What Is Justice For Kevin Spacey?

 Prosecutors in Massachusetts this week dropped a sexual assault charge against the actor Kevin Spacey, in the only case against the alleged serial sexual harasser to be brought to trial. Mr. Spacey was accused of fondling an 18-year-old man at a Nantucket restaurant three years ago, one of the few of the accusations against him that wasn’t too old to try and that involved criminal conduct. The accuser’s lawyer said that a smartphone being sought as evidence by the defense  had disappeared, then the accuser invoked the Fifth Amendment after being warned that he could be charged with a destroying evidence, a felony if he had deleted contents on his phone. When the young man continued to assert his right against self-incrimination,  the Cape and Islands district attorney announced that it was dropping the prosecution “due to the unavailability of the complaining witness.” There wasn’t much choice.

Spacey’s far from out of the metaphorical woods. Around the same time as the Nantucket accusation, the Old Vic theater in London announced that 20 people had  accused Spacey  of inappropriate behavior  during his 11-year stint as the theater’s artistic director. There is another investigation in Los Angeles.

So now what? None of the allegations against Spacey have been proven, though, as with Bill Cosby, the sheer number of them leave little doubt—but still some— that he is a serial sexual predator. Spacey’s own house of cards began falling when actor Anthony Rapp gave an  interview to BuzzFeed accusing Spacey of assaulting him at a party when Rapp was only 14.  The accusation was never proven, but suddenly more stories of sexual misconduct in the workplace and elsewhere started surfacing regarding Spacey. (There is a lot about Spacey’s conduct and problems on Ethics Alarms, here.) Continue reading

A Kevin Spacey Update, The Sexual Harassment Feeding Frenzy, And A Guide To Sexual Harassers In The Workplace

This photo seemed appropriate somehow…

Kevin Spacey, it is now fair to say, has been a habitual sexual harasser.

We did not know that when Anthony Rapp made his accusation against the actor in a Buzzfeed interview. I would be very interested in knowing whether Rapp knew that. The posts here (this, and this) began with the assumption that Rapp’s motivations were as he stated them, and he did not say or suggest that Spacey was, like Harvey Weinstein, an active predator.

But in the ensuing days,  the pattern typical of accused harassers who really are harassers has emerged regarding Spacey. Other alleged victims came forward with their accounts.  Next  the employees on Spacey’s hit Netflix series “House of Cards” expanded the narrative…from CNNMoney:

Spacey made the set of Netflix’s “House of Cards” into a “toxic” work environment through a pattern of sexual harassment, eight people who currently work on the show or worked on it in the past tell CNN. One former employee told CNN that Spacey sexually assaulted him.

That, as they say, is the ball game for Spacey. He has even followed the hackneyed script for so many celebrities caught in misconduct: he’s getting “treatment.” Well, he doesn’t have many options. His show has been cancelled; his agency has dropped him. Spacey is very talented, but it will take him a long, long time to even partially recover from this, if he can.

I am going to write this anyway even though it won’t register on most people: the fact that Spacey turned out to be a lot more than a guy who got drunk and treated a 14-year old actor inappropriately at a party three decades ago doesn’t retroactively make the way Rapp’s ambush accusation fair or right. If he knew that Spacey was a present day harasser and made the accusation to break the dam, that’s something else, but again, he didn’t suggest that.

I’d guess that he’ll say that now, whether it is true or not.

Since Spacey was accused, several other celebrities, including Dustin Hoffman, have been fingered. The latest development is that several female members of Congress have said that they have been sexually harassed by their male colleagues, and of that I have no doubts whatsoever. Nonetheless, we are still in the witch hunt yellow zone, creeping into the red.

Here is part of a cautionary LA Times op-ed  by Cathy Young:

The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandals and the ripples from the “#MeToo” movement are having indubitably positive effects — above all, exposing and bringing to account predators who have enjoyed impunity due to their power and status. But there are some pitfalls. Many people — not just men with skeletons in the closet — fear that careers may be destroyed over minor misconduct and ambiguous transgressions. Troubling rhetoric abounds, condemning all sexually tinged dynamics in the workplace, stereotyping men as abusers and women as perpetual victims in need of quasi-Victorian protections.…Concerns that the post-Weinstein climate may lead to witch hunts against any man who flirts with a female colleague have been met with angry comments along the lines of “flirting in the workplace IS HARASSMENT.” A tweet by singer/songwriter Marian Call that got more than 2,000 retweets and nearly 6,500 “likes” asked, “dudes are you aware how happy women would be if strangers & coworkers never ‘flirted’ with us again … this is the world we want.”

But is it? It’s certainly not the world I want: Except in college, nearly every man I have ever dated was either a co-worker or, once I switched entirely to free-lancing, someone I met through work. This is not unusual, even in the age of dating websites and apps.

This has always been the aspect of sexual harassment law that renders it inherently unfair and to many, incomprehensible. In many cases the exact same conduct is harassment if unwelcome, and successful mating strategy if welcome.  Don’t bite my head off, but this was what Donal Trump was alluding to in his repulsive conversation with Billy Bush. He was claiming  that women like being sexually assaulted by the rich and powerful. In many cases, he may be right. Legally, when he’s right, it may not be sexual harassment. Ethically, it is still wrong. If the women feels compelled not to object to the sexual overtures because of an inequality of power, it is very wrong, and illegal. Continue reading

Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 2]

[Continuing the reflections on the accusation against Kevin Spacey and its aftermath…Part One is here.]

I have always assumed that Spacey had endured some kind of serious trauma that explained his aversion to confirming that he was gay, since, really, it was so, so obvious. Many actors become actors because of familial abuse and self-loathing: if you think about it, it makes sense. They don’t like who they are and what real life has been, so they seek the fantasy life of being someone else on stage, films and TV.  Maybe Spacey’s long obsession with performer Bobby Darrin provided a clue. (Spacey eventually played Darrin in his own vanity film project. “Beyond the Sea.”) You have to be really unhappy with yourself to fantasize being in the shoes of Darrin, the talented, troubled heterosexual  actor-singer who died before he turned 40. Thus I was not surprised when Spacey’s brother Randall Fowler, 62, a limo driver and professional Rod Stewart impersonator, described the home in which he, Kevin and their sister were raised as resembling the plot a  horror movie.

  • Fowler says he and his brother were both sexually abused by their father, Thomas Geoffrey Fowler (whom the children called “The Creature”), and that their mother knew about their treatment at his hands. Their older sister, Julie, was also abused before she fled home when she was 18. In a 2004 interview, Spacey’s brother described how their ultra-right-wing father was a member of the American Nazi Party. He was so enamored with Adolf Hitler, Fowler claimed, that he trimmed his mustache to resemble Der Fuehrer’s.

“I grew up in a living hell. There was so much darkness in our home it was beyond belief. It was absolutely miserable,” Spacey’s brother said then. “Years later, our mother actually wrote a letter to all three of us, trying to justify what had gone on by saying she was abused as a child and so was our father. Kevin tried to avoid what was going on by wrapping himself in an emotional bubble….He was so determined to try to avoid the whippings that he just minded his Ps and Qs until there was nothing inside. He had no feelings.”

Fowler described his younger brother was an “empty vessel” who had never been in a real relationship with anyone. “Neither of us had a chance growing up with two such damaged parents, ” he concluded.

No, I don’t know that what a Rod Stewart imitator and publicity-seeking sibling of a famous actor says is completely true, exaggerated, or a fabrication.  But it fits. Spacey should be given the benefit of the doubt, and accorded some compassion. We all deserve that. Continue reading

Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 1 of 2]

The comments regarding yesterday’s ethics quiz have been varied and vigorous. As to the quiz question itself,

Is [Anthony] Rapp’s public accusation [against actor Kevin Spacey alleging that Spacey sexually assaulted him 30 years ago when Rapp was only 14] fair, responsible, and ethical?

I have arrived at my answer, and am abashed that I didn’t see it immediately.

No, the accusation was not fair, and it was unethical. It fails all ethical systems. It is a Golden Rule breach: What Rapp did to Spacey is not how he, or anyone would want to be treated. The fair and decent thing would have been to confront Spacey privately.  Maybe Rapp has distorted the incident over time; maybe Spacey is as remorseful and embarrassed by the incident as Rapp has been traumatized by it. All of us would want at least a chance to explain or make amends before being exposed…in Buzzfeed(!?).

Other observations, as Spacey is being metaphorically disemboweled by an angry mob…

  • Rapp also stomped on Kantian ethics, which forbids using human beings as a means to an end. Rapp says his goal was “to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent.” Wait: is there a shred of evidence that Spacey engaged in such conduct over “decades”? Is there any indication that Rapp is protecting future teens from his assaults? No, he’s just jumping on a train, joining a virtue-signalling mob engaged on what appears to be a scalp-hunting expedition. His late hit on Spacey didn’t stop a predator (as with Weinstein), didn’t report a crime to authorities (the statute of limitations is long past), didn’t accomplish anything postive and productive involing Spacey at all. I was just symbolic, and Kant, correctly, holds that it is unethical to destroy real human beings to make a political, social or culotural point, in this case the point being, “Don’t stay silent for 30 years if you have been abused, harassed or molested!”

This also fails any Millsian or Benthamist test of utilitarianism. The ends accomplished by Rapp’s accusation consist almost entirely of destroying Kevin Spacey. What else? I suppose its a warning too: anything you did that society will regard as worthy of making you a pariah can be revealed by an angry, vindictive or politically motivated alleged victim at any time, and you will have no recourse. Call it the Anita Hill Principle. That’s not enough of a “benefit” to society to destroy someone’s life. We have the Weinstein example, and the Bill Cosby saga. They were–are?—both serial offenders. Taking out Kevin Spacey based on one very old incident is not a means justified by any end.

  • Upon examination, Spacey’s response was a mistake and an ethics botch on multiple levels. Here it is again:

First, here we have another example of why Twitter is dangerous. Spacey is a smart guy, yet he foolishly, in his rush to deal with this crisis, authored his own rapid response on social media. In the old days, as my late friend Bob McElwaine, Hollywood publicist for Danny Kaye, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum and many other stars, told me, he job was to make sure nothing attributed to his Hollywood clients was authored by them. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Weinsteining Of Kevin Spacey

This latest boxcar on the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck contains an ethics quiz because I have such mixed feelings about it.

Yesterday, actor and former child performer Anthony Rapp told Buzzfeed that in 1986, when Kevin Spacey was 26,  Rapp was 14, and both were appearing in Broadway plays, Spacey invited Rapp over to his apartment for a party. At the end of the evening, Rapp says, Spacey picked Rapp up, put him on his bed, and climbed on top of him. Rapp says he managed to squirm away and locked himself in the bathroom. Eventually he left Spacey’s residence, and never had any further contact with him.

Rapp is now 46. He says that before talking to Buzzfeed, he never told anyone about the traumatic  experience. However, Spacey’s success in his career constantly reminded Rapp of the incident.  “My stomach churns,” Rapp said. “I still to this day can’t wrap my head around so many aspects of it. It’s just deeply confusing to me.”

Rapp said he felt obligated to finally tell his story in the wake of the new awareness of the sexual harassment and sexual abuse culture in  the entertainment industry, sparked by Harvey Weinstein’s fall.

“And not to simply air a grievance, but to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent. … I’m feeling really awake to the moment that we’re living in, and I’m hopeful that this can make a difference.”

Spacey immediately tweeted an apology, and more:

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is Rapp’s public accusation fair, responsible, and ethical?

Continue reading