The Damning Ethics Bombshell In “The Crown”

The Netflix series The Crown, which had its 4th season debut over the weekend, is a terrific historical soap-opera featuring some superb acting by its regulars and walk-ons. It is also historical fiction involving living people, notably Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and other members of Great Britain’s royal family. This is an ethically problematic area that Ethics Alarms has delved into before. There are legitimate ethical objections to a work of fiction misrepresenting the actions of any historical figure to that individual’s detriment and damage to his or her reputation. The ethical breach is worse when the fictional version of reality involves those who are still alive, and worse still, at least in the eyes of many Brits, when the dubious narratives put into vivid dramatic form involve the current head of state. This is an issue in part because such works of artistic license are too often accepted as fact by viewers who are too lazy to check Google, Wikipedia, or a history book.

“The Crown’s” scriptwriter, Peter Morgan, has said, “Sometimes you have to forsake accuracy, but you must never forsake truth,” whatever that means. The four seasons of his series have made sensational use of some genuinely disturbing chapters of British royal history that the monarchy would like to forget—this infamous cover-up of a Communist spy in Buckingham Palace is particularly stunning— but Morgan has also been justly criticized for making up events out of gossamer and parallel universe annals.

In the current season, for example, a lot of time is devoted to a rift between Prince Charles and Lord Mountbatten that Morgan admits never happened. The problem is that when complete fantasy is mixed in with real events, public understanding of what is fact and what is fiction becomes blurred. (See “Titanic” and “JFK”)

This may allow the Royals to wiggle out of the implications of the astounding scandal revealed in one of Season 4’s episodes, “The Hereditary Principle.” Some of the details are fudged—the horrible truth was not, as far as we know, uncovered by Princess Margaret (played by Helena Bonham Carter)—but it is true that five of her and Queen Elizabeth’s cousins were secretly committed to a mental hospital in 1941 and declared dead.

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“You Have No Enemies” By Charles Mackay (1814-1889)

Let’s start the week with some poetic inspiration.

The excellent Netflix series “The Crown” launched its fourth season yesterday, with Scully herself, Gillian Anderson, delivering a brilliant portrayal of “the Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher. At one point, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman) warns the Prime Minister that she is making enemies, and she responds by reciting from memory this poem, which I had never heard or read before.

You Have No Enemies

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

Mackay is not well-known in the U.S., and he was a marginal literary figure in England. But in 2019, a confidante of Thatcher’s revealed that she turned to the writings of Mackay for solace and inspiration, particularly “Enemies,” which she kept in her scrapbook.

I’d describe the poem as a simpler, more direct predecessor of Theodore’s Roosevelt’s famous “The Man in the Arena” speech. (Teddy did go on.) Mackay’s poem has the advantage of being suitable for children, who need to be taught, as do almost all of our current politicians, that popularity isn’t everything.

Sunday Ethics Review, 12/I/50: Birthday/Finding Dad Dead In His Chair Anniversary Edition

[Yesterday I was just about to post the following when I felt a recurrence of the dizziness that sent me to the floor on Thanksgiving,  This sent me to the emergency room, where I spent  the second worst birthday of my life. I just got home, now just about 24 hours later, after three blood tests, about ten stroke tests, lots of other tests and quizzes, four doctors and a miserable night, culminating in the conclusion that whatever this was, it wasn’t related to my heart or circulation. 54% of fainting incidents, I learned remain mysteries. Swell.]

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Hi.

Ten years ago today, I went over to my parent’s condo to check on my dad, since my mother, then recovering from knee surgery, was concerned that she hadn’t heard from him. Jack A. Marshall Sr. was also going to take me out for dinner, since it was my birthday, but that pleasure was not to be. He had died, quietly during a nap, a few months short of his 90th year. I miss my father’s inspiration, guidance and unflagging support constantly, and December first has been a matter of serious dissonance for me ever since. I did take comfort, while everyone was telling me that I was a fool not to go to the emergency room after my fainting episode on Thanksgiving, that the odds of anyone dropping dead not only on the anniversary of his father’s death, but also on his own birthday, seems extremely remote. Kind of cool, though.

I took my birthday off of my Facebook page because those reflex happy birthday messages—I send them myself—are meaningless and  faintly obligatory. Two years ago I received almost 200 of them, then last year I got the message when the number fell by about two-thirds. I had made it clear by then that I was rebelling against the Facebook Borg aka “the resistance,” and so I had been told that I did NOT deserve a happy birthday. Fine. Bite me.

1 “The Crown” Ethics. A. The Pretend Sister-in-Law Of The King’s Pass! While waiting to see if I was going to pass out again, I began watching Season 3 of Netflix’s “The Crown.” Like the first two seasons, the series is uniformly excellent and largely accurate, but I am annoyed at Helena Bonham Carter’s turn as the middle-aged Princess Margaret. Carter is an excellent actress as well as one of the biggest stars the series has featured, but to be blunt, she’s too fat to play Margaret, who at that point in her life was  still vain winning the battle against middle-aged spread (at 5’1, it could not have been easy.) For a production that mostly aims for near perfect look-alike casting (young Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Phillip are especially uncanny), why would the producers allow Carter to appear on screen like this? Mostly, I’m annoyed at her: actors gain and lose weight all the time for roles, and a mere 10-15 pounds would have made Carter a credible and flattering Margaret. She could have hit the gym and laid off the kidney pie; obviously the actress didn’t care, and the producer and director let her get away with it, because she’s a star. Yet all the lines about how glamorous Margaret is make no sense as a result. Carter’s a beautiful woman, but she’s a mighty frumpy Princess Margaret.

B. A perfect future episode for Season 4, or maybe 5, is going on right now.  Prince Andrew, the younger brother of Prince Charles, has long been mentioned a party pal of billionaire sex-slaver Jeffrey Epstein, and thanks to a car crash  of a BBC interview in which he couldn’t have seemed more guilty and less remorseful, the Duke of York is reportedly being removed from all royal duties and may have his allowance cut off, meaning that his two princess daughters will no longer be supported by taxpayers, among other nasty consequences. Charleshas ordered a crisis meeting with his scandal-scarred brother before Monday night’s dreaded BBC special with key accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who accuses Andrew of raping her while she was under Epstein’s control.

The news media has been ostentatiously uninterested in Prince Andrew’s travails, in marked contrast to its coverage of the various Charles-Diana scandals in days of yore. One reason, I think, is that Epstein’s OTHER celebrity playmate was Bill Clinton, and it will be hard to expose one without drawing attention to the other. After all, the objective now is to get Trump, not remind the public about Bill (or Harvey.) Media bias is exhibited as much by what isn’t reported as by what is. Continue reading

Sunset Ethics, 4/5/2018: Sinclair, Opening Day Ethics, “The Crown” Ethics, And Fake News, Of Course.

Did everyone have a nice day?

1.  On the Sinclair broadcasting controversy. I was completely unaware of this, and Sinclair itself, until a couple of jerks accused me of cribbing my criticism of mainstream media bias from the company’s supposedly outrageous public statement. For the record, I don’t appeal to authority, and I make my own arguments. If other entities or pundits happen to reach the same conclusions, that’s to their credit. Go accuse them of following me. When a particular position stated by someone else strikes me as persuasive, I’ll credit the source.

Here is the script that Sinclair required the news anchors of its many local stations across the country. To save time, I’ll interject in BOLD

“Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…

(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that XXXX News produces.

(A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.

True. There is no denying this, and while the left-wing news media denies it as part of refusing to reform and do its job objectively and responsibly, the fact that the entity correctly framing the reality of U.S. journalism today is a conservative one does not alter the truth. Any news organization could have, and should have, sponsored the same statement.

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.

This is also undeniable. The truth hurts. Tough.

(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

Completely accurate. It is terribly dangerous, and for a recent egregious example, look no further than the coverage of the anti-gun movement following the Parkland shooting.

(B) At XXXX it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

If Sinclair means this, good. And that is the standard it should be held to going forward.

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to XXXX News.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

How can anyone object to this?

(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.

(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback”

Since the statement is non-partisan, accurate, much-needed and one that every single news broadcast news source could and should have read to its viewers, daily if possible, there can be no valid ethical objections to it.

Deadspin, which has too many ethics problems of its own to count, attacked the statement as  america’s largest local TV owner turning its news anchors into soldiers in Trump’s war on the media.”

What utter dishonesty! As I said, and documented on the space ad nauseum, it cannot be reasonably denied that the statement’s characterization of news reporting is fair and accurate. Just because the resistances’s reviled President says something is so doesn’t mean it isn’t so, nor does his embrace of the obvious mean that to acknowledge the obvious is to support him. Deadspin then assembled a propaganda video of anchors across the nation saying the same thing, to make the process look sinister. Clever, but if you can’t see this for the misleading sliming it is,  get help. (Or, if you are NPR, get private funding.) Anyone could do the same thing with every baseball broadcaster who reads the MLB script about who owns the material in the broadcast. Anyone could do the same thing with the instructions I and many other CLE trainers read at the beginning of webinar. It can be done with the Pledge of Allegiance. Statements are scripted when it is important to have a carefully considered message communicated without variation. There is absolutely nothing improper, unethical or inappropriate about a stations owner requiring newsreaders to state the station’s mission, philosophy and basic ethical principles.

In fact, it is inappropriate not to. The howls from the Left are the very embodiment of the meaning behind the Bard’s famous line in “Hamlet” (Act 3, Scene 2 ),

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Except in this case, it would be, “The biased and partisan journalists who have been manipulating, hiding and distorting the news for years and hate being called on it doth protest too much.”

Methinks.

2. Another dumb “pay gap” controversy. I’m late slapping this one down. “The Crown, ” the Netflix series about Queen Elizabeth II, has been attacked by feminists, progressives and idiots—I’m sorry, but this is egregious—because actress Claire Foy, playing the Queen, was paid considerably less than co-star Matt Smith, who plays Prince Phillip.

The reason this was the case is that Foy, when she was cast, was a relative unknown, Smith, in contrast, had a ready-made fan base as one of the popular Doctors in “Doctor Who.” Thus he was worth more money to the producers in the beginning of the project. Marlon Brandon was paid much more than Al Pacino and James Caan in “The Godfather” for the same reason. This isn’t gender discrimination. This is business, specifically show business. Bigger stars get more money for legitimate and  obvious artistic and business reasons. Now there is a  petition to try to shame Smith into donating part of his salary from the series to Time’s Up.

This nonsense and gender-bullying. I needs to be sneered at and dismissed hard. Continue reading

“Melanie Wilkes” Loses Her Defamation Lawsuit…But Was She Right?

A California appellate court yesterday dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought Dame Olivia de Havilland against FX Networks. De Havilland, now 101, is one of the last surviving—and lucid—members of Golden Age Hollywood royalty. Those who are culturally literate know her as Melanie Wilkes, Scarlet’s angelic sister-in-law, in “Gone With The Wind,” Maid Marion in MGM’s definitive “Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn (de Havilland’s most frequent leading man),  my personal favorite, poor Bette Davis’s evil tormentor in “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,”  and many other roles in an epic career that won her two Academy Awards. (If you don’t know her, get cracking! What’s the matter with you?)

De Havilland had  sued for damages, claiming her portrayal in the Ryan Murphy-produced 2017 docuseries, “Feud: Bette and Joan” about the feud between Davis and Joan Crawford, misappropriated de Havilland carefully nurtured image without her consent, and harmed her reputation by portraying her inaccurately, especially a scene where she is shown referring to her sister, actress Joan Fontaine (“Rebecca,” “Jane Eyre,” “Suspicion”—What is the matter with you?), as a “bitch.”

“When ‘Feud’ was first being publicized, but before it went on the air, I was interested to see how it would portray my dear friend Bette Davis,” de Havilland wrote the New York Times, explaining the suit. “Then friends and family started getting in touch with me, informing me that my identity was actually being represented on the program. No one from Fox had contacted me about this to ask my permission, to request my input, or to see how I felt about it. When I then learned that the Olivia de Havilland character called my sister Joan ‘a bitch’ and gossiped about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s personal and private relationship, I was deeply offended.”

“Feud,” she said, represented itself as historically accurate fiction, but falsely portrayed her as a hypocrite “with a public image of being a lady and a private one as a vulgarity-using gossip,” undermining what de Havilland  described as a hard-earned reputation for “honesty, integrity and good manners.” Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Peggy Noonan

“Why does all this matter? Because we are losing history. It is not the fault of Hollywood, as they used to call it, but Hollywood is a contributor to it. When people care enough about history to study and read it, it’s a small sin to lie and mislead in dramas. But when people get their history through entertainment, when they absorb the story of their times only through screens, then the tendency to fabricate is more damaging. Those who make movies and television dramas should start caring about this. It is wrong in an age of lies to add to their sum total. It’s not right. It will do harm.”

—-Former Reagan speechwriter and current columnist Peggy Noonan, after citing the material historical misrepresentations in the Netflix series “The Crown” and the new Spielberg film, “The Post.”

I have written about the ethics of misrepresenting history in films many times, always facing the “Lighten up! It’s just a movie!” chorus. As Noonan explains deftly, the stakes are different now, in an age of rotten public education, mass media and internet indoctrination. The first time I wrote about this issue was 2010, in the post “Titanic” Ethics. It concluded in part,

I don’t blame Cameron for not basing his portrayal on evidence that only was clarified years after his film. I fault him for discounting the testimony of survivors, and misinforming the public by plastering a false version on a giant screen for millions to see, knowing that they would trust that a man who would insist that the doomed ship’s china pattern was accurate…Now the film is back, bigger than ever, and false representations of Officer Murdock, “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, the sinking itself, and other aspects of the iconic event will be embedded even deeper into our historical understanding. It didn’t have to be that way, and it is wrong that it is. History, the public, and the 1500 who died that night in 1912 deserve better.

I’ve seen “The Crown,” and like it a lot. The portrayals that Noonan complains about, however, especially the suggestion that Jack Kennedy abused Jackie, rang false immediately. As for “The Post,” which I haven’t seen, Noonan calls out a misrepresentation of a cultural villain whom the film-makers probably thought nobody would rise to defend: Continue reading