“Ride it out, baby. Play dead.” That’s the counsel Fortune’s humor columnist, writing under the pen name Stanley Bing, once gave to executives asked for a public apology. Just wait. “The hungry badgers” sniffing around would soon find somewhere else to go. The advice was presented in jest, but there was a serious undercurrent. In his day job, Bing (real name: Gil Schwartz) was the longtime public relations chief for Les Moonves, head of the CBS television network. For years, the advice worked. Now, obviously, it doesn’t. This week Moonves resigned in disgrace, pursued by new allegations of brutal sexual assaults, harassment, and retaliation. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that he tried to hold on through the first round of charges, in July. What was it that he thought he had to gain? There he stood, like a punch-drunk boxer swaying on his heels and telling his foes to come at him just one more time.
Until recently, Masters of the Universe never had to say they were sorry. As anyone who’s been in a schoolyard knows, most people defer to and even admire bullies. The key, titans like Harvey Weinstein and Roger Ailes instinctively knew, is to maintain the illusion that you are invincible. No one will dare to check if you really are. And even if they do, you can rely on the belief that you’re just Too Big to Fail. But as the dominoes continue to fall, U.S. companies are discovering that morally reprehensible executives, TV anchors, and other big stars are not indispensable. When they leave, replacements will step in, the gears will continue to turn, and the business will survive. All the thousands of people who’ve kept it going will keep doing their jobs. In fact, they’ll do them better, because they won’t have to worry about being sexually harassed, demoted, pushed out, or bullied by the boss.