How I Boarded The “Richard Jewell” Ethics Train Wreck

It is unusual to see an ethics train wreck continue to  roll along to the extent that it affects the movie about the ethics train wreck, but that was what happened with the Richard Jewell saga. Remember the definition of an ethics train wreck: an episode in which virtually everyone who becomes involved in it, however tangentially, becomes entangled in ethics mistakes and misconduct. The  “Richard Jewell” Ethics Train Wreck (or the Richard Jewell Ethics Train Wreck) even yanked me on board.

I’ve already written about the film, directed by Clint Eastwood and a 2019 holiday bomb (no pun intended). My focus then was on the single unethical feature of the screenplay, its unfair portrayal of the real-life Atlanta-Constitution reporter, the late Kathy Scruggs, who broke the FBI leak that the security guard who had become a national celebrity by detecting the deadly pipe bomb that had exploded at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics  was suspected of making the bomb himself. Though film reviewers usually register few rejections when films smear the deceased in pursuit of a more compelling narrative, “Richard Jewell’s” claim that Scruggs traded sex for the leak walked into the #MeToo buzzsaw, and on that basis alone, Clint’s movie was trashed  by reviewers and pundits alike.

Me Too, and I hadn’t seen it. I wrote in part,

I strongly doubt the average viewer passed on the film because it may have been unfair to a dead reporter. Who had the genius idea that releasing a film about the press’s abuse of a strange, sad, fat man played by an unknown actor would be a Christmas season hit? I had no interest in seeing the movie, and I’m an admirer of Eastwood and will cheer on any further proof of how rotten our journalism has become, but why pay to see the news media falsely try to destroy a security guard in 1996 when the same institution has been trying to destroy the President of the United States for three years?… So the news media was incompetent and vicious to Richard Jewell? That’s supposed to get me to the movie theater?

Nevertheless, let me be clear: I hate what the movie did to Kathy Scruggs, just as I detest it every time an individuals can’t defend themselves are lied about in a movie, misleading audiences and scarring their reputations….

Unless Eastwood had strong evidence that the reporter was trading sex for information, he should not have used her name. He owes the Scruggs family an apology, and I’m glad his movie is tanking.

Gee, the seats on the “Richard Jewell” Ethics Train Wreck are so comfy, and the fare on the snack car is excellent! Continue reading

Movie Flop Ethics, Part I: “Richard Jewell” And The Alleged ‘Female Reporter Trading Sex For Scoops’ Smear

The two big flops among movies that opened last weekend were director Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” and “Black Christmas,” the second attempt to re-boot the 1976 slasher cult film. Both disasters have ethics lessons to teach, or not teach. Let’s look at Clint’s movie first.

“Richard Jewell” made lass that $4.5 million in its first weekend, and has also been snubbed by the various year-end awards. It is based on the now mostly forgotten  story of how Jewell, initially hailed as a hero for his part in foiling the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing plot,  was falsely accused  of complicity by local law enforcement, the FBI, and the news media. Conservative outlets loved the film, but the other side of the divide focused on a subplot, as the film’s screenplay  suggested that a named Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter, now deceased,  used sex to persuade a source to break the story.  The Journal Constitution has been attacking the film, denying that Kathy Scruggs would ever used he body to get a scoop. Her colleagues, friends and  family all insist that she would not have slept with a source, and reporters around the country circled the metaphorical wagons to proclaim they were shocked–shocked!—that anyone would even suggest such a thing. Jeffrey Young, senior reporter for HuffPost tweeted,  “The lazy, offensive, shitty way screenwriters so often treat female journalists infuriates me. Depicting women using sex to get stories is disgusting and disrespectful. It’s also hacky as hell. I was planning to see this movie but not anymore.’ Melissa Gomez of the Los Angeles Times wrote,  “Hollywood has, for a long time, portrayed female journalists as sleeping with sources to do their job. It’s so deeply wrong, yet they continue to do it. Disappointing that they would apply this tired and sexist trope about Kathy Scruggs, a real reporter.’ Susan Fowler, an opinion editor at the New York Times tweeted “The whole “female journalist sleeps with a source for a scoop” trope doesn’t even make any sense…”

This would be damning, except that while it may not be standard practice, there are plenty of examples of female journalists doing exactly what Eastwood’s film suggests.  Last year the Times—yes, Susan Fowler’s paper—reported on the three-year affair between  Times reporter Ali Watkins and James Wolfe, senior aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a regular source for her stories. In October,  an employee of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency was arrested for leaking classified material to two reporters, and he was involved in a romantic relationship with one of them. Both reporters are still employed by their respective news organizations, the  Times and CNBC, so its hard to argue that sex-for-scoops is being strongly discouraged.

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An Ethics Movie Review: “The Mule”

I was not eager to see “The Mule,” for many reasons. Stories in which the protagonist is a drug dealer don’t interest me at all; I avoided “Breaking Bad” and “Weeds” for the same reason. The popular culture, especially Hollywood, played a major role in breaking down society’s consensus disapproval of recreational drug use, and I hope they are proud of all the harm they have caused, and the greater harm yet to come.

Then there is the fact that seeing Clint Eastwood looking like the Cryptkeeper (from HBO’s “Tales of the Crypt”) depresses me. I remember Clint from his “Rawhide” days, and seeing his ruined beauty makes me feel like I’m watching the villain rot at the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when he “chooses poorly,” but for real. I admired Cary Grant’s decision to stop making movies when he began to stop looking like Cary Grant, and Marlene Dietrich’s determination not to appear in public so that people would remember her as one of Hollywood’s great beauties, and not as an old lady.

But as often in the case, having limited options in a hotel made Eastwood’s latest directorial and performing effort the best of a bad group of entertainment choices. The film is based on the  true story of a ninety-year-old man (Clint isn’t quite that old, but he looks it)  who became a drug mule, transporting  cocaine for a  Mexican drug cartel. The film has an excellent supporting cast including Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Dianne Wiest and Andy Garcia. (who also looks like hell), though none of them have much to do except be props for Clint’s star turn.

To do as little spoiling as possible, I’ll just say that the story involves an aging—aged—narcissist who has neglected his family outrageously, falls into a lucrative gig transporting drugs because he loves to drive, has never had a ticket, and is unlikely to attract attention, and suddenly decides to make the needs of his family a priority over work for the first time in his life, getting him arrested and almost getting him killed.

Clint still has his screen presence and charm, which is fortunate, because the central character, Earl Stone, is a selfish jerk. His toxic personal habits don’t seem so bad when the victims are  drug smugglers, but when, early in the movie, he skips his daughter’s wedding without warning because he’d rather be at a sales convention partying with his colleagues, it is hard to care what happens to him.

We quickly learn that this betrayal was characteristic of Earl, and that he rationalizes them all, arguing that he was absent from his family to provide for them, and is blameless. It’s clearly a lie: his family bores him, and he does exactly what he wants to do, always. Sometimes he helps people and is randomly kind, as when we see him pause in one of his drug runs to help a couple stranded on the road. Other times, he doesn’t give a damn.

When a family argument breaks out as he attempts to attend his grand-daughter’s bridal shower, a guest overhears that Earl has lost his home and business (that’s really why he showed up at his granddaughter’s place, that and the fact that she was the only family member still on speaking terms with him) and gives him a phone number. These people will pay him well just for driving, Earl is told. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Gary Sinise

gary-sinise

“With all due respect, what the hell are you talking about?”

—Actor and Wounded Warrior ally Gary Senise, in an open letter responding to Howard Dean’s statement that the audience for “American Sniper” consisted of “angry people.”

Good question. What are the vicious and anti-military critics of Clint Eastwood’s box-office busting bio-pic about Navy Seal Chris Kyle talking about?

I saw the film yesterday. It’s not pro-war, pro-Iraq invasion, or political in any way. The various critics of the film out themselves as hateful and so biased against combat, the military and, I don’t know—life? Reality?—that they can’t even keep their minds open a crack for a thought-provoking piece of popular art. Dean had said, turning his review (I’ll bet anything that he hasn’t seen the film) into a gratuitous attack on tea party supporters:

“There’s a lot of anger in this country, and the people who go see this movie are people who are very angry. And this guy basically says ‘I’m going to fight on your side.’ … I bet you if you looked at a cross-section of the Tea Party and the people who go to see this movie, there’s a lot of intersection.”

In the same forum–his weekly HBO conservative-bashing fest–Bill Maher called Kyle a “psychopath patriot” (there is nothing whatsoever in the film that supports that diagnosis). Seth Rogen compared “American Sniper” to a Nazi propaganda film. Michael Moore used the film–which he couldn’t possibly have seen–to make the ridiculous observation that snipers were “cowards.” Kyle, the most effective sniper in U.S. military history, was wounded repeatedly and awarded two Silver Stars and five Bronze stars. For him to be smeared as a coward by the likes of Michael Moore is grotesque.

The film, among other things, shows just what kind of horror our service men and women endured in Iraq, how they suffered (and suffer still), what it did to them and their families, and accords them well-deserved compassion and respect. How sad, bitter and rotten inside someone must be to resent that. As I watched the film, it occurred to me that this was probably exactly what John Wayne wanted “The Green Berets” to be during Vietnam, but had neither the discipline to avoid agitprop and sentimentality, nor Clint’s directing skills to pull it off.

After expressing his disgust at Dean’s outburst in a tweet, the stage and screen star, whose foundation works to help and recognize the soldiers and veterans he calls our “defenders,” wrote,

To Howard Dean,

I saw American Sniper and would not consider myself to be an angry person. You certainly have a right to make stupid blanket statements, suggesting that all people who see this film are angry, but how is that helpful sir? Do you also suggest that everyone at Warner Brothers is angry because they released the film? That Clint Eastwood, Jason Hall, Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller and the rest of the cast and crew are angry because they made the film? Chris Kyle’s story deserved to be told. It tells a story of the stress that multiple deployments have on one military family, a family representative of thousands of military families. It helps to communicate the toll that the war on terror has taken on our defenders. Defenders and families who need our support. I will admit that perhaps somewhere among the masses of people who are going to see the film there may be a few that might have some anger or have been angry at some point in their lives, but, with all due respect, what the hell are you talking about?

My guess is that Dean is talking about his own estrangement from basic American values, its history, and its essential role in the world, including all the sacrifices, risks and difficult choices that role demands. He’s the angry one.

 

Empty Chair Vindication: Don’t Wait For An Apology, Clint, But You Deserve One

The media abuse heaped on movie icon Clint Eastwood for his unexpected performance at the Republican National Convention was one more link in the chain of blatant and unprofessional anti-Republican bias that will surely continue right up to election day.  Eastwood, you recall, memorably held a one-way dialogue with the President as the invisible occupant of an empty chair. The pundits and columnists didn’t like Eastwood taking on their hero, so they trashed his method of doing it; they were personally offended by his message (which competent, objective journalists, now as rare as Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, would be able to put aside to give fair commentary), so they insulted Clint: they called him old (naturally; if he were fat, they would call him that, too); they called him out his depth, they called him befuddled and inept. The fact was, however, that it was they who were out of their depth, and they, not Eastwood, who embarrassed themselves. Continue reading

“Law and Order, SVU” vs. O’Reilly: Was Bill Smeared?

Even if you can’t stand Bill O’Reilly, you have to admit that the Fox bloviator has an entertainingly thin skin. Are you a struggling TV talking head in need of a  ratings boost? Just take a shot, cheap or otherwise, at Battlin’ Bill, and he’ll double your audience by turning red-faced and calling you a slime. This time, O’Reilly is riled at Dick Wolf, the “Law and Order” producer, who recently had a character played by John Larroquette argue on “Law and Order, Special Victims Unit” that a man who killed the children of illegal immigrants had been primed by “Beck, Limbaugh, O’Reilly” who were like a “cancer spreading ignorance and hate.”  Continue reading