Plausible Deniability: Celebrities’ Secret Weapon Against Accountability and Consequences
My name is on it, but I’m only here for the profits, not the problems or the blame
Recently, another celebrity’s “show” has come under fire for having a “toxic work environment”. Some media outlets were quick to point out that “the show” was being investigated, but “the show” is named after, hosted and by the celebrity. To be fair, the show is produced by one of the Big 3 television networks — not the celebrity consequently the executive producers said that “they take full responsibility” and made the following statement:
“Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes and employing over 1000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe and inclusive work environment…” “We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience.” (Buzzfeed)
What I see and hear from this statement is: We’re taking full responsibility to divert attention from the celebrity who profits from the show to protect their reputation and brand. We’re truly sorry that a few Black people and people with disabilities “had a bad experience” and “heartbroken” that their stories went public because we’ve done a great job overall producing 3000 shows with 1000’s of healthy, happy white people and we promise to do better — even though we created the culturally incompetent, diversity deficient, toxic environment that we’re promise to fix (so we can keep our jobs).
Yet, Buzzfeed details several incidents that were brought to the attention of “the show’s” producers and executives and nothing happened. One former Black employee said that one of the executive producers accused her of “looking resentful and angry” following a reported incident.
Why do celebrities have shows, projects, partnerships and not know they have NO Black and/or POC in their leadership teams? How don’t they know how their disabled and employees of color are being treated? Do they purposefully stay out the day to day details so they can legitimately say, “I don’t know what’s going on because I don’t deal with the day to day operations?” The answer is YES!It’s called plausible deniability and it’s a great PR and legal strategy, but it’s a horrible way to run a business. This is common practice for a lot of executives in private companies and even nonprofits, but they have a hard time getting away with it because of business law and board requirements.
Celebrities “own” their brands and profit from it and the good publicity for their generosity, but aren’t responsible when there’s a problem? That doesn’t seem fair or reasonable. You just can’t take the good without taking the bad. In any other business the leader takes responsibility — but I guess celebrities are the exception to this rule. This is not acceptable especially if there’s serious allegations involving racism, discrimination and sexual harassment and misconduct.
Celebrity brands are businesses and employers and they should be aware and take responsibility for who they’ve hired to represent them and partner with. Yet, “the show” is being investigated and taking responsibility, but not the celebrity…
Black, brown and disabled people have been treated badly at work with no accountability. Laws that are supposed to protect us are basically useless and act more like a deterrent due to HR and diversity and inclusion office’s conflict of interests, and the biased and complicated EEOC reporting and court process… It’s almost impossible to prove discrimination even if the person calls you a racial or sexist slur in front of witnesses. People will lie or remain silent to protect the powers that be and the perpetrator will get a slap on the wrist or the victim will be punished or told to get over it…(AOC knows)
As an African American woman who (still) lost my job following an “independent investigation” where they found bias, racism, discrimination — this latest incident is too familiar. “Independent investigations” are a public relations and legal strategy to strengthen the “plausible deniability” defense and mitigate damage in case of a discrimination lawsuit.
The PR playbook is predictable:
Someone has to be sacrificed to show that they “take these allegations seriously”. In this case, one of the producers will probably take the blame and resign or be “fake fired”. I say fake — because they will have already negotiated his golden parachute with a generous severance package (so they don’t suffer)…
Unfortunately, it’s been my experience (and way too many others) that if they do have any POC and/or disabled people left that witnessed any of the incidents, their contracts won’t be renewed. The release will come without warning, prior notice or severance. “The show” will hire all new Black, POC and disabled people (who aren’t problematic) to kick-off a “fresh start” to a “more inclusive environment”. “The show” will probably add 1 or 2 people to the small tokenized group of 2–3 Black or POC in the 1000’s, plus 1 more “diversity hire” to replace the person they “fired” on the leadership team.
Following the investigation, the old and new staff will have to suffer through a presentation of findings, new hire and policy announcements which will probably involve a “reorganization” with new diversity and inclusion positions. They’ll shuffle around the same people to make it look like they’re shaking things up — when they’re just moving the same problems to new physical spaces (creating more anxiety and agitation)…
As part of the presentation, there will be a diversity training and “difficult conversation” workshop series (normally scheduled at inconvenient times like lunch, after work hours or weekends). The workshops will be “mandatory” and facilitated by a diversity consulting firm (normally owned by white woman who’s a friend of an executive and she’ll “bring in” a Black colleague) where the remaining executives will take notes and start the pattern of targeting anyone who mentions pre-investigation incidents (again).
The celebrity will make a statement and be visible for some trainings and scheduled “check ins”, pose with an ethnic food lunch from a local minority owned food vendor and the few diverse employees and vow to be more “hands on” (but they will never be seen again — until the next incident goes public).
This hands off approach to accountability needs to stop. You can’t own your brand and not the problematic culture you allowed in your namesake…We all have some level of responsibility directly or indirectly. Own it!
Black and brown and other marginalized groups don’t want your hashtags and diversity talking points. We NEED your real commitment in parting the the sea of power and privilege and bringing everyone to the promise land — not for photo ops, guilt quotas or to save face — but because you genuinely value and see diversity of culture, race, ethnicity, abilities, gender and sexuality and socio-economic class as an asset because that reflects the REAL world.
Celebrities need to wake up and realize it’s not all about YOU and your reputation — it’s about the lives of thousands of people who represent and work for you… Are they treated fairly, with respect and dignity? Are they fairly compensated from the top to the bottom — everybody has value. You need to know — it won’t be easy, but it’s the right thing to do — if you really care about equity, inclusion and justice.