The sordid story of media chieftain Roger Ailes’ rampage through the Fox News workplace the last 20 years would have been bad in the days of Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin in “Nine to Five.”For 2016, it’s eye-opening, not to mention scary real.
The costs to parent 20th Century Fox and the embarrassment to Clan Murdoch — and of course that large numbers of professional women were subjected to vile harassment and driven from their jobs — are extraordinary.
For a crisis manager, while all that is true, this is a swarming petri dish of crisis.
A crisis is determined not by the trigger, but by the duration of the crisis and the level of distraction that attends it.
Sure, Fox News hasn’t gone dark. Most of the Stars of the Right still rant and rave each day and night. But it’s a crisis that’s lasted most of the summer and still rolls along, with popular and long-time host Greta van Susteren walking out Tuesday.
The New York Times today noted that seven weeks passed since news first broke of the allegations against Ailes from former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson.
You can see the Murdochs trying to curtail or even end this crushing loss of face, by issuing a strong apology, along with a check for $20 million to Carlson. But that’s not likely to happen.
This clan is no stranger to crisis, and corporately and personally have the assets and revenues to survive it. Rupert Murdoch managed his way through the telephone hacking and eavesdropping crimes, scandal and cover up generated by The Daily Mail in London in 2011. These executives don’t run for the hills, they dig in and fight.
But back to our petri dish. The more that comes out, the worse it gets. The more allegations that prove true, the harder it is to do business as usual. Already there are calls for Fox to “clean house” and get ride of Ailes’ team, which still runs the most successful cable TV station in America.
There are key rules that can help curtail a crisis, and, if followed successfully, shorten its life cycle. First, if bad news is going to come out, you should release it first, proactively. After the first allegations surfaced seven weeks ago, Fox initiated an investigation, which obviously led to yesterday’s settlement. Release the report.
Second, take all your hits in one round. If you know it’s bad and more will come out, tell all at once. You gain credibility for admitting error and showing transparency — and, you empty the well of the smelly stuff.
Third, always share all the bad news internally first, with your employees, board and supporters. It’s not clear if Fox ever did so. Fourth, the best way to answer tough questions is to answer them before they’re asked. Come clean, in other words.
Finally, only facts trump rumors and speculation. Even the announcement yesterday of the Carlson award didn’t preempt reports that other settlements were also made. Why not announce it all.
This is a bad one for Fox, especially because it’s been such a lightning rod — and Ailes it’s bolt-throwing Zeus — for advocacy journalism, Donald Trump and angry rightist conspiracies.
But this one’s not going away for a while. Do these five rules work? Ask Ryan Lochte.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.