Good Morning, Scout!
1 Assorted blog stuff. I’m going to have to fly to Boston next month for the hearing on my motion to dismiss the specious defamation suit against me by an Ethics Alarms commenter to whom my responses were no more defamatory than what I have said to many of you when provoked…Every now and then some blog or social media participant with a huge following links to an old post here, and I am swamped with visits from a lot of individuals with no serious interest in ethics. They almost never comment, and if they do, the comments typically don’t meet my posting standards. Still, they swell the traffic stats, and I’ll take ’em. In 2017 I had none of these fluky hit avalanches, after a 2016 that had several. This time, the post suddenly drawing interest is a 2014 essay about a letter written to director Terry Gilliam in 2005. You just never know…Expect a lot of Comments of the Day this weekend: I am way behind, and I’m sorry. Tough week.
2. Keep hope alive! Yesterday’s New York Times front page headline perfectly embodied the fake news-by-innuendo tactic that has marked the mainstream media’s efforts to pander to the “resistance.” The Special Prosecutor’s fishing expedition just subpoenaed the business records of the Trump organization relating to its dealings in Russia. Says the Times headline: “Investigation nears President.” Ooooh! Scary!
Hype, and unprofessional. This is the “He’s getting closer! And closer!” narrative the anti-Trump journalists have been flogging for a year. Yeah, I guess any time an investigation involves someone’s business it is “near” the owner, but why would that obvious fact justify a headline? The reality is that Trump’s organization had business dealings in Russia (legal and unremarkable), the fact that Mueller is looking does not prove or suggest that those dealings had any connection to the campaign, and Mueller could have asked for these records a year ago. There is nothing ominous about the request from the President’s perspective at all, unless, as this whole fiasco has presumed from the moment Democrats seized on Wikileaks and fake Facebook news as the designated excuses for Hillary’s inexcusable defeat, there really was “collusion.”
That an investigation has been launched does not imply, suggest, or indicate wrongdoing. The news media’s reporting continues to suggest otherwise because they want the President to be guilty of something heinous. Imagine that: there are Americans who want their elected President to be proven guilty of wrongdoing.
3. To kill a “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Harper Lee’s estate filed a complaint last week in federal court in Alabama, arguing that a Broadway bound stage adaptation of “To Kill A Mockingbird” by “The West Wing” creator and “A Few Good Men” writer Aaron Sorkin violates a contract, between Harper Lee and the producers that stipulates that the characters and plot must remain faithful to the spirit of the book. (I wrote about the complexities surrounding Atticus Finch’s character in a 2015 post.)
The contract states that “the Play shall not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters.” The producer, Scott Rudin, told the New York Times that “I can’t and won’t present a play that feels like it was written in the year the book was written in terms of its racial politics: It wouldn’t be of interest. The world has changed since then.”
He loses the suit, then. How can the adaptation ” not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters” and yet reset the cultural orientation of the book?
There is already a stage adaptation of “To Kill A Mockingbird” (By Christopher Sergel, a hack) that has been produced professionally and by schools and community theaters for decades. It is pretty much a carbon copy of the movie, screenplay by playwright Horton Foote, which is both better known than the book and more popular. Therein lies part of the problem for both the Lee estate and Sorkin. The Atticus Finch of the book is not quite the sterling, blemish-free hero portrayed so memorable by Gregory Peck, for the book’s Atticus tolerates Jim Crow attitudes in the 30’s era Southern town. “Based on Ms. Lee’s own father, a small-town Alabama lawyer who represented black defendants in a criminal trial, Atticus Finch is portrayed in the novel as a model of wisdom, integrity, and professionalism,” the suit says. That’s not quite true of the book, however, though it is an accurate description of the Peck Atticus. Surely the representatives of the estate have read the book, and are not conflating it with the film. Surely.
I wouldn’t bet on it. I also wouldn’t bet that the late Ms. Lee understood who the adapter was when she made this deal. Sorkin is a talented, arrogant, left-wing ideologue. Of course he would impose his political views on any adaptation. In an interview with New York Magazine about his adaptation, Sorkin described his script as a reinterpretation of Atticus’s moral evolution. “As far as Atticus and his virtue goes, this is a different take on ‘Mockingbird’ than Harper Lee’s or Horton Foote’s,” he said. “He becomes Atticus Finch by the end of the play.”
Again, that sounds to me like Sorkin is admitting to breaching the terms of the contract.
A lot of people were taking advantage of Harper Lee in her dotage. I could see a politicized judge dismissing the estate’s concerns on several grounds, but my verdict is this: a work’s creator has the right to dictate the terms of any adaptation, no matter what virtues the new version might have. I do not believe that authors should do this, because it suppresses artistic creation, but the original work is still their property until it passes into the public domain. If the conditions of allowing Sorkin to adapt the book were that he had to remain constant to Lee’s vision and not his own, then Sorkin should not be allowed to defy those terms.
I also believe Sorkin always knew he would put his own imprint on the story. He’s that arrogant. For this reason alone the Lee estate should win its suit.
4. Black lives matter, and so does “innocent until proven guilty.” There was another acquittal in a police shooting of a black teen this week, as usual, with a difficult fact pattern. In Zion, just outside of Chicago, 17-year-old Justus Howell reportedly got into a fight while trying to buy a gun. Officer Eric Hill arrived on the scene after gunfire was reported. Howell began running, with Hill in pursuit. He eventually shot the 17-year-old twice in the back, killing him.
Hill testified that he could tell Howell was armed, and that he shot because he saw Howell reaching for his gun as he ran and preparing to shoot. The video of the chase doesn’t show this, and a witness contradicted the account. But Howell was, in fact, carrying a gun.
If you believe that Hill had justification for believing his life was in danger—armed suspect, shots fired, reaching for a weapon—then the acquittal is defensible.
If you believe that the police officers should have just given up the chase rather than killed the boy, the boys’ death should be a crime.
If you believe the officer was duty bound to apprehend the suspect—again, he had a gun, and he had responded to a report of gunfire—then maybe not.
What if the officer had no reason to believe that the boy had a gun before he shot? Then the fact that Howell was armed is just moral luck.
I think all of these taken together add up to reasonable doubt, and I challenge anyone to convince an African-American of that when a 17-year-old black kid has been shot in the back.