Here’s one for the court of public opinion: When a man rightfully gets knocked off his perch by the #metoo movement, how many people should go down with him?

The question hangs like a guillotine these days over Maine Media Collective, whose owner, Kevin Thomas, has admitted to “lines that were crossed” when he twice kissed a female employee after an evening of drinks back in 2010.

That encounter, recently revealed by Jessie Lacey, the employee, has since mushroomed into multiple allegations by Lacey and others against Thomas.

That, in turn, has led to an exodus of advertisers, business partners and collaborating organizations from Maine Media Collective, publisher of Maine Magazine, Maine Home + Design and several other coffee-table publications geared toward the upper crust of Maine society.

Thus, what began last month with a lengthy story in The Bollard, a free publication in Portland, about Lacey and several other unnamed accusers, has now taken on a life of its own – or in the case of the Maine Media Collective, a possible death knell.

Referring to the 65 or so advertisers, most of them major accounts, who have bailed thus far, publisher and CEO Andrea King said bluntly in an interview Thursday, “We don’t operate if that doesn’t come back.”

Translation: Even if Thomas succeeds in a fast-track effort to sell his beleaguered business, 26 employees – many young and the majority women – could soon find themselves put out of work by a scandal in which they played no part whatsoever.

A sign of the times?

You bet it is.

But is it fair?

Let’s discuss.

According to King, who took over the Portland-based operation last fall, many of the advertisers, festivals and other organizations long associated with the Maine Media Collective’s brands want to see three things before they’ll consider resuming their affiliations with the magazine group.

First is a change of culture, which King insists is already in place.

Second is the adoption of best practices when it comes to human resources policies and procedures. That’s also in the works, according to King.

Third is the complete cutting of all ties with Thomas, who no longer has an office in the company’s Portland headquarters but remains the sole owner. And therein lies the problem.

According to King, nine different entities have expressed interest in buying the magazines from Thomas, including four that she calls “front-runners.”

For those 26 employees, a deal can’t be sealed soon enough.

For Thomas, meanwhile, the sale price undoubtedly has plummeted in perfect sync with his tanking reputation. Investment types would label this, no pun intended, a “distressed sale.”

And then there’s this: Dr. Lisa Belisle, named editor-in-chief of Maine Media Collective in January, is currently in a romantic relationship with Thomas. If I’m a prospective buyer, I’m going to file that under “problematic.”

Call it a race against time.

Will a new owner surface before the company’s revenue and content streams evaporate? After advertiser defections forced Maine Magazine to pull out of the food-oriented Kennebunkport Festival late last month, editors and writers found themselves scrambling to fill 50 suddenly open pages in their June issue.

And beyond the sale, assuming one goes through on time, will the advertisers and other affiliates consider coming back?

Finally, if that’s a yes, what is the appropriate waiting period to reconnect with a #metoo-damaged brand?

It’s not an academic question for Susan Axelrod, editor of Maine Media Collective’s Old Port Magazine and Ageless Maine.

“What’s really hard is that we just don’t know,” said Axelrod, the former social media editor for the Portland Press Herald who went to work for Maine Media Collective two years ago and has loved every minute of it.

Axelrod likens the company in its current predicament to a hot stove: At the moment, “people are afraid to touch it.” Stop fueling it, however, and it eventually starts to cool off.

“We’re trying really hard to just plow forward,” Axelrod said. “But it’s hard.”

There are two ways to look at all the backpedaling away from a magazine group that, from all appearances, was doing well before Thomas’ bad behavior finally caught up with him.

One is that advertisers, by backing away from Maine Media Collective’s brands, are simply trying to protect their own. If an angry customer walks into your restaurant waving a copy of Maine Magazine and snarling, “I can’t believe you’re doing business with that guy,” it’s not hard to deduce that this is more than just Thomas’ problem.

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The other tack is more punitive: Kevin Thomas must be made to pay for, as he put it, crossing the line. And if that means reducing Maine Media Collective to an ash heap, then so be it.

It’s that second reaction I find troubling – not because I harbor an iota of sympathy for Thomas, but because I know and respect several of the people caught in the crossfire. What did they do wrong? Why should their livelihood suddenly be on the line?

Recently, King and 12 other women at Maine Media Collective recorded a short musical video in which each simply looks at the camera and smiles. They then posted the video on the company’s Facebook page – an attempt to show the world that, Thomas’ notoriety notwithstanding, they’re happy doing what they do.

The social mediasphere pounced. Online commenters called it a PR stunt, claimed it was produced under duress, even suggested that by posting the video – which has since been taken down from Facebook – these women were themselves complicit in Thomas’ transgressions.

Sorry, folks, but anger like that doesn’t blaze a path forward. It torches the whole forest.

There’s little doubt that whatever fallout Kevin Thomas suffers from all of this – lost money, lost standing in the community, lost career opportunities – he earned.

But to those who would extend that retribution to the hardworking Mainers he’s soon to leave behind, this might be a good time to ask yourselves a question:

Exactly whom are you punishing?