Archive for October 5th, 2009

E.coli, Polanksi, Letterman, Lewis and more

October 5, 2009

Too many interesting things going on to focus on one.

1. E.coli in hamburger. I suspect food borne illness has decreased dramatically in the last 50 years. I grew up on a dairy farm where we grew and ate most of our own food, including meat from old cows. The town butcher would show up and mom would cut up and can the meat. I remember her even making head cheese. But this article in the New York Times about e.coli in hamburger is a sign of the times. Note the style–an attractive young woman shown to have her life threatened and harmed. Another innocent young girl spending nine weeks in a coma. Reference the death of four children–15 years ago. Then show how companies are cutting costs for profit. Then show how lax regulations are and our government is allowing the industry to police itself. This is classic white hat black hat reporting. I do not say this to diminish the risks of e.coli at all, nor to downplay the horrific suffering of those who have been victims of it. And I also fully support all efforts to improve our food safety. My only point is this–if you are in the food business you should be aware that we are entering a time of unprecedented focus and transparency. I’ve seen too many examples (Food, Inc. production for example) where the those producing our food think they can hide and prevent the public’s prying eyes from seeing. Those days are gone. Open up your doors and windows and if there is anything you are doing you can’t defend, then change it. I ask this for the sake of continuing the great blessing of affordable, healthy food that has enabled billions on this planet to eat well, and too many to eat way too well.

2) Hollywood shows it colors in Polanksi affair. Hmm, let me ask you something. If a prominent clergyman was convicted of having sex with a 13 year old, what would the Hollywood biggies think about it. They’d hang him from the highest tree and do it with the greatest glee (sorry about that). But what do they do when one of the high priests caught is one of their own. Forgive and honor. Not only do I find this outrageously hypocritical, it is disgusting. But part of my is glad for this because in such action you can see the true colors of those folks. I only hope for a few prominent leaders in Hollywood to call these people on it. As for the rest of us, this shows too clearly the moral compass or lack of it among those people who define so much of our culture for us and for the rest of the world.

3) Ken Lewis and $53 million retirement. Trust in business and major institutions is one of my missions and goals. I want business to earn public trust and not have the public trust business more because government is stepping in to regulate and control it. However, public trust will likely take a huge black eye with this retirement package. For those in the media and the public jumping on these things, I think there should be a continual reminder that in the height of the financial crisis, these banks were not given a choice about accepting government money. With the money came  different set of expectations and extraordinary levels of government control and public say. The kind of criticism that will come from this is both understandable and unfortunate–in part because they resisted being put in this position.

4) Social media policy at the Washington Post. If you are an organization leader with employees and you are not struggling with social media policies, you are probably Ken Lewis heading for a nice retirement .Everyone else has a big worry on their hands. Even those in the media–or maybe even more those in the media. Because when a reporter tweets, is he/she acting/thinking on his/her own or are they “reporting”? Since the tweeting of Post reporter Raju Narisetti raised such questions,the Washington Post has created some guidelines aimed at protecting the perception of objectivity. Yeah, uh huh. The one thing I like about the emergence of all this “citizen journalism” is raising the curtain on the pretense of objectivity. Nevertheless, the effort of pretense will go on–and there is benefit to that. But I still think that, like the DoD, the Washington Post or other media trying to control social media is like pushing on a balloon or nailing jello to  wall.

5) Letterman. There’s a strong cynical side of me that says since this was an inside job within CBS it is all a conspiracy to take the focus away from Jay Leno’s new show. But, I doubt the quest for ratings would be great enough for the news producer to be willing to take such a fall–unless of course CBS offered him $2m and a way out of his debts. Hmmm, maybe not so far-fetched. While I have read PR pundits proclaim that Letterman did a perfect job of dealing with this reputation crisis by publicly airing his apparently numerous affairs, and another news report pointed out that these affairs took place before his current marriage, there is still something rotten in Denmark in my mind. In an age when people can be fired, be fined and go to jail for telling off-color jokes in a way that someone can term sexual harassment, to allow one of our cultural icons this kind of latitude seems both incomprehensible and hypocritical. If a boss of a big company were to do this and it hit the news, wouldn’t the question arise as to the inherent coercion of a boss/employee relationship? Sure, supposedly consensual, but he is the boss and some at least would think that implies some form of coercion. There is another point that will be lost on some but not others. This kind of promiscuous behavior at some time in the distant past was looked upon with a certain amount of disfavor. It still is in some circles, including mine. In such circles, we will find it hard to laugh at or with someone who so cavalierly flaunts values we hold dear. Suddenly, I find myself finding Mr. Leno, happily married for decades, to be a very funny and honorable man.