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Is It OK To Fire Employee For An Opinion Stated on Personal Time?

Posted by $ rainman0720 3 years ago to News
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I had an interesting discussion with Beth (my wife) about Hayley Geftman-Gold, the now-former CBS VP and Senior Counsel. Ms. Geftman-Gold posted a comment in a Facebook discussion thread that got her fired, essentially saying that she had no sympathy for the Las Vegas shooting victims because most Country and Western fans are probably gun-toting Republicans.

My wife’s position is that CBS was fully within its rights to can her based on her statement. If she was talking on the Facebook thread as “Hayley Geftman-Gold, CBS VP and Senior Counsel”, then I agree. They were well within their rights to dump her, since she brought her employer into the conversation without their knowledge or consent.

But if she was simply acting as an individual with an opinion (however ludicrous and stupid and insensitive that opinion might be), my position is that if she was acting purely as a Facebook participant and NOT as a CBS employee, she should not have been subject to any discipline by CBS.

If she was not acting as a CBS employee, what CBS did to here is—in my opinion—no different than what the leftist idiots at Berkeley did to Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos. The idiots at Berkeley didn’t like what Coulter and Yiannopoulos might say, so they did everything they could to prevent them from speaking.

If Geftman-Gold’s sentiments were her own as a person and not as a CBS employee, she should not have been terminated because of her ideas. To punish her for believing something—anything—seems like Orwell’s Thought Police live and in person and coming to a theater near you.

I’d like to get perspectives and opinions from others about this. And please disregard any “employment at will” concepts; I’m simply talking what’s right and wrong. I’m asking purely about whether you believe an employer has the right to punish an individual for having an opinion, when that individual was not on work time, and was not speaking as an employee of that company.

If Geftman-Gold was acting as an individual and not as a CBS employee, do you think CBS was right to fire her?

Or do you think what happened to her is as wrong as what happened to Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos?

Or do you see it some other way?

Thanks,

Ray



These comments added 05.October, 8:15am EST.

I’d like to thank everyone who responded to my question. Got a larger response than I thought I would. Rather than trying to respond to selected answers, I’m updating my original post.

I think my problem (if “problem” is the right word) is twofold, one based on my perspective, and one based on my ignorance.

First, I’m a grunt, someone who isn’t even on the corporate ladder (and who has absolutely no intention of trying to find and climb that corporate ladder). I’ve spent my entire 40 year career as a computer programmer, perfectly content to watch people move up the food chain—only to be eaten by someone else more ambitious moving up that same food chain.

So I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be viewed by others outside my company as an executive of some kind, rather than someone who maintains the day-to-day functions of a Fortune 500 company.

If I was somewhere on that corporate ladder, I may well understand that the line between who I am when I’m “on the clock” and who I am after-hours isn’t nearly as clearly defined as it is in my current position.

Second, I am probably one of 17 people in the entire United States who has absolutely no presence in the social media world. I doubt anyone really gives much of a rat’s behind about my feelings as I watch a television program. I really don’t think anyone cares about something that happened to me at work, or on my vacation, or about what I ate for dinner. And yes, that pretty much means I don’t care about others’ feelings about that same television show, or what they did at work or on vacation, or what they had for dinner. It’s just not a world I’ve ever been interested in joining.

If I was active in social media, I may well understand again how that line between the on-duty me and the off-duty me isn’t as clear as I think it is.

For me, that line between the two parts of myself is very clear and distinct. Anything I’m doing that’s in any way related to my company, I have an absolute responsibility to do what’s in the company’s best interests. But when I go off the clock, that responsibility ends. I’m living for myself at that point, not for my employer.

Anyway, you’ve all given me some great situations, perspectives, situations, etc., and I really appreciate everyone’s comments.

And it seems like my naiveté is firmly on display for everyone to see.

I’ve got my reality, and in that reality, there are two different aspects of me: the employee, and the individual away from work. But it’s become obvious after reading these comments that how I see the world is different than most of you. And the reality is that you’re probably right, and I’m probably wrong.

Thanks again, everyone, for the replies.





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  • Posted by $ Temlakos 3 years ago
    Senior executive officers, especially Vice Presidents, are representing the company wherever they go. She would have had to take out a Facebook account completely devoid of any mention of her position as Vice President and Senior Counsel for CBS, Inc.

    And for the Grand Legal Eagle of any company to get into a scrap like this, makes me wonder what law school had the misfortune of graduating her.

    I always hold Vice Presidents--and especially Vice Presidents and General Counsels--to a higher standard of off-the-job conduct.
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  • Posted by $ WilliamShipley 3 years ago
    If an employee's public statements can damage the company's reputation, it may be reasonable to terminate their employment to protect the company. A company hires someone because they believe that it will help the company achieve it's goals. If that person becomes a liability for any reason -- other than those protected by law -- they can be terminated. Being an ass on the internet is not protected, pregnancy is.

    This is different from blocking a speech by someone because you disagree with them. The example of Yiannopoulos's publisher canceling his book contract is more in line with this -- and well within their rights.
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  • Posted by IndianaGary 3 years ago
    Once cannot bifurcate an individual; e.g. "compartmentalize" one's statements into "personal" and "business". What one says or does reflects upon the character of the individual regardless of the setting. An individual is a "whole" human being. A careless remark can have a devastating impact upon one's future. At work, unless an explicit contract is involved, most people are "at will" employees; CBS had every right to terminate her based upon an opinion she expounded that reflected badly upon the company. She should have known better, but snowflakes will be snowflakes; perhaps she will learn from the experience, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Her mistake was an indication of her stupidity.
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  • Posted by $ Dobrien 3 years ago
    if she was having a private conversation than no she should not be fired.

    Social media like face book or LinkedIn is anything but private.
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    • Posted by $ allosaur 3 years ago
      I agree. On social media people with jobs need to watch what they write.
      For example, employers like the Communist Broadcasting System do not want resentful Republicans to think of them of as the Communist Broadcasting System for effective propaganda purposes.
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    • Posted by $ WilliamShipley 3 years ago
      What would you do if "Joe" commented in a private conversation that you overheard how much he hated black people. And "Joe" works in personnel. Clearly there is a potential for a large lawsuit.
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      • Posted by $ Dobrien 3 years ago
        What value do I get from Joe would be my first thought. I obviously would wonder about his intent and character. What was his reason for making a statement of that nature? Did he hire the best person for the job or did he let his prejudice decide for him. Has he put the company in jeapordy. After consideration he may or may not be fired.
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    • Posted by craigerb 3 years ago
      Apart from a contract (oral or written) or applicable laws, any employment must be voluntary on the part of both parties. As it was not on the part of CBS, there is no employment.
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  • Posted by jdg 3 years ago
    I would divide this question first into a legal and a moral question because, to me, they are two different issues.

    The first is simple. If a private person or company wants to fire an employee for a political opinion, the law should let them. Period. But if the firing is immoral or even questionable, other participants in the market can and should use their own powers to reward or punish either side by trading or not trading with them.

    As for whether it is morally virtuous to fire someone for political speech, I'd say generally no, except in two classes of situations.

    (1) If the employee's job is such that other people reasonably expect fairness on his part, and the speech casts doubt that they will get it. For example, a person who says that black people as a class deserve "affirmative action" should not get to keep his job if that job is hiring manager or dean of admissions.

    (2) If the employee's job makes him a public spokesperson for the boss's point of view, and the speech disagrees with that point of view or makes the boss look bad. This is the situation G-G was in. The network could not have kept her without giving the public the impression that it endorsed what she said.

    The bright side of this is that she will probably not sue. As a lawyer she has to know she doesn't have a case.
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  • Posted by CTYankee 3 years ago
    Actually, in a free society, employment would be 'at will' meaning the employer should have complete discretion to fire any employee at any time for any reason, barring a contract to the contrary.

    In that scenario, the reason an employer would choose to overlook indiscretions by the opinionated employees would be if the employee is valuable to the company.

    Simply put -- all decisions possess a cost.
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  • Posted by term2 3 years ago
    I am about to the point where I wont hire anyone who voted for Hillary because I dont trust their character. I wouldnt fire a current employee on that basis, unless their character or work performance became an issue.
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  • Posted by Eyecu2 3 years ago
    As a Teacher I have to be cognizant of the image that I present at all times and am well aware that my actions both in private and public have consequences. While I might not like the fact that a simple online picture of me holding a beer is enough to get me fired. It is a fact of my life that I have to live with. Hayley Geftman-Gold as a CBS VP and Senior Counsel should have known better. The recent outcry against President Trump for his myriad comments is further evidence of my point while questioning his fitness for Office.
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  • Posted by iowachess 3 years ago
    It is NOT like shutting down a speaker because that was done with violence, in a forum of free speech (govt funded area--a private college would be different), and with the idea of keeping the speaker from speaking. No one has told the employee that they cannot speak, they didn't hit her, and they are private. The 1st Amend says that the GOVT may not.... A private individual in YOUR house does not (if you so desire) have freedom of speech because YOU are not the govt
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  • Posted by GaryL 3 years ago
    In non government, non union private industry I doubt they need any reason to fire an employee.
    Anything you say such as what ever you say right here could be used as a reason to send you packing from your job if they even need a reason.
    I had an employee I overheard telling another employee he though I was an A hole because of a decision I made. He was on his way with lunch box in hand 10 minutes later. That decision I made saved the home owner over $10K.
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  • Posted by $ Thoritsu 3 years ago
    Some people at high levels in a company are "speaking for the company" even if they aren't. Obvious examples are: Zuckerberg, Jobs, Paige, Musk and Kalanick. Even in technical discussions on a contract, people at a certain level can be asserted to have provided contract direction in a meeting, without a contract change letter (e.g. constructive change).

    Companies can expect a certain discretion from their senior employees, if they choose and if they communicate such prior. Why should they be limited in this perspective? The name "CBS" featured directly in media coverage of the statement. A CBS VP, particularly a lawyer, should know better on many levels.

    CBS should be allowed to do as they please. What choices we make in response to CBS's action is similarly up to us.
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  • Posted by swmorgan77 3 years ago
    It depends on what you mean by "OK".

    Legally, firing for any reason or no reason should be absolutely within your rights as an employer.

    But ethically, I'd say your goal should be acheiving your hierarchy of values... so if this is an employee who helps you do that, then firing them for some other reason (such as a desire to punish their bad views etc.) represents and act of sacrifice of your higher values, so then I'd say no. But if the employee's behavior jeopardizes achieving those values then you should fire them. There is no obligation to continue employing them at any sort of sacrifice.
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  • Posted by LibertyBelle 3 years ago
    You don't want to consider any "employment at will
    concepts"? And why?
    I would not hire somebody to cut my grass, etc., on the basis of whether or not he was an Objectivist, or his politics, etc.
    But I would have the right to do it. Still,
    I don't know. If she did not identify herself as
    a CBS employee, perhaps they should not have
    done it, as she did not say it on the air.
    ---However, I wonder how much of such "freedom" an employee on the other side would get from most of the media networks.
    There is a difference between whether CBS had the right to do it, and whether it was good policy. Certainly CBS had the right. As someone else pointed
    out, there might be a difference (as to whether they should have done it--at any rate, they had the right to, in the absence of a prior agreement or contract),
    depending on whether she was using her own name or a handle.
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  • Posted by $ Casebier 3 years ago
    If you're a corporate executive, and especially if you are a corporate executive of a media company, everyone knows who you work for. Your employer has a right to terminate your employment if he feels your actions have diminished the public image (the value) of the organization that pays you. Conversely, Coulter and Yiannopoulos were not employees of the people who sought to silence them, but were to address a planned assembly located at an institution that is supposedly a foundation of public thought and speech, and were silenced by people who had no right to do so. Finally, if an employer doesn't have the right to fire a corporate attorney for expressing no sympathy for innocent shooting victims because of their political leanings, would then a child care employer have the right to fire an employee that expresses no sympathy for sexually seduced children because of their sexual curiosity?
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  • Posted by chad 3 years ago
    When you work for a company even you are not 'on the clock' you still represent what the company thinks their employees should be like. If you do not want to be represented in a particular manner as a company you have the right to get rid of anyone for any reason. The idea that once someone is hired the company no longer has the right to make decisions about who might work there then you have stated that the company is now owned by the state the ethereal 'public' and there is no recourse but to obey others outside of your property. If the decision is a foolish one and is not logical the owner will pay the price.
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  • Posted by Ben_C 3 years ago
    My take is that CBS was fearful of a slander lawsuit. While damages are difficult to prove the fact she told more than two people her characterization of the attendees a trial lawyer would jump at the chance to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of the victims and survivors. We live in a different world with social media which I decline to use.
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  • Posted by Herb7734 3 years ago
    CBS can fire her, keep her, or take away perks. She is their employee, after all. However, if she merely expressed herself as a private citizen and made that clear CBS might have just reprimanded her but not fired her.

    There is a big difference between a person making a public speech and a statement on Facebook. No one in their right mind could accuse the lady with the compound name of representing the college. There is no connection between her and the venue.And most importantly, never should freedom of speech be stifled by coercion.
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  • Posted by $ gharkness 3 years ago
    In Texas, you can be fired for parting your hair on the wrong side. Or for any reason at all. You don't even have to be a company spokesperson or even known to work for that company. In this case of a high-profile company spokesperson, it would seem the "reason" for termination" was "having employed a particularly stupid person to start with." Late, but better late than never.
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  • Posted by $ CBJ 3 years ago
    Re: “If Geftman-Gold was acting as an individual and not as a CBS employee, do you think CBS was right to fire her?”

    Suppose she had made those comments before she was hired by CBS. If this were the case, would CBS be right to not hire her because of those comments?
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  • Posted by DrZarkov99 3 years ago
    With a big corporation, image is everything. The fact that a senior executive made that declaration in any forum, official or otherwise, the public outrage can have a serious impact on corporate image, revenues. CBS did the right thing.
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  • Posted by $ blarman 3 years ago
    What it really depends on is if that person is in an agent capacity for the company they work for. The other question is the size of the audience. If you express your opinion to a small group at a private function, then no, you shouldn't be fired for it even if you are an agent. If you are at a corporate function, however, you are acting on behalf of the company, so you should seek to accurately represent the company you work for.

    Facebook is a really bad place to state opinions if you are an agent for a company - especially as tasteless as this opinion is. It's also pretty bad if you are a run-of-the-mill employee, which is why I gave up on Facebook years ago for anything other than keeping in touch with friends and relatives.
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  • Posted by scojohnson 3 years ago
    The standard for fiduciary duty as an executive, particularly a legal one, is going to be different from that of a rank & file.

    If the person speaking was for example a teller for Wells Fargo, the standard is going to be substantially "looser" than that of what the CEO of Wells Fargo may say.
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  • Posted by CircuitGuy 3 years ago
    If we're disregarding any laws that force people to keep paying someone they don't want to work with, then it's a business question for the person doing the firing. They need to look at the cost of replacing her, the cost/benefit to moral, cost/benefit to their esteem in the eyes of customers, and so on. I don't think of it as punishing her. It would be more punishing to keep her on even though they arrangement no longer works for them, but they feel sorry for her or are worried about the law.
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    • Posted by ewv 3 years ago
      The original post didn't distinguish between a right to fire her versus making a sensible business or personal judgment and then exercising the right. ("Right and wrong" was mixed with "right to punish".)

      A private company can fire anyone for any reason; it's not restricted to 'business questions' such as cost to morale. In addition to not liking what she said (with or without wanting to 'punish' her for it) and determining that her public statement was damaging to their own business reputation, they might also judge that they don't want someone who thinks like that working there and making decisions, whether she reveals it publicly or privately.

      Since it's CBS, they may have fired her because they didn't want the public embarrassment, regardless of principles. They would have a right to do that, too, though we would want to be able to expect more of them.

      The operations of a private company are very different than the situation at Berkeley, which is a public university -- that arrangement should not exist, but since it does, the principle of freedom of speech versus government applies to it -- plus thugs are forcibly obstructing invited speakers, etc. with a fascistic, anti-intellectual mentality at what is supposed to be an institution dedicated to pursuit and discussion of ideas. CBS is (supposed to be) a news organization, not a flow of noises based on anything goes.
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      • Posted by CircuitGuy 3 years ago
        "The original post didn't distinguish between a right to fire her versus making a sensible business or personal judgment and then exercising the right."
        When it said "disregard any employment at will concepts," I took it to mean disregard whether it's illegal.

        "A private company can fire anyone for any reason"
        Right. They can hire for any reason too. In this day-and-age, there is definitely a market for outrageous comments. I really think keeping someone out of duty, pity, or whatever, is punishing them worse than letting them go. It hurts them if they don't want charity, and it keeps them from enjoying some future job that lives for lurid attention-grabbing sound bites, and it keeps that sensational media org from an employee. It's bad for everyone.
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        • Posted by ewv 3 years ago
          The lack of the distinction between a political right and what is proper was in running together "I’m simply talking what’s right and wrong" followed immediately by "I’m asking purely about whether you believe an employer has the right..."

          Thinking of keeping her out of duty or pity assumes they disagree with her. Often people like that say what the rest of them believe and wish they could say. They may have wanted her to stay but were afraid they couldn't get away with it.
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          • Posted by CircuitGuy 3 years ago
            "distinction between a political right and what is proper was in running together"
            Yes. I think it comes from working at these big companies that have procedures. Those procedures are part of how they create value and not be dependent on key people. It's different from the small business world, where if something's not working, you just make a quick a change. It makes you nimble but dependent on the individual decision-makers.

            So I think someone coming at it from a big-company view would think how hiring and firing decisions align with a company policy, while I'm left thinking they should just stop working together and start working together again if they change their minds.

            "Thinking of keeping her out of duty or pity assumes they disagree with her."
            Well if they don't have a problem with her then the whole question is moot, right?
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            • Posted by ewv 3 years ago
              They may not have "had a problem" with her ideas but been afraid to say so and support her themselves because they at least realize that most people do "have a problem with it".
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              • Posted by CircuitGuy 3 years ago
                Which may be rational behavior in a "Gail Wynand" way. They may not even give any consideration at all to their opinion, since their in the business of mass media, not media targeted to them. That's what I would do. If it got people fired up a little, that's good. Too fired up is bad. I'd be in the business of getting eyeballs on advertisers' spots. I'd probably say if life in the big city seems prurient, get out of the mass media industry. I'm glad I don't work there.

                I wonder if that industry is second-hander by its nature. Could Gail Wynand have gotten over his need to show the world I do run things around here and been like Roark and still run a paper with content geared toward Alvah Scarret?
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                • Posted by ewv 3 years ago
                  You don't have to be a second-hander to own a newspaper. Publishers and editors can have their own principles and not, through their actions, make themselves owned by their readers. I have personally known good editors/publishers like that, so it's a simple "existence proof". But I don't know personally if there are any left now.

                  In this case, it appears to more of a case of someone doing something so stupid that even her intellectual allies are too embarrassed by it to want to be associated with it. Or maybe some of them are properly embarrassed by something they don't agree with. But ideologues trying to use a business to push beyond what people will yet accept have to be more careful at least in their tactics. Gail Wynand wasn't doing that (but Toohey was).
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                  • Posted by CircuitGuy 3 years ago
                    "But I don't know personally if there are any left now."
                    This seems odd. The world has so many people and great ways to provide content, products, and services down the long tail, in other words to very small markets. So if there are clear examples in history of good journalism, but it disappeared recently, that's an interesting development.

                    "Gail Wynand wasn't doing that (but Toohey was)."
                    I thought of Toohey as pure evil. Wynand was not evil but was flawed. He wanted to show the world he did indeed run things. If I read it again I'll look for indications Rand was saying Wynand should have quit the newspaper business altogether, stop providing sensationalized content, or keep providing the sensationalism his customers wanted but stop trying to quash people who are doing great things and ignoring public opinion.
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                    • Posted by ewv 3 years ago
                      CG: I wonder if that industry is second-hander by its nature.

                      ewv: I have personally known good editors/publishers like that, so it's a simple "existence proof". But I don't know personally if there are any left now.

                      CG: This seems odd.

                      It's not 'odd', I don't personally know any now because the ones I knew personally are no longer doing it. (One of them was a former executive editor of the Washington Post who died in his 90s, still running the weekly newspaper he founded for his 'retirement'.)
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                      • Posted by CircuitGuy 3 years ago
                        "It's not 'odd',"
                        It's odd that any type of content, including good journalism, would decrease at a time when the means of publishing content to an audience of any size have improved so much.

                        If the original claim that there is less good journalism now than in the past is correct, one possible explanation is tracking clicks makes it easier to provide content that people click on. Something drawing our attention is not the same as something we want to see. There may be other explanations.
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                        • Posted by ewv 3 years ago
                          I didn't say good journalism is decreasing, only that I don't personally know good editors/publishers now. You said that you wonder if the "industry is second-hander by its nature". The people I knew were not and didn't operate that way so it's not inherent in the industry by its nature.
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                          • Posted by CircuitGuy 3 years ago
                            "I don't personally know good editors/publishers now."
                            Oh... and you're not saying the people you know are a random sample. I get it now. That thought makes Gail Wynand seem even more tragic to me.
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                            • Posted by ewv 3 years ago
                              I got to know several editors, publishers, journalists, and other writers during major battles defending private property rights against the viros over many years. Some of them were very good at what they did, from local to national (even some at the New York Times and ABC), others mixed or outright enemies of both objectivity and property rights.

                              Today the news media are much, much worse, not because of the nature of journalism as such but because of their assumed views on their purpose in journalism (as promoters of their ideology and own activism) as well as their politics. There is a bigger need than ever for good writers and more ways to do it, but the supply has been curtailed by bad philosophy and corrupt education.
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  • Posted by CircuitGuy 3 years ago
    I read these comments again, and it really stands out how biased I am toward firing people and quitting things. There is a book about it called Necessary Endings. I am at a point where I feel the ratio of interesting projects to the length of human life is so high that it's a shame to spend any time working on something you don't think is a good deal. Sure you might underbid something and be obligated, but I can't understand working with an employee or vendor you just don't care for. I can't understand an employee staying a job that's not working. There are so many interesting projects, and life goes so fast.
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    • Posted by ewv 3 years ago
      There are lots of interesting projects but finding one with the kind of people you want to work with on it is harder.

      But we have a different idea of what an interesting, productive project is than the leftist ideologues in the media and what they are out to accomplish. That is not a "bias".
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      • Posted by CircuitGuy 3 years ago
        "finding one with the kind of people you want to work with on it is harder."
        As with the question of finding honest journalists, it is odd in this world of cheap/easy communications and travel that it should be harder to connect with interesting people and projects than in the past.

        "That is not a "bias"."
        Probably the wrong word. I mean if it's a question of should I carry on working with the same people or do something different, and I can think of equally strong reasons either way, I'm "biased" toward doing something new. Maybe it's because I have internal inertia I'm unaware of. I see in in people's posts. Should the company "punish" the employee. If I were in that situation, I'd think I'm not keen to punish people, so I'll jsut keep her on and deal with the problems. Then I realize: NO, NO, No. You're punishing yourself and her by having her stay. Letting her go if she's causing problems for the business is rewarding her because it frees her up to go find something where she's doing a good job, her employer is happy and giving her raises, she's happy--- so much better than keeping her.
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