We haven’t seen as many films this year as we usually do. But one of our favorites, either our #1 or #2 pick for the year, is The Queen (directed, and brilliantly so, by Stephen Frears).
Here’s a decent plot summary:
In late August 1997, just as Prime Minister Tony Blair was moving into 10 Downing Street, Princess Diana died in a Paris car wreck. England went into traumatized mourning deeper than anyone could have predicted, while the royal family — Diana’s estranged former inlaws — offered no public reaction at all.
As resentment toward the royal cold shoulder built into a monarchical crisis of public opinion, young Mr. Blair [attempts to intervene] with the Queen, [urging] the House of Windsor [to make] a public demonstration of something like humanity.
But Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) resists Blair’s call for a more public show of empathy. She is a deeply traditional woman, and as far as she’s concerned, Diana’s death is a “private matter” — since Diana, divorced from Prince Charles some time ago, was no longer a “royal” or “HRH” at the time of her death.
The Queen’s commitment to tradition makes her tone deaf on the public relations front. She does not know how to navigate the complex and challenging world of the modern mass media. The Queen fails to see the crisis in confidence that is looming — a crisis that threatens the institution of the monarchy, which she loves above all.
What we must now ask is:
Is H. Rodgin Cohen, the chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell, the Biglaw version of “The Queen”?
Our reflections on this question, after the jump.
Ever since the filing of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell, the lurid lawsuit filed by S&C associate Aaron Charney against his (probably soon-to-be former) employer, the firm has been going through a public relations crisis. It has been portrayed, in media both old and new, as prejudiced against gays. In a profession that boasts many talented members who are openly gay, this is not a good thing.
Even if one rejects the claims of anti-gay bias, S&C certainly has been depicted as a firm that harbors a disturbingly high number of raging a**holes. If even half of Charney’s allegations are true, the firm is stocked with nightmare partners who treat both gay and straight associates with gross disrespect.
(Check out this article for a good discussion of the PR damage done to S&C.)
And yet H. Rodgin Cohen, like the Queen, has been silent for almost the entire time. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, he issued a brief email statement on behalf of the firm, which we published in these pages. But other than that — and an attempt to cozy up to the Wall Street Journal that actually may have backfired — Cohen and S&C have maintained their stony silence.
In contrast, plaintiff Charney has been everywhere. He has given television and print interviews. He regularly communicates with us and other bloggers. If this is a public relations war, then Aaron Charney is on a blitzkrieg. Indeed, he may even be reaching the point of overexposure.
Like the Queen, Rodge Cohen is committed to tradition and propriety. He may regard a PR battle as beneath the dignity of a distinguished firm like Sullivan & Cromwell, and inappropriate for a leading light of the profession such as himself. He probably views trying a case “in the court of public opinion” as grossly improper, even unethical.
But one has to wonder, as one did with respect to the Queen (whose commitment to tradition ultimately endangered the institution that she loved more than anything):
1. Is the silence of Sullivan & Cromwell, and in particular, H. Rodgin Cohen, in the best interests of the firm?
2. Even if it would be improper to be as aggressive as Aaron Charney in courting public opinion, are there subtle steps the firm can take to protect its reputation, without going too far (or stooping too low)?
3. Even if the firm itself doesn’t want to cross swords with Charney in the newspaper and blog pages, can they operate through proxies to ameliorate the reputational damage?
4. Are there any allies whom the firm can summon to its defense — allies who are hopefully more effective, or at least less foolish-looking, than Jack Scheich of LeGal?
Just some food for thought, on this Wednesday night in late January.
The Queen [IMDb]
When blogging casts an unflattering light [Globe & Mail]
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell (scroll down)