Archives for August 2013

The Tweet Heard ‘Round the World


In preparation for an upcoming show on teen sex and drinking, The Dr. Phil Show posted a question on twitter, asking “If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused.”

The question was interpreted as a statement, and instead of answers, disapproving tweets circled the twittersphere expressing anger at the host for suggesting that “it might be OK to have sex with someone without consent.” One tweet stated: “If Dr. Phil is drunk, is it okay for him to tweet?”

A representative of the show explained that Dr. Phil is “very upset that this happened” and Dr. Phil himself deleted the question from twitter.  Soon after, The Dr. Phil Show issued a statement, explaining: “This tweet was intended to evoke discussion leading to a very serious show topic.  It was not intended to be taken lightly.”

Following the tweet, Dr. Phil refused to appear on CNN to defend the offensive tweet, and was replaced by Jerry Springer as a stand-in to discuss the controversial issue.

Dr. Phil and representatives of the show learned through their error that when taken out of context – as all soundbites will eventually be – edgy or controversial statements/questions can and often do backfire!



During a tense conference call meant to rally 1,000 employees, AOL Chief Tim Armstrong publically fired the Creative Director of AOL, Abel Lenz, as he began to record the meeting, part of Mr. Lenz’s job description.

It was a particularly sensitive moment, as the CEO was announcing the reduction of the number of Patch sites in its local news network from 900 to 600. “If you think what is going on right now is a joke and you want to joke around about it,” Mr. Armstrong said, “you should pick your stuff up and leave Patch today.”

Then, the audio transmission allowed the quick and unexpected interaction to be heard: “Abel — put that camera down right now. Abel! You’re fired. Out!”

Mr. Armstrong showed a common mistake of overusing authority, and forgetting to respect his employees.  Having assumed the leadership role of CEO, he needs to learn to act accordingly and show grace under pressure.

His outburst became the news. More than any other time in history, CEO’s and other leaders “at the front of the room” need to choose their words carefully. In similar situations, college classrooms and stockholder meetings have been secretly recorded on cell phones and laptops and the leaders pronouncements “gone viral.”

After a weekend of reflection, Mr. Armstrong claimed in a staff memo that what drove him over the edge was that Abel had been previously told not to record confidential meetings. “I’m accountable for the way I handled the situation. And on a human level, it was unfair to Abel.”

True. Although it’s often better to beg forgiveness than ask for permission, it’s actually best not to misspeak in the first place.