Let’s Play “Desperate, Gallant, Or Offensive!” Today’s Contestant: Actor William H. Macy

Welcome, Ethics Alarms readers! It’s time for that exciting game show, “Desperate, Gallant, Or Offensive!,” where the audience judges whether its celebrity contestants have stayed within ethical boundaries!

Today’s contestant is celebrated actor William H. Macy, not to be confused with Bill Macy, who played Bea Arthur’s long-suffering husband on “Maude.” William H is one of the most honored and respected, not to mention versatile American actors. He has won two Emmy Awards, four Screen Actors Guild Awards, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his memorable performance in Fargo.” Since 2011, he has played Frank Gallagher, the main character in the Showtime adaptation of the British television series “Shameless.”  Most relevant now, however, is his 22 year marriage to actress Felicity Huffman, who is about to be sentenced for her participation in the so-called “Varsity Blues” college admission scandal.

Ready to play? All right! Here is what loving husband William wrote to the judge preparing to sentence Huffman:

All right, audience—what do you say?

Is William’s entreaty to the judge desperate, gallant, or offensive?

Use the button on the panels in front of you to register your votes! You have 30 seconds!

Time’s up!

It was a trick question, I’m embarrassed to say, because the letter is desperate, gallant AND offensive.

Most of what Huffman’s husband wrote is also irrelevant, or certainly should be. The fact that Huffman is or may be a devoted, loving mother shouldn’t have any effect of her penalties for using bribes and fraudulent methods to sneak her child into a college ahead of less wealthy students, without celebrity parents, who were playing by the rules. It is a loving letter, and that’s nice, and one cannot blame Macy for throwing everything he can think of up on the wall of the judge’s mind and hope that something sticks. Ethically, however, none of it should stick. Nothing he mentions about Huffman’s parenting changes what she did, and none of it should alter or reduce the consequences of what she did.

The section about how one of Huffman’s roles, her turn as a transgender woman, inspired others and helped the transgender community is especially offensive. It is blatant virtue-signaling, and it is also stupid. If anyone deserves credit for the impact of the film, it is the writers and producer; any competent actress could have taken the script and had the same impact with it.

What is the theory being advanced here, that actors who play heroes and admirable characters should be able to break laws with fewer adverse consequences than those who play fools, wastrels and villains? It sure sounds like it. That is a a destructive standard. We know that actor Robert Blake avoided a murder conviction despite overwhelming evidence because the jury remembered him as quirky good guy Tony Baretta on the hit TV detective show of the same name. We knowt O.J. got away with butchering his ex-wife and a friend because, among other things, the jury couldn’t imagine the happy football hero and the kindly security guard who rescued a cat in “The Towering Inferno” as  a cold-blooded killer.

On top of it all,  Huffman is facing at worst a month in jail and a $20,000 fine, unless the judge goes beyond what the prosecutors recommended, which is unlikely. To avoid that, Macy is arguing that actors should be sentenced according to what kind of roles they have played.

If that ever becomes the standard, I’ll say this: Bill Skarsgard, who essentially only portrays killers and sociopaths and is currently starring as the demonic clown Pennywise in the second installment of “It,” had better stay out of trouble between gigs.

9 thoughts on “Let’s Play “Desperate, Gallant, Or Offensive!” Today’s Contestant: Actor William H. Macy

  1. I stopped reading after the first paragraph or so. The letter is way, way too long. Incompetence is unethical. I can’t imagine a busy District Court judge reading past the first paragraph. “Know your audience, Uh, Bill, if your reader stops reading, there’s no point in your writing.”

    By the way, I really like the defense the other actress’s attorneys seem to be mounting for her. I think they’re getting all sorts of discovery on how colleges admit wealthy and celebrity kids for their benefit to demonstrate what she did was no different than what happens all the time. The college admissions game is fixed for a certain percentage of kids. The Kennedys got into Harvard because of their intellectual prowess? John Kerry and all the Bushes got into Yale because of their intellectual prowess? Al Gore? They’re wealthy legacies. The entire system is crooked. The feds should go after admissions people for defrauding the kids who get aced out every year by legacies.

    • Now I don’t feel so bad about not reading beyond the first paragraph. When I then saw how long it was I decided it 2as offensive insofar as it could only be a litany of irrelevant life events.
      This is no different than a letter claiming Michael Brown was a big cuddly teddy bear who was looking forward to starting college. Pure BS.

    • Uggh, I didn’t get past the second sentence before my eyes glazed. It is the embodiment of TL:DR. I could see how much longer this pean of personal recommendation was going on. Not sure how such a happy feminine childhood merits gaming college admission. Just because it can be gamed, doesn’t mean you should. Few things tick me off as when someone is presented as experienced in something like windows file manager, and you must write a clixk by clic directions on how to copy and rename a file. I’d be mad as an alumni that the school has devalued MY degree, that the nurse may not really know what that sheepskin validates.

      Gamesmanship does not belong in some arenas.
      for the record, I chose none of the above. That piece was short on why does any of that count for anything. The people doing this would be outraged if someone gamed against their kid…. golden rule. His appeal would be more palatable if it was a LOT shorter, five paras at most- and not run on. Good writing is important, too.

  2. It’s a bit long, a bit hard to understand, and it seems mostly irrelevant. It’s probably supposed to be one of those character witness things. But it doesn’t seem effective. Reading it, I thought that 90% or so was completely irrelevant to the case. I don’t think this kind of letter can do much good. He should have consulted his lawyer before sending it, and if he did consult a lawyer, he might need to find a new lawyer.

  3. It reads to me like a character reference. I had a relative who ended up being a “Justice-Involved Individual”, to use the parlance of the times. We were asked by the lawyer to write letters to the judge in the hopes of affecting sentencing. We were specifically told to focus on the defendant, to avoid mentioning the crime or the victim, etc. I understand the thinking is to demonstrate that the defendant has a support system that would help him avoided becoming..ahem..justice involved in the future.

    So, Macy went to bat for his wife – the mother of his children – in the hopes of a lighter sentence in order to keep the family intact. Desperate? Maybe. Gallant? Only if he were throwing himself under the bus – which he’s not. But Offensive? I don’t think so. The only reason we even know about it is because he’s a celebrity. This is one of those times in which I wish that celebrities didn’t hold such a hallowed position in our culture. Countless character letters are written every day for defendants that we never hear about and certainly never read because the defendants are nobodies. I wouldn’t judge those letters either.

    The question, I think, is whether or not judges should take those letters into consideration at all when sentencing.

  4. We all know there is favoritism in the judical system but wouldn’t it be refreshing if she was sentenced the same as a non-celebrity which would easily be 6-12 months. One can only dream… Smollett most likely will also get off as well and his crime should be offensive to everyone conjuring up a hate crime. Macy’s letter was poorly written and completely irrelevant she did a stupid thing and got caught, everyone has issues in their life and most everyone wants to be a good parent. You want to support your wife, you should have been by her side when she went to court.

  5. I though the first part of the letter, describing Felicity as a mother, was okay. It’s clearly puffery meant to put her in the best possible light, but I have hard time believing her husband would write something like without meaning it. So I find it relevant from a character witness standpoint. I think he should’ve stopped there, though. The part about the effect on the kids is irrelevant. Whatever they went through is their mother’s fault, not the law’s. When he described their daughter begging them to “do something” after she was turned down by her college of choice, my knee-jerk reaction was amusement rather pity. Thing is girl, it was your parents “doing something” that started this mess.

    And of course, Felicity’s acting roles are COMPLETELY irrelevant to the matter at hand.

  6. Ken White often talks about the “multiple courts” that a filing is meant to influence, when there are competing legal and public relations objectives. Given the low stakes (a month in prison and relatively minuscule fine), this is clearly irrelevant for a court of law, but it would seem the primary target is the “court of public opinion”, trying to reframe his wife as an over zealous mom in the public eye, rather than an entitled wealthy sleeze. The question should be whether the content is so irrelevant to the legal decision as to constitute an abuse of the court’s time.

  7. Excellent article, well said! Justice will prevail if not in the court system, it will in their everyday lives. There’s nothing worse than the misery of living with a guilty and shame ridden conscience which could be turned into a “GIFT” if embraced as such.
    The GIFT of being truly remorseful for what was done, on purpose and with forethought, (not just for getting caught), and doing whatever it takes to make things right (recompense) no matter the cost.
    Otherwise they are basically living a lie, and their lives are a “joke”mostly to themselves…

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