Tag Archives: pundits

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/17/2018: Blacklisting, Boycotts, And A Fox News Ethics Breach

Good Morning, all.

1 The blacklisting of R. Lee Ermey. Ermey, the ex-Marine turned actor who gained fame playing a Marine drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket,” died this week. I had thought he might already be dead, since I hadn’t seen him show up in movies or TV shows for quite a while. No, it appears that he was blackballed by Hollywood after he criticized President Obama in 2010, while he was being hired with some regularity. Speaking at a Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots rally, he said it was difficult to raise money for the charity because “the economy sucks” and went on to blame the Obama Administration, saying,

“We should all rise up, and we should stop this administration from what they’re doing because they’re destroying this country. They’re driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us, and that’s exactly what they’re doing, and I’m sick and damn tired of it and I know you are too.”

Ermey’s agent and the sudden reduction in his offers persuaded the tough Marine to beg for forgiveness with an abject apology for daring to critique Obama so harshly. Never mind:  His contract as a GEICO character was terminated, and the company removed Ermey’s commercial from their official YouTube channel. He later told interviewers that he had been blacklisted by Hollywood, and that he never had major film offer after he criticized Obama.

Observations:

a) I wonder when fair, decent, ethical Americans who believe in freedom of thought and expression will become sufficiently alarmed about progressives and Democrats using blacklists and boycotts  to enforce ideological conformity. This increasingly totalitarian end of the political spectrum needs to be informed that its ethics alarms are seriously malfunctioning.

b) Actors identified with products and companies cannot complain when they lose those jobs after making divisive political comments. If Ermey wanted to do commercials for anyone other than the NRA, his comments about Obama were just plain stupid.

c) As an actor in films, however, Ermey played villains and parodies of military characters.  His political views in those contexts should have been irrelevant, and certainly wouldn’t harm receipts for movies he was in. If he really was blacklisted, it was an act of punishment for refusing to accept the Hollywood community’s lockstep worship of a weak and divisive President.

d) In contrast, recall this public rant from actor Robert DeNiro in January regarding the current President of the United States:

“This fucking idiot is the President. It’s The Emperor’s New Clothes – the guy is a fucking fool. The publication of the Pentagon Papers was a proud moment for American journalism. The Times and the Post challenged the government over critical First Amendment issues. And the press prevailed. Our government today, with the propping-up of our baby-in-chief – the jerkoff-in-chief I call him – has put the press under siege, trying to discredit it through outrageous attacks and lies.’

I don’t think Bobby has lost any roles over this. To be fair, if there is a place where The King’s Pass, aka “The Star Syndrome,” rules supreme, it’s Hollywood. A major star like DeNiro obviously has more leeway than a narrow-range character actor like Ermey, and Ermey had to know that. Still, the double standard is striking. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Andrew Sullivan

Once again, Ethics Alarms is honoring Andrew Sullivan for unusual courage in the field of punditry. In this case, the honor is less for what he has written than the fact that he wrote it at all.

His general topic is genetic research, taking off from a recent op-ed appeared in the New York Times by Professor David Reich, a  Harvard geneticist, which broached the virtually taboo topic genetic variations between subpopulations of humans, that is to say, races. On the way through Sullivan’s essay, called “Denying Genetics Isn’t Shutting Down Racism, It’s Fueling It,” Sullivan makes many perceptive observations, like…

“This argument should not be so controversial — every species is subject to these variations — and yet it is. For many on the academic and journalistic left, genetics are deemed largely irrelevant when it comes to humans. Our large brains and the societies we have constructed with them, many argue, swamp almost all genetic influences.

Humans, in this view, are the only species on Earth largely unaffected by recent (or ancient) evolution, the only species where, for example, the natural division of labor between male and female has no salience at all, the only species, in fact, where natural variations are almost entirely social constructions, subject to reinvention. We are, in this worldview, alone on the planet, born as blank slates, to be written on solely by culture. All differences between men and women are a function of this social effect; as are all differences between the races. If, in the aggregate, any differences in outcome between groups emerge, it is entirely because of oppression, patriarchy, white supremacy, etc. And it is a matter of great urgency that we use whatever power we have to combat these inequalities.”

Agreed, and stipulated: the progressive position on this aspect of science is, as in so many other areas, a deliberate refusal to deal with reality in order that ideological goals may proceed.

More from Sullivan later in his piece… Continue reading

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CNN Vs. The NRA: Ethically, It’s No Contest

1. Let us begin with this. The National Rifle Association is an advocacy organization. Advocacy organizations operate exactly like lawyer representing clients, and their ethical obligations are similar. They must be loyal to the interests of the object of the representation. They must be zealous, honest, and they must avoid conflicts of interest. In this regard all advocacy organizations, regardless of where they land on the ideological or partisan spectrum, are the same. They have a mission, and a job, and a duty to do it well. The ACLU exists to be an advocate for absolute integrity of the Bill of Rights, particularly the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Ninth. The NRA has a similar mission regarding the Second Amendment, because the ACLU has never been zealous about that one. FIRE advocates for free speech on college campuses, which is often not a First Amendment issue.

NARAL is a zealous advocate for abortion rights, in absolute terms. Most advocacy groups adopt absolute positions which often seem unreasonable to moderates. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is an advocacy group for business—I once worked for them—and opposed government regulations. The Association for Justice—I worked for them too–is an advocacy group for plaintiff’s trial lawyers, and fights any efforts at reforming the tort system, such as capping damages or punishing frivolous lawsuits. All of these and more take the extreme position on one side of a controversy to balance other advocacy groups that take extreme positions in opposition. In this they are very much like opposing lawyers in a trial, except the public is the jury. This is how democracy works, and it is the only way democracy can work.

Condemning and demonizing an advocacy organization because one does not agree with or dislikes the position it advocates is, in my view, exactly like condemning a lawyer for effectively representing an unpopular client—and a lot of ignorant Americans do that, too. Citizens have a right to have an effective organization promote their views and opinions in the court of public opinion, just as citizens have a right to have a competent attorney to represent their interests in a court of law. Attacks on this principle are unsustainable, unethical, and undermine democracy.

2. CNN, and other segments of the news media but especially CNN, has been aggressively attacking this principle since February 14, when Nicholas Cruz opened fire. CNN is NOT an advocacy organization, or is not supposed to be. It is a news organization, and its job and duty is to present facts to the “jury” without trying to influence it one way or the other. On the gun issue, CNN has completely abandoned objectify and its duty to inform, in an unethical effort to advocate for anti-gun interests antithetical to journalism standards.

3. Here is a stunning admission by the New York Times, which has been almost as shrill in its call for gun bans as CNN, in a front page story (Bolding mine):

To many of its opponents, that decades-long string of victories is proof that the N.R.A. has bought its political support. But the numbers tell a more complicated story: The organization’s political action committee over the last decade has not made a single direct contribution to any current member of the Florida House or Senate, according to campaign finance records.

In Florida and other states across the country, as well as on Capitol Hill, the N.R.A. derives its political influence instead from a muscular electioneering machine, fueled by tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads and voter-guide mailings, that scrutinizes candidates for their views on guns and propels members to the polls.

“It’s really not the contributions,” said Cleta Mitchell, a former N.R.A. board member. “It’s the ability of the N.R.A. to tell its members: Here’s who’s good on the Second Amendment.”

Continue reading

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KABOOM! Is Your Head Explosion Proof? Find Out Now With The Handy Ethics Alarms Test, Starring CNN’s Don Lemon!

On February 15 at 11 pm, CNN Tonight with Don Lemon held a debate between the Nation’s Joan Walsh–The Nation is the farthest left of the U.S. political magazines, and is fairly described as Socialist—and National Review editor Rich Lowry. TNR is the most venerable of U.S. conservative publications. The subject was gun control, following the horrific high school shooting in Florida. Lemon was supposed to moderate.

I began watching the segment, which was amazingly, perilously  long, until my head exploded, nearly killing Rugby. Yesterday, I finally found a transcript of the exchange, and realized that those of you who think your heads are immune from detonation can test your cranial fortitude by trying to read it.

I recommend the test. It is challenging, and if your head survives intact, you can safely assume that nothing will send your brain matter to the ceiling, which is feeling of security we all aspire to. First, however, line the room with plastic sheets. Wear something easily washable (or nothing at all.) And for God’s sake, keep pets and loved ones out of the room. No helmets allowed.

I will break in from time to time to comment, and check on how you are doing.

We’ll begin the transcript when the early part of the discussion had turned to the NRA and its large contributions to elected officials…

RICH LOWRY: Well, I think you’re looking at this totally from the wrong perspective. Let’s take Paul Ryan for instance. I’m sure — I’m almost certain he was pro-gun rights even before he thought about running for Congress. So the idea all the Republicans are secret gun controllers and just have been bought off to go out and lie and pretend they’re in favor of gun rights is not true. This is a sincere conviction.

DON LEMON: Where is the evidence? I never said that.

JOAN WALSH: I don’t think Don was saying that.

LOWRY: Well you’re suggesting that Paul Ryan —

LEMON: I’m not suggesting anything.

LOWRY: — because of the money.

LEMON: I’m just reading the facts.

LOWRY: Okay, so the contributions have nothing to do with Paul Ryan’s conviction on guns? We agree on that?

LEMON: No, we don’t agree with that.

LOWRY: Okay. That’s the point I’m making. I’m sure he was pro —

LEMON: I’m not saying — you’re saying they’re secret gun controllers. I never intimated that.

LOWRY: Yes. You’re saying they’re bought off. So — if they’re — what are they being bought off to a position they don’t agree with it? Is that what you’re suggesting?

LEMON: Do you think they’re not influenced by the money?

LOWRY: No.

LEMON: Are you influenced by money?

LOWRY: Let’s talk about Paul Ryan.

LEMON: Do you know where your bread is butter?

LOWRY: Let’s talk about Paul Ryan. You think he is a secret gun controller? He has always been in favor of gun control.

WALSH: No, no one is saying that why creating the straw person that is what. It’s not something either one of us would.

LOWRY: No. Well — How it the money relevant? So it’s a sincere conviction.

WALSH: The money is relevant, because they have an alliance, the money is relevant.

LEMON: The money is getting them elected.

WALSH: The money gets them elected.

LOWRY: The NRA supporting him because he’s pro-gun.

WALSH: They have come around to —

LEMON: I am looking at it that way.

WALSH: — absolutism version of the First Amendment where common sense gun laws don’t work.

LOWRY: What’s wrong?

LEMON: No it doesn’t. Because he is influenced by the money.

LOWRY: No, no, no. So you think he —

LEMON: If the NRA —

LOWRY: — you think that —

LEMON: — is not paying him the money, then he would —

LOWRY: — when he was 16 years old out hunting deer, he was in favor of gun control then he ran for office and all this lobbyist money came to him and he changed his view on guns. That’s absurd

WALSH: You are creating a straw person.

LEMON: So, why oppose common sense restrictions that the vast number of Americans support and, by the way, do you think he was out with an AR-15 hunting?

LOWRY: I’m sure he is out with a rifle.

LEMON: Okay but an AR-15?

HEAD CHECK I. Head still intact? Good for you. 

A. Note that Don Lemon is supposed to be the moderator. This format is that CNN invites two “experts” on different sides of an issue to debate points for the edification of its audience. The theory is that this is fair and even handed. Lemon is the worst, most incompetent moderator of all time, because he literally could not be worse. If he were a boxing referee, he’d be pummeling one of the fighters. Not only does he take the role of an advocate, teaming up with Walsh against Lowry, but because that leaves the segment with no moderator, it rendered the segment incoherent, with everyone talking over each other, shouting and interrupting while seldom finishing a sentence or a thought.  Lemon, supposedly a professional broadcast journalist, is, therefor incompetent as well as biased. He’s not doing his job; he’s abusing his position, and he’s cheating his audience. All of CNN’s anchors do this, but seldom to this extent. Does Lemon even know what moderating is?

B. My head lasted through this segment, but Walsh using the ridiculous, politically correct “straw person” twice almost did me in. The term is “strawman,’ and it refers to scarecrows, which, unless someone is trying to make a feminist point to birds, are made to look male. This is how Leftists make themselves look silly. I can’t take someone seriously who uses a phrase like “Straw person.” It’s as bad as “Hangperson.”

C. Lowry is quite right: if Walsh and Lemon believe that the NRA’s money is the reason why members of Congress don’t support gun restriction measures, then they are arguing that these members would vote for such measures without the contributions. They are exhibiting  a particularly crippling kind of bias. They believe that their position is so obvious, so correct, that nobody would ever sincerely oppose it unless they were bribed. It is also an unusually hypocritical argument for any partisan to make, as it can easily be turned around to make the same claim regarding legislators opposing “sensible abortion restrictions,” for example. I’m sure that legislators on both sides of the aisle have positions that they vote for to keep donors happy; I’m also sure that that many big interest group  donations go to politicians because they sincerely and enthusiastically support those interests, and would with or without the contributions.

D. Most of all: how useless, inarticulate. amateurish and chaotic can a segment be? You’re going to find out, unfortunately… Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/26/1918: It’s Incompetence Friday!

Good Mronign!

Competence is often not regarded as an ethical value, but it is one of the most important of them all. It is also one of the most commonly breached, usually with the rationalization that “everyone makes mistakes.”

1 “The Nip” Redux  In a legendary “Seinfeld” episode, Elaine’s Christmas card features a photo, taken by amateur photographer and inveterate screw-up Kramer, in which one of her nipples is exposed. Kramer, however, was an admitted amateur. What is Vanity Fair’s alleged professionals’ excuse for its current cover (I’m not talking about the nauseating pandering to Hollywood it represents, for which there is no excuse), which shows actress Reese Witherspoon with three legs?

Vanity Fair may have been too focused on photoshopping out actor James Franco, who was in the original photo but became model-non-grata when he was accused of sexual harassment, and as #MeToo has taught us, an accusation is all the due process these male scum deserve.

2. Segue Alert! And speaking of Hollywood, there has been much ballyhoo over the fact that the nominated Best Actresses this year play feisty, unglamorous, tough, in several cases outright repulsive women. Question: Who likes watching such characters (and more are on the way)? The Academy snubbed the most popular film with a female star, Gail Gadot in “Wonder Woman,” who probably is still too politically incorrect because men—ick!—find her attractive. 2017 was a catastrophically bad year at the box office, meaning that Hollywood proved incompetent at its job, with is making movies people want to see. It also displayed incompetence—not to mention arrogance, bias, condescension, hypocrisy and stupidity–by shooting off its various mouths on political matters, making the entire film industry, which should be a unifying force in the culture, polarizing, like everything else in 2018.

The Hollywood Reporter has a report about the role politics plays in the Academy Award voting; this has always been true, but never more than now. I cannot imagine who would care what or who wins the statuettes when it is all transparent political grandstanding, virtue-signalling and an attempt to meet quotas. Next crisis on the horizon: Hispanic artists are gearing up to show how they have been statistically insufficiently represented in nominations and awards. I presume Asians will do likewise. Why are there not more roles and awards for the differently-abled? Trans performers? Hollywood is committed to the Left, the Left is committed to tribalism, and tribalism has nothing to do with popular entertainment.

Or democracy. But I digress. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/26/17: No, Everything Isn’t Horrible, But It’s Much Better If You Aren’t Ugly Or Paul Krugman…

Good Morning!

1 A strange disconnect. Does anyone else find it strange that Turner Movie Classics, which I would generally describe as a national cultural treasure, would choose Christmas Day of this year to highlight the career of director Alfred Hitchcock? As Hollywood and the movie industry are going to extreme lengths to purge themselves of the sexual predators in their midst, in some cases literally sending artistically outstanding works and careers into cultural purgatory, and with even calls for moderation and proportion (Matt Damon) or protestations of naive or denial-fueled ignorance (Meryl Streep) being sufficient to spark a professional crisis and widespread public criticism,  TCM, the modern day TV curator of Hollywood’s Golden Age, selected the most infamous sexual predator among all legendary American directors as its special Christmas treat.

Yeesh.

I don’t know what to make of this. Did the ethics alarms just go dead at TCM? Is this a case of “The King’s Pass,” as in, “Yes, male power figures in Hollywood engaging in sexual misconduct has been a terrible problem and it is important that this is finally being addressed, buuuut this is Alfred Hitchcock, after all. We have to over-look all of that because he’s a genius…”? The work of an artist should not be devalued because of his character or his unethical conduct, personal or professional, but at the same time, cheering the great sexual harassers of the past while trying to destroy tolerance of sexual harassment in the present seems like activities that should not be occurring simultaneously, since the two objectives undermine each other.

2. Is fake “doom and gloom” unethical?

The constant representation to the American people that the nation is in the midst of existential disaster when it obviously–well, if one isn’t completely addled by confirmation bias it should be obvious—is not can’t exactly be called “fake news,” but it is just as sinister in intent and just as dangerous in its potential results.

My errant focus was brought to this phenomenon in a film review, of all places. A.O. Scott, the New York Times reviewer who is incapable of not bringing his partisan and political biases into his reviews (thus making him a lousy reviewer, like the New Yorker’s late Pauline Kael) began his take on Matt Damon’s eco-fantasy “Downsizing” with this statement:

“A radically dystopian future seems like the best we deserve these days..”

Then I began looking for sentiments in pundit pieces and other commentary in the news media about how uniquely horrible it was to be an American in 2017. That assumption has tainted so much news reporting this year that it amounts to virtual brainwashing, and yet that characterization is false, in both comparative and absolute terms. Not only are many trends and developments uncontroversially positive, such as the long-delayed economic recovery, including booming business and consumer confidence, but in other areas as well. Yet The New York Times consistently publishes pieces like this one, by Paul Krugman on Christmas Day, titled, “America Is Not Yet Lost.” It is like a medical school case study on derangement, or a broadcast from the Bizarro Planet. We are told, directly or indirectly, that the reasons that the United States is in historically dire straits is because the Democrats lost the election, the headlong rush towards becoming just like the European socialist nanny states that they thought was finally assured has been stalled, and because, most of all, Donald Trump is President.

I can’t decide whether all these pundits really believe this, in which case they are mentally and emotionally unfit to do their jobs, or if this is a concerted, desperate effort to create panic and hysteria in defiance of reality, in order to justify undoing the election.  The characterization of the GOP tax bill was the most recent example of how the negativism makes legitimate analysis impossible. “This is wrong !” is always a perfectly responsible argument in a democratic society. “This is evil and will destroy us all!” is not. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/12/17: Hurricane Reports, And Poor Charles M. Blow Needs A Vacation

Good morning.

1 There is supposedly a controversy regarding the on-the-spot hurricane reports: is it ethical for networks and news stations to place reporters and camera operators in mortal peril by having them scream into a mic while being buffeted by wind, rain and debris?

What’s the controversy? Of course it’s unethical. In addition to sending ridiculously mixed and self-contradictory messages—“I’m standing here in the storm telling citizens in the area that they shouldn’t be in the middle of this storm!”—it is also bad Ethics Chess. This stunt will continue until the first reporter is blown into a wall and sustains permanent brain damage, or is injured by a flying piece of debris that impales her, maims her, or cuts her in half. It is entirely predictable that this will happen eventually, and once it does, reporters will stop doing it. Why not stop this before a the inevitable tragedy occurs?

TV stations do it for ratings, that’s all. It’s great visual programming. It’s not necessary. Half the time, we can’t make out what the reporter is screaming, and what they are screaming is redundant and stating the obvious.

Apparently the first reporter to do this was Dan Rather.

Figures.

2. What is the mission of a pundit, a talking head, a columnist? It has to be—don’t you think?—to enlighten readers, to convey a constructive, useful analysis of complex issues, to reliably filter facts and controversies through a unique view-point without so completely tainting his or her output with bias that it actively misleads.

Yesterday New York Times columnist Charles Blow issued a column titled “Soul Survival in Trump’s Hell on Earth.” This was the apotheosis of the kinds of columns Blow has been writing almost exclusively now for months; at least I hope it’s that, for I can’t imagine where he goes from here. This column, like the others, is nothing, literally nothing, but a nearly fact free exposition on the theme, “I hate the President. I really do. I do so, so much. I know you do too, and if you don’t, I hate you too. ARRRGGGGHHH!”

The headline isn’t hyperbole; Blow, if he is to believed, really thinks Americans are living in Hell because Donald Trump is President. Not because there is a Great Depression hovering over the land, not because we are embroiled in a Civil War, or the existential threat of a world war, or the daily threat of an  international stand-off igniting into world-wide thermonuclear obliteration, but because a President was elected that offends the ideological and partisan sensitivities of Charles M. Blow.

Hell.

Seriously.

How can the New York Times continue to justify publishing the weekly primal screams of this pompous, doctrinaire, and now apparently deranged pundit? Exaggerating problems and pronouncing that we are all but doomed is not a service. It is harmful. The only readers who will be persuaded by a column like this are the ones who decide that something has to be done and that it’s time to build that bomb. Moreover, when a pundit reaches the stage that Blow has, where the simple act of a government not agreeing with his views and enacting policies that he does not favor launches him into hysteria, that pundit needs a vacation. Or maybe another career.

What are Blow’s arguments that justify his diagnosis that the United States is now Hell on Earth? Is it that a major party and its supporters have set out deliberately to undermine American institutions by rejecting a national election, seeking to remove an elected President by non-electoral means? Is it that the  international fumblings and ditherings of the previous administration are, as predicted, resulting in increased threats to the United States and the rest of the world? Is it that American journalism and its uniquely free news media, beyond question the app that makes democracy function, has now become, by its own abuses, so completely politicized and untrustworthy that it has become a threat to the nation, rather than its watchdog?

Nah, none of this appears to bother Blow at all; as far as I can detect, he approves of all of it. Here is his Bill of Biased Generalities that add up to Hell on Earth: Continue reading

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