“In the pitched battle between perception and reality, perception always wins.”
And that’s Bill Cosby’s biggest crisis.
That’s my quote.
“Hey, Hey, Hey!”
I came up with that truism in the mid-1980s in conjunction with the publication of my book, Crisis Management: Planning for the Inevitable, the first book ever written on the subject. I still use that quote today when dealing with stressed clients in crisis situations, and when they want to know why it seems the world has suddenly turned against them. Or, at least it seems that way. The explanation goes something like this: It doesn’t matter how “right” you are, if your constituents think you’re wrong, then you are wrong, and your task – our task— is to do whatever needs to be done to bring the public around to our point of view, and fast. In other words, get perception and reality to align.
Bill Cosby allowed several credible charges of sexual misconduct to go unanswered for far too long. And so, according to the precepts of my quote, he is a dirty old man who did all the things he’s accused of doing.
Why? How can I say that?
Because that’s the perception brought about by his too-long silence. And remember, perception always wins. Hence, Dirty Old Man. Groper. Sexual predator. And all the other nasty things said about him.
Whoever is advising Bill Cosby on this matter is not serving him well, and I would wager it’s lawyers. Many uninformed attorneys have a “No Comment” kneejerk reaction to these types of media intensive crises. Cosby needs lawyers, to be sure, but he also needs his public. And he also needs competent and qualified crisis communicators to help him achieve that.
Think about this for a moment: Ever since the runaway success of “The Cosby Show,” he has been one of the most beloved figures in modern times, made all the more remarkable because he is a black man. (Flash: Racism still exists in this country). Kids (of all races) wanted fathers like Dr. Huxtable, wives (of all races) wanted husbands as involved with the kids as Cliff, and they also wanted partnership marriages like the Huxtables had.
But those sordid accusations!? Drugging young women!? Dr. Huxtable? Cos? Fat Albert’s father? It gives new and creepy meaning to the belly-jiggling “Hey, Hey, Hey!”
Who on earth could believe such codswallop? It defied credulity. All Cos needed to do was speak up and put down these phony-baloney accusations.
Just mainly silence from Dr. Cosby. Which served no purpose but to feed the ever-gaping maw of conspiracy theorists.
And thus we are left with the impression – the perception – of a dirty old man.
So the take away from this crisis is not to allow a crisis to fester if you can aid in its demise. For allowing accusation upon accusation to build serves no purpose.
Except to further a twisted parlor game of trying to calculate the number of possible illegitimate Fat Alberts who may be roaming the streets today.