briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, August 26, 2019

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Monday, August 26, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What’s New in Hollywood? Reputational Insurance: The Rise of the ‘Disgrace Business’ in Celebrity Culture

One of the often-neglected dimensions of a moral change is the fact that there are new business opportunities in any major moral shift, and they themselves are extremely indicative of the direction of the culture, what’s happened around us. For example, New York Magazine headline article, “The rise of scandal insurance in Hollywood.” The article is by Boris Kachka.

“Scandal insurance” — that’s a new enterprise and evidently it’s turning out to be big business in Hollywood and beyond. The particular focus of this article is on the fact that major Hollywood production companies are needing to buy reputational insurance for their major stars and other personnel, lest all their investment in a major project to be absolutely destroyed by some kind of so-called reputational event or more negatively, they’re discussed in the article as disgrace events.

The article takes us to a new company, a Boston start-up called SpottedRisk. It’s a company that’s trying to create its own reputation within this kind of reputational insurance business. It turns out that for the last decade, this has actually been a booming industry in Hollywood. But if that was the past, just imagine the future on the other side of MeToo and so many scandals. Just think of how many Hollywood celebrities have had their brand equity diminished, if not destroyed, just over the course of the last several months.

And it’s not just their brand that suffers. It is every Hollywood or entertainment product that includes them. They become a part of that brand. And in Hollywood, the entire industry has been built around building up celebrity brands and associating with those brands. It is the most celebrity dependent enterprise imaginable in human history, and thus reputation is now a big deal.

What does this tell us? It tells us that these disgrace events are now such a big issue for Hollywood that reputational insurance is now being factored in the cost of future projects. That’s the new America. That’s even the new Hollywood, a Hollywood that has to take out brand moral insurance, reputation insurance, against major stars because of the investment they are making in those stars and those celebrities with their products.

Kachka writes, “Celebrity scandal is as old as the tabloids, but the type of protection Spotted will offer was hardly used even a decade ago. Under the studio system,” he writes, “the financiers were in control, their stars’ transgressions easier to cover up, their contracts easier to tear up. True outrages were relatively rare, and when they happened, the machine smoothed things over and rolled on. But today’s stars are the machine,” he writes, “commanding millions in endorsement deals and the lion’s share of indie film budgets and carrying billions in market value on the backs of their reputations.”

The next sentence, very important. “Those reputations, meanwhile, are increasingly fragile.” Kachka demonstrates what he’s talking about when he writes, “Ubiquitous video and social media, supercharged by MeToo, have led to a proliferation of high-profile disasters — Miramax’s implosion, Kevin Spacey’s erasure, Roseanne without Roseanne — leading producers and brands to look for new ways to mitigate the risks of reputational collapse. Studios,” he writes, “have hired risk managers, dug deep into stars’ backgrounds in search of red flags, and added ‘morals clauses’ to contracts. They’ve also been asking around about insurance.”

Kachka then says, “As SpottedRisk’s product takes off, it will join a small but growing industry of disgrace insurers.” And then he says, “Like other new types of insurance — terrorism, cyber-attack, active shooter — Spotted’s disgrace innovation reflects what we fear most in the 21st century. In this case,” he writes, “it’s the persistent, growing dread that a career-ruining fall from grace is always just a click away.”

It is interesting that Kachka goes back just a few years and points out that the financiers behind these projects and the Hollywood production companies were basically able to cover for the indiscretions of their Hollywood stars and celebrities. But no more, social media has completely transformed what’s called the media ecology and these days there is nothing that can be hidden for long, especially once it gets on Twitter. And of course in this context, an individual’s reputation can be one thing and just an hour later, something quite different.

Kachka points to a turning point in Hollywood’s experience he dates to October 29, 2017. That’s when the reputation of Kevin Spacey was entirely tanked in a matter of hours given the scale of the accusations made against him and the nature of one specific allegation. The point is that Spacey was involved in several projects at that time, including a big Christmas week release that was known as All the Money in the World, but the producers in this case thought that the reputational issue was so huge that they spent millions and millions of dollars shooting the role with a new actor at the very last minute. The new actor was Christopher Plummer. The point made in the article is that such a move would not have been necessary just a few years ago in Hollywood, but now that’s the way the world works.

Later in the article, Kachka tells us that disgrace insurance policies have existed since the 1980s as a category of contingency insurance that was considered insurance against rare events, but the industry in Hollywood is now being transformed by the realization that rare doesn’t mean rare in this case. The old contract used to include language that disqualified individuals based upon “any criminal act or any offence against public taste or decency which degrades or brings that person into disrepute or provokes insult or shock to the community.” The fact is that years ago, those kinds of events didn’t happen nearly as often as they happen now, not because the underlying sin wasn’t taking place, but because the sin wasn’t visible. But the scandal now is.

But one of the interesting dimensions of this article in worldview analysis is the fact that this industry is now having to calibrate odds and the kinds of risks that would be associated in other forms of insurance, with disease or a hurricane for example. So now they’re trying to figure out what is the risk of relative levels of scandal when it comes to different categories of actors and celebrities and commercial artists. It’s even more revealing that later in the article Kachka refers to what is now “the disgrace business.” It’s now a business unto itself.

And it’s not all related to sex or sexuality. As the article makes clear, some of the reputational damage that was brought about by disgrace events in the last several months has concerned the college admissions scandal, which included several figures from Hollywood. The point in the article is that no one foresaw that kind of scandal with his reputational damage coming. As one observer said, “That is a snowstorm in California in June.” In other words, neither expected nor likely, but nonetheless extremely costly to individuals and to Hollywood enterprises.

So while we’re thinking about what this tells us about our culture, let’s understand that this industry is now outsourcing risk-data collection to India “where workers scan celebrity gossip and send reports to analysts in Boston, who organize and relay the information to data scientists for algorithmic tweaking.” But then the picture gets even more complex when we understand how this factors morally in the entire economy. When you consider the fact that it’s not just Hollywood and it’s not just the actors and actresses and other talent, it is also all the companies that sponsor the Hollywood products and furthermore hire these celebrities as brand spokespersons.

It turns out, given those endorsements, that this is a problem with incredibly deep roots and reach throughout the entire American economy. And yes, if you’re going to offer insurance, you’ve got to be able to document some math. You have to have some basis for assessing risk. So consider one argument in this article, an argument “showing a 29% increase in disgraceful events from 2017 to 2018 despite the fact that only 1% of productions bought disgrace insurance.” Let’s go back to the math again. We are told specifically that between 2017 and 2018, there was a 29%; not 30%, not 28%, “a 29% increase in so-called disgraceful events.”

Here’s more of the math and more of the risk assessment that gives us a great deal of worldview insight. We are told that males tend to be a little riskier overall. We are told that firstborns are at a slightly higher risk of disgrace, as well as those who are under age 35 or those who have suffered a recent romantic breakup. But that is “until the passage of time sends the bereft partner back down the risk-decay curve. After a divorce or a breakup, after a period of time, there is a “risk-decay curve.” Yes, they have to quantify it. They are quantifying it.

But there’s a final bomb of worldview significance at the end of this article in which we find out that this industry really doesn’t have much of an interest in the morality of the entire picture. It’s all about money. It’s all about risk. It’s all about the new product in industry of reputational insurance. But the argument made in the article is that this entire industry “is not a moral arbiter of behavior but a reflection of society’s tolerance of it.” Incredibly revealing. We are told here that this industry isn’t even making a moral assessment. It’s just simply saying, it’s a matter of society’s moral tolerance.

That’s what brings the risk. That’s what destroys the reputation, but it’s entirely relative. It’s just whatever society at any point thinks as reputational damage. There is no objective assessment of any kind of morality in the entire analysis. The article cites new realities such as the Outcry Index and then there’s the argument that follows on the previous point in which we read, “Disgrace has always been subjective.” In the Christian worldview, is that right or is that wrong? Well, there’s an argument that it’s right, but the rightness of it points to a more fundamental issue.

Disgrace is indeed a matter of social judgment, but morality is not. The objective moral truth doesn’t depend upon society’s ratification or judgment. But society does make a judgment, and different societies find disgraceful different events or different actions at different times with different consequences. It tells us a great deal that we are now at a point in America where this kind of reputational insurance represents the industry of the future.

Part II

Why Does Stigma Surround Sexually Transmitted Infections? How Shame and Guilt Point Us to the Cross of Christ

But then next we turn to a very similar point made in an entirely different article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. It’s by an OB-GYN and the headline in the article is this, “Why Sexually Transmitted Infections Can’t Shake Their Stigma.” We’ve looked at the word “stigma” before, that is to say a negative moral judgment. This doctor is asking why sexually transmitted infections still retain a kind of moral stigma even in post-Christian, post-modern, supposedly sexually accepting America.

The article is actually quite important. The author of the article is Jen Gunter. She writes, “As an obstetrician and gynecologist, I get many panicked calls and direct messages on social media, sometimes from acquaintances, sometimes from complete strangers.” She goes on to say they’re often about medical issues, but she says that the one thing people do not contact her about in social media would be sexually transmitted diseases. They are simply too much of a lightning rod. They bear too much moral stigma. They’re not asked about on social media.

Dr. Gunter writes that sexually transmitted infections or STIs, formerly known as sexually transmitted diseases or STDs, “are one of the last taboos.” The doctor writes, “I don’t need to tell you that we live in an era of easy access to sex: Pornography is a click away and often free. Nudity and graphically simulated sex scenes are part of many television shows and movies. Popular magazines for women have explicit articles.” I’m not going to read the details here. “People are very specific on dating apps about looking for hookups.”

But then she continues. This is what is so morally significant. “I want to be very clear that none of this is wrong. You like what you like, whether that is how you choose to be entertained, your fantasies, or the way you engage sexually. If it’s all consensual, it’s all good.” Now, you’re looking at an entire reshaping of society there just in a very short paragraph. You’re talking here about a medical authority writing about issues that have a clear moral dimension, but she begins by making the argument that she wants to be very clear “that none of this is wrong.” None of this is wrong. Nothing is wrong. There is no wrong.

Now, before we even proceed in the article, let’s just contrast this article with the article before that has to do with reputational insurance and the kind of disasters that can take place with disgrace events. Well, which is it? Is something wrong? Is anything wrong? Is nothing wrong? Here you have a medical doctor making the argument that nothing is wrong. She does qualify it a little bit with this morality of consent by saying, “If it’s all consensual, it’s all good.”

Now, we pause here just to note that this is undiluted moral insanity. She makes a statement she can’t even stand by for a column-inch of print. She says it’s all good, but then she has to come back and say, “No, it’s really not all good. Anything that’s consensual is good,” but my argument would be that even this doctor can’t hold that argument for long.

She continues, “We are also able to talk more publicly about other aspects of sex, like contraception choices and abortion, yet,” she says, “there seems to be a hard line at STIs.” She then goes on to register surprise that that’s so because they are so common. But she’s seemingly making the argument that a disease is a disease, an infection is an infection, a virus is a virus. It is morally without any important ethical context. She asks this question, “Why should it be any more shameful to catch an infection from sex than it is from shaking hands, kissing, or being coughed upon?”

Again, this article appeared in yesterday’s print edition of the New York Times and you’re talking about a liberal paper writing to a liberal audience, the kind of readership that is likely to want to say, “Yes, it’s all good. Nothing is morally wrong. Don’t even believe for a moment that we might believe for a moment that anything could be morally wrong. It’s all just a matter of choice. It’s just a matter of consent.” But I’m going to go ahead and say it. I don’t think there are many readers of the New York Times who are going to say that catching an infection from illicit behavior is no morally different than catching an infection by shaking hands.

But that takes us back to the headline. The fact that sexually transmitted infections can’t shake their stigma. Why? Well, it’s because that stigma reflects a moral knowledge. That kind of moral knowledge that being made in the image of God, we cannot not know. We do know that we’re talking about two very different moral contexts. We’re talking about two very different moral issues when we talk about passing a virus from handshake to handshake and passing a virus from illicit sexual activity.

But the doctor must have some argument as to why the stigma’s there and she does. Buckle your seat belts. “I suspect it is because shame and stigma are effective weapons of control. They’ve been used throughout history to marginalize women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. STIs,” she says, “are generally higher in these groups.” Now you see identity politics thrown right into this volatile mix. If there is a stigma, she says, it’s a disguised form of prejudice against women or a disguised form of racism. That becomes the argument for everything these days.

And so, if there is a stigma and she acknowledges that there is a stigma. She doesn’t think there should be a stigma. But the fact that it does exist is an indication of what actually, note this, in her view, should be stigmatized. What should be stigmatized? Thinking that there should be a stigma when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases and infections. She argues that, “Having an STI should have the same stigma as having influenza, meaning none.” But it does. It isn’t none. It’s not even none in New York City. It’s not none, meaning no stigma, anywhere.

What this tells us is that this stigma represents a very pervasive, very persistent moral judgment. It does have to be explained, but the explanation is a moral point that is obvious, though clearly denied in this article. We go back to the first article which made the claim that disgrace is a cultural category. As we pointed out, it is a cultural category, but behind that category is an objective moral truth. The same thing is true of stigma. Stigma exists because there is an objective moral truth. There is an objective right or wrong, and God made us in his image in such a way that we cannot successfully deny that consistently to ourselves, not over time. Eventually it begins to show, and stigma is the result.

We’ve seen how the pro-abortion movement has been actively seeking to minimize or to eradicate the stigma surrounding abortion. But as we pointed out again and again, that’s not going to happen.

But there’s another very important issue here, a deep biblical truth for Christians to remember. That is that we understand two different categories: shame and guilt. Shame is a personal experience and stigma is the social experience of that kind of shame. Guilt is something very different. Guilt is an objective truth, shame is a subjective experience. But the Bible makes clear that shame can be one of God’s gifts to us to demonstrate to sinners the reality of our sin, to show us and make us come face to face with our guilt.

Modern psychology, the entire modern worldview, has existed to deny the reality of guilt, certainly when it comes to sexual matters, and to suggest that shame is just the residue of a society that won’t let loose of guilt, and that’s actually somewhat true. We are a society that can’t, even given the sexual revolution and all the transformations of morality we’ve experienced. We’re in a society that even when it comes to sex, maybe especially when it comes to sex, as open-minded as people want to declare themselves to be, they can’t stay genuinely relativistic and absolutely open-minded for long.

But even more importantly, Christians understand that if our shame reflects actual guilt, that shame is a gift, and it will only be removed by dealing with the underlying guilt. And that points us to the cross of Christ. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only antidote to guilt. A secular society wants to comprehensively deny guilt and then to argue that we need to psycho-therapeutically deal with the elimination of shame, and we also have to get rid of all social stigma. But it’s not working. It can’t work because we as human beings are moral creatures.

Part III

The Celebrity Abortion Culture: Alyssa Milano Reveals She Had Two Abortions in the Span of One Year

And next, that takes us to the controversy surrounding actress Alyssa Milano, who made the announcement last week that in 1993 she had two abortions, not just one but two. And she says she’s not ashamed of them at all. She says that she got pregnant not once but twice in that year and had not one but two abortions. She said, “I chose to have an abortion. I chose. It was my choice and it was absolutely the right choice for me.” Later in her statement she said, “I would never have been free to be myself. And that’s what this fight is all about, freedom.”

Just consider what we’re told in that statement. Here’s a woman who says that abortion allowed her, and by the way again, not one but two in a single year, to be what’s most important, and that is herself. She is free to be herself. “And that’s what this fight is all about, freedom.” Many of the same media reports are citing actress Jameela Jamil who said, “I had an abortion when I was young and it was the best decision I have ever made.” Again, here you have someone saying that having an abortion was the best decision she has ever made.

The articles tell us that these are yet additional demonstrations of the effort to try to de-stigmatize abortion. But again, I point out it’s not working. The very fact that these articles exist indicate that it’s not working. The very fact that the articles reveal that, in this case, Alyssa Milano had not one but two abortions in a single year, and she says that was necessary for her to be herself. Again, I’ll go out on a limb and argue that even though fellow Hollywood celebrities might say, that’s all good, they don’t really think so.

Part IV

Conservative or Libertarian? David Koch, Billionaire Businessman and Philanthropist, Dies at 79

Finally, over the last several days, perhaps the biggest headline news was the death of David Koch, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist. He was in many ways perhaps the most symbolically hated man by the cultural left in the United States, particularly the political left. That’s because David Koch and his brother Charles Koch, who were tied as the 11th wealthiest people in the world, funded a lot of causes that were anti-liberal. They were often identified as conservative, and they did indeed invest deeply in the political process. We’re talking about hundreds of millions and perhaps eventually even billions of dollars. They were tied, by the way, at $50.5 billion of net worth a piece. Charles Koch is still living. David Koch died on Friday at age 79.

The New York Times article on the death of David Koch mentioned the political philosophy of the Koch Brothers writing, “They insisted they adhered to a traditional belief in the liberty of the individual, and in free trade, free markets, and freedom from what they called government intrusions, including taxes, military drafts, compulsory education, business regulations, welfare programs, and laws that criminalized homosexuality, prostitution, and drugs.”

The important thing to recognize here is that the traditional conservative movement in the United States has consisted of three parts for the last several decades. That would include big business and corporate interests and then the libertarian movement and then Christian conservatives. Those three have been necessary components of that larger conservative movement, although the worldview of those three components is not exactly the same. And in this case, it’s important to recognize that the Koch Brothers represented both the big corporate interests in the conservative movement, free enterprise and restrictions on government growth strangulating the economy, but also they represented the libertarian movement.

In the news story on David Koch’s death in the Wall Street Journal, the reporters write, “Although he was a liberal on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, Mr. Koch used his fortune to support conservative causes such as lower taxes, free trade, and fewer regulations.” It also notes, “He was the Libertarian Party’s 1980 vice-presidential candidate.” Again, the Libertarian Party, the Libertarian Movement. And here’s where we need to recognize something very, very important. David Koch was often identified as a conservative. But the Wall Street Journal says even as he was a conservative on fiscal matters, he was a liberal on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

This is where the Christian worldview reminds us that when you are looking at the dignity of human life and the structures of human life given to us in creation that allow for human happiness and human flourishing, then you’re not a conservative if you argue for or allow for the revolution and rejection of both human dignity when it comes to the life of the unborn and the dignity and sanctity of marriage. My final observation based upon a biblical worldview is this. If you do not recognize the full measure of human dignity and if you do not recognize the sanctity of marriage as given to us by the Creator, then there will be virtually nothing left to conserve, and that includes free enterprise.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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