Ethics Update On The “Shithole” Scandal: More Dunces, Hacks, Hypocrites And Liars

When we last left the ‘Shithole’ scandal, now being cited routinely up and down the news media as proof positive that the President is a racist, we knew the following:

1 Unnamed sources “briefed on” or “familiar with” the President’s meeting with select lawmakers regarding an immigration deal told the Washington Post and others that President Trump “grew frustrated with lawmakers” when he learned that part of the proposed deal protected immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, and said,

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

2. Despite the fact that these “sources” had no direct knowledge of what was said in the meeting they did not attend, the New York Times characterized them as having “direct knowledge,” which was impossible. The news media also represented these accounts based on briefings as fact, with headlines such as the Times’ “Trump Alarms Lawmakers With Disparaging Words for Haiti and Africa.”

3. In a series of tweets, the President denied the characterization of what he had said.

4. Senator Dick Durbin, while not expressly quoting the President, told reporters that Trump had said things “in the course of his comments which were hate-filed, vile and racist,” and added, “I use those word advisedly. I understand how powerful they are. But I cannot believe in the history of the White House in that Oval Office that any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.”

5. Nonetheless, the news media, in its subsequent coverage in cable news shows and on the web, treated the claim that Trump had said what the second-hand, anonymous sources had claimed, and used this as a departure point for a general discussion of how racist and vulgar the President was. CNN commentators used the term “shithole” over a hundred times.

6. Websites and blogs with commentators capable of fairness and objectivity, like Ethics AlarmsAlthouse, and Powerline, were forced to accept arguendo (I’m sorry, but I love using that word) the anti-Trump narrative’s assumptions in order to point out that calling countries that are, in fact, “shitholes” is not a racist statement about the people in those countries. This, of course, is how Big Lie propaganda works. You have to accept the lie in order to debunk it.

To sum up, then: The news media reported as fact what were in truth  disputed comments in a private meeting, and the representation of these as truth solidified during the day and evening, and through yesterday.  Now we get headlines like this one, in Entertainment Weekly: “Anderson Cooper chokes up while discussing Trump’s ‘sh–hole’ comment”

Updated Comments and observations: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 1/12/2018: Sigh. It Never Ends. (Part II) [UPDATED]

A Nigerian locale, and not an atypical one.

From the Washington Post:

President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.

Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday. The president, according to a White House official, also suggested he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because he felt that they help the United States economically.

In addition, the president singled out Haiti, telling lawmakers that immigrants from that country must be left out of any deal, these people said.

“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. “Take them out.” 

Ethics Observations:

I. “According to several people briefed on the meeting”? What? Not even according to people AT the meeting?

Based on this, without any attributions, the news media is stating that Trump making those alleged comments are fact. Here’s the Times version,

“…according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

No, they don’t have “direct knowledge.” What someone tells you about what someone else said at a meeting you were not attending is indirect knowledge. It is, in fact, hearsay. If the Times and the Post did not get confirmation on the record from someone who heard what he said, then this is not fact, but rumor, inadmissible in court because of extreme prejudice and lack of reliability.

Never mind. The Times headline is Trump Alarms Lawmakers With Disparaging Words for Haiti and Africa, as if the second-hand accounts were  confirmed fact. This is unethical journalism. Outrageously so, in fact. Meanwhile, all of the news channels, including Fox, were basing hours of reporting on it.

This is not acceptable. It is not professional, and it is not justifiable. It is a disgrace, and if you accept it, you should be ashamed of yourself.

II. Trump denies that he uttered those words, on Twitter, of course:

“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made – a big setback for DACA!…Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said “take them out.” Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”

The denials mean nothing, I know. The President has such a bizarre view of reality and such a record of misstatements and reversals that he has no credibility and deserves none. However, that doesn’t mean that he did make the alleged statements either. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. I certainly wouldn’t be “shocked.” It sounds like something he would say, because nuances of language and tone, not to mention civility ande diplomacy, are alien concepts to him. In other words, it rings true. That doesn’t mean it’s ethical to report it as fact. Continue reading

Case Study: How The New York Times Gave Trump The Chance To Say “Fuck You” And Saved Rex Tillerson’s Job

“Once when I was reporting, Lyndon Johnson’s top guy gave me the word they were looking for a successor to J. Edgar Hoover. I wrote it and the day it appeared Johnson called a press conference and appointed Hoover head of the FBI for life… And when he was done, he turned to his top guy and the President said, “Call Ben Bradlee and tell him fuck you.” I took a lot of static for that–everyone said, “You did it, Bradlee, you screwed up–you stuck us with Hoover forever.” I screwed up but I wasn’t wrong.”

—-Washington Post Editor-in-Chief Ben Bradley (Jason Robards, Jr.) in “All the President’s Men.”

Surely I wasn’t the only one who immediately thought about this anecdote (apparently true) from the film version of the Woodward and Bernstein book about the Post’s Watergate investigation. All yesterday, the news services were following the New York Times “scoop,” based on anonymous leaks out of the Trump Administration, claiming that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was about to be canned within days, with CIA head Mike Pompeo, a Trump favorite, taking his place.

I know a little bit about leadership and the kind of people who get to the top of the heap, the Presidents of the United States. I also know how I would think if I disliked and distrusted a newspaper and someone betrayed me within my staff, resulting in a premature revelation of my plans. Unless I regarded a personnel matter as essential, I’d change course to discredit the leaker and make the newspaper look bad.

Sure enough, President Trump tweeted today,

The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon – FAKE NEWS! He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!

Good for him. Continue reading

An Ethics Hypothetical: If “The Nation” Is Right About The DNC Hacks, How Should Democrats And The Mainstream Media React?

And how will they react?

Yesterday, The Nation, the most Left of the Left’s major national publications, reported this:

  • There was no hack of the Democratic National Committee’s system on July 5 last year—not by the Russians, not by anyone else. Hard science now demonstrates it was a leak—a download executed locally with a memory key or a similarly portable data-storage device. In short, it was an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system. This casts serious doubt on the initial “hack,” as alleged, that led to the very consequential publication of a large store of documents on WikiLeaks last summer.
  • Forensic investigations of documents made public two weeks prior to the July 5 leak by the person or entity known as Guccifer 2.0 show that they were fraudulent: Before Guccifer posted them they were adulterated by cutting and pasting them into a blank template that had Russian as its default language. Guccifer took responsibility on June 15 for an intrusion the DNC reported on June 14 and professed to be a WikiLeaks source—claims essential to the official narrative implicating Russia in what was soon cast as an extensive hacking operation. To put the point simply, forensic science now devastates this narrative.

“This narrative” has been a cornerstone of the effort, undemocratic and indefensible, to undermine the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s Presidency from the beginning. It was launched as a primary rationalization for Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss, James Comey and a sexist, racist, stupid electorate being the others. As the Nation writes,

“The evolution of public discourse in the year since is worthy of scholarly study: Possibilities became allegations, and these became probabilities. Then the probabilities turned into certainties, and these evolved into what are now taken to be established truths. By my reckoning, it required a few days to a few weeks to advance from each of these stages to the next. This was accomplished via the indefensibly corrupt manipulations of language repeated incessantly in our leading media.”

The Nation’s report, essentially declaring that a major element in the “Russiagate” narrative, the DNC hacks, is fiction, that the intelligence agencies that declared it otherwise are wrong, and that Wikileaks, Russia, Putin and Donald Trump have been correct all along is noteworthy because the publication is no ally of the Republicans or Trump, but their declared intractable foes. This is an ideological publication, squarely in Bernie Sanders’ camp because it is run by Socialists like Bernie. But bias doesn’t necessarily make you stupid. The Nation has been around for a long time because while its analysis is colored by it view of humanity and the world, it has largely avoided the kind of dishonesty and distortion that are slowly destroying the credibility of CNN, Rolling Stone, the New York Times and others. The Nation has strived to maintain its integrity, not always succeeding, but obviously trying. Its staff believes that the truth supports its dedication to socialism, so it does not usually try to hide the truth—unlike the mainstream media reporters, for example, who apparently tried hard to make the troubling episode of Bill Clinton’s meeting with Loretta Lynch go away. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/5/17

Good morning!

1. I’ll have more later on the leaked transcripts of the President’s private conversations with the presidents of Mexico and Australia. Whoever did it was betraying his or her superior and the nation, and  needs to be identified and prosecuted. This is malicious sabotage, and nothing less, designed to make it more difficult for this President to function. Those attempting to justify it and rationalize it disqualify themselves as objective critics of the President and also as responsible citizens. The conduct cannot be justified, and no one should attempt to justify it.

The Washington Post publishing the transcripts is a hostile act. True, in today’s Wikileaks world they would have been put online somewhere, but absent some scandalous disclosure in one or both of them, this wasn’t news. The news is that embedded foes of ourelected government are willing to harm the nation in order to undermine the President.

Eventually, the question turned yesterday to why the contents of the transcripts did not prompt any further headlines or allegations of scandal. The answer is that the hoped-for smoking gun proof of the President’s incompetence did not surface in either conversation, so they were no longer of any interest. Ann Althouse, to her credit, waded through the entire exchange with  Peña Nieto, and you can read her analysis. The liberal blogger’s conclusion:

“But what can his antagonists grab onto? They can’t very well oppose crushing the drug gangs or better trade deals. So it’s no wonder they went big with Oh! He insulted New Hampshire! And that’s it for the transcripts. Don’t encourage people to actually read them. They might think Trump did just fine.”

Can’t have that.

2.  Rep. Maxine Waters responded to the leaked discussions by saying that she hoped such leaks continued. She is calling for and endorsing illegal and unethical conduct that is damaging to the United States, as a sitting member of Congress. I wonder if she could say anything, including calling for Trump’s assassination, that would attarct rebuke from her party? I doubt it. I remember the howls of horror from Democrats during the 2016 campaign when candidate Trump said,

“I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press”

There is no ethical difference between calling for Russia to hack a U.S. citizen’s e-mails and calling for government employees to break the law to reveal secret government communications. If there is a difference, it was that Trump was joking, and Waters is not.

3.  With tattoos more popular and visible than ever, the Federalist is suggesting that there is something wrong with getting them—that is, wrong other than the fact that many people think they are unsightly; that the more people have them, the less effective the things are as statements of rebellion and individuality; that they trigger biases in many people (like me), including employers (Did you know that the Armed Services will to accept a volunteer with more than 25% of his or her body covered by tattoos, on the theory that this is res ipsa loquitur for someone with dubious judgment?); and that they are excessive expenditures for a permanent ink-blotch that the odds say you will regret sooner or later. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/12/17

Good Morning, everyone…

1. “Morning Joe” Scarborough went on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert”-–where President Trump is officially referred to as Putin’s “cockholster”—and played to the anti-Trump audience by announcing that he was leaving the Republican Party as cheers rang out in Colbert’s echo chamber. More blatant pandering virtue-signaling and grandstanding would be hard to imagine.

Scarborough has followed up his short, undistinguished  career as a conservative GOP congressman by playing on-air conservative foil to his supposedly opposite-minded  co-host Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC while that network attacked Republicans on every show and all day long. In really, we have learned, he and Mika were sufficiently sympatico to be having a romantic affair while posing as journalists, meaning that the whole format was an act as well as an extended date. Scarborough was also complicit in helping Trump to the nomination of Joe’s alleged party by promoting him until he had nabbed the nomination. Once the Miracle of November 8, 2017 occurred, Joe made the obligatory U-Turn.

Never mind: I don’t care how Scarborough or anyone else registers; what matters is if they have the integrity to vote for the best candidate whatever party he or she represents. I do care that Scarborough used the smear that President Trump is a racist, and expressing to Colbert his disgust that GOP lawmakers, he claims, have refused to admonish Trump’s “racist” statements and election promises.  This is another sloppy chunk of the anti-Trump false narrative, and by resorting to it, Joe proves, not that he isn’t a Republican, but that he is a race-baiting character assassin.The evidence that the President is racist is elusive, but the smear is repeated among the resistance as truth so frequently that it has reached Big Lie status.

2. In February, the left-biased, Trump-reviling Huffington Post purported to list “16 Examples” of Trump “being a racist.” The whole campaign, his whole career,, with Democratic groups and activists repeating the slur for months, and this was what they could scrape up. (Spoiler: it’s pathetic…) Continue reading

The Comey Testimony, Part I.

I have finally read the transcript, which you should do as well. By now I have also seen a lot of video clips. (James Comey really says, “Lordy!” Wow.)

First, some general observations, with more detailed comments to come in a subsequent post.

1. My earlier expressed opinion of James Comey when I defended him against conservative accusations that he was giving Hillary Clinton an undeserved break by not indicting her were revealed as too generous yesterday. I still believe he is honest and non-partisan. More than ever, I believe that he is untrustworthy. He was obviously in a difficult position—many, in fact—that he was not able to successfully manage, if anyone could have. However, his oft-repeated insistence that he (and his FBI) did not play politics was exposed as false, if not dishonest (a gracious interpretation of the sort that Comey denied the President in his bitter testimony.)

2. The fake Russia collusion narrative pushed by Hillary, Democrats and the news media to simultaneously excuse her loss and undermine the Trump Presidency was killed yesterday, but will wander around like a zombie for months if not years because Trump-haters will not have the integrity to admit they were wrong. Chris Matthews, a once astute and courageous liberal Democrat reporter who morphed into a partisan, knee-jerk progressive shill and anti-Republican scold as soon as he started getting paid by MSNBC, had a sudden flashback to his days of integrity when he pronounced yesterday,

“But the big story has always beenthe assumption of the critics of the president, of his pursuers, you might say, is that somewhere along the line in the last year, the president had something to do with colluding with the Russians. Something to do, a helping hand, encouraging them,feeding their desire, to affect the election in some way, some role they played, some conversation he had with Michael Flynn, or Paul Manafort, or somewhere. And yet what came apart this morning, was that theory, because in two regards the president said according to the written testimony of Mr. Comey, ‘go ahead and get anybody satellite to my operation and nail them, I’m with you on that,’ so that would mean Manafort, Carter Page, someone like that. And then he also came across today what was fascinating, Comey said that basically Flynn wasn’t central to the Russian investigation, that he was touching on it. That there was, of course, Flynn had an honest, we assume, wasn’t honest in his answer on the official forms that he had to fill out to become a national security head.”

But it only touched on that, it wasn’t really related to that. But he could be flipped for that, but in other words, they could flip him because they had him caught on something he dishonestly answered but he wasn’t central to the Russian thing, and I always assumed that Trump was afraid of was that he had said something to Flynn, and Flynn could be flipped on that. And Flynn would testify against the president that he had had some conversation with Flynn in terms of dealing with the Russians affirmatively. And if that’s the case, where’s the there there?”

There is no there there, and never has been. Thus the anti-Trump hysterics are left with what they have always believed was proof enough: Hillary lost, leaked hacks of e-mails that led the public to realize how sleazy the Democrats were should have never been seen by voters, Trump was the beneficiary of the leaks, he had said nice things about Putin, he’s an unethical creep, and a lot of his associates had business contacts with Russia, and besides, they just know Trump is guilty.

That’s not enough; in fact, it’s nothing at all. Matthews as both a lifetime Democrat and a romantic regarding the Presidency and democracy detests Trump to his Irish-American Boston liberal core, but he knows when to get off a bandwagon that will embarrass him if he stays on board, or make it impossible for Chris to look in the mirror.

3. For a lawyer, Comey’s loose use of the term “liar” and his stated belief that he assumed that Trump was a liar early on in their relationship shows a troubling inattentiveness to his own biases, as well as a classic misunderstanding of what it means to lie. Comey said Trump lied about why Comey was fired, for example. Comey has no way of knowing which of the many legitimate reasons for firing him played the biggest role in his firing. He does not know what Trump was thinking, so he cannot assert that Trump lied. He can say that he believes Trump lied, but that is only his opinion: it does not make Trump a liar, and it is not evidence. Last ditch bitter-enders among the Impeach Trump Lynch Mob will be arguing that Comey’s various opinions and reactions prove misconduct by Trump. But lying and obstruction of justice are not like sexual harassment, where a second party, by his or her reactions, determines whether misconduct has taken place. Comey stated that he took Trump’s words that he “hoped” that the FBI would drop the Flynn investigation as a “direction.” He also could have taken it as a marmoset, but that wouldn’t mean that the President meant it as one.

Any time a supervisor says “I hope you do this,” it is a statement of what will make that supervisor happy. (Did Obama ever say to his Treasury Secretary, “I hope the IRS is tough on those tea party groups: they are about as non-partisan as I am!”?) Nevertheless, it leaves the decision in the hands of the subordinate.

4. Comey came off like a classic disgruntled former employee, and I’ve interviewed many of them, angry that he was fired and determined to do as much damage to his former supervisor as possible on the way out the door.

I thought he was better than that.  Guess not. Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)

Usually the “Incompetent Elected Official” category comes down to some variety of a conclusion that can be summed up by the sturdy phrase, “What an idiot.”  This one is worse than that.

Representative Devin Nunes is chairman of the House committee investigating Russian interference in the Presidential election. This involves intelligence, investigations and secrets that are necessarily a matter of discretion until a final report can be released. No investigation can proceed in a trustworthy manner if every new shred of information becomes public, or worse, is revealed to parties who have a stake in the investigation. This has been understood by members of Congress since, oh, the first Congressional inquiry. The Constitution’s framers assumed that Congress would conduct investigations, just as as the British House of Commons did. James Wilson of Pennsylvania, Convention delegate, a future Supreme Court Justice and the Declaration of Independence signer that “1776” unjustly smears as a weenie , wrote in 1774 that House of Commons members were considered

“grand inquisitors of the realm. The proudest ministers of the proudest monarchs have trembled at their censures; and have appeared at the bar of the house, to give an account of their conduct, and ask pardon for their faults.”

During the First Congress in 1790, Robert Morris, who was the superintendent of finances during the Continental Congress and a financier of the American Revolution, asked Congress to investigate his handling of the country’s finances to clear his name of claimed improprieties. If Nunes doesn’t know the history of the legislative function he is involved in, he should.

Nunes had received intelligence that related to the President’s disputed claim that “he” (meaning who and what, it is unclear) had been wiretapped (meaning surveiled, presumably) by  “Obama” (meaning someone who reports to Obama, I’m guessing), and chose to bypass his committee members, Democrats, protocol and common sense by relaying it directly to the White House. The new information,  Nunes said, showed that American intelligence agencies monitoring foreign officials may have “incidentally” picked up communications from Trump transition team members, and thus the President’s much maligned accusation was kind-of, sort-of, bolstered.

Predictably, the President followed this good news with a tweet. Ugh.

Continue reading

Observations On The Obscene Trump Audio Scandal

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A leaked audio  obtained and released by the Washington Post has Donald Trump commenting to media personality Billy Bush about his attempts to bed a married woman, a few months months after he married Melania Trump, his third wife. When he sees a beautiful woman, the GOP standard-bearer said, he  kisses her without consent.  “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” he explains. He describes a married woman who wouldn’t sleep with him by making fun of her as having“phony tits.” Then he advises Bush, “Grab them by the pussy.”

Nice.

But not surprising. Not even a little bit.

Observations:

1. CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta believes this may finish Trump’s presidential campaign. Utter incompetence and confirmation bias: why does anyone listen to “experts” this dense? Acosta, and I’m sure he has lots of company, apparently has learned nothing over the past year. What kind of person who currently supports Trump despite his constant vulgarity, misogyny, meanness, dishonesty, irresponsible statements and foolishness would regard this unremarkable male jerkishness as a last straw? Of course he talks like that. I never had any doubt that he talked like that, just as I never doubted that Hillary Clinton regarded Bernie’s supporters as gullible children, as a recent leak of her candid comments revealed. Did you think Trump talked about women differently than this when he was with other guys? Continue reading

Unethical Donald Trump Quote Of The Day: Whatever It Was That He Told The New York Times “Off The Record” That The Times Unethically And Unprofessionally Allowed Its Staff To Talk About, Putting Trump In An Impossible Bind That He Should Have Been Able To Rely On A Respected News Source Not To Put Him In…

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Let me be clear: The New York Times has shown itself to be partisan, untrustworthy, and no longer fit to be regarded as the flagship of American journalism. The fact that they did this at the expense of Donald Trump, an existential danger to U.S. culture and governance, in no way mitigates the betrayal of journalistic ethics the Times’ conduct represents.

From Buzzfeed:

The New York Times is sitting on an audio recording that some of its staff believes could deal a serious blow to Donald Trump, who, in an off-the-record meeting with the newspaper, called into question whether he would stand by his own immigration views.

Trump visited the paper’s Manhattan headquarters on Tuesday, Jan. 5, as part of a round of editorial board meetings that — as is traditional — the Democratic candidates for president and some of the Republicans attended. The meetings, conducted partly on the record and partly off the record in a 13th-floor conference room, give candidates a chance to make their pitch for the paper’s endorsement.

After a dispute over Trump’s suggestion of tariffs on Chinese goods, the Times released a portion of the recording. But that was from the on-the-record part of the session.

On Saturday, columnist Gail Collins, one of the attendees at the meeting (which also included editor-in-chief Dean Baquet), floated a bit of speculation in her column:

The most optimistic analysis of Trump as a presidential candidate is that he just doesn’t believe in positions, except the ones you adopt for strategic purposes when you’re making a deal. So you obviously can’t explain how you’re going to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, because it’s going to be the first bid in some future monster negotiation session.

Sources familiar with the recording and transcript — which have reached near-mythical status at the Times — tell me that the second sentence is a bit more than speculation. It reflects, instead, something Trump said about the flexibility of his hardline anti-immigration stance.

So what exactly did Trump say about immigration, about deportations, about the wall? Did he abandon a core promise of his campaign in a private conversation with liberal power brokers in New York?

Sure, I’d like to know. I’d love to know if the single issue that has made Trump the most unqualified and unfit Presidential nomination front-runner in U.S. history has been manipulated by him to gull his easily gullible, “poorly educated” supporters. Maybe the knowledge that he has no intention of deporting millions and building a wall would make them see him as the cynical con man he obviously is. That doesn’t matter, though. We shouldn’t know what Trump said off the record, and we shouldn’t  know that any off-the-record comments were made. That the New York Times’ staff is so undisciplined and unethical that it would gossip about such a session shows the paper’s commitment to principles of journalism ethics to be inadequate for a small town weekly rag. Continue reading