Tag Archives: President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Ethics Observations On President-Elect Trump’s First News Conference

presser

1. I watched the introductions and about half of Trump’s opening remarks, and had to bail. I just had to. Not that Trump’s manner and speaking style were any worse than before; it’s just that the thought that young people will see this as acceptable public presentation and speaking clarity was too horrible to bear. Even with the verbalization-challenged Bushes, the level of basic language skills and vocabulary wasn’t nearly this bad.

I had to watch an old video of JFK wittily fencing with reporters to get the thought out of my head:

2. Thus this discussion is based on the transcript. I had to search a bit to find an online transcript that wasn’t constantly interrupted by editorial comments and “fact-checks.” These contained a lot of nit-picking and suggestions of deception (and some useful clarifications).  It seems to me that the “fact-checks” of Trump feel adversarial, while the recent fact-check of President Obama’s final speech were consistently friendly, and voluntarily refused to take issue with genuinely misleading statements. For example, Obama said, “If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.”  NPR’s annotation:

“Via The New Republic: “From 2000 to 2010, a decade during which the white population as a whole grew by just 1.2 percent, the number of white children in the United States declined by 4.3 million. Meanwhile the child populations of Hispanics, Asians, and people of two or more races were increasing.”

But that’s not the fact to check. Who says that anyone is “unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us“? That’s a straw man, and should have been called out (I threw a pillow at the TV screen) as one. Clear-thinking citizens are unwilling to invest in the children of illegal immigrants because they shouldn’t be here, and the more we “invest” in them, the more encouragement we give to foreign citizens to break our laws.

But NPR likes illegal immigration, so this wouldn’t occur to them, I guess.

3. I think it’s fair to say that no previous POTUS or PEOTUS press conference began with a frontal assault on the press for publishing fake news. That’s how this one began, with Sean Spicer attacking the already infamous Buzzfeed story. He also attacked CNN for reporting on Buzzfeed’s report. Here was NPR’s annotation, in part:

“BuzzFeed and CNN both reported on Tuesday about documents alleging that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump,” as CNN reported, though the two news organizations presented the information in vastly different ways. CNN mostly focused on who had seen the documents and when, citing unnamed sources and U.S. officials in different places. However, CNN said that while it had reviewed the “35-page compilation of the memos” alleging that link, it was “not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations.”

NPR’s distinction doesn’t excuse CNN. The news media does this kind of thing all the time, it’s true: it reports the fact that an irresponsible news source has reported a rumor, unsourced claim, ora lie, and thus further circulates an account that never should have been published in the first place. Later, Trump was asked about his tweet asking if we were now living in Nazi Germany. (It’s cute to see my Facebook friends fuming about that tweet, when they have been absurdly calling Trump a Nazi for months. Has anyone contacted Harry Belafonte for his comments?) Trump’s response:

“I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public. As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequences. They already are.”

Crude, but fair. It would be been nice if Trump had the wit and historical perspective to remind the assembled, and perhaps teach his audience,  what the Big Lie technique championed by Josef Goebbels was and how the Buzzfeed-CNN handoff would have pleased him. I’ve got to learned to lower my expectations. Nevertheless, the Nazi reference in that context was well-earned. It is disgraceful that the dossier was leaked by U.S. intelligence personnel. “Failing pile of garbage”  is not Presidential rhetoric (sigh) but the sentiment is correct. CNN capped a week of neon-bright biased and inaccurate reporting across the news spectrum by giving this slimy story greater visibility, thus advancing a Big Lie. CNN deserved its comeuppance, which was soon to come. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership

Encore! Presidents Day Ethics: The Presidents of the United States on Ethics and Leadership

It’s President’s Day, and I see that it has been five years since the most popular Ethics Alarms President’s Day post was published. That one, from 2011, reminds us of the ethics wisdom and leadership acumen of the remarkable men who have served their country in the most challenging, difficult, and ethically complicated of all jobs, the U.S. Presidency.

In the middle of a campaign season littered with some disturbingly unethical candidates, it seems especially appropriate to re-post that entry now….with some updates. In 2011, I left out three Presidents, including the current one. Now all are represented, most of them well.

So…

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States of America:

 

George Washington: “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

John Adams: “Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.” 

Thomas Jefferson: “On great occasions every good officer must be ready to risk himself in going beyond the strict line of law, when the public preservation requires it; his motives will be a justification…”

James Madison: “No government any more than any individual will long be respected without being truly respectable.”

James Monroe: “The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.”

John Quincy Adams: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

Andrew Jackson: “One man with courage makes a majority.”   (Attributed)

Martin Van Buren: “No evil can result from its inhibition more pernicious than its toleration.”

William Henry Harrison: “There is nothing more corrupting, nothing more destructive of the noblest and finest feelings of our nature, than the exercise of unlimited power.” Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, History, Leadership

Sen. John McCain And Critics of “The Handshake”: The Pain Of Obama Derangement Syndrome

The Horror.

The Horror.

There are many, too many,  aspects of President Obama’s conduct of his office that deserve to be singled out for legitimate criticism. Shaking hands with Raul Castro at a non-political gathering of world leaders is not one of them. It’s not even close.

The fury with which Republican and conservatives large and small, prominent among them Sen. John McCain, have attacked the President for this obligatory, unremarkable and  essentially meaningless nod to civility shows that they are in full fever with Obama Derangement Syndrome, a crippling malady with antecedents in the Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush 43 administration. Rapid psychiatric intervention is called for. In this instance, President Obama is blameless. He did what any responsible President would do, and what many before him have done. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Etiquette and manners, History

My JFK Ethics Tale

 Shredded Files

As regular readers here  know, I am not an admirer of the character of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, though he had some notable leadership skills that I respect. His reputation as a great man and President is vastly inflated and, in a strange way, I may share some of the responsibility for that.

Several years ago, I had just completed an ethics seminar for the DC Bar. One of the issues I discussed was the lawyer’s ethical duty to protect  attorney-client confidences in perpetuity, even after the death of the client. An elderly gentleman approached me, and said he had an important question to ask. He was retired, he said, and teased that I would want to hear his story. I don’t generally give out ethics advice on the fly like this, but I was intrigued.

“My late law partner, long before he began working with me, was Joseph P. Kennedy’s “‘fixer,'” he began, hooking me immediately. “Whenever Jack, Bobby or Teddy got in trouble, legal or otherwise, Joe would pay my partner to ‘take care of it,’ whatever that might entail. Well, my partner died last week, and when I saw him for the last time, he gave me the number of a storage facility, the contract, and the combination to the lock. He said that I should take possession of what was in there, and that I would know what to do. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Family, Government & Politics, History, Professions, Research and Scholarship

Unethical Quote of the Week: “Face the Nation” Host Bob Shieffer

“The nation was plunged into shock. Nothing like this had ever happened.”

—“Face the Nation” host Bob Shieffer, looking forward to the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, and describing the aftermath of the murder in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Wait…what???

Hey Bob...do any of these guys ring a bell?

Hey Bob…do any of these guys ring a bell?

As it is, younger generations have a tendency to assume that what is happening now is unprecedented, that every crisis is the worst crisis, that what they are experiencing is unique. The remedy to this self-centered, ignorant and crippling cognitive malady is education, resulting in perspective. Unfortunately, the schools are doing increasingly little to provide useful historical context, and our leaders find it useful to exploit the low-information voter (worker, driver, patient, parent, student) for its own devices.

That leaves the field of journalism. Journalists, however, do not generally go into the arena of describing the present because of any particular respect or appreciation for the past, so their ability to convey perspective is usually limited as well. Fortunately, there are still older, veteran, experienced pros like Bob Shieffer,  76 years young, who…who…who appears to be as irresponsibly ignorant of basic American history as the college goofs Jay Leno makes look silly on his “Jay Walking” segments. How is this possible?

What could Shieffer possibly mean by saying of JFK’s assassination that “Nothing like this had ever happened” that is not flagrantly misleading, careless, ignorant and wrong? For those of you as bad off as Bob, there had been three previous Presidential assassinations before JFK, and all of them were big deals. Lincoln’s was a bigger deal than Kennedy’s in fact, because the U.S. had barely finished a war, and Lincoln’s assassination caused legitimate fears that it was part of a second Southern assault. Let’s see…maybe we can give Bob the benefit of the doubt and find an explanation for his statement that doesn’t involve having to shop for rest homes: Continue reading

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Filed under Education, History, Journalism & Media

Consequentialism Alert At Redskins Park!

Washington, D.C. has a grand tradition of nepotism. Sometimes it works; it's wrong all the time.

Washington, D.C. has a grand tradition of nepotism. Sometimes it works; it’s wrong all the time.

A year ago, I wrote about the dilemma faced by Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who was mired in another terrible season with a failing offense engineered by his son Kyle, the team’s offensive coordinator.  Here we have the ethical problem with nepotism, I wrote…

“There is no way to tell what is happening or what the effect of the nepotism is, which is why all appearance of impropriety situations are toxic to trust; there is no way to tell whether the apparent conflict is causing real harm or not. When everything goes well, the doubts will be muted and there won’t be a crisis in public trust, but that is luck, and nothing more…Not only are the Skins losing, but the leaks have sprung in Nepotsim Central, where Kyle Shanahan is responsible. It was fully predictable, not that this would happen, but that it could very well happen, way back in 2010 when Mike Shanahan had the bright idea of hiring sonny boy. Not foreseeing this is a miserable failure to play ethics chess: when a choice is a good bet to create an ethics problem a few moves from now, don’t make it. Owner Snyder should have forbidden it; Kyle should have turned the job down.”

Ah, but that was then, and this is now. The vicissitudes of moral luck have struck again.  Now Kyle’s offense is working like a charm, thanks to the magic arm, legs and mind of rookie quarterback sensation Robert Griffin III. Now the ‘Skins are the NFL East Champions! Now Kyle is an offensive wizard, not a putz, and Coach Dad a visionary for hiring him. What’s the matter with a little nepotism? Never mind!

This is rank consequentialism in its worst form. Nepotism is an unethical way to run any staff, company, team, business or government, unfair, inherently conflicted, irresponsible, dangerous and corrupting. It should be recognized as such from the beginning, and rejected, not retroactively justified if it “works.”

I’m sure there were and are non-relatives of the Redskins coach who could have devised a successful offense with RG3 taking the hikes. The ethical thing to do was to find them and give one of them the job.

The Redskins coach’s nepotism is just as unethical in 2013 as it was in 2012, 2011, and 2010.

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Filed under Family, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, Sports

Ethics Dunce: Gina Chon

“The question I continue to have is when will the conversation return to issues?  Because when they do, I know Brett will become the next ambassador to Iraq.”

Just JKF’s type. Also a Communist spy, but hey, nobody’s perfect!

Thus did loyal wife Gina Chon rationalize away Republican objections to the appointment of her husband, Brett McGurk, to be Ambassador to Iraq. Her point, apparently, is that the fact that he carried on an illicit and secret affair with a reporterher—while on a previous State Department assignment to Iraq and exchanged e-mails “joking” (?) about exchanging intelligence for sex should be an issue in his conformation.

Let’s see, now. One of the gazillion women President Kennedy may have had an affair with while he was in the White House was Ellen Rometsch, an East German spy. (JFK consistently ranks #1 in polls of which Presidents Americans think were the best. Discuss) Imagine that this came to light, that somehow JFK avoided impeachment for it (he would not have), and avoided Oswald’s magic bullet in Dallas. How would Jackie have sounded, if she argued to the press that since Jack didn’t blab state secrets during his pillow talk, his indiscretion jeopardizing U.S. national security was a non-issue?

Like a loyal wife, like a loyal Democrat, and like an idiot.

Like Chon. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, History, Professions