Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/23/2020: You Know, If People Keep Putting Impeachment Ethics Fouls In Front Of Me, I May Have To Comment On Them

Good Morning!

January 23 is a big day in ethics, good and bad. In 1964, poll taxes were finally banned via the 24th Amendment. In 1973, peace was finally declared in the Vietnam War (though it was hardly the “peace with honor” President Nixon called it.)In 1977, “Roots” debuted as a TV mini-series, helping to educate millions of Americans who knew very little about slavery.  In 1988, the Challenger exploded as a result of an engineering ethics breakdown. On this day in 1998, Bill Clinton looked America in the eye and denied having sex with Monica. Of course, he wasn’t lying, because he meant “sexual intercourse.” Sure. And finally, in 1989, Ted Bundy was electrocuted. Good.

1. Impeachment notes. I will not watch the trial, but these kinds of things that come to my attention cannot be ignored:

Instead, we are here today to consider a much more grave matter, and that is an attempt to use the powers of the presidency to cheat in an election. For precisely this reason, the President’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box—for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won. In corruptly using his office to gain a political advantage, in abusing the powers of that office in such a way as to jeopardize our national security and the integrity of our elections, in obstructing the investigation into his own wrongdoing, the President has shown that he believes that he is above the law and scornful of constraint.

Good Lord. Continue reading

Unethical Tweet Of The Month, “Enemy Of The People” Division: CNN Reporter Joe Lockhart

Yup…a CNN journalist tweeted out a lie , let it go viral, then came back later and said he made it up, but we “know” it’s true.

A trustworthy news organization would fire a reporter who did this immediately. CNN has not and will not, because CNN is  not a trustworthy organization.

On a related track, Matt Laszlo, a journalist who works at The Daily Beast and NPR, tweeted, 
Continue reading

Anatomy Of A Fake News Story: The Rainbow Cake And The Christian School

Wow, what a coincidence!!!

The headlines:

  • NBC News: Christian school expels teen after rainbow sweater and
    cake were deemed ‘lifestyle violations’
  • Fox News: Kentucky student expelled from private Christian school
    over rainbow shirt and cake, mom claims
  • Courier Journal: Louisville Christian school expelled student over a
    rainbow cake, family says
  • BuzzFeed News: This Mom Is Claiming A Christian School Expelled Her
    Teen Daughter Over A Picture With A Rainbow Cake
  • NY Post:Teen expelled from Christian school after rainbow shirt,
    cake photo
  • Chicago Tribune: Girl expelled from Christian school after posing with
    rainbow cake
  • New York Daily News: Freshman expelled from school for wearing rainbow shirt
  • The Washington Post: “Christian school expels teen after she posed with rainbow birthday cake, mother says.”

All of these headlines are misleading and deceitful, and intentionally so. This combines several varieties of Fake News, including “Outright false stories” deliberately published to mislead, “Fake headlines and clickbait,” and “Incompetent reporting.”

The facts of the episode only incidentally involve a rainbow cake, and the incident in question was the culmination of an ongoing contractual violation, not the extreme homophobia that that the various stories represented it to be. The frequent use of “mom says” and “family says” were cover for deliberately incompetent reporting. The family was, to be blunt, lying, and the truth of the episode was readily available to anyone with the diligence and integrity to look for it.

The Post story was typical of media confirmation bias at work, and indeed was the one many other sources began with. Reporter Michael Brice-Saddler wrote that  Kimberly Alford bought a custom a cake to celebrate the 15th birthday of her daughter, Kayla Kenney.  Alford told the credulous reporter that she instructed the bakery to decorate a cake with bright colors that ‘pop,’ and by purest accident, the resulting rainbow design matched her daughter’s sweater that she just happened to be wearing though she is not gay. Mom took a picture of Kayla smiling next to the birthday cake, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

If anyone believes the story about the amazing rainbow coincidence, I have a bridge to sell them. Yet the Post reporter did, just as Post reporters chose to believe that a Catholic school boy in a MAGA cap was harassing and smirking at a helpless old Native American.

The Post story continued, Continue reading

Martin Luther King Day Ethics Overview, 1/20/2020: Another Warren Lie, The Times’ Misandry, Doris Kearns Goodwin Gets Dorian Grayed, And More

Let us be grateful today for Rev. Martin Luther King.

I have no doubt that the nation would be a worse place today without the leadership of Martin Luther King, and I believe a holiday dedicated to honoring him is appropriate. He is also a symbol, perhaps, of the toxic hypocrisy dividing the nation, as well as the excesses and exploitation of the civil rights movement since his death.

From Jonathan Rauch’s review of Christopher Caldwell’s new book, “The Age of Entitlement”:

In Caldwell’s telling, the Civil Rights Act, which banned many forms of discrimination, was a swindle. Billed as a one-time correction that would end segregation and consign race consciousness to the past, it actually started an endless and escalating campaign of race-conscious social engineering. Imperialistically, civil rights expanded to include “people of color” and immigrants and gays and, in short, anyone who was not native-born, white and straight — all in service of “the task that civil rights laws were meant to carry out — the top-down management of various ethnic, regional and social groups.”

With civil rights as their bulldozer, in Caldwell’s view, progressive movements ran amok. They “could now, through the authority of civil rights law, override every barrier that democracy might seek to erect against them”; the law and rhetoric of civil rights “gave them an iron grip on the levers of state power.” And so, today, affirmative action discriminates against whites and then lies about it; public and private bureaucracies trample freedom of association; political correctness stigmatizes dissent and censors language and even thought; “every single state must now honor” Martin Luther King Jr., “and affirm its delight in doing so.”

1.  Senator Warren’s latest lie! The previous post about Warren lying omitted her most recent one, which came up while I was drafting it.

Campaigning in Iowa,  Warren was asked  when she plans on using presidential authority for some of her policy agenda instead of relying on Congress. She responded in part,

“Let me remind you, I think, I’m the only one running for president whose actually been on the executive side. Remember, after the consumer agency was passed into law, Barack Obama, President Obama, asked me to set it up. So I set up a federal agency. We effectively went from two employees the day I walked in the door to about 1000 and spent a year getting it up and operational.”

Now, as I did yesterday regarding an alleged Trump lie, the use of “I think” can be a defense to an accusation of lying, since it means, “I could be mistaken.” In Trump’s case, what he erroneously thought (that he had been on more TIME covers than anyone else) could have plausibly been caused by not knowing facts that were not well known or easily found. There is no way that Warren could have thought that her smidgen of executive experience exceeded that of her competition for the nomination. Joe Biden was Vice President, also on the “executive side,” and was in charge of more than helping to set up one tiny agency. Bernie Sanders was once mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Mayor Pete is, after all, a mayor. Mike Bloomberg was Mayor of New York City, which many regard as the equivalent of being a governor. Continue reading

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

Ethics Observations On The CNN Democratic Candidates Debate [Corrected]

The full debate transcript is here.

(Or you could read “Moby-Dick” instead,  here, which I highly recommend.)

  • After enduring a long analysis of the December debate, the Ethics Alarms assembled shouldn’t need a sequel so soon— I don’t know what the Democrats think they’re accomplishing by having two of these guaranteed fiascos within a three-week period.

Virtually everything said last night we’ve heard before; every impression of this weak,weak,weak slate of candidates was already established.

  • Yes, it’s good to have the field whittled down to a manageable six, but it also wrapped in neon the hypocrisy of the Democratic party. The party of women  had just two women on stage, one a near impossible dark horse, and the other old, white, and whether Bernie said so or not, unelectable. The party “of color” had  no black, Asian, Native American  or Hispanic representatives on stage (, I won’t make the obvious Elizabeth Warren crack, only allude to it here, which I guess is the same thing.) The supposed party of the young presented four candidates over 70. The party that hates the rich had one billionaire and three millionaires among the six. The party that wants to smother the First Amendment right to spend money to promote political candidates (or attack them) by voiding Citizens United includes one aforementioned billionaire who has literally bought his way into the debates, and another, Mike Bloomberg, lurking in the wings.

This is not, in short, a party of integrity. Res ipsa loquitur. Continue reading

A Fake News Story About Fake News!

The New York Times end-of-year whine about how mean President Trump has been to the news media was headlined (in the print edition), “Trump Attacked News Media Even More in 2019.” That’s an assertion of fact. What does it mean? Well, the first sentence of the story reads, “On Twitter, President Trump deployed the phrase “fake news” 273 times this year — 50 percent more often than he did in 2018.” Is calling a story published by the news media “fake news” an “attack”? What if the story is objectively false or misleading as most—not all, but most—of those in question were?

For example, last week MSNBC aired an Iranian state media claim that the second round of rocket attacks on U.S. military installments in Iraq killed 30 U.S. soldiers, and that “we have just stepped over the precipice.” That’s irresponsible and lousy journalism. MSNBC hadn’t checked the claim, it just rushed it on the air. I don’t want to hear the Clintonian rationalizations that this wasn’t technically fake news, because the report was that the Iranians were saying that the 30 soldiers had been killed. It was a false report; it was misleading; it would upset the families of servicemen in the area (one journalist criticized it as “journo-terrorism”), and there was no excuse for it. If this kind of unprofessional hackery is criticized, by me, for example, is that an attack?

Such a characterization is more fake news. The news media is constantly pushing the dishonest and self serving position that to criticize journalists for their proven ethical breaches and betrayal of their duty to keep the public informed is to attack them, ergo this is an attack on journalism itself, hence it is an attack on Freedom of the Press, therefore it is an attack on democracy itself. Calling the news media on its now near complete transformation into a left-wing propaganda machine is, they surmise, is tarred by this false characterization built on successive unwarranted leaps of logic.

Journalists appear to really believe their own fake news in this case. I hear and read it over and over again: the decline in the public’s trust in news reporting, as reflected in many surveys and polls, is President Trump’s doing, as part of his grand plan to become a dictator. (See Big Lie #3). Their narcissistic delusion that they and their profession are beyond reproach is self-evidently in direct opposition to reality: the reason for the decline of American journalism’s credibility is its own, reckless , escalating dishonest, incompetence, bias and untrustworthiness.

The article is a good example of this itself. The second sentence in the piece says that the President “demanded ‘retribution’ over a ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch.” Yes, that was self-evidently stupid, but what does a late night comedy show have to do with the news media? Nothing.

The article then moves on to another Big Lie it has repeatedly advocated,  #6: “Trump’s Defiance Of Norms Is A Threat To Democracy.”

The “norm” in this case is, I guess, a President remaining passive and prostrate while most of the journalistic establishment openly allies itself with your adversaries—even foreign adversaries, like Iran— and dedicates its reporting to destroying your ability to govern. The Times writes, “Mr. Trump’s vilification of the news media is a hallmark of his tenure and a jagged break from the norms of his predecessors: Once a global champion of the free press, the presidency has become an inspiration to autocrats and dictators who ape Mr. Trump’s cry of ‘fake news.’”

Calling this a “jagged break from the norms of his predecessors” is another variety of fake news: fake history, in which the news media deliberately or incompetently makes the largely historically ignorant public more ignorant by falsely describing the past. My “favorite” example of this kind of fake news was when Presidential historian Doug Brinkley was put on the air by CNN on election night to salve the despair of Hillary supporters by explaining that America seldom elects the same party to the Presidency three terms in a row. What he said was completely wrong on the facts, not wrong as an opinion, just false. Nobody challenged him; there was no correction. Continue reading