As If Another Was Necessary, Here’s Smoking Gun Evidence Of Politically-Motivated News Media Distortion

I am not certain any more which is more infuriating: the increasingly brazen abdication of American journalism’s duty  to inform the public fairly, objectively and without distortion and manipulation, or the refusal of members of the public whose personal political objectives are served by the abdication to acknowledge that it is occurring.

Yesterday, the New York Times carried a front page story headlined Kentucky Vote Drew Out Trolls In 2020 Omen. It contained numerous ethics alarm-ringers, such as…

A few hours after polls closed in Kentucky last Tuesday, a Twitter user writing under the handle @Overlordkraken1 posted a message to his 19 followers saying he had “just shredded a box of Republican mail-in ballots”…..just in case anyone missed the significance of the destroyed-ballots claim, @Overlordkraken1 added a final touch to his tweet: “Bye-Bye Bevin,” he wrote…Within hours of @Overlordkraken1’s tweet, as it became apparent that Mr. Bevin was trailing in the vote tally, hyperpartisan conservatives and trolls were pushing out a screenshot of the message, boosted by what appeared to be a network of bots, and providing early grist for allegations of electoral theft in Kentucky. High-profile right-wing figures were soon tweeting out their own conspiracy theories about the election being stolen — messages that were in turn pushed by even more trolls and bots — and the Bevin campaign began talking about “irregularities” in the vote without offering any specifics or evidence.

Yes, there we have an excellent example of how social media and the speed and reach of the internet can start rumors and facilitate disinformation, as well as serve the sinister objectives of those seeking to benefit from seeding untruths and distrust. Except..1. The Times has no idea whether or not the tweet was “trolling” and 2., The Times and other supposedly accurate news sources have been responsible for disinformation of their own that also started rumors and spread disinformation.

The Times also noted with approval that Twitter suspended the account, though there is no way Twitter could have determined that an anonymous poster had not shredded ballots. Never mind: the news media and social media are self-appointed guardians of the truth, at least the truth as they want it perceived.

Then we got this: “Kentucky is shaping up to be a case study in the real-world impact of disinformation — and a preview of what election-security officials and experts fear could unfold a year from now if the 2020 presidential election comes down to the wire.”

The message is insidious, implied but clear—Republican disinformation. We are told that…

“…allegations of irregularities echo the Trump playbook. Mr. Trump has sown doubts about a “rigged election” system since before his own election, including openly questioning the mail-in ballot process in Colorado. He then contended that fraud had lost him the popular vote (which Hillary Clinton won by 2.9 million votes). And he has amplified similar theories while in office, tweeting at least 40 times about unfounded voter fraud allegations, according to an analysis by The New York Times, including a claim after the midterm elections last year that “many ballots are missing or forged” in Florida.”

Then we get the pious lecture:

“Such divisive rhetoric after close elections has always risked shaking public faith in essential democratic institutions. But in a profoundly polarized country where narrow margins are hardly uncommon, sophisticated networks of social media users — human and bot — can quickly turn partisan rancor into grave threats, rapidly amplifying disinformation and creating an initial veneer of vast discord that can eventually become self-fulfilling….While the Kentucky election, held in an off-year, remains a sideshow to most people outside the state, election security experts see in it a worrying sign of what Americans may be forced to contend with next November.”

Damn Republicans. Continue reading

David Brooks’ Stockholm Syndrome

We don’t blame you, David Brooks; it can happen to anyone.

David Brooks’ may be the smartest of the New York Times stable of columnists, and let that be a lesson to all of us. Intelligence, wisdom and erudition are not a sufficient bulwark against the often adverse influence of one’s culture, accurately described as similar to the relationship of water to a fish.  In this case, Brooks’ culture, his water, is defined by his almost unanimous Democrat, progressive, Trump-loathing colleagues, the corrupt and biased paper he works for, and its admitted partisan anti-President editor-in-chief, Dean Baquet.

Usually Brooks is careful about pandering to that culture or revealing how much his surroundings have marinated his brain and values; after all, his alleged role at the Times is House Conservative, a position that slowly but surely has devolved into “House Fake Conservative Who Enables The Times’ Progressive Agenda With An Occasional Sojourn Into Brooksian Pop Philosophy.  His column in today’s Times, however, pretty much blows that pretense away.

It is titled Impeach Trump. Then Move On: Stop distracting from the core issue, elite negligence and national decline.” (Only David Brooks would use a phrase like “elite negligence” that has no obvious meaning.) The piece outs Brooks as thoroughly under the power of his captors in its first three paragraphs:

Is it possible that more than 20 Republican senators will vote to convict Donald Trump of articles of impeachment? When you hang around Washington you get the sense that it could happen.

The evidence against Trump is overwhelming. This Ukraine quid pro quo wasn’t just a single reckless phone call. It was a multiprong several-month campaign to use the levers of American power to destroy a political rival.

Republican legislators are being bludgeoned with this truth in testimony after testimony. They know in their hearts that Trump is guilty of impeachable offenses. It’s evident in the way they stare glumly at their desks during hearings; the way they flee reporters seeking comment; the way they slag the White House off the record. It’ll be hard for them to vote to acquit if they can’t even come up with a non-ludicrous rationale.

Such an opening is not designed to make open-minded readers read on. If this junk were not under Brooks’ byline, I’d probably stop reading, as I often do with similar screeds by his deranged and dishonest colleagues like Charles M. Blow, Thomas Friedman, Michelle Goldberg, David Leonhardt, and others, who have spent three years stoking the hate of the Times’ overwhelmingly Democratic readership.

Let’s examine some of Brooks shared delusions: Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Pitch, 10/26/2019: Calvin Coolidge Was Right, Baseball is Wrong, And Other Revelations

Here it comes!

1. Oh-oh...I was worried about this. Early in the baseball post-season there were rumors flying that MLB had deadened its baseballs after a 2019 season that saw records shattered for homer frequency. I wrote (somewhere this month: I can’t find it) that if the sport really did mess with the balls at this point it would be a massive breach of ethics, changing the conditions of the game when the games mattered most.

So far, the conspiracy theorists have been bolstered by the statistics.

 Baseball researcher Rob Arthur revealed in a Baseball Prospectus report on October10 that after nearly 20 postseason games, home runs were occurring at at half the rate the 2019 season’s homer frequency would predict. Arthur allowed for the fact that better pitchers and hitters  made up  playoff teams, and still  concluded that the ball was not flying as far as it did during the regular season. “The probability that a random selection of games from the rest of the regular season would feature as much air resistance as we’ve seen so far in the postseason,” he wrote, “is about one in one thousand.” A follow-up report by Arthur again found significant variation in the flight of the ball this postseason.

This isn’t good.

2. It’s not even 2020, and the New York Times isn’t even pretending  to be objective. Two examples from today’s Times:

  • In a story about Tulsi Gabbard announcing that she would not run for re-election to the House, the Times spun for Hillary Clinton, writing, “Last Friday, Hillary Clinton suggested that Republicans were “grooming” her for “a third party run”, though Ms. Gabbard has denied any such plans.” What was notable about Clinton’s smear was that she said that Gabbard was “a favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”  This is a variety of “fake news” that the Times excels at, telling only part of the story to manipulate public perception.
  • Headline (Print edition) : “Speaking at Black College, Trump Ridicules Obama For Effort on Racial Equity.”  Wow, what a racist! Attacking efforts at racial equity! In fact, the President criticized the paltry results of Obama’s efforts to advance racial equity. He in no way ridiculed Obama for making those efforts.  Again, the Times is now a master at playing to its anti-Trump readers confirmation bias.

Continue reading

The Attacks On Free Speech From The Left Are More Dangerous Than Any Speech Progressives Want Banned

Another day, another progressive effort to erode pubic support and understanding for the First Amendment. This is at the root of America’s current ethics conflict: a perverse and puckish God has made one of the most unethical and least reflective of public figures  the crucial bulwark against a massed and relentless assault against core national values.

The New York Times, taking a hand-off from its ideological twin the New Yorker, has published an attack on free speech from New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz. Even though he is a professional writer, he has managed to complete an elite education (Brown, NYU School of Journalism) without managing to grasp the essence of freedom of speech, and why it is the structural load-bearing beam that allows our democracy to exist.

Marantz simply doesn’t get it, or he does get it, but would love to see less liberty and more enforced line-toeing by those lesser intellects and deplorables who cannot accept the inherent rightness of the progressive view of the universe. He writes, for example,

Using “free speech” as a cop-out is just as intellectually dishonest and just as morally bankrupt. For one thing, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private companies. Even the most creative reader of the Constitution will not find a provision guaranteeing Richard Spencer a Twitter account. But even if you see social media platforms as something more akin to a public utility, not all speech is protected under the First Amendment anyway. Libel, incitement of violence and child pornography are all forms of speech. Yet we censor all of them, and no one calls it the death knell of the Enlightenment.

I guess Brown has no mandatory course in government theory.  The Constitution is the enabling document of the U.S. mission statement—you know, the one that begins by announcing that there are inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That such a governing document that could only limit government restrictions on free speech also stood for a cultural, societal and ethical norm that freedom of speech was central to the Declaration’s summary of human rights would normally be clear to anyone who bothered to study the two documents as well as research the relationship between law, morality and ethics. It’s true that Richard Spencer can’t be assured of a Twitter account, but a society that denies him one is chopping at that load-bearing beam. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/2/19: While Basking In The Glow Of Another Life Lesson From Baseball

Go Nats!

The Washington Nationals had never won an elimination game in the National league post-season. They were 0-6 in such games going into last might’s do-or-die single Wild Card play-off at home against the Miracle Milwaukee Brewers. Following the script many Nats fans dreaded, the team’s Hall of Fame-bound ace, Max Scherzer, quickly gave up three runs while the Brew Crew’s storied bullpen kept the offense at bay save a solo homer from National shortstop Trey Turner. Heading into the bottom of the eighth, the Nationals had to face closer Josh Hader (he of the Hader Gotcha), who gives up hits less often than some pitchers give up runs.

Then, as they say, fate took a hand. With one out, uninspiring Nats pinch-hitter Michael Taylor reached first illicitly. A 3-2 pitch from Hader hit the knob of Taylor’s bat and immediately ricocheted onto his hand. It should have been called a foul, but the umpires ruled it a hit-by-pitch, sending Taylor to first base. Hader struck out the next Nats batter, then aging Nats slugger Ryan Zimmerman was called upon as another pinch-hitter. He barely connected with a pitch out of the strike zone, breaking his bat, but his weak “dying quail” bloop dropped in just over the head of the Milwaukee second baseman for a cheap and fortunate single. (On TV, Zimmerman could be seen smiling and shrugging sheepishly.) That meant the tying runs were on base for the Nats best hitter, MVP candidate Anthony Rendon. Hader gave him what is known as an intentional unintentional base on balls in order to face 20-year-old Juan Soto, a left-handed batter. Lefty Hader allowed left-handed batters to hit .143 this season. But young Soto lined a pitch into right center, and Brewers right fielder Trent Grisham, one of the heroes of the late-season Brewers play-off drive, did a Bill Buckner. The single got past him (he was charging the ball in what would have been a futile effort to throw out the tying run at the plate) , and all three runners scored. Incredibly, the Nats now led 4-3. After the Brewers went down in the top of the 9th without scoring, they, and not Milwaukee, moved on to the next round of the play-offs.

Lesson: In baseball, as in life, it is as important to be lucky as to be good. Chaos lurks in every second, and the illusion of control is just that, an illusion. A bad call, a fluke hit, and a horribly-timed fielding botch that the same outfielder avoids 99 times out of a hundred, and so much changed for two cities, two fan bases, and the 2019 post-season, affecting jobs, careers, reputations and commerce.

This is why we should never give up, never despair, and never get cocky. It is also why we should strive to live as ethically as possible. We can’t control whether we win or lose, but we can control how.

1. Again we must ask: when did the Democratic Party decide to abandon freedom of speech?  Yesterday, we learned that Joe Biden’s campaign wants the news media to censor adversary commentary from Rudy Giuliani, while claiming that no one who isn’t a public official is qualified to opine on TV regarding public policy.  Now Senator Kamala Harris, who also aspires to be President, says President Trump should be banned from using Twitter because he  uses the platform in an “irresponsible” way. Harris, in an interview with CNN host Anderson Cooper, also called for “other mechanisms” to make sure Trump’s words “do not in fact harm anyone”—you know, like harming her party’s election prospects by exposing its Big Lies and open coup attempts.

I wonder if the public sees how ominous the repeated Democratic calls for censorship are. Maybe the President will tweet about that.

Of course, the President’s use of Twitter is often irresponsible, but also a necessary end-around media propaganda aimed at unseating him and undermining democracy. It is remarkable that Harris, a Senator and a lawyer, somehow missed  that the First Amendment proclaims the importance of free speech to our society. It doesn’t only endorse the right to engage in responsible speech. I think, for example, that advocating censoring the speech of the President of the United States is irresponsible, but I’ll defend Harris’s right to do it—and my right to conclude that because she does it, she is an ignorant, dangerous fool. Continue reading

Reporting The Mysterious Ukraine “Scandal”: Once Again, I’m Fighting The Urge To Conclude That These Are Just Corrupt, Terrible People

 

And losing.

When the first notice of the unnamed whistle-blower’s complaint about—well, something involving the President and the Ukraine surfaced on the New York Times front page, in an article that was so devoid of facts, details and corroboration that its only excuse for publication was to titillate Trump-Haters, I wrote,

“This is what the Times considers front page news now. Instantly, “resistance” members and Democrats will leap to the conclusion that whatever it is, it’s impeachable. Those who are thoroughly sick of the successive coup attempts will assume that this is one more concocted sliming by the Deep State, so we can have a “Russiagate” style investigation that will hamstring President Trump’s second term… For my part, I’ll wait for actual facts, thanks. I don’t trust “the intelligence community” not to manufacture ways to undermine the Presidency, not after Comey, McCabe, the FISA fiasco, the FBI lovebirds texts, and Mueller’s statements, among other smoking guns. I don’t trust the Times reporting, I don’t trust President Trump not to do or say something that crosses ethical or legal lines, and I certainly don’t trust Congressional Democrats to determine what are serious transgressions by this President and what are typical maneuvers that have only become ominous because he isn’t Barack Obama.”

Well, I’ve been waiting. As predicted, Democratic impeachment-mongers and Presidential hopefuls are screaming to the skies, and the mainstream media has been flogging the as-yet non-story, another species of fake news, as if it were the Second Coming. Yet here is how the New York Times itself explained the alleged scandal:

What did Mr. Trump do?

In a July 25 phone call, Mr. Trump is said to have pressed the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Mr. Biden’s younger son, Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Mr. Trump has seized on an unsubstantiated theory that Mr. Biden was trying to protect the company from prosecution when he called for the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor in 2016. Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers, has pushed the Ukrainian government to investigate the matter.

Is “said to have”? By whom? This is not news reporting, it’s gossip. The Biden theory is unsubstantiated? The theory the Times has published multiple stories about regarding the President’s interactions with the Ukraine is far less substantiated.

Why is this coming up now?

Because of an intelligence community whistle-blower who filed a complaint last month about the president’s actions. An inspector general deemed the complaint “credible” and “urgent” and forwarded it to the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who has refused to share it with Congress….

Amazingly, it has now been revealed that the “whistle-blower” did not have  direct knowledge of the communications between President Trump and the foreign leader in question. An official who has been briefed on the matter, however, told CNN that the whistleblower “didn’t have direct knowledge of the communications.” The official said that the concerns and subsequent complaint came in part from the whistleblower “learning information that was not obtained during the course of their work.” That’s hearsay by definition, and means that the report has no probative or evidentiary value whatsoever until it is independently verified. Until then, it is also not news.

What did the whistle-blower claim?

The full extent of the whistle-blower’s complaint, as well as the whistle-blower’s identity, is not publicly known. Reporting by The New York Times and others has established that the complaint involves Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukraine and a phone call with a foreign leader — possibly, but not necessarily, Mr. Zelensky. It is not clear if it includes other matters.

This is really what the Times itself says. A “whistleblower” from the intelligence community made a complaint about something he was told by an an unnamed party about a private phone call with a yet to be identified official.

Here’s my favorite, though: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/20/2019: Not Funny!

Ah! It finally feels like a September morning!

1. Not fake news, exactly, just half-baked news. On the New York Times front page, right hand column above the fold is the headline “Claim on Trump Is Said To Involve Foreign Leader.” Reading it, we learn that an unspecified complaint has been made by a an unnamed whistle-blower “in the intelligence community” that is “said” (by no named source) to involve President Trump saying something, promising something or implying something, at least partially involving the Ukraine, according to two sources also un-named. This is apparently all being investigated by the appropriate inspector general.

I’m serious. This is what the Times considers front page news now. Instantly, “resistance” members and Democrats will leap to the conclusion that whatever it is, it’s impeachable. Those who are thoroughly sick of the successive coup attempts will assume that this is one more concocted sliming by the Deep State, so we can have a “Russiagate” style investigation that will hamstring President Trump’s second term. Those who are focusing on the mainstream news media’s war on the President will conclude that the Times, having once again exposed itself as less a journalism organization than a Democratic Party hit squad with its self-indicting misrepresentation of accusations against Justice Kavanaugh, rushed a non-story into print as a diversion.

For my part, I’ll wait for actual facts, thanks. I don’t trust “the intelligence community” not to manufacture ways to undermine the Presidency, not after Comey, McCabe, the FISA fiasco, the FBI lovebirds texts, and Mueller’s statements, among other smoking guns. I don’t trust the Times reporting, I don’t trust President Trump not to do or say something that crosses ethical or legal lines, and I certainly don’t trust Congressional Democrats to determine what are serious transgressions by this President and what are typical maneuvers that have only become ominous because he isn’t Barack Obama. Continue reading