Good Morning, Hollywood!
I’m sorry to bombard you with this ugly topic again first thing, but I’d like to stop having to think about it as soon as possible.
1 My sister, a committed Democrat who naturally prefers that damning stories about her favorite politicians go down the memory hole as soon as possible, complained yesterday that she didn’t understand why Harvey’s demise was such a long-running story. He’s a pig, we’ve seen it before, he’s fired, big deal, she protested. There are more important things going on.
There are undoubtedly more important things going on, but from an ethics perspective, the importance of the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck and who boards it (and who has been riding it for decades) is as significant and chock full of lessons as a story can get. The Penn State-Jerry Sandusky-Joe Paterno scandal was important for some of the same reasons. It exposed the tendency of organizations to become corrupted when non-ethical considerations, usually money, freeze the clappers on multiple ethics alarms. It showed how “virtuous” people with power and influence can betray their values, admirers and supporters in the pursuit of personal or organizational goals. It showed how even usually complacent and biased journalists will suddenly become responsible when the details are juicy enough…and how some won’t. The Sandusky saga also was one more clue to how inherently warped an entire industry’s culture—in that case, big time college football—was (and is).
The Weinstein Train Wreck is worse, however, and also more significant. Weinstein is typical—extreme, perhaps, but typical—of a popular and glamorous industry that has abused power to debase and exploit women for a century. The trade-offs and incentives turned many of the abused women into accessories of future crimes against other women, while some women, too powerful to have to fear the consequences of doing the obviously right thing, chose to protect the community and the industry rather than human beings. That they, and complicit men in the industry as well, did this while spending the past six years making angry public speeches about the sexist and misogynist attitude of Republicans flagged the kind of hypocrisy that demands substantive consequences.
It also demands reform. Anyone who thinks Hollywood is going to retire the casting couch because of one especially disgusting and prolific predator is kidding themselves. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination is rampant at every level of the performing arts, from high school theater up through Broadway, and on to Hollywood. I question whether that culture will ever change significantly. At least this episode might educate the public that if they take moral grandstanding from the likes of John Legend, Meryl Streep and Jimmy Kimmel seriously, they are asking to be betrayed and disillusioned.
And that doesn’t even reach the political hypocrisy exhibited by the Democratic Party and progressives, which embraced and celebrated a sexual predator from Hollywood because he gave them money, just as they have been giving a sexual predator from Arkansas the King’s Pass on similar conduct because he gave them power. As long as the only voices calling attention to this are from the Right, count on progressives to ignore or minimize the issue. After all, conservatives and Republicans accepted the devil’s bargain in allying themselves with Roger Ailes. Still, the criticism of the party and predator enablers like Hillary Clinton needs to come from the Left to do any lasting good. So far there has been some criticism from that direction, but not nearly enough.
2. Weinstein’s contract with The Weinstein Company included a clause that allowed his sexual harassment as long as he paid the costs of settlements out of his own pocket, TMZ reported yesterday. So much for the sham posture that the company was shocked and disgusted at his conduct. Poor Donna Brazile, desperately trying to join the futile virtue signalling by hypocrites who have been cheering on Hillary and her husband for decades, tweeted her admiration for the TWC board thusly
…only to have to delete the tweet later. Did Donna really believe that the TWC board, including Harvey’s brother, didn’t know what Weinstein was doing? Is she that stupid?
3. A lot of contentious debate on this topic at Ethics Alarms has arisen regarding the complicity and obligations of various Hollywood actresses. There are different categories, and conflating them only leads to confusion. Here are the categories and subcategories:
A. The powerless victims of harassment These are the young, aspiring actresses who were propositioned or assaulted by Weinstein, and convinced, rightly or not, that they would never have a chance if they complained
These are the equivalents of Bill Cosby’s victims, who only came forward after their abuser was wounded and vulnerable.
A 1. Powerless victims who accepted cash settlements. This means that since other remedies were unavailable to them, they at least triggered some kind of punishment and compensation. This required, however, allowing future victims to go unwarned, since the pay-offs were accompanied by confidentiality agreements.
B. Victims who were not powerless, due to connections in the industry. I place actresses like Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow in this category.
C. Victims who, over time, became powerful, wealthy, popular and influential enough that they could have exposed Weinstein, if they chose, but didn’t.
C 1 Victims who received cash settlements when powerless but whose careers progressed to the point that they could forfeit the cash and accept any legal consequences of breaking the contractual agreements.
D. Rape victims. Sexual harassment is a civil offense; rape is a crime. Many rapes can be substantiated by medical examinations, and rapists are dangerous. Accepting a cash settlement for not reporting one’s rape when the rape could have been substantiated—this is what Rose McGowan did—is a breach of multiple civic duties.
E. Women in the industry who became aware of Weinstein’s conduct and did nothing about it.
F. Women in the industry who became aware of Weinstein’s conduct, did nothing about it, and continued to praise him in public.
G. Actresses who accepted Weinstein’s proffered bargain, and exchanged sexual favors for roles and contracts, turning what is laughably regarded a a meritocracy into sexual commerce. We don’t know who these women are, but it strains credulity to think there were none.
Of course, many male Hollywood figures also fall into categories E and F.
Categories C, E, F and G are the most unethical categories. D is problematic as well.
4. Jane Fonda revealed to Christiane Amanpour that she is in category E. She “found out about Harvey about a year ago,” said the certified Hollywood royalty, outspoken feminist and progressive champion. “I’m ashamed that I didn’t say anything right then,” Fonda said.
Well, that’s nice. As long as she is ashamed.
We can proclaim our principles and values all our lives, but if we don’t act according to them when the lives of others are at stake, all of what went before is meaningless. How many women suffered at Weinstein’s hands after Jane knew?
5. The news media is implicated in this scandal too. Here is the Huffington Post on NBC’s refusal to report on Weinstein’s conduct when Ronan Farrow brought them his investigation into the matter: