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Lawsuit against Lizzo is a problem because it cuts against her image, PR expert says


Lizzo has been in the news lately in a way that she would rather not be. The artist, who is an advocate for body positivity and self-love, is being sued by three of her dancers who allege sexual, religious and racial harassment, as well as fat shaming. Lizzo has denied the allegations. Let's talk them through with Molly McPherson, a public relations expert who specializes in the sort of celebrity crisis that Lizzo now faces. Good morning.

MOLLY MCPHERSON: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I guess we should be clear, we're operating in an environment where we can't say for sure which of these allegations may be true. But is this suit a special problem for Lizzo because it cuts against her image?

MCPHERSON: Exactly, Steve. What makes Lizzo's case different is the reaction from her fans. This isn't a case of a simple celebrity misbehavior or an offense in the legal realm. It's a case of an artist who is being called out for hypocrisy.

INSKEEP: And the hypocrisy is what? Lay it out.

MCPHERSON: Well, in this case, Lizzo is a very relatable brand. I mean, her - she built the entire brand on body positivity, accepting differences in people. Her fans bought into this brand. And when people feel that they have been had, they will let their artists know that they're not pleased with it.

INSKEEP: We should mention that Lizzo has said these are, quote, "sensationalized" stories, has essentially denied the allegations by - and we'll name them here - Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez - who filed a total of nine different accusations against the artist. She said that they are sensationalized stories. Do you find that response to be adequate?

MCPHERSON: I find that response to be 100% predictable. This is a legal case. It's really an employment issue case - what it boils down to. So her team is doubling down on trying to deny all the allegations that happened, which can be risky in a social media realm because now her fans and other people can share their sentiment online. And what they're saying is, we don't believe you.

INSKEEP: Are you saying that it would've been a better response to say nothing?

MCPHERSON: It would've been a better response to show some level of accountability or some speck of remorse. Legally, what she may be trying to do here, it's reasonable to assume that they want to settle this case out of court. However, what is happening - in the attempt to limit the legal liability, she's almost guaranteeing that she is hurting her reputation. And she may not get it back.

INSKEEP: Oh, you're saying that maybe she should've said, oh, I'm sorry. Apparently, something happened here. Like, some acknowledgment would've been better from a public relations standpoint, even if it wouldn't be from a legal standpoint.

MCPHERSON: Lawyers are allergic to the term, I'm sorry. There's a culpability that comes with it. But the nuance here is if you can show some level of remorse, it's telling the fans that we - I understand what is happening here. I understand that I let you down. And the fans will recognize that. But with a full deniability, it's done.

INSKEEP: If you're Lizzo, is it possible to argue that even from a public relations standpoint, there's no point in expressing regret or acknowledging responsibility?

MCPHERSON: That's a fair assessment that you can assume that your fans aren't going to accept you. But nowadays, people do relate to celebrities who address a situation with sincerity, and they demonstrate a commitment to resolve the issue, all while remaining true to their public persona. Lizzo seems like the person who'll be able to do that if she's allowed by her lawyers.

INSKEEP: Molly McPherson, public relations consultant and crisis manager, thanks so much.

MCPHERSON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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