The US Supreme Court nomination process of Justice Kavanaugh has turned ugly for a host of reasons. I’m not here to tell you who’s lying and who’s not. Certainly, somebody is. The fact of the matter is if you are an organization particularly a CEO, pay attention. The situation that we’re witnessing is as bad as it will get and something you can face.
It’s not out of the question that you will run into a situation where an accuser comes to you claiming that one of your key executives was the perpetrator of an attempted or an actual sexual assault. Whether it occurred on property or not doesn’t really matter. It could’ve happened decades before and still be relevant. It’s on your doorstep now, and your credibility and the organization’s credibility is at risk.
If I were to give a grade to the Democrats and the Republicans over the last few days it would be a flat “F” for how they’re handling this. Their actions are motivated by politics and not from a crisis PR perspective. In the end, I don’t think either one’s going to win regardless of the outcome.
Let’s look at the Democrats side first. Senator Diane Feinstein of California apparently got the confidential memo weeks before from the accuser who claimed Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her when they were in high school. She sat on it until the time that the hearings were over and a vote was about ready to occur. This is a perfect example for CEOs of why you don’t rest on a potential crisis PR situation if it’s going to blow up later on and put you in a bad light. I know it’s a confidential memo. I know that there were certain circumstances under which she had a no-win situation. But the fact is this information should have been disclosed far earlier and confirmation deliberations should have been taken this into account weeks before. The delay plays against Senator Feinstein.
The other thing is that many Democrats have already found Kavanaugh guilty. What if he’s not? More to the point, they said if Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmed and the Democrats take over both the House and the Senate, he could very well be the first sitting Supreme Court Justice to be impeached. Now they’ve done this before he’s even been confirmed let alone a vote taken place in the committee. When you as a CEO or business owner start to draw conclusions before all the facts are in place, you lend yourself susceptible to having to reverse that position later on. The one cardinal rule in crisis PR situations is you tell the facts only as you know them and express clearly that you’re gathering more information.
As the Democrats have stepped on their toes, so is true for the Republicans. They started off well, enough. The Trump administration showed uncharacteristic restraint in expressing a keen desire to allow the process to continue at a pace at which everybody was comfortable. That lasted about two days before the President started to Tweet his doubts on the validity of the accuser. We saw that same position expressed by many other Republicans who automatically sided with Judge Kavanaugh, shaming the accuser.
Look there’s only one way to play this and that’s very carefully. What you do as a CEO is you state you’re going to follow a full investigative process and then put one in place. Do not prejudge. Do not side. Do not draw conclusions until you know it. You will do yourself and your organization no service by trying to argue this from a position that you just don’t know if it’s true or not. Be cautious. Be clear. And be thorough in the investigation. And don’t say anything else otherwise. Because if you do you’re going to make it worse.