Inauguration Day Ethics Warm-Up, 1/20/2021: Welcome And Good Luck, President Biden!

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1. Too late! Fox News fired Chris Stirewalt yesterday. He is the veteran politics editor who was the prime onscreen face of the supposedly conservative-tilting network’s election night projections that Joseph Biden . had defeated President Trump in Arizona. Arnon Mishkin, a long-time Democratic Party pollster, was Fox News decision desk chief for the 2020 presidential election. He called the state of Arizona and its 11 electoral votes for Joe Biden at 11:20 p.m. Eastern time on election night, not long after the polls closed. Fox news anchor Bill Hemmer, standing at the Fox News election map, expressed surprise. “What is happening here? Why is Arizona blue?” he asked. “Did we just call it? Did we just make a call in Arizona?”

Stirewalt quickly came onscreen to defend the network’s decision, explaining that vote margins were too great in Arizona for the Republican candidate to overcome. He assured viewers that “We’re going to be careful, cautious, and earnest,” adding that “Arizona is doing just what we expected it to do and we remain serene and pristine. He dismissed voter fraud claims, “Lawsuits, schmawsuits — we haven’t seen any evidence yet that there’s anything wrong.” Mishkin also came on camera later to defend the call. I found him supercilious and obnoxious.

Reflecting on the decision to fire Stirewalt, the usual media suspects are pointing out that in the end, Fox’s call was correct. That’s pure moral luck. Fox News was the first news outlet to call Arizona for Biden, anmd when your brand is the news network that balances the hard progressive, Democratic, anti-Trump bias of 95% of the news media, that’s a stupid unforced error. Stirewalt has to be aware of the company’s brand and best interests. Why jump the gun to call a state Trump probably needed to win? Furthermore, Stirewalt’s “Arizona is doing just what we expected it to do” sounded like spin, because it was. The polls, including Fox’s, had already been proven wildly off, and the voting “expectations” were based on polling.

It would not have cost Fox anything to wait to call Arizona, especially since networks declaring winners in states is subjective, unnecessary, and arguably manipulative. Regular Fox viewers were alienated, and this was predictable. President Trump denounced the networkand urged supporters to watch Newsmax and One America News instead. He should not have done that, but it was also predictable. Stirewalt was substantially responsible for losing Fox News viewers and revenue, and accomplished nothing.

He deserved to be fired. I would have fired him too.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/11/17

1.  Mainstream media bias has been such a frequent topic on Ethics Alarms that I hesitate to focus on it even when, against all odds, what passes for American journalism has another rotting chunk fall off.  The reaction of most of the media to the Comey testimony was a huge chunk, once again shocking me when I didn’t think my regard for this unprofessional profession could sink lower. Some commentators yesterday (they were conservative, but there is no reason a fair and objective liberal wouldn’t and shouldn’t come to the same conclusion) said that we are witnessing the birth of a mainstream media-progressive fusion political party. This is not a hysterical analysis. The New York Times coverage of the Comey hearing, for example, was so misleading and dishonest as to eliminate that paper from ever being regarded as a reliable political analyst again, at least until it cleans house and issues an abject apology to the nation. Ethics Alarms reader Greg did an excellent job detailing the Times’ disgraceful anti-Trump/pro-resistance spin in the thread on the Comey testimony post, as did journalist commenter Tippy Scales.

The Times knows its first take was untenable; you can tell by its editorial today, in which it already is changing the subject. If Comey had laid a glove on Trump (and he didn’t) regarding  impeachable conduct and a route to removing him—which was the Left’s fervent hope and the resistance’s confirmation bias-driven fantasy—the Times would have been  shaking its fist and demanding action in it Sunday pronouncement. Instead, it offered an extended whine about how Paul Ryan excused Trump’s clumsy handling of his communications with Comey by citing Trump’s inexperience, but that he had condemned President Obama for his inexperience, as if the two positions are inconsistent. First, they are not: Ryan did not support Trump’s nomination, though political inexperience was the least of his disqualifications. Second, the President’s cluelessness is directly relevant to the weaker than weak argument that he was obstructing justice by having the kinds of conversations with a subordinate that is commonplace in a business setting. The Times, as it has been doing a lot lately, simply assumes away an insuperable obstruction to its “resistance” position, , saying that “The president obviously knows that it’s wrong to interfere in an investigation.”

Like Hillary Clinton, apparent cyber-dolt,  “obviously” knew that using a private server for State Department business violated classified communications law?

The same logic that Comey himself used to give Clinton a Stay Out Of Jail pass applies to Trump’s statements to Comey, but far more reasonably. Not only was he not, as Ryan said, “steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between D.O.J., F.B.I. and White Houses,” the President  wasn’t interfering in the Flynn  investigation by telling Comey he hoped it would end, and he couldn’t interfere in the Russian investigation by firing the FBI director. The Times editorial reveals the real impetus behind the paper’s determination to bring down the President who dared to be elected by “deplorables” who don’t march to the Times’ ideological lock-step: Trump “[struts] about at the head of the party, insulting everyone and everything in sight: staff members, allies, laws, diplomatic decorum and common sense.”

Yes, for once the Times is reporting accurately, but that’s not grounds for removing an elected President, and it does not justify misrepresenting facts to create a public groundswell based on bias, hate, fear and ignorance.

2. And when it is clear that the news media and the Democrats are coordinating in an “Anti-Trump” party, what is a responsible stance for the Trump Administration regarding news organizations who wave the anti-Trump banner at the expense of fair reporting? Continue reading

Ethics, Motives, Killing With Kindness, “Amadeus” And Related Matters

On a thread about the hysterical doom-sayers in response to the US’s exit from the Paris accords on climate change, one dedicated defender of progressive orthodoxy, lacking a genuine rebuttal for the proposition that the social media and pundit panic was nonsense (for there is none), defaulted to the argument that the withdrawal was unethical because the President’s stated motives for it were untrue. This raised two issues, one centuries old, and the other, an irritating one, of more recent vintage.

In order to sanctify many of the Obama administration’s policy botches, many people have adapted  aggressive versions of three prime rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms List: #13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”; #13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”) and #14. Self-validating Virtue. To refresh your memory:

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

This rationalization has probably caused more death and human suffering than any other. The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal. Thus Catholic Bishops protected child-molesting priests to protect the Church, and the American Red Cross used deceptive promotions to swell its blood supplies after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Saint’s Excuse  allows charities to strong-arm contributors, and advocacy groups to use lies and innuendo to savage ideological opponents. The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else.

13A  The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”)

This sub-rationalization to the Saint’s Excuse is related to its parent but arguably worse. Rationalization 13 is one of the really deadly rationalizations, the closest on the list to “The ends justified the means”:

 The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else. 

But while the wielder of the Saint’s Excuse typically at least has a beneficial or valuable result to claim as justification for unethical and inexcusable acts, the desperate employers of 13A only have their alleged good intentions, which may be the product of emotion, misunderstanding, ignorance or stupidity. How a bad actor intended his unethical conduct to turn out is no mitigation at all. The underlying logic is that the wrongdoer isn’t a bad person, so the wrongful act shouldn’t be held against him or her as harshly as if he was. The logic is flawed (it is the same logic as in The King’s Pass, #11, which holds that societal valuable people would be held to lower standards of conduct than everyone else) and dangerous, encouraging the reckless not to consider the substance of a course of action, but only its motivations.

The Saint’s Excuse attempts to justify unethical actions that accomplish worthy goals The Road to Hell attempts to justify unethical conduct even when it does undeniable harm, just because it was undertaken with admirable intent.

14. Self-validating Virtue

A  corollary of the Saint’s Excuse  is “Self-validating Virtue,” in which the act is judged by the perceived goodness the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical.” Effective, seductive, and dangerous, this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature. Good people sometimes do bad things because they are good people, and because of complacency and self-esteem they begin with a conviction, often well supported by their experience, that they are incapable of doing something terribly wrong. But all of us are capable of that, if our ethics alarms freeze due to our environment, emotions, peer pressure, and corrupting leadership, among many possible causes. At the end of the movie “Falling Down,” the rampaging vigilante played by Michael Douglas, once a submissive, law-abiding citizen, suddenly realizes what he has done. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks incredulously. Indeed he is. Any of us, no matter how virtuous, are capable of becoming “the bad guy”…especially when we are convinced that we are not.

This has led to the seeming absurdity of recent arguments, some accepted in court, that the same conduct can be right or wrong, depending on whether the conduct is based on “good” motives, and who is the actor. Since, to take one random example, Barack Obama is obviously good and means well, even inept, poorly planned and irresponsible policies are ethical. Because President Trump is a villain, the same conduct emanating from his dastardly motives would make the same conduct unethical. I have dealt with this biased approach before and will again, but not today.

It is the second, older question that concerns me at the moment, and that is whether human motives should be used in the analysis of whether conduct is ethical or not. The conundrum come up repeatedly in one of my favorite ethics books,  “The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten.Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Facebook User Ethics : Don’t Spread Panic, And Don’t Make Your Friends As Ignorant As You Are”

The post on Facebook hysteria over the U.S.’s decision to withdraw from the largely symbolic Paris climate change accords has drawn perplexing commentary. The post did not assert a position on climate change, nor did it defend the reasons given for the withdrawal.  The post simply stated that it was irresponsible and dishonest to claim dire consequences of the decision when the accord itself is almost entirely symbolic, requires nothing, in the sense that there are no enforcement mechanisms, and can’t possibly carry the existential weight that social media, politicians, pundits and activists are claiming. It is all appeal to emotion and ignorance.

And it is. Especially since most of the social media hysterics haven’t read the accord and are illiterate regarding climate science.

And they are.

I guess I knew that both climate change flacks and those suspicious of them would shift gears into the messy issue itself and its controversial research and models. The dreaded (and misleading) “97% of all scientists” stat even made its appearance, although, again, it was irrelevant to the post.

Finally, Zoltar Speaks!, Popeye-like, declared that “I ain’t gonna take it, ’cause I can’t take no more!” after a side debate over whether the infamous hacked e-mails among climate-change researchers “proved” that there was a conspiracy to distort the science on climate change (no,  they prove that the scholarly research community members are not as objective and independent as they are professionally obligated to be, and that this makes their conclusions inherently untrustworthy). He produced an epic essay in response, so long and detailed that he posted it on a satellite blog. With his permission, I am posting it in it’s entirety here.

Here is the Zoltar Speaks! Comment of the Day on the post, “Facebook User Ethics : Don’t Spread Panic, And Don’t Make Your Friends As Ignorant As You Are” … Continue reading

Facebook User Ethics : Don’t Spread Panic, And Don’t Make Your Friends As Ignorant As You Are

The eruptions of frantic doomsaying and apocalyptic fantasies on Facebook following President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would no longer consider itself a party to the Paris accord on climate change. Seldom have I been more tempted to write, “Have you taken leave of your senses?” on so many of my friends’ walls. The statements are hyperbolic in the extreme. “I am glad that I won’t be alive, but fear for my children and grandchildren, when the effects of this catastrophic decision arrive!” wrote one hysteric. “What can we do to save the earth?” wrote another, in all caps. Naturally there were links to similarly over-heated blog posts and op-eds, and the routine amount of Trump vilification and hate. “Is he trying to destroy us all?” wrote one usually rational acquaintance who appears to be headed for a padded room and a guardian ad litem. 

These people are all circulating among similarly oriented citizens increasingly emotional outcries unhinged to facts or reality, and making each other stressed, anxious and miserable. This is the cyber-equivalent of running around in a crowd screaming that something horrible is about to happen. What happens when you do that? Reason vanishes, fight or flight instincts take over, and people get hurt. These Facebook posts, and similar messages on other social media platforms, are at best shameless virtue-signalling–-I care about the environment! I’m a believer in everything I’m told that scientists are saying even though I really don’t understand anything about it! I hate Donald Trump like every other decent human being! Love me!-–and at worst, they are societal napalm.

Both President Obama’s 2016 signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change and President Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement had minimal policy impact, if any.  The  advocates are arguing about symbolism as if it were substance.  Is it possible that the people writing that Trump has destroyed the future while cackling maniacally in his White House lair know how non-substantive, unspecific, self-defining, voluntary and unenforceable the thing is?  I have to assume they have not, in which case  everyone is reading climate change doomsday predictions from friends who they trust and assume they know what they are talking about, when, in fact, they don’t. Continue reading

Anti-Trump Brain Virus Case Study: The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin

Not all of the unrestrained anti-Trump zealots are progressives and Democrats. There are a lot of conservatives who detest him sufficiently to surrender their integrity, fairness and common sense as well. The Federalist’s Sean Davis has chronicled a revealing example: Washington Post pundit Jennifer Rubin.

Blogger Rubin is one of the rare in-House Post conservatives. Her 2016 columns regarding Trump were only slightly less vehement than mine, and once he was elected, she threw restraint to the wind. Before that, however, Rubin was one of the few reliably critical voices regarding President Obama and his feckless and bumbling Presidency.

One of the more frequent targets of her acid pen was the Paris climate deal. In a column mocking Obama’s “phony accomplishments,” Rubin wrote  that a Supreme Court decision on environmental regulations proved “how ephemeral Obama’s Paris climate change deal is.” Before that, Rubin  suggested  the accord was a cynical and transparent effort to take attention away Obama’s failure to deal effectively with radical Islamist terrorism, writing, “The president has no answer, so he goes to Paris to talk about climate change.”  Then she cited  the climate change pact as evidence that Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry lived in a “fantasy world” where “a piece of paper”was a signature accomplishment “even if it achieves nothing.” Rubin accused them of selling the progressive base a “bill of goods” on the Paris deal, while Rubin called it “footprints in the sand.” Still later, Rubin cited approvingly Oklahoma’s Senator Jim Inhofe , the most infamous climate change skeptic in the the U.S. Senate, when he said that the Paris climate change deal was “devoid of substance.”

But Rubin really detests President Trump. For a man she hates to embrace her opinion is so unbearable that her only way out is to reverse the opinion. Before Trump announced that he was quitting the 2015 deal but had hinted that he would, Rubin transformed into a Paris accord booster, and declared that such a move would be a disaster. She wrote:

No, Trump’s pullout from the international accord would be a political act — one that signals solidarity with his climate-change denial, right-wing base that revels in scientific illiteracy. Being a climate-change denier — which entails dogmatic opposition to the Paris agreement — is a dog whistle to the far right, a snub to “elites,” who in this case include academics, government and private scientists, technology chief executives and others whose livelihood depends on accurate data. (Between “2013 and 2014, only 4 of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles on global warming, 0.0058% or 1 in 17,352, rejected AGW [anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming]. Thus, the consensus on AGW among publishing scientists is above 99.99%, verging on unanimity.”)

This would also be an international dog whistle, reflective of Trump’s rejection of the Atlantic Alliance and the bonds of cooperation that tie Western democracies together. R. Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is quoted as saying, “From a foreign policy perspective, it’s a colossal mistake — an abdication of American leadership. The success of our foreign policy — in trade, military, any other kind of negotiation — depends on our credibility. I can’t think of anything more destructive to our credibility than this.”

How could President Obama be so wrong to sign what Rubin termed a phony pact, yet President Trump such a villain and a fool to repudiate it?

Simple: if Donald Trump does it or says it, it’s horrible by definition, and previous conclusions and analysis is inoperable.

Writes Davis,

What changed that could possibly explain Rubin’s complete reversal on the necessity of a deal she once said was “ephemeral,” “phony,” “fantasy,” and “devoid of substance?” Nothing. It’s the same deal today as it was when it was agreed to in 2015. The only difference between then and now is that Trump eventually endorsed Rubin’s take in its entirety. And because Rubin now calibrates her political compass to the opposite of whatever Trump is doing, she feels compelled to vociferously support a vapid agreement she at one time opposed on the merits.

Bias makes you stupid. It also makes pundits untrustworthy, and it’s stunning that neither Rubin nor her editors noticed her sudden reversal sufficiently to recognize that some explanation was mandatory. Maybe they think “Trump” is explanation enough.

They probably do.

Samuelson On Climate Change Epilogue: A Telling—And Irresponsible— Rebuttal

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As one of the commenters to the recent post here about Washington Post op-ed columnist Robert Samuelson’s clear-eyed assessment of climate change hucksterism noted, Samuelson’s analysis isn’t exactly a bolt from the blue. Such inconvenient truths are seldom articulated in the mainstream media, however. (A similar article turned up in, of all places, The Huffington Post, which usually favors climate change fascists calling for the arrest of people like Samuelson and other critics whose blasphemy is ensuring the end of the human race.) Samuelson’s column prompted this Washington Post Letter to the Editor from Peter Hildebrand, who is director emeritus of the Earth Sciences Division of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. It caused me to spit out my morning coffee yesterday:

In his defeatist op-ed concerning climate change, “Can we set the planet’s temperature?” [Dec. 28], Robert J. Samuelson sold short human abilities for scientific understanding and for creative innovations that change and improve how we live. As the Paris climate accord notes, we have solid scientific understanding of our options for limiting Earth’s rising temperature, and, with this knowledge, we can set a path for achieving these goals.

Mr. Samuelson failed to realize that we are already in a second Industrial Revolution, an energy revolution, that will be as unstoppable and positive as the first one. The switch to a largely renewable energy mix is already underway, driven as much by economic opportunity and technological innovation as by a social imperative based on scientific understandings. Mr. Samuelson also failed to note that in order to ensure that our grandchildren have the comfortable life they deserve, this energy revolution is critically needed. We need to embrace and support this revolution, not fight it.

That’s some rebuttal, isn’t it? Samuelson presents facts that persuasively suggest that that the measures “agreed on” in Paris are based on speculation, unwarranted belief in inadequate energy alternatives, and unrealistic projections, and this climate change advocate, presumably a scientist, responds with, essentially… Continue reading

Robert Samuelson’s Objective, Reasonable Analysis Of Climate Change Policy: Now Watch Him Get Called “A Denier”

samuelsonI’ve been reading and marveling at Robert J. Samuelson’s commentary on economic matters for decades. He lacks the panache of George Will, the certitude of E.J. Dionne, the passion of Charles Krauthammer, the comforting wishy-washiness of Kathleen Parker, and the partisan alliances of almost everybody. He’s just smart, articulate, observant scholar who gives his readers a sharp and objective analysis that often defies conventional wisdom. He annoys conservatives and liberals in equal measure, and I suppose is not a scintillating presence, since he is almost never on TV talking head panels.

Finally, he put his cerebral skills to work on the issue of climate change policy. Here, in part, is what he has concluded… Continue reading