After a bombshell CNN report revealed a simmering controversy over remarks made by Fox News personality Jesse Watters during an April conference, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America issued an apology Thursday.
Known colloquially as “The Big I,” the organization placed the blame for the incident on outgoing president and CEO Bob Rusbuldt, who was moderating an on-stage discussion with Watters. Rusbuldt was relieved of his duties “immediately following the Legislative Conference,” the statement said. He had planned to retire in September, after serving with the organization for 37 years.
CNN reported that Watters “made a crude attempt questioning the gender of Vice President Kamala Harris.” The remark was not well received, with many attendees leaving the room, the network reported.
Like many insurance companies and trade associations, The Big I is in the midst of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. A source said there was a DEI event later in the day. CNN reported that Rusbuldt apologized during that event, but the damage was done.
“We deeply regret that this incident occurred at an event that is intended to celebrate our organization and its membership,” The Big I statement reads. “We have been working with our DEI team internally and externally since the event on ways to foster a more inclusive and respectful culture and ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
What isn’t known is Rusbuldt’s role in the exchange with Watters. Phone numbers listed for Rusbuldt did not accept voice mail and he could not be reached for comment.
Convincing Company, a high-powered Washington public relations firm designated by The Big I to respond to media inquiries, did not return email or phone messages.
The Big I statement left no doubt who the association blames.
“It is disappointing to see Mr. Rusbuldt end his 37-year career at the Big “I” in this way,” the statement said. “Much more distressing, however, is the hurt and discomfort so many of our members, partners and staff experienced as a result of his remarks. We do not in any way condone or agree with any of Mr. Rusbuldt’s statements, but we must take full responsibility for them.”
Founded in 1896, the Big “I” is a federation that includes the national association and 51 independent state associations. They support nearly 25,000 independent agency locations nationwide, according to the association’s website.
Charles Symington, senior vice president for external, industry and government affairs, has been named Rusbuldt’s successor as CEO.
Senior Editor John Hilton covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @INNJohnH.
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