Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ten years after: The Iraq war and the media

FOR STATISTICIANS documenting the Iraq war, it’s a parade of numbers: eight months, three weeks, 190,000 people killed (including 4,475 Americans), hundred of thousands wounded (including 32,221 Americans) and the residual casualties of war: the veterans, whose ranks get depleted by suicide every day; and the national economy, hobbled by the blow of a price tag perhaps as high as $2 trillion.

For journalists and the media (who have lost scores covering that war and the one in Afghanistan), the 10th anniversary of the start of the war (hours ago today according to Baghdad time, the only time that matters) has brought on soul-searching about the media’s complicity in how events unfolded, and later unraveled.

Below, I’m revisiting a post from June 2005, examining the evolving loss of confidence in major electronic and print media — a loss of confidence in the legacy sources of journalistic principles that, to go by a February survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, hasn’t subsided. “Nearly one-third — 31% — of people say they have deserted a particular news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to, according to the survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults in early 2013,” Pew reported in the survey from last month.

It‘s been a long road from 2003, when star-spangled shock & awe dominated the American psyche (and the American media), to where we are today — tragically, possibly on the cusp of a new national misadventure in Iran. This is some of how the media played a part in what happened then, and what we can do to prevent it happening again:

FOR A JOURNALIST of any standing in the profession, for a wordsmith with at least a shred of self-respect for what he or she does for a living, the results of a recent poll of the American public have to be dispiriting news.

According to the poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Americans make no distinctions, or only the slightest distinctions, between Bob Woodward, mainstay of The Washington Post and one of the reporters whose work during the Watergate scandal helped dismantle the Nixon presidency, and commentator Bill O'Reilly, the Fox News pit-bull apologist for the conservative right running roughshod over America.

Some 40 percent of the 1,500 adults who responded to the poll taken in the spring said they thought O'Reilly was a journalist, while 30 percent said Woodward was one, and (it gets worse) 27 percent said talk show host Rush Limbaugh was a journalist. One in five said they considered newspaper columnist George Will to be a journalist.

Displaying a grasp of the obvious, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the policy center, told The Associated Press that the results of the poll suggest the public defines the word “journalist'' far differently than those in the press define it. And not surprisingly, O'Reilly leaped into the fray saying that the poll indicated the dawn of a new day in American media, and proclaiming the end of the traditional sources of power and influence in the media (also perfectly obvious to anyone who's watched the network newscasts of the Three Wise Men over the last six months).

Not that we needed another poll to tell us; the Annenberg survey just confirms what we've known for some time: These are grim times for journalism in America. Setting aside the impact of such confidence destroyers as Jayson Blair, Jack Kelley and other fabulists masquerading as journalists, the media's complicity in reporting the war effort from an administration perspective while insisting it remains independent, skeptical and disinterested has led to the worst kind of disconnect: the press unplugged from the people the press purports to represent.

◊ ◊ ◊

THE GRAVITY of the situation was distilled last month with Newsweek's clumsy mea culpa over Iraq-war related reporting in its Periscope section [see “The Magazine in the Toilet”]. And an earlier State of the News Media poll, released late in 2004 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, revealed that public perception of the media and the way it performs its mission had fallen to the point where Americans regarded the press as a motley collective of reactionary, self-protective liars and prevaricators one notch above child molesters (I exaggerate there, but not by that much).

Between 1985 and 2002, the Pew poll found, the number who thought news organizations were moral fell from 54 percent to 39 percent. Those who felt news organizations tried to conceal their mistakes rose from 13 percent to 67 percent. And the number of Americans who thought news organizations were highly professional declined from 72 percent to 49 percent.

Americans, Pew found, “increasingly think the press as a whole is motivated by money and individual journalists by personal ambition.”

How did it get this bad? Can this marriage be saved? The answer is yes, of course; as Watergate illustrates, all it might take is one overarching constitutional crisis from an administration, a situation reported aggressively and accurately by journalists, to return the press to the good graces of the nation. But there is no escaping the fact that, in a big way, the press has no one to blame for the current mess but ... the press. Of all the books to be found and consulted in today's American newsroom, the Bible cries out for a quick reading. Not the whole book, but one passage in particular.

From Luke 4:23: “Physician, heal thyself ... “

◊ ◊ ◊

ENLIGHTENED MINDS can debate when this slide into stasis and public revulsion really began. You can make the case that it started shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. In that time of high vulnerability, or at least the suspicion of Americans being highly vulnerable, the press collectively jumped on the bandwagon to wave the flag and rally round President Bush, the new commander in chief. Some of that reflexive patriotism manifested itself in the graphic cosmetics the media (especially the electronic media) loves to indulge in.

Within a few days of the attacks, American flags popped up anchored to the mastheads of American newspapers, on the lapels of the anchors, on the home pages of newspaper Web sites, and in the on-air Chyron graphics of hundreds of television stations across America. That purely emotional response in a very emotional time was probably warranted, on a short-term basis. Trouble is, that knee-jerk rush to the colors, which looked to be as much driven by competitive pressures as by any newfound sense of patriotism, set the stage for acquiescing in any number of actions by the Bush administration.

Among the most provocative of those actions would be the efforts by the administration to establish a cause & effect relationship between the events of Sept. 11 and the regime of Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. There was no linkage then; no linkage has been proven to this day. 

But the American press had already largely deserted the high ground of analysis and investigation, content even at that early stage to indulge in flag-draped emotionalism — emotionalism the media couldn't conveniently disconnect itself from as the need for more critical, less emotionally driven responses to White House initiatives began to emerge.

The most provocative of those actions happened in March 2003, when the shock-and-awe invasion of Iraq began. When the bombs began falling, you could literally hear otherwise dispassionate journalists being awed by the pyrotechnics loosed on Baghdad. Those same journalists, and their handlers at Media Central in New York, were swept up in the awesome display of American might, and no doubt lulled into thinking (based on projections from their sources at the Pentagon) that this would be a short war, a cakewalk, a nominal conflict that would end with sweets and ululations from the grateful Iraqi citizens.

◊ ◊ ◊

THE MEDIA, not expecting to have to endure the fever pitch of martial patriotism for very long, went along with the White House in ways that are now, in hindsight, an utter embarrassment. It began with the language used to identify and report the war. From the very beginning, the media — print and electronic — went along with the White House shorthand for the name of the conflict itself. What was marginally a “war on terrorism” became “the War on Terror” in news reports — bringing to mind a pleasant if improbable scenario: “Just think, folks,” the administration seemed to say, “if we win this, that feeling you get on the steepest part of an amusement-park roller coaster ride will be a thing of the past!”

In presumably independent news reports, those people who were captured by U.S. and coalition forces were not “prisoners.” They were improbably identified as “detainees.” That substitution of a perfectly accurate, idiomatic and serviceable word for a genteel, bullshit descriptor took place almost uniformly in the press (though sometimes, wire services such as The Associated Press engaged in such editorial insincerities as identifying people as “detainees” in one paragraph of a story and calling them “prisoners” a graph or two later, showing nothing so much as a cheap attempt to report the facts and placate the Zeitgeist at the same time).

The GOP postmortem (CPAC edition)

THE POLITICAL surgeons who’ve just finished the latest in the serial autopsies of the post-November Republican Party gathered in conference over the weekend. This doctors’ convention offered a variety of prescriptions for the patient’s resurrection, but it’s that absence of unity in the prescription that tells the story they’d rather forget: The patient may have been under self-sedation for too long.

The Conservative Political Action Conference is about as close as a pilgrimage as the Republican Party has today. Historically, it’s the party’s best and certainly most media-visible opportunity to gather like-minded loyalists and thought leaders, distill the grand party themes and general objectives into something like strategy — and invest some hopeful soul with belle-of-the-ball status, as the putative frontrunner for the next presidential nomination.

This year’s model was no exception, only it was. The 2013 CPAC, held in National Harbor, Md., generally stuck to that organizational script. But the plurality of opinions about how to repair the GOP’s damage after the 2012 debacle illustrated — at one event, in one place — precisely the depth of divisions about what it means, in March 2013, to be a conservative Republican in the first place.

◊ ◊ ◊

The purest evidence of that was in the result of the Washington Times-CPAC Straw Poll, an informal beauty contest with no real weight beyond the convention itself. The poll’s results convey limited bragging rights on whoever wins it, but that’s no guarantee of future results. Hell, Mitt Romney won the poll in 2012 and look what good it did him.

The participants at CPAC voted anyway. The conservatives they selected, from win to place to show to also-ran, show why it’s a good thing no one takes the CPAC Straw Poll that seriously besides the people who voted in it.

The CPAC 2013 poll winner was Rand Paul, the firebrand libertarian ophthalmologist Kentucky senator and son of Rep. Ron Paul (who scored dead last in the 2012 CPAC poll). Paul won the poll with 25 percent of the vote. Paul was followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the mainstream hopeful  who finished a close second, with 23 percent.

From there the numbers fall off for the others still standing in the derby. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who pitched the evangelicals in the 2012 primary season, garnered 8 percent of the straw-poll, followed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — the one Republican with any claim to the moderate, pragmatic, electable center, and a tenuous claim at that — trailed with 7 percent, followed by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, king of the budget wonks, with 6 percent. Bringing up the rear in dead last: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and political personality Sarah Palin®, with 3 percent each.

◊ ◊ ◊

CONTRAST IS GOOD, of course, and there was plenty of that distinguishing Paul and Rubio.

“Obviously Rubio is dynamic and what people would consider a more traditional political speaker,” Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, told The Washington Times. “That kind of fired-up the crowd, more with the style, though he had substance too — but he had more of a persona of a political guy. Where, I think, Rand Paul was more staid, more deliberate on what he had to say, and his appeal was the message. So you had this very good contrast, literally back-to-back, where you got to see the two directions of the Republican Party.”

But it’s that last phrase — “the two directions of the Republican Party” — that’s exactly the problem. Contrasts on matters of style, or even shades of degrees of substance? That’s one thing.

But when a Republican true believer like Christie, who wasn’t even invited to CPAC this year, places fourth despite being the most relatively palatable Republican elected official in the country right now; when moderates like Jon Huntsman and Rob Portman are similarly dissed ... you have to wonder how much traction the GOP’s rebooting efforts will have inside the party, much less how it’ll resonate with the rest of the country.

◊ ◊ ◊

Consider the poll’s perception of Ryan, only months ago the GOP nominee for vice president. Six percent? Quite a comedown from before the election, when Ryan and Romney could do no wrong (at least not out loud).

Or consider that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who some in the party believe could pull the sword from the stone in 2016, wasn’t even in the poll — and not by accident. NPR reported that Bush requested that his name not be included, no doubt acutely aware of the straw poll’s track record at predicting nominees.

“Since the straw poll was first held in 1976, only two of its winners have gone on to win the presidency — Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Only one other poll winner, Mitt Romney, even went on to win the Republican nomination,” NPR reported.

Given that W-L record, Bush figured, it makes sense to ward off the kiss of death every which way you can.

◊ ◊ ◊

NOT THAT Bush didn’t show up at National Harbor. In a speech that dealt more than a glancing blow to the party’s existential orthodoxy, Bush said “the face of the Republican Party needs to be the face of every American, and we need to be the party of inclusion and acceptance.”

With a cri de Coeur statement like that, and coming in the midst of GOP concerns over its own ideological purity and an increasingly diverse national future, Bush may not have placed that well in the poll to start with.

Rand Paul was the big CPAC winner. Placing highest in the straw poll was the latest win for the senator; his recent 13-hour filibuster against the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director — with the senator ably channeling Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — got him operational kudos from conservatives and liberals alike for not phoning it in, for having the stones to stand in the well of the Senate and make his case. And agree with it or not, his Tuesday speech on immigration reform may be an early indicator of Paul's willingness to get thematically panoramic, to stake out positions on major issues before his would-be competitors even decide to be competitors.

◊ ◊ ◊

But if Paul gets in, it won’t be a coronation. At a February speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Rand sought to ally his foreign policy principles with those of Ronald Reagan, including his assessment of Reagan as pragmatist. “I see the world as it is. I am a realist, not a neoconservative, nor an isolationist.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Never mind the GOP. Can Jeb Bush save himself?

AN ITEM from the Daily Beast e-mail blast asked the tabloid-breathless question: “Can Jeb Bush save the GOP?”

And so it begins. Just when you thought presidential politics was more or less over until sometime in 2015, we’re getting the first feverish murmurs, the first names being bandied about as possible contenders for the Oval Office.

John Ellis Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, brother to one president and son to another, has been making quasi-presidential noises for years now — not overtly getting into the act, but positioning himself as a wise, rational, optically centrist alternative to the hair-on-fire ideologues defining the Republican Party today.

His first foray into presumptive presidential politics wasn’t too promising. Thanks to a less than artful backwards triple-axel on the matter of immigration reform, Jeb Bush has managed to put some of his reputation as a clear-thinking politician in danger. Mitt Romney hasn’t retired his campaign Etch a Sketch; he’s just handed it off to Jeb Bush.

◊ ◊ ◊

On a book tour to promote Tuesday’s publication of “Immigration Wars: Forging An American Solution,” co-written with attorney Clint Bolick, Bush took to the airwaves this week, responding to what amounted to the same general question from show hosts: What’s your prescription for resolving the immigration issue?

In a Monday interview on the “Today” show, Bush said, “We can’t continue to make illegal immigration an easier path than legal immigration.” This more than suggests a tolerance for a harder line on the 11 million undocumented people already here.

Contrast that with what he said on MSNBC’s conservative outpost, “Morning Joe,” the next day. “If you can craft that in law, where you can have a path to citizenship where there isn’t an incentive for people to come here illegally, I’m for it.”

◊ ◊ ◊

CONTRAST that with what he told Charlie Rose on CBS News back on June 12. Bush spoke of “a path of citizenship, which I would support, and that does put me ... probably out of the ... mainstream of most conservatives.”

Now weigh those statements against what should be his defining position on this issue: the one that made it into the book: “It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship. ... To do otherwise would signal once again that people who circumvent the system can still obtain the full benefits of American citizenship.”

First there is a path to citizenship, then there is no path to citizenship, then there is.

Or not. It's hard to tell. If by some chance he’s really trying to say the same thing four different ways, he needs to sharpen the thread, cut through to the unifying idea that moves this ball down the field.

As it is now, and whatever the reason for it might be, Bush has fumbled delivery of a message on immigration that he, co-author of a presumably authoritative book, should have nailed down by now.

◊ ◊ ◊

Jeb Bush has his supporters, those still dazzled by the Bush name, its history and its possibilities in an early field with no defining standouts (yet). John Avlon gushed Tuesday in The Daily Beast: “Jeb is uniquely positioned to help resolve, or at least heal, the emerging GOP civil war. Americans have no love of aristocracy or political dynasties, but the Bushes have emerged as one of the few Republican brands that can unite all the fighting factions beneath the GOP banner.”

That might have been true, once. Maybe during Poppy Bush’s presidency. Possibly during W’s administration. But not today. The “fighting factions beneath the GOP banner” today include those who condemn both Bush #41 for violating a no-taxes pledge back in the day, and Bush #43 for exploding the federal government over eight years — and basically making the Tea Party movement not so much possible as inevitable.

The overall rightward tilt of the Republican Party in recent years has led to it losing some good people, lawmakers for whom the word “compromise” didn’t necessarily equate with “surrender.” Cases in point: Richard Lugar of Indiana and Olympia Snowe of Maine, two who were political centrists compared to their colleagues in Congress. Lugar got primaried last year for being too reasonable; Snowe just plain had enough of the bickering and interparty poison and resigned.

◊ ◊ ◊

IF JEB BUSH gets in this thing in 2016, he’ll have to contend with that double-edged dance: placating the hard core of the Republican right while looking mainstream enough, centrist enough to appeal to the broad cross-section of American voters who aren’t conservatives.

Avlon assumes that the same core of voters who went for Bush #41 in 1988 and Bush #43 in 2000 can be counted on to work that magic for Bush the Third. This is certainly wrong for the simplest reason there is: It’s not their America anymore. The power of the Bushes’ brand has been eroded by time, demographics, their own White House policies, and the slow emerging of new conservative voices and faces eager to take their place in the spotlight.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Time has come today:
The sequester and the fallout

Rise up, O God, and save us from ourselves.

— Barry Black, United States Senate chaplain, 

March 1, 2013

ON FRIDAY, Senate Democrats failed to get the 60 votes they needed to stop $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board budgetary spending cuts that were set to take effect that day. With the dreaded sequester now a fact of both the national lexicon and the national life, pain is about to become a small-d democratic experience.

The early estimates have been ugly, a panoramic Chicken Little scenario on steroids: According to estimates from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, as many as 775,000 women and infants may lose WIC food and formula assistance; another 125,000 people may lose housing assistance and be forced into emergency housing; still another 100,000 people, formally homeless, may be jettisoned from emergency shelters and back into the streets. And 3.8 million long-term unemployed workers who get federally funded unemployment benefits are looking down the barrel of an 11 percent cut in weekly benefits.

Think Progress reported that the sequester cuts will mean 34,000 fewer law enforcement officers with domestic violence training, and 112,000 fewer women who’ll get counseling from domestic abuse counselors. and The New York Times reported on Saturday that in Virginia, almost 90,000 civilian workers for the Defense Department face being laid off.

The sequester that officially started on Friday started in the real world on Monday, with some so-far selectively granular effects on the nation. Health and Human Services Secretary Janet Napolitano said “we are already seeing the effect at some of the ports of entry, the big airports, for example.” As a result of furloughed TSA personnel, lines at some airports are “150 percent to 200 percent as long as we’d expect.”

But unlike the clock-hard finality of a full government shutdown, the sequester is primed to be the malign gift that keeps on taking, a timed-release catastrophe, something happening so slowly and incrementally that it defies being seen for what it is: a slow, mean, angry undoing of what makes America America.

◊ ◊ ◊

This latest protracted aria in the opera that is our dysfunctional American government is unsettling for other, bigger reasons. Thanks mostly to Republican intransigence as a legislative business model, we’re witnessing the institutionalization of crisis, a kind of a Disaster of the Month Club according to the U.S. Congress.

Republicans there and conservatives elsewhere in Washington have enshrined the idea of government on a short leash, the United States being compelled to lurch from one contrived crisis to the next.

We’ve seen this play out in the “fiscal cliff” hostage-negotiation drama last year. We’ve seen it in the pointlessly drawn-out wrangling over the confirmation of Sen. Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, and the ongoing skirmishes over John Brennan’s nomination to lead the CIA.

The end result is obvious: Politically, it means that Republicans are determined to hobble President Obama at every turn, by hamstringing not just his appointees but also the agencies depending on congressional confirmation of those appointees, effectively decapitating vital parts of the American government.

Domestically, it means that the myriad millions of small,  personal, kitchen-table economies that comprise the wider American Economy will be held hostage to more of the  scheduled brinkmanship on Capitol Hill.

Internationally, it means there will be lowered global expectations of what the greatest nation on earth can hope to achieve in policing its own economic house, even as the United States criticizes others for not doing the same.

◊ ◊ ◊

IT’S NOT like we couldn’t see this coming. On MSNBC’s “Hardball” program on Feb. 20, Adam Schiff, California Democratic congressman, talked about the Tea Party gang:

“They really have two minds. You have got the Tea Party contingent that wants to tear down government that ran on
a platform of tearing down and has never made the transition to being for 
anything. And right now they’re driving the train. They want the 
sequester to go into effect.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yahoo?: Marissa Mayer’s remote control

EIGHT MONTHS after taking the reins as the CEO at Yahoo Inc., and five months after giving birth to a son, Marissa Mayer has thrown down a sharp marker, a dividing line meant to delineator Yahoo Before Mayer and Yahoo After Mayer. For Yahoo employees who span that period, the implications for the way they do their jobs, where and how, couldn’t be more concerning.

As the American world of work already knows, Mayer directed that Yahoo employees now working remotely, outside the office, must now come to work on company campuses, or quit. The news was leaked to the media on Feb. 22; Kara Swisher featured it prominently at AllThingsD.

The Mayer memo, released by Yahoo HR chief Jackie Reses, reads in part:

“Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun. ... I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. ... Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Mayer and fellow corporate titan Sheryl Sandberg, the COO at Facebook, have taken point in workplace culture as two business leaders bucking the work-from-home trend. At The Huffington Post, Bianca Bosker interviewed five women in the technology field to sample their reactions to Mayer’s move.

“[W]omen in tech are not inclined to wholly dismiss the duo's advice if their own situations are not exactly the same, or if certain opinions expressed by Sandberg and Mayer clash with their own. Although they said they don't agree with Mayer's working-from-home ban, they acknowledged it is likely more of a business decision made to save an ailing company than it is a war on working mothers.”

But one would hope these women tech leaders would know better than to even frame the debate this way. It’s frankly silly to even propose a “war on working mothers” as a deliberative Mayer objective, as anything with even the slightest possibility of being true. This has never been more or less than a business decision for Mayer.

The question is, is it the right business decision? Is it one that takes into account not only the CEO’s strategic vision for the company, but also the lives and challenges of the thousands of people required to make that vision real?

The fact that these women in tech don’t agree with Mayer’s decision would seem to be an answer in itself.

◊ ◊ ◊

AND ANYWAY, for all the rhetorical convenience of breaking things down along gender lines, this is bigger than just what it may mean for working mothers. Fathers work from home, too, however infrequently compared to mothers. More likely to be disrupted is the delicate work-life balance of those families with two incomes, one of them earned by the WFH partner.

When that father or mother working from home for Yahoo is forced to drive into work, who takes care of the kid(s)? Can the  spouse negotiate to work from home instead? Maybe, maybe not. Mayer’s edict is likely to mean familial upheaval for many.

What about the outlier issues? This is bigger than the impact of one corporate decision of a corporation’s employees. Yeah, there are probably new company infrastructure costs to be dealt with— actually building or opening office space where none had been before, to accommodate employees being on-site instead of working from home.

But Mayer’s directive also means extra man-woman hours behind the wheel, additional costs for gas and car maintenance, and the higher levels of counter-productive personal stress that, in the case of Yahoo employees in Sunnyvale and Santa Monica, can be expected the moment they join the five-days-a-week, bumper-to-bumper parade of traffic that is a stone-cold fact of life in Silicon Valley and southern California.

Ironically enough: because of those factors, Mayer’s decision, at least in the short term and maybe beyond, will almost certainly undercut the very productivity it was intended to enhance.

◊ ◊ ◊

In the days since the deal went down, the blogosphere has been more topically ablaze than usual. Some writers showed that there’s Machiavellian thinking afoot, a line of reasoning that suggests Mayer may have done this as a way to achieve the cost-saving end results of layoffs without having to go through the pain and residual expense of layoffs.

Budalia, at HuffPost: “What bothers me most is the way Yahoo has handled this whole affair. These people are tech and internet savvy. They had to know this was going to blow up in their faces. They can't possibly be this clumsy... except on purpose. If so, why?”

Josh opined at VentureBeat: “The simple fact is that Mayer is hoping to layoff a ton of her workforce without severance pay entering the discussion. This has far less to do with productivity and more to do with micro-optimizing their P&L.”

LionelHutz1 atVentureBeat: “Just hoping people quit rather than come into an office is a horrible example of leadership. It is the opposite of leadership. It is cowardice.”

◊ ◊ ◊

OTHER REACTIONS ranged from anger to confusion. Thomasina1, HuffPost: “The only reason that any one pays any attention to Marissa is because she made a very mean, ill-fated move. She is a Hypocrite, that does not know how to set a good example for her company, and she has alienated may Yahoo users with her do as I say, not as I do ethos. I quit the Yahoo web page because of her callous disregard for her new employees. I will avoid all Yahoo associated products until she is gone.”

Drumz, HuffPost: “Mayer and [Sheryl] Sandberg are no different than the people they aspire to be, bullies in the workforce just like the men before them.”

Aliceinanthem, at The Huffington Post: “Not only was it bad PR but it shows she doesn't know how to make good usage of technology. I WFH full time and it has nothing to do with having children, etc. My co-workers are in India, Malaysia, Prague, and Bonn. None of which come close to my time zone. My situation is becoming more common as we all move to a global society. So the only thing that Marissa proved was she just doesn't get it, and apparently she doesn't know about webex.”

Richard Branson, Virgin founder and chairman, on Twitter: “Perplexed by Yahoo! stopping remote working. Give people the freedom of where to work & they will excel.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Patrick Seitz at quotes John Challenger, CEO of outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, as thinking Mayer’s move is the first broadside in a battle against the company’s previous culture — and its practitioners.

By purging the payroll of the dinosaurs, Challenger says, Mayer is sending “a signal that it's a different place now and there's a new sheriff in town.”

“It's hard to change [a corporate] culture,” Challenger said. But if that’s true, then where’s the wisdom of trying to change an underpinning component of that culture in one fell swoop?

While the desire to get rid of slackers makes sense, it makes little sense to eliminate a sensitive forward-thinking company policy because of a few who abuse the policy.

And how many abusers are we talking about? What percentage of the work force What’s the signal being sent to Yahoo’s top performers — many of whom may be working from home themselves? Why paint them by association with the same brush used on those who are underperforming? Hardly a morale builder for Yahoo’s best and brightest.

This is throwing out the baby, the bathwater and the wing of the building where the bathtub’s located.

◊ ◊ ◊

IN RECENT years, and more recently under Mayer’s leadership, Yahoo has been about reinforcing its bona fides as a search engine and online content resource with the ubiquity the times demand, increasing access to Yahoo platforms from the desktop, from the laptop, the tablet and the smartphone.

Covering the bases aggressively has borne fruit; Danny Goodwin at Search Engine Watch reported in January that “Yahoo, which has seen its search market share eroding since September of 2011, actually gained a little ground in December, rising from 12.1 percent in November to 12.2 percent in December.”
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