I have blogged about a friend of mine, Andrew Marshall, before. He is one of the guys in the spot of PC bother alluded to above. I chatted with Andrew on FB about his predicament last week, when he thought he was the guy about to walk the plank after a bit chat-room banter went from mole-hill to mountain at Thompson Reuters last week...
But things have developed quickly over there. It was not Andrew who took the brunt, but David Fox, the colleague he was chatting with. Unfortunately for the cause of world sanity, it was a internal chat-line open to others from Thompson Reuters. Someone was offended, not so much by Andrews light-hearted witty line, but from David Fox's response.
Here is an article from Hong Kong's South China Morning Post that I will paste in its entirety in the interests of fair comment and common piracy, as otherwise you (I) would have to pay a year's membership. (And get used to that!)
The bald facts behind a hair-raising sacking
Apr 19, 2011
These days you need to have more than good reporting and editing skills to keep a job at Thomson Reuters. If the fate of two of its senior journalists is anything to go by you need to have a political correctness radar tuned to the sensitivities of its recently appointed editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler.
The two journalists got into hot water over a brief exchange in a company messaging chat room during the middle of the night while both were covering the recent Japanese disaster. The two journalists were Andrew Marshall who is based in Singapore and David Fox who in January was promoted to Jakarta bureau chief. When the exchange occurred Marshall was in Singapore and Fox was in Tokyo. Marshall attempts some gallows humour in what was a tense situation, and inquires of Fox, who is bald: "So how is the radiation mate? Has your hair been falling out?" For this remark Marshall was formally reprimanded and given a warning letter. Fox, it has to be said, replied somewhat coarsely but alas, we cannot repeat it.
Despite his 20 years' service with the company he is given the option of resigning with three months salary or of being fired and receiving one month's pay. The decision to oust him is believed to have been taken by Adler. Friends say he is likely to take legal action to obtain better terms from the company.
The punishments have infuriated staff throughout the world and both journalists have been inundated with e-mails of support expressing outrage at the punishment. It is a particularly bitter blow for Fox, having covered something like 35 wars for the company, to be laid low by a careless comment. But people at the company say that the fairly robust culture that existed at Reuters before the Thomson takeover is changing and will change further under Adler. People say he did good things at BusinessWeek where he was editor-in-chief for five years.
South China Morning Post
Hardly gallows humour, but if only David has just replied with "ha ha", I am sure neither of them would have been reprimanded, let alone sacked. If only...
There was also a more subdued article in The Guardian in the UK, which I will merely link to as it free online. Well, maybe a brief quote:
There is also a belief that the decision, which was made by Reuters in the US, is further proof of the agency's Americanisation since it was acquired three years ago by Thomson.
A little bit of trans-atlantic rivalvry there, what? And probably unnecessary as political correctness is not an exclusive national trait. But I really hope that this blows back into the faces of Adler and the powers that be at TR and that Fox and Andrew manage successful suits against them, should they decide to pursue that path.
After reading both articles, I put up this comment on The Guardian's website:
At first Andrew Marshall (who was bureau chief in Baghdad during the Fallujah dramas) thought it was himself in the firing line, as he too was given a warning and letter of reprimand.
You go to these wars, see your buddies get killed, and still you provide reports from the amazing stress at the front-line, reports that keep up the company's profit as they keep the world informed. Then you get pinged for a throw-away chat-line comment.
And Fox, who is bald, sees his career explode over his somewhat coarse response to his buddy over this line: "So how is the radiation mate? Has your hair been falling out?".
Perspective? Editor-in-chief Adler seems to have none.
I blogged about a similar story of Political Correctness in Australia when a good friend of mine in Melbourne got into hot water a few years ago: Sad Sick Little World.
When I sent this blog-post to Andrew, he said, "I once had a harassment claim made against me. It was total nonsense and luckily I had e-mail and other written evidence to prove that. Nevertheless, outside of the violent death of friends and colleagues, it was the worst experience of my life."
In a recent post on his blog, Andrew tells of these violent deaths and what it's like being a journalist on the front-line. The timing of which post was not necessarily coincidental...
Those of us who worked in Reuters in Baghdad were big fans of Pirates of the Caribbean. We agreed between us that there were some principles we would always try to live our lives by. We called it the Pirate Code. The first rule was that we would never, ever, give up on somebody unless we knew absolutely for certain that all hope was gone.
I still follow the Pirate Code today.
If anybody wonders why I fight for lost causes: now you know.
Andrew just said this on my FB page: "It was a ridiculous decision and I refuse to accept it."
I hope that the cause of David Fox and Andrew Marshall, for common sense to be restored at Thompson Reuters, is far from lost.