Afternoon Ethics Warm-up, 6/6/18: Special “Don’t Sue Me, These Are Just Opinions” Edition

Good afternoon.

1. For the record...Ethics Alarms passed 9 million views this week. That’s not a lot in a bit less than 9 years by the mega-blog standards, but their aren’t many ethics blogs that do better, and maybe none. Admittedly, this is a little like being the most popular fan site for Clint Howard…

2. Now this IS a frivolous lawsuit...tomorrow I finally go to Boston to argue my motion to dismiss the vexatious defamation lawsuit against me by an Ethics Alarms commenter whose feelings I hurt in the process of throwing him off the site. If a lawyer brought this suit, I would have a rare claim against him for breaching Rule 3.1, prohibiting frivolous suits. No lawyer, however, would bring such a suit. There has to be a good faith belief that you can prevail, or change the law, but there is literally no support in the law of defamation for calling insults (yup, I insulted him), opinions, and conclusions based on fully-revealed information and data libel. Non-lawyers, however, don’t have to obey legal ethics rules, and, as in this case, don’t know what they are anywhere. Maybe after I’m through with all of this, I’ll post the whole complaint. Among its claims is that I graduated from Hampshire College, and that the Massachusetts court has jurisdiction because I’m a fan of the Boston Red Sox. I also, it claims, defamed the plaintiff by erroneously referring to him as an academic. To deal with this spiteful action, I have already expended several thousand dollars. Yes, it goes with the territory. I know.

3. Imagine, impugning the professionalism and impunity of the FBI! A drunk and irresponsible FBI agent  shot a man at a Denver bar over the weekend when his gun flew out of his pocket, hit the floor and discharged as he was executing an acrobatic maneuver on the dance floor. This, you will not be surprised to learn, is not compliant with FBI policy. Agents are considered on duty at all times. They can carry their weapon at all times too, but cannot endanger the public while doing so. They are also not permitted to act like clowns in public, or be drunk as proverbial skunks. The agent is Chase Bishop, 29, who works out of Washington D.C. No word yet if he is part of the Mueller investigation.

Conservative wag Glenn Reynold would headline this story, “Top. Men.” Maybe he already has. And if you don’t get the reference, your cultural literacy needs a tune-up. Continue reading

Unethical Headline Of The Month: NBC Sports

I suppose the Ethics Alarms headline could also be Ethics Dunce: Bill Baer, for the NBC baseball writer responsible for the irresponsible, misleading, ignorant and mighty close to libelous story under the headline, which is…

Sherwin Williams is trying to back out of a charitable contribution at Angel Stadium

No, it isn’t. Not even close.

Here, in part, is what Baer writes. Raise your hand when you realize that he is full of beans:

The paint company Sherwin Williams created a neat promotion at Angel Stadium. There’s a giant paint can with the brand name in left-center field. If a player hits a ball into the can, Sherwin Williams will donate $1 million to the Angels Baseball Foundation, the Angels’ charity for kids.

Angels outfielder Justin Upton appeared to trigger that charitable contribution when he hit a solo home run to left-center field against Indians closer Cody Allen on Tuesday night. The ball bounced in front of the can and then went in on a hop.

ESPN reports that Sherwin Williams is using a technicality to try and get out of the obligation. Because Upton’s home run didn’t land in the can on the fly, Sherwin Williams is saying they’re not obliged to make the $1 million donation. In 2014, Frazee Paint and the Angels agreed to the paint can promotion and indeed the press release says, “…if an Angels player hits a home run that lands in the can on the fly, the company will make a $1 million donation to benefit the Foundation’s efforts to improve the lives of children in the community.” Frazee Paint is now owned by Sherwin Williams.

The first lie in the story that helps generate the false headline is, “If a player hits a ball into the can, Sherwin Williams will donate $1 million.” False. As the story itself confirms, the paint company agreed to donate the sum if a player hits a ball into the can on the fly, meaning without hitting the ground first. Also, presumably, this has to occur during a game, and not batting practice. I would assume that a player can’t stand ten feet away between innings and try to hit a ball into the can either. Or use a tennis racket to do it.

The second lie is that Sherwin Williams is using a technicality to try to get out of the obligation. Actually, the second lie is that ESPN reports that Sherwin Williams is using a technicality, because ESPN’s story, unlike NBC, is accurate. It doesn’t use the term “technicality” anywhere. Its headline is also accurate: ” Justin Upton’s homer doesn’t count for $1 million paint can promotion.”

That’s correct. The homer didn’t, and doesn’t. The ESPN story does say that the crowd applauded and cheered when the ball landed in the can, thinking the terms of the promotion had been met. What a surprise: a crowd of fans doesn’t know what’s going on. Sports reporters, however, are paid not only to know what’s going on, but to accurately explain it to the great unwashed.

After three lies, Baer (all right, if the headline is the first lie, then it’s four lies), writes, “indeed the press release says, “…if an Angels player hits a home run that lands in the can on the fly, the company will make a $1 million donation to benefit the Foundation’s efforts to improve the lives of children in the community.” Continue reading

Infowars’ Alex Jones, Purveyor Of The Most Untrustworhy Political Website North Of “The News Nerd,” Provides One Of The Most Disingenuous Apologies Imaginable

A few stipulations:

1. Anyone who for a second thought it was anything more than a bad spoof that John Podesta and Hillary Clinton were engaged in a child sex ring operating out of a D.C. pizza joint has gone waaaay beyond “Bias Makes You Stupid” to “Bias Makes People Who Are Stupid Already Too Dangerous For Human Companionship.”

2. Anyone who believes anything that appears on the conspiracy blog “Infowars” is a sitting duck for the next Ponzi scheme.

3. My theory is that Breibart pays Jones to make it look reliable and objective by comparison. And it gets its money’s worth..

The so called Pizzagate conspiracy theory held that top Democratic officials were involved with a satanic child pornography ring centered around Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. There was never any evidence to support it, and more importantly, was ridiculous on its face. It did not originate with Alex Jones, the proprietor of far right Infowars, but since it was uncomplimentary to Democrats, Jones was supporting Donald Trump, and he has also claimed on Infowars that the 9/11 attacks were  carried out by the United States government and that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown  was a hoax concocted by anti-Second Amendment fanatics, the Pizzagate theory fit right in to the rest of the BS. Thanks in great part to Jones,  the hoax circulated on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, flourished in online forums frequented by idiots, and produced more static interfering with a rational approach to a crucial election.

This hoax, unlike, say, the claim that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump, had measurable consequences. The pizzeria, its owner and his employees received death threats. Their business has suffered. Nearby businesses have also been adversely affected, and the hoax even spread to several other pizzerias around the country for some reason.The restaurant was closed for two days in December after Edgar M. Welch, one of the above referenced idiots,  showed up at Comet Ping Pong to “investigate,” and fired a semiautomatic rifle  inside the pizzeria. Welch pleaded guilty on Friday to assault with a dangerous weapon and interstate transportation of a firearm. Good. One idiot down.

Now Jones has issued an apology. It was obviously crafted by lawyers: Comet Pizza had demanded one in February, and by law Jones had one month to retract his libel (arguably liable) to avoid being sued. The month would have been up this weekend. Here is that apology, with key sections bolded and numbered to make commenting here easier: Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: “Rolling Stone” Founder/Owner Jann Wenner

rape-on-campus

 

I’ve been awarding Ethics Dunces for more than a decade now, and I’m beginning to find the title too generic. For example, Jann Wenner, in this instance, is a particularly repugnant Ethics Dunce. In short, the title’s too good for him.

Wenner’s iconic baby, Sixties relic Rolling Stone magazine, is a defendant in a  $7.5 million lawsuit brought by Nicole Eramo, a former Associate Dean of Students at the University of Virginia, who claims that the 2014 Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” depicted her as a villain in the shocking story, which was ultimately shown to be about a gang rape that never happened. (Ethics Alarms covered this episode extensively, an ethics train wreck, here.) Testifying in video excerpts from his deposition, Wenner said his magazine was wrong to retract the  article, despite the fact that it was based on false allegations. In his videotaped testimony Wenner claimed that much of the material in the article was accurate

How Dan Rather of him! In a classic example of agenda-driven reporting, Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely accepted the tale of a never-identified student called  “Jackie” who claimed to have been brutally raped at a party that never happened, at a misidentified fraternity, primarily by one student who was falsely accused. Because of the article, the  fraternity system at the University was temporarily shut down and permanently subjected to more stringent regulations. The male student body was tarred as teeming with sexual predators. The entire thesis of the article was based on the fabricated rape account. There is no ethical justification to continue to present such an article after its diseased heart must be removed. Continue reading

About That Obviously Dishonest Disclaimer On Movies And TV Shows

“The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.”

The character of Jake LaMotta is fictional, and any similarity to Jake LaMotta is purely coincidental...

The character of Jake LaMotta is fictional, and any similarity to Jake LaMotta is purely coincidental…

This and disclaimers like it on movies and TV shows have driven me crazy for a long time. So often the text is an obvious lie. I first began obsessing about it during the early days of “Law and Order,” when Dick Wolf’s show would herald the fact that its episodes were “ripped from the headlines,” then end with a disclaimer that said it was completely fiction. Sometimes, an episode was obviously based on a specific crime and specific individuals, and the actors were made up to look like the actual criminals. The disclaimer was and is a lie, and since it was obvious, why did they bother? Legally, it does no good to publish a boilerplate disclaimer that says, “We’re not really doing what any fool can see we are doing, ” except to discourage potential lawsuits by stupid people. I am of the (minority, unfortunately) position that it’s unethical for lawyers to author legally meaningless language like this for the sole purpose of misleading the ignorant.

The background of the disclaimer is interesting; Slate just published the story, which I realized I once knew but had forgotten.

The 1932 MGM film “Rasputin and the Empress”, was based on the events leading up to the fall of the Romanovs, and starred John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore. Its most famous sequence was a version of the antic assassination of Rasputin, an event largely known because of the book written by one of the assassins, Prince Felix Yusupov, portrayed as “Prince Paul Chegodieff” in the film. The film also suggested that the Prince’s wife, “Princess Natasha,” was raped by Rasputin—suggested but not shown, since Rasputin was played by John Barrymore (Drew’s grandfather) and the princess was played by his sister, Ethel.  Princess Natasha was the avatar for Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia, who, like her husband Prince Felix, had escaped Russia before all the royals were killed.

Yusupov, living in Paris, heard about the film and decided that since audiences would recognize him as  the fictional killer of Rasputin, they would also assume that his wife was raped by Rasputin. She wasn’t, or if she was, only she and the Mad Monk knew about it. Officially, Irina and Rasputin had never met. An MGM researcher had pointed out this factual discrepancy to the studio during production and warned that the Yusupovs could sue, but was pooh-poohed off the lot. She was correct, however, for Irina Yusupov sued the studio, and after watching the movie twice, the British jury awarded her £25,000, or about $125,000. MGM took the film out of circulation for decades, and when it turned up on Turner Classic Movies, the pseudo-rape scene was gone. Continue reading

No, Ashleigh, That Isn’t “Libel,” And Why Are You Hosting A CNN Show Called “Legal Affairs” When You Don’t Know That?

Ashleigh-Banfield

In an epic clash of incompetents, CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield challenged Michael Cohen, one of Donald Trump‘s advisers over his retweeting an internet meme that said that Hillary Clinton “murdered” the victims of the Benghazi mission assault.

After the House Benghazi Select Committee released its final report on the 2012 terror attacks, Cohen delivered his tweet featuring this…

Cohen tweet

It is about as stupid, lazy and inflammatory as most political memes, and the fact that Cohen would think it worth circulating tells us all we need to know about both him and the man who pays him, who would have probably tweeted this junk himself if Cohen hadn’t. Remember Cohen? He’s the Trump lawyer who crudely threatened the Daily Beast and went on to proclaim that spousal rape was legal, when it isn’t. Cohen is, by definition, a thug, a creep, and a crummy lawyer. Naturally, he’s also a Trump advisor. (Tell me again how Trump, that keen judge of legal talent,  can be trusted to appoint better Supreme Court justices than Clinton would. Or that Honey Boo-Boo would.)

Sparring with Cohen on her show “Legal Views,” Ashleigh Banfield lectured the lawyer and told him, “This is libel.” thus making exactly as accurate a statement of law as Cohen’s earlier one about spousal rape. It was not libel. It was inflammatory political speech in a satirical context (would anyone think Clinton actually said this, as the meme suggests?) about a public figure, clearly an opinion rather than a statement intended to be taken literally, and no more libel than “Bush lied and people died.” Banfield’s diagnosis was 100% wrong, and the fervor with which it was delivered is the calling card of a Clinton defender. Continue reading

“Jackie” Scores A Jumbo!

That's not really "Jackie" with Jimmy and Jumbo---it's Doris Day, who turned 92 this week. Happy Birthday, Doris!

That’s not really “Jackie” with Jimmy and Jumbo—it’s Doris Day, who turned 92 this week. Happy Birthday, Doris!

You remember “Jackie,” surely, who was featured often in Ethics Alarms posts last year. She is the inexplicably still un-named lying fake rape victim who exploited the sloppy journalism and miserable ethics of man-hating Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Erdley, to create a sensational account of a fraternity gang rape on the University of Virginia campus…that never happened. The resulting article led the UVA president to shut down fraternities, set anti-male feminist pundits and activists into a frenzy of nation-wide victim-mongering, brought down the fires of Hell on the brow of UVA associate dean of students Nicole Eramo, who “Jackie” fingered as an unfeeling villain, and seriously— and, one hopes, permanently— wounded the credibility of Rolling Stone, which ultimately had to retract the whole thing.

No,  the gang rape never happened. About that, there is no longer any doubt. No evidence of an assault was ever uncovered, besides “Jackie’s” lies. None of her “facts” could be confirmed, except by the progressive biases—mostly political, as the Obama Administration has been working overtime to represent campus romance as the equivalent of the Rape of the Sabine Women—that allowed the story to progress to publication in the first place.

Now Nicole Eramo is suing Rolling Stone for defamation, alleging that Erdley’s article vilified and harmed her recklessly. Naturally, her lawyers want to depose “Jackie,” since it was “Jackie’s” fiction, never verified by Rolling Stone, that created the false story.

Jackie’s lawyers, however, strongly argued on her behalf that she should not have to testify, since the experience would cause her serious psychological trauma by forcing her to relive the sexual assault—that never happened. She will be “re-victimized,” her lawyers say–remember, this is Jackie’s position; her poor lawyers are the ones she pays to present it without laughing. Continue reading