Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The (Ex-)CBS Executive Who's (Not) the Next Google Software Engineer!

After the horrifying massacre in Las Vegas this weekend, one CBS executive (business-side, not content-side) put up a Facebook post saying she was "not even sympathetic" to the victims because, as country music fans, they were probably Republicans and thus partially culpable for the epidemic of gun violence in this country.

She was fired.

I don't have a particular problem with that. Her comments were obviously repulsive, and if CBS decided that they were beyond the pale, casting doubt on her ability to work empathetically and sensitively with others, then this remedy seems well-within bounds.

And it seems most people agree. Because we haven't heard her compared to the Google software engineer. Or the Mozilla CEO. Or, on the other side, NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem.

What to make of all this? I don't think that it's actually a lack of principles, precisely. Rather, I think this demonstrates that we need to make judgment calls, and that there's no substitute for nuanced, critical consideration. A pure "free speech" position can't work in the private sector, and few of us seem to desire it anyway. At the same time, a "if you don't like the political line the company forces you to espouse, you can get a new job" line doesn't seem to map onto our intuitions about free speech or political freedom either.

It requires thinking. And sometimes, it's the easy, unthinking cases -- the uncontroversial termination of an executive when her speech really does seem obviously beyond the pale -- that illuminates the thought that needs to go into the more difficult ones.

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