Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/6/17: An Ambush By John Oliver, An Insult From John Conyers

1 It’s a tradition, but  still an embarrassment to democracy...Why isn’t this res ipsa loquitur, as in “so indisputable it ought to be embarrassing”?  Rep. John Conyers, whose proclivity to engage in sexual harassment in full confidence that neither left-leaning reporters in the know (like Cokie Roberts ) nor his party’s leaders nor the victims themselves, would blow a whistle on a “civil rights icon” like him, is finally announcing a forced retirement. But he is attempting to anoint his oldest son, John Conyers III, as his successor. III has no special qualifications for elected office. He is a hedge fund manager and a business consultant whose  famous father is part of his appeal to clients. The original John Conyers was used  as a stepping stone to power by another unqualified family member using his name, III’s’ mother, former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, was sentenced to 37 months in prison for bribery. She was released in 2013.

In a profanity and vulgarity-laced video III posted last year, he said in part,

“Third and fourth generations of Conyers running for office. It’s really crazy. My grandfather did an incredible job, man. Fuck. A lot of people stand on the sidelines of their own lives. It’s like you just watch that shit go by like, no, I don’t think I’m going to get in the game – that shit is short, man. Whatever you do, make sure you vote….Voting feels so good, like even if your person doesn’t win, like, it feels good. The craziest part about it all is that my dad really walked with Martin Luther King and got arrested for this shit, like, damn this shit is deep fam. I casted my vote and I was hype as shit, like, I voted, like, this is awesome and I am really thankful for people that died for that for me. Any race, whatever, it’s important to vote but I mean, like, especially African-Americans man, go vote because people really died for this shit. If you don’t know shit about a candidate, man, and you just want to vote like you can write your own name in there, but like the action of going to vote is so important.”

Or just vote for someone with a last name you recognize! He sounds like a winner to me! One hurdle: Democratic Michigan State Sen. Ian Conyers, the congressman’s great-nephew, announced his intention to run for the open seat.

This is a long, long blight on American democracy that makes me wonder if we’re really up to it. The number of voters in both parties who are so shallow, lazy, and foolish as to assume that merely being related to a famous or popular leader is sufficient reason to elect him or her is disgraceful, but it has always been thus. Among those who never would have made it into a high office without this factor are Mary Bono, Jesse Jacskon, Jr. (currently in prison), Lindy Boggs, Lurleen Wallace, Margaret Chase Smith, Robert Taft, George W. Bush,  Bobby Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Robert Kennedy Jr,  Joseph Kennedy III,  Joe Kennedy II, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend—anyone named Kennedy, really—current Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Cal.), Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton. There are many, many more.

A last name is not a qualification for office. Why should that even have to be pointed out in a nation founded upon the rejection of royalty?

2. Unethical virtue-signalling via ambush. I admire John Oliver’s intellect, verbal dexterity and talent, but as with Stephen Colbert, David Letterman and others, he is so clearly a mean-spirited jerk that I find it difficult to watch him. Signature significance arrived for Oliver this week when he ambushed actor Dustin Hoffman  during a panel discussion commemorating the anniversary of the film Wag the Dog.

The topic of the evening was fake news and government manipulation of it, as the Clinton era film about a phony war being launched by a President to distract from a scandal is a fascinating one to ponder through the rear view mirror. Hoffman, one of the stars of the film, recently became one of the few dubious victims of a #MeToo-er, as he was accused of groping and sexually harassing a 17-year old woman on the set of another film in 1985. Unlike most of the celebrities and power-brokers run over by the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck, Hoffman has not had other accusers surface. He denies the woman’s characterization of what happened, and so have others, like the director of the movie in question, the filmed version of Hoffman’s Broadway turn as Willie Loman in “Death of  Salesman.”

I have read fans of Oliver saying that Hoffman should have assumed that Oliver would grill him on the allegations, to which I say, “Only if Hoffman realized what a knee-jerk progressive creep Oliver is.” I think the actor assumed that Oliver was an honorable professional, and as a moderator wouldn’t hijack the discussion to embarrass Hoffman and burnish his feminist creds.

To Hoffman’s credit, he stood up to the abuse of position by Oliver and defended himself. At one point, there was this exchange:

HOFFMAN: “Do you believe this stuff you read?

OLIVER: Yes. Because there’s no point in (the accuser) lying.”

HOFFMAN: Well, there’s a point in her not bringing it up for 40 years.

OLIVER: Oh Dustin…

I would have said,

“Don’t “Oh, Dustin” me, you arrogant, posturing ass. The fact that a complaint isn’t made for that much time automatically makes it dubious. It places the accused in an impossible position; evidence has evaporated, and memories have faded. There are many reasons to lie. To get publicity, To get revenge for some real or imagined slight. To bring down someone famous or powerful. To join a mob—and regardless of the fact that the post-Weinstein focus on legitimate sexual misconduct in the workplace has created needed awareness and exposed long-time abusers, it is a mob, with all of the capacity a mob has to harm the innocent in its self-righteousness. You are playing to the mob right now, and willing to unjustly smear me to do it. You’re a disgrace.”

John Ziegler quoted a Hollywood writer who knows Hoffman and is convinced he is innocent, who said,

“Someone should tell John Oliver he’s the true heir to Joe McCarthy!Sex abuse baiting has replaced red-baiting. The ‘Sexual Blacklist’ reigns supreme. Guilty until ruined!”

Let me also remind readers that my hypothetical illustrating how a woman might retroactively decide that what she did not regard as sexual harassment years ago was harassment now was mocked by both the moderator and a Georgetown law professor during the NPR panel I participated in last week.

I am right, they are biased.

The more I think about that exchange, the more ticked off I get….



Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Romance and Relationships, Workplace

21 responses to “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/6/17: An Ambush By John Oliver, An Insult From John Conyers

  1. Wayne

    Maybe Hoffman should whack Oliver with a cross like he did in “The Graduate”.

    • Other Bill

      Saw that movie again a few years ago. Not sure it’s such a classic and not sure it makes all that much sense. The clip of the final scene doesn’t include the last shot where a look of doubt crosses both Elaine’s and Ben’s faces as the adrenalin begins to subside and they contemplate their situation. The movie is just pretty thin in my book, certainly looking back over fifty years. Sure it’s supposed to be a satire, but to be good, satire has to be accurate in portraying what is purports to satirize.

      I do love the scene of him lying on the bottom of the swimming pool with a scuba tank looking up through eight or so feet of water. Pretty powerful image of what it’s like being eighteen or twenty and facing having to grow up and do something for a major part of your life. Oppressive. And didn’t Anne Bancroft/Mrs. Mel Brooks look great (as a purportedly old hag)?

      • Other Bill

        I’l take “Animal HOuse” over “The Graduate” any day. Same era covered in both movies. Dean Vernon Wormer, Carmine, Carmine’s wife. Better characters than all the adults in “The Graduate” combined.

        • 1. Hoffman’s performance is pretty damn fine.
          2. Any film with Katherine Ross in it at her prime is a gift to mankind.
          3. The Simon and Garfunkle score is one of my favorites of all time.
          4. It’s as unsentimental and properly confusing a portrayal of intense, irrational romantic love in contrast with cold, emotion-free sex as has ever been portrayed on screen.
          5. The last moment, typical of Nichols (he undercut his own characters a lot) is brilliant enough to make the movie a classic all by itself.

          I’d still rather watch “Animal House,” of course.

        • Carmine’s wife? Perhaps at the end during the parade…maybe. His daughter Clorette DePasto (Sarah Holcolm) had a coupla scenes; chewed a lotta gum as I recall.

          One wonders if “Animal House” had come out in today’s hyper-sensitive climate, would it have been boycotted, and Jack & OB dutifully admonished for their prurient interest?

          Anywho, are you thinking of Dean Wormer’s wife Marion (Verna Bloom), who (IMHO) delivered extraordinary heat in “High Plains Drifter?”

          Katherine Ross or Karen Allen (Katy)?

          That’s a “Ginger or Mary Ann” kinda thingey, am I right?

          Quotability? “The Graduate” ain’t even in the same Universe!

          • Oh, I think in a culture where “The Hangover” got three sequels, Animal House would get by. It’s also so clearly satire, and didn’t depend on taboo words, like “Blazing Saddles.” It’s so SNL-ish, too.

            I think both Allen and Ross are extremely attractive versions of Mary Ann. Allen was much the better actress.

            Which of the troika of immortal comedies has the most great lines, Animal House, Airplane, or Blazing Saddles?

            I’m pretty sure the ones I use the most are “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son”, “Don’t call ne Shirley,” and “…you know. Morons.”

            • “Animal House” is satire…?

              Allen kicked some serious @$$ in ”Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and looked good doing it. “Groundhog Day” & “Starman?” Fuggedaboudit!

              ”troika of immortal comedies”

              With apologies to the GOAT Sports Movie (“Caddyshack”) and second best College Life documentary (“Back To School”), tie between “Airplane” & “Blazing Saddles.”

              They were both end-on-end, front-to-finish, one-liners; leaving Animal House positively cerebral by comparison.

              All three on?

              Animal House in a landslide!

  2. A non moose Coward

    “The more I think about that exchange, the more ticked off I get….”

    Ugh, this is the worst feeling. “I shoulda said something!”

    • A non moose Coward

      Actually Jack, on that note: have you considered reaching out to the professor in a private exchange to continue the conversation and find out what they meant? Maybe you’ll both get something useful out of it.

  3. Emily

    A last name is not a qualification for office. Why should that even have to be pointed out in a nation founded upon the rejection of royalty?

    “Royalty was like dandelions. No matter how many heads you chopped off, the roots were still there underground, waiting to spring up again.

    It seemed to be a chronic disease. It was as if even the most intelligent person had this little blank spot in their heads where someone had written: “Kings. What a good idea.” Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees.”
    — Terry Pratchett

    You don’t strike me as much of a fantasy reader, Jack, but I think you’d like Pratchett.

    • Man WAS created to look to a sovereign. Thus, we want our royalty (and leaders) to be noble and true, and they mostly fall short, being only human, after all.

      • True. At our core we want an external source that knows what is right and good to tell us how to conduct ourselves rightly and goodly.

        The human flaw is no external human source can accurately get what is right and good – though it can come close at times…the times it gets it wrong are horrendous.

        Our responses to that are two-fold:

        1) Cultures that say: live with the horrendous times so that we have that human source of authority over our lives.

        2) Cultures that say: reject that singular source of authority over our lives and allow individuals to be that authority, reject the horrendous times but maybe be content that the “good times” are slower in developing and not necessarily as pointed as when a singular authority manages to get it right.

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