Media Analysis—Scandal on ABC

The “Scandal” of Communication: A Brief Discussion on the Classical Management
and the Human Relations Approaches to Communication Within Two Organizations

By Abrahim Harb

Scandal is an ABC drama that follows “a White House Communications Director, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) leaves to start her own crisis management firm only to discover she hasn't left the past behind” (IMBD.com). The Pope & Associates employees are Harrison, Abby, Quinn, Huck and for a brief amount of time, David Rosen. Each team member has been saved by Olivia and they are indebted to her—but they are also equally talented in their respective expertise. The “gladiators” trust Olivia wholeheartedly and would follow her into the darkness. They use the cover of a law firm to conduct shady busy, making crime scenes disappear and creating public relations narratives that allow people to literally get away with murder. Olivia and her team are called “fixers,” instead of lawyers—and they make problems go away, before they hit the light of day—they are above the law and Olivia is the “lawyer” to go to in a time of crisis. She is the former White House Communications Director, but left when personal and business became too entwined.

Despite distancing herself from the White House, Olivia finds herself dealing directly with the President, Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant (Tony Goldwyn) or his Chief of Staff, Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry). With this being said, there is much disloyalty and secrecy in the first two seasons in regards to anything with Olivia, Cyrus and Fitz. The presidential candidate’s campaign team rigged the election, including Olivia and Cyrus. This then leads to a series of dramatic events which brings the audience up the season 2 finale. The series is loosely based on the work of Judy Smith a D.C. based crisis manager and can certainly be interpreted as commentary on the government.

In this essay, I plan on explaining the dynamic between (a) the “gladiators” who work for Pope & Associates and their boss, Olivia. They trust her intuition and expertise as their boss and (b) The White House and how they function, mostly above the law and “get things done”. It is in constant disarray, communication is frayed and trust is a word spat on so often, it doesn't exist.

Pope & Associates uses a human relations approach and helps her employees reach self-actualization. The White House officials use a classical management style where this bureaucracy (I use the term loosely with respect to The White House) cannot function without disloyalty and represents The White House, as a governing force, that should have their stuff aligned—yet functions despite a high level of dysfunctionality and deception. Nobody at the White House trusts anyone—and many dirty secrets are revealed to the audience. Pope & Associates functions in a twisted, yet functional fashion.

Olivia’s associates have reached self-actualization through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is important to note that Olivia at some point saved each of her associates from a crisis in their own personal lives (i.e. Quinn was accused of bombing her boyfriend’s workplace. Olivia kidnapped and gave her a new identity). Under a human relations approach, despite the circumstances, they all work, without a dislike or defiance of the bureaucratic system at Pope & Associate; instead of functioning under the limitation of Douglass McGregor’s Theory X, which states, “most people must be coerced, controlled, directed, [or] threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort toward the achievement of the organizational objectives” (84). They do not feel indebted to her, instead, there “basic need for food, shelter, and belonging are satisfied and they can move toward achieving their full human potential (82). They are provided safety (shelter and employment), love (respect by colleagues) and finally self-esteem (opportunities and responsibilities) as stated in Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs (83). They are then able to realize their full potential (despite functioning out of the bounds of the law) and effectively function in “teams or groups within [the] bureaucracy” of Pope & Associates—for the most part, there are “honest relationships” but they are not open (81). Olivia reveals information that is relevant to the case at hand. Otherwise, she is a treasure trove filled with gold and diamonds, which brings me to the next point. Pope doesn’t run a democratic organization, but the opinion of her colleagues is cherished and her “false openness” is not a limitation of any sort, this is why she often has the upper hand (81).

For example, going back to Quinn being rescued: At the beginning of season two, it is revealed that Olivia has something to do with the acquittal of Quinn—the false openness is how Olivia functions. She only reveals what is necessary, keeping everyone in the dark, but following a clear path—as much of an oxymoron as that sounds—and it works out in the end in the favor of Pope & Associates as an organization, reflecting not only the work of Olivia, but her associates. Up until this point, only Olivia and Huck know of Quinn’s former identity, but it is revealed when Quinn is arrested—the team, although in the dark, quickly gets to work and frees Quinn, without revealing her identity to the entire world and out there for scrutiny by the law.

Olivia allows her associates to essentially restart their lives, by giving them redemption. However despite self-actualization they lack a stable life outside of work, because they must remain on the down-low. Their live must be dedicated to work, but then again, they are a family who rely on each other and co-workers. They are “committed to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement (including self-actualization) according to McGregor’s Theory Y (84).

The White House is a bureaucracy that uses a classical management style, where “following ‘the rules’ is valued,” yet the elected leader, was never elected—the election was rigged and led to the election of Fitz, unknown to him and a secret kept between Cyrus, Olivia and a few other campaign workers (81). The White House officials use a classical management style where this bureaucracy cannot function without disloyalty. The organization is an efficient machine for the most part, the occasional breakdown occurs and it is usually based around the breakdown in Fitz’s hierarchy of needs in the love and self-esteem, preventing him from reaching self-actualization. He is burdened by many external issues by the end of season 2, that he no longer wants to pursue a second term as president.

The “scientific management assumed that some employees are better suited to ‘thinking’ work and some to ‘doing’ work” (71). This is exhibited through the revelation that the election was rigged. Although Cyrus and Fitz are not employees in an organization, they are at the top of the hierarchy, the same thing applies. Cyrus is seen as the one who is better suited to “thinking” and Fitz is seen as “doing the work”. For example, there is an instance when Cyrus “advises” the president on a matter that is being discussed. But then when the room is cleared and it is just them two, Cyrus goes on a rant that this is going to be the chosen route all you have to do is follow my directions and get everyone on your side. “Classical management views communication as unproblematic […] the primary function of communication is the transfer of information through the proper channels” (76).

Henri Fayol “prescribed a strict hierarchy with a clear vertical chain of command,” which does exist in the portrayal of The White House in “Scandal” (72). However, each person that makes up the chain has their own agenda (as most politicians do) and each person, has no respect for the others in the hierarchy, they just respect the power the person holds. “The ideal of bureaucracy cannot be fully realized for several reasons [on being] it is not possible to rid organizations of extraorganizational influences on member behavior” (75).

The constant disarray, communication is frayed and trust is a word spat on so often, it doesn't exist. “Unfortunately, abuses of power based on hierarchically ordered systems of domination” exists in most government (69). The people at the top think they can abuse and abuse their power, not realizing that one day (without the crisis management of Olivia) they will be exposed as the resistance piles so high, those at the bottom no longer accept the abuse. Which cracks open the case of another paper.

“Scandal” has many examples of organizational communication. I have formed a short argument that: (a) Pope & Associates as an organization uses a humans relation approach and functions as a way of reaching self-actualization, despite have a sad life outside of work. They function as a family and a team, but only by feeling like a family, does the team work effectively. Olivia is mother goose—and the “gladiators” are her ducklings, except they work hand in hand and follow her direction. (b)The White House as an organization functioning under the constraints of a classical management style where this bureaucracy cannot function without a highly disloyal group of people, who try to run the country. They constantly bring emotion into the workplace and it constrains how effective they are on a daily basis, as they try to juggle the extracurricular things they need to manage above-and-beyond the call of duty and law.


Works Cited

Eisenberg, Eric M., and H. Lloyd. Goodall. "E Early Perspectives on Organizations and Communication." Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004. 63-90. Print.

"Scandal." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. Feb. 2014.

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