We’re in a “Now What” Period on #MeToo

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Since last year and the fall of Harvey Weinstein, some 100 or more powerful men in Hollywood, the media, politics and elsewhere have been caught up in #MeToo – charged with sexual harassment, sexual misconduct or both.

Many of those men have been fired, forced to resign, faced other public condemnation, discipline or legal action. Notwithstanding Bill Cosby and some of the worst #MeToo offenders, is it time to forgive a few others and will PR have a role in this?

In what may be equal parts a PR trial balloon and enterprising follow-up reporting, a recent article in The New York Times had this headline: “Disgraced by Scandal, Mario Batali Is Eyeing His Second Act.” The Times, ironically, broke the Weinstein story.

I am not suggesting Weinstein is redeemable or should be forgiven, and I haven’t heard anyone say so. But in our society, we put famous people up on pedestals, knock them off, and let them back in…sometimes.

Not every man caught up in #MeToo is a Weinstein. Few if any deserve to be totally forgiven. For those who seek another chance, PR should and does have a long-term role.

In the atmosphere of #MeToo, some were fired or forced out so quickly traditional crisis PR didn’t have time to get off the board.

Weinstein was one of the few who put together a high-profile, high-powered crisis effort, employing Sitrick and Company. They parted ways for unspecified reasons recently. In Sitrick’s place, Weinstein hired Juda Engelmayer, the Herald PR founder who formerly worked at 5W Public Relations.

One could only speculate what happened–did Weinstein fail to pay Sitrick’s bills, was he not following its advice or had its work for him just run its course, or become too icky?

PR can’t help Weinstein much – he is too repulsive. Hollywood and the public will not let him back in. And a big PR push and two trials didn’t help Cosby either – his reputation is deservedly kaput. While his first trial came before #MeToo his second trial and conviction came after #MeToo took off and #MeToo no doubt helped seal his fate.

What About Other #MeToo Men?

Perhaps some could return and do good for society. Former Senator Al Franken, for example, as bad as his behavior was, is not a Weinstein. He won’t make it back into elective office because he became a political hot potato. Still, he could do something else worthwhile. Maybe.

Batatli, meanwhile, according to the Times’ Kim Severson, has been meeting with people he trusts to see if he can come back somehow.

Like the other #MeToo men, Batali had a quick fall from grace — he lost his ABC show “The Chew,” the Food Network canceled plans to have him back, and he stepped away from his food shop Eataly and his Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group, which owns and runs 24 restaurants.

Batali wouldn’t do an interview with the Times, allowing friends and colleagues to talk for him. But just the appearance of the article and him thinking and talking some kind of comeback leads to PR’s role. I don’t think the time is right quite yet but it could be some time soon for Batali and others.

As murmurs about Batali circled, there were also other #Metoo comeback whispers — and pushbacks on these. Again, the fingers of PR started showing up with rumblings of Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose comebacks reported in Fortune and The New York Post. But there were pushbacks in Vox, Jezebel and Ringer – saying whoa — not so fast.

Perhaps the most outrageous PR idea was a report in Page Six on April 26 which reported that Tina Brown was approached to produce what Page Six is calling a #MeToo redemption show with Charlie Rose interviewing other #MeToo men. Brown reportedly turned it down.

If the comebacks are supposed to start out low-key, this one was a flop of a PR trial balloon. Can you imagine a worse PR tactic than putting these disgraced men back on TV interviewing each other about #MeToo? I can’t.

In the months since the allegations about Weinstein’s years of sexual harassment and sexual assault of women broke, we’ve seen many of the other men in the same boat gone quickly – this was the new response to sexual harassment.

All of this has continued to beg the question: how do we handle this in crisis PR going forward? If the client or potential client is fired before PR can be hired, and their career and reputation are kaput, what’s left for crisis PR to salvage?

To do this, crisis PR needs a willing client and a forgiving society. It needs to put together a long-term PR and public service/pro-bono campaign for whichever of the #MeToo men seems to fit the bill.

It would be a combination of good PR but also a brave TV network, host or producer. For example, Bill Maher recently had Kathy Griffin and Billy Bush on in separate shows in different weeks — giving them a chance to go ahead with a comeback. They both landed on the scandal list – Griffin for a Trump joke in poor taste and Bush for his part in the Trump “Access Hollywood” tape.

PR had something to do with both of them getting on “Real Time.” I am certain of that.

PR can help start the ball rolling with other media in baby steps. And PR can also help the #MeToo man in question figure out a good way to make amends but it has to look genuine and mean something. More saying you are sorry or making a donation of time or money to a cause alone just won’t cut it.

Maybe a Mario Batali concept is the new long-term crisis PR model here. Time will tell.

After all, the #MeToo movement and its issues aren’t going anywhere as evidenced by the brutal Washington Post piece about NBC’s handling of allegations against Lauer. The piece also named Tom Brokaw as an alleged #MeTtoo offender; Brokaw issued a denial.

Stay tuned.

About the Author: Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at ajbcomms@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms

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