Service of Reputation

November 27th, 2012

Categories: Reputation

I wrote most of this before the ceiling fell in on Sesame Street’s Kevin Clash, puppet Elmo’s handler. Given the allegation of the sexual abuse of two minors his case had become a distraction and Sesame Street accepted his resignation. Even a hint of such accusations are catastrophic in his business.

I question the accusers’ motives because money is so much part of the story. The second one is suing Clash for millions. The first one accepted a settlement in the low six figures to drop charges. Is money or justice what inspired the two to speak up? But I digress. The purpose of this post is not to put Clash or his accusers on trial even though it seems he’s already lost his case.

What happened to Clash proves how fragile a reputation is-especially a high profile one–and how easy it is for someone to ruin it.

On a miniscule scale, I was falsely accused of something in 5th grade and I’ve never forgotten it. My math teacher sent me out of the room for having exclaimed “Oh God!”  I’d said “Oh gosh.” I was mortified both for having been reprimanded in front of my classmates but at that time I’d never have said “God” in that context and was shocked that someone thought I had. Looking back, my classmates could have cared less. I bet none remember the incident and my parents, who usually backed the teacher, stood with me on this one.

Even so my experience didn’t affect my reputation nor did it threaten my place at the school or a livelihood.

I wonder how people become the head a company [that neither they nor their family owns], or get promoted in the military or in public service with so many out there either looking to blackmail or jumping to the wrong conclusion or even pointing a finger out of jealousy. Your thoughts?

4 Responses to “Service of Reputation”

  1. Ginny, President, Ginny Pulos Communications Said:

    Jeanne, you’ve touched upon something. You still remember that incident because, as an honorable little girl, you were publicly humiliated and shamed. You still feel those feelings today, as you’ve not forgotten the experience.

    Shame and humiliation are used by manipulators, sociopaths, and other malefactors because they instinctively know how deeply we would avoid public shame and humiliation. Guilty or not, think of Bill and “The Dress.” I also think about Oprah being sued by Texas cattlemen thinking she’d pay up rather than endure a public trial, etc. It takes money, courage and moxie to stand your ground when you’re not guilty. Yet, public shaming and humiliation are two factors that keep society in tact, and may be just punishment. Think of the Enron boys. It’s a deep question.

  2. Hester Craddock Said:

    Your photo of the broadside of Emile Zola’s defense of Captain Alfred Dreyfus hit a real nerve. So often the reputation ruining attacks such as you describe involve bigotry and prejudice compounding the unfairness of it all. Congratulations to you for the aptness of your choice of illustration.

    What bothers me almost as much as such attacks on reputation, however, is when public idols become so endowed with public adoration that such in-human beings are enabled to abuse others horribly without fear of correction or retribution.

    I personally witnessed a case of this many years ago when America’s still, years after his death, most adored crooner ever, disgraced himself sufficiently shamefully in public that I decided, then and there, in the future to avoid any and all celebrities at all times and at any cost.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Sometimes people say things without thinking–we’ve all done it.

    At other times, we have no idea we’ve hit a touchy subject. I asked a young woman in my office how her Thanksgiving was. She’d gone home and was also celebrating her grandparent’s 60th anniversary with the family. She broke into tears and said she didn’t want to speak about it. Argh.

    But the instances we’re talking about also involve the press. If the media wouldn’t cover cases before they were tried I guess they’d have little to do, but that would help.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The strange thing is that had this been today with all the ways for the public to speak out and spread rumors, this celebrity might not have ended on top of the heap. Being a celebrity has obvious plusses and minuses but many lose sight of their obligations to the public. I wore a school uniform for 12 years and from the time we were five and six, we were reminded that we represented the school with the public. The word “brand” is used in every instance today, including people. Those in the public eye would do well to think of themselves as representing more than the moment they use illegal substances or take advantage of over-the-top fans.

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