. Before the Catholic Church child molesting scandal in 2001, the clergy was very trusted at the high 60% level. Now it is all the way down to 42%, though the total of high trust and average trust is still 85%. I think the film “Spotlight” hurt, as it should have.
Occupations that I would regard as having positive public trust include those whose high trust+average scores are higher than their low trust+average scores. That group, in addition to the occupations already named above, includes day care providers, judges, auto mechanics, nursing home operators and bankers. I think in all of these cases, the public has no real idea about how trustworthy these occupations really are. We just hope they are trustworthy, so again, we have a result that is polluted by wishful thinking. These people are entrusted with the welfare of our children, our cars, our parents and our money, plus the justice system. They better be trustworthy. Ignorance is bliss.
1. The GOP’s travails as it tries to fix, replace or repeal Obamacare continues to be mocked in both the conservative and liberal media, and by the Democrats who caused the crisis in the first place. Ethically, the party is behaving like a responsible party should with major legislation: not moving in lockstep, with sufficient members of Congress withholding support until the new law appears to be competent and an improvement of the current one. The damned if you do/damned if you don’t game Democrats and the media are playing is wildly dishonest and calculated to win political points at the expense of getting a better system than the festering mess called the Affordable Care Act (irresponsibly passed with public misrepresentations and parliamentary tricks by the other party.)
True, many of the balking Republicans are basing their opposition to the current law less on principle than on polls, which now show a majority of citizens don’t like the proposed bill. On matters of complexity and national importance, polls should play exactly no role in legislation at all. How many of those polled have read the bill or understand it? A tenth of a per cent? Less? Uninformed opinions based on hearsay, ignorance and propaganda are worthless (and after the 2016 election, polls may be as well) ; this is why we have representative democracy and not a direct democracy. Legislators and executive who use polls as crutches are either incompetent, dishonest, cowards, or all three.
2. Especially in light of the despicable tactics of Democrats who are accusing Republicans of killing people by reforming Obamacare, the proper Republican response, which would have the advantage of being both fair and politically smart, would be to announce, through the President:
The failure of the Affordable Care Act is now no longer debatable. Projections for 2018 show massive premium increases. Insurers are pulling out of many markets. The optimistic CBO projections, which critics correctly called absurd at the time, have been decisively shown to be wrong. This law was passed by one party only, using public disinformation, dubious methods and dirty politics. It has made health care for the public as a whole less affordable, and done nothing to lower health care costs or improve health care quality.
It is now clear that the Democratic Party’s strategy is to shift responsibility for this fiasco to Republicans, by viciously attacking any attempts to fix Obamacare while also preparing to condemn the party if the current law leads to disaster, as it almost surely will on its current course. The Democrats, in short, are placing political considerations over the nation’s health and welfare. Therefore, as of today, the Republican Party will not seek to pass, nor will I sign into law, any health care insurance law or any revisions of the current Affordable Care Act that does not originate from Congressional Democrats, and that Congressional Democrats do not accept accountability for in every respect. The Republican Party will support any such bill, reserving of course the right to suggest additions and changes, but only if there is no question regarding the Democratic Party’s ultimate responsibility for its drafting, as an admission that their original law was fatally flawed.
In the absence of such a bill, I and the Republican Congress will allow the this “signature legacy of President Obama” to continue, with the understanding that its failure is a Democratic failure, and the lack of a timely fix is entirely due to the cynical tactics of the party that created it.
3. Unethical Quote Of The Day That Is So Predictable That It Isn’t Worth Posting As The Unethical Quote of the Day: Salon
This will be a short break, a one-day experiment: June 27 will be Trump-Free Tuesday here on Salon.
We’ve been thinking about this for a while, and it seems like the right moment. There are so many other things to talk about and think about, in politics, culture or our daily lives. We are stuck with this guy for the foreseeable future, which is a difficult truth for many of us to handle. If we cannot dislodge him from the White House anytime soon, maybe we can start to deflate the outsized role he plays in our national psychology. This is a baby step in that direction.
How will Trump-Free Tuesday work? We have established some rules for ourselves — which we are prepared to break under certain circumstances we have tried to define in advance. (Those circumstances seem unlikely. But who knows what counts as likely anymore?)
We will not publish the president’s name on Tuesday or use his picture. We will not cover his outrageous Twitter utterances or deride his surrogates for whatever stupid things they may or may not say on television. (We try not to do that the rest of the time, too.) We’re certainly going to cover American politics and the United States government, but we will avoid focusing on the dominant personality at the top of the pyramid. We will strive to focus on issues and policies and how they are likely to affect the lives of our readers.
Note the smoking-gun line “If we cannot dislodge him from the White House anytime soon…” Continue reading
Here was Camille Paglia last week describing the state of American journalism:
“It’s obscene. It’s outrageous, OK? It shows that the Democrats are nothing now but words and fantasy and hallucination and Hollywood. There’s no journalism left. What’s happened to The New York Times? What’s happened to the major networks? It’s an outrage. I’m a professor of media studies, in addition to a professor of humanities, OK? And I think it’s absolutely grotesque the way my party has destroyed journalism. Right now, it is going to take decades to recover from this atrocity that’s going on where the news media have turned themselves over to the most childish fraternity, kind of buffoonish behavior.”
(I would link to a non-right wing source, but for some reason the mainstream media didn’t feel Paglia’s assessment was worth reporting. I wonder why?)
“Dislike of Mr. Trump within the mainstream media is unalterable,” she wrote. “It permeates every network, from intern to executive producer and CEO. Here is a theory on what they’re thinking: They’re thinking attempts at fairness and balance in this charged atmosphere get them nowhere. They’re attacked by both sides. And anyway they think Mr. Trump is insane. They live on ratings, which determine advertising rates. Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Mr. Trump, so the anti-Trump audience is larger.
Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Mr. Trump, so the anti-Trump audience is larger. Moreover, people who oppose Mr. Trump tend to be more affluent, more educated, more urban. They’re more liberal, of course, and they’re younger. They’re a desirable demographic. The pro-Trump audience is more rural, more working- and middle-class, older. A particularly heartless media professional might sum them up this way: “Their next big lifestyle choice will be death.”
So, if you are a person who programs or sets the tone of network fare and you want to take a side—you shouldn’t, but you want to!—you throw your lot with the anti-Trump demo, serving them the kind of journalistic approaches and showbiz attitudes they’re likely to enjoy.
Mr. Trump, you are certain, won’t last: He’ll bring himself down or be brought down. You want to be with the winning side. So play to those who hate him, exclude others, call it integrity and reap the profits.”
Both women are substantially right at worst, despite the furious head-shaking you get from journalists, who are either in denial or corrupt, and most progressives and Democrats, who have every reason to deny the phenomenon because 1) they are the beneficiaries of it and 2) they have been leached of all integrity by emotion, arrogance, and bias.
Currently the mainstream news media is having a collective conniption because the White House is increasingly limiting reporter access. The journalists regard this as an ominous effort to constrain the free press, which it would be, except that the “free press” is not conducting itself as honest and trustworthy journalists are obligated to do.
If a lawyer practices law in blatant violation of the ethics rules, he or she doesn’t get to practice law any more. If a doctor breaches the ethical tenets of the medical profession, he or she is barred from treating patients. Journalism styles itself as a profession, meaning that it exists for the public good. Its ethical principles demand fairness, competence, responsible reporting, independence and objectivity. For a long, long time, what we still call “journalism’ for lack of a better name has not met any of these ethical ideals with sufficient consistency, and since the 2016 election, it has openly, shamelessly allied itself with the partisan effort to undermine and destroy the legally elected Presidency of Donald Trump. To do this, the mainstream news media has jettisoned its ethical values, and its right to be trusted by the public. As polls show, the public doesn’t trust them. The public still gives them more trust, out of habit, that they deserve.
There is an Ethics Alarms post “going viral” right now, at least as viral as any post on an ethics blog is likely to go. For two weeks now, my post at the end of July about how the “urban legends” site Snopes had descended into dishonest, spinning, fact-distorting partisan/ left “factchecking” hackery has lapped all others here, and been shared to record levels on Facebook (nearing 11,000 shares) and Reddit.
This is nice, of course. It has brought a few (though not many) new commenters to the blog, and presumably more readers who stayed to peruse other topics. It has made August 2016, usually a fairly dead month, the most heavily trafficked month in Ethics Alarms annals. The post alerted some people to why Snopes is untrustworthy, though not, apparently, the Washington Post, which cited it as authority just a few days ago. It also prompted, on Reddit and Facebook, several thousand smug “this is not news, I’ve known this for years” comments. Where were your blog post, jerks?
The post’s wide circulation through the web also made me aware that a conspiracy theory holding that Democrats and the Hillary Corrupted maintain a team of attack commenters who go to blogs and attempt to muddy the waters when the truth about Clinton threatens to break through the denial dam might be accurate. I have received four or five almost identical comments on that post attempting to deny my dissection of Snopes’ pathetic attempt to prove that Hillary didn’t defend a child rapist, didn’t discredit his young victim in the process, didn’t know he was guilty when she did it, and didn’t laugh about the case in a recorded interview. None of the four commenters read all of my post, which echoed a previous one in pointing out, as I always do, that a lawyer defending a criminal is not unethical, that the attacks on Hillary for doing so were ignorant and unfair, and that Hillary Clinton has nothing to apologize for in this case. Never mind: all four of these commenters ( and some others which never made it onto the blog) shifted into similar boilerplate language claiming I was attacking her too, and preceded to repeat Snopes’ dishonest “factchecking” as if the documentation of its falsity I presented in the post didn’t exist.
Nonetheless, the Snopes revelation was not the Ethics Alarms post I would have chosen to “go viral.” There have been many essay in the last six year that I was, and am, especially proud of and believe were original, perceptive and important, and that have been barely read by anyone, never linked to or shared, and that have had all the impact of a shell thrown into the surf. How I wish my warning to the Republican Party , for example, urging it not to permit Donald Trump to participate in the primaries, had received similar attention. Not a single editorial board or pundit saw the peril looming, or at least they didn’t write or talk about it if they did, because having The Donald spouting his inanities would be good copy and “fun.”
One such post dates back to the first full year of Ethics Alarms: The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit, from August 2010. In six years, it has amassed about the same number of views that the Snopes piece amassed in half a month. Yet the topic, how mouthwash manufacturers profit significantly by hiding the widespread use of their product by alcoholics who use mouthwash to conceal their destructive disease from family members and co-workers, is barely mentioned on the web—a few places, and almost all of them since the post. Still, Congress hasn’t held hearings, regulatory agencies haven’t noticed, and the products still carry warnings that fool non-alcoholics into believing that the stuff is poison, so nobody drinks it. Lives could be saved, marriages rescued, and endangered businesses might survive, if what I wrote was generally known
I’ve done the original research and put the problem out there. At least I’ve tried, and I will continue to write about the problem, which I have learned about first hand.
My efforts haven’t been completely futile. I have received some gratifying comments and off-site e-mails from family members who read the article, discovered that a loved one was secret drinker, and got them help. I have also received a few responses that confirmed my work, though none quite like this one from new reader Dave, an alcoholic himself.
Here is his remarkable and cryptic Comment of the Day on the post, The Amazing Mouthwash Deception: Helping Alcoholics Relapse For Profit. Is it intentional irony? Is it sarcasm? Is it support, in the form of criticism? You decide:
Halfway through your article I decided it would be a good idea to go to shoppers and grab myself a bottle. I’d been so triggered today, only being a week sober prior. It’s great, you know, the mouthwash deception as you call it. I spend roughly $3.50 on a bottle of Life brand yellow mouthwash and it gets me radically twisted, with zero hangover. So not only does it make it easier for me to be a functioning alcoholic based on its inexpensiveness and zero hangover qualities, it is also amazingly convenient in that within 10 minutes I have three different 24 hour grocery stores I can go to in order to get a bottle.
Alcoholism is a shitty disease, believe me, I have lost much at the expense of it.
“As the news media struggles to expose government secrets and the government struggles to keep them secret, there is no invisible hand to assure that the right balance is struck. So what do we do about leaks of government information? Lock up the perpetrators or give them the Pulitzer Prize? (The Pulitzer people chose the second option.) This is not a straightforward or easy question. But I can’t see how we can have a policy that authorizes newspapers and reporters to chase down and publish any national security leaks they can find. This isn’t Easter and these are not eggs.”
—-Pundit and former editor of Slate Michael Kinsley, reviewing the book by Edward Snowden co-conspirator Glenn Greenwald’s book, “No Place to Hide.”
I lost much of my respect for Kinsley (full disclosure: we’re college classmates; he’s a celebrity journalist, I’m not) when he was shouting liberal talking points at Robert Novak every week on “Crossfire.” I knew Mike was more nuanced than that, and later he admitted as much in various essays: it was all for show. He later admitted that he sometimes endorsed books without reading them completely, and began writing these odd op-eds that appeared to mock the very position he seemed to be taking. Kinsley is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease*, and perhaps that’s a factor in his self-conscious sense of remove from his own writings, but the impression he has given for decades now is of a detached intellectual who looks down his nose at the very profession that feeds him, and who finds it amusing that the rubes still hang on his words, when he doesn’t give them much thought himself.
This quote from his review of Greenwald’s book (hmmm…did Kinsley actually read this one?) fits the bill. It is sloppy, but sufficiently specific to be unethical. He is essentially suggesting censorship of the press, which is an irresponsible position. The publishing of leaks should not be infringed. Chasing them down, however, is another matter. Current laws, if Democrats would leave them alone, are currently sufficient to discourage criminal acquisition of national security documents: just throw journalists who won’t reveal their criminal—that’s what they are you know, like Snowden—sources in jail until they crack, rot, or both, for obstructing justice When journalists actively aid and abet the theft of documents and data, like Greenwald did, before they are acquired and published, prosecute them too, along with their souces. Publishing such documents or using them for investigations are legitimate and First Amendment-protected activities, but nothing in the Constitution protects the leakers, traitors and thieves, or journalists who conspire to help them break the law—which is the stealing, not the publishing.
I have called what the press does with stolen material “information laundering.” That function, unfortunately, is too important to the role of the press in our democracy to regulate or constrain it, no matter how often it is abused. Still, this should not make those who aren’t journalists immune from prosecution, or journalists who cross the line that divides reporting the news from making it.
* This is a correction; the original post said MS. I apologize for the error; I shouldn’t have relied on memory.
Sources: New York Times
Cartoon: Doyle, Baylor