Scandal and Image Restoration

Let’s take a look at a scandal I’m sure we’ve all heard of — the Lewinsky Scandal. For anyone who was living under a rock, here’s a quick summary.

In the late 90’s, Monica Lewinsky was hired on as an intern at the White House while Bill Clinton was president. Lewinsky and Clinton began a secret affair, and Lewinsky shared the details of this affair to a friend, Linda Tripp, who began secretly recording their telephone conversations. In 1998, after learning that Lewinsky had sworn an affidavit denying such a relationship, Tripp released the tapes to an investigator and the story was broken to the public leading to many ramifications for both parties and eventually Clinton’s impeachment trial.

Now let’s take a look at how this scandal was handled with reference to image restoration and more specifically, ¬†Benoit’s Image Restoration Strategy.

Benoit’s Strategy consists of five steps: denial, evade responsibility, reduce offensiveness, corrective action, mortification. A more in depth description of these steps can be found here.

Initially when the story broke in January of ’98, Clinton practiced denial, saying that the allegations were false and directly addressing this to the American people. He continued to deny and skirt around the issue for the next 7 months, refusing to bring it up in his State of The Union Address and even having his wife Hilary cite it as a “right-wing conspiracy” against him. Although the media was buzzing with talk of the relationship and Clinton’s possible lies and perjury, nothing was provable because Lewinsky refused to talk. I would consider this to be the evasion of responsibility, both on the part of Clinton and of Lewinsky, who even went so far as to ask Tripp to lie under oath for her to no avail.

Finally, in August, Lewinsky was granted immunity in exchange for her testimony, and the truth came out. Clinton was forced to admit his wrongdoing, as there was now proof. A video linked here shows both his initial statement of denial and his eventual admittance.

I don’t believe there was anything that could have really been done to reduce the offensiveness. The American people were outraged that their president had outright lied to them, and Clinton was charged with perjury for denying the relationship in his testimony. Since the damage was already done, there wasn’t much corrective action that Clinton could do on the matter either. Congress took corrective action of their own though, holding an impeachment trial on the grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice that ended with the president being acquitted and allowed to stay in office. A more detailed account of the trial can be found here.

Although Clinton was allowed to remain in office, this scandal greatly damaged his reputation, and he definitely experienced mortification in having to admit his wrongdoing. Without question, his actions were unethical. From a consequentialist standpoint, he harmed his relationship with the American people, put his job on the line, and faced legal and financial ramifications. From a non-consequentialist standpoint, he did not act out of goodwill by cheating on his wife, as well as lying to the American people and under oath in court. He acted out of his own selfish gain, and this damaged his image, although not irreparably I would say, since he was allowed to remain in office and continues to work in politics. Much of the reason he was allowed to stay in office was support of his party for political gain, but as time passed I believe he was able to restore his image more and many people looked past his lies pertaining to the sex scandal and more toward his political contributions.