WHAT? Snopes Has Had An Unethical Culture All These Years??

What a surprise.

You know, I hate to resort to mockery, sarcasm and “I told you so” on an ethics blog, but sometimes nothing else will do. Snopes fooled me for a while: in 2010, I described the fact-checking site as doing “a superb job tracking down and clarifying web hoaxes, rumors and other misinformation.”As late as early 2016 I was relying on Scopes, and then it began to dawn on me that, like most factchecking sites (Factcheck.com is better than the rest), Snopes miraculously only saw false stories when they either impugned conservatives, or were non-political, like the three-breasted woman. 2016 saw Snopes joining the mainstream news media in shilling for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, and the jig was up. After tracing many examples Snopes partisanship, I kissed the site off with this post, marking it as an Unethical Website Of The Month (July, 2016).

I wonder if I should contact all the furious commenters defending Snopes on that post and ask them their thoughts on today’s revelations.

A BuzzFeed News investigation found that David Mikkelson, the site’s co-founder and chief executive, authored and published dozens of articles plagiarized from other news outlets. His objective, we are told, was ” to scoop up web traffic.” Gee, you mean pandering to progressives and Democrats, doing regular hit-jobs on Republicans and issuing biased and dishonest “factchecks” with clickbait titles wasn’t enough? Fascinating.

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Dr. King’s King’s Pass

King sculpture

Maybe everyone knew this, but I sure didn’t. Or maybe most people didn’t know this because we aren’t supposed to know it.

The story came to my attention while discussing this post, about the title “Dr.” being used in dubious circumstances. I was looking at the degrees of other famous figures knows as “Doctor”—Dr. Ruth (like Jill Biden, just a doctorate in education, nothing medical) , Dr. Joyce Brothers (a PhD in psychology), Dr. Phil (once a medical doctor, but he lost his license), Dr. Laura (a degree in…physiology???) and others. Then a commenter mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., who was frequently and still is frequently referred to as “Dr. King.” The civil rights icon had a doctorate in philosophy from Boston University (my Methodist minister father-in-law had a doctorate in theology from Harvard, and it never occurred to me that he was a “doctor,” nor did he ever suggest that anyone address him as such), but that’s only half the story.

I discovered this, from 1991:

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Stop Making Me Defend Joe Biden! The Plagiarism Charge…

One of these things is not like the others…

I would say Joe Biden will never live down his 1987 disgrace, when he withdrew from the Democratic Party’s presidential race after it was revealed that he plagiarized a speech—indeed, a life account—from UK Labor Party Leader Neil Kinnock. I would say that, except there is so much Biden should never be able to live down that doesn’t matter now that he is running against Donald Trump, not the least of which is that he is placing the nation and the integrity of the Presidency at risk by continuing his candidacy despite evidence of serious cognitive decline that he must be aware of.

During the  2016 campaign, I frequently mentioned my  “Lawn Chair Test,” which is whether I would vote for a lawn chair rather than a particular candidate. Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all flunked the Lawn Chair Test, and apparently the Trump Deranged are taking it literally, as it appears that in November they will be voting for the nearest thing to an actual lawn chair that has ever been on a Presidential ballot.

Nonetheless, the alleged plagiarism claims that have been trumpeted by some conservative news sources regarding Biden’s nomination acceptance speech are as unfair as they are silly.

Biden wrapped his  speech in rousing fashion—well, it would have been rousing  if Joe showed any energy at all—by saying: “For love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. Light is more powerful than dark.”

The Canadians “pounced,”  claiming that Joe’s words were unethically similar to those from a speech byJack Layton, the leader of Canada’s left-wing New Democratic Party,  in an  open farewell letter to his fellow citizens prior to his death in 2011. Layton wrote, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.”

“A number of Canadians are struck by the similar parting words of Biden’s speech to the final words of Jack Layton’s farewell letter before his death,” CBC’s Washington correspondent Alexander Panetta tweeted.

Layton’s message, meanwhile, had itself employed somewhat similar language to that once used by former Canadian Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier,  who had said in 1916, “Let me tell you that for the solution of these problems you have a safe guide, an unfailing light if you remember that faith is better than doubt and love is better than hate.”

Knowing that Republicans and others would be searching for “gotcha!” examples of plagiarism by Biden given the Kinnock scandal, his campaign invested in a $4,200 anti-plagiarism software program last year. It didn’t pick up on the similarities between Layton’s language and Biden’s (assuming he was the author of his speech, which he almost certainly was not), because there was no plagiarism. First, it was a single sentence, and hardly a remarkable one in either instance. I’d be shocked if similar sentences haven’t turned up in many political speeches throughout history. Second, they just aren’t that much alike, though Layton’s was better. Anger isn’t the same as hate. “Light is more powerful than dark,” isn’t the equivalent of “Optimism is better than despair.” Sure, the construction is the same, but that is a standard rhetorical device: three parallel statements,  linked by cadence.

Oratory is a genre, and, like music, it is customary and traditional to borrow and alter phrases and sequences from the works of others, which in most cases weren’t completely original themselves. If Joe hadn’t already had a well-earned reputation as a plagiarist—as a law school student in 1965, Biden failed a class for citing published works without attribution—no one would have criticized him for this trivial sort-of match. The fact is that Joe Biden isn’t that bright and isn’t that articulate. He’s  been a plodding, over-achiever his whole life. He needs to borrow from those more clever and gifted than he, and most speakers consider that kind of borrowing a compliment.

Here’s how it works: certain apt and memorable lines evolve and get perfected through the ages, until finally someone nails it. Then that one is theirs, and nobody can imitate it again without everyone noticing. A prime example is President John F. Kennedy’s famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” There are many recorded—and probably unrecorded— speeches that contain similar sentiments. Ted Sorensen, who wrote the speech with Kennedy, nailed it, perhaps aided by Jack, who had a headmaster who was fond of quoting an old Harvard dean who told graduating classes, “As has often been said, the youth who loves his Alma Mater will always ask, not “What can she do for me?” but “What can I do for her?”

Were Kennedy and his speechwriter plagiarizing? No.

Then there is Winston Churchill, who in 1940 famously told Parliament:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills…We shall never surrender, and even if,which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of itwere subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

In a similarly desperate situation  during the German offensive in the spring of 1918, French premier Georges Clemenceau rallied his people by saying,

“I shall fight before Paris, I shall fight behind Paris. The Germans may
take Paris but that will not stop me from carrying on the war. We shall
fight on the Loire, we shall fight on the Garonne, we shall fight even
in the Pyrenees. And should we be driven off the Pyrenees, we shall
continue the war from the sea. But as for asking for peace, never!”

Plagiarism? It’s a lot closer to plagiarism than Joe’s speech, but so what? Churchill wasn’t speaking for a grade, or for publication. Political oratory has a purpose, and accomplishing that purpose is paramount. He may have been inspired by Clemenceau, but Clemenceau might have taken his inspiration from Caesar, or Homer…it doesn’t matter. What mattered was inspiring a nation, not achieving 100% originality.

As for Joe’s little speech, it wasn’t within furlongs of Kennedy’s or Churchill’s, but accusing him of plagiarism this time is petty and unfair.

All Those Billions To Spend Bashing Trump, And He Can’t Even Develop His Own Policy Statements?

The first time Joe Biden ran for President, back when he could still think more or less clearly, his campaign was derailed by the revelation that his stump speech was substantially plagiarized. Now the Intercept has determined that

“Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign plagiarized portions of its plans for maternal health, LGBTQ equality, the economy, tax policy, infrastructure, and mental health from research publications, media outlets, and a number of nonprofit, educational, and policy groups. The Intercept found that exact passages from at least eight Bloomberg plans or accompanying fact sheets were direct copies of material from media outlets including CNN, Time, and CBS, a research center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the American Medical Association, Everytown for Gun Safety, Building America’s Future Educational Fund, and other organizations. …The plagiarized sections ranged in length from entire paragraphs to individual sentences and fragments in documents that were between five and 174 pages long.

…On Wednesday afternoon, The Intercept sent a detailed query to the Bloomberg campaign. By Thursday morning, one of the plans was completely taken down, while others were changed. The campaign reposted the plan that had been removed on Thursday evening, after this story was published.

If you can make any sense out of the campaign’s “explanation” at the link, please enlighten me. For all the tap-dancing around it, when you publish text as your own and it originated elsewhere, that’s plagiarism. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Thank God It’s Friday” Ethics Warm-Up, 8/2/2019: “Non-Reciprocal Loyalty, Woke Virtue-Signaling, Reasonable Vigilantes, And Pseudo-Plagiarism.” #4

I held out this terrific Comment of the Day by Isaac for almost a week, waiting for just the right moment. The right moment occurred when I decided that having to write one more word about mass shootings, “the resistance” losing its mind, or the news media finally giving up any pretense of competence and objectivity would turn ME into a mass shooter. The topic here is hip-hop and “beat-jacking,” of which I previously knew nothing.

Here is Isaac’s Comment of the Day on #4 in “Thank God It’s Friday” Ethics Warm-Up, 8/2/2019: Non-Reciprocal Loyalty, Woke Virtue-Signaling, Reasonable Vigilantes, And Pseudo-Plagiarism“:

Intentionally appropriating someone else’s song and adapting it, without permission from the original artist, I think would be considered unethical. In hip hop parlance this is “jacking,” “beat jacking” or “biting” and is considered okay by no one, even though it happens all the time. Hip hop history is filled with drama and fighting over stolen beats and songs. But where, if anywhere, the law needs to come in on this is a mystery. It’s near impossible to prove what’s intentional and what isn’t.

The line between “beat jacking” and just “sampling” (the foundation of hip hop and a few other genres) can be blurry but there is a difference. Here’s a quick and dirty guide:

-If you pull an MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice and basically perform karaoke over someone else’s music, that is obvious beat-jacking and you face cultural rejection and/or retribution. It’s also FIRMLY illegal to do this now, and it was toeing the line when Hammer and Ice did it (Vanilla Ice was forced to pay up despite having slightly changed the famous bass line of “under pressure” for his lousy song.) The more well-known the original, stolen song is, the less likely your peers will tolerate this, legal or not. Continue reading

“Thank God It’s Friday” Ethics Warm-Up, 8/2/2019: Non-Reciprocal Loyalty, Woke Virtue-Signaling, Reasonable Vigilantes, And Pseudo-Plagiarism

And I don’t even like Friday, since small businesses like mine acknowledge no weekends, and ethics never sleeps…

1. Loyalty Ethics. Joe Biden got knocked around in the debate this week for supporting Barack Obama’s policies. Joe remained steadfast, saying, “I was a little surprised at how much incoming there was about Barack, about the President. I’m proud of having served him. I’m proud of the job he did. I don’t think there’s anything he has to apologize for. He changed the dialogue, he changed the whole question, he changed what was going on. And the idea that somehow it’s comparable to what [ President Trump] is doing is absolutely bizarre.”

Obama, however, has been silent. Now talk-show host Jesse Kelly, among others, is questioning Obama’s loyalty, tweeting, “The silence from Barack Obama as his Vice President of eight years gets torn limb from limb on his behalf is fascinating. Not even a polite word of support. Either those two are really on the outs or Obama truly is a political machine with no sense of loyalty.”

Fair? I don’t think so. It is not appropriate for Obama to start playing favorites as this stage pf the nomination process. He may realize that being seen as having to come to Joe rescue might hurt more than help: can Biden stand up for himself, or can’t he? That doesn’t mean that Obama is not a political machine with no sense of loyalty; I suspect that he is, as most of our Presidents have been. I also suspect that Obama thought Biden was a dolt, which, as we know, he is.

2.  NBA sexual exploitation/ virtue-signaling ethics. I don’t know what to make of this story. Maybe you can explain it. The Milwaukee Bucks are eliminating their traditional, all-female T&A sideline “dance team” and replacing them with a gender-inclusive dance team named the 414 Crew. (Wait: my Facebook friends are arguing that an all-female editorial board is still diverse! Why was this necessary?) From the Bucks brass: “We’re kind of constantly looking to evolve and broaden our reach and be as inclusive as we possibly can.” Oh. That’s funny, I assumed that scantily clad women moving provocatively was a crude way to please the NBA’s and NFL ‘s overwhelmingly male market. If teams finally recognize that these acts were demeaning to women, why not just eliminate them? Why does a pro-basketball team need “dancing, tumbling, break-dancing, tricking and other unique talents” on display during the game? Why not magic acts? Fire-eating?  Continue reading

Pop Music Ethics History: “My Sweet Lord” And “He’s So Fine” [UPDATED]

The ABA Journal finally provided a brief, clear, fascinating account of exactly how it was that George Harrison was found to have  “unintentionally” plagiarized  the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” when he wrote his biggest hit single as a solo artist, “My Sweet Lord.”

It also clarifies what I always suspected: when courts have to decide the question of when a song is too much “like” another, anything can happen.

George Harrison’s first solo album “All Things Must Pass” was released  in 1970, the same year the Beatles officially broke up, with “My Sweet Lord” the triple album’ s signature hit. I remember the first time I heard the song, and thinking, “Wow, that reminds me a lot of ‘He’s So Fine’!”  Others thought so as well, including  Bright Tunes Music Corp., which held the copyright on the Chiffons’ 1963 classic. It sued Harrison’s publishing company, Harrisongs Music Ltd., for copyright infringement.

As  litigation proceeded, Harrison admitted in court filings  that he was familiar with “He’s So Fine”—how could he not be?—but denied that he had used it to create “My Sweet Lord.”  At trial, Harrison  brought his guitar to  the witness stand to demonstrate how  he had composed “My Sweet Lord.” This, onlookers agreed,  was sufficiently convincing to persuade the judge that George was not guilty of intentional infringement. Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 6/30/2019: Post Rugby Edition

This just has to be a better day than yesterday.

And I’m not even referring to the Yankees beating the Red Sox 17-13 in the first MLB game ever played in Europe.

Also, much thanks to the many readers who sent their condolences to me and my family. It helped.

1. Keepin’ a-goin’!  Believe it or not,  having to say farewell to our sweet, vocal and witty Jack Russell terrier  was not necessarily the worst part of our Saturday. This makes today another ethics challenge, that being the theme of the intentionally simple-minded poem used by comic actor Henry Gibson on “Laugh-In,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and later as a country music song in Robert Altman’s “Nashville.”

The ditty was “Keep A-Goin,” and Gibson, unethically, left the impression that he had written it. He hadn’t: the poem was written Frank Lebby Stanton (1857-1927), now forgotten, and Henry (who died  in 2009) bears some of the responsibility for that, though the poem was ripe for stealing since the copyright expired long ago.. The “Nashville” credits claim Gibson was the author of the song. Wrong. Here it is:

Ef you strike a thorn or rose,
    Keep a-goin’!
  Ef it hails, or ef it snows,
    Keep a-goin!
  ‘Taint no use to sit an’ whine,
  When the fish ain’t on yer line;
  Bait yer hook an’ keep a-tryin’—
    Keep a-goin’!

  When the weather kills yer crop,
    Keep a-goin’!
  When you tumble from the top,
    Keep a-goin’!
  S’pose you’re out of every dime,
  Bein’ so ain’t any crime;
  Tell the world you’re feelin’ prime
    Keep a-goin’!

  When it looks like all is up,
    Keep a-goin’!
  Drain the sweetness from the cup,
    Keep a-goin’!
  See the wild birds on the wing,
  Hear the bells that sweetly ring,
  When you feel like sighin’ sing—
    Keep a-goin’!

Since around 4:30 pm yesterday, I have felt like doing absolutely nothing other than grieving and helping the rest of my family deal with the sadness that engulfs us. But, as another poet memorably said, I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

So do we all. Continue reading

What A Fine, Fine Role Model This High School Principal Is…If The Idea Is To Graduate Short-Cut And Rationalization Addicted Students Who Try To Tap-Dance Their Way Out Of Trouble!

 

Abby Smith, a graduating student at Parkersburg High School in West Virginia, noticed something vaguely familiar about  the speech given by the school’s principal, Ken DeMoss, at her graduation last week. Later, she went home and looked for a video of a speech actor Ashton  Kutcher (formerly the goof on “The 70s Show,” the goof who succeeded Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men,” and the guy who took over froim Bruce Willis when Demi Moore decided she wanted a husband with hair) gave at the 2013 Kid’s Choice Awards. Then she edited DeMoss’s speech and Kutcher’s together, and posted them on YouTube.

There’s no doubt about it, as you can see above. The principal ripped off the speech.

Some might say that what Smith did was mean and unnecessary. No, it was responsible, essential, and gutsy. Students are taught in school, or are supposed to be,  to do their own work, a lesson especially hard to convey when the internet makes plagiarism  easy to do and hard to detect. The distinction between being inspired by another person’s creative output, using it as a foundation for an original work, borrowing phrases and ideas (with attribution), and, in contrast, stealing intellectual property and presenting it as your own, is a crucial one for students to understand. When a role model, a school administer, flagrantly does what the school must teach students not to do, and worse, does this  in front of students, and even worse than that, does it in the course of a speech about the virtues of hard work, such cynicism, laziness, and cheating must not be allowed to pass unnoticed, and I hope, unpunished.

After he was caught, “Kenny” issued this epicly horrible statement, incorporating rationalizations, unethical apologies, multiple logical fallacies, a Jumbo and, of course, lies: Continue reading

Memorial Day Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 5/25/2019: Julian, Conan, Naomi, and Ousamequin

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

It’s going to be a Sousa weekend here. The piece above is one I bet you haven’t heard before. President Chester A. Arthur ordered Sousa to compose a replacement for  1812’s   “Hail to the Chief,” which had announced Presidents since John Quincy Adams, although it went in and out of fashion. (President Polk, it is said, always had “Hail to the Chief” played because he was so physically unimpressive that nobody noticed when he entered a room without the fanfare!) After Arthur left office, Presidents returned to to”Hail to Chief,” and Eisenhower made it the official tune of the office in 1954.

1. A First Amendment stretch. Julian Assange has been indicted. Good. He conspired with a weak-minded and troubled soldier to prompt him, now her, to steal U.S. secrets so he could publish them and promote his anarchist website, Wikileaks. The act almost certainly got U.S. agents killed and did other irreparable harm. Assange isn’t a journalist, and publishing stolen classified information isn’t journalism. Naturally journalists are lining up to defend Assange, especially the New York Times, which was the beneficiary of the Pentagon Papers ruling. They see a conviction of Assange the way abortion zealots see bans on late-term abortions: a camel’s nose in the tent, the slippery slope.

The use of journalistic publications as illegal document laundering devices has always been the least compelling aspect of First Amendment protection of freedom of the Press. I have never believed that it was a wise and fair protection, and if Assange’s just desserts weaken the right of newspapers to publish troop movements,  private citizens’ tax returns, and grand jury proceedings, good.

2. Did Conan O’Brien steal a writer’s jokes? You decide! Here is a joke Robert Kaseberg wrote on Twitter on June 9, 2015: Continue reading