Nov. 18, 1997
KALAMAZOO -- A Western Michigan University expert on the corporate and individual use of public apology to control media crises says former sportscaster Marv Albert has broken a fundamental rule of image rebuilding by appearing on numerous TV talk shows just weeks after his trial on assault charges.
Dr. Keith Hearit, WMU assistant professor of communication, says whether it's a corporation or an individual immersed in a crisis, there needs to be a time-out period when the public feels a moral lesson can be learned. "People want to know that you've learned from what you did," Hearit explains, "that the public criticism brought some kind of moral or managerial reawakening and you've matured. By coming out so soon, Albert is saying he hasn't had time to learn from this. He should go into hiding for a while and then come out and say, 'Yes, I learned from my mistakes.'"
In this day and age of media celebrity, Hearit says, most individuals are able to win public forgiveness for nearly any act and their misdeed often becomes part of their legend or myth. Based up his research, he says the most unforgivable act a corporation can commit is to harm the environment, but when it comes to public figures, the lines are more difficult to find. "Things that 20 or 30 years ago would not be forgiven currently are," he says.
Hearit blames the increasing use of apology for political gain on the proliferation of media, especially television shows, that relish stories showing a hero being toppled. While individuals are more likely to confess and win forgiveness, Hearit says corporations are increasingly taking a different approach and using aggressive tactics to fight charges of wrongdoing in order to protect their products and their stance in the marketplace.
Hearit can be reached at his office at (616) 387-3142. For assistance in contacting him, or if you're looking for an expert on another topic, contact Julie Paavola <Julie.Paavola@wmich.edu>, WMU Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, at (616) 387-8413.
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