Consent Degree

Bullies surround us. Always. All of us, 100 percent. Accept it, you know it’s true, and choose your battles. Making dark jokes helps. Also, they’re not always on the prowl.

Two young antelopes spar or play in front of elephant
Credit: StockSnap

This isn’t about bobcats or coyotes. Although like humans, kitty cats and puppy dogs if the predator instinct remains strong and they’re given the chance play with their prey. Sometimes human bullies feel a need for something their victims have, but often enough it’s more gratuitous. While compulsion is strong, humans have more power of choice than other animals.

This is not to say all of us are victims AND all of us are bullies — maybe just latently cruel or maybe just sometimes. I don’t see that in myself and others. Some people are bullies, and the majority of us have to deal with that.

But 100 percent of us can do ugly things.

Among bullies, some are lifers. Sickos keep at it year after year. Others bully a few times or within a span of a few years — late childhood or early adulthood — then seem to retire from it.

Louis C.K.’s stand-up never has done much for me. The routines (culture, family, relationships) are more provoking than funny. But I relished his sitcom Louie. With overlapping plots and major and minor characters, he covered much of the same ground, with greater impact. Thus, I hope to someday see I Love You, Daddy, his film satire whose release got scuttled with his expose.

The hashtag #metoo has been a digital key this fall inspired by journalism reports of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual threats by famous or successful people. The victims in these cases often are not typical victims in terms of helplessness but at times ambitious and with early successes in their own right. What these victims have done best is bring the type of bullying that beset them — sexual — to light. Light, air, candor, specifics.

I read in social media the #metoo’s of people I know. If every person could in full confidence post #metoo, it’d be 100 percent. Surely every girl gets the talk from someone: Be careful with men. The threat’s universal. Continue reading

Q: WTF? A: Hi-dee Hi-dee Hi-dee Ho

“Anthony Scaramucci, the short-lived White House communications director, is making the rounds on TV next week. Scaramucci will be interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. Then he’ll appear on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS on Monday.” — CNN.com

Treble clef symbolFolks, here’s a story about Tony the Moocha’
He was the red-hot Scaramucc(a)
The roughest, toughest gym-ripped male
Ain’t no way is he gonna end up in jail

(Call and response chorus)
Hi-dee hi-dee hi-dee hi (hi-dee hi-dee hi-dee hi)
Whoa-a-a-a-ah (whoa-a-a-a-ah)
Hee-dee-hee-dee-hee-dee-hee (hee-dee-hee-dee-hee-dee-hee)
He-e-e-e-e-e-e-y (he-e-e-e-e-e-e-y)

Anthony Scaramucci
Anthony Scaramucci, Wikimedia Commons

Mooch took the call, sold stocks, his wife just gone
Fame’s ahead — what could go wrong
Left the Street named Wall for an Office that’s Oval
Won’t bury Caesar, but he packed a shovel

(Call and response chorus)
Hi-dee hi-dee hi-dee hi (hi-dee hi-dee hi-dee hi)
(Similar scat improv for lines 3 and 4) Continue reading

An Ajar Letter to Arkansas Electors

Graphic of hand dropping ballot into slot
OpenClipArt

To the Honorable (Arkansas elector)

Dear M-. _______,

I am a native of our state, now living in Northwest Arkansas. This letter is to request you vote for any presidential candidate besides Donald J. Trump when the state’s electors meet Monday, Dec. 19.

This request does not come from partisanship but from consideration of the man Mr. Trump has shown himself to be personally and professionally through his adult life, since he declared his candidacy 17 months ago and, especially, the two weeks before and two weeks since the Nov. 8 general election.

Of the last period in particular, Mr. Trump

  • Has dropped promises he repeatedly and consistently made to woo voters
  • Continues or allows subordinates to engage in business that profits from his federal standing
  • Nominated individuals to top Executive Branch positions who lack sufficient competence in the areas they are to lead (yes, some seem OK)
  • Displays a lack of shrewdness and self-control when reacting on social and news media to mere criticism
  • Exhibits other serious character flaws as reported in reputable journalism organizations, so well covered that you don’t need me to further list

None of us has a crystal ball, but Mr. Trump will need far less than the four-year term as Commander in Chief to — at the least — bring shame to the people of the United States of America. Indeed, it is reasonable to foresee domestically economic turmoil or internationally greater risk of military or terroristic upheaval during his administration. Greater risk, that is, than with any of the other top candidates of either major party.

This is not a plea to vote for the Democratic Clinton-Kaine ticket. By your helping to drop Mr. Trump’s electoral total below the 270 simple-majority votes — by choosing anyone else or abstaining — you will prove your patriotism. Please let the Constitution guide the next steps, in Congress.

You were selected as an Arkansas elector because you are a longtime loyal Republican. You may find “disruptive” or “overwhelming” — as the Democrat-Gazette quoted two electors Nov. 20 in “State GOP Electors: Changing Trump Vote Out of the Question” — citizens contacting you about the Electoral College. Perhaps this is because you were appointed by your party, not by the state nor by voters. But by the Constitution, U.S. Code and state law, you do help select the president of this democracy.

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Hang Separately

America is not a nice country. Hardly any of the other countries think so. If they say the U.S. is a nice nation, that’s for show, to stay on our good side. It’s just to be nice.

Animation of light going through a prism
Click for animation. John Roland Hans Penner, Wikipedia Commons. Creative Commons 3.0 license

We are a nation led by elected officials, often compromised by “contributions,” as we call them.

We are a nation of laws tented by a tarp of unalienable rights. If Americans love to love its laws, we continuously labor to subvert those proclaimed rights. Our truths turn out not to all that self-evident in each generation.

We are a nation of immigrants, all of whom on occasion fall into reasons to hate. (Blacks are descended from non-voluntary immigrants. The earliest migrants forded the Bering Strait.) After all, my mom can whup yours, my family is better, my clan is tops, my tribe has it down, and America Tis of Thee right or wrong love it or leave it, pry the flag pole from my cold dead hands.

When in the course of trying to figure things out, the democratic preamble rambles.

This mess of trouble will get worse. The lone gunman’s terroristic shooting up of historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in historic Charleston, South Carolina, during Wednesday evening Bible study June 17, 2015, is merely the latest attack.

It’s not just them.

It’s not just us.

Nine died in Charleston. Three people were killed April 13, 2014, in the shooting spree of a lone gunman outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. Another long gunman is awaiting trial for the Feb. 10, 2015, slaying of three young Muslim adults in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The KC suspect killed no Jews. The North Carolina suspect found rationale with parking.

Lone is the only number you’ll ever do. Just because these are not conspiracies doesn’t mean mass delusion isn’t real enough to cowboy up.

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Bill Cosby: Full Press Court

This week, comedian Bill Cosby resigned as a trustee of Temple University in Philadelphia, on whose board he sat 32 years.

Bill Cosby, 2010. Public domain (Wikimedia Commons)
Bill Cosby, 2010. Public domain (Wikimedia Commons)

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the decision came after a petition drive and other pressure on the performer’s alma mater, which followed a flurry of news this fall on years’-old allegations of sexual assaults, for which Cosby never has been charged. The newspaper stated Dec. 1 that “at least 20 women” have accused him of drugging then having sexual relations with them.

Cosby, 77, said he resigned because “I have always wanted to do what would be in the best interests of the university and its students.”

Where do the Cosby allegations fit in journalism ethics? Media critics have noted the standard for entertainment journalism, where Cosby stories usually run, can be softer.

Yet the accusations have not been hidden. When the performer was sued, it was reported. When responsible media have published or aired general profiles of Cosby, the allegations have been included.

In November, two respected journalists have written that they wished they had placed more emphasis on this aspect when they wrote about him.

The ethics lesson here is balance but also appropriateness.

As an example, charges Bill Clinton perjured and concealed his  “relations” with Monica Lewinsky brought about his 1998 impeachment in the House and the Senate’s acquittal in 1999. General profiles on the former president in the years since devote some space to the topic. Focused journalism, however, such as interviews targeting his views on foreign relations or his nonprofit works, give it no coverage.

Neither Carr nor Coates state in their commentaries that they should’ve confronted Cosby but that they wished they had done more research. That makes the following headlines curious.

  • “Bill Cosby Stays Silent amid New Allegations,” USA Today, Nov. 23
  • “What I Wish I’d Asked Bill Cosby: How I learned that Entertainment Journalists Can Play Hardball Too,” Salon.com, Nov. 20
  • “Bill Cosby Tries to Pressure an AP Reporter Into Editing Out Rape Allegations,” Newsweek, Nov. 20
  • “Bill Cosby Will Not Comment on Sexual Assault Allegations, Says Lawyer,” Variety, Nov. 16
  • “In NPR Interview, Cosby Declines to Discuss Assault,” NPR, Nov. 15

Strong reporting includes interviewing all parties involved. Yet what is Bill Cosby going to say in 2014? Yes he did? No he didn’t? Something in between? If he spoke — he only issued a statement about his Temple resignation — would readers, listeners and viewers believe him?

Ethical journalists realize the Fourth Estate has no judiciary power, although the “court of public opinion” has thrived throughout history. That body has no Bible for sworn testimony; that’s what journalistic fact-finding is for.

Reporters have to be resolute with their subjects, from crime exposes to Hollywood features. If commentators are shocked, shocked that Cosby asked to the point of veiled threats for the AP reporter to cut the scandal part of their video discussion, they conveniently forget sources at all levels try to manipulate their stories.

Solid journalism, however, means more than mike-in-the-face: What did happen between Cosby and these women? Where was law enforcement at the time? What can be discovered from the civil litigation some of the women attempted? How did media mishandle the claims when they were first made?

Coates elaborates on his essay in a 7-minute audio podcast from NPR’s On the Media. Bill Wyman asks in The Columbia Journalism Review, “Where Were the Journalists 10 Years Ago?

• • •

Note: While fin­ished Dec. 4, 2014, this Brick was pub­lished the evening of July 18, 2015.

Ethos Ethics Ethicker Ethicist

Spring for journalists marks the end of contest entry season and the beginning of conferences and workshops. Heavy thinking threatens the daffodils.

Collecting arrows at Dunster Archery competition, Somerset, 2009. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Collecting arrows and scoring at a 2009 Somerset (UK) archery competition.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ethics committees of two groups, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Online News Association, are marking this climate change with proposals. SPJ’s is revising its Code of Ethics, last dolled up in 1996, and ONA’s panel wants a new approach it calls “Build Your Own Ethics Code.”

A key difference: SPJ will engrave its code in stone and ONA plans continual updating. One similarity is prominent: How ethics (singular noun) effects Internet news.

Or commentary, for that matter. (My gang, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, has a Code of Conduct, set in 2009. Valid in any medium.)

A point by point breakdown can’t be done until ONA completes its list. Until then, here’s their links:

Even their postings’ titles (which I’ve edited for form) indicate a significant issue. Ethics has a reputation as the Law’s wayward brother — while the Law graduated with high honors and is out making a name for itself, ethics still is in school, partying with the attitude, “Whatever, Dude.”

If you can go to jail or lose a lawsuit, it’s the Law. Ethics runs into its brother and bounces off: It is the agreement we journalists have with our audience; it’s how news providers are trusted to be as complete and fair as possible in the moment and not too offensive. While the Law has exceptions, Ethics functions by its elasticity.

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