Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/4/18: Getting Pounded On The Head To Make Us Confused About The Nunes Memo Edition

Minnesota yesterday. Unfortunately, the game is indoors…

Good morning!

1 So Depressing. I guess we have to conclude that liberals, progressives, Democrats and “the resistance” will never have any objection to rampant news manipulation and partisan bias in the news media until and unless the think it has turned against their interests.

I wonder why they don’t think a properly functioning participatory democracy supported by an informed electorate is in their interests. Oh well…

Working furiously to bolster Democratic Party efforts to throw dust, mud and static around Rep. Devin Nunes’ memo so the public gives up and moves on to other things, the Associated Press wrote that the conservative Washington Free Beacon, not the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, had paid for the Christopher Steele Trump dossier. Then MSNBC’s Katy Tur  passed the misinformation along, and (of course) so did CNN, on the air. This fake story was definitively disproved months ago. The AP’s eventual correction was also needlessly confusing:

“In a story Feb. 2 about a Republican memo on the Russia investigation, The Associated Press erroneously reported that a former British spy’s work on an opposition research project was initially funded by the conservative Washington Free Beacon. Though the former spy, Christopher Steele, was hired by a firm that was initially funded by the Washington Free Beacon, he did not begin work on the project until after Democratic groups had begun funding it.”

I cannot  find any record of a correction from CNN.  (Presumably anyone who believes Katy Tur about anything is beyond help.)

2. Keep repeating: “Acting guilty doesn’t prove guilt. Acting guilty doesn’t prove guilt…” Byron York, a hard-working and generally straight-shooting political reporter at the Washington Examiner (which I always get mixed up with the Free Beacon) correctly explains why the most frequently heard and read attacks on Nunes’ memo are part of a disinformation campaign. The main one:

Did the FBI tell the court about the Hillary Clinton campaign’s involvement in the Steele dossier? The memo says the FBI used the dossier to get a warrant on [Carter] Page, but, “Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the [Democratic National Committee], Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts.”

That passage appears to be indisputably true. No one is claiming the FBI informed the court that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were behind the Steele dossier. But Democrats have still pushed back by arguing that the FBI did tell the court that the Steele information came out of a political context, that it kinda, sorta gave the court the idea that a source was politically motivated.

Exactly how the FBI did that is not clear. So far, news reports are all over the lot. The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI “did disclose Mr. Steele was being paid by a law firm working for a major political party.” The New York Times reported that the FISA application “was more forthcoming with the surveillance court than the Republicans say. The FBI told the court that the information it received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated, though the agency did not say it was financed by Democrats.” And the Washington Post reported that the court “was aware that some of the information underpinning the warrant request was paid for by a political entity, although the application did not specifically name the Democratic National Committee or the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.”

None of that disproves or contradicts what the memo said. Sources familiar with the application suggest that it noted there might have been a political motivation behind some of the information. But Republicans ask why it would be acceptable for the FBI to actively withhold from the court the fact that the Clinton campaign and the DNC specifically were behind the Steele dossier. It’s not clear what the Democratic answer to that will be in coming days.

It is emblematic of how intellectually dishonest the attempts to dismiss the import of this matter are that telling the judge that ” the information it received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated” is being claimed to be the equivalent of telling the judge “this dossier was prepared for and paid for the Clinton campaign and the DNC.” That is a major, material distinction, when the same party controls the administration the Justice Department attorneys are working for.

3. Wow, that’s hilarious, Bill! Here was a section of Bill Maher’s side-splitting rant about the Nunes memo on HBO’s “Real Time” yesterday. Interesting question: do comedians have any obligation to try to accurately portray what they are making fun of? This is res ipsa loquitur; I’m not wasting my morning ticking off the myriad factual misrepresentations, the ends justify the means rationalizations, the mind-blowing hypocrisy, and the warped reasoning here, but if you are looking for something to do this afternoon and have run out of crossword puzzles, I’d love to get a full list. At least the rant is so darn funny, it’s justifiable.

“Forget Groundhog Day. The only large, rat-like creature I’m concerned about is Devin Nunes. Of course, it’s not fair to single him out. All the Republicans these days are treasonous rats. Trump declassified this Nunes memo, which is supposed to make us think that our own top law enforcement people are crooked so Trump can get away with his Russia crimes. Problem is, Republicans talk about this memo as if it’s some smoking-gun piece of evidence they uncovered. No! They wrote it! They uncovered it in their printer! It’s not an intelligence document, it’s a Facebook post that you briefly skim before clicking ‘unfriend.’ They did not like what the FBI was finding out about Trump, so like the true patriots they are—of Russia—they attack the FBI and the Justice Department because they’re ‘biased.” Yes, because they’re in law enforcement and the Trump crime family commits crimes, so that’s what they’re supposed to do! It’s like saying the exterminator is biased against the termites. This Republican delusion that Robert Mueller, a Republican who’s there because of Trump, is conspiring with Rod Rosenstein, the acting attorney general, a Republican who’s there because of Trump, and of course Mueller’s old buddy, Jim Comey, another Republican appointed by Trump, and Trump’s attitude is, ‘Jeez, what a bunch of idiots. Who put them in charge?’”

(President Trump appointed Comey?)

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/3/18: On The Nunes Memo, The Times Flunks (Another) Integrity Check.

Cold Morning! I mean, Good Morning!

Anne Frank would still read The New York Times, I guess…

(Anne Frank belongs in the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor. I will fix that with a post this month–she probably dies in February, 1945. Don’t let me forget.)

1 “But you know what I sometimes think? I think the world may be going through a phase… It’ll pass. – I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.” Or maybe not. I gathered up all my idealism and hope, and thought that maybe, just maybe, after the ugly and destructive lynch mob it has constituted for over a year to try to destroy the elected President, the mainstream news media, faced with incontrovertible evidence of frightening lawlessness and an attack on democracy by the previous administration in the midst of a Presidential campaign, would finally show some integrity and do its duty.

Then I read today’s New York Times.

The headline: GOP MEMO LEADS TO FRESH JOUSTING ON RUSSIA INQUIRY.

Unbelievable. That’s the news? That there is “fresh jousting”? The memo, as I accurately explained in the previous post, shows that the Obama administration’s Justice Department knowingly used opposition research, funded by Obama’s party and its Presidential candidate, that has substantially been discredited  by the FBI, the same agency that represented it to the court, as evidence justifying a FISA warrant against an American citizen and a member of the opposing party’s Presidential campaign and the Republican Presidential campaign itself.

I don’t see any mention of the Russian collusion investigation in that sentence, but that sentence still suggests a serious scandal involving abuse of civil rights and tampering with the election by law enforcement and a partisan Justice Department. If the so-called “newspaper of record” was objective and trustworthy, some version of that sentence would have been its headline, not an intentionally misleading headline stating that the “news” just is more political “jousting.”

Think about it: the Times is using a less interesting and provocative headline that the one that is justified by the facts. The only reason it would do this is misdirection born of a political agenda. No, Hanlon’s Razon does not apply here. This is not incompetence. This is malice.

2. “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. ” Then there the Times editorials. Two days ago, the Times editors wrote this:

“In a demonstration of unbridled self-interest and bottomless bad faith, the Trump White House and its Republican minions in Congress are on the cusp of releasing a “memo” that purports to document the biggest political scandal since Watergate. To pull it off, they are undermining the credibility of the law enforcement community that Republicans once defended so ardently, on the noble-sounding claim that the American public must know the truth.”

Again, unbelievable and yet too believable. Let’s parse this one:

“In a demonstration of unbridled self-interest and bottomless bad faith,”

The Times thinks it is bad faith to inform the American public of undeniable misconduct by the FBI and the Justice Department regarding civil rights and the Presidential election. Sure.

“…the Trump White House and its Republican minions in Congress are on the cusp of releasing a ‘memo'”

An ad hominem attack (“minions”), a partisan bias-based innuendo of dishonesty ( “purports to document”) and a dishonest use of scare quotes around “memo,” as if this wasn’t a memo. It is a memo.

“…the biggest political scandal since Watergate.”

A straw man trick, exploding an assertion into its most extreme form to knock it down. The facts are the facts, and how they are characterized by some is irrelevant to what the facts show. it may not be  “the biggest political scandal since Watergate” when a Democratic administration uses opposition research its party paid to have done to defeat a Republican Presidential candidate  to get court authorization to spy on that campaign during the campaign. You have to admit, though, that at least sounds a little like Watergate—Presidential campaign, administration interfering with the opposition campaign, dirt tricks, misuse of government power—no? Even a little bit like Watergate is bad enough, when government and law enforcement interference with Presidential campaigns is the issue.

“To pull it off, they are undermining the credibility of the law enforcement community that Republicans once defended so ardently, on the noble-sounding claim that the American public must know the truth.”

Pull what off? That’s another bit of rhetorical dishonesty implying wrongdoing by transparency, when  transparency is not wrongdoing unless it is illegal (Wikileaks, James Snowden). Then we have the cynical tack I just wrote about:

“The argument against the memo and the issues it raises, that the public revelations demoralizes our intelligence community and undermines the public’s support and trust is the same invalid logic being used to condemn criticism of the biased news media. If these institutions are not trustworthy and acting against the interests they are pledged to protect, then the public must know. If the conduct of the intelligence community shows that it isn’t trustworthy, there is nothing wrong, and everything right, about exposing it.”

How does the fact that the Republicans once defended the law enforcement community “ardently” change the appropriateness and necessity of  revealing wrongdoing they were not previously aware of? Finally, did I really read the New York Times editors mocking the proposition (“noble-sounding”) that “the American public must know the truth”?

What a disgraceful, shocking, self-indicting paragraph. Continue reading

Ten Ethics Observations On The Nunes Memo

The controversial Devon Nunes memo was released. You can read it here.

Observations:

1 The most important thing to keep in mind is that the information and conclusions in the memo are incomplete. Claims from the Right that it describes a Watergate level scandal are. at best, premature. However, the immediate and furious protests from the Left that it is a “nothingburger”—you know, like Obama IRS scandal that passed another stage today—is pretty damning. What the memo suggests is deeply disturbing, and possibly—too early to tell–frightening. For any American, and certainly for any journalist, to try to brush it off at this point as insignificant  is proof of corruption by hyper-partisanship.

2. The resistance to releasing the memo from the FBI as a danger to “national security” appears deliberately misleading, in light of the memo itself. This, in turn, unavoidably makes , or should make, any objective reader suspicious. In retrospect, the warning sure looks like a false characterization as a desperate effort to keep an unethical episode covered up. The furious FBI attacks on the memo have to be regarded in this light: if the memo was fair and accurate, would the FBI react this way? Yes. If it was unfair and inaccurate, would it react the exact same way? Yes.

3. Rep. Trey Gowdy said today that the memo in no way undermines the Mueller investigation. I don’t see how he could say that, or why. Of course it does; the memo gives credence to the accusation that the entire Russian collusion theory was nurtured by anti-Trump figures in the Justice Department and the FBI before and after the election.

4. To reduce the memo to its simplest form: The infamous Steele dossier—the one James Comey described to Congress, under oath, as “salacious and unverified”— was included as l part of the initial and all three renewal FISA applications against Carter Page. Andrew McCabe, the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who just resigned under fire, testified that no FISA warrant would have been sought from the FISA Court without the Steele dossier information. Yet The initial application and the renewal applications did not disclose the role of the Democratic National Committee and the  Clinton campaign in generating the dossier by paying $160,000 to Christopher Steel to compile it,  nor did the applications show that Steele was working for Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson, who was paid by the law firm representing the DNC. In other words, part of the evidence presented to the court to justify surveillance of a member of the Trump campaign, and by extension the campaign itself, was created by someone   working on behalf of  the DNC and Clinton campaign. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/25/17: The Clinton Campaign’s Russian Dossier Connection, Her Lying Lawyer, And Jeff Flake

GOOD MORNING!

1 I have long been an admirer of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who is one of the few members of Congress, more’s the pity, who will stick to his principles even when they pit him against his own party. However, his freak-out and verbal attack on President Trump accomplish nothing positive (unless you consider making Democrats happy positive) and  at this point constitute pure self-indulgence and, yes, these words are coming up a lot lately, virtue-signalling and grandstanding. I have no sympathy for Flake, Senator Corker, or any other Republican leaders who stood by and allowed Donald Trump to hijack their party. The time for Flake to take a stand was last March, or even earlier. Ethics Alarms stated that the GOP shouldn’t have let Trump into the debates or on its ballot. I said that he should have been kicked out of the debates when he began trashing the party, and when he  became disgustingly boorish and uncivil. I explained that it could have and should have refused to nominate him by changing the rules. The party had a duty to the country to present a competent, trustworthy alternative to the corrupt, venal, dishonest candidate the Democrats were going to nominate: everyone knew who that would be. Instead, the GOP sold its soul. Jeff Flake now says that Trump is reckless, outrageous and undignified? Who didn’t know that? I assume the President’s  voters knew that. On Ethics Alarms, I wrote about those Trump character traits in 2011.

It is particularly galling for me to read Flake’s attack on Trump in the Washington Post today, which begins, “As I contemplate the Trump presidency, I cannot help but think of Joseph Welch.” In fact, it makes me want to scream helplessly at the sky. In this Ethics Alarms post, I invoked Welch’s famous televised slap-down of Joe McCarthy before the first Republican candidates debate, and concluded “If someone doesn’t at least try it, none of these 15 non-Trumps are smart enough to be President.” I wrote that on September 16, 2015. 

Senator Flake is like a Senator  going to Honolulu in December of 1942 and proclaiming that the Japanese can’t be trusted. He deserves no sympathy or support now.

He should have been reading Ethics Alarms.

UPDATE: My friend and frequent ProEthics collaborator Mike Messer called this “flake news.”

2. I haven’t had time to thoroughly unravel what yesterday’s revelation that Hillary Clinton’s campaign funded what became the infamous “Russian dossier” means. A couple of points, however, Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/13/17

Good Morning!

1. I owe Robin Meade an apology. The astoundingly bright-eyed, bushy-tailed HLN morning host has been used here as an an example of the sexism of broadcast news media producers, and it is true that she is uncommonly attractive even by “news babe” standards. However, I have come to realize that she is also a unique talent, and more than just a pretty face and figure. Meade has natural presence and charisma, projects genuine optimism and and an up-beat nature, and most unusual of all, doesn’t spin the news or tilt her delivery to signal her own opinion. She’s really good at what she does. I’m sorry Robin; I was biased against you because you are attractive, which is just as wrong as being biased for you. You’re a pro, through and through.

2. Constitutional law expert Eugene Volokh (who is also my favorite candidate for a Supreme Court post if one opens up) published what I consider to be a definitive refutation of the claim that receiving opposition research, as in “damaging information about Hillary Clinton,” is a crime under current law. He also makes a case that it couldn’t be criminalized under future law:

“It would raise obvious First Amendment problems: First, noncitizens, and likely even non-permanent-residents, in the United States have broad First Amendment rights. See Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135 (1945) (“freedom of speech and of press is accorded aliens residing in this country”); Underwager v. Channel 9 Australia, 69 F.3d 361 (9th Cir. 1995) (“We conclude that the speech protections of the First Amendment at a minimum apply to all persons legally within our borders,” including ones who are not permanent residents).

Second, Americans have the right to receive information even from speakers who are entirely abroad. See Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965). Can Americans — whether political candidates or anyone else — really be barred from asking questions of foreigners, just because the answers might be especially important to voters?”

The professor concludes not. I hadn’t even considered the First Amendment issue in determining that the election law prohibition against receiving “anything of value” benefiting a candidate from a foreign nation or individual was not intended to preclude mere information, but Volokh’s argument seems air tight. Continue reading

Oh, Great: The Head Of America Rising Is A Harry Reid Clone

Secret photograph of future GOP operatives cloned in a secret facility.

Smuggled photograph of future GOP operatives cloned in a secret facility.

Republicans need a lot of things. Their own Harry Reid—and thus their own smug, unethical, Machiavellian liar who thinks deliberately misleading the public is justified if it helps win the day—isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, the brilliant RNC scientists at its top secret Bio-ideological Warfare facilities in a bunker under Pike’s Peak have apparently made one. (And maybe many...)

Remember the name Colin Reed (they cleverly changed the spelling to hide the fact that he was cloned from Harry’s nose hair clippings), and then forget anything you hear from his conservative opposition research hit-group America Rising. What good is an opposition research hit-group that can’t be trusted to be fair and accurate about what it finds? None, unless you favor slander and cheating. You know..like Harry.

This week, Reed’s Breitbart wannabe released a video that purported to show Hillary Clinton blowing off a supporter who asked for an autograph while she campaigned in New Hampshire. Conservative Hillary-Haters immediately went into overdrive, led by Reed himself (“Maybe these New Hampshire voters would have better luck getting Secretary Clinton’s attention if they wrote a six-figure check to the Clinton Foundation or were a highly-vetted political activist at one of her staged campaign events,” he said.) as the clip went viral. The problem was that the video was deliberately edited to omit Clinton’s actually signing the autograph as the woman beamed and took a photo. Continue reading

Uber Ethics: Emil Michael Has To Go

Uber logo

What a dilemma. You are a 17 billion dollar technology firm, known for developing the technology application that supports the burgeoning car-hiring business, and most recently for expanding into music streaming by partnering with Spotify. Then one of your key executives is recorded, Mitt Romney-style, as he tells a reporter at a business gathering that the company should deal with negative publicity by doing “opposition research” on reporters and exposing their private lives in retaliation. Now what?

This is where hot tech start-up Uber is at the moment. The executive is Uber Vice President Emil Michael, a key figure in the company’s growth and success.  At a private company dinner in New York, he speculated that Uber could spend $1 million to hire a team to do the equivalent of “opposition research” on journalists who were critical of Uber, to dig into their private lives and family secrets. A reporter from BuzzFeed who was a guest at the event made Michael’s off-the-cuff comments public, setting off several rounds of high visibility attacks from various quarters—Sen. Al Franken called for an investigation—and apologies from Uber management, including Michael, whose statement said…

“The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner – borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for – do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”

I rate this a category 7 apology on the Ethics Alarms apology scale: Continue reading

The Harry Reid Asian Jokes “Gotcha!”

margaret cho_lead shot

Sen. Reid’s crime: Pretending to be a white, old, male, unfunny Margaret Cho.

I cannot pass up an opportunity to come to the defense of Senator Harry Reid regarding a supposed ethical breach that doesn’t exist.

The Democratic Senate leader was addressing the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, and at one point told the audience, “I don’t think you’re smarter than anybody else, but you’ve convinced a lot of us you are.” Later, when another man named Wong came  to the podium, Reid took the microphone and ad-libbed, “One problem I’ve had today is keeping my Wongs straight.”

The horror.

Continue reading