Watergate to weapons of mass destruction20 July 2009

UQ Business School's Dr Stuart Middleton believes Watergate and the Weapons of Mass Destruction scandal provide important lessons for organizations faced with severe reputational crisis. Dr Middleton said Watergate was the first of three major reputational crises to rock the Republican Party since the early 1970s. "The first was Watergate; the second was the Iran-Contra Arms affair in the dying days of the Reagan presidency; and the third was the Weapons of Mass Destruction controversy," he said. "In each case, the Party has shown remarkable resilience to crises which go to the heart of what we would consider to be trust in government. "It has been the dominant party in US politics for the last 35 years." Dr Middleton said the recovery of the Republican Party after Watergate was impressive. "Gerald R. Ford came a close second in the 1976 US General Election," he said. "Given that he was a Republican appointed by Nixon immediately after the Watergate scandal and that he had officially pardoned Nixon ahead of any indictment or trial, it is astonishing that he was able to win 48 percent of the vote against Democrat Jimmy Carter." One of the few researchers outside the US to win a prestigious Gerald R. Ford Foundation grant, Dr Middleton will have access to the entire Ford archive when he travels to Michigan later this year. "The efforts of the Ford campaign team to overcome their party's tainted image following Watergate make for an intriguing and important political story," he said. "Ford should be remembered as the man who repaired the reputation of the Republican Party to the extent that it became the dominant political force for the next three decades." Dr Middleton said his PhD research focused on how firms recover from reputational crises through the construction of powerful narratives. "My approach to the Ford archive will be to examine all the documentation from the campaign proper," he said. "I hope to be able to trace the development of the narrative to see how the stories are continually adjusted and readjusted to suit the intricacies of the campaign and campaign message. Dr Middleton will travel to Michigan in August to take up the prestigious scholarship.
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