Comment(s) Of The Day: “The Insidious News Media Disinformation Campaign”

Soon after I designated Diego Garcia’s comment on this post a Comment of the Day, I  realized that it had to have the context of the Chris Marschner comment that Diego was responding to in order to be appreciated. So this is another rare tag team Comment of the Day on the post, “The Insidious News Media Disinformation Campaign.” I’ll have a brief comment at the end of the two COTDs.

First, Chris:

What exactly was the purpose of our involvement in Viet Nam? I know what we were told that it was to stem the rise of Communism in the world where countries in Asia would fall like dominoes if we did not intervene. If Communism will collapse upon itself because it is inherently flawed why do we need to hurry it along by killing people? You don’t win hearts and minds with coercion.

Wasn’t it learned that General Westmoreland falsified data to show we were actually winning when in fact we were mired down in a quagmire that only benefitted the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about?

Maybe we were all duped. Maybe we are still being duped. Maybe we were all seen as suckers by Kennedy and Johnson. Maybe politicians and the public have been being duped for years by guys with scrambled eggs on their hats and stars on their epaulettes whose retirement plans include running Lockheed Martin or Boeing or just sitting on boards as they collect millions for a few days work because of what they know about defense contracts.

Maybe the smart parents were the ones that spirited their 19 year old’s off to Canada or paid their way to college and then on to Canada. I have no idea. However, those who served did so as patriots but even patriots can be suckered by politicians. I got suckered by Romney and McCain. I thought they were honest brokers of information until Trump forced them to expose themselves. I learned that integrity takes a back seat when someone challenges their power.

Why are we still in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years? Why is it that modern warfare lasts for generations while a poorly resourced rag tag bunch kicked the British ass in far less time? How could we defeat two enemies, forcing them to unconditionally surrender at the same time in roughly the equivalent of one presidential cycle? Could it be that the wars prior to Korea were existential imperative while today profits from equipment and expended munitions help keep the defense industries highly profitable? One has to ask, with all the budget hikes to improve the military’s readiness along with the positive changes in services for veterans, why do all these Generals have an ax to grind with the President who sees war as wasteful. Could it be that their business is war and part of their mission is to keep the public believing that these never ending wars are beneficial because it keeps them all in business. Tell me General’s Mattis and Kelly, which wars did you win to make you both experts on ending war?

If I recall correctly John Kerry told school kids to work hard and study because if they don’t they will wind up in Iraq. Maybe, just maybe Kerry and Trump have something in common. They can see when war is a gross waste of blood and treasure. They just have different ways of stating it.

Diego Garcia replied,

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Unethical Quote Of The Week: San Diego State University Political Science Professor Jonathan Graubart

I find myself annoyed at the groundswell of good wishes for John McCain after his diagnosis of glioblastoma…McCain is a war criminal and, more to the point. someone who as a politician has championed horrifying actions and been lousy on state commitment to public health…But ultimately what troubles me is the urge to send such well wishes to an utter stranger as it reinforces the notion that some lives are more important than others. There are lots of people with glioblastoma and who have died from it (including my mother twenty years ago)….

San Diego State University Political Science Professor Jonathan Graubart on Facebook, prompting some calls for him to be fired, and others on campus to second his opinion.

Is this an Ethics Quote or an Unethical Quote? I could call it  an Ethics Quote because it raises many ethical issues, and mere statements of opinions, even stupid and vicious ones, are not usually unethical in themselves. This quote strongly suggests that the speaker is unethical in  than one respect; it is also, at very least, irresponsible in its context, which is that he is a teacher, and represents the institution.

Jonathan Turley flagged this episode, as he reliably does any time a professor comes under fire for controversial speech. As always, he supports his fellow academic:

“Graubart’s comments are hurtful and hateful. It is a reflection of the incivility that has taken hold of our social and political dialogue. It is always sad to see a fellow academic rush to the bottom of our national discourse. However, we have free speech and academic freedom to protect unpopular, not popular, speech. Popular speech does not need protection. Graubart is expressing his deep political and social viewpoint on social media. He should be able to do that just as his critics have a right to denounce his views.”

San Diego State University is a government institution, and thus subject to the First Amendment, in addition to the principles of academic freedom. However, even a state institution  has a right to protect itself from harm. This isn’t just political speech; it is bona fide asshole speech, signaling that the speaker is not a trustworthy teacher, and that any school that would have someone this intolerant, doctrinaire, vile and contemptuous of kindness and compassion educating, aka indoctrinating students isn’t trustworthy either. Universities, public or not, should be able to insist on a minimal level of professionalism from faculty in their public behavior and pronouncements so the institution isn’t permanently discredited, embarrassed, and harmed.

Here is Graubart’s whole Facebook rant: Continue reading

As Close To An Ethics Hero As He’s Ever Likely To Get: Senator Ted Cruz

I never thought I would have occasion to place the term “Ethics Hero” anywhere near Ted Cruz’s name. Ted understands ethics (unlike Donald Trump), he just discards them at will, when an end he lusts for requires an unethical means. Last night, however, Cruz brushed up against ethics heroism. He took the podium at the Republican National Convention in prime time, and directed principled conservatives and Republicans not to vote for Donald Trump, though not in so many words. It took character, it took courage, and his message was the right one.

The Texas Senator and last Trump challenger standing congratulated Trump for winning the Republican nomination,  but never endorsed him. Then he closed by telling convention-goers and TV viewers to “vote your conscience” in November. The convention throng of Trump supporters erupted in jeers, as Cruz had to know they would, and Trump felt he had to appear on the floor to pull focus from his intransigent foe. Today on Fox News, the Fox Blondes and their harassers were slamming Cruz as a traitor and a fool.

Yeah, that was how the collaborators talked about De Gaulle in France during the occupation, too. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Second Thoughts About An Ethics Hero Emeritus

challenger-shuttle-disaster-crew

I periodically read random posts here from years ago, to check and see if I would make a different analysis today, and why. It almost never happens, which is good: though I may not trace all of the steps in every post, the systems, methods, models, values and priorities I use to assess various events and scenarios are established and consistent. I also check older posts when I am uncertain about a new version of an issue I have addressed before. Again, I am almost always struck by how closely my thinking then matches my approach now. I am also often struck by the fact that I don’t recall writing the earlier post at all. There are over 6000 of them, so I don’t feel too senile.

Today, however, I read this NPR story, about a previously unnamed engineer at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol who had been interviewed, with a promise of not being named, by NPR after the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, 30 years ago. Now Bob Ebeling has finally come forward publicly, and allowed his name to be attached to his tragic story.The night before the launch, he and four other engineers had tried to stop it, because the weather was too cold—it was the coldest launch ever— and their research told them that that the rubber seals on the shuttle’s booster rockets wouldn’t function properly in the extreme temperatures. They begged for the launch to be postponed, but their supervisors and NASA overruled them.

That night, Ebeling told his wife, Darlene, “It’s going to blow up.” It did.

“I was one of the few that was really close to the situation,” Ebeling told NPR. “Had they listened to me and wait[ed] for a weather change, it might have been a completely different outcome…NASA ruled the launch. They had their mind set on going up and proving to the world they were right and they knew what they were doing. But they didn’t.”

Thirty years ago, when Ebeling didn’t want his name used or his voice recorded,  he said he feared losing his job but that,”I think the truth has to come out.” After the interview, the investigations, and the law suits, he left the company and suffered from depression and guilt that has lasted to this day. He told NPR that in 1986, as he watched that horrible video again on TV, he thought, “I could have done more. I should have done more.”

Reading and listening to the NPR story, I agreed with him. He should have done more. I was about to write a post from that perspective, when I realized I had not only written about another engineer who had tried to delay the launch, but inducted him into the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor. His name was Roger Boisjoly, and of him I wrote in part…

Six months before the Challenger disaster, he wrote a memo to his bosses at Thiokol predicting”a catastrophe of the highest order” involving “loss of human life.” He had identified a flaw in the elastic seals at the joints of the multi-stage booster rockets: they tended to stiffen and unseal in cold weather.  NASA’s shuttle launch schedule included winter lift-offs, and Boisjoly  warned his company that send the Shuttle into space at low temperatures was too risky. On January 27, 1986, the day before the scheduled launch of the Challenger, Boisjoly and his colleague Allan J. McDonald argued for hours with NASA officials to persuade NASA to delay the launch, only to be over-ruled, first by NASA, then by Thiokol, which deferred to its client.

And the next day, on a clear and beautiful morning, the Shuttle’s rocket exploded after take-off, killing the crew of seven and mortally wounding the space program.

My ethics verdict then? This:

“Can we accurately call Roger Boisjoly an Ethics Hero, even though he didn’t stop the launch? I usually don’t like to call people heroes for doing their jobs. If Thiokol and NASA had behaved ethically, competently and rationally, we would not know anything about his memo or him. He did the right things, as his duties demanded. He alerted management to a deadly problem in plenty of time to address it. When they went forward, he argued and protested, until the decision was final. Afterwards, he told the truth to investigators, so the decision-making problems could be addressed. In his world, in that bureaucracy, this—doing his duty, doing the right thing—took courage. He knew, I am certain, that his career would suffer as a result of his actions. Yes, that makes Roger Boisjoly an ethics hero.”

If Boisjoly was a hero, then so is Ebeling, though Boisjoly spent the rest of his professional life lecturing at engineering schools around the world on ethical decision-making, trying to prevent future disasters.

So please help me resolve a Present Jack vs. Past Jack conflict, by considering this Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Are Bob Ebeling and Roger Boisjoly really heroes?

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Independence Day Ethics Dunce: Sports Illustrated Illustrates How Too Many Americans Regard The Nation’s Veterans

McCain tweet

Sports Illustrated tweeted out the above image and message that linked to a story by “Extra Mustard.” That masterpiece noted that

Senator John McCain attended Tuesday night’s Dodgers–Diamondbacks game and had a chance to grab a souvenir in the seventh inning.Dodgers’ shortstop Jimmy Rollins fouled a ball over the backstop that went bouncing into the lap of the senior senator from Arizona, but McCain couldn’t get his hands on the ball. But McCain deserves a break from critics: As you can see the ball was approaching from a very awkward angle. Still, this photo from Dodgers photographer Jon SooHoo does not make the former presidential candidate look particularly athletic.

Apparently neither the reporter nor any of his/her/its editors were aware that McCain has extremely limited use of his arms as a result of being tortured as a North Vietnam prisoner of war. Both arms were broken by his captors and left untreated for so long that he was permanently handicapped, as anyone who watched even a little bit of his 2008 campaign for President could hardly fail to notice. McCain is also 78 years old, not that respect for seniors who have spent their lives in public service could be expected to be a factor in SI’s commentary.

Would any of the magazine’s staff attending a game dare to openly mock a disabled serviceman who didn’t catch a foul ball?  Probably not, since the likelihood of some fans of the National Pastime taking offense and throwing a beer in their smug, ignorant faces would be a real risk. Ah, but from the safety of an office  in New York City and hiding behind a pseudonym—of course, Extra Mustard might be the jerk’s real name, I suppose—it’s easy to insult an elderly U.S. Senator, military veteran and war hero for the consequences of the wounds he sustained in the service of his nation.

Eventually SI was tipped off to its error, and it quietly removed the last sentence. No apology, of course. Such is the historical, cultural, political and ethical ignorance of a substantial portion of our national media.

_____________________

Pointer: Newsbusters

Comment of the Day: “Comment of the Day: ‘An Unethical Website, Golden Rule Malpractice And The Worst Anti-Bullying Program Ever'”

Atom bomb cloud

Responding to according2grayson’s passionate defense of non-violence and the Golden Rule while encountering bullies (as well as while opposing despots on the march), Steve-O-in-NJ enriched Ethics Alarms with an epic response including historical perspective, ethics and personal experience.

Here is his terrific post—long but not to be missed—and the Comment of the Day, on Comment of the Day: “An Unethical Website, Golden Rule Malpractice And The Worst Anti-Bullying Program Ever”:

I question this litany of life experiences, since it sounds a bit too pat and a bit too neat to be real, or at least it sounds sanitized/incomplete. Those with truly outstanding records usually don’t feel the need to trumpet them. That said, I wasn’t there, so maybe it is all true.

I know I tried the non-violent approach a few times, and it just lead to more bullying. I also tried the fight-back approach, smashing one bully’s head against the sidewalk and nearly strangling another, and it frankly didn’t get much more done beyond getting the bullies off my back temporarily. That said, a temporary respite from abuse is better than absorbing abuse every day without a respite. What really broke one group of problem people was a combination of finally going to the authorities and the people overreaching.Despite the justified criticism of Catholic schools (a whole separate discussion), they did have one very big thing going for them: no one who was enrolled had to be, or had any right to be, and dismissal or necessary discipline was easily accomplished. Continue reading

Obamacare, “The March Of Folly,” And The Ethical Obligation To Accept Unpleasant Facts

Charge+of+the+Light+Brigade+Cavalry+Charge

Today, while listening to the furious efforts of such liberal talking heads as E.J. Dionne (NBC’s Meet the Press), Donna Brazile (ABC’s Sunday Morning With George) and Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday) to explain why the Affordable Care Act disaster is not really a disaster and why it should be full steam ahead even as the legislation is unraveling before our eyes, my mind kept jerking back to two disparate sources. One was Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly,” the celebrated historian’s 1985 examination of how governments persist in doomed policies long after it is obvious to all, including them, that the effort is not only futile but disastrous. The other was “Peanuts:”

Sincere

For this is what the bitter-enders regarding the Affordable Care Act have become. Because the absurdly flawed and over-reaching legislation was well-intentioned, and because it was sincerely designed to help people who need and deserve help, and because the hearts of those who rammed it through the process, ignoring warnings, systemic checks and balances, prudence and common sense, were pure, the law just has to work. Former White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs literally said this to David Gregory on “Meet the Press” this morning. There’s just no choice, he said. The administration just has to make it work, that’s all. Anyone who has read Tuchman, or who has been alive longer than Justin Bieber, should get chills to hear sentiments like that. Continue reading

Why Lawrence O’Donnell’s Interview With Herman Cain Wasn’t Unethical Journalism

Lawrence O’Donnell’s unconscionable roast of GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain —-no fair journalist would call it an “interview”—made me realize that broadcast journalism ethics have fractured to the point where it is unfair to apply the same ethics standards to different networks and programs. My initial reaction to seeing O’Donnell’s over-the-top performance was that it represented a new low in broadcast journalism interview ethics. Now I think that is unrealistic and unfair. O’Donnell’s conduct was what MSNBC’s audiences want to see, and what critics should expect to see. Herman Cain, the target in this case, consented to the abuse. Where’s the unethical journalism? There was no journalism. Continue reading

“True Grit” Ethics

I haven’t seen the remake of “True Grit,” but I know I will, and like many other fans of the original 1969 version, I’m trying to conquer my biases. The latest effort by the usually brilliant Coen brothers creates ethical conflicts for me, and I am hoping I can resolve them right now. Can I be fair to their work, while being loyal to a film that is important to me for many reasons?

The original, 1969 “True Grit” won John Wayne his only Oscar for his self-mocking portrayal of fat, seedy law man Rooster Cogburn, 

who is hired by a young girl to track down her father’s murderer. I love the film; I saw it on the big screen nine times, in fact. Remaking it with anyone else in the starring role feels like an insult, somehow, as if the Duke’s version was somehow inadequate.

Intellectually, I know that’s nonsense. Artists have a right to revisit classic stories and put their personal stamp on them, and they should be encouraged to do it. Every new version of a good story, if done well, will discover some unmined treasure in the material. Why discourage the exploration? Continue reading

Rahm Emanuel, History and Hyperbole Ethics

There are times when obvious exaggeration is nothing worse than politeness, nothing more than an expression of admiration and affection. “You’re the best boss anyone ever had,” is in this category, especially when the boss is retiring or dying. But when one is speaking in public about controversial and historical matters involving well-known public figures, the margin between excusable hyperbole and unethical dishonesty or worse is much smaller. Al Gore learned this when he played loyal Vice-President on the day his President was impeached by vote of the House of Representatives. Gore’s statement that Bill Clinton was “a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest Presidents” was intended as supportive, but interpreted as a toadying endorsement of Clinton’s unsavory and dishonest conduct, impeachable or not. It probably cost Gore the Presidency.

Worse yet was Trent Lott’s clumsy effort to praise the ancient, infirm and mentally failing Sen. Strom Thurmond at his 100th birthday party. Lott said, “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have all these problems over all these years, either.” Thurmond, running on the Dixiecrat ticket, had opposed segregation, and Lott’s comment, less fact than flattery, made him sound like he longed for the days of Jim Crow and “white only”rest rooms. The lessons of these hyperbolic gaffes are similar: if the well-intentioned compliment concerns a public figure in historical context, historical exaggerations either appear to be unjust to history or its important figures, seem to make inappropriate value judgments, or come off as a blatant effort to mislead the public.

Rahm Emanuel hit the Trifecta with his fawning farewell to President Obama, as he left the White House to run for Mayor of Chicago. Obama, he said, is “the toughest leader any country could ask for, in the toughest times any president has ever faced.”

Wow. Continue reading