Though the climate in America right now might dictate otherwise, we are, for the most part, a forgiving society.
We are a nation of granting second chances.
We love redemption.
We adore comebacks.
All we need to hear is a heartfelt “I’m sorry. I fucked up.” Not, “I’m sorry … if I offended anyone,” which is straight out of the ‘Sorry, not sorry’ playbook. Not, “I’m sorry … I have a lot of (black/gay/Jewish) friends.”
Just a simple, sincere, “I’m sorry,” with no qualifiers. In the world of public relations, from global corporations to personal brands, sometimes it can be that easy. Not every time, but sometimes.
With just two small hiccups, embattled talk show host Ellen DeGeneres took those steps on Thursday. After months of criticism of both her popular show and herself, DeGeneres finally responded to allegations of a toxic work environment by penning a memo to her staff that was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. In part, she wrote "As we've grown exponentially, I've not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I'd want them done. Clearly some didn't. That will now change and I'm committed to ensuring this does not happen again."
Two small quibbles. One, the “I’m sorry” could have come quicker. According to The Hollywood Reporter’s sources, DeGeneres was discouraged from addressing the situation earlier in the process. Probably not a smart move; best to get out in front of these things.
Two – again, very small quibble – in the above sentence that she wrote, perhaps it might have been a better idea to leave out “and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I'd want them done. Clearly some didn't.” Some might interpret that as passing the buck but most will likely say it was a delegation of authority, and the delegation failed.
Otherwise, DeGeneres did what she needed to do.
Look at others who got out in front of the issue and addressed it almost immediately. Reese Witherspoon, who played the “Do you know who I am?” card in 2013 when she was pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, almost immediately issued an apologetic statement. She then followed that up with an appearance on “Good Morning America” in which she said: "We went out to dinner in Atlanta, and we had one too many glasses of wine, and we thought we were fine to drive and we absolutely were not. It's completely unacceptable, and we are so sorry and embarrassed. We know better, and we shouldn't have done that." Upshot? Still America’s Sweetheart.
Hugh Grant. Oh, Hugh Grant. Why he felt the need to solicit a prostitute in 1995 when he was dating Elizabeth Hurley is a whole separate story. But he did, he was caught, and a few nights later was on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno answering the now-famous query of “What the hell were you thinking?” Said Grant: “You know in life ... what's a good thing to do and what's a bad thing. And I did a bad thing, and there you have it.” Upshot? Still a beloved actor in two countries.
There are others who have been able to rebound.
And some who haven’t.
Michael Richards, aka Kramer from “Seinfield,” got himself in hot water with racist remarks to a heckler during one of his standup acts in 2006. Days later, Richards only inflamed the situation by describing blacks as “Afro-Americans,” a phrase last heard during, oh, let’s say, the Eisenhower administration? What PR guru was guiding that interview?
Multiple Tour de France cycling champion Lance Armstrong didn’t come across as particularly apologetic in the recent ESPN documentary earlier this year about his rise and fall after admitting he took performance-enhancing drugs. At one point, Armstrong says of fellow cycling teammate Floyd Landis – who also admitted to doping and outed Armstrong as a user – “Could be worse. I could be Floyd Landis… waking up a piece of shit every day.”
Look, here’s the point. Every person, every situation is different. Public relations pros are hired to do a job and it often involves crisis communications. In some cases, the best advice we can give is a simple mea culpa to help win back the all-important court of public opinion.
We’re sorry if that offends you, but it’s true.
Embattled talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has addressed allegations of a “toxic” workplace culture in a memo to staff last Thursday.
The longtime host wrote that she intends to “correct” issues raised about behind-the-scenes behavior on her eponymous show, according to the Hollywood Reporter, which first revealed the memo.
“As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done. Clearly some didn’t,” she wrote. “That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”
While DeGeneres does not list specific actions that will be taken, according to the Hollywood Reporter, the show’s executive producer, Ed Glavin, will be let go.
Insiders have been vocal about suggesting that DeGeneres, 62, isn’t the sunny person fans see on-screen. In the memo, DeGeneres suggested that something had shifted backstage to alter her intended “happy” vibe there.
“On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ would be a place of happiness — no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with respect,” wrote DeGeneres. “Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry. Anyone who knows me knows it’s the opposite of what I believe and what I hoped for our show.”
The program had faced allegations of both racism and intimidation, and showrunners had said they were “truly heartbroken” to learn about the issues. In DeGeneres’ new staff message, she expressed “compassion” for the workers who opened up.
“As someone who was judged and nearly lost everything for just being who I am,” said DeGeneres in her memo, alluding to her rocky coming-out in the 1990s, “I truly understand and have deep compassion for those being looked at differently, or treated unfairly, not equal, or – worse – disregarded.”
On Monday, it was reported that WarnerMedia’s employee relations group and a third-party firm would interview former and current staff members about allegations. DeGeneres’ series also has faced the possibility of cancellation during the brouhaha. When asked about cancellation rumors by The Post, DeGeneres’ production company representatives said, “Telepictures can confirm it’s untrue.”
Here is the full staff memo that was sent Thursday:
Hey everybody – it’s Ellen. On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be a place of happiness – no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with respect. Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry. Anyone who knows me knows it’s the opposite of what I believe and what I hoped for our show.
I could not have the success I’ve had without all of your contributions. My name is on the show and everything we do and I take responsibility for that. Alongside Warner Bros, we immediately began an internal investigation and we are taking steps, together, to correct the issues. As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done. Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.
I’m also learning that people who work with me and for me are speaking on my behalf and misrepresenting who I am and that has to stop. As someone who was judged and nearly lost everything for just being who I am, I truly understand and have deep compassion for those being looked at differently, or treated unfairly, not equal, or – worse – disregarded. To think that any one of you felt that way is awful to me.
It’s been way too long, but we’re finally having conversations about fairness and justice. We all have to be more mindful about the way our words and actions affect others, and I’m glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention. I promise to do my part in continuing to push myself and everyone around me to learn and grow. It’s important to me and to Warner Bros. that everyone who has something to say can speak up and feels safe doing so.
I am so proud of the work we do and the fun and joy we all help put out in the world. I want everyone at home to love our show and I want everyone who makes it to love working on it. Again, I’m so sorry to anyone who didn’t have that experience. If not for COVID, I’d have done this in person, and I can’t wait to be back on our stage and see you all then.
Stay safe and healthy.