Friday, October 3, 2008

An Analog - for Pericles

Pericles, I am taking your challenge seriously, viz, to find "an analogue" to the Gwen Ifill travesty of having a direct financial interest in the outcome of the --well, not the debate, strictly speaking: I assume you meant the campaign in general.

Here's one, not perfect but I think you will agree it is suggestive:

Bob Schieffer moderated the third presidential debate between G. W Bush and John Kerry in 2004. Bob's brother, Tom, was a close friend of Bush, and was the U.S. Ambassador to Australia at the time of the debate. Of course, his personal relationship with Bush doubtless had nothing to do with his appointment; and given the incredibly hard duty in Canberra, the job was certainly no plum.

Did this give Schieffer a direct financial interest in the outocme? Well, presumably not --it is doubtful that his brother was supporting him.

Still ...

More to come, assuming I can find it.


  1. In professional ethics, there are three categories of mischief: (1) circumstances that create the appearance of impropriety; (2) circumstances that create an actual conflict of interest; and (3) actual bias. Now, Scheiffer's circumstances fell, if anywhere, into category 1. I think he was, for that reason, a poor choice, and should not have moderated that debate. A judge surely would recuse himself from a trial if his brother was employed by one of the parties. Either way, Scheiffer's circumstances did not fall into category 2. By contrast, Ifill suffered from a category 2 direct conflict of interest arising out of a financial stake in the outcome of the election. Big difference. I really doubt we will ever find an analog.

  2. The appearance of impropriety is not some separate category: every single instance of impropriety "creates an appearance of impropriety" unless it is concealed.

    And, assuming you know that Schieffer was not biased in that debate, how do you know this? Certainly I would think that he might have been: his brother's business partner versus some windsurfing, French-speaking blowhard?

    Finally, if Ifill announces that she is writing a book about the changed position of black politicians in the American system, by your definition she now has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the election simply because one of the candidates is black --she has said that she won't write the chapter on Obama until the outcome of the election is decided, so she can deal with how this particular case comes out.

    How much of your concern here derives from the fact that the (tentative) title of her book contains Obama's name? To be consistent here, you should be equally concerned if the working title were "Racial Attitudes and the Emergence of the Post-Modern Black Political Class."

    Some people would say that Obama has already had the impact on the system that he is going to have, as a black politician, having broken the barrier against nomination by a major party.

    I would suggest that Ifill's "financial stake in the outcome of the election" is minimal. She certainly has a stake in the fact that Obama was nominated; but whatever the outcome, given her prominence and the importance of the subject, I bet her book's sales are not much affected by who wins. Books with Sarah's pretty face on the cover, if she is VP, won't do much to crowd out seriious journalism: they appeal to different audiences.

    In fact, if Obama loses, Ifill's book will probably be even more interesting (and therefore potentially more profitable), because of the serious possibility that the loss, in this year of all years, might have something to do with racial bias, and therefore one important aspect of why she is writing the book at all.

    Finally, and I do mean finally as I expect that neither of us has much more to say about the categories of bias here, I would like to see examples of Ifill demonstrating why she was a bad choice. After all, this horse is out of the barn and way down the road; don't you think it's a bit precious of us to be arguing about whether she is biased, or has a conflict? Let's see the thing in actuality, as you hinted recently you can show.

  3. Not ignoring you, Tony. I'll respond later. Go Sox!


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