Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 7/27/19: Updates And News!

Saturday morning came!!

At points yesterday I was beginning to have doubts…

1. A win’s a win, and right is right, but the ACLU outs itself again.  In the wake of the SCOTUS 5-4 decision to let stand the executive order reallocating funds for a wall to address the national emergency at the border and allow construction to commence, the ACLU flagged its own bias (though it is supposed to be non-partisan) by referring to the wall in a statement as “xenophobic.”

Its lawsuit was based on alleged environmental harm risked by the wall’s construction, but the use of that word, a deliberately dishonest characterization that can only mean an endorsement of open borders , proves that the lawsuit is a sham, using environmental concerns to mask a pro-illegal immigration agenda, which most of the public opposes….as they should.

Merits of the wall aside, the game Democrats are playing with this issue, calling for undefined “comprehensive immigration reform” while opposing enforcement and refusing to recognize a genuine emergency to keep the President from a political victory, is electoral suicide. (Yet most of the field of Democratic challengers have endorsed decriminalization of border breaching, which is like an invitation to invade. Madness. Even Hispanic-Americans oppose this.)

A blind pig can find a truffle or two, and on this existential issue, the President has law, history, sovereignty, the national interest and common sense on his side.

2.  A clueless harasser gets a second chance.   Neil deGrasse Tyson, the pop-culture astrophysicist who leads the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, has been cleared to continue in his job  after the museum competed  an investigation into three sexual misconduct accusations against him. Continue reading

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

Ethics Observations On Actress Emma Thompson’s Resignation Letter

British acting grande dame Emma Thompson dropped out of the voice cast of Skydance Animation’s upcoming film “Luck.” The reason was  ex-Pixar creative force John Lasseter being hired to lead animation at David Ellison’s studio; Ethics Alarms wrote about his new job here. A quote from that post…

The hire, Time’s Up added in a statement, “endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.”

Got it. Women, at least these women, want to see men ruined, shunned and reduced to living by crowdfunding and begging on the street if possible, without the certainly of due process and regardless of circumstances. How does someone like Lasseter show “true remorse”? They get to decide. What work do they have to do to reform their behavior? That’s the activists’ call too, I suppose. Meanwhile, absent a trial, what is restitution? If the women involved have a lawsuit, let them bring it. What is the cost of an unwanted workplace hug?

Thompson’s reps released her letter on last week, first published in the Los Angeles Times, that Thompson had sent to Skydance management. Here it is:

As you know, I have pulled out of the production of “Luck” — to be directed by the very wonderful Alessandro Carloni. It feels very odd to me that you and your company would consider hiring someone with Mr. Lasseter’s pattern of misconduct given the present climate in which people with the kind of power that you have can reasonably be expected to step up to the plate.

I realise that the situation — involving as it does many human beings — is complicated. However these are the questions I would like to ask:

If a man has been touching women inappropriately for decades, why would a woman want to work for him if the only reason he’s not touching them inappropriately now is that it says in his contract that he must behave “professionally”?

If a man has made women at his companies feel undervalued and disrespected for decades, why should the women at his new company think that any respect he shows them is anything other than an act that he’s required to perform by his coach, his therapist and his employment agreement? The message seems to be, “I am learning to feel respect for women so please be patient while I work on it. It’s not easy.”

Much has been said about giving John Lasseter a “second chance.” But he is presumably being paid millions of dollars to receive that second chance. How much money are the employees at Skydance being paid to GIVE him that second chance?

If John Lasseter started his own company, then every employee would have been given the opportunity to choose whether or not to give him a second chance. But any Skydance employees who don’t want to give him a second chance have to stay and be uncomfortable or lose their jobs. Shouldn’t it be John Lasseter who has to lose HIS job if the employees don’t want to give him a second chance?

Skydance has revealed that no women received settlements from Pixar or Disney as a result of being harassed by John Lasseter. But given all the abuse that’s been heaped on women who have come forward to make accusations against powerful men, do we really think that no settlements means that there was no harassment or no hostile work environment? Are we supposed to feel comforted that women who feel that their careers were derailed by working for Lasseter DIDN’T receive money?

I hope these queries make the level of my discomfort understandable. I regret having to step away because I love Alessandro so much and think he is an incredibly creative director. But I can only do what feels right during these difficult times of transition and collective consciousness raising.

I am well aware that centuries of entitlement to women’s bodies whether they like it or not is not going to change overnight. Or in a year. But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out — like me — do not take this sort of a stand then things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter’s generation.

Yours most sincerely,

Emma Thompson

Observations: Continue reading

The John Lasseter #MeToo Conundrum

What is the appropriate treatment for a leader, executive or artist who has been dismissed, disgraced, and exiled because of credible or proven instances of workplace sexual misconduct?

John Lasseter, the genius Pixar co-founder who was forced to resign from the Walt Disney Company in June after complaints that he engaged in unwanted “grabbing, kissing, and making comments about physical attributes” suddenly raises the question, because he is all of these, and now is one of the first men facing ruin in the #MeToo era to find a new position as impressive and lucrative—seven figures—as his old one.

David Ellison,  “Mission: Impossible” producer and founder of Skydance Media, a newish production company affiliated with Paramount Pictures, announced this week that Lasseter would become Skydance’s head of  animation and will start this month. “John is a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated,” Mr. Ellison said in a statement. “We look forward to John bringing all of his creative talents, his experience managing large franchises, his renewed understanding of the responsibilities of leadership and his exuberance to Skydance.”

BUT, he  continued: “We did not enter into this decision lightly. John has acknowledged and apologized for his mistakes and, during the past year away from the workplace, has endeavored to address and reform them.”

On his own behalf, Lasseter, who was the moving creative force behind multiple Pixar classics like “Toy Story” as well as Disney’s “Frozen,” said that he that he had engaged in “deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made many colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for.” He added that he planned to build Skydance Animation in the same way he built Pixar, but with renewed dedication to the need for “safety, trust and mutual respect.”

Good enough? No, #MeToo is not pleased. Time’s Up, the #MeToo-spawned political group founded by Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes among others, protested in response to the announcement that offering a high-profile position to an abuser who has yet to show true remorse, work to reform their behavior and provide restitution to those harmed is condoning abuse.” The hire, Time’s Up added in a statement, “endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.”

Got it. Women, at least these women, want to see men ruined, shunned and reduced to living by crowdfunding and begging on the street if possible, without the certainly of due process and regardless of circumstances. How does someone like Lasseter show “true remorse”? They get to decide. What work do they have to do to reform their behavior? That’s the activists’ call too, I suppose. Meanwhile, absent a trial, what is restitution? If the women involved have a lawsuit, let them bring it. What is the cost of an unwanted workplace hug? Continue reading

One More Reason Not To Watch “Bull”

Harassed and harasser. Guess who stayed employed?

“Bull,” the CBS legal drama starring Michael Weatherly as a roguish, brilliant jury consultant who violates so many ethics rules on behalf of the submissive lawyer who employs him that it actively makes viewers dumber, reached my boycott list almost immediately. It’s a shame, because I could get a lively post, sometimes several, out of virtually any episode, since the show’s respect for ethics, professional and otherwise is non-existent.

Now there’s another good reason to avoid “Bull.” CBS has investigators checking the depth and length of the cultural norms of sexual assault, harassment and cover-ups at CBS, where CEO Les Moonves was recently fired after it was revealed that he was a serial sexual predator. That was odd, too, because the other networks enjoyed painting Fox News as a den of sexism after founder Roger Aisles was exposed as exactly the sort of pig who would make his female talent dye their hair blonde and dress like cocktail hostesses. They also had their news reporters sneering and preaching about evil Candidate Trump boasting about “grabbing them by the pussy” while their execs and stars were actually doing it. (My guess? Every one of the major networks has corrupt, harassment-supporting cultures like Fox and CBS. Every single one.) One of the revelations was that actress Eliza Dushku, the bad vampire slayer on “Buffy,” was harassed repeatedly by “Bull” star Michael Weatherly, and when she complained about it, was fired. To cover-up, Dushku was paid nine million dollars as damages and hush money. As you know, this must have been a campaign financing violation.

The story is disgusting. Read it and retch. to summarize, Weatherly, who apparently is very much like the charming jerks he plays, pet making sexual comments to Dushku, calling her “Legs” on the set, suggesting that she participate in “threesomes” and similar comments. Soon other men on the show were doing the same. Dushku, who had been signed up play a continuing role on the show, complained—as she should have—and Weatherly had her fired. Then CBS paid to cover it up.

Nice.

It is amazing to me that even in the ethics cesspool of show business, this behavior continues to happen, and big corporations continue to allow it, indeed facilitate it. Weatherly says he was misunderstood, that he was joking—like when he said in front of the cast and crew that he would bend her over his leg and spank her, or when he said he would take . Dushku to his “rape van,” which he said was filled with phallic objects and lubricant—that this is just the way he is, that he didn’t mean anything by it and is sorry that he upset anybody.

Bull.

This is classic sexual harassment, and would have been rude, unprofessional and abusive conduct before the term “sexual harassment” was invented.

I have had many female peers and subordinates in my embarrassingly diverse career, including many who were single, attractive, and who caused my heart to skip a beat every time I saw them. I never once made a sexually suggestive comment to any of them; it would not have occurred to me to do so. The reason is that I was raised properly to be respectful to women, and because I instinctively understood that the workplace, even the confusing workplace of show business, was not a locus where basic manners and common sense were suspended. This shouldn’t be hard. That particular ethics alarm should be installed and fully functional by the time a child is 10.

Weatherly, of course, as the star of a successful, popular and lucrative show, assumed that he was immune from discipline, and he was, sadly, right. What should have happened was that the producers should have called him in to grim scene with lawyers present. He should have been told that his conduct was not only stupid and vulgar but illegal. He should have been required to apologize to the actress and to make an appropriate statement to the cast and crew. Finally, he should have been told that a single instance of this kind of conduct, or any hint or retaliation against Dushku, would result in his dismissal for cause.

Disney and ABC, you will recall, fired Roseanne Barr from her own show for a single tweet. Even a CBS show had acted decisively when “Criminal Minds” fired star Thomas Gibson for kicking a writer. Ah, but one instance was racism, and the other was violence. The tragedy is that too many organizations and powerful men, especially in Hollywood and Washington, D.C., still don’t see sexual harassment as all that big a deal. No, it certainly doesn’t help the the President of the United States also doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but you can’t blame CBS’s conduct on him.

There is no excuse for this. There was never any excuse for this.

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/8/18: “Unconscionable, Despicable, And Indefensible”

Good morning!

1. The Hader Gotcha strikes again. Let me be clear: this is unconscionable, despicable, and indefensible. (Aside: Do you like that trio? In “Perry Mason,” the lawyers always objected that a question was “incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial,” because it sounded nifty. I’ve never heard that objection made in a real trial, or read it in a transcript.) To remind you all, during the baseball season, beginning with young All-Star pitcher Josh Hader, multiple baseball players were embarrassed when someone with ill intent searched their old Twitter feeds to search for tweets that could be deemed racially offensive, hostile to gays, or disrespectful of women. I dubbed this miserable practice as “The Hader Gotcha.“All of the players had to grovel apologies to their team mates and the public, as “woke” sportswriters condemned them and lobbied for MLB to punish them for impulsive social media comments made before they could vote, before they were celebrities, and when their followers consisted of fourteen or so pimply-faced jerks. The same basic principle was employed to smear Brett Kavanaugh, the unfair and factually false preemption that conduct and attitudes displayed by minors indicate what their character is in adulthood.

Well, I guess it’s nice to know that not only whites, baseball players and conservatives are victims of this crap. Mere hours after winning the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s outstanding college football player, Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray had to apologize today for anti-gay tweets he made in 2011-12 , when he was 14 and 15 years old.

In case you are keeping score, because I am, the culprits here are an irresponsible, vicious news media, totalitarian-leaning leftists who want to police thoughts and intimidate the public into ideological conformity, and social media lynch mobs.

2. Sure, Donald Trump is the fear-monger. The increasingly hysterical and hyped warnings and soothsaying by various climate change-promoting bodies are either causing over-sensitive, scientifically ignorant and gullible members of the public to descend into despair, or members  of the news media are deliberately trying to cause fear and panic—at least based on the broadcast lament of MSNBC’s Katie Tur. The anchor told her audience that life was meaningless without a mass effort to combat the horrors of the warming planet. Discussing a New Yorker article on the topic, she said,

“I read that New Yorker article today and I thought gosh, how pointless is my life, and how pointless are the decisions that I make on a day-to-day basis when we are not focused on climate change every day, when it’s not leading every one of our newscasts?”

Unconscionable, despicable, and indefensible? No, just irresponsible, unprofessional, and stupid. And they wonder why so many people can’t take these hysterics seriously…

3. And the winner is…Plan K? Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy thinks that the sentencing statement on Michael Cohen means that the President is very likely to be indicted on a charge of violating federal campaign finance laws  by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who has openly been pursuing a “get Trump” campaign. The theory would be election law violations in the pay-offs to Stormy Daniels, even though paying off a kiss-and -tell threat is usually legal, and even though election law violations are typically handled with fines, not indictments. McCarthy writes,

When it was discovered that Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was guilty of violations involving nearly $2 million – an amount that dwarfs the $280,000 in Cohen’s case – the Obama Justice Department decided not to prosecute. Instead, the matter was quietly disposed of by a $375,000 fine by the Federal Election Commission.

Yes, but Obama’s Justice Department’s mission was to run interference for the President, and there was not an ongoing effort to find some way to undo a presidential election. Continue reading

Analysis: Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s #MeToo Accusations And His Response

Oh, great…the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck is still making stops and picking up passengers. This time the target is Neil deGrasse Tyson who someone, actually several somones, decided was a powerful man too full of himself who needed to be taken down a peg or sixty, and thus he has been accused–Democratic Senators would say “credibly” accused—of two episodes of sexual harassment and one rape. This is no trivial matter for Tyson, whose carefully constructed image as the new Carl Sagan is now in real danger. So is his job, his celebrity, his reputation and perhaps his marriage.

The three accusations belong in two boxes. The two sexual harassment claims may bolster each other, for harassing is an attitude, a habit, and a form of ethics blindness. Real harassers never do it just once. Rape is something else entirely, and, obviously, far more serious, since it is a crime.

Let’s examine each of the accusations, and Tyson’s defense, which he issued in a long Facebook post over the weekend.

Accusation #1:

Workplace Harassment: Hostile work environment and Unwanted sexual advances (2018)

Ashley Watson, who began a job as Dr. Tyson’s assistant on “Cosmos” in the spring, told an interviewer that on one occasion he asked if she would like to come to his home to share a bottle of wine and “unwind for a couple of hours.” She agreed to come in for one glass, she said, believing that they were going to talk about work and her future assignments.

Once in the astronomer’s apartment, she said, he told her that “as human beings, we all need release,” and asked if there were any “releases” she needed.  (Oh-oh!) As she began to leave a while later,  and he asked if she would let her show her  a Native American handshake.” This required clasping their hands together , finding the pulse on the other person’s wrist, and looking into each other’s eyes. (Super Oh-oh, and also “You’ve got to be kidding me.”) She says that it made her uncomfortable, and she broke it off after about 10 seconds.

As she was again trying to leave, she says Dyson commented, “I want you to know that I want to hug you so bad right now, but I know that if I do I’ll just want more.”

Then, the next day, he told her, “You say you want to be a producer, but it’s always going to be an uphill battle for you because you’re too distracting.”

She says told a supervisor ,a line producer,about what had happened, and that she was quitting.. The supervisor, asked Watson if she wanted to file a complaint. She said no. The supervisor suggested she tell her co-workers that she was leaving because of a family emergency, which she did.

Comment: If accurately described, this is slam dunk sexual harassment. The apartment visit is an extension of the workplace. If it is a veiled “date,” Tyson has crossed a line because he is the woman’s supervisor with hiring and firing power. She cannot consent meaningfully. The release comment, depending on the delivery and context, is creepy and plausibly sexual in intent, unless he also said, “Me? I like to watch baseball. How about you?” The “Native American handshake” sounds like a nifty version of the old “shoulder rub.” Now there has been touching, and forced eye-gazing. Ew. The last comment at the apartment  is also a sexual advance, especially in context with the rest.

Tyson’s Explanation: Not good. In his Facebook post,  Tyson described the handshake as one he uses “in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships.” He said that at work, Ms. Watson freely offered hugs, which he typically rejected, but that on a few occasions, he “clumsily declared, ‘If I hug you I might just want more.’”

“My intent was to express restrained but genuine affection,” he wrote.

He also wrote that . Watson had come into his office after the incident in his apartment and told him she had been “creeped out.” He said he had “apologized profusely” and that she had accepted the apology.

Comment: Tyson’s defense is essentially “I didn’t mean anything by it, she construed it the wrong way, and anyway, she accepted my apology.” Those are three excuses, none of which carries any weight in sexual harassment cases. It’s what the harasser did, and how the harassed felt about it that matter. His apology and her acceptance of it, even if true, do not and cannot undo the event. The encounter and his words  made her uncomfortable working with him, and objectively, anyone can see why. It is also interesting that Tyson doesn’t deny the “release” conversation, or his later comment about her being a distraction.

Since Watson had to leave her job, this episode could justify a lawsuit for sexual harassment.

Accusation #2: Sexual assault (2009)

Continue reading