In this age of endlessly shareable stories and empowered conversations, few narratives are more amplified than the tale of the fallen star – the arc of rise and fall, the consequences, and the possibility of redemption.
This past week in Canada, the most amplified story was that of former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi – once the nation’s biggest media celebrity — who beat criminal charges of sexual violence, but admitted to sexual “inappropriateness.” Despite his acquittal, he encountered more opprobrium than vindication from his fellow Canadians.
CBC News asked me to appear on television as a reputation management specialist to handicap Mr. Ghomeshi’s chances at returning to the air in Canada. Since he had been cleared of criminal behaviour, they asked, was this not possible?
I believe it’s unlikely, although whatever chance he has depends greatly on what he does. But I also believe it would be wrong. Here are a few learnings from this tragic story:
- The Ghomeshi story intersects with one of the big conversations of our time: sexual violence. Like conversations about gender identity, race and economic inequality, these topics have moved from the margins to the mainstream in recent years – as they should. Politicians, business leaders and media organizations must take heed; while NBC’s Brian Williams (the anchor who exaggerated his wartime exploits) was eventually forgiven, the message of restoring someone like Mr. Ghomeshi, in the context of these societal conversations, would be both risky and wrong.
- When organizations place people in positions of influence, their ethical and behavioural standards must be high. Some might argue that this is expecting too much for a host of a music and culture show. However, Mr. Ghomeshi’s influence was indisputable: he made decisions that helped or hurt careers, and influenced the cultural products Canadians bought. The bar we set for such positions should therefore be higher than the person simply not being a criminal.
- Rightly or wrongly, we judge people differently in different contexts. I am always frustrated when people overlook the crimes or misdemeanours of athletes and artists such as Kobe Bryant or Roman Polanski, but I understand why: either unconsciously or uncomfortably, we follow the adage about “trusting the art, not the artist.” The ethical question for the citizen or consumer is whether we are implicitly excusing their misdeeds.
- A measure of redemption can be earned – the hard way. Simply being acquitted in a court of law is often not enough. There is a vast difference between reading a courtroom apology crafted by a lawyer and opening oneself up to one’s peers and community with authenticity, transparency and accountability. Even then, words alone are not enough; deeds count most.
While I hope never to see or hear Jian Ghomeshi on the air again, anyone who has done wrong can earn a small measure of redemption. The key is a long, ongoing series of deeds and actions that help to right wrongs, restore justice and partially heal harms. That would be a conversation worth having.
About the Author:
Daniel Tisch is the President and CEO for Argyle Public Relationships. He is one of Canada’s best-known communicators, having worked at senior levels in government before embarking on a 20-year consulting career in which he has advised CEOs, boards, government leaders and marketers for some of the world’s biggest brands.