March 5, 2020
Deborah Dugan, the now-former president of the Recording Academy, has been fired after the organization which hosts The Grammys conducted what they called “two exhaustive, costly, independent investigations” into allegations made by Dugan.
Each investigation followed up on accusations made by Dugan about both the Academy’s culture and nomination process, as well as separate allegations made by Dugan that she was sexually harassed. Dugan insisted that the voting process for some top awards was “rigged,” insinuating that the process was unfair, casting aspersions on the winners of some of music’s most prestigious awards.
In addition to finding no substance to the allegations made by Dugan, the independent review stated that there was evidence of Dugan’s “consistent management deficiencies and failures…” though reports have said no specific examples were listed.
All of this touched off after Dugan was put on administrative leave early in 2020, after a complaint was lodged about her interactions with a longtime Academy employee. Dugan filed a discrimination complaint, adding an accusation that attorneys for the Academy “acted inappropriately” during a business meeting.
After the firing, Dugan’s representatives fired back with a prepared statement which read, in part: “The decision is despicable and, in due course, the Academy, its leadership and its attorneys will be held accountable…”
The response to this claim was scathing, with Academy officials sending out a clear message that Dugan would not be receiving any kind of settlement for her alleged grievances: “We could not reward her with a lucrative settlement and thereby set a precedent that behavior like hers has no consequence… Our members and employees, and the entire music industry deserve better than that…”
Given the sensitive nature of allegations such as those Dugan made, especially given the kinds of reactions music fans are likely to have on social media, this kind of emphatic negation and strong stance must be accompanied by a very clear message that the organization behind the accused did a thorough investigation, with clear indicators who is telling the truth.
This is especially key given the ongoing criticism of both the music industry and awards shows. Many fans already have strong opinions, making them liable to believe one side or the other, based on those views. These strong opinions often cause fans to provide digital megaphones for narratives, spreading them, loudly and enthusiastically, across social media and other digital platforms.
All parties involved should understand that, with digital PR, very few things are settled. Nearly everything is an ongoing conversation, even if all the facts are “out there” and readily available. People believe what they believe, and they will strongly defend that position. Parties involved in public disagreements that end up online should understand this going in and prepare their messages and counter-messages accordingly.