Today’s Featured Media Anti-Trump Smear [Corrected]

During a violent storm here in Alexandra, with the internet going in and out, my wife and I gave up and watched “Spotlight” again, an ethics movie, and a genuinely heroic story about journalists doing their jobs, informing the public, exposing popular institutions. Those were the days. The ending speech, where the Boston Globe’s editor talks in high-minded terms about the reason journalism is worth the effort, made me physically nauseous. The profession he described is virtually unrecognizable from what I see on CNN, Fox News, NPR, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Almost immediately after, I read a column in the Times from two days ago, in the Arts section. It’s a periodic feature by John Williams where he interviews an author, “5 Things About Your Book.” This time he was talking to Larry Tye, whose biography of Joe McCarthy has just been published. The cut line read that Larry Tye “discusses his biography of that American bully, and an eerie echo.”

Having read the Times for the last four years and watched with admiration how it can toss gratuitous insults and sinister innuendoes about President Trump in any context no matter how remote, from book reviews to cooking columns to fashion essays.  I was certain what the “eerie echo” would be. Joe McCarthy was a bad guy, so the article would show how much Donald Trump is like Joe McCarthy.

For the nonce, I will ignore that salient fact that it is “the resistance,” the Democrats and the anti-Trump media, which is to say, the media, that have been using relentless McCarthyite tactics against the President from before he was elected.

So where was this eerie echo of Trump in the life of “Tail-gunner Joe”? Here’s Tye’s  shocking illumination of that question:

I knew there was a general link between Senator McCarthy and President Trump, but I didn’t realize how eerily echoing it was.

Huh? What “general connection”? The Senator died in 1957, when Trump was 10. How can you have a “general connection” with someone who isn’t in your family, you never met, and whom you didn’t know anything about at all until well after he died?

That’s smear #1. Here’s smear #2: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/25/17: The Clinton Campaign’s Russian Dossier Connection, Her Lying Lawyer, And Jeff Flake


1 I have long been an admirer of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who is one of the few members of Congress, more’s the pity, who will stick to his principles even when they pit him against his own party. However, his freak-out and verbal attack on President Trump accomplish nothing positive (unless you consider making Democrats happy positive) and  at this point constitute pure self-indulgence and, yes, these words are coming up a lot lately, virtue-signalling and grandstanding. I have no sympathy for Flake, Senator Corker, or any other Republican leaders who stood by and allowed Donald Trump to hijack their party. The time for Flake to take a stand was last March, or even earlier. Ethics Alarms stated that the GOP shouldn’t have let Trump into the debates or on its ballot. I said that he should have been kicked out of the debates when he began trashing the party, and when he  became disgustingly boorish and uncivil. I explained that it could have and should have refused to nominate him by changing the rules. The party had a duty to the country to present a competent, trustworthy alternative to the corrupt, venal, dishonest candidate the Democrats were going to nominate: everyone knew who that would be. Instead, the GOP sold its soul. Jeff Flake now says that Trump is reckless, outrageous and undignified? Who didn’t know that? I assume the President’s  voters knew that. On Ethics Alarms, I wrote about those Trump character traits in 2011.

It is particularly galling for me to read Flake’s attack on Trump in the Washington Post today, which begins, “As I contemplate the Trump presidency, I cannot help but think of Joseph Welch.” In fact, it makes me want to scream helplessly at the sky. In this Ethics Alarms post, I invoked Welch’s famous televised slap-down of Joe McCarthy before the first Republican candidates debate, and concluded “If someone doesn’t at least try it, none of these 15 non-Trumps are smart enough to be President.” I wrote that on September 16, 2015. 

Senator Flake is like a Senator  going to Honolulu in December of 1942 and proclaiming that the Japanese can’t be trusted. He deserves no sympathy or support now.

He should have been reading Ethics Alarms.

UPDATE: My friend and frequent ProEthics collaborator Mike Messer called this “flake news.”

2. I haven’t had time to thoroughly unravel what yesterday’s revelation that Hillary Clinton’s campaign funded what became the infamous “Russian dossier” means. A couple of points, however, Continue reading

Post-Debate Ethics, Part 2 (of 4): John Kasich’s Opportunity

It is almost too late, but not quite, for Donald Trump to be derailed by a Joseph Welch-Joe McCarthy moment. I called for a qualified and competent GOP candidate to do this seven months ago, but none had the wit or courage to deliver. Since then, Trump has provided one opening after another that could have been exploited to tear away the veil of ignorance from even the eyes of the most deluded Trump supporter. One such opening was September 16, when Trump probably doomed some innocent children by promoting anti-vaxxer myths in a nationally televised debate. A medical doctor, inexplicably running for President, was standing right next to him. Did Ben Carson say, “You know, Donald, your ignorance is stunning. Vaccinations don’t cause autism, and they save lives, but as with every other topic we have talked about, you are shooting from the hip, faking expertise you don’t have, and dangerously misleading millions of trusting Americans by pretending to have expertise you don’t have. You should be ashamed of yourself. Why aren’t you?”? No, Carson, typically, mumbled something accommodating and let Trump get away with more misinformation.

Dr. Carson’s gone now, thankfully, as are many other candidates who might have burnished their own chances and clotheslined Trump with a well-planned “Have you no sense of decency?” sequel. Only one candidate remains who has any chance of pulling off the instant character assassination that Joseph Welch executed so deftly on June 9, 1954. In my post before that September 16 debate, I predicted that one of the non-Trumps would use a variation of Welch’s line, and observed that if I was wrong,  none of them “are  smart enough to be President.”

As Jeff Goldblum muses in “Jurassic Park,” Boy do I hate being right all the time.” Or being right about why I was wrong.

I don’t have much hope for John Kasich, the one remaining alternative to Trump with a chance to play Welch effectively. Continue reading

A Final Post Debate Observation: Cognitive Dissonance And The Welch Effect

Rand Paul23I’m literally the only one writing about this—which is to say that everyone else is wrong— so I might as well wrap it up.

You will recall that I predicted (and hoped) that one of the candidates in the CNN debate on Wednesday would have the wit, historical perspective and guts to prepare a Joseph Welch take-down of Donald Trump, as it is an excellent way of shining harsh light on a bully and ethics miscreant. This is how lawyer Joseph Welch ended the reign of terror of Sen. Joe McCarthy on live TV in the medium’s “Golden Age,” and McCarthy was bigger and more deadly game than The Donald.

I wrote:

Will the same tactic work on Trump? It should: it would have worked in the first debate. Now, it may not, because many Welches will not be as effective as a single one, and I would not be surprised if several of Trump’s competitors will have a Welchism rehearsed. It also won’t work if the wrong Welch jumps in first, or if he blows his delivery. (Welch was quite an actor.) We shall see. If someone doesn’t at least try it, none of these 15 non-Trumps are  smart enough to be President.

Well, the Welch moment came almost immediately, as the first candidate with an opening to deliver it took his shot: Sen. Rand Paul. As I wrote in my follow-up piece yesterday, it wasn’t completely Welch-worthy, but it stung:

The Joseph Welch moment that I predicted occurred, though it was a wan and, as I feared, an incompetent version.  The Welch-wannabe was Rand Paul, and he directly referenced Trump’s “sophomoric” personal attacks, saying…

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language to be negotiating with Putin? Do we want someone like that to be negotiating with Iran? I think really there is sophomoric a quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I’m very concerned about having him in charge of the nuclear weapons because I think his response, his real response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that? Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?”

…First, a Welch retort has to be delivered with withering contempt, not snotty combativeness. Second, the deliverer has to talk directly to the target; this is key. Not “he,” Senator. “YOU.” Third, whether or not the question was about the temperament of the man with his finger on the button, the danger of having a leader who behaves like Trump goes far beyond that….Still, Welch’s tactic worked a bit. Trump’s rejoinder, essentially “You’re ugly, too!”, got what sounded like awkward laughter, and Donald Trump, who is an entertainer, and who, like most experienced performers, can sense what an audience is feeling, was very subdued the rest of the debate.

What happened is that while the whole bucket of water didn’t land on the Wicked Trump, enough splashed on him to slow him down. When Fiorina delivered a mini-Welch later and Trump simpered his submissive “she’s got a beautiful face, and she’s a beautiful woman” line, he was still melting. She, more than anyone else, jumped in the vacuum left by Trump’s “shrinkage.” Continue reading

Your CNN Republican Presidential Candidate Debate Sneak Preview

Somebody is going to do this to Donald Trump tonight:

The only question is who, and perhaps how many. It worked before, and it could work again. It may be too late for this strategem, though.

If you don’t recognize the incident, one of the first live TV moments to enter history and have a major impact on national politics, here is the background:

It came at the height of the Cold War, and the fear of Communist Russia was as palpable as it was toxic. Being publicly associated with the Communist Party was a ticket to personal and professional destruction, and many politicians wielded the accusation as a weapon of mass destruction.  The Hollywood Blacklist was the archetype of many such lists that kept many Americans who were socialists or merely liberals virtually unemployable in the military, the State Department, police and businesses. Dark times.

Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy used red-baiting to become the most famous, polarizing, popular, controversial—and powerful— American politician not named Eisenhower.  In 1954, two commercial TV networks broadcast live the hearings investigating McCarthy’s allegations against Army officers, and the counter-allegations that McCarthy and his aide, Roy Cohn, had pressured the Army to give preferential treatment to a Cohn’s  friend, later revealed to be  his  gay lover. (See: “Angels in America”)  80 million Americans watched the first ever  broadcast of Congressional hearings, riveted.

Joseph Welch, a prominent Boston attorney, agreed to serve as the Army’s legal counsel in the hearings. He knew, as the GOP contenders should know, that the only effective way to shame and expose a bully and a miscreant is to do it directly to his face. Welch waited for days, playing the quiet, respectful professional as McCarthy ranted and grandstanded. Then he saw his chance.

On June 9,  1954,  McCarthy declared that Fred Fisher, a young lawyer from Welch’s own law firm, had once been a member of the National Lawyers Guild, a civil rights group that J. Edgar Hoover had called a communist front because its attorneys had represente suspected communists. Welch, choking with emotion, it seemed, indignantly defended his colleague while deriding McCarthy:

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

The chamber’s audience applauded. The public’s infatuation with McCarthy was shattered, and emboldened by the collapse of public support for him,  McCarthy’s colleagues in the Senate censured him for inappropriate conduct. McCarthy’s power evaporated, and the anti-Communist hysteria joined him in a shadowy corner of U.S. history. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Day: Slate’s David Weigel

“The Washington Post condemned Reid for “smear tactics not unlike those of Joseph McCarthy,” which makes sense if you think that refusing to release your tax returns is like being unfairly accused of membership in the Communist Party. It’s a nice idea, that the majority leader of the United States Senate should operate under some rules of decorum about truth, even if it is only randomly applied.”

—-Slate’s David Weigel, in a post dismissing Harry Reid’s Big Lie attack on Mitt Romney as “politics as usual.”

Somewhere at the bottom of the journalism barrel you may see David Weigel, mangling ethics

David Weigel is a Democratic flack posing as a political reporter, and my standards for his writing is low—but not this low.

The Post’s quite correct condemnation of Reid does not, as Weigel disingenuously suggests, amount to saying that “refusing to release your tax returns is like being unfairly accused of membership in the Communist Party.” It amounts to saying that publicly accusing a political adversary of evading his taxes for ten years using nothing more than hearsay from anonymous, dubious and unrevealed sources is like accusing a political adversary of belonging to the Communist party using similar tactics. Romney’s choice not to release his taxes doesn’t justify or excuse Reid’s smear, any more than McCarthy’s victims’ associating with Americans who exercised their Constitutional rights by espousing Communist sympathies justified McCarthy’s smear. Weigel is using a false and flawed analogy to excuse the inexcusable, because, like Reid, he’s on Team Obama. Continue reading

To the Pro-Obama Race-Baiters: “Have You No Sense of Decency at All?”

Ah, if only Joseph Welch and his well-aimed indignation were here today!

We knew, way back when President Obama was running for his first term, that the temptation to paint any opposition to his leadership or his policies as proof of racism would be irresistible  for the less ethical among his supporters in the Democratic Party and among the media. This came to pass, but we should prepare for much worse.  Now that the President has a thoroughly wretched record and is, to an extent I personally haven’t seen since the paranoid days of Richard Nixon, attempting to avoid accountability by blaming everyone in sight—a thoroughly unleaderly display—the race-baiters have served notice that they will be out in force this time as well, more shameless than ever. Continue reading

Correction: S.C. Law Still Ridiculous, But Not Brilliant

It appears that South Carolina’s mandated registration of “subversive agents” is far from new, as erroneously reported here. The law dates from 1951—when Joe McCarthy was in full flower—so it is clearly not aimed at terrorists, but at “Commies,” being a relic of the Red Scare at the dawn of the Cold War. Apparently the legislature has attempted to repeal it in recent years and failed, but that doesn’t make the law any less archaic.


Blogs like this one rely on secondary sources, and when one of them jumps the gun or gets its facts wrong, the result is that we end up aiding and abetting negligent misinformation. True: Ethics Alarms is in the business of adding ethics perspective to news stories and current events as it understands them, so the analysis can sometimes still be useful even if the facts are wrong. That is insufficient justification for contributing to misinformation, however. The key, as usual, is trust. I will do the best I can to get the facts right, hope that my readers correct me when they are wrong, and be ready to correct the record.

As for South Carolina’s silly law, perhaps the revived publicity of its 1951 paranoia will embarrass it into finally getting this dinosaur off the books. That will constitute a good result from a botched story, I suppose.

Many thanks to Sherrif Ray Nash, who tracked down the truth for Ethics Alarms.