Three weeks ago on December 15, the Virginia Tourism Corporation awarded two contracts totaling $600,000 annually to the Martin Agency. The big dog of Richmond ad shops will be VA Tourism’s advertising agency of record.
On the same day, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published allegations of sexual harassment and other workplace abuses at Martin from 17 former employees. The long-standing macho culture was so overt at least one employee likened Martin to “Mad Men.” By the time Virginia Tourism announced the contracts, the agency’s longtime chief creative officer was already one week out of a job for what the company called accusations of “inexcusable” behavior.
Some 23 agencies bid for the tourism bureau contracts. Presumably, as the originator of the state’s most famous campaign, “Virginia is for Lovers,” Martin had a sizable advantage going in. I can see that. The iconic heart was a game-changer for the state.
But among the many lessons imparted by the #MeToo movement is this: Sexual harassment and mistreatment that drives women out of the workplace, as was reported at Martin, robs everyone involved of potential. One way or another, the product on the outside reflects what’s present—or missing—on the inside.
Evidently, Rita McClenny, Virginia Tourism president and CEO, didn’t get the memo. McClenny told the RTD she had “no concerns whatsoever” about the sexual harassment claims. “That was environmental to the agency and really has no impact on the business,” she said. SMH.
And McClenny wasn’t the only one sticking her foot in it at that moment. I write, of course, of Ralph “Bipartisan” Northam, whose blatant disregard for the issues that carried him to victory was on full display in his December 16 interview with the Washington Post.
While the rest of the nation understood his rout of Ed Gillespie as a referendum on Trump’s policies, Virginia’s new Democratic governor, who twice voted for George W. Bush, saw something else. Campaign advertising notwithstanding, Medicaid expansion wasn’t the imperative he’d made it out to be as a candidate, he revealed to the Post. Controlling costs and making allies of Republicans—those were the big objectives, he said, sounding not at all like a man who’d won the governor’s mansion by nine points thanks to energized liberal voters. So much for rallying the base. SMDH.
All the double-talk in Virginia and elsewhere in these United States reminds me of the great George Carlin. He did a set at the Paramount in January 2007 about a year before he died at age 71. He was working on new material for what would be his final HBO special. The counter-cultural social critic and comedian had served in the Air Force and started his career as a straight-laced, clean-shaven jokemeister until Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor woke him up. From the 1960s onward, clad in jeans, he kept vigil on the absurdities of politics and language. The view never improved.
By the time he got to Charlottesville, Carlin’s had become the comedy of exhaustion. Doublespeak, complicity, blind spots, abuse of privilege—that’s some rough terrain to mine for a punchline. Tempting though it might have been, Carlin didn’t let himself become enchanted by the promise of one party over another, either. Hypocrisy is the ultimate act of bipartisanship, he’d say.
“Government,” Carlin warned from the Downtown Mall on that strangely warm winter night, “is interested in its own power, keeping it and expanding it wherever possible.” LMAO.
Yes, Virginia is a monthly opinion column.