Paramount TV President Fired Over Racial Remarks

While it’s true that socio-cultural norms change with time and environment, there are always going to be some things one cannot say, in any context, in a business setting. Or, rather, you can say them, but it will lead to consequences. These consequences could be a loss of respect, a loss of opportunity to advance, the loss of a job, or, in affect, career suicide.

In recent years, in-context comments or ‘jokes’ that would have been given a pass – if not a laugh – not that long ago, have led to major consequences for even some of the most powerful people in their professions. From Roseanne Barr to “Papa” John Schnatter, it’s become pretty clear that racial commentary is one of these hardline, no questions asked, lines one should not cross.

And, yet, according to reports, Paramount TV President Amy Powell did cross that line. Now, Powell is being described as “former” President, after being fired for the “alleged” remarks, made during a meeting to debate the potential of a TV series based on the movie “The First Wives Club.” While the alleged remarks have not been disclosed, people on both sides of the issue have very strong opinions, both about what was said, as well as whether or not it was appropriate.

Powell has steadfastly claimed there is “no truth to the allegation that I made insensitive comments in a professional setting or in any setting…” She has vowed that the “facts” will come out and vindicate her.

The initial report, apparently, surfaced in a Variety magazine article, in which an “unnamed source” claimed Powell “made statements about black women being angry for various reasons…” According to the report, another executive assistant “alerted the studio” about the remarks, which have been described as “racially charged.”

Despite the she-said / they-said nature of the issue, Paramount Pictures Chairman Jim Gianopulos said his company made the decision to fire Powell “effective immediately.”

And there it is, once again. Swift consequences for making comments related to race. Fair or not, fact or not… this is how things are, and people wishing to protect their brands and their careers need to consider this “new normal” when determining the content of their conversation. We don’t know what Powell said, or what she meant. And we may never know, but that hasn’t kept her from losing her very high-profile job.

The lesson? Brands are not playing around with this issue. They would much rather lose one person, no matter who they are, than deal with the consumer blowback of being seen as not responding “well enough” to allegations of racism in their organization.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR.


Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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