Disney World removes Bill Cosby statue. The right business decision?
Walt Disney World removed a bust of comedian Bill Cosby from its Hollywood Studios theme park on Tuesday night. Are companies taking a firmer stance on sex scandals?
Bill Cosby, Stephen Collins, and Jared Fogle are all celebrities who have faced allegations or innuendos involving sexual misconduct, and each have suffered business losses as a result.
More than two dozen women have publicly accused Mr. Cosby of sexual abuse, and several have said that he drugged them. The comedian has never been charged, and his lawyers have denied the allegations.
Nonetheless, company after company has terminated their relationship with Cosby. In November, TIME reported that NBC had halted the development of its Bill Cosby sitcom and that Netflix had postponed its plan to stream a Cosby stand-up special. In the same month, TV Land pulled "The Cosby Show" from its network following a stand-up comedy video in which Cosby was repeatedly called a rapist.
And now, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., has joined the pack. A spokesman for Disney told NBC News that a bust of Cosby was removed from the resort’s Hollywood Studios theme park on Tuesday night.
This comes on the heels of an Associated Press (AP) report Monday that revealed the contents of court documents filed in 2005. In the documents obtained by the AP, Cosby testified that he obtained Quaaludes, a type of sedative, with the intention of giving it to young women he wanted to have sex with.
Last November, Cosby called the allegations of sexual abuse "innuendo" and refused to publicly address them.
When a celebrity becomes the subject of allegations – even when there is no court case or conviction – companies with business partnerships are put in the position of appearing to support – or distance themselves – from the accused, depending on their response. How do companies handle these scandals?
In most cases, companies act quickly to sever ties.
In October 2014, actor Stephen Collins (who famously played a minister and dad in the TV series “7th Heaven”) was accused of exposing himself to a 13-year old girl in 1983.
In December of the same year, Mr. Collins publicly confessed to inappropriate sexual conduct with three underage girls between 1973 and 1994 in a People Magazine interview.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Collins was quickly dropped from the film “Ted 2” and an Atlanta-based cable network pulled “7th Heaven” reruns from its schedule when the scandal broke.
For 16 years, Jared Fogle was a spokesman for Subway, famous for losing weight while eating at the retail sandwich chain.
But this week, Subway removed all references to Mr. Fogle from its website, and said in a statement that Mr. Fogle and the company have "mutually agreed to suspend their relationship due to the current investigation."
Subway severed ties after an FBI raid Tuesday at Fogle’s Indiana home. Authorities would not reveal the nature of the investigation or what they hoped to find on electronics removed from his house. However, Subway said in a statement that it believed the raid was "related to a prior investigation" of Russell Taylor, a former employee of the Jared Foundation, an organization founded to combat childhood obesity.
Mr. Taylor, was charged with seven counts of production of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography for allegedly filming minor children at his home. Fogle has not been charged with any crimes and his lawyers say he is cooperating with the investigation.
How should companies handle such situations? Inaction is not advised, writes Aileen Pincus of The Pincus Group, in Bloomberg Business:
If you think your business and your reputation are in danger, then it's time to act, whether the problem is widely known or acknowledged by your employees, your customers, or the media.
The more common business response to crisis is to say nothing and hope the problem goes away or the public simply isn't paying close attention. In the absence of a full picture of what happened and why, this tactic rarely does anything other than allow the court of public opinion to reach a verdict. A lack of information fuels anxiety rather than defuses it.