Hilary Swank Gets Nelly Furtadoed. And It’s Still Wrong

What's that, Mr. Kadyrof? You want me to give you a private ethics seminar for a half-million bucks? What!!! I am outraged! I spit on your filthy lucre! KIDDING!!!!!

I seriously considered taking the Ethics Alarms post on singer Nelly Furtado posted here in March and substituting actress Hilary Swank’s name for Furtado, and Chechen despot Ramzan Kadyrov for now-deceased Libya dictator Muammar Gaddafi. It is the same controversy and issue with the same result: an American performing artist sells her performing talents to a brutal foreign leader, and is bullied and shamed by human rights advocates and media critics into apologizing profusely and donating the large fee ( a million dollars in Furtado’s case, a reported half-million for Swank) to charity.

This was wrong in March, and it’s wrong today.

Earlier this month, Swank and other celebrities attended Kadyrov’s birthday bash in Chechnya. She was working. But while every other corporation and contractor, as well as the United States itself, can do business around the world without being held to the impossible standard of only accepting morally exemplary customers, Swank, like Furtado, Mariah Carey and others before her, was targeted for not doing the bidding of human rights activists and sacrificing her livelihood to be their billboard. The bully in this case in the Human Rights Foundation, which unethically brutalized Swank to achieve publicity for its own mission—a worthy one to be sure, but not so worthy that it justifies a PR mugging with a $500,000 loss to its victim.

“Until the respect for human rights is such that despots find themselves in complete isolation, humanity will continue to see millions suffer while being stripped of their fundamental human rights and individual liberties. It is embarrassing that Hilary Swank [and other performers] lent their name to an event such as this. It is disheartening and shameful,” the Foundation’s president wrote, in one small part of the barrage launched against Swank.

No, it is disheartening and shameful for an innocent artist to be degraded, insulted and robbed for doing nothing wrong whatsoeverNow I’ll adapt myself, applying the appropriate parts of the  Furtado essay commentary to Swank:

An ethical violation has to involve real or intended harm. What harm did Swank do? She allowed a murderous dictator to grossly overpay her to say “Happy Birthday.” The money gets added to the U.S. economy, and not a single Chechnyan is any worse off for Furtado’s paid presence. Does her willingness to appear for Kadyrov somehow burnish his reputation or credibility? Is the world  saying, “I think we should admire the Chechnyan killer more;  he may brutalize his people, but the star of “The Karate Kid III” came to his birthday party!”?

This isn’t the Pope giving a murderous despot an audience, or the Nobel Prize committee giving him the Peace Prize—like it did for Yassir Arafat. Swank is a performer, who has no responsibility for the conduct, ethics, crimes or motives of the members of her audience, be it one or a million, and should not be assigned any. Her ethical duty is to give anyone who will pay her fee his or her money’s worth of her talent, not to have to calibrate what portion of her art to allot according to the virtue of her fans.

An American lawyer who was hired by Kadyrov would be showing neither respect for nor approval of  his despicable client’s beliefs or behavior—that’s in the legal ethics rules, and is part of the foundation of the lawyer’s professional role. A doctor would do her best to save the despot’s life, and the American Medical Association is unwavering in its assertion that the act of doing so would be completely ethical, no matter what crimes Kadyrov has committed or terrorist acts he has seeded. An American President would shake his hand, receive him at the White House, perhaps fete him with a dinner, and attend his Olympics opening ceremonies if Chechnya was awarded one…but Hilary Swank is ethically obligated to turn down $500,000 dollars to go to his birthday party?  There is no ethical prohibition against making bad people happy. Making people happy is always ethical, as long as it is legal and doesn’t do any harm to anyone else.

Ultimately, the argument that Swank, like Furtado, Carey, Lionel Richie and Beyoncé before her, have crossed an ethical line comes down to “dirty money,” or as the Human Rights Foundation would have it, “blood money.”  Utter nonsense:  If the money was “dirty,” it is clean now. Swank earned it, fair and square. Where is that half-million likely to do more harm—in the coffers of the dictator, or in an American actress’s bank account?  A half-million bucks to say “Happy birthday”? Swank gouged him but good; it would have been unpatriotic not to take his  money. You go, girl!

The “dirty money” argument has some validity when it involves contributions to political campaigns by criminals or terrorists. Then it is an endorsement of the candidate by the despicable donor, a different problem. In the context of commerce, however, the objection is pointless and illogical, not to mention selectively applied; after all, the U.S. has been willing to borrow China’s slave labor-created wealth. The Foundation’s complaint against Hilary Swank posits that merchants, retailers and providers of services should refuse the commerce of those who are perceived as wrongdoers, imposing extra-legal punishment for crimes without due process of law. No, I take that back: it just insists that performers and artists have this obligation, because, you know, they don’t really work.

This is another example of the lack of respect accorded to sports and entertainment professionals. After 9/11/01, nobody suggested that American business should shut down for a week, only that it was somehow wrong to play professional sports, perform plays, sing songs and tell jokes. [ Aside: I insisted, over the objections of my board,  that my own theater company go through with the premiere of a new musical comedy on the evening of September 12, while most theaters in Washington, D.C., yielded to this hypocritical argument. And I was right.] The criticism of Swank comes from the same toxic well. If a performer chooses to make a statement or assert a point of conscience by rejecting a large fee to perform for a revolting head of state, bravo or brava: I’m duly impressed. But if she chooses to make a tyrant a half-million dollars poorer in exchange for a song or birthday wish, that is an ethical decision too.

I don’t blame Hilary Swank for caving to the onslaught, unfair though it was. Celebrities are in the public relations business, and the average movie fan isn’t going to think this through beyond the “Kadyrov BAD! Actress take money to be nice to BAD man! Actress GREEDY! Actress like BAD MAN! Actress BAD!”  visceral level that the Foundation’s simple-minded argument appeals to. I am sorry she has been victimized. When Swank, like so many actresses and actors before her, hasn’t had a movie role in ten years and is hocking her Oscar, that half-million she was brow-beaten out of will be sorely missed, not that the Foundation for Human Rights will care.

After all, she’s only an actress.

38 thoughts on “Hilary Swank Gets Nelly Furtadoed. And It’s Still Wrong

  1. I think you oversimplify this issue greatly. Who we “make happy” as you say can’t be separated from what we value. If we don’t value a world with fewer, less dangerous villains who destroy so many lives, how can we not have some responsibility for this? I was not aware of this issue but find your reaction very naive. The “money is money” no matter where it comes from argument is, I think, ignoring a lot of very valid points. I guess in a world where the “filthy lucre” trumps everything else, your argument would hold water. I applaud Swank for changing her mind, for allowing herself to be influenced (not forced) to do what she did. She learned. You, sir, do not sound like someone who would do that.

    • Saying that something is oversimplified is not the same thing as rebutting it. What is your argument? How does “not valuing a world with fewer villains” have anything to do with whether Hilary Swank accepts a paycheck to show up at a party?

      It is easy to demand pointless, ineffective symbolic gestures that cost $500,000 when it isn’t your money, isn’t it?. “How can we not have some responsibility for this?” What does this sentence mean? How does Swank have any responsibility at all for a Chechnyan despot’s conduct? “The “money is money” no matter where it comes from argument is, I think, ignoring a lot of very valid points”: ….like WHAT? Do you have any? I love arguments like that…”You miss some very valid points, not that I am capable of articulating any of them” Don’t waste my time, and the time of anyone reading your comment.

      You, SIR—a silly Keith Olbermann convention,by the way…saying “sir” doesn’t give a non-opinion any added weight by faux formality–seem to think this site is about opinion ping-pong. It’s about good faith analysis and thinking about values and consequences, not pre-determined, conventional wisdom. You wrote a full paragraph saying I was wrong without adding a single serious thought or argument. I don’t care about your unconsidered opinions. Either offer something that adds to our understanding of the issue, or be quiet.

      And she WAS forced, of course. Would HS have given away a half-million if people were not saying she was a greedy dictator-lover online and in the papers? She risks losing more than a half-million—she makes more than a million per film—if she doesn’t make sure the public keeps liking her. That’s called coercion. If she had given the money to the Foundation, would THAT have made the shake-down clear enough for you? Oh, I know: I am missing some very valid points.

      I may be cranky this morning, but yours was the most fatuous comment I’ve read in a great while.

    • Then don’t do business with Communist China, or buy their goods (because they’re mostly made by slave labor), or any of the other fascist countries in the world. Don’t buy from any Fortune 500 companies because they do business with “villainous” countries. You are the one who is naive, I’m sorry to say.

      And I hope you never bought or listened to Frank Sinatra (if you’ve heard of him), as just one example, whose career was “made” by his Mafia connections, and who appeared in Vegas all the time to maintain that relationship.

      • That’s a good comparison, E: has anyone called on the entire show business community to give back their performing fees at Vegas hotels in the 50s through the 70’s, when the mafia ran many, if not most of them? Talk about “dirty money.” How is making money for a Vegas mob boss acceptable, but attending a birthday for a foreign thug a moral outrage?

        • Who says it is, Jack? Unfortunately, it’s practically ordained that a stand-up performer perform in Vegas if he wants to STAY a performer. The Mafia obtained a commanding voice on who came, who didn’t and what their piece of the action would be. Little choice was left in a pre-rigged game. Chechnya was strictly a local, for-the-money gig. I really doubt that Hillary’s talent above the shoulders had anything to do with it, either!

      • I strongly suspect that evil is addictive in the same way as crack… Perhaps the Hague should try sentencing one of these dictators to 20 years of rehab. Yeah, try being the shrink assigned to that case. 😉

        This is, of course, if we can bother to capture one alive instead of just assassinating them.

          • Neither am I, but I have to wonder what we could learn by studying such terrible people. Just a thought, I don’t really think it’s realistic.

            • When you become a dictator by any means, you’ve got a tiger by the tail. You either maintain that power- and by whatever means necessary- or the people turn on you and rend you. The perception of weakness alone can set this in motion. It was no accident that Saddam Hussein was at his most savage after his defeat in the First Gulf War. Terror is the frequent tool of a despot who feels his throne tottering under him. Even that isn’t always enough, as Khaddafi’s case proves.

  2. I don’t think she should have done it but unless there are no Americans visiting the country as tourists, American companies doing business there or American banks with his money on their accounts then she should be free to accept a fee from him. The only reason anyone went after her was because she is a high visibility easy target who can’t fight back like a large corporation can.

  3. That’s walking a thin line, Jack. Whether we like it or not, we are all judged by the company we keep; be they personal or professional. When one is a celebrity of any sort and has a following of many, what that celebrity does reflects on them. In Hillary Swanks’ case in, it had international repercussions, given the nature of her client. Nor can I accept the analogy of Pope John Paul meeting with Arafat. Al Fatah paid the Pope no money for the privilege. It was a matter of one leader forced to deal with another on a basis of international politics, not one of revelry in order to laud a murderous outlaw. Arafat’s award of the Noble Peace Prize was a supreme example of “flexible” non-ethics in play. Swanks’ performance wasn’t on that level, but it dragged the American entertainment field even further into the mud by playing “patsies for pesos” with yet another foreign dictator.

    • WHAT “international repercussions,” other than people bitching about it? How is this different from MSNBC hosts calling Elton John a “traitor” because he sang at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding?
      The fact that we are judged by the company we keep doesn’t make keeping that company wrong, which is the allegation here. Yes— a head of state had to watch out whom he identifies as a friend. But an actor, and a pay-for-service client?

      There’s no dragging through the mud except in the minds of those who want to read something into it that it’s not. Do you think actors should be held accountable for the messages in the movies they play? At least that’s a legitimate question…though the answer is the same: absolutely not.

  4. I agree,Jack. Why should Swank have to operate under different rules just because she’s in the entertainment business? She’s not trying to make a statement is she? She’s not promoting inhumanity. They should have left her alone. Now they owe her $500,000.00

      • Because Kadyrov is the leader of an outlaw state and who has committed mass murder in the process… including the massacre of more than 300 Russian children at Beslan, among other things. No matter how much some may hate Rush Limbaugh, the fact remains that he has never murdered, sponsored murder or engaged in atrocities against a (more or less!) non-hostile nation. When American citizens consort with foreign leaders hostile to America (and Kadyrov hates us as much as he does Russia, don’t doubt) they aid de facto in those hostilities. They also increase the difficulties in dealing with these tyrants and fanatics, along with allies who share our view. What I’m wondering is how Miss Swank was even able to gain legal admittance into a country unrecognized previously condemned by the U.S. government. Of course, a number of her colleagues have done the same in Cuba.

        • Isn’t Chechnya a part of Russia? If you can legally enter Russia, you can enter Chechnya, assuming the Russians let you, right?

          (I’m not asking this to be smart, I really don’t know what the legal status of Chechnya is for foreign visitors).

  5. @ Steven , Kadyrov is pro Russia and is puppet of Putin. Also the slaughter of those children was during the second Chechian war when he had switched sides and was leading a pro Russia militia.

  6. Okay, Bill. Thank you for the correction! Obviously, I haven’t kept up with those events as diligently as I should. I still stand on my remarks about American citizens consorting with rogue states, but this was obviously not such a case… or, at least, not so outrageous a one as a number of others. I thereby withdraw those other remarks and apologize for my ignorance.

  7. If I understand your point correctly, you think it is okay for people to do business with a bad person, who may have broken the law to pay you. The money becomes “clean” when it changes hands?

    Just curious, to draw a rather loose analogy, do you think it is unethical to hire an illegal immigrant? As far as I know, if you are not a business, you have no legal duty to check someone’s status when hiring. The illegal immigrant may have broken laws to get into the country, and he or she may be providing the labour illegally. That’s okay though, because, so long as you don’t ask, you aren’t doing anything illegal, it’s all just business. He or she has labour to sell, and you buy it. Sure, it may be “dirty” labour, but once the job is finished and your fence is built or your yard is clean, the labour has been transformed into a “clean” finished product. After all, should there be any ethical prohibition against giving needy people a job (like making bad people happy). So long as you only hire the worker to do work that you wouldn’t have hired a legal worker to do, you aren’t even hurting anybody by doing so.

    The real indignity is that, later on, if you run for public office, people might say Immigrant BAD! Politician give money for labour to BAD man! Politician STINGY (unwilling to hire fellow CITIZEN)! Politician like BAD MAN! Politician BAD! Such simple-minded logic should not be tolerated, especially not in debates.

    • How does money magically become labor? No, I don’t approve of hiring illegals, as I’ve written many times. But the work done by illegals isn’t dirty..I would eat a peach picked by an illegal worker, and it’s not my duty not to.
      If a transaction itself is not illegal, as in money laundering, money earned fairly, honestly and legally is “clean.” The idea that money owned by a despicable person somehow carries a taint is an impossible one to deal with consistently or logically. It just gets manipulated to make invalid arguments…like against Swank.

      If Romney had hired illegals, I would find him culpable. He didn’t. Perry’s accusation was bogus and unfair.

      • I exchange money for labour. It is a common transaction.

        It isn’t just that money was owned by Mr. Kadyrov. It is that it (allegedly, I guess) went from Mr. Kadyrov to Ms. Swank in a business transaction. It is one thing to say that business is business, and that so long as the transaction is “clean”, there is nothing unethical with doing business with someone who does something illegal, but then you haven’t explained what is wrong with doing business with an illegal immigrant.

        You claim that you would eat a peach picked by an illegal. Would you buy a peach from person who picked it whom you suspected might be an illegal (but whom you have no legal duty to check)? Would you buy a peach from a company that reputedly used illegal labour to harvest fruit (after all, if they do so, it is their problem, right)?

        Why would you find Romney culpable if he hired illegals (assuming he didn’t know they were illegal at the time and just didn’t check very thoroughly)? Even if he did, that was just business, right? The labour may have been “dirty”, but once it was finished, the final product should be clean. By the way, I wasn’t just referring to Romney. Meg Whitman had similar problems in 2010 (not that she did anything wrong, right?).

        • Is there a point here? It’s been a long day…did the guy I kicked off the site earlier pay you to annoy me? Now taking money for THAT would be unethical, EriK….

          1.) I buy whoopee cushions with money too, but whoopee cushions aren’t the same is money. I have no earthy idea what your point is. I can’t even tell if you are agreeing, disagreeing, or playing tgt “gotcha” tricks. God, I hope not the latter.
          2. An employer has an ethical obligation not to aid illegal immigration, which means he shouldn’t hire illegals, and should check anyone he suspects of being one. Consumers have no such obligation. I would not have any transaction from an individual whom I knew was illegal; other than to report them to authorities. I do not have an obligation, as a consumer, to enforce the immigration laws. What any of this has to do with Hilary Swank is way beyond me.
          3. Swank is not responsible for enforcing the laws of a foreign country. The head of the country makes the rules…if he’s corrupt, then the population is responsible for finding a way to get rid of him, not an American actress. Again, your point and logic are obscure. She is doing nothing wrong whatsoever, ethically, legally, morally. She has no obligation to investigate the record of people she does business with, or to enforce the Foundation for Human Rights’ mission, not that whether or not she attends an event has any conceivable impact on this.
          4. Romney has no obligation to do his landscaping company’s hiring. If he told the company that he didn’t want illegals working on his property, that was enough. IF Romney hired the illegal directly, he had an obligation to make a good faith effort to check his status—if he was lied to, that was not his fault. If the landscaper was lied to, it was not his fault.
          5. Romney’ s situation is not quite the same as Whitman’s, who had an illegal housekeeper working for her, in California,which has a much greater illegal problem than Mass., for 9 years. I wrote about it here.
          6. None of which has enough in common with Hilary Swank taking a job—she wasn’t an illegal alien—that relieved a dictator of a cool half mil. that is almost certainly better spent by Swank, in the US, than a murderer, in his puppet country.

          • My point is pretty simple. You sometimes hold people ethically responsible for their commercial or business transactions, but in this case you do not seem to be. I’ll go through your points one by one.

            1. That is just economic thinking. If I exchange something for something else, it is as if I am transforming one thing into another through trade. It is not central to my argument because it is not really about whether money Ms. Swank took money that was owned by Ms. Kadyrov but that she did business with him (e.g. that the money went pretty directly from Mr. Kadyrov to Ms. Swank).

            2. Employers are consumers of labour. I don’t see the distinction. You say employers have an ethical duty not to aid illegal immigration. I say that performers have an ethical duty not to aid human rights abusers. By showing up at his birthday party, Ms. Swank allowed Mr. Kadyrov to demonstrate to his friends, cronies and people that he is not internationally isolated, that he has enough money and influence to attract international stars to his parties, that he can afford to drop $500000 on frivolity, etc., all things that help a dictator maintain credibility. You may think that the star of the Karate Kid III shouldn’t have that kind of power, but she does. I find it a bit odd that you say people transacting with each other in the one case have a duty to uphold some ethical standard, but in the other, can just say “I was just doing business”.

            3. We are talking about ethics, not laws. I can do many things that are unethical but not illegal. You say she is doing nothing wrong, morally, but you haven’t really explained why not, By appearing, she let Mr. Kadyrov show off his power and influence. Why do you think he would pay her to say a few words if they did not help him show off?

            4. & 5. This goes back to my point about hiring illegals. If hiring illegals is “just business”, why do I have any duty to take any diligence at all in checking? After all, I could make a similar argument that, by hiring an illegal, I am not really harming anybody, especially if I would not have hired a legitimate worker to do the same job (i.e. if I would have done it myself). You could reply that, by hiring an illegal, you are encouraging law-breaking. That is what I am trying to say about Ms. Swank. By taking his money and giving him credibility, she is, in some small way, encouraging him and enabling him (by allowing him to show off his power to those he deals with) in, if not breaking laws, at least violating international norms.

            5. This argument doesn’t really make sense. Kadyrov is a very wealthy man, it is not as if he will notice it was gone. He won’t get up and say “gee, I was really thinking of doing something nefarious today, but I can’t afford to because I spent all my money at my birthday party.” If he were to spend the money in the Chechnya, it would probably be better for the Chechens because they are poorer than Americans and could use it more.

            I am sorry my last post annoyed you. All I was trying to figure out was why you hold people responsible for their business transactions sometimes (I could have also used the AIG spa treatments as an example) but not others. Of course, I do not expect you to answer my posts immediately, so just because I post something late does not mean that I am trying to keep you awake at night.

            I like to think that, throughout my commenting at Ethics Alarms, I have been polite, have tried to make good, sensible arguments (although I am human and sometimes fall short of that standards) and have generally engaged with the discussion (except when making the occasional, or well, kind of frequent, joke). I have tried to back up my comments with facts, figures or data when necessary. I have also, in general, avoided name calling or personal attacks, and have always tried to be reasonable and good-humoured. Again, I am sorry that my posts have started to annoy you. It is your blog, and, if you like, I will not post any more. You don’t even have to ban me. Just tell me what you want in your next post and I will comply.

            • I have no problem with your posts, Eric, and you contribute a great deal here. I just find this particular argument aggravating, because I don’t accept your analogies, particular the equivalency between an American employer undermining US law and social conditions by perpetrating an incentive to illegal immigration, and an actor acting. I object to the message in the Tide commercial, but I don’t hold the actors in it responsible, nor should anyone. You have not addressed my doctor/lawyer analogy. Why should actors, alone among professionals who do business with corporate and national entities for their own benefit, be held to a special moral responsibility? Now that’s simple: they shouldn’t be. For you to compare that to the obligation of every citizen not to actively aid and abet illegal activity seems like the stretch of stretches to me.

              I continue to find your insinuation that I am applying inconsistent standards perplexing, since I am not trying to drive you off with “annoying.” AIG has an obligation not to use scarce taxpayer-backed funds for play. Check. A US employer should not contract with an individual whose presence in the US is illegal. Check. Doing business with a “bad” person does not remotely connect to these, unless the transaction is tangibly and logically helping him or her be “bad.” If a US citizen is giving money and resources to a despot, then that is an issue. Taking money from a despot is very different. The labor/ money equivalency doesn’t hold up when the “labor” build nothing, creates nothing and is a catalyst for nothing. A song is gone once it’s sung; an appearance at an event is over when it’s over. Neither you nor the Foundation have made a substantive argument about how Hilary Swank’s presence at a birthday party in Chechnya, or Furtado serenading Gaddafy, do anything to further a human rights violation.. Swank should be allowed to make thejudgment about the impact of her activities, and given the benefit of any doubt. If Kadyrov thinks a “happy birthday” from a second tier Hollywood actress in any way cements his power and influnece, he’s nuts. Is it unethical to take money to support despot delusions? I don’t see why.

              I sincerely apologize, Eric, that I seemed out of sorts in the previous reply. For some reason there were a lot of difficult comments on the blog yesterday, and I sometimes feel like I am in a Jackie Chan movie doing combat with 50 assassins at once. Of course, it’s my own choice; I could just ignore comments like 90% of all bloggers, but that’s not the objective of the blog. The objective is dialogue.

              You’re very good at it, and your departure for any reason would be a significant loss here. I guess I took out my crankiness on you, and that was wrong. I don’t kick people off the blog for being annoying, unless I am certain that this is their primary intent. I don’t kick people off period, except for 1) persistent incivility, 2) refusal to follow the rules,3) repeatedly impugning my character 4) basing arguments on the accusation that my posts have a political agenda or 5) going off topic or on political rants. With all that, I think I’ve banished only 6 commenters in two years. Is that a lot? I don’t know what the norm is. I have hated to do it every time.

              If I have made you feel less than welcome, that was not my intent at all. Again, I’m sincerely sorry.

              But I still think you’re confused regarding this issue.

              • Okay, sorry about getting my back up. I was just wondering if I was missing a hint there when you talked about me annoying you. I don’t comment to be annoying, but, so long as I continue to comment, some of my comments will annoy. I’m human, and I can’t help making a bad comment with weak reasoning sometimes (not that I think that my reasoning on this issue is weak). I just don’t want to comment if too many of my comments are annoying. As to your banning policy, I think it is your blog and that you should do what you like with it (this is why I don’t want to comment if I overly annoy you). I trust that you will always try to act ethically, and that is good enough for me.

                Back to the main issue:

                As far as I understand it, lawyers should give legal advice and act as zealous advocates for their clients. Their job is not to help clients break the law. If a client asks for advice on how to break the law, they should not help that client do so. Once the crime is committed, they can ethically assist the client in going through the legal process of finding guilt (the state must prove its case, and this is an important safeguard for the innocent built into the trial system). They cannot help their client get escape liability by, say, misleading the court or hiding evidence for their client. I also believe that their job is not to help their clients do unethical things, even when those things are legal. This might put me in the minority (and my chance of promotion it might even mar, says I to myself, says I), but it is the conclusion I have come to after thinking the issue through. For example, I do not think it is ethical for a lawyer to “sell confidentiality” by sitting in on a meeting where they are not required where other employees discuss matters for which a lawyer is not needed. This is a side issue, though, and if you would like to discuss it, I would be happy to do so, but maybe in another post or something.

                Similarly, doctors have an obligation to treat their patients to the best of their ability, but they do not have a duty to help their patients do bad things. If a patient wants drugs that they think they might sell, I don’t think the doctor needs not give them to them, even if the patient could benefit medically from the drugs. My knowledge of medical ethics and codes of conduct is not great, however, so if a physician would like to correct me here, I would be interested to know what the normal practice is.

                In Ms. Swank’s case, I would argue that she is helping Mr. Kadyrov do bad things. Firstly, she wasn’t just acting. She said “Really, truly, for me this was a great honor to learn more about you and your country and what you’re building. And happy birthday, Mr. President.” This sounds more like advocacy or endorsement than acting. It implies that she approves of whatever it is that Mr. Kadyrov is building. It would be more like a doctor endorsing a drug because the pharmaceutical company paid him or her to do so, rather than a doctor treating a bad patient. I would argue, however, that even if she was just acting, she was still helping Mr. Kadyrov do bad things.

                If she had just given Mr. Kadyrov a private performance on his birthday, she would still have been unethical. Mr. Kadyrov didn’t pay Ms. Swank to see her act. If he had just wanted to see her act, he could have rented Million Dollar Baby on Netflix and saved a lot of money. What he wanted to do was to show off his wealth and power to his cronies and to the Chechen people. He was trying to show his cronies that he was so rich, he could afford to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on one evening’s entertainment. He was also trying to show them that he was so influential and connected that he could get Hollywood stars to attend his birthday. This shows his cronies that they too could be hugely powerful and influential if they adopt his modus operandi . It also shows his cronies and his people that resistance is futile, that he can be as bad as he likes and the rest of the world doesn’t care, and that he has the money and the influence to crush you if you disobey. This demonstration will make his cronies more willing to do his bidding and his people more docile. This will help him do bad things in the future.

                It is one thing to say that business is business, and that all is fair so long as you are not doing anything illegal, but I don’t think that this is your position, otherwise you wouldn’t have a problem with hiring illegal immigrants or with taking bonuses from a company that just took a big bailout from the government. That is why I brought those two issues up. In hindsight, I should have just said what I said in this post, but I had to think about the issue for a while. Again, I apologize if my previous posts were a bit half-baked.

                • It gets down to directness, then. If the direct result of a professional’s performance of a paid duty for Ramzan Kadyrov is not to assist him in doing evil, then the professional is in the clear. A lawyer can help him with legal matters, though the indirect result may be that Kadyrov does bad things legally. A doctor can keep him healthy, if only to do more bad things more vigorously. An accountant can help him manage his finances, giving him more resources to be evil with. If any of these professionals take the next step, however, and actively assist in the evil deeds their professional skills made feasible, then they are in unethical, if not illegal, territory.

                  So what is the direct application of Swank’s skills? To behave like a guest and add prestige by her appearance. Now indirectly, this might help Kadyrov do more evil, but nowhere near as much as the afore-mentioned, professions (and I disagree that it does much as at all, but I’ll concede that part for the sake of argument). And the assistance is at best indirect. Now if Swank used her skills to deceive the world that she was endorsing him and thought he was the salt of the earth, that would be direct. But that would require her pretending that she was there because she wanted to be, not because she was paid a small fortune. But she didn’t pretend that. And people who really support what a leader does don’t have to accept $500,000 to say so.

                  This is the line, for me. I don’t assume that a celebrity who is the pitchman in a spam commercial really eats the stuff, because he’s being paid. Now, if he says, out of character, “I eat this stuff every day, and it makes me feel like a million! I asked to do this commercial, because I’m a spam fan”—yes, that’s unethical. Then it’s a personal, rather than a paid endorsement.

                  Swank never hid the fact that she was being paid, and apparently, neither did Kadyrov. Her direct application of her skills, then, did not exceed what is fair and reasonable for one in her profession. Her presence, smiling that big smile, made him happy and his guests too. And then? I don’t see her participating actively in the next step.
                  When I was a kid, interested in magic, my Dad took me to see the touring company of Kalanag, who was bring the last old-style magic show—chorus, a full orchestra, huge effects, lots of extras—to Broadway. Kalanag was Hitler’s court magician. Some people tried to picket his performances, but the attitude was “Come on! How does pulling rabbits out of a hat for Hitler make the magician a bad guy?” Even my father, whose WWII experiences made him anti-all things German took this approach. And it was a great show.

                  Maybe I’ll call this “The Kalanag Rule.” If you’re a magician, there’s nothing wrong with pulling a rabbit out of a hat for anyone.

                  As long as you don’t make someone’s enemies disappear.
                  As to the late unpleasantness, I’ll now admit that I actually thought I was being clearly tongue-in-cheek last night with the annoying comment. My fault for not being clear. I was NOT being tongue-in-cheek with your fan, suetigger, whose original comment you may not have seen. THAT was the kind of thing I was wrestling with yesterday.

                  • I agree, it is the direct vs. indirect nature of the act that matters. It just seems that we hold pitchmen (and pitchwomen) to a different standard. I think that, by using their notability or talent to support a product, pitchmen directly help sell that product. If the product is bad, and the pitchman knew, or should have known that the product is bad, then I think that pitchman has behaved unethically. For example, if a doctor endorses a drug that doesn’t work properly because the drug company pays him, he is using his credentials (and notability, because he is a public figure) to help the drug company deceive the public. If a famous cordon bleu chef endorses Spam, he or she is using his culinary credentials and reputation to deceive the public (or maybe not, I’ve never tried Spam and it may be delicious). I sort of exempt professional product pitchmen because they have very little reputation except as someone who will sell anything to anyone (though they still make me kind of grumpy when they try to sell shoddy goods).

                    In the case of Ms. Swank and Mr. Kadyrov, Swank’s statement sounds like an endorsement (why would you be honoured to learn more about the country someone is building if you did not like the direction in which that country is going). While you or I might not respect her credentials and qualifications, many people do (look at why charities want celebrity endorsements, even when the celebrity has little to do with the cause). Clearly Mr. Kadyrov must have thought so, otherwise he would not have spent money to get her to attend.

                    Even if Mr. Kadyrov had just hired Ms. Swank as an actor, I would still say that she was being unethical. When dictators pay celebrities a lot of money to show up at their parties and perform, they generally aren’t paying them because they want to see them. If all they wanted to do was see a performance, they could rent a movie, or even attend a performance. They are paying them because they want to show off their power, their wealth and their influence to their friends, their cronies and their people. Such displays cement their power and give them legitimacy, and I think participating in them directly helps them (even though, admittedly, not by very much). That is why I think it unethical to do so.

                    If an actor went and did a performance for a bad person because the bad person just really wanted a performance, then I don’t think that would be too bad. From what I could find about Kalanag, it sounds like he was just a magician who performed tricks that the Nazis liked.

                    Anyway, sorry about the confusion earlier. I like humour too, as you know. Well, let’s leave it behind us.

            • Eric,I appreciate your comments, feel you made your points better than I did. And, I too, believe it is fair to expect people to be civil and not rude and arrogant in the way they conduct discussions, esp. ones on a topic like this. I don’t wish to be treated with the extreme disrespect that JM seems to take delight in , so adios. If you start a blog, Eric, I’d like to participate. I think Jack needs to remove the popular slogan about “civility” from the top of his blog. PW

              • Kudos for the tactic of piggy-backing on Eric’s reasoned and substantive response, though it was unrelated to my response to you, which was NOT uncivil. Eric and I had a misunderstanding, which will happen from time to time. He has been an outstanding contributor here, by doing exactly what you did not—making substantive, reasoned arguments. I objected, in response to your post, to the fact that you called my post “naive” and said there were many points I ignored, not because you disagreed, but because you didn’t offer a shred of evidence for either proposition. You said “I disagree” and “you’re wrong” without taking the time or having the courtesy of saying what you disagreed with and why I was wrong. Yes, I object to that. And we get very, very few comments where a commenter doesn’t respect the topic enough to contribute more than a blanket rejection. I don’t want to encourage comments like that, from you or anyone else.

                The response I was hoping I would get was, “OK, here is why I think you are wrong.” Instead, you offered this, which confirms my assessment of your level of discourse. There have been over 16,000 comments here, and I have responded personally to most of them—which, now that I think of it, is insane. Less than 1% of those responses have been anything but measured and friendly. You have characterized me on the basis of two responses, which is misleading and unfair.

                All in all, a near perfect example of rude commenting: an initial negative response with nothing constructive to offer, followed by insults and false accusations of mistreatment, and a rapid exit without permitting a fair rebuttal. Exactly what I strive to avoid encourgaging.

              • Thanks for the appreciation, but we’re going to have to disagree about Jack (I can get colloquial by now, right Mr. Marshall?). He’s a good guy and does a good job with this blog. That’s why I felt bad when I thought he thought I was intentionally trying to annoy him (how’s that for a sentence).

      • The problem with Romney is NOT that his lawn service hired illegals without his knowledge. The problem with Romney is is defense: “Why would I hire illegals? I’m running for office for god’s sake!” That tells me more about Romney than anything else he’s ever said..

  8. On the overall issue with Swank, just want to reiterate what I wrote to another responder.

    If Swank can’t get a job with a “villainous” country, then don’t do business with Communist China or buy their goods (because they’re mostly made by slave labor), or any of the other fascist countries in the world. Don’t buy from any Fortune 500 company because they do business with “villanous” countries as well.

    And if the Swank “ideal” holds for entertainers, never, ever buy or listen to Frank Sinatra, as just one example, whose career was “made” by his Mafia connections, and who appeared in Vegas all the time to maintain that relationship. As a matter of fact, the entertainment business is so full of unethical and corrupt people that the Swank approach means that one would have to vet every entertainer, music group, and movie to make sure that nothing unethical or “villainous” was involved in their activity or creation.

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