Tag Archives: spin

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/17/18: Mueller And A Movie

Good afternoon..

1 Well, we have some exit poll results…on my integrity and denial question in the Mueller indictment post I started at 4 am, hence the late Warm-up. Based on the comments so far, I am going to be disappointed: the “Trump is guilty of something” crowd is, so far, arguing that an indictment statement including  “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election” means that the President’s election was illegitimate and that he is guilty of wrongdoing. We also have such jaw-dropping moments as a commenter praising the Mueller investigation for not leaking the indictments beforehand—wow. Leaks are unethical, and when a grand jury is involved, illegal. The leaking from the Mueller investigation and the Justice Department have been a national disgrace, and we are now at the point when government lawyers not breaking the law is deemed worthy of praise in some quarters.

Of course, we don’t know what was leaked. Since leaking grand jury testimony is so serious and always sparks its own investigation, I wouldn’t bet against reporters having been tipped off, but using the advance notice to prepare their “Trump’s still guilty!” responses.

A better example could not be found of how the the news media and the intentionally divisive partisan rhetoric of the past decade have caused a fracture in the ability of Americans to perceive facts unfiltered by confirmation bias. I find this disheartening. But exit polls are not always accurate…

2. An unexpected take on the indictments. Eccentric conservative blogger Da Tech Guy  had some interesting observations:

“Section 1 and section 24 notes that it’s against US law for “certain foreign nationals” to enter the US without a visa providing truthful and accurate information to the government. Apparently these laws don’t apply to dreamers and those who brought them…section 41 talks about identity theft including social security numbers; again, this could be a charge against the DACA kids…Section 85 completes the list, the illegality here is that they pretended to be Americans and didn’t register as foreign agents while doing activities that if done by Americans would be completely legal…Does that mean that DACA folks and illegals who have held political rallies will be indicted next?…Section 89-95 on count 2 and section 96 again notes identity theft and moving money via such theft., boy this could be an indictment of the illegal alien DACA crowd if they wanted. But they don’t.”

3. Ethics movie review! I watched Denzel Washington’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” twice last week, in part because it is a legal ethics movie, and in part because Washington’s portrayal of an idealistic autism-spectrum civil rights attorney whose ethics alarms get corrupted is so unusual for him. I’ll basically pay to watch Denzel play canasta. Continue reading

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The Mueller Indictments: Observations And A Spin Report

Late yesterday afternoon the Justice Department announced that it had indicted thirteen Russians and three Russian companies for participation in a scheme to interfere in the United States political system. From the Justice Department website:

“The Department of Justice announced that a grand jury in the District of Columbia today returned an indictment presented by the Special Counsel’s Office. The indictment charges thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 Presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called “information warfare against the United States,” with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

The full 37-page indictment is here, giving citizens a rare example to read everything reporters know and to thereby be able to gauge exactly how accurate and fair their reporting is, if the citizens are so inclined. SPOILER ALERT: The spin efforts thus far have been staggering.

The press release also tells us in part:

According to the allegations in the indictment, twelve of the individual defendants worked at various times for Internet Research Agency LLC, a Russian company based in St. Petersburg, Russia. …Internet Research Agency allegedly operated through Russian shell companies. It employed hundreds of persons for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support, with an annual budget of millions of dollars. Internet Research Agency was a structured organization headed by a management group and arranged in departments, including graphics, search-engine optimization, information technology, and finance departments. In 2014, the agency established a “translator project” to focus on the U.S. population. In July 2016, more than 80 employees were assigned to the translator project….To hide the Russian origin of their activities, the defendants allegedly purchased space on computer servers located within the United States in order to set up a virtual private network. The defendants allegedly used that infrastructure to establish hundreds of accounts on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, making it appear that the accounts were controlled by persons within the United States. They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular political candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media.

Also:

The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists. According to the indictment, the Americans did not know that they were communicating with Russians.

Thirteen paragraphs into the release is this statement: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Talk about burying the lede!

Observations: Continue reading

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Ethics Warm-Up, Valentines Day, 2018: Of Mummies, Mockingbirds, Hunchbacks, And Sperms….

Happy Valentines Day!

1 Jeremy gets a vacation! As some of you may know, philosopher Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill’s mentor and the founder of utilitarianism, has been stuffed and kept in a glass case at the College of London since his death in 1832 as a condition of his will. I’m not kidding! (A photo has appeared periodically in the Ethics Alarms header from the blog’s first day.) Here he is…

That’s Jeremy’s real head on the floor: the one on top of the stuffed body around his skeleton is wax. Jeremy still attends all meetings of the school’s board, wearing his own clothes.  Now he’s visiting the U.S., something he always wanted to do when he was alive.

2. The message is increasingly clear: everything is racist. Got it, thanks! Working from her mummy, scientists from the University of Bristol reconstructed the face of 3,400-year-old queen Nefertiti, King Tut’s mother, using 3D imaging technology. The process required more than 500 hours. Nefertiti was Egypt’s queen alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 BC. Heeeeeeere’s  NEFI!

Now the project is under attack on social media because the reconstructed Nefertiti face isn’t dark enough, not that anyone has a clue regarding how dark or light anyone who lived over 3000 years ago was.

This is the kind of gratuitous race-baiting that causes well-deserved backlash.  It’s also redolent of an old whitewashing theme, dating back to the “Cleopatra was black” and “Jesus was black” claims of activists in the 1970s.

3. Segue Alert! And speaking of stupid whitewashing controversies, the cancellation of that high school production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” because the student cast as the gypsy ingenue Esmeralda was “too white” provoked a backlash….from Nazis.

Naturally, this means that the race-based attack on the innocent student cast because she was the most qualified to play the part was justified, thanks to the trampoline effect when a bad idea is attacked by even worse extremists.  (Don’t make me put the cognitive dissonance scale up twice in one day.) The New York Times reports that the students who intimidated school administrators into cancelling the show “are now besieged by an online mob targeting them with threats and racial epithets after the incident was reported in right-wing publications like Breitbart News, then spread to the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer. Via Facebook, the students received pictures of themselves with swastikas plastered on their faces. One parent had what was thought to be her home address (it wasn’t) posted online with a comment seeming to encourage harassment: “Do your thing social media.” Another parent received a profane email, assailing her for embracing “anti-white racism,” adding: “I feel sorry for your brainwashed child.” The way this phenomenon works is that now, when someone legitimately objects to the unethical handling of this episode by the school, they can be portrayed as agreeing with white supremacists.

We saw this effect in full bloom in Charlottesville. Tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee is a form of historical airbrushing and censorship, and principled, objective critics (like me) condemned the statue-toppling mania. Then the alt-right and the white nationalists marched against the removal of a Lee statue, and suddenly if you objected to a memorial to a major figure in American history and a bona fide military hero whose life is a wealth of lessons for all of us, it meant you were siding with racists.  President Trump was effectively trapped by this Catch-22. Continue reading

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Sex! Denial! Confirmation Bias! Media Obama Protection! Betrayal! Assholes! Hannity! It’s “Spermgate,” The Ethics Controversy That Has Everything!

Is this a stupid story? It is worthy of Ethics Alarms’ time and attention? That’s a legitimate question well down the list of issues raised by “Spermgate”—my name for it, and I hope nobody else’s, because it is intentionally silly—regarding whether President Obama’s official portrait contains an intentional representation of a sperm cell, a trademark of the artist, Kehinde Wiley.

But to prematurely answer that question, yes, story is worthy of Ethics Alarms’ time and attention, because the related issues it cracks open for examination are more important than the specific story itself.

I was going to title this story “Stop making me defend Sean Hannity.” Hannity, whom I regard as a blight on multiple landscapes, including national ethics standards, was among the first to assert that the portrait of Obama included a sperm on his face. I heard about this third hand, and immediately concluded that this was just one more anti-Obama Hannity fantasy. And there we have it: bias, one of the themes of this whole episode. I don’t trust Sean Hannity, I don’t respect him, and I question his integrity and motives. As with all bias, the Cognitive Dissonance Scale immediately took over. Here it is again…

Hannity is down around  -10. For me, if he declared that chocolate wonderful, and chocolate was at +7 on my scale, his endorse ment would yank it down into negative territory. So I didn’t even bother to check out Hannity’s claims—after all, he’ll claim anything to embarrass Democrats.

Then I stumbled across a mocking piece in the Daily Kos, full of mockery regarding Hannity’s crazy claim and launching the (pretty funny) gag, “Oh the #spermhannity.” The article began with the assumption that Hannity’s claim was res ipsa loquitur ridiculous, and signature significance for an right wing idiot. I accepted this analysis, even though I have about tyhe same level of bias reagrding the Daily Kos that I do regarding Hannity. It seemed as if Hannity himself had doubts, because after the barrage of abuse and ridicule, he deleted his tweet and the article on his website about the  “inappropriate sexual innuendo” and the hidden image of sperm in the portrait. I was prepared to leave it at that, but decided to follow up this link on the Kos post:

“If you’re hoping for more explanation than that, you will not find it in the article, which is still available to read via cache. It moves on from there to note that the artist once sardonically used the phrase “kill whitey” in New York magazine profile, which at least has the virtue of being true, unlike the claim that he put sperm in his painting of Barack Obama, which is objectively not true.”

Through that link, I eventually found the close-up section of the portrait pictured above. Here is the portion of it at issue:

Anyone who says that it is objectively untrue that the section doesn’t include what might have been an intentional representation of a sperm is either lying or is in the throes of crippling confirmation bias and denial.  Of course that could be a sperm. Here are sperms…

Here’s that vein in Obama’s head again…

Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/4/18: Getting Pounded On The Head To Make Us Confused About The Nunes Memo Edition

Minnesota yesterday. Unfortunately, the game is indoors…

Good morning!

1 So Depressing. I guess we have to conclude that liberals, progressives, Democrats and “the resistance” will never have any objection to rampant news manipulation and partisan bias in the news media until and unless the think it has turned against their interests.

I wonder why they don’t think a properly functioning participatory democracy supported by an informed electorate is in their interests. Oh well…

Working furiously to bolster Democratic Party efforts to throw dust, mud and static around Rep. Devin Nunes’ memo so the public gives up and moves on to other things, the Associated Press wrote that the conservative Washington Free Beacon, not the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, had paid for the Christopher Steele Trump dossier. Then MSNBC’s Katy Tur  passed the misinformation along, and (of course) so did CNN, on the air. This fake story was definitively disproved months ago. The AP’s eventual correction was also needlessly confusing:

“In a story Feb. 2 about a Republican memo on the Russia investigation, The Associated Press erroneously reported that a former British spy’s work on an opposition research project was initially funded by the conservative Washington Free Beacon. Though the former spy, Christopher Steele, was hired by a firm that was initially funded by the Washington Free Beacon, he did not begin work on the project until after Democratic groups had begun funding it.”

I cannot  find any record of a correction from CNN.  (Presumably anyone who believes Katy Tur about anything is beyond help.)

2. Keep repeating: “Acting guilty doesn’t prove guilt. Acting guilty doesn’t prove guilt…” Byron York, a hard-working and generally straight-shooting political reporter at the Washington Examiner (which I always get mixed up with the Free Beacon) correctly explains why the most frequently heard and read attacks on Nunes’ memo are part of a disinformation campaign. The main one:

Did the FBI tell the court about the Hillary Clinton campaign’s involvement in the Steele dossier? The memo says the FBI used the dossier to get a warrant on [Carter] Page, but, “Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the [Democratic National Committee], Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts.”

That passage appears to be indisputably true. No one is claiming the FBI informed the court that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were behind the Steele dossier. But Democrats have still pushed back by arguing that the FBI did tell the court that the Steele information came out of a political context, that it kinda, sorta gave the court the idea that a source was politically motivated.

Exactly how the FBI did that is not clear. So far, news reports are all over the lot. The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI “did disclose Mr. Steele was being paid by a law firm working for a major political party.” The New York Times reported that the FISA application “was more forthcoming with the surveillance court than the Republicans say. The FBI told the court that the information it received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated, though the agency did not say it was financed by Democrats.” And the Washington Post reported that the court “was aware that some of the information underpinning the warrant request was paid for by a political entity, although the application did not specifically name the Democratic National Committee or the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.”

None of that disproves or contradicts what the memo said. Sources familiar with the application suggest that it noted there might have been a political motivation behind some of the information. But Republicans ask why it would be acceptable for the FBI to actively withhold from the court the fact that the Clinton campaign and the DNC specifically were behind the Steele dossier. It’s not clear what the Democratic answer to that will be in coming days.

It is emblematic of how intellectually dishonest the attempts to dismiss the import of this matter are that telling the judge that ” the information it received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated” is being claimed to be the equivalent of telling the judge “this dossier was prepared for and paid for the Clinton campaign and the DNC.” That is a major, material distinction, when the same party controls the administration the Justice Department attorneys are working for.

3. Wow, that’s hilarious, Bill! Here was a section of Bill Maher’s side-splitting rant about the Nunes memo on HBO’s “Real Time” yesterday. Interesting question: do comedians have any obligation to try to accurately portray what they are making fun of? This is res ipsa loquitur; I’m not wasting my morning ticking off the myriad factual misrepresentations, the ends justify the means rationalizations, the mind-blowing hypocrisy, and the warped reasoning here, but if you are looking for something to do this afternoon and have run out of crossword puzzles, I’d love to get a full list. At least the rant is so darn funny, it’s justifiable.

“Forget Groundhog Day. The only large, rat-like creature I’m concerned about is Devin Nunes. Of course, it’s not fair to single him out. All the Republicans these days are treasonous rats. Trump declassified this Nunes memo, which is supposed to make us think that our own top law enforcement people are crooked so Trump can get away with his Russia crimes. Problem is, Republicans talk about this memo as if it’s some smoking-gun piece of evidence they uncovered. No! They wrote it! They uncovered it in their printer! It’s not an intelligence document, it’s a Facebook post that you briefly skim before clicking ‘unfriend.’ They did not like what the FBI was finding out about Trump, so like the true patriots they are—of Russia—they attack the FBI and the Justice Department because they’re ‘biased.” Yes, because they’re in law enforcement and the Trump crime family commits crimes, so that’s what they’re supposed to do! It’s like saying the exterminator is biased against the termites. This Republican delusion that Robert Mueller, a Republican who’s there because of Trump, is conspiring with Rod Rosenstein, the acting attorney general, a Republican who’s there because of Trump, and of course Mueller’s old buddy, Jim Comey, another Republican appointed by Trump, and Trump’s attitude is, ‘Jeez, what a bunch of idiots. Who put them in charge?’”

(President Trump appointed Comey?)

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Comment Of The Day: “Ten Ethics Observations On The Nunes Memo”

I think this is the shortest Comment of the Day yet, a single sentence with an introduction, but it is a brilliant one. I am abashed that I didn’t think of it, but no one else has either, as far as I can determine. Circulate it widely, especially to your Facebook friends who are horrified that anyone would try to impugn a spotless American Institution like the FBI.

Here is Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ten Ethics Observations On The Nunes Memo

You may have missed one glaring observation…

Comey, pundits, and Democats decry the Nunes memo as a smear on the FBI, attempts to sully the reputations of our premier agencies but have no problem casting doubt on our electoral process, smearing a bothersome but duly elected person to the high office of president, and telling the world of his transgressions.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/3/18: On The Nunes Memo, The Times Flunks (Another) Integrity Check.

Cold Morning! I mean, Good Morning!

Anne Frank would still read The New York Times, I guess…

(Anne Frank belongs in the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor. I will fix that with a post this month–she probably dies in February, 1945. Don’t let me forget.)

1 “But you know what I sometimes think? I think the world may be going through a phase… It’ll pass. – I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.” Or maybe not. I gathered up all my idealism and hope, and thought that maybe, just maybe, after the ugly and destructive lynch mob it has constituted for over a year to try to destroy the elected President, the mainstream news media, faced with incontrovertible evidence of frightening lawlessness and an attack on democracy by the previous administration in the midst of a Presidential campaign, would finally show some integrity and do its duty.

Then I read today’s New York Times.

The headline: GOP MEMO LEADS TO FRESH JOUSTING ON RUSSIA INQUIRY.

Unbelievable. That’s the news? That there is “fresh jousting”? The memo, as I accurately explained in the previous post, shows that the Obama administration’s Justice Department knowingly used opposition research, funded by Obama’s party and its Presidential candidate, that has substantially been discredited  by the FBI, the same agency that represented it to the court, as evidence justifying a FISA warrant against an American citizen and a member of the opposing party’s Presidential campaign and the Republican Presidential campaign itself.

I don’t see any mention of the Russian collusion investigation in that sentence, but that sentence still suggests a serious scandal involving abuse of civil rights and tampering with the election by law enforcement and a partisan Justice Department. If the so-called “newspaper of record” was objective and trustworthy, some version of that sentence would have been its headline, not an intentionally misleading headline stating that the “news” just is more political “jousting.”

Think about it: the Times is using a less interesting and provocative headline that the one that is justified by the facts. The only reason it would do this is misdirection born of a political agenda. No, Hanlon’s Razon does not apply here. This is not incompetence. This is malice.

2. “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. ” Then there the Times editorials. Two days ago, the Times editors wrote this:

“In a demonstration of unbridled self-interest and bottomless bad faith, the Trump White House and its Republican minions in Congress are on the cusp of releasing a “memo” that purports to document the biggest political scandal since Watergate. To pull it off, they are undermining the credibility of the law enforcement community that Republicans once defended so ardently, on the noble-sounding claim that the American public must know the truth.”

Again, unbelievable and yet too believable. Let’s parse this one:

“In a demonstration of unbridled self-interest and bottomless bad faith,”

The Times thinks it is bad faith to inform the American public of undeniable misconduct by the FBI and the Justice Department regarding civil rights and the Presidential election. Sure.

“…the Trump White House and its Republican minions in Congress are on the cusp of releasing a ‘memo'”

An ad hominem attack (“minions”), a partisan bias-based innuendo of dishonesty ( “purports to document”) and a dishonest use of scare quotes around “memo,” as if this wasn’t a memo. It is a memo.

“…the biggest political scandal since Watergate.”

A straw man trick, exploding an assertion into its most extreme form to knock it down. The facts are the facts, and how they are characterized by some is irrelevant to what the facts show. it may not be  “the biggest political scandal since Watergate” when a Democratic administration uses opposition research its party paid to have done to defeat a Republican Presidential candidate  to get court authorization to spy on that campaign during the campaign. You have to admit, though, that at least sounds a little like Watergate—Presidential campaign, administration interfering with the opposition campaign, dirt tricks, misuse of government power—no? Even a little bit like Watergate is bad enough, when government and law enforcement interference with Presidential campaigns is the issue.

“To pull it off, they are undermining the credibility of the law enforcement community that Republicans once defended so ardently, on the noble-sounding claim that the American public must know the truth.”

Pull what off? That’s another bit of rhetorical dishonesty implying wrongdoing by transparency, when  transparency is not wrongdoing unless it is illegal (Wikileaks, James Snowden). Then we have the cynical tack I just wrote about:

“The argument against the memo and the issues it raises, that the public revelations demoralizes our intelligence community and undermines the public’s support and trust is the same invalid logic being used to condemn criticism of the biased news media. If these institutions are not trustworthy and acting against the interests they are pledged to protect, then the public must know. If the conduct of the intelligence community shows that it isn’t trustworthy, there is nothing wrong, and everything right, about exposing it.”

How does the fact that the Republicans once defended the law enforcement community “ardently” change the appropriateness and necessity of  revealing wrongdoing they were not previously aware of? Finally, did I really read the New York Times editors mocking the proposition (“noble-sounding”) that “the American public must know the truth”?

What a disgraceful, shocking, self-indicting paragraph. Continue reading

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