I’ve been on vacation for a week with my lovely wife in very rainy Palm Springs so hence my hiatus from this blog and also perhaps, hence the strange congruence of Roger Clemens and the San Francisco Zoo. What they have in common is both fighting reputation challenges in a fairly aggressive way.
The zoo of course is facing the issue of a fatal mauling by one of their tigers who escaped its enclosure. They have suggested that the tiger was probably provoked by the actions of the teenagers attacked. This has received a vicious and somewhat predictable response by Mark Geragos, the celebrity defense attorney hired by the families of a couple of the teens. He accused the zoo of blaming the victims.
Clemens, of course, is fighting for his reputation as a result of the Mitchell report on illegal drug use. The evidence against him comes from his trainer. Clemens is vigorously denying any improper drug use and saying anyone who says otherwise is a liar. He has been on 60 minutes, in blogs, major news reports–all over.
Both are what I might call new wave efforts at reputation management–attempts at moving the black hat that has been placed on their heads and doing so by suggesting that the black hat ought to go on someone else’s head. In my book, Now Is Too Late2, I advocate this approach in the most serious and extreme reputation situations. Why wait for the extreme? Because it is highly risky.
Of the two examples, the zoo in my mind has done it better, more tastefully, and with greater credibility. Geragos, for all his supposed brilliance, has only helped publicize the issue and therefore bring to people’s minds the possibility that the boys might have some culpability. And while Geragos is characterizing their effort as outrageous and extreme, the truth is the document he refers to is very quiet and modest in its suggestions–very much unlike Geragos’ accusations against them. And his motive is clear–he would like to assassinate character with impunity while anyone suggesting that they might have the right–even politely–to do the same is met with indignation and outrage. I find that quite entertaining.
On the other hand, Clemens has come out with bombast, righteous indignation and undisputable denials. If he is completely and absolutely 100% innocent and he can demonstrate that with little room for doubt, his demeanor will be seen as appropriate and justified. If not, it is clearly a case of the lady protests too much, plus a complete and utter lack of credibility probably forever. Lying quietly and with dignity is one thing–doing so at the top of one’s lungs is quite another. The flashing eyes of a former president denying his inappropriate behavior with an intern comes to mind. Once you have seen those eyes, it is hard to forget and particularly when such indignation has been demonstrated to be intentionally fabricated.
If you are accused you must defend. That is increasingly clear. And you must do it soon before the lie that is the accusation becomes the truth through incessant repetition. But in your defense you must be absolutely beyond reproach–in what you say as well as how you say it.