Just when you thought that things could not get worse for Roger Ailes, they have. The media genius is now on the chopping block of the media empire he was instrumental in building. Perhaps deservedly so, as there is no defending the behavior as alleged—however the circumstances of Ailes behavior pose several questions that would cause any human resources professional’s head to spin.
As with any accusation of criminal conduct in the U.S. justice system, Ailes is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately for Ailes, the punishment is already rolling in—loss of his job, a damaged reputation, and surely more shoes (in this case high heels) to drop as more accusers are surely to come forward.
In the end he may be proven innocent but forced to ask the same question as former Labor Secretary Ray Donovan did when he asked the federal judge in his case, “How do I get my reputation back?”
The answer for Ailes is to insulate it now.
Oftentimes “he said/she said” descriptions are rarely accurate from any party actually involved. While there are always two people that know the truth, ambition, revenge, money, and fame may cloud memories—especially in the pursuit of headlines or the defense of a legal case. Yet, exposing motivations—and thus attacking the victim is always a losing strategy—regardless of the legitimacy of the claims.
The legal team under the leadership of Susan Estrich is already influencing the public narrative with details of negotiations but little if anything has been said by Ailes direct. There are many things that Ailes, his legal team, and advisors should be doing right now to protect his reputation in the short term and any legal liability in the long term.
- Run to the light. In any crisis, controlling your own narrative is key. If there is something to tell, even if it is difficult, say it all on your own terms. If there is nothing to say, say that too—but don’t be too defensive, lest folks will assume there is something to be defensive about.
- A sincere apology if there is legitimate remorse paired with an announcement of what he will do to correct future behavior (resign, seek counseling, awareness advocacy program etc.) will go a long way to showing the sincerity to the apology and commitment to changing behavior. People will forgive, especially if you ask for forgiveness, sincerely and with associated action.
- Third Parties. Many FOX personalities have rushed in to defend Ailes—and perhaps more are on the way. Encouraging these advocates to continue to say positive things, cast doubt on the alleged behavior, and talk about the Ailes they know, will show the other side of someone who will be continue to be portrayed as a villain. It is rumored that some big names may follow Ailes. If that happens it will be a tremendous show of support. There is perhaps no greater show of support than risking one’s own reputation in defense of another.
- Work to Change the Culture. Ailes should become a champion for a harassment free workplace.
It may be too late for Ailes to save his career at Fox News, but perhaps not too late to save his reputation and allow him to make another fresh start. Regardless of his age, with the right counsel now, Ailes can begin again.
There may always be emotional scars, but perhaps this moment can prevent his or even others future misbehavior. Ailes has spent a lifetime building an empire he is about to lose—at least he can save his reputation allowing an opportunity to rebuild.