Unethical Tweet Of The Week: Matt Zoller Seitz, With An Assist From Ann Althouse, Sliming Principled Whistleblowers

Stoller tweet

Let me preface this commentary with some disjointed points:

  • When tweets are involved, I should probably call this category “Unethical Tweet Of The Hour.” Minute, even.
  • Matt Zoller Seitz is a hard-left critic and screenwriter who sometimes opines for the proudly Left-Lunatic “Daily Kos.”
  • Ann Althouse’s reaction to this—she gets the EA Pointer for finding the tweet—puts me in mind of Captain Von Trapp’s rebuke to his friend, the venal and principle-free theatrical producer Max, in “The Sound of Music” film when Max tries to rationalize the Anschluss by noting that it was “peaceful”: “You know, Max. . . . . .sometimes I don’t believe I know you.”
  • She also professed ignorance at the tweet’s reference to “the Bruenigs.” See the note immediately above: it took me ten seconds to check the reference, longer than it must have taken Ann to write that she didn’t understand it. Matt Bruenig is a Socialist pundit, and Elizabeth Bruenig is a former columnist at the Washington Post of similar ideological sympathies, now with the New York Times. The Bruenigs have a podcast called “The Bruenigs.”
  • The “tweets” Althouse refers to relates to a re-tweeter of the Seitz tweet who added this shot from a film I couldn’t identify:

Preppy assholes

Sietz is scummily implying that criticizing the now obvious turn by the American Left to totalitarian-style speech suppression and the mainstream news media’s complicity in the process is the equivalent of Fifties-style, white prep school  conservatism mocked in films like “Auntie Mame,” Animal House,” and “Trading Places.” In fact, Greenwald, Sullivan, Yglesias and, though unsmeared here, Matt Taibbi are all left-leaning journalists or pundits of long standing who have had the integrity to break with their biased and unethical employers to blow necessary whistles on their former colleagues, as mainstream journalism has abandoned any pretense of doing its job while following its own ethics rules.

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Ethics Savings Time, 3/14/2021…

 

devil on shoulder

1. While I’m thinking about Republican Senators (as in the previous post)... A new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll indicates that a majority of Iowans,though only a third of Iowa Republicans, say they hope U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) decides not to seek reelection in 2022. For Democrats, this may be another example of having the right opinion for the wrong reasons: they might just think with Grassley out of the way, they have a better chance of replacing him with a Democrat. But the man is 87 years old. It was unethical for him to run for re-election the last time, in 2016. Is Grassley really going to tell voters that he expects to be fully alert, competent, healthy and alive until he’s 93?

Grassley needs to watch videos of Sen. Strom Thurmond in his waning years. This is an ethics test for him, and it shouldn’t be a difficult one.

2. Update: Yesterday I told a friend, ethicist and Georgetown Law Center grad about the Sandra Sellers mess, and his immediately reaction was, “So they fired her for telling the truth?” Yet many law school alums signed the petition to have her canned for “racism.”

If they don’t know that being admitted with lower credentials means that any group—including the children of big donors— will tend to settle at the bottom of the class, then a lot of Georgetown Law Center grads are either not as smart as they need to be to practice law competently, or not honest enough to practice law ethically.

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Fire These Free Speech-Chilling School Administrators

Hannah Watters, a sophomore at North Paulding High School outside Atlanta, took a cell phone photo of her school’s crowded  hallways showing few students wearing masks.  She posted it to social media, and the school suspended her.
Then Hannah’s mother, Lynne Watters, spoke with the school’s principal by phone. The school immediately backed down, and said her daughter  would not be suspended, nor would a suspension  appear on her daughter’s record. That’s nice, but it’s too late. You can’t undue blatant intimidation designed to crush basic rights. The fact that she would be suspended at all, regardless of how long, because the school was embarrassed by its own conduct shows an administration that will abuse its power to cover up its incompetence.

Time to clean house. Fire them all. Continue reading

Remembering Herb Stempel (1926-2020), Ethics Dunce Emeritus

 

I missed Herb Stempel’s death last month. If you aren’t 95 years old or didn’t see Robert Redford’s “Quiz Show,” that name probably doesn’t ring a bell, but Herb was a seminal figure in American popular culture ethics, and his story raises issues still unsettled today.

On the evening of December 5, 1956, Stempel, a City College student from Queens, was in his eighth week on the highly-rated NBC quiz show “Twenty-One.” He had won a total of $49,500, but the producers decided that his trivia-obsessed nerd persona (deliberately played up by the show, which instructed Stempel how to look especially dorky) was wearing thin. It was decided that his handsome, Columbia University professor challenger Charles Van Doren  should end Herb’s reign as champion, so Stempel was ordered to “take a dive.”  Despite Stempel’s protests, he was forced to whiff on the question,  “What movie won the Academy Award for best picture in 1955?,” an especially bitter pill because Stempel not only knew the answer, the winning film, “Marty,”was his favorite movie. Those who knew Stempel were shocked that he would answer, “On the Waterfront,.”

Van Doren went on to become the most celebrated  quiz-show contestant of all time—yes, even more so than Jeopardy’s Ken Jennings [Not “Jenkins” as I wrote here originally. Ken Jenkins is an actor, and he jumped into my head without being invited.] He was on the cover of Time magazine and received bags of fan mail and endorsement offers. Then Stempel, in part humiliated by the question he was forced to botch, in part out of jealousy, and maybe with a smidgen of public spiritedness, decided to become the prime witness as a federal investigation exposed the corrupt quiz show culture, telling the news media, prosecutors and congressional investigators that “Twenty One,” (and probably the other popular shows  like “The $64,000 Question,” “Tic Tac Dough’) was a fraud on the American public.

Van Doren was disgraced.  Stempel styled himself as a whistleblower and a hero. He assisted in the production of  Redford’s 1994 Oscar-nominated movie “Quiz Show,”  and also  in a 1992 documentary for the PBS series “American Experience.” After the film revived interest in the  quiz-show scandal, Stempel gave lectures and made radio and television appearances.

In other words, he cashed in. I see nothing admirable about Herb Stempel, though he is typical of many, perhaps most, whistle-blowers.

He testified that before his first appearance on “Twenty One,” the producer asked, “How would you like to win $25,000?” “Who wouldn’t?’” Stempel said he replied. Before each show, Stempel was given the questions and correct answers. He was coached to bite his lip, mop his brow, stammer, sigh, and act as if every question to which he had already been provided the answer might be the one to defeat him. He signed a false statement that he had not been coached and that he had lost to Van Doren, who was also provided answers, fairly. In exchange, Stempel was promised future paid television appearances. It was when the network reneged on those promises that Stempel blew his whistle and let the public and law enforcement know that the  quiz shows were fixed.

They didn’t recover until quite recently, with shows like “Deal or No Deal?” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” having success on prime time. Before that, the format was mostly relegated to daytime television. It’s strange, though. The appeal of shows like “Twenty One” was the same as the appeal of today’s competition reality shows, like “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race”: the illusion that audiences were watching real people dealing with a genuine challenge. The ethical line between a contestant faking that he isn’t sure of an answer to a question in order to ratchet up the suspense, and a reality show contestant following a scripted plot is vanishingly thin. Various levels of fraud exist in most of these programs.

I even believed that Paul Lynde was so clever he came up with those hilarious answers on “The Hollywood Squares” spontaneously.

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 5/16/2020: The Experts Edition

Hey!

Why aren’t you at the beach?

1. One reason: it’s stupid at the beach. Here’s a sign on a beach at Ocean City New Jersey:

Explain that, please. Are you OK as long as you stay on the surfboard, but not permitted to swim if you fall off? Why is a solo sunbather breaching the rules? Sitting in chairs is dangerous, but standing around is not? These kinds of arbitrary restrictions can’t be justified, and will inevitably lead to public distrust and defiance…and ought to.

Here is the obligatory clip from “Bananas” (with Greek subtitles, for some reason):

2. Here’s the “expert” who is imposing dubious restrictions in LA County: Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer, who first told the county’s board of Supervisors that the county’s “Safer at Home” order would  be extended for three more months when it expired yesterday, then extended it with no end date. The reason her opinion should be worshiped without question is…well, I don’t know what.  As I keep trying to explain to my Deranged Facebook friends, you only allow doctors to dictate policy if the only thing the public has to worry about is health, since that’s all doctors care about: if we are reduced to living on roots and berries and living in caves, well, if everyone is healthy, that’s a win from from a doctor’s perspective.

Dr. Ferrer, however, isn’t even a medical doctor. She’s not an expert in virology or epidemiology. She has a Ph.D in  social welfare, making her a Doctor of Wokeness, and also has the degrees Master of Arts in Public Health,  Master of Arts in Education, and Bachelor of Arts in Community Studies.  Based on these credentials, she is paid a half-million dollars a year to tell citizens how they will be allowed to live their lives “for the greater good.” Continue reading

Was Mike Fiers Right To Blow The Whistle On The Astros’ Sign-Stealing Scheme? Pedro Martinez Has A Nuanced Ethics Answer

Martinez (L) and Fiers (R)

Last week I posted about ESPN baseball color commentator Jessica Mendoza earning her Ethics Dunce stripes for essentially calling Mike Fiers, the Oakland A’s pitcher who revealed to reporters that his former team, the 2017 Astros, had cheated their way to a  World Series title, a snitch. She said in part,

“When I first heard about it, it hits you like any teammate would. It’s something that you don’t do. I totally get telling your future teammates, helping them win, letting people know. But to go public with it and call them out and start all of this, it’s hard to swallow.”

Now Hall of Fame great Pedro Martinez , intrepid as ever, has weighed in with a verdict on Fiers that counters the accepted narrative that Fiers is a role model. Pedro also faults Fiers, but not for the reason Mendoza does. Pedro Martinez, fascinatingly enough, evaluates the problem by regarding a baseball team member as having similar relationship to his team mates as a lawyer does to a client.

That is not as much of a stretch as it might seem at first glance. Professions like that of lawyers is based on trust, and so is the relationship between team mates in sports (as well as partners in police cars, members of  military units, a manager and a personal assistant, and other close working relationships). The analogy is useful and apt.

Pedro opined (in an interview with radio WEEI in Boston, which broadcasts Red Sox games):

“If he was to do it when he was playing for the Houston Astros I would say Mike Fiers has guts. But to go and do it after you leave the Houston Astros because they don’t have you anymore, that doesn’t show me anything…You’re just a bad teammate. …

Now everybody knows you are going to have a whistle-blower in any other situation too [if Fiers is on your team.]. Whatever happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse and Fiers broke the rules. I agree with cleaning up the game. I agree that the fact that the Commissioner is taking a hard hand on this….

BUT!

“If you have integrity you find ways to tell everybody in the clubhouse, ‘Hey, we might get in trouble for this. I don’t want to be part of this.’ You call your GM. You tell him. Or you call anybody you can or MLB or someone and say, ‘I don’t want to be part of this.’ Or you tell the team, ‘Get me out of here, I don’t want to be part of this.’ Then you show me something. But if you leave Houston and most likely you didn’t agree with Houston when you left and then you go and drop the entire team under the bus I don’t trust you. I won’t trust you because did have that rule.”

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Ethics Dunce: ESPN Baseball Commentator Jessica Mendoza

(Jessica giggles too much too...)

This answers a question I’ve had ever since softball player Jessica Mendoza was added to the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast team: how can a nice, all-American girl like Jessica not gag having to work with Alex Rodriguez, one of the most loathsome personalities in baseball history?

Rodriguez, after all,  was caught twice using banned  PEDs (performance enhancing drugs), lied repeatedly throughout his career to the public, the press, and team authorities, was handed one of the longest suspensions ever given to a player, and was caught cheating in various ways whenever he thought he could get away with it. (My personal favorite was when he shouted “Mine!” as he ran from second to third while a pop-up was over the infield, causing the opposing shortstop to let the ball drop because he thought a team mate had called for the ball. ) His odious presence in the ESPN booth is why I  usually refuse to watch games broadcast by the trio of A-Rod, Jessica and play-by-play man Matt  Vasgersian—well, that and the fact that they are terrible, habitually engaging in inane happy-talk that often has nothing to do with what’s happening on the field.

Yesterday Mendoza appeared on ESPN Radio’s “Golic and Wingo” show to discuss the baseball’s sign-stealing scandal that has—so far, because more is coming— led to the firing of three teams’  managers, the dismissal of a successful general manager, and  cast a long shadow on the World Championships of the Houston Astros in 2017 and the Boston Red Sox in 2018. Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers made himself a likely permanent pariah in his sport by blowing the whistle to the press on his former team, the 2017 Houston Astros, who engaged in an elaborate sign-stealing scheme via hidden cameras, electronic relays and, uh, trashcan banging for the entire 2017 season and post-season. The consensus, at least in public, around the game is that Fiers did the right thing for the long-term integrity of baseball.

Jessica disagrees. Her basic position is the same as inner city gangs and the Corleone Family: don’t be a snitch. She told Golic, Continue reading

Evening Ethics Update, 11/7/2019: Dr. King Is Un-honored, Virginian Republicans Are Non-Functional, Fox News Is Pro-Darkness, And Joy Behar Is Still An Idiot [CORRECTED]

Good evening…

1 . The progressive deterioration of the ridiculous Joy Behar. It’s clear the stress of engaging in issue debates for which she lacks the temperament, the education or the necessary data is stressing out Joy. On today’s edition of The View, some studio audience members who hadn’t received the memo that they were expected to only endorse the “views” of  the correct side of the political spectrum applauded guests Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle as they supported the President. Behar snapped at them, “This is not a MAGA rally!”  In such places there may be technically free speech, just not free non-conforming speech without abuse.

2. This makes no sense at all, nor is it ethical. Eric Ciaramella is the so-called whistle-blower who gave Rep. Adam Schiff the wisp of an excuse he needed to manufacture Plan S for removing the President, the supposed “quid pro quo” deal to make the Ukraine look for “dirt” on Joe Biden and his son. Lots of sources have published this—heck, I have—and no one has credibly denied it. In schoolyard terms, the cat is out of the bag. Nor is it in any way illegal for a news organization to publish what is increasingly public information. Okay, say he’s the “alleged” whistleblower.

Nonetheless, a Fox News executive sent out an email ordering Fox personnel, including hosts like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, not to mention the name on the air because the network “had not confirmed it.”

Fox News, as you know, is always so careful about the accuracy of what its talking heads say.

Fox News media ethics watchdog Howard Kurtz defended not releasing the name of the whistleblower, saying it would send a “chilling message” to whistleblowers in the future. What “chilling message?” That if you decide to fulfill your partisan goals and help your pals by trying to bring down a President with rumors and hearsay, you should have the guts to do it publicly and accept the consequences? It’s not the news media’s job to make things easy for whistleblowers, and it is especially not their job to pretend that information already being publicized is a mystery.

The background and professional connections of this “whistleblower”—he’s really a leaker—are relevant to his credibility and the legitimacy of the current impeachment push. The public has a right to know, and democracy dies in darkness. Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 11/5/2019: A Whistleblower’s Biases, A Technology’s Risks, And A Thinking Actor’s Values

Hi!

1. So now we know…The mysterious “whistleblower” is almost certainly Eric Ciaramella,  a CIA analyst, former National Security Council staffer,  and  a career intelligence officer.who has served in both the Obama and Trump administrations. It would have been nice and reassuring if he were not so strongly tied to the Dark Side, meaning the Democrats and various “resistance” figures, but he is. That doesn’t mean he had an agenda, but somehow all of the leakers and rebels who have been instrumental in keeping the Left’s coup fires burning have aspects of their backgrounds that justify skepticism.

From the generally useful and fair article about in Heavy:

Ciaramella has worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for several years and was assigned to the White House during the end of the Obama administration. He worked closely with Biden in his role as an expert on Ukraine. Ciaramella also has ties to Sean Misko, a former NSC co-worker who now works for Representative Adam Schiff and the Intelligence Committee. According to The New York Times, the whistleblower first went to a CIA lawyer and then to an unnamed Schiff aide before filing the whistleblower complaint. The aide told the whistleblower to follow the formal process, but conveyed some of the information he learned from him to Schiff, without revealing his name, The Times reported.

“Like other whistle-blowers have done before and since under Republican and Democratic-controlled committees, the whistle-blower contacted the committee for guidance on how to report possible wrongdoing within the jurisdiction of the intelligence community,” said Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff, told The Times.

The whistleblower’s ties to Democrats, including Biden, Schiff, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of Intelligence James Clapper and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, have created controversy, with Trump and Republicans using his past work with them in an attempt to discredit him.

I did say generally fair. The fact that this guy who created the path to the latest impeachment excuse just happens to be a Democrat with connections to a veritable nest of anti-Trump zealots does and should discredit his objectivity to some extent. An “attempt” shouldn’t be necessary.

2.  Geewhatasurprise…. From the MIT Technology Review:

A study published today in JAMA Pediatrics warns that kids’ literacy and language skills suffer with screen use, and MRI scans of their brains appear to back up the findings…. Forty-seven 3- to 5-year-olds took a test to measure their cognitive abilities, and their parents were asked to answer a detailed survey about screen time habits. …The scans revealed that kids who spent more time in front of screens had what the authors call lower “white matter integrity.” White matter can be roughly thought of as the brain’s internal communications network—its long nerve fibers are sheathed in fatty insulation that allows electrical signals to move from one area of the brain to another without interruption. The integrity of that structure—how well organized the nerve fibers are, and how well developed the myelin sheath is—is associated with cognitive function, and it develops as kids learn language. …Lead author John Hutton of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital told MIT Technology Review there’s a clear link between higher screen use and lower white matter integrity in the children his team studied. That structural change appears to be reflected in the results of the cognitive test the kids took as well, which showed high screen time associated with lower levels of language and literacy skills. “The effect size is substantial, as these findings also rigorously controlled for multiple comparisons across the brain,” Hutton says.

One easy and ethical remedy would be for parents to make sure their kids don’t see them constantly staring at their phone.

3.  A terrific, ethical, extemporaneous speech from Richard Dreyfus. No, Richard Dreyfus is not, and has never been, a typical Hollywood knee-jerk leftist. Glenn Beck’s conservative website “The Blaze” was “astonished” when actor/educator Richard Dreyfus recently told Fox News host Tucker Carlson,

“You were talking about the speakers on university campuses. And I am totally, incontrovertibly on your side about this. I think any intrusion into freedom of speech is an intrusion into freedom of speech. And when one of the presidents of one of the colleges said, ‘this is a school, not a battlefield,’ I said, no, it is a battlefield of ideas and we must have dissonant, dissenting opinions on campuses and I think it’s political correctness taken to a nightmarish point of view

I have withdrawn from partisan politics. I am a constitutionalist who believes that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights must be central and the parties must be peripheral. What’s most important for me is what you just mentioned haphazardly, we are over 30. Civics has not been taught in the American public school system since 1970. And that means everyone in Congress never studied the constitution and the bill of rights as you and I might have. And that is a critical flaw because it’s why we were admired and respected for so long, it gives us our national identity, it tells the world who we are and why we are who we are, and without a frame that gives us values that stand behind the bill of rights, we’re just floating in the air and our sectors of society are not connected.

What’s really important is that the assumptions of the left and the right are all skewed wrong. We have to find areas of agreement and areas that we share. And we do share the notion that education accomplishes certain things. One, it turns students into citizens. And, two, it teaches students how to run the country before it’s their turn to run the country. And, three, it teaches the values of this nation.

People come from all over the world or are born into this nation without the values that we have here. That’s why they came here, to get them. And what are they? You can put them in opportunity, rise by merit, mobility, and freedom. That’s what we sell. And if you don’t want that, you’ve chosen the wrong place. And you don’t get a pass by being born here, you have to learn it. Even the Ten Commandments are not known at birth. You must learn them. And we must learn our values and if we don’t, we are fatally, fatally wounding ourselves. We will not have any way to really combat the ideas behind ISIS because we won’t know our own. And we have to.

Exactly.

Fox News should give Dreyfus a show.

Addendum And Correction To The Complaint Form Revision Discussion [Updated]

In Item #3 of this morning’s Warm-Up, I wrote, “The intelligence community quietly eliminated a requirement that whistleblowers provide direct, first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings that had existed since May, 2018. The revised version of the whistleblower complaint form was not made public until after the transcript of the President’s July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. It had eliminated the first-hand knowledge requirement, allowing government employees to file whistleblower complaints even if they lack direct knowledge of underlying evidence and only “heard about [wrongdoing] from others.”

I now know that this description was misleading and incorrect, because my source had confused a change in the reporting form, which it documented with screen shots, with a change in the whistleblower law, which had remained the same. This was explained in a twitter thread by Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a  technology and privacy expert. I will note that based on the Federalist’s screen shot above, one can understand their confusion.

Twitter is terrible format to make a substantive argument or explain anything, but I guess Sanchez doesn’t have a blog or a Facebook account, or something.  He writes that he contacted the site’s editor Mollie Hemingway and she didn’t correct the post.

[Notice of Correction: I had written here, erroneously, that the Federalist doesn’t allow comments. It does: I missed the tiny link at the bottom of the page. In fact, there are a lot of comments to that post. They are not helpful…]

I considered trying to put the following in coherent chronological order, but I’m just going to post Sanchez’s tweets as they appear on his feed: Continue reading