When the mighty fall: the 5 different responses to a reputation scandal
Over the past couple of decades we’ve seen numerous scandals bring about the fall of some of the most respected people in the media spotlight. After reviewing some recent examples of fallen “heroes” I thought I’d share the five most common reactions to being caught in a reputation scandal.
Who: Anthony Weiner
Scandal: Tweeting photos of his junk
[highlight color=”yellow”]Response: Denial[/highlight]
Lost: His job
It’s almost expected of our politicians to lie and cheat–it’s a stereotype they’ve unfortunately not been able to ditch–but Anthony Weiner took it to a new level. When photos of Weiner started to circulate the internet, the congressman came up with all kinds of reasons why it wasn’t his junk in the photo. For many days, Weiner claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked and that he did not send lewd photos to a female college student.
Of course, his story started falling apart when he couldn’t go on the record and say for certaint that the photo of a waist-down view showing a man’s bulging underpants wasn’t him.
Eventually, Congressman Weiner came clean and admitted he had, “exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years.” He eventually apologized and resigned.
Who: Tiger Woods
Scandal: Cheated on his wife
[highlight color=”yellow”]Response: Silence[/highlight]
Lost: Sponsorships, fans, edge
When you leave your house at 2:30 a.m. crash into a fire hydrant, a tree, and several hedges and then tell the press that it’s a “private matter,” tongues start to wag. Despite a claim that Woods was having an affair, the golf superstar kept quiet, leaving the media–and his fans–wondering what in the world was going on.
The tactic might have worked, if it had not been for those pesky kids over at US Weekly releasing a voicemail Woods left for his mistress. At that point, Woods continued to keep quiet, admitting only to some “transgressions.” After a week of other women coming forward to claim they too had slept with Woods, he was finally forced to admit his infidelity.
Following his admission, Woods lost many lucrative endorsement contracts and has not played anywhere close to the level of golf he was playing prior to his scandal.
Who: Manti Te’o
Scandal: Had a fake girlfriend that died
[highlight color=”yellow”]Response: Embellish[/highlight]
Lost: Potential NFL draft status
The strange story of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o’s deceased fake girlfriend is still unfolding. Whether the Heisman runner-up was in on the hoax is yet to be confirmed, but what has been confirmed is that Te’o embellished his relationship with the now infamous “Lennay Kekua.”
So as not to look weird, Te’o admitted, “I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away.” In addition, despite learning of the hoax earlier, Te’o continued to tell the media that he “lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer.”
Instead of coming clean, Manti Te’o realized that he had exaggerated the story to the point that he needed to keep up the ruse. While Te’o may be able to recover enough to satisfy the NFL teams scouting him for the upcoming draft, his spotless reputation has now been blemished.
Who: Lance Armstrong
Scandal: Used drugs to win in cycling
[highlight color=”yellow”]Response: Cover-up[/highlight]
Lost: Likely everything
Here’s a story that doesn’t need much background. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know by now that Lance Armstrong has finally admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs. However, his admission was not one that came voluntarily. While Armstrong did freely admit his guilt to Oprah Winfrey, it was not until after almost 20 years of denying vehemently any allegations of doping.
Armstrong went beyond simply denying the allegations, he fought hard against them. The cycling legend went to great lengths to cover up his doping and silence his critics.
Unfortunately for Armstrong, his cover-up could not be maintained and his world came crashing down around him at the end of 2012. Admitting that his story was “one big lie” Armstrong claimed, “My ruthless desire to win at all costs served me well on the bike but the level it went to, for whatever reason, is a flaw. That desire, that attitude, that arrogance.”
As of 2013, Armstrong faces the threat of legal action to win back what he had previously won in lawsuits, further lawsuits from his sponsors, and the shame of having his name disassociated by the Livestrong Foundation. He’s also been stripped of all of his cycling victories–including seven Tour de France wins–and his Olympic bronze medal.
Who: Hugh Grant
Scandal: Caught with a prostitute
[highlight color=”yellow”]Response: Admission[/highlight]
Lost: Not much
After being arrested in 1995 and pleading no contest for misdemeanour lewd conduct in a public place with Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown, British actor Hugh Grant might have been tempted to stay away from the cameras and think up an elaborate excuse for his actions. Instead, the hollywood star honored a commitment to appear on the Jay Leno show.
Grant was refreshingly honest about his indiscretion telling Leno, “I think you know in life what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing, and I did a bad thing. And there you have it.” When he later appeared on Larry King, Grant stated, “I don’t have excuses.”
While his honesty doesn’t nullify his actions, it did appear to save his career. Despite the scandal, Grant endeared himself by coming clean and went on to have many blockbuster hits, including Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually.
5 Comments for “When the mighty fall: the 5 different responses to a reputation scandal”
While it may not be the easiest way to go, the old “honesty is the best policy” adage continues to appear to ring true. Hugh Grant may have been the butt of many jokes over the years, but he maintained (and maybe even increased) his fans’ adoration. There’s something relatable in being flawed.
I’m so sad to hear of Lance Armstrong not only not being a great role model, but that he has resorted to bullying to keep his secrets. That is pretty hard to maintain respect for.
Yeah, there is something to be said for those that just come clean and take their medicine.
If you ask me, it just made Manti’s price go up. An NFL team that doesn’t take a guy that will get a lot more TV attention doesn’t understand the value of publicity. Look at Tebow. That guy has done nothing in the pros, but commands an incredible wage which I believe is partially due to the fact that the media loves him. Makes fun of him all the time, but loves him. Te’o will get made fun of, but he will sell a lot of tickets and increase ESPN exposure. Just sayin’. In the end, being transparent is the right thing to do. Don’t live where you have something to hide. In Manti’s case, if you found out that you had been punked and that the whole world would knew a story that wasn’t true, would you say to the news, “oh yeah, by the way, that girl actually wasn’t real, I just fell for some stupid prank,” with fake chuckle. Hindsight is 20/20. Easier said than done. In his case I would have hoped people forgot the story and moved on just as he did.
Thanks for your take Stuart. I wonder if Te’o could have taken ownership of the story by being the one to break it. He knew he had been duped and it would be just a matter of time before it hit the media. I wonder if, in hindsight, he should have been the one to expose it. I guess we won’t know. 😉
Looks like one of the best reputation management tactics is to stay clean.
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