Tag Archives: misleading journalism

Morning Ethics Catch-Up, 8/22/18: Manafort, Cohen, and Mollie

Gee, it’s good to be back home…

It took 9 and a half hours to get back to home and office after my CLE tour in rural Pennsylvania, an adventure that also featured a malfunctioning transmission and new Garmin GPS that went rogue, took us in circles once and 20 miles in the wrong direction another time. This is why the ProEthics, aka the Marshalls, never take vacations. It’s cheaper and safer to have such disasters at home.

1.  Explain to me, somebody...why Paul Manafort’s conviction on ten charges that occurred before Donald Trump ran for President and that have nothing to do with Russia or the Trump campaign somehow endangers Trump’s Presidency? Why is this significant news? Why is it on the front page? Now, I can see why his acquittal would be big news, and it would raise fascinating questions about the Mueller investigation’s focus and competence, but the convictions? Please explain. Somebody?

Right-wing blogger Liz Shield’s cynical explanation of why Manafort was involved in the investigation at all is beginning to look good to me. Shouldn’t it? She writes,

He was put on trial because he worked for Trump so that the left can interfere with Trump’s presidency by clouding everything he does with the threat of looming criminal investigations. That way the hyenas on the cable news network have something to squeak about on their nightly clown shows and most importantly, so that no one wants to work for Trump because the cost is too high.

Now, Liz unfortunately resorts to an “everybody does it” defense of Manafort himself, which undermines her credibility:

Manafort was charged with being a sleazy political consultant like many, many others who operate inside the beltway. Did I mention almost everyone in the consulting business in the D.C. area is a sleaze bucket?…Manafort is 69 years old and he faces decades of prison time. He has another trial with more charges in Washington, D.C., and that starts next month.The never-Trump maniacs danced around in glee in their sad Twitter reality, but no one, and I mean no one, could withstand the scrutiny of a federal investigation of this magnitude. I’d love to see any of these never-Trump sad sacks come out clean after a probe by a massive army of government lawyers and investigators.

There is nothing wrong with Manafort being charged, convicted and punished. If what Shield says is true, then more sleazy consultants should be investigated and face the same fate.

2. And speaking of “sleaze buckets” and  “never-Trump maniacs danced around in glee”…The plea deal by ex-Trump fixer Michael Cohen is also being hyped absurdly, though it does have something to do with the President, and definitely raises all sorts of ethics issues. The funniest one is whether anything Michel Cohen says has any credibility at all. Astoundingly, Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote that Trump should resign or be impeached after Cohen guilty plea. This is an excellent example of how the resistance is so hungry for impeachment that it leaps at any theory, no matter how dubious. I seriously doubt that Jack the Ripper could be found guilty of a crime based on the testimony of Michael Cohen. Why does Stephens believe him? Because he wants to believe him, that’s all, even though there are few public figures alive with less integrity or trustworthiness. Has Stephens read the Constitution? “High crimes and misdemeanors” is usually believed to mean “while in office.” A pre-election election law violation, even a serious one, would not, or should not, qualify. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Justice Neil Gorsuch

The Supreme Court today struck down a law that allowed the government to deport legal immigrants who commit certain kinds of crimes, ruling that the law was unconstitutionally vague. The vote was 5 to 4, with Justice Neil Gorsuch voting with the court’s left-leaning block. The case was Sessions v. Dimaya, first argued in January 2017 before the  eight-member court left vulnerable to deadlocks by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. And a deadlock it was,  4 to 4. The case was reargued last October after Justice Gorsuch’s confirmation again gave the Court a full contingent of nine.

The dispute concerned James Dimaya, a native of the Philippines who became a lawful permanent resident in 1992, when he was 13. In 2007 and 2009, he was convicted of residential burglary. The government sought to deport him under a law that made “aggravated felonies,” which the immigration law defined to include any offense “that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense,” justification for deportation.

In concurring with the majority opinion, authored by Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Gorsuch wrote that the law violated due process requirements by being unconstitutionally vague. “Vague laws,” he wrote, “invite arbitrary power.”

The interest here at Ethics Alarms isn’t whether the decision was right or wrong. It is that Gorsuch decided the case on the law and his view of it, not partisan loyalties, not knee-jerk cant, and not as a cog in a ideological block. In other words, he did what  judges, and especially Supreme Court Justices, are supposed to do, but which the news media, politicians, activists and those who neither understand nor respect the law always assume they don’t do: analyze each case according to the law and the facts, and decide without being influenced by political agendas.

Judge Gorsuch’s vote demonstrates his integrity, and speaks for the integrity of the entire Court and the judicial system. There were countless articles, when Gorsuch was nominated by President Trump, that represented him as an automatic reflex vote for whatever future results conservatives lusted for. This was an insult to Gorsuch, judges, the Court, and the United States.

You can read Gorsuch’s opinion here. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/6/2018: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Gooooood Morning!

1. From the Moral Luck files:

What you just saw is a bald eagle landing on Seattle Mariners starter James Paxton’s shoulder during the National Anthem before yesterday’s Mariners-Twins game.  Here’s a closer look…

The eagle got confused: it is supposed to go to his trainer, in one of the more spectacular Anthem displays that has ever been devised: I’ve seen this performance several times.  After the game, Paxton was asked why he didn’t try to escape. His answer:

“I’m not gonna outrun an eagle, so just thought, we’ll see what happens.”

Heck, he had already endured the horror of Dessa’s incredibly off-key rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” what’s a mere bald eagle attack? Seriously, Paxton’s quote is an ethics guide: Don’t panic, don’t act on emotion, assess the situation, see what happens, and act accordingly. Of course, the fact that this strategy worked out well helps: if the eagle had ripped his eyes out, everyone would be saying Paxton was an idiot not to run.

How I would have loved to see this happen to Colin Kaepernick!

2. How the President gets himself into ethics trouble. I just watched a clip of Trump speaking yesterday about California’s sanctuary cities. “The thing is that these cities are protecting bad people,” he said, with emphasis. Naturally, this will be characterized as racism. It’s not racism, however. The statement is just overly simplistic, and exacerbated in its inflammatory elements by the President’s rudimentary vocabulary, in which the only operable adjectives appear to be great, bad, horrible, wonderful, terrible, sad, and a few more. It is impossible to communicate about complex issues competently and fairly with such meager tools. Illegal immigrants have broken our laws and willfully so. That is not good, but it does not make all of them bad people….though many are. Continue reading

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From The “UGH! Will They EVER Stop Making Me Defend President Trump?” Files: The Kennedy Center Honors Double-Bind

I really, really wanted to bury this one in the Morning Warm-Up. I’m thoroughly sick of writing about the dishonest manipulation of facts and principle used to attack President Trump every day, many times, in the mainstream news media. I am sick of pointing out how unprofessional the Trump-hating publications are that uncritically publish screeds that they would never accept as meeting basic standards of ethical journalism if it weren’t for the identity their target: this President of the United States. I’m also sick of readding proyests from readers trying to rationalize such miserabl ejournalism and punditry. I know readers are sick of all of this too, but the important point is that gullible members of the public and partisan journalists are not sick of the tactic, or ready to play it straight.  They are counting on those who care about fairness, process and truth to give up before they do.

Well, they will wait a long time for me, especially when they publish opinion pieces as bad—misleading, unfair, and unethical— as this one, by playwright Sarah Ruhl.

Ruhl criticizes the President in inflammatory terms for not attending the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony as its host. The White House announced in August that the Trumps would not participate in the December 3 event in Washington, D.C. to avoid “political distraction.” “The president and first lady have decided not to participate in this year’s activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,”  Sarah Sanders said in a statement, adding that the president and Melania Trump “extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”

Ruhl criticizes the decision in the most inflammatory terms:

“In dictatorships, the artists are often the first to go. Or maybe they are the third to go, after the press and the intellectuals. The refusal of the president to celebrate them is a chilling and clear departure from American values. Perhaps the Trumps didn’t want to compete with the Obamas, who at the 2016 Kennedy Center awards received the longest standing ovation of the evening.”

What unbelievable gall!  Nowhere in Ruhl’s piece, which unflatteringly compares Trump to previous Presidents who attended the gala, does she mention a material fact. Did you catch the omission? Do you think Times readers and the people who are being primed to detest the President did?

The announcement that the Trumps would not be attending came only after honoree Norman Lear, creator of “All in the Family,” “Maude” and “Sanford and Son,”—and also of the ultra-left advocacy group People for the American Way—said that he would boycott the White House reception in protest of the President’s proposed funding cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His fellow 2017 honorees musician Lionel Ritchie and singer Gloria Estefan also hinted that they were considering making a snub of their host a centerpiece of the event. Continue reading

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ABC News’ Unethical, Dishonest and Biased “What Would You Do?”

ABC’s News’ periodic segment “What Would You Do?” is public opinion manipulation crossed with bad social behavior research, seeking the entertainment value of hidden camera shows. The segments stage outrageous public scenarios—a caretaker mistreating a wheelchair-bound senior, for example, to see how bystanders will react. Any potential benefit of the segments—might they encourage people to consider intervening when they see blatantly unethical  behavior?—is swallowed whole by the more likely negative results. One is that the existence of a hidden camera show that stages such charades creates inevitable cynicism and skepticism. Most witnesses to crimes and other shocking public conduct have enough mental and social hurdles to clear before they can reach the decision to take action without ABC News giving them another. The thought “I wonder if this is fake?” may be just enough to still someone’s ethics alarms and cause them to discount the duties of rescue and confrontation. Indeed, several of the scenarios stages for the show have been unconvincing. “What Would You Do?” also provides a convenient rationalization for those who are inclined to ignore fellow human beings in peril: “This must be set-up.”

In addition, “What Would You Do?” often carries a more sinister feature, courtesy of the biased journalists at ABC. Sometimes the simulated conduct appears to be designed to portray the worst of human values, with the clear implication that such conduct is common in America. And sometimes, like last week, this is driven by a political agenda. Continue reading

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