Unethical Quote Of The Week: Former New York Times Editor James Bennet

Under oath!

” It’s extremely important for the editorial board to have a reputation to call balls and strikes without partisanship.

Former NYT editor James Bennet, who was responsible for the editorial now the object of a defamation lawsuit by Sarah Palin.

Wow. If that’s “extremely important,” the Times sure is doing a lousy job achieving its alleged objective. It was just this week when the Editorial slot in the paper was taken up by a piece headlined (in the print edition), “Can the Republican Party Be Saved?” (online headline: “When the Storming of the Capitol Becomes ‘Legitimate Political Discourse.“) The second headline is deceit: as I pointed out in the previous post, the recent GOP resolution condemning the two Republican House members who voted for an illegal Democratic Party impeachment and who are fully participating in a rigged partisan investigation designed to find a way to lock up Donald Trump and as many of his supporters as possible, never asserts that the Jan. 6 riot was “legitimate political discourse.” Never mind: that’s the latest false narrative fad, like the “Trump called white supremacists ‘fine people'” smear that one can still hear one’s Facebook friends cite to this day. Of course the Times is running with it.

It was the print headline that really struck me, though. This week, polls came out showing that Joe Biden’s support had slipped into the thirties with no end to the free-fall in sight, and that the Republicans were surging further ahead in the Congressional mid-terms survey. And the non-partisan Times’ question is whether Republicans can be saved! Only a thoroughly biased group of editors wouldn’t perceive how bad that kind of tunnel vision makes the paper look. But bias makes you stupid. In its most extreme cases, victims can’t even see how biased they are. Continue reading

Not Just An Unethical Statement, But An Unbelievable One: The New York Times

There’s nothing quite like starting the day with a head explosion.

A New York Times story today about the start of Sarah Palin’s libel suit against the New York Times—Conflict of interest? What conflict of interest?—contained this astounding statement:

The Times has denied those allegations, rebutting the notions that it would ever knowingly print something false…

The thrust of the Times objective, unbiased analysis of the lawsuit against the Times is that “Ms. Palin’s evidence is weak,” but she might win anyway, thus creating one more danger to democracy by weakening freedom of the press.

The evidence is weak? The Supreme Court decision in The New York Times Company v. Sullivan held that for public officials to prove defamation, they had to show not only that a news story was false and harmed their reputation, but that the story resulted from “actual malice,” involving printing a claim or allegation with “reckless disregard for the truth” or knowing it was false. Palin is suing because a Times editorial in 2017 stated that when Rep. Gabriel Giffords was shot by a lunatic in 2011, the crime had “clear[ly]“ been incited by a map circulated by  Palin’s political action committee showing 20 congressional districts that Republicans were hoping to win, including the one held by Giffords, labeled by stylized cross hairs. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/14/17

1.  I am wrestling myself to the ground to avoid making any assumptions about the shooting this morning (about three miles from my home in Alexandria, Virginia) of two Republican Congressmen and an aide while the GOP baseball team was practicing for tomorrow’s annual Congressional baseball game for charity. When Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot (and a judge killed, among others) in Tucson, Arizona, the news media, pundits and Democrats leaped to blame Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh for so-called “eliminationist rhetoric,” defined in Palin’s case as using cross-hairs on an electoral map to indicate which Democrats could be defeated in 2012—you know, as in “he’s in my cross-hairs.” This was a transparent effort to stifle political speech. In 1995, when a Federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up in a domestic terrorist attack, “violent anti-government” rhetoric from the Right was also blamed, though there was no evidence that Timothy McVeigh would not have done exactly the same thing if political discourse had been all John Lennon and rainbows.

The Giffords explanation was cynical and contrived; the Oklahoma City response a bit less so, but in neither of those cases were violent imagery and hateful language (no party officials and member of Congress used “fuck” back then, late night TV hosts were largely apolitical and couldn’t call Presidents “cockholsters” without being fired, the “resistance” in 1995 consisted of fringe militia groups, not recent unsuccessful Presidential candidates with a large following, and nobody was giving standing ovations to Central Park theatrical productions showing a doppleganger of the President of the United States being assassinated. In other words, if Rush Limbaugh had held up a prop bloody head of Barack Obama prior to Giffords’ shooting, I would not have derided the critics who argued that irresponsible partisan rhetoric was at least part of the cause. But he didn’t. Nobody did. Nobody would have thought of doing so. Then.

So when my wife told me, the second I woke up, about the shooting this morning, my immediate thought was, “I wonder who the shooter is, an illegal immigrant, a Muslim, or a member of “the resistance?”  This was unfair, and I knew it. The shooter might have been, as it was in Tucson, a wacko. It might have been moral luck that it was the Republican baseball team that was attacked and not the Democrats, just as it was moral luck that nobody was killed. Continue reading

Gabrielle Giffords:The Helpless Pawn On The Ethics Train Wreck


Ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords


James Taranto, the witty conservative commentator on the Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web” blog, properly takes aim at the New York Times op-ed supposedly authored by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and shoots it full of holes, quite accurately finding the piece guilty of almost every ethical violation that has characterized the shameless, and deservedly unsuccessful, effort to exploit the Sandy Hook massacre for gun reform. “Giffords’s 900-word jeremiad should be included in every textbook of logic and political rhetoric, so rife is it with examples of fallacious reasoning and demagogic appeals,’ he writes, noting that she is a “practitioner of incivility and unreason.”  Some of Taranto’s indictments:

  • “The argumentum ad passiones, or appeal to emotion. She leads with this one: “Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.” Continue reading

Why The Gun Bill Deserved To Lose, and Why We Should All Be Glad It Did

A bad day for Machiavelli is a good day for America.

A bad day for Machiavelli is a good day for America.

Consequentialism rules supreme in Washington, D.C.; that is the tragedy of our political system. If unethical conduct is perceived as having a positive outcome, few in D.C. will continue to condemn the means whereby those beneficial and lauded were achieved. Worse, the results will be seen as validating the tactics, moving them from the category of ethically objectionable into standard practice, and for both political parties

Thus we should all reluctantly cheer the likely demise of the Senate’s gun control bill yesterday. The compromise background check provision that failed wasn’t perfect, but it would have been an improvement over the current system. Nevertheless, the post-Sandy Hook tactics of gun control advocates, including the President and most of the media, have been so misleading, cynical, manipulative and offensive that their tactics needed to be discouraged by the only thing that has real influence in the nation’s Capital: embarrassing failure.

The tainted enterprise begins with the fact that it should not have been a priority at this time at all. Newtown did not signal a crisis; it was one event, and that particular bloody horse had left the barn. The supposedly urgent need to “prevent more Sandy Hooks” was imaginary, but it apparently served the President’s purpose of distracting attention from more genuinely pressing matters, notably the stalled employment situation and the need to find common ground with Republican on deficit and debt reduction. Meanwhile, the conditions in Syria have been deteriorating and North Korea is threatening nuclear war: why, at this time, was the President of the United states acting as if gun control was at the top of his agenda? It was irresponsible, placing political grandstanding above governing. In this context, Obama’s angry words yesterday about the bill’s defeat being caused by “politics” were stunningly hypocritical. The whole effort by his party was about nothing other than politics. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week, Sandy Hook Ethics Train Wreck Division: WSJ Blogger James Taranto

“It’s like a proponent of laws against hate speech standing on a street corner shouting racial slurs in order to “demonstrate how easy it is” to say offensive things under the First Amendment. Of course it’s ‘easy’ to do something that is perfectly legal and protected by the Constitution. That doesn’t mean you ought to do it, especially if you claim to believe it is wrong.”

—–Wall Street Journal blogger, pundit and wit James Taranto, describing the “stupid stunt”perpetrated  by Mark Kelly, the husband of  former Rep. Gaby Giffords, in which he purchased the kind of weapon he and his wife have been lobbying Congress to ban, a so-called “assault weapon,” in order to “demonstrate how easy it is to obtain” one.

At least Kelly didn’t break the law, like David Gregory, to show how easy it was to get an illegal magazine in Washington, D.C.


If this is the best argument you have...be quiet.

If this is the best argument you have…be quiet.

Is this hypocrisy? No, it’s not hypocrisy. Kelly’s act is reminiscent, though not as certifiably cretinous, of stunt pulled by the foolish Ronald Miller, who walked into his child’s school and announced that he was going to start shooting people, just to show that he could. Kelly proved nothing. To someone who believes that a law-abiding citizen who believes he needs an assault weapon to protect his family against home invaders, Rodney King-style riots or the breakdown of civilization (never mind what Joe Biden or Andrew Cuomo think he needs), Kelly’s purchase proved only that the system works: a law-abiding citizen can buy a legal gun. The Horror. To anti-gun crusaders, Kelly proved that a gun they think should be made illegal is legal—but presumably they already knew that. Kelly was trying to demonstrate that legal conduct should be made illegal because people can currently do it?

Okaaaaay… Continue reading

Embarassing Democracy: Gabrielle Giffords and Government by Fallacy

Giffords Notes

The estimable website Fallacy Files contains much wisdom and many tools, most aimed at helping human beings avoid stupidity and the poor decisions it generates. Among the logical fallacies it documents are the flawed appeals, arguments for a proposition based on the supposed authority of an argument of a person based on factors that should have no bearing on the debate at all. A familiar example is the appeal to ignorance, in which an advocate argues that there is no evidence that X is true, ergo X must be false.

Yesterday, gunshot victim and former Representative Gabriella Giffords made what was called “a surprise appearance” at the U.S. Senate (don’t get me started on how much of a “surprise” it was—just try showing up to testify before the U.S. Senate as a “surprise” and see how far you get.) and made what was widely called “powerful testimony” advocating gun control legislation. It wasn’t powerful testimony; it was pathetic testimony. It contributed neither information nor reasoning to the debate. Giffords said, carefully, in labored speech, “Speaking is difficult. I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something.  It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you.” Despicably, some Left-wing blogs even managed to use her appearance to further the MSNBC lie that a Sandy Hook’s victim’s father had been “heckled” during his testimony before the Connecticut legislature. “You’ll notice that NOBODY dared to heckle Gabby as she was speaking,” commented one.

Giffords’ testimony wasn’t “powerful.” It was pathetic. It was, in fact, a classic example of another logical fallacy documented by the Fallacy File, the appeal to pity, where emotion is used as a substitute for facts, logic and argument. Continue reading

How Fake Statistics Become “True”: A Case Study From The Newtown Massacre Ethics Train Wreck

As predicted, this ethics train wreck keep getting bigger.

As predicted, this ethics train wreck keep getting bigger.

There was a lot to wince about in Diane Sawyer’s “exclusive” interview two weeks ago with former Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. The Arizona couple announced their intention to launch a non-profit organization dedicated to more effective anti-gun violence measures, concentrating, predictably, on the prominent features of the maniac’s rampage in Tucson that left Giffords with brain injuries that will impede her for a lifetime. Nothing to wince about regarding the effort, but Giffords’ diminished state—she can speak in only short burst of words, cannot see well out of one eye, and has difficulty walking—is tragic. It reminded me how unconscionable it was that she held her post in the Congress for more than a year when it should have been clear that her disabilities precluded her functioning as a Representative. The disturbing feeling also arose that Giffords, in her current pathetic condition, is now like the children President Obama used as window dressing for his gun-related Executive Orders announcement at the White House, an exploited figure of sentiment and public manipulation being used in the anti-gun wars. Her name was listed as the author of a first person op-ed in USA Today that contained sentences and perhaps thoughts that she cannot possibly compose. Diane Sawyer told us that she will be dragged into Congressional offices with her husband to seek support from her former colleagues, who will be forced, as Sawyer said, to say no “to her face.”

The most substantive wince, however, came from a statement of “fact” by Mark Kelly, who told Sawyer this:

“You know, how do we get to the point where 85 percent of the children in the world that are killed with guns are killed in the United States. That is a sobering statistic.”

Sobering, and obviously nonsense. Continue reading

Better Late Than Never Dept.: Rep. Giffords Finally Does The Right Thing

That's the Democratic Congresswoman from Arizona in the center.

Ethics Alarms first stated that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously disabled and needed to resign from the house on January 17, 2011. I wrote:

“Almost no medical experts foresee a woman with such massive head injuries being able to return to work within a year, if she can return at all. She only has a two-year term. Is it fair to the people of Arizona, not to mention the country, to have a member of Congress who is unable to work during the days ahead, which are critical to the nation on so many fronts?”

Although the answer to this question was obvious at the time, Rep. Giffords did not resign. I returned to the topic in March, June, September and November, but not only did the Giffords camp and Democrats continue to ignore the issue, the media largely did as well. Never mind that during a contentious and important year of critical legislative issues, one Congressional District in Arizona was essentially unrepresented.

Today, finally, Rep. Giffords announced that she had resigned, more than a year after being shot in the head. Her friend, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, told the press that her friend’s recovery was likely to take years, not months. WOW! That’s a bulletin! Who had any idea that the Congresswoman was that seriously injured? Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official of the Month: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (But At Least She Has An Excuse.)

Be sure not to miss this very special episode of "Congress: A Study in Courage That Does The Country No Good Whatsoever"

ABC’s Diane Sawyer will soon air her interview with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the first since the Arizona Congresswoman was shot in the head during Jarod Loughner’s Tuscon rampage in January. Giffords looks alert and upbeat, if understandably frail, and answers Sawyer’s questions with short, often single word responses. She has clearly made remarkable progress in her rehabilitation. She also obviously has a long way to go, and her prospects of working at a high level again, much less working on the nation’s problems, are speculative at best. Why then is she still filling a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives?

She is doing so because, of course, she is courageous. Because her recovery is inspiring, and it would be heartless and cruel to take her job away because of a madman’s bullet. She is doing so because it would be unfair and mean to rush heroic Gaby, and because Americans care. None of which has any relevance to the tiny, apparently trivial issue of governing America. Continue reading