Tag Archives: misrepresentation

Ethics Lesson: Judges Can’t Campaign Like Other Candidates

false-campaign-ad

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia suspended Judge Stephen Callaghan for two years and fined him $15,000 for a campaign flyer that it deemed dishonest. The court said that the flier  depicted the incumbent judge, Gary Johnson, as “partying” with President Obama. Johnson had visited the White House for a federally required conference on fighting child trafficking, but  he didn’t see Obama there, there was no party, and no function involving alcohol. The flier was mailed out five days before the May 2016 election, which Callaghan won.  Callaghan won the election by 220 votes.

The flier was “in every sense, materially false” according to the decision. You can see it above. Photos of Obama and Johnson are shown next to each other. Obama is shown holding a beer and streamers are in the background. The caption reads, “Barack Obama & Gary Johnson Party at the White House.” The opposite side of the flier read,

“While Nicholas County lost hundreds of jobs to Barack Obama’s coal policies, Judge Gary Johnson accepted an invitation from Obama to come to the White House to support Obama’s legislative agenda. That same month, news outlets reported a 76% drop in coal mining employment. Can we trust Judge Gary Johnson to defend Nicholas County against job-killer Barack Obama?”

After Johnson objected to the flier ( and probably threatened to sic the Judicial Ethics Panel on him), Callaghan removed the flier from his Facebook pages and ran radio ads saying the flier’s “specific characterization of the White House visit may be inaccurate and misleading,” and “candidate Callaghan apologizes for any misunderstanding or inaccuracies.” Continue reading

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Ethics Observations Upon Viewing “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

oj-show

I never got to see all ten episodes of last year’s ambitious and star-studded mini-series about the O.J. Simpson trial before this weekend. Thanks to Netflix, I was able to watch them all in two nights. I watched most of the televised trial at the time, so the program brought back a lot of bad memories.

Overall the production was excellent, and some of the casting was creepily good, especially Sarah Paulson  as Marcia Clark, Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden, Kenneth Choi  as Judge Ito, Courtney B. Vance in a magnificent portrayal of Johnnie Cochran, Rob Morrow as
Barry Scheck,  Robert Morse, unrecognizable as Dominick Dunne, and Joseph Siravo as Fred Goldman. Unfortunately, Cuba Gooding, Jr., an excellent actor, is so unlike O.J. that it kept reminding us that this was a TV show. Nathan Lane and David Shwimmer also were unable to disappear sufficiently into their roles as F. Lee Bailey and Robert Kardashian. I couldn’t help thinking of “The Bird Cage” and “Friends.”

The script was  remarkably even-handed, and for the most part, accurate. However, there were three legal ethics howlers that require some exposition, as well as some other matters that came to mind.

1. The Defense’s Secret Redecoration of O.J.’s home.

In the episode “The Race Card,”  Johnnie Cochran was shown redecorating  O.J. Simpson’s house before the jury came for a judge-approved viewing. Pictures of half-nude models were replaced by benign photos of Simpson’s mother and children, and Cochran scattered pieces of African art around the rooms, taken from his own collection.

Could the lawyers do this? Of course not! It’s a visual lie, and an attempt to mislead the jury. Ito ordered that the heroic statute of Simpson in his back yard be covered with a sheet to avoid biasing the jury in favor of the defendant. Had the prosecution team suspected that Cochran had pulled such a stunt, as the dramatization suggested, it would have alerted the judge, a mistrial would have been likely, and Cochran as well as every lawyer involved would have faced serious bar discipline.

The question is, did this really happen as portrayed? Defense attorney Carl Douglas said in a Dateline NBC’s special THE PEOPLE vs. OJ SIMPSON: What the Jury Never Heard that it did, and that he organized the redecoration. Douglas said the intention was to make the estate look “lived-in and stand with all of its regalness so that the jurors would say ‘O.J. Simpson would not have risked all of this for this woman.'”  Douglas said that “photos of Simpson with white women were swapped out for pictures of him with black people. A Norman Rockwell painting from Johnnie Cochran’s office and a bedside photo of Simpson’s mother were placed in prominent view.”

Douglas should be suspended from the practice of law at the very least for this confession of outrageous ethics misconduct. (Cochran, who is dead, is beyond punishment.) Clark, Darden and Ito also failed their duties to justice and the public by allowing such a deception to warp the jurors’ perceptions. Continue reading

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NBC’s Chuck Todd Offers Dubious History To Cover For Democrats

One of these things is not like the other...

One of these things is not like the other…

[A frequent and valued commenter asked Ethics Alarms to examine this, and I am, as many of you know, always eager to delve into the history of My Favorite Men, the Presidents of the United States.]

Yesterday, NBC presented the nauseating display of a prominent member of Congress attempting to undermine the peaceful transfer of power after a legal and fair election. This was unprecedented, and not surprisingly. Only a hyper-partisan ethics dunce who believed that he was beyond criticism and accountability and who was confident that journalists would rationalize his conduct would do such a thing.  In this regard, at least, Rep. John Lewis was correct. The news media had his back.

Before the actual interview was broadcast, news of Lewis’s statement was out regarding Lewis’s attack, and Donald Trump, as he has with Gold Star parents, beauty queens and others and award-winning actresses, had foolishly reacted with an insulting tweet that allowed his critics to shift public attention from the provocation to the target. Is Trump really incapable of learning how stupid this is, no matter how many times he suffers for it? Apparently.

Meanwhile, it was time for the news media to play defense for Lewis, because that’s what they do when Democrats misbehave.

Chuck Todd, the host of “Meet the Press,” used hsiMSNBC show “Meet the Press Daily” to argue that a prominent member of Congress claiming that an elected President isn’t legitimate is just not that big a deal, saying

In case you missed it, Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), civil rights hero and icon, said Donald Trump does not believe is a legitimate president because of the Russian meddling in the election. Leaving aside how you feel about Lewis’ position, it’s not first time a president’s legitimacy has been questioned.”

Then, no doubt thanks to some intern’s searches on Google, he regaled his audience with misleading American history:

In 1824 when John Quincy Adams won the presidency over Andrew Jackson, despite getting clobbered in the popular vote, a lot of people questioned the legitimacy of his victory. In fact, this happens pretty much every time the popular vote loser moves into the White House.

After the 1876 election, Rutherford Hayes, who was called Ruther-fraud Hayes when Congress gave him the electoral majority.

The same in 1888 with Benjamin Harrison. You may remember the occasional cry of foul in 2000 when the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount and George W. Bush won the election.

Sometimes, though, it has nothing to do with voting. When William Henry Harrison died a month after taking office in 1841, a lot of people didn’t accept the idea that as vice president John Tyler or any vice president for that matter could legitimately ascend to the presidency. A lot of people just called him an ‘acting president.’

Most recently, of course, the conservative right and and some Republicans claimed to doubt President Obama’s citizenship and therefore the legitimacy of his right to serve in the office of the presidency.

None of this is meant to pass judgment on John Lewis’ position, it’s just to remind us all this isn’t the first time someone has questioned the legitimacy of an American president. Surely won’t be the last.

This is what our political system does, we have this back and forth. It doesn’t make it any less shocking, frankly, to some of us when you do hear it from people with big influence. That’s all for tonight.

See? No big deal! Happens all the time! Everybody does it! Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership

Now THAT’S A Terrible Analogy…

Analogy

Daniel L. Byman, a Brookings Institute researcher, authored an article on the organization’s site that would be fun to dissect in its entirety, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. I also have confidence that any half-objective reader can easily see through it without my assistance. Byman is determined to show that radical Islamic terrorism is nothing for U.S. citizens to get their panties in a bunch over, and like so much coming out of places like Brookings these days, his essay is part brief to absolve President Obama from all criticism. Byman also excels in torturing statistics to make his case, leading to the analogy in question:

“With this picture in mind, the challenges facing the United States [in dealing with terrorism] can be broken down into three issues. The first, of course, is the real risk to American lives and those of U.S. allies. In absolute terms, these are small in the United States and only slightly larger in Europe. The average American is more likely to be shot by an armed toddler than killed by a terrorist.”

I’ve had this quote stalled on a potential post list for a while, but the recent discussions here about argument fallacies revived it.

How many things are wrong with this analogy? Let’s see: Continue reading

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From The “Is The News Media Trying To Destroy Any Credibility It Has Left, Or Is It Just Too Biased And Stupid To Help Itself?” Files: The New York Times’ “Fact Check”

who-can-you-trustIn July 2016, Donald Trump said, in one of his more accurate public statements:

Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent.

In July 2016, “Last year” meant 2015, as absolutely everyone understood. Homicides in D.C. did increase by 54 percent in 2015, from 105 in 2014 to 162. The statement was accurate.

Now, however, it’s 2017. This means that “last year” doesn’t mean 2015 any more, but 2016!  Figures on the year just completed show that homicides in D.C. fell in 2016 to 135. Thus the New York Times–you know, that flagship of trustworthy American journalism—through its reporter Emily Badger, decided to “fact-check” that statement by Trump from July, and found that he deceived us. Again. Badger wrote:

“Another end-of-year fact-check, while we’re at it: Mr. Trump claimed during the campaign that the homicide rate in his new home in Washington rose by 50 percent. In fact, it fell by 17 percent in 2016.”

There he goes again! Lying his head off! Citing fake statistics! But trust us, folks, we’ll be right there at the ready for the next four years, so he can’t get away with this constant deception!

Notice how the Times uses “claimed” to imply that Trump was making stuff up.  But he wasn’t making stuff up. The Times was making stuff up by “claiming” in this fact-check that Trump  misstated the facts, when he did not.  He wouldn’t have even been wrong, as Eugene Volokh points out, if he had been comparing 2016 to 2014, the year he was comparing 2015 to in July. The homicide rate in D.C. rose by  28 percent from 2014 to 2016.

‘Trump falsely stated that crime rose in Washington D.C.’ is a lie. It is fake news.

Writes the law professor, using far more restraint than I would (or will):

There’s a lot to be said for not focusing too much on year-to-year changes in homicide statistics, which can be volatile. Even a rise over two years doesn’t tell us that much, though it’s troubling. And we should indeed remember that homicides and other crimes have generally declined sharply from their 1991 peak (though of course we want to be watchful for any reversal of the trend). If the argument is simply in favor of caution about reading too much into yearly statistics, I’m all for that.

But the New York Times “fact-check…” suggests that Trump got his facts wrong (he “claimed” one thing but “in fact” it was something else), and I think it misleads readers into missing the fact that, even counting the 2016 decline, the homicide still rose sharply from the reference year Trump was using — 2014 — to the present.

Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

From The “American Journalism Is Crumbling Before Our Eyes” Files: Unethical Quote Of The Month: CBS Radio]

“The viral video of a beating and knife attack in Chicago suggests the assault had racial overtones. CBS’s Dean Reynolds tells us the victim is described as a mentally-challenged teenager.

In the video he is choked and repeatedly called the n-word. His clothes are slashed and he is terrorized with a knife. His alleged captors repeatedly reference Donald Trump. Police are holding four people in connection with the attack.”

—–From the CBS Radio News report on the horrific crime streamed on Facebook, where four young blacks  tortured a mentally teen, forcing him to say “Fuck Trump” and “Fuck white people.”

Time to roll over, Ed. Again.

Time to roll over, Ed. Again.

Fake news. The intent of the report is obviously to make a listener believe that four whites attacked a black teen. Mediaite, in its piece about the deceitful report, calls it “technically correct.” Wrong. A technically correct work of journalism does not intentionally mislead its readers. A technically correct work of journalism does not suggest an incident has “racial  overtones” but omit the material information that the attackers were black and the victim was white, while suggesting that the opposite was true.

The story was intentionally, not accidentally, presented as another “pro-Trump” hate crime: the attackers “referenced Donald Trump,” CBS claimed, which is a long, long way from “forced their bound victim to say ‘Fuck Donald Trump,'” so far away that the difference cannot be plausibly be explained as benign. The news writers couldn’t find a way to spin “Fuck white people” so the story could be falsely reported as white on black violence, so they omitted it from the account altogether.

Now, this was CBS. CBS! The proud U.S news pioneer, home of Edward R. Murrow,  Eric Severeid, Robert Trout, William Shirer,Walter Cronkite, Dan R…okay, okay, let’s stick with Edward R. Murrow,  Eric Severeid, Robert Trout, William Shirer, and Walter. This wasn’t Fake News Tonight, or BLMN, the Black Lives Matter Network. This was CBS, a trusted name in broadcasting since 1927, and it deliberately allowed a false and misleading story to go out under its call letters to inflame anti-white racial tensions and distort the truth of what occurred.

It is a major journalism scandal, and one that should be followed by investigations, firings, a corporate apology, and reform.

Observe with me and see if it is.

Any bets?

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Race

The Ethics Alarms “Fake News” Project: Seeking Ethics Distinctions Among Web Hoaxes, False Narratives,”Fake News” And Negligent, Incompetent or Biased Reporting (PART I: The New York Times School Voucher Headline)

I LOVE this story! I wish it WERE true!!!

I LOVE this story! I wish it WERE true!!!

Yesterday’s New York Times included a story headlined  Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It, and it stated,

The odds are good that privatizing education will be part of the agenda for President-elect Donald J. Trump’s administration. […] You might think that most economists agree with this overall approach, because economists generally like free markets. For example, over 90 percent of the members of the University of Chicago’s panel of leading economists thought that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft made consumers better off by providing competition for the highly regulated taxi industry.But economists are far less optimistic about what an unfettered market can achieve in education. Only a third of economists on the Chicago panel agreed that students would be better off if they all had access to vouchers to use at any private (or public) school of their choice.

While economists are trained about the value of free markets, they are also trained to spot when markets can’t work alone and government intervention is required.

That summation, however, was misleading to the point of falsehood. As the Scott Alexander points out at his blog Slate Star Codex,  the source for the story indicated something quite different—materially different:

economists_views

Got that? Scott Alexander writes:

Continue reading

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