Jon Stewart Betrayal Update: Concha Gets It Right

Jon-Stewart-and-BarackLast night Jon Stewart finally commented on the reports of his meetings at the White House, and by his smug demeanor and evasiveness, confirmed the assessments of Ethics Alarms and many others.  Joe Concha of Mediaite nailed it:

“Well, I mean, I don’t know if they were secret,” the 52-year-old said last night while pointing out his name (which one?) was clearly on the visitor logs. It all sounds so much like Stephanopoulos explaining that his donations to the Clinton Foundation that were also there for all the public to see… buried on his tax forms. All I know is this: If I met with the president and hosted a program which primarily focuses on politics, pretty sure I’d let my audience know at the very least that what had happened. Unless, of course, I have to carry out my PR orders in a way no White House Press Secretary or Sunday talk show appearance ever could…Why attend a meeting with the most powerful person on the planet if you can’t report back what was said? In the end, these people are there not for an interview, but for instructions. And that’s exactly why Stewart took the Acela down to DC: To come back to New York and serve as the Baghdad Bob of arguably the most influential news program—forget that it’s billed as fake—on the dial right now…No matter…Stewart will get the Letterman treatment next week when he leaves The Daily Show, and rightly so. He didn’t earn $25-$30M a year for hosting a show four days a week for nothing. His timing, delivery and intelligence is something you don’t teach or learn.

In the end, Jon Stewart will be looked back on as one of the great performers of our generation. He’s also one of the more dishonest, and about as phony as they come.”


Jon Stewart’s Betrayal


Politico has confirmed that on two occasions, Comedy Central’s Now I’m a comic-Now I’m a pundit-Now I’m a journalist Jon Stewart secretly went to the White House to meet with President Obama:

Jon Stewart slipped unnoticed into the White House in the midst of the October 2011 budget fight, summoned to an Oval Office coffee with President Barack Obama that he jokingly told his escort felt like being called into the principal’s office.In February 2014, Obama again requested Stewart make the trip from Manhattan to the White House, this time for a mid-morning visit hours before the president would go before television cameras to warn Russia that “there will be costs” if it made any further military intervention in Ukraine.

To engage privately with the president in his inner sanctum at two sensitive moments — previously unreported meetings that are listed in the White House visitor logs and confirmed to POLITICO by three former Obama aides — speaks volumes about Stewart and his reach, which goes well beyond the million or so viewers who tune into The Daily Show on most weeknights.

It mean rather more than that. The visits mean that what Stewart and Comedy Central represented to the public as independent commentary on public affairs by a wise, critical and trusted truth-teller was in fact state propaganda, dictated by the President of the United States to a messenger of influence. Continue reading

A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 3): When The Going Got Tough


The Presidents really get interesting now, as a political leadership culture in the U.S. matures, the stakes of failure become greater, and technology, labor upheaval, expanding big business and greater influence on world affairs transforms the Presidency into truly the toughest job on earth.

Grover Cleveland


Another one of my favorites, Cleveland was known for telling the truth ( he as called “Grover the Good”), but he participated in one of the most elaborate deceptions in Presidential history.

As explained in historian Matthew Algeo’s 2011 book, “The President Is a Sick Man,”  President Cleveland noticed an odd bump on the roof of his mouth in the summer of 1893, shortly after he took office for the second time. (Cleveland is the only President with split terms, the hapless Republican Benjamin Harrison winning an electoral college victory that gave him four years as the bland filling in a Cleveland sandwich.) The bump was diagnosed as a life-threatening malignant tumor, and the remedy was removal. Cleveland believed that news of his diagnosis would send Wall Street and the country  into a panic at a time when the economy was sliding into a depression anyway, and agreed to an ambitious and dangerous plan to have the surgery done in secret. The plan was for the President to announce he was taking a friend’s yacht on a four-day fishing trip from New York to his summer home in Cape Cod. Unknown to the press and the public was that the yacht had been transformed into a floating operating room, and a team of six surgeons were assembled and waiting.

The 90 minute procedure employed ether as the anesthesia, and the doctors removed the tumor, five teeth and a large part of the President’s upper left jawbone, all at sea. They also managed to extract the tumor through the President’s mouth while leaving no visible scar and without altering Cleveland’s walrus mustache. Talking on NPR in 2011, historian said,

“I talked to a couple of oral surgeons researching the book, and they still marvel at this operation: that they were able to do this on a moving boat; that they did it very quickly. A similar operation today would take several hours; they did it in 90 minutes.”

But the operation was a success. An artificial partial upper jaw made of rubber was installed to replace the missing bone, and Cleveland, who had the constitution of a moose, reappeared after four days looking hardy and most incredible of all, able to speak as clearly as ever. How did he heal so fast? Why wasn’t his speech effected? He endures doctors cutting out a large chuck of his mouth using 19th century surgical techniques and is back on the job in less than a week? No wonder nobody suspected the truth.

Then, two months later, Philadelphia Press reporter E.J. Edwards published a story about the surgery, thanks to one of the doctors anonymously breaching doctor-patient confidentiality. Cleveland, who in his first campaign for the White House had dealt with Republican accusations that he had fathered an illegitimate child by publicly admitting it, flatly denied Edwards’ story, and his aides  launched a campaign to discredit the reporter. Grover the Good never lies, thought the public, so Edwards ended up where Brian Williams is now. His career and credibility were ruined.

Nobody outside of the participants knew about the operation and the President’s fake jaw until twenty-four years later, after all the other principals were dead except three witnesses.  One of the surgeons decided to  publish an article to prove that E.J. Edwards had been telling the truth after all.

This is a great ethics problem. Was it ethical for Cleveland to keep his health issues from the public? In this case, yes, I’d say so. Was it unethical for the doctor to break his ethical duty? Of course. Was Edwards ethical to report the story? Sure.

The tough question is: Was Cleveland ethical to deny the story and undermine the reporter’s credibility? I think it was a valid utilitarian move, and barely ethical: it was better for the nation to distrust one reporter than the President, especially when his secret was one he responsibly withheld, and his doctor unethically revealed. Continue reading

Observations On The ACLU And “Grand Juror Doe’s” Power Play

Juror Doe now, but trying to become a household name...

Juror Doe now, but trying to become a household name…

In a move that tarnishes the reputation of the ALCU and reveals the deep ideological bias in its ranks, the Missouri chapter of the esteemed organization has encouraged a Ferguson grand juror to sue in order to end the lifetime ban on grand  jurors revealing what occurs during proceedings, allowing the juror to become a media star and, presumably, undermining the credibility of the deliberations that resulted in no indictment against Officer Wilson for his fatal shooting of Michael Brown.


1. Grand jury proceedings have to be confidential, or the system will not work (yes, it worked as well as it possibly could have in Ferguson.) Secrecy prevents those who are being investigated from interfering with witnesses and otherwise tampering with and attempting to corrupt the investigation. It protects witnesses who might be reluctant to testify if they believed their comments would be made public. It decreases the likelihood that one who is about to be indicted by a grand jury will flee and thereby avoid being brought to trial on those charges. It also protects innocent individuals whose names may be implicated in a grand jury investigation but who will never be indicted.

2. The prohibition on participants in grand jury proceedings revealing what occurs there is not a restriction on free speech any more than a government employee being prohibited from revealing national security information. This is a necessary restriction based on due process and the functioning of the rule of law, and grand jurors agree to the prohibition as a condition of service.

3. The ACLU is grandstanding for its progressive, civil rights zealot fans and contributors. This is an irresponsible case: if it prevailed, the justice system would be thrown into chaos.

3. If even one grand jury is able to have the ban on secrecy lifted, every grand jury will labor under the fear of those involved that jurors will speak to the media and reveal harmful details. I will be shocked if the ACLU lawsuit succeeds. I think it is a frivolous suit, and a violation of legal ethics Rule 3.1 that prohibits such actions.

4. The grand juror who is seeking the lifting of the ban has arguably already revealed more than he is allowed to do legally under the law, which prohibits disclosing “matters occurring before the grand jury.”

5. The supposed explosive revelations the juror wants to expand upon are nothing at all, just ignorant and biased complaints that have already been thoroughly explored and debated by legal experts. The likes of progressive website Think Progress falsely represents the juror’s views as “significant” because progressives so, so desperately want to prove that Michael Brown was executed by a racist cop who was corruptly exonerated by a biased prosecutor. But as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, there is no there there.

Here are Grand Juror Doe’s “concerns”: Continue reading

Untrustworthy NIH

This is what the horror movie outbreak looked like. The real one? We don’t know.

In Barry Levinson’s (terrific, scary) eco-horror movie “The Bay,” slug-like sea creatures mutated by toxic waste eat their way through the faces and bodies of the residents of a Chesapeake Bay community, as medical authorities carefully keep the story under wraps from the rest of Maryland and the nation. At the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda last year, a different kind of monster bug was on the loose: the antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as Klebsiella pneumoniae.  For six months the bacteria spread, eventually infecting 17  NIH patients, killing at least six of them. Doctors took extraordinary precautions to keep the so-called “superbug” from getting out into the population, but such measures didn’t include telling the city, county or state what was happening, or informing non-physician staff, many of whom were at risk of infection, about the bacteria outbreak. The full story didn’t come to light until August of this year, when NIH researchers published a scientific paper describing the advanced genetic technology they used to trace the outbreak. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Day: Rear Admiral Sean Pybus

“We do NOT advertise the nature of our work, NOR do we seek recognition for our actions. Today, we find former SEALs headlining positions in a Presidential campaign; hawking details about a mission against Enemy Number 1; and generally selling other aspects of NSW training and operations.  For an Elite Force that should be humble and disciplined for life, we are certainly not appearing to be so.”

—-Rear Admiral Sean Pybus, Commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, in a letter sent to all members of the Special Operations community telling  them to stop revealing information about their secret operations. The letter was sent out as “No Easy Day,” a Navy Seal’s unauthorized account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, hit the book stores.

The letter is said to be the beginning of a concerted effort by the military to discourage an accelerating trend among Navy SEALs of cashing in on their notoriety and exploits.

Good luck. When a culture based on professionalism, sacrifice, discretion and honor meets a larger culture that values none of those things as much as celebrity, publicity, personal aggrandizement and financial rewards, the results are pre-ordained, and the key word is corruption. The SEALs won’t be able to fix themselves unless they can figure out how to fix America, and compared to that, finding bin Laden was a walk in the park.


Facts: NBC

Graphic: By Hero

Comment of the Day: “The Legal Profession’s Muddled Standard For ‘Fitness To Practice’”

...and that's why they wear masks!

Interested Blogger, or “IB,” makes some interesting observations about professional ethics enforcement generally and medical ethics in particular in the Comment of the Day, responding to the post, The Legal Profession’s Muddled Standard For “Fitness To Practice.” Her insight regarding the reasons why professionals are so reluctant to pull the licenses of misbehaving colleagues is astute, I think.  Lawyers and doctors are hesitant to punish individuals for doing something they could imagine themselves doing, though the Golden Rule is  being misapplied. It’s a disturbing thought, but an illuminating one: perhaps John Edwards keeps his law license because other male lawyers think, “Boy, that could happen to me: get smitten by some hot babe in the office, we fool around, she sandbags me on birth control…heck, I might panic. I might try a crazy scheme to cover it up, especially if it was all going to be played up in the tabloids. Poor guy! How can we disbar him?”

Here is IB’s “Comment of the Day”: Continue reading

The White House’s Wonderland Ethics

This is a weird one.

"Alice in Wonderland" party at the White House? I don't remember any party!

“The Obamas,” one of those “behind the scenes at the White House” books that has become a routine feature of every administration since the Reagans, has the usual tales about First Couples bickering and First Lady power trips. Author and  New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor has caused something of an uproar with her account of the first Halloween party the first couple hosted at the White House, in 2009. She writes that it was so lavish and “over the top” that the administration kept the event secret out of fear of a public backlash. After all, this was a time when the Tea Party was in full swing, the economy was at low tide, and there was the ten-percent unemployment rate, bank bailouts and Obama’s health-care plan battles. Not exactly a smart time for a Marie Antoinette-style costume blow-out. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Dorothy Young, Houdini’s Assistant

Dorothy Young knew how to keep a secret.

Dorothy Young, who died March 24 at the age of 103, was the last in a series of scantily clad magician’s assistants for Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist who ever lived and America’s iconic magician. She remained active in show business for many years after Houdini’s death in 1926. Young appeared several times on Broadway, including the  “New Faces of 1936.” Later, she was half the team of “Dorothy and Gilbert,”a touring nightclub dance act that specialized in a dramatic combination of rumba and bolero—the “rumbolero.”

Young married Gilbert, who was Gilbert Kiamie, heir to a silk underwear fortune. She wrote a novel about her career, “Dancing on a Dime,” that inspired a 1940 Hollywood musical of the same name. Young eventually became a successful painter, and in 2003 gave New Jersey’s Drew University $13 million to endow an arts center.

Why is she an Ethics Hero? Continue reading

Mailbag: Why Different Ethical Standards for Food and Theater Critics?

“Dear Mr. Marshall: Don’t you find it odd that in one post you condemn theater critics for coming to review a play uninvited, yet slam a restaurant owner who exposes the identity of a restaurant critic trying to review his establishment surreptitiously? Why are consumers served by secret food reviews, but not by secret show reviews? This is why people hate people like you.” Continue reading