The case study in this truism is the bizarre tale of Michigan state representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, alleged to have privately indulged in an affaire de couer while publicly espousing their commitment to God, country and family. (Both are married, just not to each other.)
News coverage of this chortlefest has been enormous, so I won’t rehash it here. But it’s worth pointing out where Courser and Gamrat each have dropped the ball in terms of PR and reputation management.
The fundamental error, of course, is a shared one: hypocrisy. Their affair flies in the face of the Christian principles they claimed to stand for. Reputation, trust and credibility—essentials for effective political leadership—take years to build and require the constant nurture of consistent ethical behavior. Just one act of hypocrisy can destroy them. And in this case, the hypocrisy is joined with dishonesty, deflection and possibly illegal acts.
Is there any chance they could restore their reputations? While I’ve been surprised by the public’s short memory for scandals before, it’s hard to imagine either Courser or Gamrat pulling it off. So far, neither has handled the fallout well.
As of this post, Gamrat remains silent and in hiding. That’s the worst PR strategy—dismissive, disingenuous, taking no ownership of her behavior or of the narrative. If Gamrat’s hope is that this will blow over, she’s in for a deep disappointment. Some of her most strident supporters are demanding she resign.
Courser, on the other hand, has gone the “you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up” route by playing at doing the right thing without actually doing it. Earlier this week, he released a long-winded recording in which he admitted the affair (good), apologized to all involved (good) … and then played the victim card, claiming he was targeted by blackmailers. As such, he insists he won’t resign his post. Rather than sympathy, all Courser has earned through such wackiness is further ridicule and outrage.
These two officials will not regain the public’s trust. What little respect they might hope to salvage requires that they step down immediately. That’s the right thing to do for their families—who certainly never signed on for any of this—and for their constituents.
Doing the right thing means more than taking responsibility for one’s actions. One must accept the consequences as well.