2017 Oscar Ethics Post Mortem

There were more ethics-related events and issues at the last night’s Academy Awards than usual, and that’s an understatement;

1. Jimmy Kimmel, the Oscars’ designated Johnny Carson this time around, automatically gave the ceremonies the stench of ethics blindness by his very presence. Kimmel, as this site has documented, delights in provoking parents to be cruel to their young children so he can present YouTube videos of the kids’ despair for his audience’s amusement. Kimmel, of course, being bereft of shame or decency, was the perfect choice to execute the Academy’s second most important mission of the night, which was insulting the President of the United States in an international broadcast. He did not fail his dark masters. One well-publicized “quip”:

“Maybe this is not a popular thing to say, but I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? That’s gone, thanks to him.”

Actually, the Oscars are racist, or at least racially biased, as we shall see, and there is proof. I’d like Jimmy to show me the evidence that the President is racist, however, other than the “resistance” talking points he gets in his e-mail.

2. More Kimmel: in a typical Kimmel “human beings are just props to me!” bit, he arranged for a group of unsuspecting tourists to be taken on a Hollywood bus tour that ended up at the Oscars.  The group was escorted through the back doors of the Kodak Theater with no idea what was in store, as  Kimmel had the house lights turned down. When the tourists—Awww, ordinary slobs! Look, Meryl! The little people!”—opened the doors to the stage, the lights came up and all the stars shouted, “Mahershala!” The tourists’ shocked, ope mouthed expression were broadcast live to the world, as their Hollywood betters laughed.

This is called exploitation, and using unconsenting human beings as a means to an end.  Jimmy thinks its funny. Kant didn’t. I think it’s sometimes funny, and always unethical. Candid Camera asked for written consent before broadcasting its victims’ amusing reactions to gags like this.

3. Mel Gibson, justly nominated for his direction of “Hacksaw Ridge,” which also was nominated as Best Picture, sat up front. The Daily Beast tweeted “For Shame!” when the film won a statuette for editing, which it deserved. Let’s see: the theory is that the talented film editor should be snubbed for his work because Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite?  Yes, that’s the theory. The Beast’s Amy Zimmerman wrote a pre-Oscar hate piece on Gibson, which really and truly contained these two sentences:

Hacksaw  tells the story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who enlisted as a battlefield medic during World War II. Of course, any drama that Gibson directs pales in comparison to his own behind-the-scenes odyssey: the story of an odious individual who, after years on the outskirts of Hollywood, has somehow managed to fight his way back into the mainstream.

That’s right: Amy Zimmerman thinks that the story of a religious man who volunteered to serve as a combat medic despite refusing to carry a rifle and who saved 76 wounded soldiers by dragging them to safety under enemy fire by lowering them, one by one,  on a rope device he improvised on the spot, thus winning the Medal of Honor, pales in comparison to Mel Gibson’s PR problems.

Have some damn respect for those who did risked their lives incredible things so hacks like you can write garbage like that and be paid for it, you stupid, stupid fool. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus Desmond Doss, And “Hacksaw Ridge,”

desmond-doss

Desmond Doss, who died on March 23, 2006 at the age of 87,  was the very first hero to be enshrined in the Ethics Alarms Hall of Heroes. I wrote about him before there was an Ethics Alarms, shortly after he died.  I had never heard of Doss before, and I remember being angry that I had never heard of him. Everyone should know about him. There literally are no Americans who were any more heroic, and whose ethical conduct was any more astounding, than Desmond Doss.

If the values of this nation, and especially Hollywood, were healthy and correctly aligned, he would be a household name, and the film about his World War II heroism would have been made long ago. Finally “Hacksaw Ridge” was produced in 2016, and has been nominated for an Academy Award, although it will never win.

When I first read about Doss, I couldn’t get my mind around what he had done to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only conscientious objector ever to achieve that honor during combat. During the battle of Okinawa, we were told that he survived heavy enemy fire as he struggled to carry seventy-five wounded soldiers to the sheer cliff at Hacksaw Ridge, personally picking up each one and lowering them over the edge the cliff 400 feet to safety.   How is that possible? Now that I’ve seen the film, it still seems impossible.

Desmond Doss proved that principled opposition to violence against his fellow human beings need  not be based on fear, self-interest or self-preservation. It is often impossible to tell whether those who oppose armed combat really object to the spilling of all human blood in battle, or only their own. With Desmond Doss, there was never any doubt. He didn’t like the term “conscientious objector,” preferring the term “conscientious cooperator.” He enlisted in the army following Pearl Harbor, believing that the war against the Axis had to be fought and wanted to be part of the war effort despite believing, as a devout a Seventh Day Adventist, that it was a sin to kill, with no exceptions. Thus he refused to carry a rifle (or shoot one, even in training) but yet insisted that he be involved in combat as a battlefield medic. He achieved conscientious objector status  but would hot accept a deferment. Assigned to the 307th Infantry Division as a company medic, Doss was hazed, abused and  ridiculed  for his dedication to non-violence, and as the Mel Gibson-directed film shows, many of his tormentors eventually owed their lives to his astonishing heroism. All of his compatriots were amazed by his evident fearlessness under fire and remarkable dedication to duty, never hesitating to go after a wounded soldier no matter what the personal risk. As a combat medic on Guam and at Leyte in the Philippines, Doss had already been awarded the Bronze Star  before the three-day battle at Hacksaw Ridge.

Many of the soldiers in Doss’s 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division were driven off the ridge by a furious Japanese counter-attack, and  wounded G.I.s were stranded atop it. Doss remained with the wounded, and, according to his Medal of Honor citation refused to seek cover, carrying them, one by one, to the edge of the ridge in the face of enemy fire, some of them from behind enemy lines. He lowered each man on a rope-supported litter he improvised on the spot, using double bowline knots he had learned as a youngster and tying the makeshift litter to a tree stump to serve as an anchor. Every wounded man was lowered to a safe spot 35 feet below the ridge top by the 145 pound medic. Finally, Doss came down the ridge himself, incredibly, unharmed. Continue reading

The Ultimate Pazuzu At TNT Academy

pazuzzu

Frequent readers here will be familiar with the Pazuzu Excuse. Pazuzu was the demon that made Linda Blair say such awful things in “The Exorcist”—he also made her head swivel around 180 degrees. Pazuzu is the presumptive miscreant whenever someone tried to beg forgiveness for a particularly vile, and often career-threatening remark by arguing that the statement “didn’t reflect my true beliefs,” as if someone else had suddenly grabbed the controls. Michael Richards (“Kramer” on “Seinfeld”) was, therefore, mystified about why he suddenly started screaming “Nigger!” at a stand-up comedy performance. Mel Gibson swore that all the anti-Semitic slurs he uttered on a fateful night were of mysterious origin, since he isn’t the kind of guy who would act like that. (Later events proved this to be mistaken.) There are many examples from the famous, momentarily famous and not famous at all.

The Full Pazuzu is reached when someone implies that what was said or written suggests a different identity. Sony executive Amy Pascal, to cite a recent example, explained her hacked e-mails (which really weren’t that bad) by writing,

“The content of my emails were insensitive and inappropriate but are not an accurate reflection of who I am…”

Whoever or whatever those e-mails were an accurate reflection of, they fired him/her/it.

Now, however, by way of Stone Mountain, Georgia, comes a rare Ultimate Pazuzu, where the individual under fire really blamed the devil. [NOTE: Pazuzu isn’t the devil, but he works for him, so under the principle of agency, it’s a distinction without a difference.] Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it. So, if we’re all going to be outraged…Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing with the Stars.”‘

—Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in an essay pointing out some of  hypocrisies and excesses in the reactions to the Donald Sterling saga.

"Gotcha! He's screwed now...but he's a racist scumbag, so it's perfectly OK."

“Gotcha! He’s screwed now…but he’s a racist scumbag, so it’s perfectly OK.”

Good for Kareem. I was just about to make this point myself, and preparing to be pilloried for making excuses for a racist. Kareem is a lot bigger than I am, and I’m happy to stand behind him.

I watched two African-American lawyers on CNN today erupt in over-the-top outrage that has become the norm in the “finger-wagging Olympics” that Abdul-Jabbar decries in the rest of his article. One of the lawyers called Sterling’s remarks defamatory—“defamatory?” Sterling didn’t say a word that was negative about blacks; he just said he didn’t want his girl friend taking photos with them. His comments constitute smoking gun proof of racial bias, sure, but they aren’t “defamatory.” The other lawyer called them “the most vile, disgusting...” on and on and on, comments that he had ever heard.  Really? I doubt that. You know, once you award the prize to Sterling’s racist comments, you have no more superlatives left  for really horrible racist remarks. The two sportswriters, Christine Brennan and Bill Rhoden, who preceded my commentary on NPR today, did the same thing. It was a contest over who could express the most outrage.

It is a small surprise, then, in this hyper-charged atmosphere, that the conduct of V. Stiviano is getting an ethics pass, as if betrayal doesn’t matter as long as the betrayed party is despicable, and what she did was justified because she exposed a racist to the world. It’s not justified. The ends don’t justify the means, when the means are betrayal and mean-spirited vengeance, and when the methods used threaten to become a social norm, turning American homes and bedrooms into Stalinesque trap where no secret is safe. We’ve seen this practice before and I’ve condemned it before: the Harvard Law student turned into a campus pariah by a jealous rival circulating a private e-mail to the people most likely to be offended by it; Alec Baldwin’s daughter releasing private communications with her intemperate father to harm his reputation; Mel Gibson’s girlfriend doing the same; e-mail jokes being intercepted and sent to political enemies as a tool of personal destruction; clumsy suitors having their fumbles turned into national ridicule by the objects of their affection. Continue reading

Loathsome Jerk Bites Dumb Gold-digger

Fly, meet Spider...

Fly, meet Spider…

I was going to make this an Ethics Quiz, but in part because I find Howard Stern so repugnant that I am incapable of not assigning blame to him, and mostly I am certain that the fact someone consents to do something self-destructive and stupid does not excuse the party who intentionally tempts her with an invitation, I am making this call myself.

Radio’s premiere shock jock, knowing full well that spurned Mel Gibson mistress Oksana Grigorieva would forfeit the remaining $375,000 of her settlement with the actor if she talked publicly about their relationship, invited her on his show. Then, using gentle questioning and seductive tones, Stern got the woman to say just enough violate the settlement terms, which were subsequently declared void by a judge. From TMZ: Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Robert Downey, Jr.

Superhero on the outside, Ethics Hero on the inside.

Show business Ethics Heroes are about as rare as credible presidential candidates; after all, Hollywood is one of two environments where the ethical culture is even more warped and cynical than Washington, D.C. (The other: the Columbia drug cartels.) Yet a genuine Ethics Hero emerged at the 25th annual American Cinematheque Award gala, when honoree Robert Downey, Jr., now a major star and industry power player, threw his prestige and influence behind a genuine industry pariah, Mel Gibson, in an act of kindness, gratitude, and reciprocity.

After Downey accepted his award before a cheering crowd of important performers and artists, he unexpectedly devoted his moment in the spotlight to recall how Mel Gibson, when Downey’s career had been devastated by habitual substance abuse and Gibson was a megastar, constantly supported him, encouraged him and refused to give up on him, though the Hollywood community had. The “Iron Man” star explained how Gibson, in 2003, gave Downey a starring role in “The Singing Detective,”  which had been developed for Gibson himself, because nobody else would give the troubled actor another chance.  Gibson even paid the insurance premiums for Downey, because the studio would not accept the risk of hiring him, given his history of drug addiction and legal problems. All  Mel asked in return, Downey recalled, was that Downey resolve to help out the next actor who had hit bottom and had no friends in the Town Without Pity. Continue reading

Headline Deceit, the N-Word, and Dr. Laura

Curse you, Gawker, for making me defend Laura Schlesinger!

Radio talk show host/advisor/scold Laura Schlesinger, a.k.a. “Dr. Laura,” has a target on her back for liberal sharpshooters, thanks to her persistent demonization of gays and her advocacy of female subjugation in marriage. Outside of those two areas (“And aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”), Schlesinger’s ethical instincts are usually sound, and her advice to troubled callers is usually good. But she has a lot of enemies, and proof of that is today’s eye-catching headline on the gossip website Gawker, which can fairly be described as “ethics-free.”

The headline:

Dr. Laura Apologizes for Shocking, N-Word Filled Radio Rant Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Round-Up: Cynical Fines, Drunk Norwegians, Lazy Newsmen and Pitiful Ballplayers

Here are some ethics issues to ponder from the recent news and around the Web:

  • Who says it pays to be ethical? The astounding insistence, under oath, by Goldman Sachs executives that they had done nothing wrong in selling admittedly “crummy” investment products to clients while using the company’s own money to bet that the same products would fail will not be sufficiently punished or contradicted by the S.E.C.’s cynical cash settlement of its suit against the firm. For a $500 million penalty, Goldman Sachs is off the hook for the equivalent of four days’ income, as the Obama Administration claims to the unsophisticated public (“Isn’t $500 million a lot of money?”) that it is “getting tough” with Wall Street. The fact is that Goldman Sachs’ unethical maneuvers paid off handsomely, and nothing has happened that will discourage it from finding loopholes in another set of regulations and making another killing while deceiving investors legally and, by the Bizarro World ethics of the investment world, “ethically.” You can read a perceptive analysis here. Continue reading

Pop Ethics Quiz! Who’s More Unethical: Mel or Oksana?

Actor/director Mel Gibson has been in a series of nasty public and private battles with Oksana Grigorieva, whom he is currently fighting in court for custody of their love-child. As part of her assault on his fitness as a father, Grigorieva secretly taped one of their emotional arguments and released it to the tabloid media. On the tape, Gibson calls her a number of names that aren’t in a gentleman’s vocabulary, but the pièce de résistance is this charming sentiment:

You look like a fucking pig in heat and if you get raped by a pack of niggers it will be your fault.”

Your question is: Which is more unethical? Mel’s ugly words or Oksana’s taping and releasing them?

[Pause for “Jeopardy” music…] Continue reading

Helen Thomas, Bias, and the Demon Pazuzu

Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with superannuated newswoman Helen Thomas believing that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Germany and Poland. An if she believes it, there is nothing wrong with her saying so, as she did to a questioning rabbi. It’s good to know. Since we now know her biases on the matter, we can better assess her credibility when she writes about Middle East politics.  As Joe Gandleman writes on “The Moderate Voice:

“Just saying “Go back to where you come from” is the same as the misguided, empty-headed Americans who shout “Go back to Africa” to blacks or “Go back to Mexico” to American born Latinos when they know they are American born Latinos. It shows her so hopelessly biased and lacking realistic perspective that stories written by her beg to be skipped over…. on the Middle East story, how can anyone think that when she asks questions she is seeking information to flesh out a story (unless it was a special on airfares so Jews can fly out of Israel)?”

As I said: good to know. What is wrong and dishonest, however, is Thomas’s “apology” after it began to sink in that her candidly expressed and crude bias could be a career-ender. So, emulating that eminent anti-Semite, Mel Gibson, Helen released this: Continue reading