Sunday, June 23, 2019

Reputation Is But A Shadow

“Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” Raymond Donovan

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The media had a field day painting Donovan, Reagan’s former Secretary of Labor, as a mafia stooge after he had been indicted on corruption charges in 1985 for his work with a construction company accused of having mob ties.

The only problem was the charges didn’t hold up, in fact they spectacularly imploded. Donovan’s attorneys rested their case without ever calling a single witness, contending the prosecution failed to prove Donovan did anything wrong. The jury agreed, and Donovan was acquitted (along with all the other defendants) and walked out of the courtroom a free man. Yet free is hardly the same thing as untainted. Up until he was indicted on unsubstantiated, politically motivated charges Mr. Donovan had led an exemplary life as an individual and business man. In an instant his name would forever be associated with a criminal indictment – hence his now famous quote.

Which brings us to this year’s most outrageous act of character assassination – and there were many to choose from - Gibson’s Bakery in Oberlin, Ohio.

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But this time there was retribution. Last week the bakery won a huge lawsuit against Oberlin College for its role in unjustly destroying the reputation and livelihood of the family business, as explained by David Gibson:

Despite the lack of any evidence, our family was accused of a long history of racism and discrimination. Oberlin College officials ordered the suspension of the more than 100-year business relationship with our bakery, and our customers dwindled. We were officially on trial — not in a courtroom, but in the court of public opinion. And we were losing….

The bakery fought back, as well documented by William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection, in the only way open to them, the legal system. When the dust settled in the libel, slander and defamation suit the bakery filed against Oberlin College and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, for their role in destroying the bakery’s reputation, the jury awarded them over $44 million in damages.

Why did the family pursue this through the court for years? David Gibson again explains:

Gibson Bakery owners 91-year-old Allyn W. Gibson, R, and his son David Gibson

As the extended legal battle dragged on, many asked why I didn’t just quit. Wouldn’t it be easier to close up shop and move on?

What few understand is that this situation not only affected our business; it touched every aspect of our lives.

In the end, the words of my father inspired me to continue the fight. He said, “In my life, I’ve done everything I could to treat all people with dignity and respect. And now, nearing the end of my life, I’m going to die being labeled as a racist.”

There wasn’t enough time, he feared, to set the record straight. His legacy had been tarnished and he felt powerless to stop it. I had to see this case through.

This experience has taught me that reputations are a fragile thing. They take a lifetime to build, but only moments to destroy.

Like a fragile egg, once broken it can never be whole again.

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Raymond Donovan would understand.