Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/13/17: All Aboard The Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck!

Good Morning, Hollywood!

I’m sorry to bombard you with this ugly topic again first thing, but I’d like to stop having to think about it as soon as possible.

1 My sister, a committed Democrat who naturally prefers that damning stories about her favorite politicians go down the memory hole as soon as possible, complained yesterday that she didn’t understand why Harvey’s demise was such a long-running story. He’s a pig, we’ve seen it before, he’s fired, big deal, she protested. There are more important things going on.

There are undoubtedly more important things going on, but from an ethics perspective, the importance of the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck and who boards it (and who has been riding it for decades) is as significant and chock full of lessons as a story can get. The Penn State-Jerry Sandusky-Joe Paterno scandal was important for some of the same reasons. It exposed the tendency of organizations to become corrupted when non-ethical considerations, usually money, freeze the clappers on multiple ethics alarms. It showed how “virtuous” people with power and influence can betray their values, admirers and supporters in the pursuit of personal or organizational goals. It showed how even usually complacent and biased journalists will suddenly become responsible when the details are juicy enough…and how some won’t. The Sandusky saga also was one more clue to how inherently warped an entire industry’s culture—in that case, big time college football—was (and is).

The Weinstein Train Wreck is worse, however, and also more significant. Weinstein is typical—extreme, perhaps, but typical—of  a popular and glamorous industry that has abused power to debase and exploit women for a century. The trade-offs and incentives turned many of the abused women into accessories of future crimes against other women, while some women, too powerful to have to fear the consequences of doing the obviously right thing, chose to protect the community and the industry rather than human beings. That they, and complicit men in the industry as well, did this while spending the past six years making angry public speeches about the sexist and misogynist attitude of Republicans flagged the kind of hypocrisy that demands substantive consequences.

It also demands reform. Anyone who  thinks Hollywood is going to retire the casting couch because of one especially disgusting and prolific predator is kidding themselves. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination is rampant at every level of the performing arts, from high school theater up through Broadway, and on to Hollywood. I question whether that culture will ever change significantly. At least this episode might educate the public that if they take moral grandstanding from the likes of John Legend, Meryl Streep and Jimmy Kimmel seriously, they are asking to be betrayed and disillusioned.

And that doesn’t even reach the political hypocrisy exhibited by the Democratic Party and progressives, which embraced and celebrated a sexual predator from Hollywood because he gave them money, just as they have been giving a sexual predator from Arkansas the King’s Pass on similar conduct because he gave them power. As long as the only voices calling attention to this are from the Right,  count on progressives to ignore or minimize the issue. After all, conservatives and Republicans accepted the devil’s bargain in allying themselves with Roger Ailes. Still, the criticism of the party and predator enablers like Hillary Clinton needs to come from the Left to do any lasting good. So far there has been some criticism from that direction, but not nearly enough.

2. Weinstein’s contract with The Weinstein Company  included a clause that allowed  his sexual harassment as long as he paid the costs of settlements out of his own pocket, TMZ reported yesterday. So much for the sham posture that the company was shocked and disgusted at his conduct. Poor Donna Brazile, desperately trying to join the futile virtue signalling by hypocrites who have been cheering on Hillary and her husband for decades, tweeted her admiration for the TWC board thusly

…only to have to delete the tweet later. Did Donna really believe that the TWC board, including Harvey’s brother, didn’t know what Weinstein was doing? Is she that stupid?

3. A lot of contentious debate on this topic at Ethics Alarms has arisen regarding the complicity and obligations of various Hollywood actresses. There are different categories, and conflating them only leads to confusion. Here are the categories and subcategories:

A. The powerless victims of harassment These are the young, aspiring actresses who were propositioned or assaulted by Weinstein, and convinced, rightly or not, that they would never have a chance if they complained

These are the equivalents of Bill Cosby’s victims, who only came forward after their abuser was wounded and vulnerable.

A 1. Powerless victims who accepted cash settlements. This means that since other remedies were unavailable to them, they at least triggered some kind of punishment and compensation. This required, however, allowing future victims to go unwarned, since the pay-offs were accompanied by confidentiality agreements.

B. Victims who were not powerless, due to connections in the industry. I place actresses like Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow in this category.

C. Victims who, over time, became powerful, wealthy, popular and influential enough that they could have exposed Weinstein, if they chose, but didn’t.

C 1 Victims who received cash settlements when powerless but whose careers  progressed to the point that they could forfeit the cash and accept any legal consequences of breaking the contractual agreements.

D. Rape victims. Sexual harassment is a civil offense; rape is a crime. Many rapes can be substantiated by medical examinations, and rapists are dangerous. Accepting a cash settlement for not reporting one’s rape when the rape could have been substantiated—this is what Rose McGowan did—is a breach of multiple civic duties.

E. Women in the industry who became aware of Weinstein’s conduct and did nothing about it.

F. Women in the industry who became aware of Weinstein’s conduct,  did nothing about it, and continued to praise him in public.

G. Actresses who accepted Weinstein’s proffered bargain, and exchanged sexual favors for roles and contracts, turning what is laughably regarded a a meritocracy into sexual commerce. We don’t know who these women are, but it strains credulity to think there were none.

Of course, many male Hollywood figures also fall into categories E and F.

Categories C, EF and G are the most unethical categories. D is problematic as well.

4. Jane Fonda revealed to Christiane Amanpour that she is in category E. She “found out about Harvey about a year ago,” said the certified Hollywood royalty, outspoken feminist and progressive champion.  “I’m ashamed that I didn’t say anything right then,” Fonda said. 

Well, that’s nice. As long as she is ashamed.

We can proclaim our principles and values all our lives, but if we don’t act according to them when the lives of others are at stake, all of what went before is meaningless. How many women suffered at Weinstein’s hands after Jane knew? Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Judge John Boccabella

“[These defendants are] good people who made a terrible mistake…Why no one made a phone call to police is beyond me.”

—-Dauphin County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas Judge John Boccabella,  as he sentenced three former Pennsylvania State University officials, including  former university president  Graham B. Spanier, to jail terms last week for doing nothing after they were informed that told in 2001 that a former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, had been seen molesting a boy in a locker room shower. Sandusky was found guilty of subsequently molesting many other children.

Of course he’s good person—just look at the guy!

This is, of course, the last act of the Joe Paterno/Penn State/Jerry Sandusky tragedy, which burgeoned into an Ethics Train Wreck and occupied as much attention on Ethics Alarms as any other event in the blog’s history. You can review all of that here, if you have the interest or the time.

Right now I want to ponder the judge’s statement with a few questions and observations….

1. By what standard can the judge call this “a mistake’? This is like George Costanza in “Seinfeld” asking his boss if having sex on his desl with the office cleaning woman was wrong, as if the option posed a legitimate puzzle at the time he did it. Was it a mistake because Sandusky turned out to be a serial child predator rather than just trying it out that one time? Was it a mistake because for once the justice system held a university president and other administrators criminally responsible when they looked the other way to protect their precious institution while endangering innocent children? Did Spanier et al. make a “mistake” in calculating the odds? Was the  alleged “mistake” not understanding that “I saw Jerry a huge 50-year old man naked in a shower with a little boy” meant that something was amiss? Do you really believe that was how these men were thinking? Did the judge?

2. Why does the judge say these were good people? Because they had responsible, prestigious jobs? Because people trusted them? Because they are white, or wealthy, or have no criminal records? There are millions of prison inmats who have done less damage than Spanier, Peterno and the rest. Are the good too? Better than the Penn State enablers?

3. It your ethics alarm fails when it is most essential that it ring like crazy, what good is it?

_______________________

Sources: Washington Post, New York Times

Penn State Trustee Al Lord Says He’s Running Out Of Patience With Jerry Sandusky’s “So-Called Victims”

Do you still wonder how and why beloved Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and his superiors contrived ignorance while child predator Jerry Sandusky was using their facilities to trap his defenseless young prey? If so, you have a definitive answer in the recent statement of Penn State trustee Albert L. Lord, in an e-mail  to The Chronicle of Higher Education. that he’s..

“Running out of sympathy for 35 yr old, so-called victims with 7 digit net worth. Do not understand why they were so prominent in trial. As you learned, Graham Spanier never knew Sandusky abused anyone.”

Spanier is the dismissed Penn State president who was convicted of one count of child endangerment last week for his handling—non-handling, really— of complaints about Sandusky. The verdict was correct: Spanier, like Coach Paterno, intentionally failed to investigate repeated claims that Sandusky was molesting young boys on campus, because he didn’t want to know if the allegations were true, That would have endangered Penn State’s beloved football program, which meant more to him, and obviously Paterno, than crime, truth, education, or harm to innocent children. Spanier probably was certain the Penn State board would endorse his priorities. Based on Lord’s jaw-dropping message, it still might.

Some of the victims of Sandusky, Penn State, and the tactical apathy of Paterno and Spanier  have “seven figures” because Penn State is estimated to have paid out about $93 million to more than thirty Sandusky victims over twenty years. Lord—a moron— seems to think they got the benefit of the bargain. After all, what’s a little sexual molesting when you’re ten? Hell, he’d take a little diddling for three million bucks! Who wouldn’t? Go Nittany Lions! Continue reading

The NCAA Withdraws Its Unethical Sanctions On Penn State

Paterno  Statue

To clear our palates of the nasty aftertaste from the welter of Ethics Train Wrecks crashing though our skulls of late, I thought it might be calming to note the latest settling of the wreckage from one of the worst ETW’s of them all: the Jerry Sandusky-Joe Paterno-Penn State Express.

Yesterday, the NCAA prematurely lifted its remaining sanctions on Penn State, deceptively declaring a victory and retreating because its sanctions were about to be declared illegal. I’m not going to write as much as I normally would about this, because I’d like to send you here, to Glenn Logan’s blog A Sea of Blue, where he covers the matter superbly. Glenn is a longtime visitor at eEthics Alarms, but his own blog keeps him too busy to comment as often as he once did. Not only is he ethically astute and a fine writer, he also is one of the rare bloggers who engages his commenters on a regular basis, a practice I obviously endorse.

When the NCAA decided to ignore its charter and the limits of its powers to slap Penn State with draconian punishment for conduct that had less to do with college athletics and more to do with the ability of a role model’s ability to corrupt a culture, I called it a capitulation to the mob, and wrote… Continue reading

Hypocrites of the Year: The NCAA

Emmert: “Never again will the NCAA be blamed for the results of the culture we encourage and support. We hope.” (Or words to that effect.)

What’s wrong with the NCAA’s epic sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky pederasty scandal? I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and I’ve concluded that the answer is “Just about everything.”

Most of the focus of the media and pundits have been on the “punishing the innocent” complaint. As a general rule, I detest aversion to punishing the innocent as a justification for inadequately punishing the guilty or otherwise avoiding necessary steps to address problems; it’s a rationalization for encouraging unethical, exploitive, illegal and even deadly conduct. This toxic rationale has caused incalculable harm across the globe; it currently abets illegal immigration, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and the international crimes of dictators. The United States, within our lifetimes, may drive itself into financial collapse by adopting the theory that it is unfair and unethical to “punish” the expectant beneficiaries of entitlements that the nation can no longer afford by reducing  benefits, or by taxing wealthy citizens who opposed the profligate spending in the first place. As Ethics Bob writes in his post about the Penn State sanctions,

“Accountability for wrongdoing often brings down the innocent along with the guilty. Think about the workers at Enron, Arthur Anderson, or MCI-Worldcom, who lost their jobs when their bosses’ malfeasance destroyed their companies… there is no way of punishing the guilty without harming people close to, or dependent on them. Even a mass murderer–when he is sent away his mother suffers along with him. When Al Qaeda militants are killed, their family members often die with them.”

Bob isn’t making an invalid “everybody does it,” argument, but a practical, “that’s the way the world works” argument.  If we believe in accountability, we have to accept the fact that the innocent will often be collateral damage. It isn’t fair, but this is utilitarianism at its most persuasive. Allowing wrongdoers to  prosper is ethically worse.

If the NCAA sanctions against Penn State were otherwise appropriate, I wouldn’t have a problem with the collateral damage. They aren’t appropriate, however. The sanctions are unethical. Continue reading

The Ethical Fate For Joe Paterno’s Statue

In the wake of the Freeh Report’s revelations regarding the extent of the late Joe Paterno’s involvement in allowing Jerry Sandusky’s child molesting appetites to be sated with Penn State’s  assistance, many are calling for the campus statue honoring the now-disgraced coach to be removed.

I am generally opposed to removing memorials and honors to historical figures according to the popular verdicts of the day, for several reasons. The main one is that every individual who ever achieved something worthy of such honor also was guilty of misconduct that someone could convincingly argue outweighs it on moral or ethical grounds. New facts are uncovered, cultural values shift, and over time, no revered figure is safe from deconstruction. The reverse is also inevitable: if a life can be judged unworthy of honor, subsequent generations may well disagree. The verdict of a community, a culture and an era should be given due weight and respect;  a statue, memorial or monument not only recognizes an individual but also represents the judgment of our predecessors. Leave their judgments alone, and if we disagree with them, try to make ours better. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Joe Paterno

“This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one.”

The late Joe Paterno, legendary Penn State football coach, in a previously unreleased and unpublished column he wrote in the wake of the  Joe Sandusky child abuse scandal, in which he played a major role. The internal Penn State investigation into the university’s handling of the episode was released today.

Denial

In denial to the end, Paterno never understood how he, and football, contributed to the culture that allowed Sandusky to prey on young boys with the passive assistance of Joe and the school he loved.

Of course the scandal was about football. It was about how reliance on football to the exclusion of all other priorities and values warped an academic culture. It was about the danger of elevating a football coach to such status and power that his tunnel-vision could infect an entire college campus. It was about how the grotesquely exaggerated importance, popularity, visibility, and financial profitability of a football program can elevate those responsible for its success to a degree where they become unaccountable, and able to exploit their power for private and possibly criminal motives. Continue reading

The Penn State-Sandusky Disgrace: Time For Paterno Worshippers To Face Facts

Amity’s Mayor Larry Vaughn, a.k.a Joe Paterno

Yesterday CNN revealed that e-mails uncovered in Penn State’s internal investigation of the Jerry Sandusky scandal show that beloved, ever-so-ethical Jo Pa appears to have stopped the university from reporting the child-molesting ex-coach to authorities. The e-mail trail seems to show, the New York Times reported, that the university’s president, Graham B. Spanier; the athletic director, Tim Curley, and the official in charge of the campus police, Gary Schultz, were ready to report Sandusky in the wake of assistant football coach Mike McQueery’s eye-witness account of seeing Sandusky molesting a child in the showers.  Curley then wrote the group that talks with Paterno had persuaded him that it would be more “humane” to confront Sandusky, bar him from bringing his young victims on campus, and  urge him to get professional help. This, of course, freed Sandusky for a decade more of  child sexual predation, with the kids foundation he had founded serving as his hunting grounds.

Humane indeed. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Jerry Sandusky

“Joe preached toughness, hard word and clean competition. Most of all, he had the courage to practice what he preached. Nobody will be able to take away the memories we all shared of a great man…”

My advice, Jerry? Skip the funeral.

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on the passing of Joe Paterno, whose failure to take the necessary steps to prevent Sandusky from sexually molesting young boys (<cough!> allegedly) on and off the Penn State campus scarred the iconic coach’s legacy, not to mention setting up children for a (<cough!> allegedly!) sexual predator’s smorgasbord.

This might be the creepiest tribute in the history of mankind. Why did any reporter ask Sandusky for a statement in the wake of his former boss’s sad end? Who cares what Sandusky thinks about Paterno’s legacy, which Sandusky played a pivotal role in ruining? Continue reading

Ethics Blindness in the Media: ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard Keep a Child Predator on the Prowl

I know it is difficult keeping up with all the sports child molestation stories. This isn’t the Penn State football program scandal, where university officials carefully looked the other way while football coaching legend Jerry Sandusky apparently was using the campus to trap and abuse kids. This isn’t the Bill Conlin scandal, in which the sports writer just accorded the highest honor from his peers has also been accused of sexually molesting children. The topic is the Syracuse University basketball scandal, where once again an alleged molester was allowed to escape detection and prosecution for years, this time because of a perverted concept of journalistic ethics.

In 2002, ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard were given an audiotape on which the wife of Bernie Fine, the Syracuse University assistant basketball coach now accused of serial sex abuse, told one of the alleged victims of molestation that she knew “everything that went on” with her husband’s crimes. Both the paper and the network decided not to run stories based on the tape and the victim’s claims, and never sent it to law enforcement authorities.

They kept the tape in the files, until the step-brother of Bobby Davis, the former ball boy who made the initial recording, came forward to accuse Fine of molesting him, too. Then the tape was released, and Syracuse University fired Fine the day it aired.

The question: why didn’t the Post-Standard or ESPN give the tape to the police? How many children were molested because they didn’t? Continue reading