Sometimes the truth just slips out

(cross-posted from my media blog)

In a recent blog post, Anil Dash of SixApart wrote about the fallout from a comment that Seagate CEO Bill Watkins made to Fortune magazine, in which he said that his company’s products help people “buy more crap and watch porn.” The comment — which was made during an informal dinner with bloggers and reporters in San Francisco — apparently got Watkins into some hot water within the company, and so he sent out a memo to employees saying:

Unfortunately, and unwisely, I also used pornography as an example to illustrate a point. Fortune Magazine chose to focus narrowly on this example in their headline.

They are in the news business and eager to get their reader’s attention and I should have known better. Even though I believe Fortune’s headline writers took my comments out of context, I want you to know that I am sorry if this has in any way offended anyone.

As the original Fortune piece noted, Watkins is well known for being a colourful personality who likes to speak his mind. Some of those writing about the incident, incuding commenters on the followup post on Fortune’s The Browser blog, are afraid that the magazine’s choice to feature the quote prominently (including in the headline) might dissuade Mr. Watkins and other CEOs from being candid.

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That may be — but it’s unlikely. What’s more likely is that the Seagate CEO feels completely comfortable with what he said, but issued the memo as a face-saving measure. After all, his comment wasn’t as bad as the one Ratner Jewellery CEO made in 1991, when he said (among other things) that a decanter set his company sold was cheap because it was “total crap.” The company’s share price fell by almost a billion dollars and he was soon the ex-CEO.

As Anil notes in his post, the Seagate incident was the result of a series of otherwise reasonable decisions: Watkins jokes around with bloggers at dinner, Fortune spots a salacious and funny quote, and an editor highlights it (editor Jim Ledbetter discusses his decision in the comments on the followup item). The Seagate CEO then says he is sorry, and life goes on.


John Furrier of Podtech has posted a comment to say that he was at the dinner with Watkins, and that he described in a post here that he thought Fortune blew the Seagate CEO’s remarks out of proportion.

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