Tag Archives: misrepresentation

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/17/ 2018: For Whom The Rex Tolls…

Good morning!

1. Another “growing crisis” to fear: Rorschach innuendo that people can interpret to confirm their own biases... Deposed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told graduates in his commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, that American democracy was threatened by a growing “crisis of ethics and integrity”:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom. When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth even on what may seem the most trivial matters, we go wobbly on America.”

Verdict: True.

The New York Times, without hesitation, calls Tillerson’s remarks a “veiled rebuke” of President Trump, and “veiled” doesn’t even make it into the headline.

Why isn’t this just as much of a “veiled rebuke” of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama (“If you like your plan…”), James Comey, Andrew Cuomo, Elizabeth Warren (I’d say her continuing Native American lie is a perfect example of a trivial matter that matters), Chris Christie, Senator Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Rep. Nancy Pelosi ( The U.S. Supreme Court is “five guys who start determining what contraceptions are legal.”, “I don’t know who (Jonathan Gruber) is,”  “In the first year of the Obama administration, more jobs were created in the private sector than in the eight years of the Bush administration.”…and so on, and on…), Newt Gingrich, Senator Richard Blumenthal, new head of the NRA Oliver North, and many, many others in both parties?

You know why: the media’s agenda is focused only on denigrating Trump. As for Tillerson, his statement is consistent with what The Ethics Scoreboard and Ethics Alarms have been trying to explain for nearly two decades now, with one major, ethical difference: I don’t use weasel words and innuendo, and Tillerson did. If the ex-Secretary of State has a whistle to blow, let him blow it, and not litter the scene with whistles so anyone can blow them to their own ends. Statements like his are worthless without specifics, and merely arm partisans, hacks and character assassins.

I also don’t accept ethics lectures from oil company executives. I’m funny that way.

2. And speaking of a crisis of ethics and integrity…and trustworthiness…Here is the New York Times correction yesterday on a story attacking a piece on Foundation for Defense of Democracies chief executive Mark Dubowitz:

I don’t know what the maximum number of errors in a single story is that can be corrected before a responsible reader has to say, “The hell with this rag; I’m going back to the Weekly Reader!”, but whatever the limit is, this easily exceeds it. The New Yorker used to publish such corrections  as humor, except the excerpt would be from The Hooterville Register, not the New York Times. Don’t you love the equivocal “referred inaccurately” weasel words? Saying that a salary that is actually in line with similar salaries in the field is twice such salaries isn’t “inaccurate,” it is a gross and inexcusable mistake.

Gee, I wonder if Rex was rebuking the leading news media…. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership

The Paid Expert Witness Problem [UPDATED And CORRECTED]

“Check enclosed…”

When a lawyer’s expert witness testifies in a trial, the opposing counsel will always ask, “You’re being paid for your appearance today, isn’t the true?” The one time I was asked that question, I answered, “I’m being paid for my time, not my opinion.” Of course, many experts—yes, even ethics experts—are accepting payment for their opinion. The case of a Houston lawyer’s recent conduct, however, is the worst example of this reality crossing the ethics lines, hard.

Lawyer Mark Lanier had presented father-and-son orthopedic surgeons to the court and the jury as unpaid experts, emphasizing that they were testifying pro bono while the defendants’ experts had been bought. Naturally, this made them seem more credible to the jury. After the trial, however, and after the jury had awarded Lanier’s client  a handsome verdict and damages of $151 million, it was discovered that Lanier made a $10,000 charitable donation to the father’s favorite charity before trial, and sent “thank-you” checks totaling $65,000 to the surgeons after the trial, accompanied by notes of gratitude.

But they weren’t being paid for their testimony—at least, not when they were asked about it. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

“Melanie Wilkes” Loses Her Defamation Lawsuit…But Was She Right?

A California appellate court yesterday dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought Dame Olivia de Havilland against FX Networks. De Havilland, now 101, is one of the last surviving—and lucid—members of Golden Age Hollywood royalty. Those who are culturally literate know her as Melanie Wilkes, Scarlet’s angelic sister-in-law, in “Gone With The Wind,” Maid Marion in MGM’s definitive “Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn (de Havilland’s most frequent leading man),  my personal favorite, poor Bette Davis’s evil tormentor in “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,”  and many other roles in an epic career that won her two Academy Awards. (If you don’t know her, get cracking! What’s the matter with you?)

De Havilland had  sued for damages, claiming her portrayal in the Ryan Murphy-produced 2017 docuseries, “Feud: Bette and Joan” about the feud between Davis and Joan Crawford, misappropriated de Havilland carefully nurtured image without her consent, and harmed her reputation by portraying her inaccurately, especially a scene where she is shown referring to her sister, actress Joan Fontaine (“Rebecca,” “Jane Eyre,” “Suspicion”—What is the matter with you?), as a “bitch.”

“When ‘Feud’ was first being publicized, but before it went on the air, I was interested to see how it would portray my dear friend Bette Davis,” de Havilland wrote the New York Times, explaining the suit. “Then friends and family started getting in touch with me, informing me that my identity was actually being represented on the program. No one from Fox had contacted me about this to ask my permission, to request my input, or to see how I felt about it. When I then learned that the Olivia de Havilland character called my sister Joan ‘a bitch’ and gossiped about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s personal and private relationship, I was deeply offended.”

“Feud,” she said, represented itself as historically accurate fiction, but falsely portrayed her as a hypocrite “with a public image of being a lady and a private one as a vulgarity-using gossip,” undermining what de Havilland  described as a hard-earned reputation for “honesty, integrity and good manners.” Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Rights

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/14/2018: The “Blotto From A Sleepless Night Fuming About Nobody Stopping That Puppy From Being Stuffed In The United Overhead Luggage Bin” Edition

Good Morning, United!

Where’s that whimpering sound coming from?

Grrrrrrr.

1 Don’t make America stupid, ABC. The new ABC legal drama “For The People” premiered last night, and lost me forever. I can’t trust the writers. In the final moments of the episode, a veteran female defense lawyer was consoling a young lawyer who was upset after losing a case. The older lawyer evoked the memory of a 1951 rookie for the New York Giants, who went hitless in his first Major League games and was devastated. But his manager put him in the line-up again, and he hit a home run in his first at bat, and never stopped hitting.

“Ah,” said the young lawyer, “Willie Mays. The greatest player who ever lived.” The older lawyer nodded sagely.

By no measure was Willie Mays the greatest baseball player. Is this racial politics by series creator Shonda Rhimes? I assume so: there is no other plausible explanation. The odds of two randomly selected baseball fans asserting that Mays was the greatest baseball player would only be more than miniscule if anyone who knows baseball believed that. Willie was the greatest centerfielder of all time, the greatest African-American player of all time, quite possibly the most charismatic and entertaining player to watch of all time, and very possibly the second most gifted baseball player of all time. But he wasn’t the greatest. The best player by every measure, statistical, modern analytics, WAR, JAWS, OPS, contemporary reports and common sense was, of course, Babe Ruth. He was the greatest hitter who ever lived, a great pitcher before that, and no athlete in any sport ever dominated it like Babe did in the Twenties.

Now, any individual can hold an eccentric opinion that Willie was better. But that was not how the assertion was presented. It was presented as an accepted fact that two random baseball fans agreed upon. This is irresponsible misrepresentation. I was trying to think of an equivalent: I think it’s like a TV show having someone quote the Declaration of Independence, and a listener then  say, “Thomas Jefferson. Our greatest President!” as the other individual nods sagely.

2. Four Regans, or, if you prefer, Linda Blair Heads.This is the new Ethics Alarms graphic for unethical media spin. The number of Regans can range from one to four, with four Regans signifying “spinning so furiously her head might fall off.” (If you don’t get the reference, you are seriously deficient in cultural literacy.) The four Regans go to the polar news media spinning yesterday’s special election in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Democrat Conor Lamb appears to have narrowly won a seat in a Republican stronghold, though the race is still too close to call. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: Your Swedish Post-Mortem Avatar

Swedish scientists believe artificial intelligence can be used to make “fully conscious copies” of dead people, so a Swedish funeral home is currently looking for volunteers who are willing let the scientists use their dead relatives in their experiments. The scientists want to build robot replicas, and to try to approximate their personalities and knowledge base in their artificial “brains.”

For those of you who are fans of the Netflix series “Black Mirror,” there was an episode closely on point in which  grieving woman bought an AI -installed mechanical clone of her dead boyfriend. (This did not work out too well.)

I was about to discard objections to such “progress” as based on ick rather than ethics, when I wondered about the issues we already discussed in the posts here about zombie actors in movies and advertising. Is it ethical for someone else to program a virtual clone of me after I’m dead that will be close enough in resemblance to blur what I did in my life with what Jack 2.0 does using an approximation of my abilities, memories and personality?

I think I’m forced to vote “Unethical” on this one as a matter of consistency. Heck, I’ve written that it’s unethical for movies and novels to intentionally misrepresent the character of historical figures to such an extent that future generations can’t extract the fiction from the fact. (Other examples are here and here.) Respect for an individual has to extend to their reputation and how they wanted to present themselves when they were alive. Absent express consent, individuals should not have to worry that greedy or needy relatives, loved ones, artists or entrepreneurs will allow something that looks like, sounds like and sort of thinks like them to show up and do tricks after the eulogy.

I am not quite so certain about this branch of the issue, however, and am willing to be convinced otherwise. After all, pseudo Jack could stay inside, and only be programmed to do a nude Macarena while wearing a bikini for my wife, while no one else would be the wiser. Or nauseous. And after all, I’m dead. Why should I care? Well, the fact is I do care. For me, this is a Golden Rule issue.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is this:

Will the Swedes who elect to allow scientists to try to perfect Dad-in-a-Box for nostalgia, amusement, companionship  and to take out the garbage be unethical, betraying their departed loved ones’ dignity?

 

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Let’s See If MSNBC Has The Integrity To Fire Joy Reid…Because, You Know, It Should

“Yippee! There go all them Democrats and minorities!”

(I didn’t mean for this to turn into Our News Media Stinks Day, I really didn’t. But our news media stinks…)

People keep asking how the mainstream news media can back away from the abyss, stop being an enemy of the American people a true profession is duty bound to serve, and start re-instituting professional standards into the rotting, putrid news business. Firing reporters, pundits and anchors who fail to meet minimum levels of objectivity, honesty, independence and competence would be an excellent start. These partisan hacks behave as they do because they know they can get away with it.

Take, for example, MSNBC’s Joy Reid and this  episode of runaway journalism bias and incompetence cascade.

The National Review’s David French wrote an essay about the possible outcome of a nuclear strike on an American city, as a response to the false alarm in Hawaii. He’s a military veteran and a substantive commentator; I usually admire his work more than this piece. I see what he was trying to do, but “a nuclear strike isn’t as bad as people think” just isn’t a position worth taking, in my view.

Well, as I know as well as anybody, they all can be gems. [Update: French criticized the article as well, saying, “On re-reading it, I’m slightly embarrassed. The post is so basic and simple that it barely scratches the surface of decent prepping. As something of an amateur prepper, I have thousands more words I could unleash. But this wasn’t a magazine piece. It was a blog post.”]

Here is part of what he wrote in the original article, titled, “If a Missile Alert Sounds, Prepare to Live”:

The bottom line, even if a nuclear weapon as big as the largest North Korea has ever tested were to impact squarely on Manhattan, the vast majority of New Yorkers would survive the initial blast. A strike would devastate central Honolulu but leave many suburbs intact. If the missile misses a city center even by a small amount, the number of initial casualties plunges dramatically.

Only a rabid partisan attack dog could read French’s exhortation to  survive rather than surrender to panic in an emergency as an ideological or even a conservative piece. Newsweek, however, which has devolved into the scum on the sides of the bottom of the journalism barrel, described the article with this headline:

“NUCLEAR WAR? IT WON’T GET YOU IN THE SUBURBS, CONSERVATIVE MAGAZINE TELLS READERS”

Divisive, misleading, unfair, and inflammatory. Then, to make its smear explicit, Newsweek wrote this:

Amid heightened tensions with nuclear armed North Korea a conservative magazine is telling its readers not to worry about a potential nuclear strike because they live in America’s suburbs and countryside. An article published Monday in the National Review reassures readers that nuclear war—and North Korea’s arsenal—shouldn’t cause them concern because a nuclear strike will mostly vaporize those in major cities while suburbanites will come out largely unscathed….

During the 2016 election, Trump won 50 percent of the vote in suburban America and 62 percent of the vote in small cities and rural areas compared to Hillary Clinton’s 45 and 34 percent performance in the regions. Conservatives tend to prefer small towns and rural areas, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, with 46 percent of liberals preferring city life compared to just 4 percent of conservatives who said the same.

Nice. Continue reading

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Ethics Quote Of The Week: Peggy Noonan

“Why does all this matter? Because we are losing history. It is not the fault of Hollywood, as they used to call it, but Hollywood is a contributor to it. When people care enough about history to study and read it, it’s a small sin to lie and mislead in dramas. But when people get their history through entertainment, when they absorb the story of their times only through screens, then the tendency to fabricate is more damaging. Those who make movies and television dramas should start caring about this. It is wrong in an age of lies to add to their sum total. It’s not right. It will do harm.”

—-Former Reagan speechwriter and current columnist Peggy Noonan, after citing the material historical misrepresentations in the Netflix series “The Crown” and the new Spielberg film, “The Post.”

I have written about the ethics of misrepresenting history in films many times, always facing the “Lighten up! It’s just a movie!” chorus. As Noonan explains deftly, the stakes are different now, in an age of rotten public education, mass media and internet indoctrination. The first time I wrote about this issue was 2010, in the post “Titanic” Ethics. It concluded in part,

I don’t blame Cameron for not basing his portrayal on evidence that only was clarified years after his film. I fault him for discounting the testimony of survivors, and misinforming the public by plastering a false version on a giant screen for millions to see, knowing that they would trust that a man who would insist that the doomed ship’s china pattern was accurate…Now the film is back, bigger than ever, and false representations of Officer Murdock, “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, the sinking itself, and other aspects of the iconic event will be embedded even deeper into our historical understanding. It didn’t have to be that way, and it is wrong that it is. History, the public, and the 1500 who died that night in 1912 deserve better.

I’ve seen “The Crown,” and like it a lot. The portrayals that Noonan complains about, however, especially the suggestion that Jack Kennedy abused Jackie, rang false immediately. As for “The Post,” which I haven’t seen, Noonan calls out a misrepresentation of a cultural villain whom the film-makers probably thought nobody would rise to defend: Continue reading

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