Tag Archives: lies

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/3/17

Baaaaad Morning for me, GOOD MORNING to you, I hope.

1.  The New York Times, I thought, has an unusually fair story on the two phantom Trump phone calls that roiled “the resistance” yesterday. The President had said that he had received “calls” from the President of Mexico and the Boy Scout leadership, the former to salute him for getting tough at the border and the other to praise his controversial remarks at the annual Jamboree. There were no such calls, as the Mexico and the BSA had strongly suggested, and the White House confirmed this yesterday. In its piece this morning, the Times included a germane quote from pre-politics Trump in his 1987 book “The Art of the Deal”:

“People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”

Germane, except that we already know that he thinks this way—and I don’t think referring to a conversation (in the case of Mexico) or multiple members of the Boy Scouts leadership”praising his speech in person after he was done (“Nice job!” “Great speech!” “The boys really appreciated it!”) as phone calls qualifies as “hyperbole,” truthful or otherwise.

These are examples of the President’s well-established addiction to speaking in word clouds and approximations. He “saw” (well, maybe not literally) “thousands of Muslims” (Okay, maybe he didn’t see them, but they were there! ) celebrating the doom of the Twin Towers in New Jersey. He never supported the Iraq invasion (saying otherwise to Howard Stern doesn’t count). Now add the hundreds of others we either discussed here or that were flashpoints during the campaign. The President’s attitude toward these little and large imprecisions of language has been, apparently since childhood, “Whatever.” He really doesn’t think they matter, because to him the difference between, for example, “calls” and other communications doesn’t matter.

It’s a terrible habit. It undermines his credibility. It weakens his ability to persuade and lead. It makes him look foolish, careless and stupid, and shows a lack of discipline. It gives his intractable foes easy bullets to shoot at him. It’s also an established trait, at this point. This is, again, the Julie Principle. This is how he is, and both his supporters and detractors know it. What  is accomplished by treating each new example as a major scandal? “Well, you can’t just let him get away with it!” is the reply.

He doesn’t get away with it. It undermines his credibility. It weaken his ability to persuade and lead. It makes him look foolish,  careless and stupid, and shows a lack of discipline.

2. The Times seems to make a mild “everybody does it” excuse for the President, citing the examples of two Presidents the Times also hated, LBJ and Reagan, mostly Reagan. “It is hardly unprecedented for a president to use a story to inspire or motivate, or to embellish a yarn for the sake of punctuating a poignant message,” the Times says. Then it recounts this: Continue reading

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Lying To Us To Make Us Feel Better: Those Fake Crosswalk Buttons

In the classic science fiction story “The Marching Morons”  by American writer Cyril M. Kornbluth,  the world hundreds of years in the future is a reverse-eugenics nightmare. Between centuries of intelligent people not having children (perhaps to address climate change?) and excessive breeding by fools and dolts, the typical member of the public has an IQ of around 45, while an elite few who have IQs of 100 or more work around the clock to save the world, and the morons, from chaos. One of their tricks is to manufacture cars that make lots of noise and create the illusion of high speeds to fool the morons, who are (as we all know) wretched drivers. In truth, the cars crawl along more slowly than tricycles.

I thought of this when reader and frequent commentator here Charles Green noted in his excellent newsletter that those buttons at pedestrian crosswalks in major cities are an intentional fraud on the public, a placebo to keep us calm and feeling in control when we are not. Charles link was to my old hometown paper, the Boston Globe, but it’s behind a paywall. Never mind, though: newspapers have periodically been noting this phenomenon for years. They apparently think it is amusing. It isn’t.

The New York Times reported in 2004 that the city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the advent of computer-controlled traffic signals.  Today there are 120 working signals; about 500 were removed during major construction projects. But it was estimated that it would cost $1 million to dismantle the rest of non-functioning mechanisms, over a thousand of them, so city officials decided to keep them in place. And people keep pushing them. After all, sometimes, by sheer luck, the light changes soon after the button has been pushed. It works!

Tribal rains dances “work” the same way.

ABC News reported in 2010 that it found only one functioning crosswalk button in a survey of signals in Austin, Texas.; Gainesville, Florida, and Syracuse, New York. Other studies have turned up similar results in dozens of other cities. To be clear, presenting a button to pedestrians that is represented as a legitimate tool to cross the street when in fact it does nothing is a lie. It is an intentional falsehood, designed to deceive. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/30/17

Good Morning!

(I’m starting this post just a few minutes before noon, thank to a WiFi outage. I’m sorry.)

1. I finally saw “Passengers,” which most people and critics seemed to hate. I see no obvious inferiority to the over-praised and honored “The Martian” or “Gravity,” especially the latter, which bored me to tears, but never mind: it’s an ethics movie. It is also a moral luck movie, and that drove me crazy. I’ll bet so many viewers (SPOILER ALERT!) saw the film and came out saying, “She had to forgive him, because if he hadn’t awakened her prematurely to keep him company, everyone would have died!”

No, no, no! His (Chris Pratt’s) conduct toward her (that’s Jennifer Lawrence, and anyone who wrongs Jennifer Lawrence deserves the torments of Hell) was just as bad–and it was horriblewhether it turned out well by chance or not. Subsequent discoveries or unpredictable events cannot make an unethical act retroactively ethical.

2. San Francisco’s Medicaid program sends illegal immigrants this letter:

When the anti-Trump deranged argue that the President is “crazy,” my stock answer is going to be that nothing he has said or done is as “crazy” as the position that it is right and just to officially encourage foreign citizens to breach our borders, defy our sovereignty and break our laws….and the people trying to use the 25th Amendment to execute a coup are exactly the people who think the letter above is compassionate and right. (Believing that a coup is in anyone’s interest is also demonstrably nutsy-cuckoo, but that’s another issue.)

3. I am really going to be disappointed if NPR and PBS don’t get zero-ed out of the budget. I may be stuck with biased and incompetent journalism, but I shouldn’t have to pay for it.

In a segment of NPR’s “All Things Considered” this week (Yes, I generally think the show is excellent, but that’s not the point) about the “restorative justice” approach to campus sexual assault, reporter Tovia Smith quoted Columbia University graduate Emma Sulkowiczs, aka “Mattress Girl,” as a “survivor” of rape.

She’s not a survivor; she was a harasser, and Columbia just paid a financial settlement to her victim for permitting her to proclaim him as a rapist when the evidence didn’t back the claim. Columbia doesn’t believe Sulkowiczs was raped, and her accusation has been thoroughly discredited. Why in the world would NPR choose this cruel and discredited woman to profile while discussing actual campus sexual assault, and how could it be ethical journalism to still refer to her as a rape survivor?

Smith’s tweeted response to criticism was as damning as the choice of “Mattress Girl” itself:

“Sulkowicz considers herself a survivor & we ID her as such. We’ve clarified that their school found the student she accused ‘not responsible.” Continue reading

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The New York Times’ Smoking Gun Op-Ed

Robert Leonard is the news director for the radio stations KNIA/KRLS. He wrote a jaw-dropping op-ed yesterday, one that only could be written and voluntarily made public by someone completely committed to the idea that the news media should decide what the public thinks, and who should run the government. That the New York Times would publish this unethical, biased and anti-democratic screed is signature significance. If the Times editors had any respect for the nation’s democratic processes or the proper boundaries of journalism, it would have regarded the column as risible and an embarrassment to its profession. Instead, the Times published Leonard’s piece in the prime left-hand column of its op-ed page.

Let’s begin with the creepy headline: “Want to Get Rid of Trump? Only Fox News Can Do It.”

No, you arrogant jerk, only democratic elections can “do it.” The entire premise of Leonard’s essay, and it is the premise that the mainstream media now believes, though won’t admit, is that journalists have the power and the obligation to take down a government they don’t approve of. That is what it is trying to do, and that is what the Times is trying to do in concert with the rest. If this was not the case, the Times would not allow such an incendiary headline in its paper.

The op-ed begins with a lie, at least a lie by the kinds of standards applied by the Times in assessing what constitutes “lying” by the President:

“President Trump’s administration is in crisis, consumed by fears of what Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia’s meddling in the election, might find. Everyone’s lawyering up — even the lawyers have lawyers.”

The Trump Administration isn’t in a crisis according to any facts in evidence. It’s a crisis because the news media wants it to be in crisis, and keeps publishing whispers from leakers  trying to undermine the administration as it says so. Everyone is “lawyering up” is a pejorative phrase intended to imply guilt: in a government investigation, anyone likely to be questioned or come under scrutiny gets legal representation, and this partisan hack knows it. Nevertheless, he is making an innuendo suggesting guilt. Nor does he have any justification that the Trump administration is “consumed by fears of what Robert Mueller might find.” That assumes there is something incriminating to find,  a false assumption, and thus a false statement.

Normally, I would stop reading at that point. This is an incompetently cooked stew of partisan, anti-Trump propaganda, not worth my time, written to appeal to the Times’ “resistance” subscribers. I continued however, because I sensed a vivid illustration of how estranged from objectivity, moderation and responsible writing the Times has become.

The op-ed continues… Continue reading

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The New York Times’ Lies About “Trump’s Lies”

In a grandstanding stunt that was even beneath the fallen role model of U.S. journalism, The New York Times printed what it claimed to be “the definitive list of Donald Trump’s lies” since his inauguration. To say the the list was itself full of lies, and that the over-all assertion that these were “Trump’s lies” was a misrepresentation, is not in any way to excuse the President’s lazy, careless, incompetent use of language, impulsive habits of communication, shockingly inept reasoning and  reckless tweeting. Almost all of the statements quoted by the Times contain misinformation, irresponsible opinions  or unwarranted conclusions, and it is dangerous and disruptive for any leader, indeed anyone, to express themselves this way. Nevertheless, the statements are not all lies. Most of them, in fact, are not lies.

Does it matter? It does. When the New York Times call a list “definitive,’ that list should at a minimum meet the definition of what the New York Times claims to be exposing. It does not. The definition of a lie is a “a deliberately false statement designed to deceive.”

If we assume that the New York Times knows what a lie is, and if the Times does not then it should have no credibility at all, since a journalist’s mission is to report the truth, then the list proves that the New York Times deliberately set out to deceive its readers.

At one point, the Times says,

“We are using the word “lie” deliberately. Not every falsehood is deliberate on Trump’s part. But it would be the height of naïveté to imagine he is merely making honest mistakes. He is lying.”

This is a self-contradictory statement. If a falsehood isn’t deliberate, then it isn’t a lie.

In presenting this unethical project, the Times took unethical advantage of its readers’ confirmation bias. When the “Lie” list was printed, the Times made certain that it would require super-human dedication and extraordinary eyesight to read it, through the devices of listing every item and the Times commentary in horizontal sequence and in half the usual size type-face. (See above) This ensured that almost no readers would make the Herculean effort to read the whole thing , especially since the well-trained Times readers already “knows” that Donald Trump is a liar. In addition, the explosion of tiny words created the visceral response of “Wow! Look at all those lies!” which is exactly the effect the Times editors wanted.

But that isn’t reporting, and it isn’t journalism. The “list” was a page-size, visual, ad hominem attack. The Times wasn’t seeking close scrutiny of its list, nor was it interested in making any rebuttal easy or likely.

We have learned that the Times list was largely assembled from various fact-checker columns. That is a red flag, and explains many of the most embarrassing inclusions on the list. None of the fact-checkers are trustworthy. All of them are biased, Snopes and PolitiFact worst of all, and they consistently register opinions that the writer disagrees with as “false.” Many, many of the items on the Times list are in this category.

I’m not going to go over the entire list here and distinguish between the lies and non-lies, though I have done the analysis. My template for an undisputed Presidential lie would be Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”—he did, and he said this deliberately to deceive; and Barack Obama’s “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” declaration that he made repeatedly to sell Obamacare to the American people in 2009. The “women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same job” is a fake statistic that both Clinton  and Obama (and Hillary and Bernie) used, but that would not qualify as a lie on my scale.  I think they believe it, or believe that it’s close enough to true that they aren’t lying when they refer to it. Many of the “lies” on the list fall into this gray area. Of course, the Times never set out to list all of Obama’s lies, or Clinton’s, because they never wanted to suggest either of them were untrustworthy, though a good argument could be made that Clinton was, and Obama regularly engaged in deceit and misrepresentation. To its credit, the Post’s Factchecker did create a list of outgoing President Obama’s “Top Ten Whoppers.”

Many statements that Obama made that were much like dozens of the items on the Trump list were never called “lies” in the mainstream media, as when he attacked the Supreme Court and the Citizens United ruling in a State of the Union address by saying that the decision “will open the floodgates for special interests”…“ including foreign corporations”…” to spend without limit in our elections.” (Justice Alito was seen mouthing “not true” and shaking his head.”)

Unfortunately for the Times, listing “Trump’s lies” chronologically exposed the dishonest and biased nature of the exercise from the start. The first three “lies” are not lies.: Continue reading

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From The “Why We Can’t Trust The News Media” Files: The Megyn Kelly- Alex Jones Interview Fiasco

Here is the sequence of events:

1. Newly minted NBC “star” Megyn Kelly announced that she would be interviewing infamous right wing political troll and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on a segment of her new show.

Jones is a fringe media figure and a proven liar, but he has been cited positively by President Trump, and has successfully caused some wide-spread comtoversy and offense, such as when he claimed that the Newtown massacre was a hoax. There is nothing wrong with interviewing such figures; indeed, it is important to interview them. provided ethical journalism standards apply.

Unfortunately, as this episode demonstrates, journalists no longer know what those standards are.

2. In order to persuade Jones to agree to the interview, Kelly promised him—Jones had a tape—that he would be treated fairly. Note: when you tell someone they will be treated fairly in order to have him trust you, your definition of “fair” must be his definition of “fair.”  If he is thinking, “Ah! She will be neutral rather than adversarial, and will not be looking for gotchas!,” but she meant, “It’s fair that I fillet you like a trout, you bastard!” then the interview subject has been deceived.

3. The parents of the victims of the Newtown shooting, as well as their sympathizers and allies, protested the interview, as I wrote about here, saying that NBC was giving Jones a platform. Sympathy and grief are not excuses for censorship. The fact that the parents hate Jones suggests that they shouldn’t watch him be interviewed. They should not seek to interfere with my right to see how he presents himself, and companies (like J.P Morgan) that responded to the threatened boycott by pulling their ads told me that they will go as the winds blow, no matter how totalitarian the direction it might be.

Good to know. To hell with them.

4. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking of progressives with muddled values,  wanted NBC to pull the segment.. The NBC affiliate in Hartford refused to air the episode because the “wounds of that day that have yet to heal.”

Yes, by all means, journalists should never report news or do stories that might upset anyone.

5. Showing the integrity of a sneak-thief, NBC and Kelly furiously re-cut the interview and added a segment in which some Newtown parents could attack Jones.

6. Before the interview aired, Alex Jones released audiotape showing how egregiously Kelly misled him.

7. The interview aired last night, and reviewers were satisfied that Kelly was “tough enough” with Jones, and signaled with her voice, facial expressions, tone and questions that she thought he was scum. “Short of waterboarding him,” one critic wrote, “I don’t know what more Kelly could have done to expose Jones’ dark methods.”

Ugh.

Ethics Observations: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/13/17

1.  The controversy over the Central Park “Julius Caesar” casting Donald Trump–his stage clone, really—as Caesar continues to be ignorantly argued. What’s worse, Fox News constantly calling the Shakespearean classic an “assassination play” (it’s not, not even close), or people who really would love to see Trump assassinated arguing that there’s a double standard because some professional productions of  “Julius Caesar” in recent years cast a black actor as the targeted emperor? Does anyone for a second believe that if a high-profile theatrical production depicted a character as clearly intended to symbolize Obama as the New York City production styles its Caesar as Trump being assassinated in a scene like the one below, there would not have been equivalent, indeed greater outrage?

The most cited production with a black, modern business-suited Caesar had an actor with a shaved head playing the role, clearly signalling that this was NOT Barack Obama. This, however, is “Donald Trump”:

My question is: Does the audience cheer? I bet they do, and I bet that’s exactly what the director wanted. I support the production, and reject efforts to pressure donors into pulling support. Theater is often political, and outrageous, and should be. But the play’s defenders who cite versions that evoked a black leader as equivalent are arguing that people are more upset at a faux Trump assassination than they would have been if “Obama” were slaughtered in Central Park, and that is absurd.

2. Another looming boycott is the effort to punish NBC’s Megyn Kelly for interviewing InfoWars’ Alex Jones, the professional conspiracy theorist and right-wing liar. Because he famously suggested that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax—an instant IQ test for anyone deciding to ever pay attention to this jerk again—Sandy Hook parents and their allies are condemning NBC and Kelly for “giving him a platform,” and have succeeded in getting one sponsor, JP Morgan, to drop its ads. How long before both ends of the political spectrum start routinely pushing boycotts of any journalists who “give a platform” to someone their “side” has pronounced as evil?  The Sandy Hook victims’ families continue to abuse the sympathy their tragedy evoked by using it to attack core rights using appeals to emotion and little else. Some quotes from the Washington Post story: Continue reading

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