Sex, the Weatherman, and Revenge Porn

We just finished reading Susan Liautaud’s new book: The Little Book of Big Ethical Questions (2022), in which she briefly explains her views as to the ethics of various ethical questions that might arise relative to family and friends (e.g. “Should you read your child’s or teenager’s diary?”), politics, community and culture (e.g., “Do we have a responsibility to speak up if we’re in a conversation where racist comments are made?”), work (e.g., “Should your employer have a say in what you post on your private social media?”), technology (e.g., “Should robots have rights?”), consumer choice (e.g. “Should we buy fast fashion?”), and health (e.g., “Should vaping be banned?”).

Although she was in the neighborhood, Liautaud never directly addressed the work issue that faced a New York City television station this month: “Should you fire your popular weatherman after repeatedly receiving pictures in the mail of him performing sex acts nude on an adult webcam site?”

Among the pertinent facts, it appears that the weatherman in question, Erick Adame of television station Spectrum NY1, has been in therapy for years to treat a sexual addiction that drove him to engage in online sexual activity and to perform sexual acts on adult webcam sites where he thought, mistakenly, that he had control over who would see the videos. Someone took screenshots of the videos and posted them on a website where revenge porn pictures are often posted. That person also sent the pictures to Adame’s mother, and to Spectrum NY1. in three batches—March, June and September of 2022. Adame apparently stopped this activity in December of 2021. Spectrum NY1 did not fire Adame after receiving a batch of explicit pictures in March 2022 or another in June 2022. However, it fired him from the job he had held for 15 years when the third batch of pictures arrived in September.

The arguments supporting Spectrum NY1’s decision to fire Adame seem straight-forward. It seems likely that Adame’s employment contract contained a standard morals clause that authorized the television station to terminate Adame for various acts, including arrests, offensive Tweets (a topic that Liautaud did address in a wishy-washy way in her book), and other forms of behavior that can damage the employer’s reputation and/or damage it economically. Adame was not a custodian or an assistant camera operator; he was a very public face of the station. It does not seem unreasonable for Spectrum NY1 to conclude that Adame’s conduct, as it slowly comes to light by the actions of a person unknown who seems determined to embarrass him and damage his reputation, will cause some number of viewers to watch their weather elsewhere.

But there are also arguments for not firing Adame, many of which were noted by University of Miami business law professor Patricia Sanchez Abril who was quoted in a New York Times article on the subject. First, there is the mental health issue. There is substantial evidence that Adame suffered a sexual addiction for which he was being treated. Should that not give an employer pause before firing him?

Second, there is the intentionality issue. Adame believed that his actions would be kept (relatively) private. Though he was mistaken and likely naïve, he did not intend for his sex acts to be publicized in the way they were. Still, as Professor Abril noted: “There is a real question if as a public figure, in a position of trust, do you have a responsibility to keep certain things unseen?”

Third, there is the element of victimization. At the end of the day, many people will perceive Adame to be a victim (of the revenge porn poster) more than a victimizer. Is Spectrum NY1 piling on by firing Adame?

Fourth, there are changing moral standards. Many people, no doubt, will view Adame’s sexual activities as completely unacceptable and definitely worth punishing. However, an increasing percentage of people, especially in the younger generation, are likely to view Adame’s acts, which involved only consenting adults and which he intended for a limited audience, to be his business and his business alone. This is a victimless offense; Adame would not have harmed anyone, absent the actions of his persecutor.

Fifth, there is the increasingly important workplace issue: how much should employers be able to regulate and/or punish employees’ private, non-work conduct?

But the persecutor who was determined to harm Adame did leak the photos and in so doing embarrassed Spectrum NY1. Legally, there seems little doubt that the television station was well within its rights to terminate Adame. Whether this was the proper ethical choice is a closer call. What do you think?

At least some other television stations are already offering jobs to Adame.

 

NOTE:

Where morality is concerned, facts matter. After we posted the above discussion of Erick Adame’s situation, we received the following message from a reporter that contains information we had not seen before. Does it affect your judgment regarding whether Spectrum NY1 made the proper ethical choice?

 

Good afternoon Professor Prentice,

I had an opportunity to review your recent blog post, “Sex, the Weatherman, and Revenge Porn.” The majority of the blog post appeared to franchise information from a single New York Times piece, even though other resources were also supposedly used, as evident by the list at the end. As a journalist who has covered Mr. Erick Adame’s saga tenaciously over the last few weeks, I wanted to take this opportunity to give you more information, because parts of your blog post are without merit, while others are just flat-out incorrect.

First, this line in your blog post:

“It appears that the weatherman in question, Erick Adame of television station Spectrum NY1, has been in therapy for years to treat a sexual addiction that drove him to engage in online sexual activity and to perform sexual acts on adult webcam sites where he thought, mistakenly, that he had control over who would see the videos.”

Several weeks ago, I published audio from Mr. Adame’s final webcam broadcast. The audio clearly demonstrates that he knew he was being watched, and that the people watching him knew who he was. By his own admission, over 700 people tuned in to his broadcast that evening. A broadcast where, among other things, he gave out his full name, home address, cell phone number, spoke openly about his work, and expressed a desire for his boss to find out about his broadcasts.

Beyond Mr. Adame’s own statement, there is also no specific evidence to demonstrate that he was “in therapy for years to treat a sexual addiction.” To the contrary, there is evidence to support the fact that he had appeared on adult webcam sites for at least seven years. It was not until earlier this year that Mr. Adame sought therapy for his compulsive behavior.

“First, there is the mental health issue. There is substantial evidence that Adame suffered a sexual addiction for which he was being treated.”

There is not “substantial evidence” that Mr. Adame was being treated for sexual addiction.You provided no evidence to support this claim. Nor has Mr. Adame. Nor has anyone else. Mr. Adame’s statement is anecdotal evidence. That is is quite different from “substantial evidence.”

“At the end of the day, many people will perceive Adame to be a victim (of the revenge porn poster) more than a victimizer.”

This is true, but only because news outlets are taking Mr. Adame at his word. The fact of the matter is, as you noted, Spectrum News NY1 did not fire Mr. Adame merely for appearing on adult website. Instead, the television station took action when they learned Mr. Adame made comments about his manager while pleasuring himself on an open broadcast.

Mr. Adame is also not the victim of “revenge porn.” None of his conduct fits the statutory definition in New York (where he worked), New Jersey (where he lived) or anywhere else. Instead, the basis for a lawsuit Mr. Adame is intending to file is copyright infringement — in that he wants control over the videos that he, himself, put out there. But legal experts I’ve spoken with say comments Mr. Adame made on his final broadcast — in which he expresses a desire for his bosses to find out about his broadcast, and encourages people watching the broadcast to spread his images around — will hurt his legal case more than it helps.

At no time did Mr. Adame ever file a police report claiming to be the victim of revenge porn, according to sources I’ve spoken with in New York and New Jersey (the basis for an upcoming story I’m writing).

I would encourage you to read through my reporting. Only then will you start to see that many of the points you made in your post about ethics are clearly and demonstrably wrong.

https://thedesk.net/tag/erick-adame/

 

Thanks for your time.

Best,

Matthew Keys

https://thedesk.net

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Sources

Allie Griffen, “NYC Weatherman Erick Adame Likely to Return to Television after Nude Pics Scandal,” New York Post, Sept. 21, 2022, at https://nypost.com/2022/09/21/nyc-weatherman-erick-adame-likely-to-return-to-television-after-nude-pic-scandal/.

Susan Liautaud, The Little Book of Big Ethical Questions (2022).

Dominic Patten et al., “Fired NY1 Meteorologist Erick Adame Fielding Offers, Doesn’t’ Expect to Return to Spectrum Job after Sex Scandal,” Deadline.com, Sept. 20, 2022, at https://deadline.com/2022/09/fired-ny1-weatherman-erick-adame-job-offers-wont-return-to-spectrum-1235123464/.

Liam Stack, “Sex, Revenge Porn and Webcams: The Firing of a TV Weatherman,” New York Times, Sept. 28, 2022, at https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/28/nyregion/erick-adame-ny-weatherman-fired-scandal.html.

 

Videos

All is Not Relative: https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/video/all-is-not-relative.

Harm Principle: https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/harm-principle.

Moral relativism:  https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/moral-relativism.

Values: https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/values.

 

 

 

 

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