As sexual assault allegations continue to ricochet throughout Hollywood, dozens of accusers have come forward leveling accusations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Louis C.K. and, most recently, “Saturday Night Live” alum and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.
Some were fired, others were forced to quit. Weinstein and Spacey have reportedly checked into a treatment facility that specializes in sex addiction, presumably in an effort to rehabilitate their image. But top crisis mangers say the likelihood of that happening will depend on the age of the victims, how the accused first responded to allegations and the severity — and frequency — of the crimes.
“People are willing to forgive something that happens once if that’s all that had happened,” Richard Levick, a global communications and public affairs agency specializing in crisis management told TheWrap. “But if it happens all the time, it’s unforgivable.”
Here is what three top crisis managers said about some of the more high-profile cases at the center of Hollywood’s sexual assault scandal.
Levick: He’s done and so is his company. With Harvey Weisntien it’s not just sexual harassment, it’s now moving into a criminal matter and his company will be sold at extreme discount in a bargain basement sale for parts.
Evan Nierman, founder of crisis PR firm Red Banyan: While America is often the land of second chances, it will be especially difficult for Weinstein to recover since his transgressions have swelled to become the cultural reference point when it comes to sexual harassment by men in power. The Weinstein revelations were the first boulder coming loose, and quickly triggered an avalanche of similar complaints that have spilled far beyond entertainment to impact every industry.
Lou Shapiro, a criminal defense attorney who specializes in crisis management: He probably will bounce back but not in a way where he’s front and center. I think his plan is to lay as low as possible, settle quietly all the civil sexual harassment cases and, as time goes by and he sits it out, he could be handling some stuff behind the scenes, If I’m Weinstein, I’m waiting for something else to hit the news right now.
Weinstein’s legal team told TheWrap in a statement: “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied.”
Levick: With so many accusations, it’s going to be tough. Spacey could have recovered from the first allegations but the ongoing nature of this case makes it difficult… With each passing revelation, his ability to recover becomes less and less realistic. He’s going to have to disappear for an while.
Nierman: Spacey may very well find a way to move past this tough time owing much to the fact that he is an immensely talented actor and people enjoy his work. I think he will ultimately benefit from the fact that he has played a range of characters, so it’s much easier for the public at large to be fluid in terms of how they think about him. Unless they have actually been on set with him, they have no reference point and can only judge him by his public appearances or instances where he is pretending to be someone else.
Shapiro: It’s one thing to not be able to control yourself with other adults. But then when you’re talking about minors, it’s a whole other ball game and that’s why I think he’ll have a harder time than Weinstein. While Weinstein’s career is focused behind the camera, Spacey’s is premised on being on camera. It’s why Spacey will have it much harder time making a comeback.
Spacey’s representative said in a statement provided to TheWrap: “Kevin Spacey is taking the time necessary to seek evaluation and treatment. No other information is available at this time.”
Levick: Difficult to recover. It’s the Harvey Weinstein approach of going on the offense. When you threaten to sue [the alleged victims] you have turned your apology into a weapon. Not a good way to go.
Nierman: Brett Ratner is extremely well-known within the industry, but is not household name nationwide. The yardstick for evaluating his ability to recover and continue as a leading force will not be what the public thinks, but how his current issues impact his work and respective roles moving forward. For Ratner, the proof will be in the production.
Shapiro: No minors, which is a plus, and nowhere near as many cases as Weinstein. The fact that he’s a director might make it easier to bounce back as his work is behind the camera.
Ranter’s attorney Martin Singer, disputed the account: “I have represented Mr. Ratner for two decades, and no woman has ever made a claim against him for sexual misconduct or sexual harassment,” Singer told the Los Angeles Times “Furthermore, no woman has ever requested or received any financial settlement from my client.”
Levick: I think he’s got a huge challenge. His masturbation skits appears to have been more than just comedy. I’m not sure he survives this. Who would want to book these people now? He has to stay out of the light for a long time.
Nierman: Comics often have the reputation of being rough around the edges, and the edgy content Louis C.K. uses for his acts has preconditioned us to associate him with outrageous comments and behavior. That eliminates the shock factor, and his road to redemption should be easier than if he were a straight-laced politician or religious leader whose very association with sexual situations, consensual or otherwise, would make the charges even more scandalous.
C.K. admitted to sexual misconduct, telling the New York Times in a statement: “These stories are true.”
Shapiro: Out of everybody, he is in the best position to make a comeback. While I’m not defending his conduct, he invited women into the room and they admit that they went in voluntarily. He acted in a strange sexual way but he didn’t force them to do anything and they were free to leave. He also apologized right out of the bat and his apology seemed sincere. I think he could bounce back sooner than anyone else.
Levick: I think he’s handling it well so far. It was a stupid and juvenile thing to do but now that it’s coming out the timing couldn’t be worse and Republicans will try and put this at the same level as Roy Moore.
Nierman: After his first attempt to express remorse fell flat and was blasted for being inadequate, Sen. Franken immediately issued a much more comprehensive statement in which he repeatedly apologized and actually asked for an ethics investigation of himself. The photographic evidence of his misdeeds left him with little choice but to fully own up to his behavior. I think the prospects for Franken to survive are good — unlike some other politicians presently under fire for sexual allegations, he took responsibility and said he had let women down, but is committed to making it up to them.
Shapiro: The fact that he apologized right away is a good thing. His apology seems genuine. He’s even asking for an ethics investigation. I don’t see a better way he could have handled it. I think he will bounce back. This is not rape, there is a difference between rape and inappropriate behavior, both are no-nos but there is a difference. I don’t think it’s the nail in the coffin for him.
Franken said in a statement: “The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women.”
Levick: I think whenever you’re in Bill Cosby territory, your prognosis for recovery is not good.
Nierman: Just like Ratner, Guillod is not so famous beyond the Hollywood bubble. Any time you have multiple women coming forward with similar stories your crisis is greatly compounded because you now have to contest a pattern of behavior, as opposed to denying a single instance, pursuing the path of apologies, discrediting a lone critic or positioning the situation as a “he-said she-said.” When you introduce the element of drugging victims and assaulting them it makes it that much worse.
Shapiro: He’s not as high profile of a name and nowhere in the same class as Weintein and Spacey. He could have a chance of making a comeback despite these allegations.
“Mr. Guillod is saddened by these false and malicious claims,” a publicist for Guillod told TheWrap.
Levick: I think he handled it well so far. He’s always been a leader. I think he’s been a gentle soul, he’s well-liked and he comes across as credible. It always depends on whether other so-called shoes drop.
Nierman: Context and timing are often key elements when it comes to a crisis. It’s fairly remarkable to consider, but being recorded saying that you have made unwanted sexual advances by grabbing people’s crotches is actually something we have already heard before. Takei will benefit from the fact that such a move is not fake news, but it is old news.
Shapiro: Again, no minors involved. I think he will make a comeback. If you compare him to Weinstein or Ratner, he has one complaint of this nature. I think he will get past it.
“I want to assure you all that I am as shocked and bewildered at these claims as you must feel reading them,” Takei wrote on Twitter. “The events he describes back in the 1980s simply did not occur, and I do not know why he has claimed them now. I have wracked my brain to ask if I remember Mr. Brunton, and I cannot say I do.”