As Hollywood’s sexual harassment purge enters its third month, scores of women have come forward with harrowing stories of sexual abuse — shinning a harsh spotlight on some of Hollywood’s most recognizable names.
In just the last several days, America witnessed the fall of two of its most influential morning TV stars and the voice behind one of its most beloved and longest-running radio shows.
But can any of them make a comeback? And should they be able to?
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We asked top crisis PR experts to weight in on Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Russell Simmons, Dustin Hoffman, Richard Dreyfuss, Jeremy Piven and Garrison Keillor. Here’s what they said.
Richard Levick, chairman and CEO of Levick, a crisis communications firm based in Washington D.C.: Zero. His career is over. No media is going to take him on. When you talk about the button under his desk to lock the door of his office, it’s horrifying. He took this literally to mechanical extremes.
Susan Tellem, partner, Tellem Grody PR, Inc.: Matt is a family favorite with so many women nationally and has been on the air for so many years, that I think the level of forgiveness is very high. In time, not anytime soon, maybe down the road he’ll be back in some capacity, though not necessarily on “Today.”
Lou Shapiro, a criminal defense attorney who specializes in crisis management: I don’t think he’ll be able to make a comeback. One of the accusers claims she passed out during the assault. This now crosses the line into rape territory. Once you’re branded as someone who’s willing to cross into rape, that stigma is almost insurmountable.
Evan Neirman, founder of crisis PR firm Red Banyan: We have only just begun to hear the details related to the allegations against Lauer, but they are deeply disturbing. His apology checked the right boxes and was well-crafted, but the chances of him ever undoing the damage to his reputation are slim to none.
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Levick: I’ve been a Garrison Keillor fan for as long as he’s been on the air. But here is, at best, an opaque apology, one that makes you more suspicious than you were inclined to be in the first place. He says her blouse was open and his hand went up six inches? What? He would have been better off just saying it’s more complicated. Instead, he tried to explain it with an explanation that’s creepy.
Tellem: He’s another favorite who has been around for years and years. I think that his audience skews older and so if he might be able to be accepted back by his audience. … They’ve been listening to him forever and they will likely miss him.
Shapiro: He used a poor choice of words to justify his actions. And if not for the climate right now, this probably wouldn’t have gotten any traction. In terms of this being a career ender, certainly not.
Nierman: Unlike the TV journalists, Garrison Keillor may be a well-known name, but not necessarily a household face. As a non-visual medium, radio provides Keillor with a certain degree of separation from his audience. While many people know his voice and his written works, he is in a slightly better position to recover. Ironically, the fictional Lake Wobegon he made famous has probably taken on new meaning as he looks to make his own woe be gone.
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Levick: He’s done. He’s in the Matt Lauer category: It’s not a mistake, it’s pathological and predatory. And quite frankly unimaginable. All of us have given someone a hug or a hand accidentally touched as part of the body. We all understand accidental bumping. But the things that Charlie Rose is described to have done, hopefully none of us get.
Tellem: Another favorite. Americans tends to be pretty forgiving. I would think he has a good chance of coming back.
Shapiro: He’s also at the end of his career, so I don’t think he’s going to be in demand in the industry. To make a comeback, enough time has to go by and he’s doesn’t have the five or 10 years to lay low and then come back.
Nierman: At this advanced stage of his career it is very hard to see how Charlie Rose could make a comeback, or even why he would attempt it.
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Levick: This goes into the category of: This was 30 years ago. He’s accused of inappropriate remarks. I think his career is fine, unless more people come forward. We don’t want to be arrested 30 years after telling a bad joke. We need to be more sensitive, of course, but we also don’t want to enter a universe where there is no forgiveness for minor trespassers.
Tellem: He is another celebrity with so many fans. I think when these things are settled people will say that’s that and look forward to seeing him again.
Shapiro: Not the worst, if you compare to Lauer or Rose. It’s not even in the same territory. And we need to remember the time, we’re talking mid-80s. I’m not saying it’s appropriate, but it’s unfair to apply the same standard to someone in 2017 to something that happened in 1986. Hoffman could definitely survive this.
Nierman: If he continues to keep a low profile in the near term then the 80-year-old actor has a good chance of continuing his career and continuing to secure roles moving forward.
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Levick: He probably survives this because it’s a “he said-she said” situation, it was a long time ago, and, sadly, there is much more vulgar stuff out there tight now. Here it all depends on what else comes out, if another shoe drops, then it will take on greater weight.
Tellem: I believe he’s in the same category as Dustin Hoffman, we’ll wait to see what happens when the dust settles.
Shapiro: It was one person and almost 40 years ago. It was inappropriate but not career-ending.
Nierman: His problems seem minor in comparison to some of the other extreme and salacious cases making headlines. One alleged incident of indecent exposure that happened 30 years ago will probably not be beyond the American public’s willingness to forgive.
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Levick: He probably survives it, but his career will have a setback. Again, this will depend on whether there are more accusers. He denies it vigorously, which doesn’t mean it’s not true. It will remain as a dark cloud over him for a while and a time bomb, if more people come forward.
Tellem: My instinct tells me that the moviegoing public will soon forget and will welcome a celebrity like Piven back.
Shapiro: It’s disturbing behavior. But he’s denying it and is willing to take a polygraph test. But it’s also a forcible sexual act which is problematic. Groping you can try and explain away, but this forcible act is more predatory than inappropriate.
Nierman: Piven made a bold bet by “unequivocally” denying any instances of inappropriate behavior. At that point it seemed like he had a chance to successfully mitigate the crisis. However, with two more women stepping forward with even more damning allegations, the actor’s full-throated rebuttal may lead to a bigger loss of credibility. It’s a big gamble when you go all in with a blanket denial, and he may have no chips left to play.
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Levick: This is not harassment. This sounds like a crime. If true, this is a criminal question, not a media question anymore. The fact that the accuser claims he teamed up with [director] Brett Ratner in furtherance of a crime, this could be a potential criminal conspiracy.
Shapiro: First we have an underage situation here. An accuser who was 17 years old. And then there’s this whole co-conspiracy thing. They’re being branded as co-consipators in this. When someone is 17 there really isn’t room to remember things “differently,” as he claims. I think his chances of a comeback are pretty slim because this act is so reprehensible.
Nierman: Russell Simmons probably still has a chance to earn some degree of public forgiveness. If he does recover, much will be owing to the timing and thoughtfulness of his response to allegations against him. By quickly stepping down from his companies, Simmons may live to fight another day. Coupled with his extensive philanthropic record, Simmons’ smooth crisis response may earn the award-winning entrepreneur, producer and author another chance to reinvent himself and resurrect his reputation, or at least help keep his business interests moving forward
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