The Thin Line Between Idiocy and Evil in Executive Leadership Under Inquiry: A Speculative Editorial

This is an opinion editorial

I wasn't sure how to categorize this hub. I want to tangentially talk about the Murdock News of the World scandal involving an criminal investigation into allegations about its repoters hacking phones to turn up juicy details on public figures. You may recall, the tabloid is said to have hacked the phone of a missing thirteen year old girl in England. She later turned up dead.

Certain News of the World people hacked her phone, listened to her voice mail, and when her inbox filled up, they deleted messages to make room for more messages, more details, and so on. This action gave the young girl's family the false impression that she was still alive.

Eighty-year old Rupert Murdock, the head of a vast, globe-spanning, his son, and one or two others, I think, recently had to answer some questions before a U.K. parliamentary body. Murdock's organization felt the need to shut down News of the World over the scandal, and Murdock's plans to purchase one hundred percent of a British broadcasting Goliath called B Sky B has been put on hold, if not derailed entirely.

But I don't want to talk about the details of this, after all, routine scandal of executive leadership. There seems to be a general principle at work, whenever the leader of a major corporation or a President of the United States is obliged to publicly answer questions about some scandal or other. It could be Kennedy's Bay of Pigs, Reagan's Iran-Conra, and now Murdock's phone hacking scandal.

That principle is this: the leader must walk a fine line between Position A - "I didn't know a thing about it. I'm a total goober, who doesn't know a thing about what's going in my own organization. Nobody ever tells me anything." And Position B - "Yeah, I ordered it done. I do not apologize and I would do it again. I am sooo totally evil. Here are my horns and here is my tail."

That's the line he has to walk. He can't overplay the idiocy angle because this might spook the shareholders (or campaign contributors if you're a politician). He can't overplay the "evil" angle because he might get himself into legal trouble, criminal and/or civll. You, the CEO or politician, have to portray yourself as intelligent, competent, compassionate, dedicated, hard working, passionate about serving the public good (You may recall Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein saying, in front of a Congressional inquiry of some kind, that he was doing God's work), and trusting, oh ever so trusting!.

You have to have this look in your eye that says: "If I'm guilty of anything, its loving too openly and trusting people too much! Woe is me! I feel so used." The same goes for politicians, especially Presidents of the United States..

Obviously, any suggestion that the reporters at News of the World, for some reason, just took it upon themselves, spontaneously, on their own initiative, to hack phones, is absurd. Why on Earth would they have done this except to benefit the paper, "scoop" the competition?

I don't think anything will ever be definitively proved against Murdock, his son, or other top execs. If I had to guess, I would suppose that they gave orders for phones to be hacked in such a way that proof can never be found, because it probably doesn't exist.

I'm thinking of the Mafia before the Rico Laws (1970). The Don of a crime family rarely went to jail. There was never any direct proof against him. He was too well insulated.. The way I understand it, the Don would give the order to his consigliere or advisor, or underboss, ALONE. Then the number two man would relay the order to one of the capos (or "captains") ALONE. Then the capo would designate someone from his "crew" to actually do the job, without really ever KNOWING who originally gave the order.

I would guess something like that is at play in the Murdock organization. I would be surprised if any "smoking gun" were ever found. But it seems inconceivable that the phone hacking would have happened if Murdock had not wanted it to happen. However, "common sense" is a long way away from legal proof. People lower down the chain are sacrificed (that's one of their primary functions, after all). Presidents and CEOs are skilled at cloaking themselves in plausible deniability.

Thank you for reading.

Ta-Ta!

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