Mark Shields: Leadership Washington could learn from
Hollywood’s critics, of which there has never been a shortage, have long accused that California village of being the national home office of insincerity and shallowness. Two great 20th-century American wits memorably made that case. Fred Allen wrote, “All the sincerity in Hollywood you could stuff in a flea’s navel and still have room left to conceal eight caraway seeds and an agent’s heart.” Oscar Levant added, “Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood and you’ll find the real tinsel underneath.”
But one man’s admirable actions on national television may have singlehandedly rehabilitated Hollywood’s reputation. After delivering emotional tributes to his parents, his young son and his wife and thanking the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the Oscar for best picture of 2016, Jordan Horowitz, a producer of “La La Land,” learned that in fact, “Moonlight,” not his movie, had won the night’s top award.
Americans have, sadly, come to expect any prominent individual put in such a potentially humiliating position on national TV to disappear and/or to fix all blame on sinister opponents, inept staff or the press. But that’s not what Horowitz did. He took responsibility and took charge.
As soon as he realized what had happened, Horowitz walked up to the microphone on that crowded stage and announced to the world: “Guys, guys, I’m sorry. No. There’s a mistake. ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture. This is not a joke. ‘Moonlight’ has won best picture.” He held up the card pulled from the real award envelope for the camera to zoom in on. “Moonlight,” he repeated, “best picture.”
Ignoring the personal embarrassment from having just thanked people for an award he had not won, Horowitz simply spoke the truth and showed us how a gracious and grown-up loser behaves, adding, “I’m going to be really proud to hand this (Oscar) to my friends from ‘Moonlight.'”
There was a time when leaders acted this way. Welcoming accountability, President Harry Truman, heeding the wisdom of Winston Churchill that “the price of greatness is responsibility,” put it bluntly: “The buck stops here.” After the failed invasion of Fidel Castro’s Cuba he had authorized, President John F. Kennedy took full responsibility: “Victory has 1,000 fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” After the failed effort of Desert One to rescue the American hostages held by Iran, President Jimmy Carter spoke to the nation: “It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it. … The responsibility is fully my own.”
But when decorated Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, on a January raid in Yemen, became the first American combatant to die after President Donald Trump took office, the 45th president responded in a very different way, explaining to Fox News: “This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that they wanted to do. They came to see me. They explained what they wanted to do — the generals, who are very respected. My generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”
“The buck does not stop here; it’s not my responsibility.” That was essentially the message and the example from the man who continues to this day to be listed as “The Celebrity Apprentice’s” executive producer. When it comes to the leadership of publicly seeking and accepting responsibility, I admire instead the example of another producer, Jordan Horowitz.