Ethics train wrecks can develop at any time, though sometimes the participants and the incidents involved limit the results to small-scale ethics damage. Let’s call these “Ethics Lionel Wrecks,” in honor of the model train sitting in a cardboard box in my basement. This week’s tale of Hilaria Baldwin’s mistimed tweets defines the genre.
1. George Stark Starts the Train
This one began when the pregnant wife of actor/ pitchman/liberal blowhard/ bully Alec Baldwin was called out by the Daily Mail for tweeting trivial, giddy messages during the funeral of recently departed actor James Gandolfini. That would have been certifiably disrespectful conduct in the rare sub-category of Funeral Ethics; indeed Ethics Alarms certified it. The problem is that Mail reporter George Stark was wrong.
Salon explained that the error was caused by “a technical glitch on Twitter that reflected GMT instead of ET…an analysis of the source code of Hilaria Baldwin’s tweets reveals that she tweeted between 11 am and 2 pm, as opposed to 8 am to 11 am. The Daily Mail has stated that “the tweets did appear accurately timed on mobile devices such as smartphones and iPads,” but “the only way MailOnline was able to establish the REAL time the tweets were sent was by viewing the twitter web page source code, something almost no normal member of the public would ever do.”
I have no idea what the hell that means, but I was one of the people who relied on Stark’s report, which seemed convincing, with screen shots of the tweets themselves and their timestamps. Was he unethically sloppy, as Baldwin and others have claimed, or was this just an excusable mistake? Twitter is new enough that there may be some justification for not checking the source code before using the time stamp to conclude something from a tweet: I can’t determine whether there is a journalistic protocol for this at the Daily Mail or elsewhere. Before a reporter attacks the conduct of a pregnant woman at a friend’s funeral, he would presumably be obligated to be certain of his facts, since readers, like me, will assume that he was. If this really was, as Salon says, a freak Twitter glitch, then Stark was unlucky rather than unethical.
2. Ethics Alarms rides the rails
I would give myself an ethics pass for basing a critique of Hilaria on what turned out to be mistaken info, except for a couple of factors:
- This was the Daily Mail. I had sworn off using the Mail’s too-often inadequately checked stories, juicy as they are, after being burned too many times. Even though there was no way for me to confirm the Twitter time stamps or even know I could, I did know that the Mail has proven unreliable in the past (but then, so has every other source I can think of). I should have waited.
- I was rushed. I wrote up the post quickly in the midst of dealing with my own disaster, trying to get the post written before it was cold news while having to research, write and present two one-hour legal ethics webinars in a 24 hour period, for a handful of lawyers whose ethics credits came up short after I inadvertently finished the material I had prepared for a 3-hour seminar 20 minutes early. Working under time pressure is a classic pre-unethical condition. Plus…
- Confirmation bias was surely at work. Alec Baldwin’s face, visage, voice and personality are like spoiled milk to me: even thinking about them upsets me. I presumed—indeed, still do—that any woman who thinks Alec Baldwin is her soul mate must by definition have no more regard for ethics that I have for Baldwin’s effort to fill George Carlin’s and Ringo Starr’s shoes as the Conductor in the (lousy) film version of “Thomas the Tank Engine.” Thus, seeing a story that confirmed my pre-set convictions, I pounced on it.
3. Alec Being Alec
As he did with an infamous abusive phone message to his daughter, as he did in a series of tweets attacking flight attendants for making him shut off his phone like every other passenger before take-off (and interfering with a game he was playing), as he has done other times that were reported by the media and presumably countless times that were not, Alec Baldwin resorted to insults, vulgarity, and threats while tweeting in defense of his wife, with an ugly twist: he filled his rants against reporter Stark with the rhetoric of anti-gay hate, writing…
“Someone wrote that my wife was tweeting at a funeral. Hey. That’s not true. But I’m gonna tweet at your funeral. I’m gonna find you, George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I’m gonna fuck…you…up…I’d put my foot up your fucking ass, George Stark, but I’m sure you’d dig it too much…”
And more. “Gee,” Lily Von Schtupp said of Bart, the sheriff of Rock Ridge, “What a nice guy!”
Coming to the defense of one’s spouse is admirable; doing it using gay slurs and threats of physical violence is not, and doubly unethical for a public figure.
4. GlAAD’s blatant hypocrisy
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which one would think would be ready to make the appropriate public statements of disapproval when a public figure uses the language of hatred and violence against gays, decided to bestow what gossip site TMZ aptly called a “Get Out of Homophobia Jail Free” card on Baldwin, betraying the group’s mission, its principles, integrity and future credibility.
“Alec Baldwin is making it clear [to GLAAD] that the intent behind his tweets does not excuse his language, especially at a time when there were 11 incidents of violence against gay men in New York City just last month. As we all work to end such senseless acts of violence, allies like Baldwin are right to use these moments to reinforce support for the community and LGBT equality. Alec Baldwin has worked with several organizations and added his voice to a campaign by Fight Back NY to encourage the State Senate to pass marriage equality without actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson. He also had a guest role on Will & Grace and played a gay character in the 2006 Off-Broadway revival of ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane.'”
“If Bill O’Reilly said the same thing … with the same explanation — ya think GLAAD would still think it was no big deal?” asks TMZ. That question is too easy. The hard question is: what idiot at GLAAD approved such an embarrassing and transparently dishonest statement? Consider…
- “Some of his best friends are gay” would be a pathetic defense for a homophobic rant like this; ‘Some of his best roles are gay’ is lame beyond belief, and ‘he once had a part on Will and Grace’ is the equivalent of arguing that the fact that Baldwin will accept a paycheck makes him a gay rights champion.
- As you will see below, Baldwin’s “explanation” couldn’t pass the “Eye Roll Until Your Pupils Fall Out” Test.
- Translation of GLAAD’s whole, humiliating pander: “We have too many allies in Hollywood to risk alienating a Tinsel Town big shot, even a mega-jerk like Baldwin, whose language conveys exactly the kind of gay-bashing and bullying sentiments that we tell school children is unacceptable, and that drives gay kids to suicide in some cases. But it’s all about money, and in the end, we’re whores too. Plus Baldwin is a vindictive bully, and if we slammed him like we’d slam a Republican, he’d go out of his way to hurt us. Damn, if only those tweets had come from a conservative actor like Tom Selleck.! We’d ruin him. ‘Blue Bloods’ would run red.”
5. Baldwin’s “explanation.”
You won’t believe this. Baldwin actually expects us to buy his claim that he, as a someone has worked with GLAAD, doesn’t think of the word “queen” as an anti-gay slur:
“The idea of … that being something that people thought is homophobic … a queen to me has a different meaning. It’s somebody who’s just above I know women that act queeny, I know men that are straight that act queeny, and I know gay men that act queeny. It doesn’t have to be a definite sexual connotation, or a homophobic connotation. To me those are people who think the rules don’t apply to them.”
Yes, this the explanation that GLAAD tells us it believes exonerates Baldwin of any wrongdoing in its eyes.
This was only a trivial celebrity incident involving misconstrued tweets by a woman with execrable tastes in husbands at the funeral of an actor whose death received far more attention from the news media than it was responsible to give, reported by a careless newspaper and reacted to with predictable boorishness by the biggest blow-hard in Hollywood. That makes it a teensy train wreck, except for three Diesel-sized take-aways:
1. It’s still rude to tweet during a funeral, whether Hilaria did it or not.
2. GLAAD isn’t a very credible champion of the gay community if it excuses its supporters for the same conduct it condemns from anyone else.
3. The eruption of this incident shows that while admitting to having used an anti-black slur in the past will ruin a Southern belle cooking star’s career and cost her millions, an actor using anti-gay slurs in the present will be excused by his fans, commercial employers, and the very people he insulted. Too bad, Paula Deen. If only you were on cool shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” and cheered for the right side, you’d still have a life.
Special thanks: Fattymoon, who was kind enough to flag a bunch of typos in the original post.