July 19th, 2012
News comes today that actor Fred Willard was arrested for alleged lewd behavior at a “Hollywood adult theater.” PBS announced shortly thereafter:
“Given the unfortunate news reported today, effective immediately, Fred Willard no longer will be involved with the Market Warriors series,” said Jeanne Hopkins, a spokeswoman for WGBH, the Boston public broadcaster that produces the show, in an e-mail.
In what seems to me chillingly similar to cold-war Soviet historical revisionism, Hopkins went on to say that previously recorded episodes of the show would be updated with a different actor’s voice recorded over Willard’s.
Note the liberal use of the word “alleged” throughout the lead for this post. I understand the risk to reputation posed to PBS in light of this development, but no one has proven that Willard committed a lewd act. He has been charged. Does this constitute grounds for dismissal? Seriously, even if it is confirmed that he did it, and it was a stupid thing to do, should it mean the end of his career?
Morals charges in particular produce dramatic and swift reactions. When Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) was arrested in July, 1991 on a similar charge (he pleaded no contest in November of that year), he almost instantly became an entertainment industry pariah, and it destroyed his career for nearly a decade.
Luckily for Reubens, there was no Twitter at the time of his arrest, and Twitter seems to have been kind so far to Willard, with many downplaying the incident.
I thought this was an interesting case study in reputation management, but who wants to take any kind of stand on a subject like this? I’m just commenting on the the potential impact to Willard’s and PBS’s reputation, but now my name and the phrase “lewd act” will produce Google search results. Great. I’m not defending the alleged act, just the right to due process before a person is judged unfit for a career in the public eye.