April 9, 2006

"Bush makes me sick. If he uses the 'mixed messages' line one more time, I'm going to puke."

John Green, a "Good Morning America" producer, was suspended from his job for writing e-mail like that.
"It isn't simply an issue of expressing one's opinion," [said Jeffrey Schneider, vice president of ABC News.] "It's also the vituperative nature of those comments."...

"What did this guy do wrong?" asked Michael Kinsley, a columnist for Slate and The Washington Post who in a recent column argued that the concept of objectivity is so muddled as to be useless. "Was it having these views, or merely expressing them? Expecting journalists not to develop opinions, strong opinions even, goes against human nature and the particular nature of journalists."

"I guess there are limits — if a guy's e-mail showed him to be a Nazi, you might not want him as a network TV producer," he added. "But unless the views themselves are beyond the pale — and millions of Americans hold views like those this guy expressed — expressing those views shouldn't be beyond the pale either."

William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, said he was troubled by the blurring of the public and the private. "For me, I think people should be held accountable for what they put on the air or in print," he said. And there is no proof this expression of private views affected news coverage, he said.
The problem with email is that it feels so breezy and transitory. By contrast, things written on paper seem more substantial to the writer. But things written in email are writing too, and they are much easier to send around. You may think you're just having some fun and blowing off steam when you shoot out an office email, but you're clueless and incompetent if you don't picture it bursting out into the general public. (Green's email appeared on The Drudge Report.) Kinsley and Kristol are in denial about what office email is. You think every single person in your office loves you and wants to preserve a tight circle of confidence for your sake? What a bizarre delusion!

36 comments:

Bissage said...

John Green became ouraged thinking it unjust that President Bush suffers no punishment for his lack of candor. Next, John Green gets punished for his candor. That may not be ironic, but it is something worth thinking about. Thank you Professor Althouse.

Dave said...

People who send inflammatory emails via the work email address are rather stupin, in my opinion.

knoxgirl said...

Pretty dumb, especially for someone in the media. I don't think he should have been suspended, though. People have opinions, he just displayed a bit of poor judgment.

ABC itself is dumb if they think anyone's particularly shocked that someone in their news dept. expressed strong anti-Bush sentiment...

David said...

Speaking of "mixed messages" what kind of message is John Green sending?

Is he saying, "I will never, ever let my personal views influence my decisions about what to post as news?"

Is he saying, "I don't care about advertisers that might get turned off if I use my position as a bully pulpit to undermine a sitting President in time of war?"

This is arrogance of power that, whether intentional or not, sends the wrong message to our troops, allies, and the majority of people who put President Bush in office, not once but twice.

Green's candor strengthens our enemies and makes him a small hero to his own circle of friends who don't know a single person who voted for Bush!

These people are out of touch and believe their own P.R.

Seven Machos said...

The issue here is simple: ABC News is run by a bunch of left-liberals. This is fine. However, for reasons only understandable to a certain type of mass-media journalist, ABC News insists on presenting itself as "objective" and "unbiased." Any act that shows bias is deemed unacceptable, even though the news itself is actually slanted to the liberal-left in non-glaringly obvious ways every day. If ABC would just be up front about its biases, this dumb charade and all this apparent embarassement could be avoided.

Hypocrisy is the tribute that virtue pays to vice.

grape_crush said...

ann althouse: Kinsley and Kristol are in denial about what office email is.

No, the issue is not about practicing safe email, Ann.

Kinsey's argument is that you can't expect a journalist to not have an opinion; only to not let the that opinion affect their objectivity.

Kristol's argument is that there is a difference between communication intended for public versus private consumption.

Did Green practice safe email? Apparently not.

Are journalists not supposed to privately express an opinion? I'd be interested in seeing anyone's response to that question.

Sloanasaurus said...

I seriously doubt this guy will be suspended for long.

I think it was Michael Barone who said something like "if you were going to start the main stream media from scratch would you have 90% democrats and 10% Republicans making up the media?" Yet, that is what we have.

Ann Althouse said...

Grape crush: It's my blog. I can frame the issues I want.

Seven Machos said...

Grape: No. The problem, again, is that ABC News continues to HOLD ITSELF OUT as unbiased. You cannot do that and be sending around blatantly biased emails on your work email. It's a confict of interest. It's (PERCEIVED AS) bad for the brand. It creates an uncomfortable disconnect. It's hypocritical.

William F. Buckley is a journalist. Michael Kinsley is a journalist. George Will is a journalist. All have been biased all their lives. But since they don't hold themselves out as unbiased, it's not a problem and nobody cares.

Stop the charade. The major news organizations should come out as blatantly left-liberal. That's what they are. Would anyone disagree? So why do they try to pretend they are unbiased?

SteveR said...

In a simple sense, he was trying to be funny or whatever, and got caught. Like telling a dirty joke, racial slur, or commenting about a coworker behind her back.
Using email for those purposes is just not smart.

downtownlad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ross said...

A wise old editor, the great Hank Trewhitt, used to say that you should never write anything down that you wouldn't be happy to see in the newspaper. He devised the rule long before e-mail existed, but the technology doesn't change the principle.

That said: A TV news producer makes one snippy comment about a politician doggedly sticking to the script's talking points.
That's a universal frustration of reporters (who need a pol to say something new to have news). Evidence of deep-seated Bush-hatred among the media? Only to those who were convinced of the conclusion anyway.

wpagwbgi -- isn't that a tribe in Africa?

downtownlad said...

I can think of many worse things that can be placed in e-mail.

I really don't think you should get suspended for stuff like this, as long as it doesn't affect your work. Sexual harassment, racism, etc. - things that create a hostile workplace and affect others yeah, but this is no big deal. And I highly doubt that ABC News had a specific policy against this. I doubt any actual viewers of ABC News gave a damn.

Can anyone imagine someone from FOX News getting suspended for saying a similar thing about John Kerry? FOX News presents itself as "fair and balanced" remember.

Dave said...

"It's my blog. I can frame the issues I want."

Shouldn't this be obvious? I am amazed that some are so presumptuous as to assume that they can tell others what to blog about.

Palladian said...

It's weird, but I've always thought (I guess erroneously) that Fox's "Fair and Balanced" line was meant to be ironic. Maybe it is.

Anyone dumb enough to think that an email would stay "private" deserves what they get. The guy should be suspended for stupidity not for having an opinion.

Ann Althouse said...

downtownlad: "I really don't think you should get suspended for stuff like this, as long as it doesn't affect your work. Sexual harassment, racism, etc. - things that create a hostile workplace and affect others yeah, but this is no big deal. And I highly doubt that ABC News had a specific policy against this. I doubt any actual viewers of ABC News gave a damn."

The reason ABC had to suspend him was to refute the inference that his comment was the norm around the office. The fact that he sent it to the whole office creates that inference. Once we know this is office email -- which we do through the Drudge Report, the company has to do something to isolate the writer, to disown the inference. You might say but the inference is true, but that's all the more reason why ABC needs to fight back. It needs a reputation for neutrality, as does Fox News. It doesn't matter that you think the reputation is feeble. They still need it, and have to fight for it.

Frank Borger said...

"I really don't think you should get suspended for stuff like this, as long as it doesn't affect your work. Sexual harassment, racism, etc.

Hmm, when I worked in Middleton WI, (a Madison suburb,) I once got hauled into the CEO's office and given a verbal reprimand (with warnings of escallation if I continued my sexual remarks,) for quoting Zha Zha Gabor when explaning I would be off for a day to attend a wedding. The quote was,

"No man is complete until he's married, and then he's finished!"

"No man is complete..." - - ohh sexist.

"Bush makes me puke" - - right on!

L. Ron Halfelven said...

For those who believe that the Bush remark was what got Green suspended: go back and read the article again. The lead is buried in the 8th paragraph.

John(classic) said...

"I really don't think you should get suspended for stuff like this, as long as it doesn't affect your work. Sexual harassment, racism, etc. - things that create a hostile workplace and affect others yeah, but this is no big deal."

Assuming there is a conservative left at ABC news might he regard this email as evidence of a hostile workplace?

(Although personally I am opposed to government sanctions against such things as a "hostile workplace", sexual harassment that is not a direct solicitation, etc. The marketplace, and the reaction engendered by bad manners, should eventually take care of such very efficiently.)

Jacques Cuze said...

Hee, hee, I came here expecting to find conservatives complaining about phony "political correctness" and rushing to defend Green.

Seems I was mistaken about what conservatives believe in.

Amusing to see Constitutional Law Professor Ann defending the censoring of someone based on their political views.

Ann, what if Green had posted that on his blog?

What are your students to make of the views you express in your blog or Reynolds (Hewitt, Volokh, Bainbridge) expresses in his? Are they to be worried that you cannot practice neutrality in how you grade them? It seems as though the presence of your blog creates a hostile environment for your students.

From an oped in the Badger Herald, I found this:
The problem with blogs is that it feels so breezy and transitory. By contrast, things written on paper seem more substantial to the writer. But things written in blogs are writing too, and they are much easier to send around. You may think you're just having some fun and blowing off steam when you shoot out a blog post, but you're clueless and incompetent if you don't picture it bursting out into the general public. Ann's post appeared in the Badger Herald. Kinsley and Kristol are in denial about what a blog written on her own time and on the school's time is. You think every single person in your department loves you and wants to preserve a tight circle of confidence for your sake? What a bizarre delusion!

somefeller said...

Good catch, Zrimsek. I suspect there's a lot more to this story than just one bad email. People who are overly fast and loose with their email usage at work often have other workplace issues.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

Not that I think Green should have been suspended on account of it, but a phrase like "Jew shame" is a lot likelier to get someone in trouble than is the Bush stuff. (And just try reading it without hearing Eric Cartman's voice in your head!)

bearbee said...

As someone overseeing the performance of others, I learned that one has a professional responsibility to not go running off at the mouth. Frustrating as it may be, private thoughts stay private.

Obviously ideas need to keep flowing and thoughts expressed but as a producer was his intent to, directly or indirectly, exert influence on others working his projects?

Everyone is biased but it seems to me an effective newsroom must maintain a high standard for objectivity and fairness.

J said...

"I came here expecting to find conservatives complaining about phony "political correctness" and rushing to defend Green."

Nothing phony about it; Green's views are in fact "politically correct". What's to complain about?


"Amusing to see Constitutional Law Professor Ann defending the censoring of someone based on their political views."

Yes, it's hard to believe a law professor understands the difference between the public and private sectors.

"The major news organizations should come out as blatantly left-liberal. That's what they are. Would anyone disagree?"

I believe many would. The problem here isn't some liberal media conspiracy; it's Pauline Kael disease. If the political center of your peer group falls at about the Noam Chomsky setting, then it's natural to believe that truly centrist political views are right wing (and I believe this is the sincere belief of many in the news business).

Aspasia M. said...

Mr. Green's troubles began last month, when the Drudge Report Web site published an 18-month-old message that expressed frustration with Mr. Bush's tactics in his first debate with Senator John F. Kerry. "Are you watching this?" he wrote one colleague. "Bush makes me sick. If he uses the 'mixed messages' line one more time, I'm going to puke."

This quote in the article makes it sound like he sent the e-mail to one colleague.

I think sending one e-mail to one friend is different then sending a mass e-mail to a bunch of people at work.

somefeller said...

J says:

"If the political center of your peer group falls at about the Noam Chomsky setting, then it's natural to believe that truly centrist political views are right wing (and I believe this is the sincere belief of many in the news business)."

Noam Chomsky is pretty far on the left wing of the American political spectrum, and I suspect he himself would admit as such and would state that he is far to the left of the typical American liberal. J, if you really do believe that Chomskyism is the center of the political spectrum among people who work in the mainstream media, then you either don't know much about Chomsky or you don't know much about the media. Sorry, that's just a silly statement, even if one concedes that most people who work in big media tend to vote Democratic.

AJ Lynch said...

And don't forget Green also smeared Albright in another email. Green claimed in his email , she had "jew shame". I think that was the more serious of his two known infractions.

IMHO, Green was suspended not because he insulted Bush. He was suspended becaus Green was dumb enough to get caught insulting Bush.

knoxgirl said...

somefeller:

I would agree that the *average* Democrat voter would find Chomsky ridiculously Left. But the liberals in the big media in NYC? I would imagine you encounter a lot of sympathy for Chomsky-esque "radical chic" in those circles. Even here in the south, I have run into liberals who toss his name around.

Anyway, I believe what j said about the political attitudes at ABC news is likely very accurate.

J said...

"Sorry, that's just a silly statement, even if one concedes that most people who work in big media tend to vote Democratic."

Actually, it was an exaggeration to emphasize my point - Mr. Chomsky isn't the issue. I'll state things more generically: I think a lot of people in the media business - and let me emphasize that this applies regardless of where they personally fall on the political spectrum - have no idea where the political center is and think it's way to the left of it's actual location.

Joseph Hovsep said...

I wish we could lose our fascination with "objective" journalism. I don't think its possible or desirable. All of us, journalists included, are human beings first, perhaps citizens second, and then our professions, among other things. We all have naturally occuring reactions and opinions to the world around us, political, scientific, emotional, etc. We should just admit as much and stop pretending that journalists are, can be or should be truly objective.

If someone who spends his or her life reporting on something doesn't have a personal opinion on the subject, they probably aren't a very thoughtful about the subject. We don't expect music journalists not to have a favorite band or kind of music. Likewise, I think we'd all be better off if we just admit that journalists, especially high profile journalists who cover politics, are likely to have personal political opinions about all sorts of things. That doesn't mean they should impose their views on the rest of us, but it also doesn't mean we should pretend they don't have views.

I don't like Fox News because I think it distorts facts in a way that is unrepresentative of the truth and certainly of my perspective and values. But I think Fox News provides a valuable service to a certain segment of the population. The thing that bothers me about Fox is that they pretent to be "fair and balanaced" when they really are conservative. So, if this network is liberal or hires liberal reporters or producers, fine. Admit it. There is no shame in it. But don't fire people for admiting political views and prejudices that all thinking people have.

Jacques Cuze said...

JOE is 100% correct.

It is far better for people and organizations to be upfront with their experiences and biases than to try to hide them in the name of "objectivity."

As I have said before, the legal system is based on the dialectic. The truth comes out as a process of a fight between advocates of each side, and not as some mystical independent judgment of the facts.

It is ironic to see lawyers that base their philosophies and careers on an adversarial system complain when they detect biases in the press.

In 2006, after Heisenburg, after Dali, after Hunter S. Thompson, there are only two groups of folks that still believe that humans are capable of objectivity and neutrality: Journalists and Judges. Bizarrely enough, Judges like the pope only become infallible and objective after a lifetime of participating in the adversarial system.

Fox's problem is not that they are a bunch of conservative liars. Their problem is their claim to being fair and balanced. ABC and NBC and CBS and CNN's problems lie in their claim to objectivity and neutrality.

What each should be doing is finding facts, determining facts, and telling the story of those facts whereever the chips may lie.

Johnny Nucleo said...

"Bush makes me sick. If he uses the 'mixed messages' line one more time, I'm going to puke."

"I do not like (Madeleine Albright)."

Green should be fired for the banality of his writing. He's supposed to be a pro. This is high school crap.

grape_crush said...

Ann Althouse: It's my blog. I can frame the issues I want.

Absolutely. Apologies if I gave the impression that I was telling you what to do with your blog. That was never my intention.

I was just noticing that Kinsley and Kristol weren't talking about the appropriate use of company email...that's all. I admit that my wording could have been more precise; using 'their issue' instead of 'the issue', in particular.

I did, and still do, agree with your assessment that Green should have thought twice before hitting that Send button, paticularly in today's politically-sensitive environment.

Ross: ...used to say that you should never write anything down that you wouldn't be happy to see in the newspaper.

Heh. And the broadcasting extension to that adage is that you never say anything in front of a microphone that you don't want someone else to hear.

bearbee said...

If the journalistic world is comprised of 90/10 democrats to republicans and the country is roughly 50/50, why does such a skew exist?

Henry said...

grape_crush -- I think Kinsley's right on, but Kristol's completely wrong.

There is no blurring of public and private here, because (I infer from the article) Green wrote his email on a corporate account. That's public space all the way.

Green embarassed his network by the way he expressed his opinion much more than his actual opinion. Jimmy the Greek could sympathize.

grape_crush said...

Henry: but Kristol's completely wrong.

I don't feel that Kristol is wrong...And it's not often I agree with him...

Any company's internal email system is a private system for that company, but an employee has no expectation of privacy concerning their use of the system...Basically, Green made a non-private comment while inside a non-public communications environment.

The 'blurring of the public and the private' occurred once Drudge got involved, not within ABC News' internal email system...ABC and its employees, in effect, do have an expectation of privacy regarding the outside world when communicating within their own network...but individual communications are not private to the individuals within the network...yet here they are, being held accountable for communication of opinions never intended for public consumption.

Kristol's 'blurring' has legs.

Henry: Green embarassed his network by the way he expressed his opinion much more than his actual opinion.

In my experience, management doesn't care what your actual opinion is as long as it doesn't affect your work and you keep it at a low simmer. 'Simmer' being relative, of course.

IMO, it is ABC News' right to discipline their employees for 'vituperative' comments made during work and/or using company systems...But what the company should not do is discipline an employee for 'embarassment' caused by unintended third-party use of internal communications.

If Drudge never recieved those emails, do you think that Green would have been punished for his 'vituperative' comments? Given the volume of email that must flow through ABC's system, could they could actually monitor every one?

Henry: Jimmy the Greek could sympathize.

Jimmy the who?

Just kidding. But at least now I know that we're both probably over thirty-five...well met, Henry...