With his remaining media platforms, controversial actor Alec Baldwin sometimes likes to give a reputational boost to his famous male friends who have become similarly polarizing figures in American public life, most recently Woody Allen and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
In June, Baldwin hosted a bizarre Instagram live chat with Woody Allen, during which he and the 86-year-old director sadly battled wi-fi difficulties, lamented the changing nature of the movie industry and totally avoided any discussion about Allen’s three decades of sexual abuse allegations made by his daughter, Dylan Farrow.
Baldwin continued his reputation-laundering efforts week when he hosted Kennedy’s wife, actor Cheryl Hines, on his podcast, “Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin.” While Baldwin and Hines spent most of their time benignly talking about her work on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the actor also took a few moments to engage her in what he intended to be a light-hearted discussion with her about marrying into the Kennedy family.
This chit-chat led to a strange alternative reality, in which Kennedy is still known as a lauded environmental activist, not as “one of the world’s leading anti-vax conspiracy theorists,” as the Daily Beast said. Baldwin and Hines ignored the fact that Kennedy has been condemned by the scientific community and by members of his own famous family for spreading “dangerous misinformation” about vaccines for COVID-19 and other diseases.
Baldwin and Hines also ignored the fact that, while she and Kennedy have been married since 2014, he has built a lucrative, anti-vaccine “juggernaut,” according to the Associated Press. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense began raking in followers and millions of dollars in funding as he has used his star power as a Kennedy to “open doors, raise money and lend his group credibility,” AP added.
None of what the Daily Beast called Kennedy’s “anti-vaccine lunacy” came up in Hines’ conversation with Baldwin. Instead, the notoriously belligerent “30 Rock” star, still under investigation in New Mexico for the fatal movie-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, let Hines praise her attorney husband for being a courageous and passionate crusader on behalf of the environment.
Hines, a generally well-liked figure in Hollywood, told Baldwin how “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Larry David introduced her to Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, at an event for the Waterkeeper Alliance, a nonprofit he founded to protect clean water in lakes and rivers worldwide.
“Definitely, being around him (has helped me) understand the environment better, how big corporations, how it’s just easier and cheaper for them to pay fines for … killing people,” Hines said, adding that Kennedy has helped her learn about the environment “on a bigger scale and on the legal side, more than just (recycling).”
When Baldwin similarly talked about Kennedy in heroic terms, citing his need to “save the world all the time,” Hines agreed that she tries to get her husband to “lighten up” sometimes.
“You wouldn’t think he’s as funny and playful as he is, just if you only knew him from his persona that he presents to people,” Hines said. “I’m teaching him to sometimes check it at the door. Like don’t bring everything home. He’s invested in so many … heavy causes.”
As Baldwin and Hines also failed to mention, Kennedy’s “many heavy causes” no longer include the Waterkeeper Alliance. Kennedy resigned as president from the organization in November 2020 to focus on what the nonprofit called “other issues.”
To critics, Kennedy’s focus seems to be “sowing distrust” in the science behind vaccines, which has had “heartbreaking consequences,” as his siblings, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Joseph P. Kennedy II, and niece Maeve Kennedy McKean, wrote in a column for Politico in 2019.
While some would say it’s not fair to hold Hines, or any person, responsible for their spouse’s controversial words or actions, once she and Baldwin started to wax poetic about Kennedy’s passion for his “many heavy causes,” Hines opened herself up to people again wondering about how much she’s gone along with his controversial positions over the years. These questions grew especially intense after he made some particularly incendiary comments at a rally in Washington D.C. in January.
Kennedy compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, inexplicably saying that Anne Frank had been better off in hiding than Americans whose jobs required them to get vaccinated. Kennedy said the teenager “could hide in an attic” — leaving out the fact that she and her family were found and died in Nazi concentration camps.
The backlash against Kennedy was swift, with the Auschwitz Memorial issuing a statement on Twitter, condemning him for exploiting a tragedy in which people “were humiliated, tortured and murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany.”
Hines initially responded to the Auschwitz Memorial statement by tweeting somewhat mildly: “My husband’s opinions are not a reflection of my own. While we love each other, we differ on many current issues.”
Hines faced even more intense backlash for her attempt to offer the “agree to disagree” excuse. People were not willing to let her off the hook so easily. She was criticized for not immediately issuing a more “firm” public statement such as the one her husband’s sister, Kerry Kennedy, who decried what she called “lies and fear-mongering.” Kerry Kennedy said her brother’s “hateful rhetoric” did not represent the views of the Kennedy family.
Hines eventually returned to Twitter with a stronger statement, tweeting that her husband’s reference to Anne Frank “was reprehensible and insensitive.” She again insisted: “His opinions are not a reflection of my own.”
My husband’s reference to Anne Frank at a mandate rally in D.C. was reprehensible and insensitive. The atrocities that millions endured during the Holocaust should never be compared to anyone or anything. His opinions are not a reflection of my own.
— Cheryl Hines (@CherylHines) January 25, 2022
Her statement left many unsatisfied. Daily Beast editor Marlow Stern pointed out to Hines that her husband has been invoking the Holocaust to make anti-vaccine arguments for years, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Others said that realistically, spouses are tied to each other legally, financially and in many other ways, with one person tweeting: “When her husband is publicly spreading dangerous lies using sickening analogies AND she is a public person, questioning her position on the topic is not out of line.”
With Baldwin, Hines found a friendly interrogator who wasn’t going to put her on the spot. In fact, he gave her the opportunity to promote her work while letting her give her husband’s embattled reputation a nice laundering.
For Baldwin to offer Hines such cover isn’t surprising. He definitely knows what it means to be in the hot spot. Like his friend Allen, Baldwin has been “mired in the muck” for years, as Salon said. The actor has allegedly assaulted people on the street, been forcibly escorted off an airplane, and notoriously called his 11-year-old daughter a “rude, thoughtless pig” in a voicemail he left her in 2007. He also doubled-down in defending his Boston-born influencer wife, Hilaria Baldwin, in early 2021 after she was caught passing herself off as a Spanish immigrant in media interviews and on social media.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the fatal Oct. 21, 2021 shooting of Hutchins on the set of Baldwin’s Western “Rust,” is ongoing, a New Mexico prosecutor announced this week.