Comment Of The Day: “The Many Species Of Fake News”

Few things make me happier than when a commenter relieves me of the duty of writing about a topic.

In 2017, after the New York Times published a spectacularly dishonest list of President Trump “lies” since his inauguration,  I wrote a post demonstrating just how outrageously the Times was warping the meaning of “lie,” and also applying a biased standard to Trump’s statements. I wrote,

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.

The entire exercise was an extension of #16 on the Fake News list, “Dishonest Factchecks. Here was a typical “lie” according to the Times, and its “proof”:

Jan. 21 “A reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.”

Says the Times, “Trump was on the cover 11 times and Nixon appeared 55 times.”

Trump was making the general point that he had been on TIME’s cover a lot. He guessed that the number was 14 or 15; it was 11. That is what is known as a  non-material misrepresentation: it’s meaningless and harmless, and certainly not an intentional deception. (“Heh, heh…I’ll make those poor, gullible fools think I was on TIME”s cover 14 times when it was ONLY ELEVEN!! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!) Then he said he “thinks” that’s a record. When someone says “I think” it means the speaker is acknowledging that he may be wrong. But Trump is not accorded the usual leeway given to everyone else, including other elected officials.

When a list includes something this clearly contrived, that list has no credibility. I found going through the Times list annoying, then shocking, and finally infuriating. So when the Washington Post pulled the same stunt, I kept putting off giving it the same treatment that I did the Times’ exercise in lies about lying.

Thus I was thrilled to receive this Comment of the Day from stalwart Steve Witherspoon, on the post, The Many Species Of Fake News: Continue reading

President Trump Has This Unfortunate Habit In Common With The Clintons: He Lies For No Reason

Bill Clinton’s proclivity for lying in public just because he felt like it drove me dangerously close to stark raving mad. He lied about trivia and substantive matters; he lied when it was easy to check his facts. Hillary’s similar penchant arguably was more infuriating, because she was so bad at it. She would be President today if she had just  admitted that she screwed up by using a “home-brewed” server. All she had to say was that she didn’t understand the technology and made serious mistakes, even to the extent of sending messages that contained classified material and violating her own department’s policy. She could have done this in 2015, and never heard a peep about the matter again. Not that I was sorry to see her torpedo her own candidacy, but still: how ridiculous and unnecessary.

The Democratic/resistance/mainstream media narrative about Trump’s lies is exaggerated and hypocritical, especially giving the stream of whoppers that routinely issue from Pelosi, Schumer, Warren, Schiff and others. Unlike other “resistance” themes, however, it isn’t entirely unwarranted. Trump, as I have noted for a long time, just says stuff; half the time I’m pretty sure he believes complete fantasy when he says these things. That’s not a mitigation. A U.S. President can’t responsibly do that, but Trump does, has, and presumably always will. This is Julie Principle territory: Fish gotta swim, Birds gotta fly, When he’s off script, Trump’s gonna lie.

Shortly after he was elected, I wrote,

Donald Trump, more than any national figure in my lifetime,  requires a careful, measured application of The Julie Principle to serve everyone’s best interest. Screaming “TRUMP IS TRUMP! ARRGHHHHH!” for four years will do no good at all. Find a way to co-exist with him so his negative proclivities do as little damage as possible and his positive ones have a chance to thrive, and save the explosions of indignation for substantive matters where opposition is essential.

All of that said—and did I call it, or what?—it is astounding to me that after three years in office we still have to endure infuriating episodes like the constantly shifting explanations for why General Soleimani was droned.

From the interview with Defense Secretary Mike Esper on “Face the Nation” yesterday:
Continue reading

Thanksgiving Dinner Ethics Appetizers, 11/28/2019: Boing Boing, Boeing, And Bears In The Woods

Have a gentle, loving Thanksgiving, everyone.

And thanks so much for visiting and participating.

Tangential question: Does anyone watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade any more, with the lip synced musical numbers in the street, the inflatable balloons of anciet cartoon characters, the floats that are virtually identical every year, and the phony blather from the B-level celebrities in the booth? Isn’t this spectacle now something that people watch out habit, like the Miss America pageant, “Peanuts” holiday specials and the Oscars, even though it has the entertainment value of styrofoam?

1. Tucker Carlson endorses the Julie Principle! Last night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson made the shocking statement that President Trump has been less than truthful with the American people.

“We’re not gonna lie to you, that was untrue,” Carlson said. “The crowd at the 2017 inauguration was not the largest ever measured at the National Mall. Sorry, it wasn’t. Why did the president claim that it was? Well, because that’s who he is. Donald Trump is a salesman, he’s a talker, a boaster, a booster, a compulsive self-promoter. At times he’s a full-blown BS artist.”

Observations:

  • NOW Carlson is enlightening us about this? Every sentient being knew this about Donald Trump ten years ago, before the Presidency was a twinkle in his eye.
  • Has there ever been an irrelevant fabrication by any U.S. President as harped upon incessantly by critics and the media as Trump’s silly claims about his inauguration crowd?
  •  The Washington Post, aping the New York Times, manufactured another one of those compilations of Trump “lies.” As of last month, the Post says, Trump had told over 13,000 false or misleading statements since taking office, including, of course, including the Inauguration boast. If I didn’t have a sock drawer crisis to deal with, I’m sure I would find that at least a third of those “lies” are in fact nothing of the sort, but mistakes, off-the-cuff exaggerations, and obvious puffery, as in, “Trump said X was ‘the —-est,’ but Y is actually  —-er.”
  • Here is what I wrote almost exactly three years ago, before that Inauguration, in a post called, “Trump, His Critics, and The Julie Principle”:

Yesterday, many, not several but many, of my Angry Left Facebook friends posted links to stories attacking Trump’s silly tweet about him really winning the popular vote and there being millions of fraudulent votes for Hillary Clinton. “Is he going to do this sort of thing his entire administration?” one friend asked.

YES! YES HE IS! OF COURSE HE IS! DON’T YOU KNOW THIS ALREADY? ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO FLIP OUT AT EVERY SINGLE  INSTANCE WHEN TRUMP SAYS OR TWEETS SOMETHING STUPID LIKE THIS?

If so, then you are going to go nuts, and you will just become irrelevant and annoying.

Which, of course, they have. Including the Post and Tucker Carlson. Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Excursion, 11/17/2019: This Crazy, Unpredictable, Untrustworthy World

Greetings!

1.  So we can’t trust Intel, either. Good to know. Last May, Intel released a patch for a group of security vulnerabilities researchers had found in the company’s computer processors.  Intel implied that all the problems were solved. The official public message from Intel was “everything is fixed,” said Cristiano Giuffrida, a professor of computer science at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and one of the researchers who first reported the vulnerabilities. “And we knew that was not accurate.”

Indeed, the software patch meant to fix the processor problem addressed only some of the issues the researchers had identified.  A second patch, publicly disclosed by the company last week, finally fixed all of the vulnerabilities Intel had said were fixed in May…six months after the company said that all was well.

2. So they finally bullied the NFL into re-considering Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, the mediocre NFL quarterback whose political grandstanding before games made him an albatross for the league and any team foolish enough to employ him, has had woke “fans,” who couldn’t care less about football but who loved his race-bating and police-bashing protests, claiming that he was “blackballed” from pro football for exercising his right of free speech.

This was never true—let a grocery store clerk try that argument when he’s fired for making political demonstrations during store hours—but never mind: Kaepernick was styled as a martyr anyway.  Why the NFL capitulated to bogus complaints and gave the player a showcase for NFL scouts, I cannot fathom. He’s 36, hasn’t played for three years, and wasn’t that good in 2016. If no team signs him, the NFL will be told again that it is racist and oppressive. If a team does sign him, the message will be that enough agitation can force an organization to elevate politics above its legitimate priorities.

3. This is why our politician aren’t civil, collaborative, respectful and ethical: the public doesn’t want them to be.  Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Minority Leader,praised Representative Peter King, the long time Long Island Republican House member who announced his retirement this week, by tweeting  warm words on Twitter.  “I will miss him in Congress & value his friendship,” the effusive message concluded.

For this once-standard professional reaction to a fellow Congress member’s retirement, Schumer was roundly attacked by Democrats and progressives on social media. To his credit, despite more than 10,000 mostly negative replies and even calls for his resignation, Schumer neither apologized for his tribute to a colleague nor took down the tweet. Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 11/8/19: “People Who Need To Leave” Edition

1. Clean-up on the baseball aisle! Last April, I wrote a post urging Baltimore Orioles first-sacker Chris Davis to retire and save his desperate team some money, since it is clear that he can no longer play at a major league level despite being paid 23 million dollars in 2019, with a similar amount due him through 2022. At the time, Davis Davis was 0-for-23 with 13 strikeouts and  hitless in 44 at-bats since the previous season, when Davis batted .168, the worst in major league history for a regular, with a horrible .539 OPS (On base percentage plus slugging percentage), and a -2.5 WAR, meaning that the Orioles would have won 2.5 more games with a borderline major leaguer from the minors playing in his place.

Several readers have emailed me asking how things turned out for Davis, who did eventually get a hit, and who was still in the starting line-up frequently enough to hurt the team. The answer is that Davis was better than he was in 2018, but he was still horrible. He batted only .179, with a -1 WAR, and an OPS of  .601. He earned more than $418,000 per hit.

He’s earned almost 119 million dollars in his career, yet appears willing to continue to embarrass himself and hurt his team and team mates for three more sure-to-be-ugly seasons in order to collect another 69 million.

Yechhhh.

2. More on Joy Behar’s terrible, no good, very bad week: The highlight of Donald Trump Jr.’s visit to “The View” came after Behar recited the typical and overly-familiar talking points about Trump Sr.: “[President Trump] called some Mexicans rapists [Correction: He referred to illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists who were rapists] , he attacked the handicapped, [No, Joy, he mocked a single handicapped reporter, and there is some evidence that he didn’t even do that], he bragged about it” [Huh?], and “We heard the ‘Access’ tape, where he bragged about grabbing women by their genitalia.” [No, he never said that he had personally grabbed any women “by the pussy.” Boy, am I sick of THIS narrative..] Rather than quibble with her, DJT Jr, had come armed and ready, and replied, “We’ve all done things that we regret, I mean, if we’re talking about bringing a discourse down, Joy, you’ve worn blackface.” Continue reading

And Yet Another Evening Ethics Watch, 10/29/2019, Because Everything Has Been Upside Down At ProEthics Lately…

Good evening again.

We’ll have to stop meeting like this.

1. Can’t make up my mind if I want there to be disastrous botched ball/strike call in Game 6 of the World Series or not. It will take one of those—a bad call that turns the game and eventually the World Series around to get MLB off its metaphorical butt and force it to establish an electronic pitch-calling system. Of course, it is worth noting that one of the most devastating wrong umpire calls in history stole a World Series away from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985, and it took another 30 years for baseball to adopt an instant replay system that would have reversed it.

Don Denkinger was the first base umpire in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series in Kansas City.  The St. Louis Cardinals led the home team Royals by 3 games to 2, and tooka 1–0 lead in the 8th inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Jorge Orta, the leadoff batter for the Royals, hit a slow roller to Cards first baseman Jack Clark. Clark tossed the ball to his pitcher, Todd Worrell, who was covered first base. Orta was out by half a step, but Denkinger called Orta safe, even though television replays and photographs clearly showed that he was out by half a step. Orta eventually scored, allowing the Royals to go  on to win Game 6 by the score of 2–1.

Denkinger was the home plate umpire in the Series-deciding Game 7, apparently driving the angry Cardinals mad. Denkinger ultimately ejected both Herzog and pitcher Joaquín Andújar in the fifth inning, as the game deteriorated into Royals rout,  11–0 . Denkinger accepted that he had made a terrible call, but as was the ethics in baseball at the time, took the position that such mistakes were an unavoidable part of the game. In  aftermath of the 1985 World Series, Denkinger death threats, from Cardinals fans. Two St. Louis disc jockeys doxxed him, giving out the umpire’s telephone number and home address. He was a well-regarded umpire, who at 83 years of age will still sign photographs of “the Call” when asked.

I guess I don’t want to see another umpire suffer Denkinger’s  fate tonight. It is inevitable that there will be a bad call of a strike or ball that makes an umpire a lifelong pariah, unless baseball locks that barn door as soon as possible. Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Week: President Donald J. Trump.

As readers here know, flat learning curves on the part of leaders, and certainly Presidents, drive me crazy. Leadership is hard, and the leader who refuses to learn the right lessons when his or her conduct when a particular act or decision has disastrous results is  seriously and perhaps irreparably flawed, as well as untrustworthy.

President Trump has displayed so many flat learning curves in his tenure as President that is tempting to say that refusing to learn from mistakes and disasters is a conscious stylistic choice. Or perhaps that’s not what’s going on; perhaps the problem is not flat-learning curves, but rather the President’s well-established recklessness, his what the hell attitude that no matter what he does, he’ll come through it all right. In this latter interpretation, he has learned, but the wrong lessons.

At this point, I barely care. The problem, whatever it stems from results in incompetence. Like his idiotic tweet about the members of “the Squad” going “back where they came from,” teeing up the “Trump is a racist” ball for all of his foes; like the still ongoing controversy about his trivial statement about a hurricane hitting Alabama,;like his provocative bravado during the 9/11 commemoration reviving his disputed boast about going personally to Ground Zero, like too many careless and embarrassing appointments to list, this latest fiasco was a self-inflicted wound that was completely needless and yet has real, serious, potential consequences….like making people wonder how wise and safe it is to be governed by an executive who presides over perpetual ineptitude, laziness, and stupidity. Continue reading