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TODAY

Monday, April 22

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On April 11, actor Alec Baldwin left his 11-year-old-daughter, Ireland (yes, really), a vitriolic voicemail that berated her for not answering a scheduled phone call. (Listen to it here.) In part, Baldwin seethed:

You have insulted me. You don't have the brains or the decency as a human being. I don't give a damn that you're 12 years old or 11 years old, or a child, or that your mother is a thoughtless pain in the ass who doesn't care about what you do as far as I'm concerned.
...
You've made me feel like shit and you've made me feel like a fool over and over and over again. And this crap you pull on me with this goddamn phone situation that you would never dream of doing to your mother, and you do it to me constantly, and over and over again.
...
So I'm going to let you know how I feel, about what a rude little pig you really are. You are a rude thoughtless little pig. Okay?

The message went public on April 19, when TMZ.com — the source that broke Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic and sexist tirade — posted it in its entirety. And on the day of the phone call itself, a tipster wrote to Gawker with an Alec Baldwin sighting (spelling and non-capitalization verbatim): "alec baldwin is across the street from us screaming into the phone in the alley and it echoes from here to half way across the globe. he is goin nuts, cursing and ranting...totally unreal. psycho." To be fair, Baldwin could have been screaming at anyone. But the timing is fairly coincidental.

Baldwin has been battling with his ex-wife, Kim Basinger, for years regarding custody and parental rights. The tabloids gleefully covered each finger-pointing resentment from both sides — Basinger claimed physical and emotional abuse, Baldwin denied her accusations and added a few of his own, lather, rinse, repeat — until a judge issued a gag order in 2004 after the actors agreed to share custody. Neither of them were to comment publicly on the case. It didn't take a genius to infer that Ireland's dad may have been projecting his rancorous feelings toward his ex on his "thoughtless" daughter. His frustration and rage were obvious, and his tone dripped with genuine anger as he warned, "I am going to get on a plane and I am going to straighten your ass out when I see you."

There's been a rash of recent incidents in which celebrities have uttered misogynistic, racist or homophobic slurs, from Gibson's "f---ing Jews" and "sugar tits," to Isaiah Washington's "faggot" (hurled at co-worker T.R. Knight), to Michael Richards's angry outburst toward an African-American heckler, to Don Imus's "nappy-headed hos." However, unlike Gibson, Washington, Richards or Imus — who was fired from his radio talk show his derogatory statement he made about the Rutgers women's basketball team — Baldwin's diatribe was not uttered in a work situation or on the air. The message was intended to be confidential; it obviously wasn't intended for public consumption. But in this age, anything and everything pops up online practically instantaneously, and the Internet is forever. One or two or several stupid moments captured by a camera or a videophone can be uploaded for permanent posterity. Privacy? What's that?

Please note I am not excusing Baldwin's behavior or language or skills as a father. I find it reprehensible and sad, and I can't imagine what it must be like for Ireland, caught between two parents who are unable to be adults and not put their child in the middle of such acrimony. "Pig" isn't as offensive as most of the above insults, but when uttered by a father to his daughter, it adds an insidious layer. The most "obvious" insult toward a woman is to call her "fat," and it's not as if girls don't have enough pressure regarding their appearance.

Baldwin accused Basinger's camp of leaking the voicemail (she denied it), and he started the now familiar Request for Forgiveness Tour, which can include issuing contrite statements, appearing on talk shows to explain yourself, wondering how this will impact his professional life, and either rehab or meeting with the group/individual you offended. Baldwin's post-voicemail "apologies" and explanations contained several additional potshots at Basinger, as if he couldn't help himself.

From his initial statement: "In the best interest of the child, Alec will do what the mother is pathologically incapable of doing... keeping his mouth shut and obeying the court order. The mother and her lawyer leaked this sealed material in violation of a court order. Although Alec acknowledges that he should have used different language in parenting his child, everyone who knows him privately knows what he has been put through for the past six years."

From when he appeared on The View: "There's nothing wrong with being frustrated or angry about something. It's the way you do it, and as people often do in this world, I took it out on the wrong person because I'm unable, under the current dynamic, to address the other person. I realize that was wrong."

Barbara Walters asked, "You said it to your daughter, but you meant it for your ex-wife?" Baldwin replied, "Well, I think that goes without saying, quite frankly." He also plugged his upcoming book on divorce. "I want to work more toward helping men understand what divorce in our society right now means for their rights as parents. Divorce court in this country is the civil procedure that hands out criminal penalties without any regard for people's rights whatsoever. It's a very sad thing."

In the same interview, Baldwin offered public amends to Ireland (he said he had already apologized to her personally) and insisted, "Everyone in my life who knows me, knows that I have a great relationship with my daughter." He also blasted the media for containing abused people who "make it their career to humiliate you and expose your secrets."

Is this taking enough responsibility? Will the incident adversely affect his career? It's too early to tell. Baldwin offered to leave his NBC series 30 Rock, for which he recently won a Golden Globe for Best TV Actor, Comedy/Musical. (Do TV musical series exist? Aside from Cop Rock, I mean.) He didn't want negative publicity to affect those working on the sitcom, which has just been renewed for a second season in spite of low ratings. NBC refused to let Baldwin go.

Should the message have been released? No. Baldwin may have insulted his daughter but he's not the one who publicly humiliated her: whoever leaked the tape, whether it's a lawyer or a "friend" or a disgruntled mother — this is all allegedly, by the way; I don't have that information, obviously — is guilty of that. Ireland will now carry the "thoughtless pig" moniker the rest of her life, and whose fault is that?

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the WB's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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