This past week played like a cautionary tale in reputation management. It could be titled The Powerbroker and the Celebrity.
And the moral of the story is that when something threatens a public persona's reputation, there are just a few ways to go: the High Road, the Low Road and the No Road.
Even though Arnold Schwarzenegger looks like the Terminator of his own reputation after half harboring a second, illegitimate family within the first family, like Russian nesting dolls, he finally did the manly thing.
There was no way to ice this cake. And so the celebrity ex-governor of California got out in front of the story by admitting to a decade-long deception.
Crummy as he looks, in going public Arnold took the High Road.
Despite the public savoring of salacious details, Arnold looks every so slightly less like a schmuck than if he'd waited for his former housekeeper/lover to break the story, before it broke him
Meanwhile, in the same gossipy week, with tongues wagging, the world wanted to hear some credible explanation of why the IMF's chief, a reputedly rapacious Frenchman, had fallen from a $3,000 hotel suite into de facto solitary confinement on Rikers Island.
Perhaps power-broker Dominique Strauss-Kahn's alleged pre-déjeuner dalliance really was a Sarkozy-inspired political set-up. That's what conspiracy theorists suggest. Creepily, it's also what Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself predicted might occur just weeks prior to his arrest.
With its caveman imagery, the Sofitel saga has played out in the news media as though Dominique Strauss-Kahn thought the rules of human decency don't apply to that half of the species who are female. According to the New York Times, within the IMF's male-dominant corporate culture, sexually aggressive behavior triggers little more than a laissez faire shrug. But in the City of New York, the power broker's allegedly sexually predatory behavior triggered seven charges, including attempted rape.
A media circus of accusations and counter accusations will yet ensue. Whatever the truth, after he was accused of a sexual attack on a hotel worker, Strauss-Kahn's spokespeople barely murmured a word of explanation, other than denial.
Denial as reputation management? That's the No Road.
Claims that these were consensual relations between maid and millionaire stretch credulity, given the news to date. Blaming the victim is surely the Low Road.
It's tough to be in the public eye. The hoi polloi are curious about the rich and powerful. Unless gossip hits the tipping point, or something extraordinary occurs (such as an immigrant maid who happens to be Muslim saying "J'accuse!" to a millionaire economist politician who happens to be Jewish), the public rarely gets a front row center view. Precisely because their hedges are so well manicured, a peek into the private lives of very public people is riveting.
So if you're a somebody with a reputation to cherish and protect and there's something you want to sweep under the carpet, then have a good story line at the ready. Because when a crisis peaks, there are limited options for reputation management, even for a power broker and a celebrity. And none of them are easy paths to take: the High Road, the No Road, and the Low Road.
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