The Academy’s New Code of Conduct Finds Its First Test: President John Bailey

March 20, 2018 — By Gene Maddaus

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After the drama and mishaps of the past year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had reason to celebrate a relatively snafu-free Oscar broadcast on March 4.

The afterglow lasted less than two weeks. On March 16, Variety reported that the Academy had received three allegations of sexual harassment against its president, cinematographer John Bailey. The accusations put the Academy back in the spotlight and could become another black eye for the fractious institution. It’s an organization where mistakes — the wrong best picture envelope, say — are instantly magnified and can have disastrous consequences.

At least until last Friday, it appeared that the Academy had handled the #MeToo movement fairly well. It expelled Harvey Weinstein fewer than 10 days after The New York Times reported allegations that he had been sexually harassing actresses and employees for decades. The issue was also addressed gracefully on this year’s Oscar telecast, with a presentation from a trio of Weinstein’s victims: Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek.

But those were easy calls. The allegations against Bailey may not be so readily addressed, and they could expose unresolved tensions within the Academy’s 7,000-member body over how to deal with the issue of sexual harassment.

Decisions will be forced on the body at every step. For now, Bailey remains in place as president of the board of governors. That has been criticized by some, not least because the board ultimately rules on discipline of its membership.

The Academy has not said whether Bailey would be recused from a vote if it came down to that. Nor has it said whether Carol Littleton, his wife of 46 years and a board member from the editing branch, will have to recuse.

“They need to lead on this,” said Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood. “The way they lead on this is to have him take a leave of absence and step down as president of the Academy until the investigation is complete.”

The Academy declined to comment for this story.

Just two months ago, the organization promulgated a new policy to deal with allegations against its members. The policy provides that the Membership and Administration Committee must first review the allegations and, if they are serious enough, solicit a response from the accused. The committee may then opt to do nothing or forward the matter to the full board for consideration of discipline.

The Academy has said that the policy was based on those in place at other institutions, including AFI, Film Independent, UCLA and the Television Academy. But it has never been used at the film academy. The allegations against Bailey will provide the first test. Experts in the field say the policy is not nearly as robust as policies in traditional employment settings, or those in academic institutions.

“To me, this is not targeted to have a full and fair investigation that gives a full hearing to both sides,” said Genie Harrison, an attorney who has sued Weinstein on behalf of a former assistant. “This is really riddled with every possible opportunity to abandon the effort and decide not to do anything.”

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