There was a time not that long ago when an extra-marital affair would mean the end of a public media career. These days, time seems to heal all brands. Just weeks after ousting CEO Roger Ailes over sexual harassment claims, Fox News has reinstated former White House correspondent Ed Henry.
Henry has been off the air for four months after it was revealed he had an illicit affair with a Las Vegas hostess. At least in this case, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay there. And, though he’s back on the TV, Henry won’t be the “face” of a particular beat for Fox.
Instead of his former high profile position, Henry is taking the spot of “general assignment reporter for national news, a chief correspondent position that comes with a much less prestigious title.
When a tabloid broke the affair story, Fox went with the direct and discreet approach, saying Henry would be taking some time off for personal reasons to work things out. Euphemistic, certainly, but smart in this election year. There’s a lot more salacious gossip for news consumers to sink their teeth into, so, by not making a big deal about the issue, both Fox and Henry set up his eventual return.
The network surely didn’t want to lose a talented and connected journalist, and the reporter certainly didn’t want to lose his job over an errant relationship with, to put it bluntly, the sort of person with which a great many people tend to have errant relationships.
Now, stay with me here. I’m in no way defending Henry’s actions. I’m simply pointing out a public relations reality he, apparently, chose to learn the hard way.
This is an aspect of PR very rarely discussed openly. In the public relations business, people tend to accept abstract ideas without blinking while also heavily condemning specific cases of that same activity. People are so accustomed to bad behavior in “sin city” the joke mentioned earlier in this article has become cliché. People talk about it any time someone barely mentions Vegas. In fact, the promotional companies enticing people to Vegas make “what happens here stays here” their calling card. It’s totally accepted.
Except when it isn’t. And it isn’t when people of a certain career or expectation break the unwritten societal rules. If a rock star or rapper has an issue in Vegas. No big deal. If a sports star does, it often depends on the sport what the consequence is. Again, this is not a topic most folks are comfortable talking about, but consumer expectation is a vitally important facet of public relations. Leaving aside the “right” or “wrong” of an action, certain positions require people to fit a certain expectation.
Fail to meet this standard and don’t expect to be able to play the “but they can do it” card. PR doesn’t work that way. Plainly put, the rules are not the same for everyone. There may be gray areas all around, but they don’t work the same way for everybody. You need to know that ahead of time, and you need to have a PR team that’s both honest enough to prepare you and skilled enough to watch your back.
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