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

Don Lemon’s Ethics Foul Wasn’t “Insensitivity.”

I know, Don...it hurts.

I know, Don…it hurts.

[I am typing this in an airplane, sitting crunched in a bulkhead seat crushed between the wall and a 275 pound guy in the middle seat. If you thought my typos were bad before…”]

Between my logging off the blog to go to the airport and now, as I thought about what I would write about CNN anchor Don Lemon’s awful ethics alarm failure while questioning Joan Tarshis, one of Bill Cosby’s growing list of alleged victims,  Lemon apologized. That was fast, but I assumed the barrage of criticism heading his way would be furious, and it was. His apology was a non-apology apology, by the way, a classic “I’m sorry you misunderstood me” that, you should notice, didn’t include an apology to Tarshis.

I didn’t misunderstand him. Lemon wasn’t being insensitive; he is in the throes of cognitive dissonance, just like Whoopi Goldberg. Bill Cosby is someone he admires, and sexual assault is something he deplores. If Cosby is a sexual predator, then Lemon has to resolve his dissonance: he can either lower Cosby in his estimation, or elevate what his hero almost certainly did to all these women to the “not that bad” category. (The latter was the choice of most of Bill Clinton’s conflicted offenders, by the way. Lying about sex is normal! Other presidents cheated! It was consensual! Monica seduced him: he was a victim! It was personal conduct...etc.) Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Awarding An Accused Rapist The Heisman Trophy

jameis2Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was cool, collected and funny delivering the “Top Ten” on David Letterman last night, but to me, the hijinks seemed out of sync with reality, fairness and justice somehow.

The 19 year-old-Florida State University star quarterback became the youngest Heisman Trophy winner ever when he was named college football’s most outstanding player Saturday night in New York. He is also the youngest accused rapist to be awarded the Heisman.

That award  symbolizes football’s ongoing ethics problem. The pro game’s brutal, uber-macho and “the ends justify the means” culture that has players maiming each other as the crowd cheers and multiple felons on the field in most games has reached into the lower reaches of football, with both colleges and high schools breeding arrogant, entitled jerks who get special treatment through their pampered academic careers and too often emerge from from the football machine as polished sociopaths. The Penn State horror story was a symptom of this. Is Winston’s award another?

It hasn’t been featured in many of the exultant stories about the Heisman winner, but a year ago, on December 7, he was accused of rape by an FSU co-ed. Last week the prosecutors—just in time for the Heisman!—declared that they had not found enough evidence to convict him, which means that they did not have enough evidence to ethically prosecute him. The accuser’s attorney, Patricia Carroll, immediately condemned the decision and the  investigation that led to it, detailing multiple irregularities in the the handling of evidence and testimony. Writes Slate’s legal reporter Emily Bazelon: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: Ethics Blindness at Joe Pa’s Memorial Service

Paterno's inaction: bliviousness...or willful blindness?

In the ongoing debate among Joe Paterno sympathizers (and I don’t mean that pejoratively) and those who believe the late Penn State icon failed his ethical obligations miserably and deserved all the criticism he received, several interesting themes have arisen, including whether “obliviousness” is an excuse, whether critics are engaging in “wahlberging”–that is, claiming that they would have handled a difficult situation better when it costs them nothing to make the claim—and whether the Sandusky incident should be permitted to cloud Paterno’s legacy at Penn State, or should be over-shadowed by it. In this Comment of the Day, Proam covers these topics in response to a commenter who wrote, “Other posters who have tried to in any way justify Paterno’s actions/lack of action – GET REAL!”  Here is his comment, to the post, “Ethics Blindness at Joe Pa’s Memorial Service.” I’ll have some reactions at the end. Continue reading

Ethics Blindness at Joe Pa’s Memorial Service

At least Albert Speer didn't have a clear conscience.

I did not expect the speakers at Joe Paterno’s emotional memorial service to avoid stepping on  some of the myriad ethical landmines that lay before them. It was a time to say good things about the late Penn State coach, and there is plenty to say. Still, two speakers did cross deep into unethical territory. Even at a memorial service, when the lessons of the Jerry Sandusky affair are so important for all to learn and accept, it was poor judgment and irresponsible for those honoring Paterno to try to minimize or deny his accountability in the tragedy.

Unethical Statement #1: Nike Co-Founder and Chairman Phil Knight. “Whatever the details of the investigation are, this much is clear to me: There was a villain in this tragedy. It lies in the investigation, not in Joe Paterno’s response to it.”

This got a standing ovation, a reaction every bit as offensive as the Penn State student riots after Paterno’s firing, indeed more so. Knight’s rationalization excuses every Enron executive who knew that the leadership was defrauding investors; every Bernie Madoff family member and enriched investor who knew something was wrong but waited for the SEC to act; every member of the Nixon White House who saw the rule of law being trampled but reasoned that since he wasn’t directly involved, there was no reason to speak up; every member of Congress who knew that Rep. Mark Foley was sexually harassing House pages and kept quiet; and every priest who knew that a colleague was sexually molesting boys and did nothing, because the Church leadership was doing nothing. Knight’s defense of Joe Paterno is a defense of all of these, and indeed a defense of evil. Continue reading

The Ethical Firing That Never Happened: Penn State’s Blindness Continues

...and you still don't get it.

Penn State didn’t think that allowing a probable sexual predator to continue to abuse kids was a firing offense, and still doesn’t.

Incredibly, Joe Paterno is still receiving his full salary. He was not fired, as all newsmedia reported, and the University, having released a deceitful and carefully worded misleading announcement in November, allowed that falsehood to be circulated and believed, even as students were rioting on campus against Joe Pa’s “dismissal.”

“The Board of Trustees and Graham Spanier have decided that, effective immediately, Dr. Spanier is no longer president of the University,” the announcement had stated. “Additionally, the board determined that it is in the best interest of the University for Joe Paterno to no longer serve as head football coach, effective immediately.

But it never said that Paterno was fired. Now, finally, the University’s sick subterfuge is coming to light. Continue reading