A corporation mired in scandal has a couple of options, neither particularly attractive: go to court and risk the public airing of dirty laundry, or settle out of court for a hefty sum. Mike Benediktsson (Social Forces, July 2010) analyzed six large-scale scandals between 2001 and 2002, and found that most corporations picked option C: blame individual “bad apples” for the crime.
After news of the Enron scandal broke, for example, photos of then-CEO Kenneth Lay were prominently displayed in virtually all media stories on the company. Benediktsson suggests that responses like these are intentional corporate decisions to put a face on the crime, diverting public attention from the corporation itself.
Leaving individuals to fend for themselves protects the company’s reputation and saves thousands, if not millions, of dollars in legal fees and other services. Another case in point: the 2001 Xerox scandal, which thrust six executives into the limelight and concluded with a $10 million settlement from the company and an astounding $22 million settlement from the six “fall guys.”
This practice is supported, too, by the media’s preference for a face and back-story to courtroom dramas. After all, legal proceedings are less exciting for newspaper editors (and their readers) when the plaintiff on the stand is some faceless corporation. So, though most companies—at least in the U.S.—emphasize the importance of being a team player, it’s every man for himself in a scandal.