Comment Of The Day: “The Many Species Of Fake News”

Few things make me happier than when a commenter relieves me of the duty of writing about a topic.

In 2017, after the New York Times published a spectacularly dishonest list of President Trump “lies” since his inauguration,  I wrote a post demonstrating just how outrageously the Times was warping the meaning of “lie,” and also applying a biased standard to Trump’s statements. I wrote,

In presenting this unethical project, the Times took unethical advantage of its readers’ confirmation bias. When the “Lie” list was printed, the Times made certain that it would require super-human dedication and extraordinary eyesight to read it, through the devices of listing every item and the Times commentary in horizontal sequence and in half the usual size type-face. (See above) This ensured that almost no readers would make the Herculean effort to read the whole thing , especially since the well-trained Times readers already “knows” that Donald Trump is a liar. In addition, the explosion of tiny words created the visceral response of “Wow! Look at all those lies!” which is exactly the effect the Times editors wanted.

But that isn’t reporting, and it isn’t journalism. The “list” was a page-size, visual, ad hominem attack. The Times wasn’t seeking close scrutiny of its list, nor was it interested in making any rebuttal easy or likely.

We have learned that the Times list was largely assembled from various fact-checker columns. That is a red flag, and explains many of the most embarrassing inclusions on the list. None of the fact-checkers are trustworthy. All of them are biased, Snopes and PolitiFact worst of all, and they consistently register opinions that the writer disagrees with as “false.” Many, many of the items on the Times list are in this category.

The entire exercise was an extension of #16 on the Fake News list, “Dishonest Factchecks. Here was a typical “lie” according to the Times, and its “proof”:

Jan. 21 “A reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.”

Says the Times, “Trump was on the cover 11 times and Nixon appeared 55 times.”

Trump was making the general point that he had been on TIME’s cover a lot. He guessed that the number was 14 or 15; it was 11. That is what is known as a  non-material misrepresentation: it’s meaningless and harmless, and certainly not an intentional deception. (“Heh, heh…I’ll make those poor, gullible fools think I was on TIME”s cover 14 times when it was ONLY ELEVEN!! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!) Then he said he “thinks” that’s a record. When someone says “I think” it means the speaker is acknowledging that he may be wrong. But Trump is not accorded the usual leeway given to everyone else, including other elected officials.

When a list includes something this clearly contrived, that list has no credibility. I found going through the Times list annoying, then shocking, and finally infuriating. So when the Washington Post pulled the same stunt, I kept putting off giving it the same treatment that I did the Times’ exercise in lies about lying.

Thus I was thrilled to receive this Comment of the Day from stalwart Steve Witherspoon, on the post, The Many Species Of Fake News: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/8/2020: War, Defamation, Bias, Abortion…What Fun.

ARRGH!

Another day, another “crisis”…

Current reports indicate that Iran regards its casualty free missile strikes last night as a sufficient “tat” for the killing of their master terrorist “tit.” If so, the “ARRGH! WORLD WAR III!!” anti-Trump hysterics were, as usual, wrong, and just embarrassed us, nothing more.. Meanwhile, Iran is refusing to hand over the black box of the Ukrainian airliner that just coincidentally crashed right around the time the missiles were flying. The fact that so many Democrats have allowed their brains and loyalty to rot to the extent that they defend  this awful place in order to attack their own nation’s President is all we need to know about the trustworthiness of their party.

1. Wrapping up the Golden Globes’ ethics issues…Michelle Williams is getting predictable hosannas from her acceptance speech at the Goldden Globes, in which she thanked abortion for her success. She said she wanted a life “carved by my own hand” and “wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose.” The New York Times called these words “potent.” I call them deceitful. I’ll praise an equivalent speech when the woman has the integrity and courage to thank the human being who involuntarily gave up his or her chance to carve out a life with their own hand. The use of “choice” as euphemism for “I get to kill someone who stands in my way” is self-deception.

2. Thinking about Trump’s threat...The President backed down from his threat to target Iranian cultural cites in retaliation for any attacks on Americans after being informed that this would be a war crime under international law. I confess, I did not know this was prohibited, and I am not certain what to think about that. I knew the destruction of ancient architecture and important cultural cites became an issue for the Allies in World War II, but this has yet to make sense to me. The whole concept of the “nice” war is ethically incoherent. The idea of war must be to win as quickly as possible, minimizing deaths and chaos on both sides, especially one’s own. If the prospect of losing a nation’s treasured cultural structures is a deterrent to war, then to say that has no “military value” is simply not true. If you can’t tolerate risking your cultural treasures, don’t get into wars.

The values involved in this controversy are also incoherent. In “The Monument Men,” George Clooney’s sort-of accurate account of the special forces whose job was to track down and rescue great artworks stolen by the Nazis, the question is asked repeatedly, “Was retrieving this painting or statue worth sacrificing a human life?” I have no problem voting “Sure!” If the question is changed to refer to a thousand lives, or 10,000, I’m not so sure. Continue reading

CNN Settles With Nick Sandmann

Nick Sandmann and CNN agreed today to a settlement in the teen’s defamation lawsuit as a result of the news media’s demonization of him and his fellow students after a videoed confrontation with Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, outside the Lincoln Memorial. Sandmann and his schoolmates had participated in the  March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the news media reported that the video showed boys wearing MAGA caps harassing Philips. Narrative: Racist young Trump supporters abuse an elderly Native American. Sandmann was singled out because a still photo appeared to show him smirking in a condescending manner at the  man.

Another video and eyewitness accounts demonstrated that Phillips was the obnoxious aggressor, pushing into the school group waiting for its bus and beating hisdrum inches from Sandmann’s face, while the boys were subjected to racist  taunts from members of the Black Hebrew Israelites.

Eventually some journalists and  public figures  had to recant their public characterization of Sandmann as a smug racist, but not before he had become a public villain. Even his school, acting solely on press reports, condemned him.  Some journalists refused to admit that they had been wrong–wearing a MAGA cap was proof enough of bad character— or that Sandmann and his friends had been wronged.

Sandman’s lawyer, L. Lin Wood,filed a $250 million suit against CNN for sending into “millions of homes” the “idea that [Sandmann] was part of a mob…yelling racist slurs.” Still pending are similar suits on Sandmann’s behalf against NBCUniversal and  the Washington Post. Continue reading

Babylon Bee Ethics

The Babylon Bee, as you should know by now, has taken over from “The Onion” as the hot political satire website, in part because its writers are excellent, and in part because its orientation is conservative. This is discomforting for progressives, who believe that the proper state of political humor must be all-conservative/Republican/Trump bashing all the time.

This, of course, not a healthy state of affairs, but for Democrats and progressive it is a useful one. How many network and cable comedy TV shows are there that essentially target only non-progressive positions and figures?  Seven? More? How many are balanced, or chide the liberals and Democrats as their main prey? I count…none. Comedy, at least what remains of it after the scourge of political correctness and metaphorically castrated comics cowed into their place by the “cancel culture,” is now part of the Left’s indoctrination machine.

The allies of the Democratic Party/”resistance”/mainstream media collective, what Ethics Alarms calls “the Axis of Unethical Conduct,” or the AUC, are annoyed by the very existence of a satire site that deftly points out its hypocrisy, lunacy and ugliness. Thus Snopes, the dishonest and partisan “factchecking” site, has repeatedly checked the facts on Babylon Bee stories that anyone with a functioning cerebrum should know were gags. This weak, a particularly deft Babylon Bee story really annoyed the AUC:

Perfect. Perfect. The embarrassing efforts by Democrats and media voices to falsely represent a murderous terrorist as a “revered foreign official” (as the Washington Post described him) is objectively revolting, and shows the depth of insane Trump hate, as I explained here. Because of its sharp and revealing..and funny… message, the piece was retweeted a half-million times. Naturally, it immediately came under attack by—“Surprise, surprise, surprise!“as Gomer Pyle used to say—CNN. Two reporters complained that “Some family members just called [because] their Republican friends on FB are circulating it like it’s legit.”

First, I don’t know how someone can circulate obvious satire as if it’s “legit.” Second, out of a half million or more people, it is inevitable that some will believe anything. Third, when observing the AUC reaction to the completely justifiable droning of this evil man, Poe’s Law applies in triplicate. The reaction of some of the Trump-deranged defies parody. Bernie Sanders, for example, called it the equivalent of Putin assassinating a political rival.

Then there’s the irony of news organizations like CNN, which have been flamboyantly trafficking in fake news during the entire Trump administration, complaining about satirical news stories that, unlike theirs, are not meant to deceive.

On one hand it’s annoying when another writer beats me to the punch on an issue; on the other, it does save me time. Here is The National Review’s David Harsanyi: Continue reading

Boxing Day Ethics Boxes, 12/26/2019: The Washington Post, Bad And Not Quite As Bad; Moore’s Racism And Warren’s Lies

Happy Boxing Day!

To be open and honest, for the longest time I thought the name referred to the fact that on the say after Christmas, houses tended to be littered with opened boxes that had previously contained Christmas gifts. The name really refers to the British tradition on the 26th, when postmen, milk men, and servants expected to receive gratuities or a “Christmas box” in appreciation for their labor during the year. It is still celebrated as a holiday in parts of the old United Kingdom, but “Gratitude Day” never caught on in the U.S. Here “Boxing Day,” if anything, refers to the all the boxes mad shoppers are buying in post-Christmas sales.

1.Law suit update! Well, the plaintiff’s latest motion to reconsider the appellate court’s rejection of the plaintiff’s defamation suit against me (for bouncing him off of Ethics Alarms and being mean to him in the process) was rejected. New motion to reconsider the reconsideration coming in 10…9….8…7…

2. A late entry in the Ethics Alarms “Asshole of the Year” title… Michael Moore told Rolling Stone interviewers in part,

I refuse to participate in post-racial America. I refuse to say because we elected Obama that suddenly that means everything is ok, white people have changed. White people have not changed.

Two-thirds of all white guys voted for Trump. That means anytime you see three white guys walking at you, down the street towards you, two of them voted for Trump. You need to move over to the other sidewalk because these are not good people that are walking toward you. You should be afraid of them.

Comments: Continue reading

“Nah, There’s No Mainstream Media Bias!” Holiday Edition

Oops! Let the mask slip a bit too much there! After hearing from her editors or others in the Post offices that it was poor PR to proclaim the fact that the paper’s staff was cheering, high-fiving and otherwise rejoicing to celebrate their not insubstantial role in provoking a destructive and unjustified Presidential impeachment, Blade solemnly tweeted,

Right.

Too late.

Yes, It’s Bizarro World—But The Mainstream Media Anti-Trump Bias Is Still Ridiculous

The President’s master-trolling display before Thanksgiving plunged us squarely into Bizarro World Ethics territory. I cannot imagine any previous President of the United States pulling a public stunt even close to as juvenile and silly as tweeting the photo above out to his followers and, inevitably, the world. I can’t imagine another President even considering it. The leader of the free world, the dignified occupant of the White House, the leader and role model of millions just doesn’t do something like that. He just…just..doesn’t, that’s all!

Yet there it was , just before 11:00 am on November 27. And like so many other seemingly vulgar and impetuous acts and statements that President Trump has authored, the deranged foes of the President managed to make it look like a brilliant stratagem. First the Washington Post—surely there must be some perceptive people working there, wouldn’t you think?—sent out this hurrumphing tweet:

Oh, it’s doctored! Good sleuthing, Post! Quick, add this to your recent list of Trump mendacities: he tried to make the public think that he’s built like Rocky under those blue suits, the liar!

And “unclear why”!!! Unclear why? How bone-headedly biased does someone have to be to not understand why Trump would tweet out a photo of himself as “Rocky” (in “Rocky 3”, to be accurate)? Has anyone on the Post staff seen “Rocky,” or is so stuffed with culturally ignorant naifs whose idea of an ancient inspirational movie is the ten-year-old “The Blind Side” that “Rocky” (1976) and its descendants are buried in their “Irrelevant films my grandparents watched” files? Continue reading