Ethics Dunces: The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences

The Academy Awards announced that it will allow PriceWaterhouseCoopers to continue to represent the Oscars’ integrity as well as the organizations pledge that the results aren’t being, will not be, cannot be and haven’t been rigged, misread, wrongly tallied or mistakenly announced.

This, despite the fact that the firm proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it cannot be trusted to do this, by either the Academy or the Oscar viewing audience, because it did not do it, exposing its carelessness and incompetence on national TV.

This is NASA letting Morton Thiokol continue to build space shuttles. This is the federal government re-hiring the same IT firm that made This is Wesley Snipes rehiring the tax expert who told him he didn’t have to pay income taxes.

In addition to complete failure of management that the Academy’s decision to let bygones be bygones represents, it also has cultural consequences. As a culture, the United States has become allergic to accountability in all sectors. Over at Wells Fargo, where management presided over a nation-wide conspiracy to defraud depositors,  CEO John Stumpf opted for early retirement after the scandal, and is walking away with around $130 million, according to SEC filings.  Unless further action is taken by Wells Fargo’s board, which looks increasingly unlikely, Stumpf will leave with a fortune made up of stocks, cash payouts and other compensation. The Obama Administration, as documented here, repeatedly refused to hold incompetent agency heads accountable for fiascos, notably both of its Attorney Generals, and all three of its White House spokesmen. University president after university president disgraced their institutions by capitulating to racist, anti-speech, anti-education demands by students without consequence to their tenure. In journalism, Brian Williams remains on NBC’s payroll and the TV screen, despite having proven himself to be a habitual liar.

Both parties nominated Presidential candidates who had proven their incompetence and lack of fitness for office. In college sports, coaches that breach both rules and decency, looking the other way while athletes engage in sexual assault or worse, get huge financial awards. In professional sports, cheating is rewarded with big contracts that dwarf any punishments.  Ethics Alarms recently discussed women’s gymnastics, which emulates the Catholic Church’s practice of delivering no punishment to sexual predators, choosing instead to protect the organization’s reputation. Terrible conduct by celebrities net book contracts and reality shows. There is credible talk that O.J. Simpson will get such a show when he gets out of prison. I once would have discounted it.

Professions like medicine, law, accounting and the clergy exist to be trusted. Art doesn’t, which may be why Hollywood is unfamiliar with the trust concept. Practitioners in these fields can only be trustworthy if they hold themselves to absolute standards, the highest standards. They will only do this if those who trust them respond forcefully when their trust is betrayed.

No, this doesn’t mean that perfection is mandatory. It means that striving for perfection is. The epic Oscar screw-up, where a PwC accountant gave the wrong envelope to the presenters of the Best Picture Award and  failed to notice that the wrong production staff was making speeches wasn’t just a single goof. It was caused because the firm’s representative was goofing off, not paying attention, sending a text message, and ignoring his job when the results of an error would be most harmful. Auto mechanics are fired for the equivalent conduct. Yesterday a TSA agent was fired for not noticing a loaded gun that appeared on her screen: that was an equivalent breach of trust in an admittedly more vital setting.

The Oscars, however, now decree that integrity and trust are no big deal, and keep the firm that demonstrated on national TV that it is untrustworthy. I’m sure PwC begged, pleaded and rewarded the Academy handsomely to forgive and forget, but all that matters are whether there is any reason to believe that the Academy cares about both the integrity of the awards and the appearance of integrity, and any reason to think that PriceWaterhouseCoopers is capable of ensuring either.

The answer to both questions are “No.”


11 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences

  1. Whole heartedly disagree. It was a screw up, it was imperfection, it was public, significant, and embarrassing, but it was a small part of the entirety of the service. To throw away the institutional knowledge and effective processes for a complicated voting and tabulation method over the fuckup of an individual that can be easily remediated going forward is to spit in your own face.

    • I don’t know. This is like going back to the surgeon who cut off the wrong leg because he is sure to be more careful next time.

    • Really? Isn’t the organization spitting in its own face when its message next broadcast is: “And now, to prove we are serious about integrity and the absolute trustworthiness of our voting, we present the firm overseeing the process, which is the same firm that failed miserably last year!”

      • But did they fail? Was one mistake a failure? What were the specific metrics for success? The envelope clearly said the category and the proper winner was within it…why didn’t the presenter read the envelope title to realize they had the incorrect envelope? This gaffe was perpetrated by 3 parties, the firm, the academy, and the presenters. And you’re going to classify the firm as a failure when it was a 3-way joint gaffe?

        • How can you say they didn’t fail? And it was only moral luck that it wasn’t a horrible, even worse disaster: after the #OscarssoWhite controversy the previous two years, just imagine if “Moonlight” had been mistakenly announced, and the Oscars ended with the all-white La la Land crew pushing them off stage. Do you think PwC would have been rehired then?

  2. I suspect PwC cut a deal along the lines of “We’ll do it for nothing for the next five years. Please. Please. Please.”

  3. Jack, have you given some thought to making your annual retrospectives quarterly instead of waiting to the end of the year to review the madness, badness and dangerousness you know?

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