Ethics Quiz: Alec And The Philharmonic [Corrected]

I did not know that Alec “Quick-Draw” Baldwin, currently criminal charges in New Mexico as a consequence of his fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins while filming the film “Rust,” is and has been the New York Philharmonic’s radio host. In writing this,  I am admitting that I haven’t listened to live broadcasts of the orchestra in a long time, probably since Leonard Bernstein was waving the baton. On the other hand, if I knew I had to listen to Baldwin to hear “Peter and the Wolf” again (Lenny’s rendition was big hit when I was 10), I wouldn’t have listened anyway. I can tolerate Baldwin in older films (like “The Hunt for the Red October”) before he became a public asshole, and in more recent movies (like “The Departed,” “Pearl Harbor” and the “Mission Impossible” films) where he is only in a small supporting role: he is, after all, a competent actor (like many assholes). In any other setting, however, if Alec is connected with it, count me out; the cognitive dissonance is too great.

The New York Post reports that despite the actor facing homicide murder charges (two counts of involuntary manslaughter) , the Philharmonic will allow Baldwin to keep his role as the famed orchestra’s  radio host and will remain a member of its board of directors. “He has been an incredibly strong person on the board, and very, very helpful and I think that will probably carry us today,” Charles F. Neimeth, a fellow board member, said in explaining the organization’s decision. “He’s been a strong contributor, both financially and otherwise.”Ah. So if he gave enough money to the orchestra, Harvey Weinstein would be an acceptable board member. I think not. But wait, Harvey didn’t kill anyone. Is there a “no rapists, but killers are okay” policy on the board? Let’s let the board issue pass for now, though responsible non-profits usually require that board members neither embarrass nor bring unwanted controversy to their shores. Usually, caring board members have the sense and courtesy to resign when they are enmeshed in bad publicity, like the chair of the now -defunct Time’s Up, who resigned from the anti-sexual workplace harassment/ Believe All Women non-profit when it was revealed that she was advising Andrew Cuomo on how to discredit one of his accusers. But again, to be fair, she hadn’t killed anyone either. I wouldn’t be surprised if Time’s Up had a policy that in the context of its mission, aiding a powerful man trying to get away with harassment was worse than killing someone.

I might even agree with it.

However, an accused murderer working for an organization in a high-profile position where an individual is perceived by the public as standing in for the organization itself is a different issue.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day to begin the week is…

Is it responsible for the New York Philharmonic’s to allow Baldwin to remains as its radio host while he is being prosecuted for a homocide?

Secondary question: Is it ethical for Baldwin to not resign, particularly since his fiduciary duties as a board member require him to act in the orchestra’s best interests?

The second question is easy, and the answer is no. Baldwin has an obligation to take the orchestra out of the “hot seat” and fix the problem of his own making.

As for the first, my immediate comparison was the case of  MLB pitcher Trevor Bauer.

Bauer joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent during the 2020-21 off-season: he had just  won the NL Cy Young award as the year’s best pitcher. Bauer signed a three-year, $102 million contract.  In the middle of the 2021 season, reports emerged that a California woman had filed for a restraining order and accused Bauer of assaulting her during consensual sex. The Dodger placed him on paid administrative leave while the legal process played out, and was suspended the remainder of the 2021 season—with pay—by mutual agreement of Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association. Two more women made allegations that Bauer had assaulted them in prior years. But a judge denied the first accuser’s  request for a long-term restraining order, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges against Bauer after  their investigation. Despite this, the Dodgers releases Bauer, even though the team owes him millions of dollars. Though any other team can sign the pitcher, who is still in his prime and won the Cy Young in his last full season, no team has signed him (a team doing so would only have to pay the MLB minimum, with the Dodgers paying the rest). No team is expected to sign him.

But to be fair, Bauer didn’t kill anybody.

25 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Alec And The Philharmonic [Corrected]

  1. If I had to guess, I would speculate that the Philharmonic’s reasoning is that Baldwin didn’t intentionally kill his victim. In the case of Weinstein, his offenses do not appear to be tragic accidents.

    Not that Baldwin shouldn’t do the right thing and resign (which he won’t) but I would surmise that, had he murdered someone intentionally, this problem wouldn’t exist.

  2. Why Jack, I’m surprised at you. Baldwin is accused of involuntary manslaughter, not murder, and you as a lawyer ought to care about the distinction between the two. Further, the legal distribution exists because there’s a palpable ethical distinction between cavalier disregard for the safety of others and the knowing, intentional taking of another’s life.

    I see two principles at play here. The first is whether and to what extent it’s permissible or required to penalize an accused person before that accusation is proven. Remember how the woke mob demanded that Kyle Rittenhouse or George Zimmerman be ostracized and ruined without the benefit of trial. Here I think there’s a difference between facts that are not proven, versus when the facts are agreed upon but there has not yet been any decision on how the law is to be applied. Here, it is settled that Baldwin pointed a real gun a Hutchins, never checked it himself nor saw it checked by another in his presence, and fired the shot that killed her. I think those undisputed facts suffice for passing moral, if not legal judgement.

    Second, there’s the question of whether and to what extent a person’s misdeeds should be allowed to taint work with little to no connection with those misdeeds. Consider attempts to ‘cancel’ Thomas Jefferson, his contributions as a president and a font of our civic philosophy, for his participation in slavery. In this instance I see no rational connection between Baldwin’s recklessness on the set of Rust and his work as radio announcer for the Philharmonic. It would be a different matter concerning, say, his leadership role in certain organizations devoted to gun control. He’s certainly forfeited any credibility as a promoter of “gun safety”. But speaking on the radio for the Philharmonic?

    So my answer is that there is nothing wrong with the Philharmonic keeping Baldwin on as a radio host.

    • Manslaughter is, in some jurisdictions, “Third Degree Murder.” It’s a distinction without a difference, in my opinion. It’s an illegal killing. Second, this is not a guilt or innocence question, as the Bauer analogy should make clear.

      Would you make the same argument that, say, a brokerage firm whose VP had a regular spot on CNBC as a financial analyst should keep him on the job if he were facing financial fraud charges? Or if that’s too close, how about a regular slot on an ABC public events panel? Should NBC allow him to do his Trump impression while being tried?

      I’ll use “Homicide” instead. You’re right—it’s clearer.

      • I think the lack of mens rea is a distinction worth making.

        The better analogy would be hosting a financial analyst who, through neglect, severely misstated financial statements and caused financial loss to investors.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if that is still considered fraud under the law, but the distinction still has far reaching consequences. Would I hire this analyst to be anywhere in my accounting department? No. But I might trust him to take my car on a road trip.

        And I believe in either case it would be wise for the guilty party to step aside, but I also believe that waiting for the trial to finish is also fair.

        • >>but I also believe that waiting for the trial to finish is also fair.

          That I think is part of the issue. Both prosecutor and defense attorneys often seek to prolong the trials for various strategic reasons. The trial then becomes an ongoing source of disruption or embarrassment to the charitable board. It would be hard for a defendant to claim in good faith to be “waiting for the conclusion” of the trial to resign, when he is the cause of the delay.

          I can only conclude that the ethical path is for the defendant to step aside until the conclusion of the trial in his favor.

  3. I understand your reasoning but does this reasoning reinforce the notion that allegations are evidence of guilt.
    I have a real problem with our slide into continental law where one is presumed guilty and must prove innocence. Like Jack, I have absolutely no use for Mr Baldwin but demanding that he resign before he is adjudicated is wrong.
    Why is an unpaid leave of absence not an option? To be honest, I wonder how many people are actually following this case and if we want to protect the interests of the orchestra then we must ask the benefactors what they want. Does it affect the orchestra if those who do not support it weigh in with their opinion that he should go?
    Keeping Baldwin is not the question that should be asked. The better question is are we willing to sacrifice the presumption of innocence because we think allegations are evidence of guilt.

    • The fact that he shot and killed someone is not an allegation. The obligation of the company is to it’s mission and audience, and having someone charged with a killing as your “voice” has obvious negative implications.

      • If this was cut and dried why are we having a trial?

        I know that the evidence is irrefutable that he pulled the trigger and a bullet fired does that alone mean that he is guilty of what is charged? Why have a presumption of innocence in these matters if we state the facts are uncontested. Just impose the sentence and place him in jail. That will effectively make the issue moot unless he can broadcast from a jail cell.

        You said having someone charged with killing someone as your voice has negative implications where do we draw the line. Should a lawyer charged with DWI be disbarred before trial? Should a surgeon facing a malpractice claim be denied surgical privileges until the case is resolved?

        You often open up a post with Stop Making Me Defend xxxx. I feel the same way here because I believe that we are fast losing our understanding of our principles of jurisprudence. We have government using private firms to circumvent First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment protections. Just as pre-crime punishments are unethical so too should be pre-adjudication punishments. I see very little difference between the two.

  4. I think my answers will look a lot like the others already given, but…

    1. Yes. The Philharmonic is fine to keep Alec Baldwin. The presumption of innocence makes that alright. It would also not be unethical for the Philharmonic to ask Baldwin to step aside until completion of the trial. Having said that, the reasons given by the Board members for keeping Baldwin speak to a complete lack of knowledge of our justice system and seem to focus more on the completely utilitarian concept of Baldwin’s perceived value to the Philharmonic.

    2. No. It is not ethical for Baldwin to remain at the position. He should offer his resignation or offer to step aside until any trial is completed).

  5. Anyone who points a gun (including a starter’s gun or even a wooden model) at another human being and pulls the trigger is an idiot.

    The ethics quiz aside, Baldwin is a good guy (see Jut’s comment in prior post). He’s a flaming, NYC based liberal and decorated Trump savager. As far as the Philharmonic and its board and fans are concerned, Baldwin “is one of us.” He’ll be allowed to do whatever he wants as long as he continues to want to. Besides, the charges are being brought by a bunch of uncouth, uncool yahoos in some flyover state somewhere west of New Jersey. Don’t they know who Alec Baldwin is?

      • From an LA Times article published at the time of his signing:

        He pushes the brink in experimentation in his search to get better and staunchly believes in the analytics driving the sport today. As a result, his production has steadily improved. Since 2018, he ranks sixth among qualified MLB pitchers in FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement (11.6), ninth in opponent batting average (.209), and 11th in ERA (3.18). The Dodgers, meanwhile, are lauded around the industry for their analytics department.

        But Bauer’s behavior off the mound has attracted detractors.

    • OB
      One of the reasons I came down on the side of not giving him the boot before adjudication is for a variant of the reason you cited above. Because I am not a fan of his it is very easy to say give those we don’t like or are not part of our group the boot when we are not willing to do the same for our favored members.
      We cannot complain about cancel culture if we practice ourselves.

      It should be noted that I advocated for a suspension while the process continues in the courts.

  6. In a civil service setting, the usual thing to do in a situation like this is to immediately suspend the accused, then have what in NJ we call a limited purpose hearing to determine whether the accused should remain suspended or can return to duty/work while the criminal allegations are adjudicated. Upon adjudication, then typically another hearing or set of hearings is held to determine whether any discipline should be imposed. This does not count as double jeopardy since the standard of proof is lower for civil service discipline than it is for criminal culpability.

    Several times I have overseen the removal of various public employees for conduct unbecoming, even though they may have been acquitted of criminal conduct, the ugliest such case being a pedophile police officer who exposed himself to several young children. He was acquitted in criminal court, most likely because 1. a juror who had a criminal record for misbehavior toward kids was not screened out, so the first trial was vitiated (retrying cases is never a good idea for either plaintiffs or prosecutors, since now the defense knows what you are going to do), and 2. the prosecutor’s cross-examination of him sounded foolish. but his firing was upheld when the administrative court found that his excuse for what happened was not credible and therefore his exposure of himself to a child was no accident.

    At a bare minimum the orchestra board should do something like this, and I think it’s pretty obvious what the outcome should be. They probably don’t even need to, since gigs like this are typically governed by personal services contracts that often have “morality clauses” or “conduct clauses” in them. Usually, those clauses say that if you do something that brings disrepute on the employer, you can be suspended or fired forthwith. I’d say killing someone brings disrepute on the employer here.

    However, the real reason they won’t do anything about this is that the board of this organization and the artists who comprise are all Manhattan liberals or transplanted liberals, and Alec Baldwin is “in the club,” in fact he is a VIP member of the club. You only get kicked out of the club when you are no longer of any value to the club or your minuses outweigh your pluses. That’s why Al Franken and Andrew Cuomo got kicked out of the club, but Joe Biden probably will be a member until he dies. That’s also why no NFL team will ever sign Krappernick (over six years have passed since he last played, if any team was going to, they would have by now). The only way he gets kicked out of the club here is if enough ordinary supporters start canceling ticket purchases, cancelling subscriptions, pulling their support, and turning off the broadcasts. Orchestras deal as much in virtue-signaling, ego-boosting, and financially propping up an organization that wouldn’t otherwise be viable without appealing to both as they do in putting on concerts. That’s why lately they put on these tiresome “themed” programs of music by women, music by black composers, music by LGBT composers, etc. Artists and supporters alike are interested at least as much as looking and feeling virtuous as they are in putting on and appreciating a good show. It’s a matter of when the rank and file of supporters say, “this is a step too far.” Artist’s egos are also notoriously fragile, will they want to play to half-empty houses?

  7. It should perhaps be noted that he was instrumental in a string of contributing mismanagement prior to the shooting, and also was caught in several lies as he tried to weasel out of responsibility for the incident. He’s really just fortunate that he didn’t do something like bump into a trans person on set and fail to apologize for his privilege…He’d be well on his way to Cancelville.

    • Wasn’t he a producer on the movie and thus ultimately responsible for things like, oh, I don’t know, keeping live ammo off the set?

  8. On a somewhat related note–any thoughts on what appears to be pretty clearly an ex post facto add-on in the charges against Baldwin?

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