Sunday, January 05, 2014
Sacking of firearms columnist by publication raises questions about "conflict of interest" in workplace after consumers make "threats"
The front page story “Banished for questioning the gospel of guns” in the New York Times Sunday, by Ravi Somaiya, link here certainly has disturbing implications for the idea of personal free speech and the workplace and the idea that it can cause a “conflict of interests”.
Dick Metcalf can no longer write for “Guns & Ammo” after he wrote a column called “Let’s talk limits”, arguing for some moderate gun control regulation. “Constitutional rights have always been regulated,” Metcalf wrote. Despite the public mood following Aurora, Sandy Hook and other tragedies, the magazine got subscription cancellations, threats, and dropping by sponsors, the latter as long as Metcalf was associated with the magazine. So, he was “fired”. It’s not apparent if he was an employee or syndicated columnist, but others seemed to perceive him as “working for” the magazine, which may not have been correct.
I wondered if this circumstance had a parallel to my own “conflict of interest” in the 1990’s when I was authoring my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book. I was working for a relatively small life insurance company that specialized in sales to military officers, when I decided to enter the debate on gays in the military after President Clinton (with some clumsiness, in retrospect) tried to lift the ban – leading to the long history of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. When the company was bought by a bigger one with a broader base, I wound up transferring and moving to Minneapolis, removing any potential conflict. Later, when my mother needed coronary bypass surgery, I was pressured to consider coming back, which I did not do. It may sound far out, to wonder if it was possible that my staying there could actually cause a loss of business, but the idea is parallel. It is significant that I did not make underwriting decisions about customers and did not have direct reports.
It seems that people in many jobs have to dedicate their entire social media and online presence to the political interests of their own employers and not their own. I just heard recently about a case where someone was told by an employer not to reveal on social media that he or she worked for a particular merged company undergoing possible anti-trust litigation.