Unexpectedly Intriguing!
February 13, 2005

As has been widely reported elsewhere throughout the blogosphere, Eason Jordan has officially resigned from CNN.

In resigning, Jordan joins the shamed ranks of New York Times' Editor-in-Chief Howell Raines, long-time CBS Anchorman Dan Rather and news producer Mary Mapes, whose departures were all characterized by their having placed their pursuit of political agendas ahead of sound journalism practices (The Freedom Forum's Robert Haiman has identified several best practices in journalism in this 219 KB PDF document).

Their departures also share another common thread. The truth in each situation, as we have learned it to be, was never, and has still not yet been fully addressed by the senior-most leadership of the organizations which employed them. Of all the situations that led to the firings, resignations and accelerated "retirements" of Jordan, Raines, Rather and Mapes, only CBS has performed a semi-independent review analyzing the circumstances that led to the premature career terminations of its employees. And yet, the senior executives of CBS' parent company Viacom, like their counterparts at the New York Times Company and CNN's parent company Time Warner, have never fully focused their attention on the environments that allowed their employees to pursue their agendas unchecked on their watch. At best, they have only added layers to their companies' internal processes, but have not yet dealt with the core issue leading to their lapses - the "groupthink" that refused to challenge the direction their employees were taking.

In all cases, problems related to the judgment of Jordan, Raines, Rather and Mapes were clearly laid out years before they arrived at the events that led to their disgrace and fall. Jordan had made numerous public comments indicating his bias against the militaries of the U.S. and Israel. Dan Rather's ideologically-based transgressions are almost legendary. Mary Mapes issues should have been addressed by those to whom she reported. Howell Raines' tyrannical stewardship of the New York Times eventually resulted in the newspaper's staff rebelling before his missives, but only after he became vulnerable as a result of Jayson Blair's frauds.

And still, even in the discreditation of each of the institutions of the New York Times, CBS News and CNN, the environment that tolerated the "misleadership" of each of these people has not been addressed. They were never challenged by those around them along the way to their disgrace. They were instead accepted, admired, and lauded. They were members of the club, and they still are. At least until the institutions of the New York Times, CBS and CNN change to finally expel the lingering corrosion of their internal culture's influence.

Afterthoughts: Added February 17, 2005.

It occurred to me that many of the disasterous decisions that led each of the otherwise talented and smart individuals above to their premature career terminations could very well be appended to Sydney Finkelstein's Why Smart Executives Fail. I highly recommend this book. My great hope is that Finkelstein already has a second edition in the works to incorporate post-mortems for the affairs detailed above and to update the book's case studies. I would be particularly interested to see how he would place former Boeing CEO Phil Condit's management of the airplane maker, given what was learned about his stewardship after the book's publication. (Finkelstein cites Condit as a positive example in his section on how companies can build a "culture of openness.")

Editor's Note: The final sentence of the main article preceding the Afterthoughts originally read: "At least until the institutions of the New York Times, CBS and CNN change to finally expel the lingering corrosion of their influence." The change was made to clarify what influence is at work.

Also, a link to Phil Condit's official biography on Boeing's web site would have been provided, but his biography appears to have been scrubbed from existence.

Update: Phil Condit's biography has returned!

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