Ethics Dunce: The Studio Theater, Washington, D.C.

The Studio’s Mead Theatre in D.C. was about to open “FBI Lovebirds: UnderCovers,” with Dean Cain and Kristy Swanson (once Superman and the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer respectively) as disgraced FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The dialogue came straight from the pair’s texts, which, as we all know, revealed both their romantic (and unethical) affair while strongly suggesting “deep state” plans to prevent Donald Trump’s rise to the Presidency

The team behind the project, Unreported Story Society, had rented out the Mead, one of the spaces in D.C.’s very rich and very successful—and very liberal, like most theaters—Studio Theatre.  Yesterday, however, the production announced in an email alert that Studio  has canceled its contract to host the performance. Here is Studio’s statement:

“Studio Theatre has cancelled its contract with third-party rental client Unreported Story Society. Media reports have made us aware of undisclosed details about the event and have generated open and violent threats against the theater and event participants. Studio has an institutional responsibility to consider the safety of our staff, patrons, community, event organizers and attendees. These concerns must be paramount.”

Right. I don’t buy  the explanation, I don’t believe it, and I don’t respect it.

Those “undisclosed details” were that the same conservative activists behind the anti-abortion documentary “Gosnell,” which was screened at the White House, were behind the production. “FBI Lovebirds: Undercovers,” was to be directed by Phelim McAleer, a conservative artist who has co-written and produced  political films about abortion, fracking and environmentalism with his wife, Ann McElhinney.

“We are going to show the mainstream media and Hollywood that they can no longer push the Russia collusion hoax and force them to acknowledge how the Deep State, DC Swamp tried to destroy the Trump candidacy and presidency,” reads the crowdfunding page named after “Unreported Story Society,” the production company that McAleer set up to mount the show.

Once the Studio became aware that the play would be anti-“resistance” and pro-Trump, although it apparently is fact, not fiction since the dialogue is entirely from the actual texts, it became unpalatable. I assume that Studio got complaints from its board, donors and overwhelmingly Democratic subscribers because the play had a conservative tilt.

Can’t have that!

If there were, in fact, real threats made (personally, this sounds to my ear like a cover story to avoid saying that the play was cancelled once the Studio found out that Unreported Story Society were actually a cadre of evil Trump supporters), then that means the threats came from the Left, just like threats keep conservative views from being aired on so many college campuses. If theaters are going to bow to the heckler’s veto and efforts at content censorship via threats, then free expression as well as art is endangered.

I do not believe that if this was a progressive-agenda friendly production, like, say, the NYC “Julius Caesar” production that depicted the staged and bloody assassination of a Trump clone, the Studio would have been so eager to cave., but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Studio is just run by weenies—there are a lot of them in the theater world, and courage is not in abundant supply. In ethical theater, you do what you have to to protect the production, but you make sure the show, any show, goes on.

If this were the late American Century Theater, I would have insisted as artistic director on the show going up, threats or not.  Anyone who knows me knows that’s true. Our theater also produced—and I directed— works from all ends of the political spectrum, including socialist agitprop. If theater won’t stand up for its controversial and politically unpopular works, then it will devolve into “The Lion King,” Shakespeare revivals and fluff.

Come to think of t, that’s pretty much where live theater is now.

Saturday Ethics Notables. 5/18/2019: More Social Media Partisan Censorship, A-Rod’s Potty And Ian’s Potty Mouth…

Why, I asked, on such a beautiful May day, am I inside writing about ethics? And my wife turned into Hymen Roth…

1. PLEASE stop making me defend Alex Rodriguez, who is one of my least favorite human beings, never mind former athletes, on the planet, and yet…this is a strict Golden Rule issue. The ex-Yankees (also Texas and Seattle) slugger  was photographed sitting on his toilet in his luxury apartment’s bathroom. The shot was apparently taken by a rogue photographer in a high rise office building next to the apartment building where A-Rod shares a  $17.5 million apartment with Jennifer Lopez, whose movies are now beneath those of Adam Sandler and Tom Arnold on my playlist.

Legal precedent in New York suggests than  Rodriquez has no case, because in 2015, an appeals court ruled that a gallery show of images snapped through less famous New Yorkers’ windows by an “artist” was not a privacy violation. (I wrote about that photographer here; perhaps the title gives you a sense of where I came out on my analysis: “Why Photographer Arne Svensen Is An Unethical Creep”]

Fine, I see the legal point. If you don’t want people taking photos of you, then keep your window blinds down. However,just because you can do something crappy to another human being doesn’t make it right.

Even if it’s a crappy human being. Continue reading

Oh, Fine: I Knew Wikipedia Was Untrustworthy, And Now I Find Out It’s Partisan Too….

If the mainstream media, social media, and the most accessed encyclopedia won’t tell the truth without trying to manipulate it, what chance do we have?

Yesterday I again tip-toed into the realm of government lawyer ethics for a CLE seminar. As I did last week, I attempted to mention the most important government lawyer issues raised by the events of the past year without triggering partisan zealots and the anti-Trump deranged. I also noted that being a partisan zealot or anti-Trump deranged qualifies as a potential conflict of interest for a government lawyer, interfering with his or her ability to be objective, independent, competent, loyal and zealous. I did not say, but could have, as proven by Sally Yates. I know from past experience that this particular—100% accurate—observation is inviting a fight.

However, I did feel it necessary to discuss Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department official who is at the center of several Mueller investigation controversies. I am not yet prepared to weigh in on Orr, except to note this, as I did yesterday: The fact that Ohr served as the Justice Department contact for Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent commissioned to author the dubious Trump–Russia dossier that was used as the primary justification for the FISA warrants permitting surveillance of the Trump campaign, while Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that prepared the dossier under a contract with the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign (but I repeat myself), was a blatant conflict of interest, and arguably (and I’ll argue it) an unwaivable one. It also violates the ethics requirement that all government employees must follow to avoid the appearance of impropriety. (Pretty much the entire Mueller investigation has breached that. )

In the course of trying to confirm the basic facts of Ohr’s conduct, I consulted Wikipedia. Where else do you go these days for a dispassionate up-to-date recitation of facts without spin? Not  the New York Times. Not Fox News. As Frankie Pentangeli says to Michael Corleone, “Your father did business with Hyman Roth; your father respected Hyman Roth; but your father never trusted Hyman Roth.” That pretty much describes my relationship to Wikipedia. I don’t trust it. I frequently find errors in entries; I know people who have Wikipedia pages who are about as deserving of them, or less, than my Jack Russell Terrier; and I have never forgotten how my father spend hours correcting a wildly inaccurate Wikipedia article about a World War II battle that he was deeply involved in and wrote about in his book only to have his work rejected because Wikipedia does not accept, it said, “first hand accounts.” Wikipedia is a classic example of an imperfect resource that is both essential and hopelessly flawed by its very nature. Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Month: David French

“For more than a year, I’ve been challenging conservative readers to look at Trump’s actions and imagine how they’d react if Democrats were behaving the same way — to apply the same standards to their team that they’d apply to their opponents. Now, I want to challenge my progressive readers: Consider how you would respond to the federal bureaucracy with the opposite ideological imbalance. Would you have confidence that it would apply the law and Constitution fairly? Would you be alarmed if you found that a senior FBI agent so biased and reckless was playing a key role in the investigation of a Democratic president?”

——National Review writer David French, in his article, “Peter Strzok’s story will hurt public trust in the federal government at the worst possible time.”

The Strzok story, an embarrassment to the Special Counsel’s inquiry, is just one more that the mainstream media has, in sequence, tried to ignore, spin, bury, and brush off as a “conservative” obsession.  French is a credentialed “Never-Trumper,”{ but he knows an appearance of impropriety, poor oversight and conflicts of interest when he sees them:

…Robert Mueller had months ago asked a senior FBI agent to step down from his role investigating the Trump administration. [He] was caught in an extramarital affair with an FBI lawyer. The affair itself was problematic, but so was the fact that the two were found to have exchanged anti-Trump, pro-Hillary Clinton text messages….

…This agent, Peter Strzok, also worked with FBI director James Comey on the Clinton email investigation. In fact, he was so deeply involved in the Clinton investigation that he is said to have interviewed Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, and to have been present when the FBI interviewed Clinton. According to CNN, he was part of the team responsible for altering the FBI’s conclusion that Clinton was “grossly negligent” in handling classified emails (a finding that could have triggered criminal liability) to “extremely careless” — a determination that allowed her to escape prosecution entirely. After the Clinton investigation concluded, Strzok signed the documents opening the investigation into Russian election interference and actually helped interview former national-security adviser Michael Flynn. In other words, it looks like a low-integrity, reckless, biased bureaucrat has played an important role in two of the most important and politically charged criminal investigations of the new century. Yes, it’s good that Mueller removed Strzok when he discovered the text messages. No, Strzok is not solely responsible for the conclusions reached in either investigation. But his mere presence hurts public confidence in the FBI, and it does so in a way that further illustrates a persistent and enduring national problem: America’s permanent bureaucracy is unacceptably partisan.

…It is to Robert Mueller’s credit that he took swift action against Strzok. It’s a problem that, as the Wall Street Journal observes, he “kept this information from House investigators.” For a critical mass of the public to have confidence in Mueller’s investigation, it must be as transparent and accountable as humanly possible. A proper investigation into Russian interference in our election is vital to the health of our democracy. A biased and opaque probe, however, will do far more harm than good.

French is bending over backwards to be fair, but he goes so far he may snap. Mueller must know his team, and he must understand, or one would think he would, that if he finds anything that justifies action against the President of the United States, it is essential that there be no hint of bias or partisan conflicts. How could he allow someone like this to play a key role in his investigation? The Wall Street Journal asked,quite reasonably,

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is emphasizing its ejection of FBI agent Peter Strzok immediately upon learning about anti-Trump texts he exchanged with another FBI employee, Lisa Page, before the 2016 election. But when did the FBI learn of the messages? …[W]hen did the FBI dig up and turn over that very first tranche? How long has the bureau known one of its lead investigators was exhibiting such bias? Was it before Mr. Mueller was even appointed? Did FBI leaders sit by as the special counsel tapped Mr. Strzok? In any case, we know from the letter that the inspector general informed both Messrs. Rosenstein and Mueller of the texts on July 27, and that both men hid that explosive information from Congress for four months. The Justice Department, pleading secrecy, defied subpoenas that would have produced the texts. It refused to make Mr. Strzok available for an interview. It didn’t do all this out of fear of hurting national security, obviously. It did it to save itself and the FBI from embarrassment.

Yet when the President made some derogatory tweets about the FBI, the news media as one treated it as if he were committing blasphemy. The tweet, as usual, were foolish and unprofessional. Trump was wrong to send them, as usual, but I don’t see how anyone can argue that the substance of what he wrote is wrong. Continue reading

From The “I Told You So Files”: First They Came For General Lee…[UPDATED]

UPDATE: Because the first two news sources I had were in error, I originally posted that the event described occurred this week. It did not: it occurred in October of last year.

Just a few hours ago, I was explaining to a usually wise and rational commenter why her willingness to allow periodic purges of statues and memorials honoring those individuals who past members of our society determined were worthy of continuing honor. The figure in question was Robert E. Lee, not one of my personal favorites, but a generally recognized military genius and easily a man whose life and accomplishments included several justifications for permanent memorials. My favorite: Lee personally vetoed the Confederacy’s fallback plan of taking the war to a guerilla stage, extending the conflict indefinitely. It might well have worked, but Lee refused. I’ll happily grant him some perpetual statuary for that. But the self-righteously intolerant practitioners of presentism want Lee cast as a an irredeemable villain, and his statues toppled.  There are many reasons why this kind of self-imposed cultural amnesia is offensive, harmful and stupid, but in my exchange with that usually wise and rational commenter, I focused on the slippery slope, writing,

You cannot articulate what the stop is on that slippery slope that doesn’t end with blowing up Mount Rushmore.

Imagine my surprise, not to be proven right, for that occurs often, but to be proven right so quickly by a news report I just read concerning a protest  by more than 200 political correctness  maniacs inside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Their goal: take down the statue of former of Theodore Roosevelt—historian, author, scholar, orator,  political philosopher, war hero, patriot, cowboy, explorer, public servant, the father of conservationism, the creator of the National Parks system, President and one of progressivism’s founding pioneers—and, of course, one of the Mount Rushmore Four. The protest’s organizers, NYC Stands with Standing Rock and Decolonize This Place, called the statue of the former New York City police commissioner and former New York governor  a “stark embodiment of the white supremacy that Roosevelt himself espoused and promoted,” adding in a statement that “The statue is seen as an affront to all who pass it on entering the museum, but especially to African and Native Americans.” The protesters carried signs that read “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” “DECOLONIZE THIS MUSEUM,” and “ABOLISH WHITE SUPREMACY.”

Of course they did.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/12/17

Good morning, all!

1. I can’t keep writing the same post repeatedly as the politically correct, the historical censors, the Soviet-style Left and the gallactically stupid continue to tear down statues and eliminate honors to significant Americans who are predecessors deemed worthy.  Just hunt for the “airbrushing history” tag here and you’ll find too many already. We should note, however, how the cognitive dissonance scale is coming into play to the benefit of the unethical airbrushers.

In Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, this weekend will witness thousands of white nationalists and neo-Nazis demonstrating to protest a plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee  from a city park, because, Lee’s sub-21, infinitely wise undergrads insist, erasing Lee from history will undo the legacy of racism, or something. Of course, for the Racist Right to be the ones protesting makes this position look reasonable. White supremacists organizing the protests unjustly associates Lee with their cause, making his statue mean something it never did, and attaching him to  cause that was not his. The protests against tearing down Lee’s statue–UVA’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, will be next on the non-person list, or close to it—should be coming from historians, scholars, liberals, believers in fairness, nuance, and integrity, and those who are literate enough to understand that the life of Robert E. Lee has much to teach every child and American about loyalty, hubris, hard choices, tragic choices, hypocrisy, courage and more. Why aren’t they protesting? Two reasons, now: they don’t want to be shoulder to shoulder with the scum of the earth, and they are too timid to stand up for crucial ethical principles, unlike the censors of Charlottesville, who don’t understand them, and the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, who don’t have them.

2. And speaking of historical airbrushing and censorship: Last year, I designated the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C as an Ethics Dunce for omitting the second African American SCOTUS justice, Clarence Thomas from mention while devoting an exhibit to his unsubstantiated accuser, Anita Hill.  Now the museum has announced plans to honor Jim Vance.

Come on, you all know who Jim Vance is, don’t you? (D.C. area residents: shut up!) Jim Vance, who transformed America for blacks? Give up? Vance was a long-time popular local D.C. television news broadcaster, with a nice screen presence and a casual delivery.  He just died, and he was black. The museum’s founding director, Lonnie Bunch, said the broadcaster “symbolized that it was really important that America was changing and his presence was a symbol of that change.” Right, sort of….although Vance was hardly the first or the most prominent black newscaster in D.C. Clarence Thomas, however, was the first conservative black justice…which is, of course, why is being shown such disrespect by the “Nation’s Attic.”

I haven’t visited the huge, striking new museum on the mall yet, and I won’t until its shows signs of being am objective chronicler of history rather than a tool of interest group propaganda. Continue reading

About Fox News’ Fake Judge

In a post on the Legal Ethics Forum, not as active as it once was but still one of the best legal ethics sites around, Legal ethicist and law professor Steve Lubet clarifies something I have always wondered about, and like a lazy slug, never investigated.

Fox News contributor Andrew Napolitano, most recently in the news for claiming that the British intelligence service GCHQ  colluded with President Obama to conduct surveillance on the Trump staff during the 2016 campaign, is always called “Judge Napolitano” during his appearances.  Lubet points out that he’s not a judge any more. Napolitano once served on the New Jersey Superior Court, but resigned in 1995 and has not held judicial office for more than two decades. It is apparently at Napolotano’s insistence that he is always addressed  as “Judge”  in Fox. His website, JudgeNap.com, refers to him as “Judge Napolitano” throughout, as does his bio on the Fox News site.

Lubet notes that The American Bar Association has held that  the use of  judicial titles by former judges practicing law is misleading and unethicalin connection with law practice.  ABA Formal Opinion 95-391 says that continued “use of the title is misleading because it may be misunderstood by the public as suggesting some type of special influence” or “to create an unjustified expectation.” In fact, said the ABA, “there appears to be no reason for such use of the title other than to create such an expectation.” Of course, Napolitano isn’t practicing law when he bloviates on Fox News, so it isn’t a Rules violation, but the Judge label is still misleading

The Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, Lubet found,  goes further by decreeing that it is only ethical for a former judge to use the titles  “Judge” or “The Honorable” if they are preceded by the word “retired” or “former,” and the rule does not limit this caveat to ex-judges actively practicing law. Again, Napolitano is not out of compliance, because he is not subject to the Ohio Rules. That doesn’t make what he calls himself strictly accurate, or sufficiently accurate. (I confess, I have had a bias against such things ever since I suffered through a year with an insufferable  high school history teacher who called himself (and insisted that we call him)  “Dr. Arthur” because he had a PhD in history.) Continue reading