You leaky rat!
(Fortune Magazine) -- Let me pose a little scenario for you: You and your cozy family - for whom you are responsible - live in a big old mansion. It's a good structure, even a little more comfortable and well appointed than it was a few years ago. But there's a problem. Somewhere in the walls, there are rats. You have tried everything to get rid of them. You can't sleep at night because you hear them skittering about, just out of sight. One day, crazed with fear and rage, in an attempt to smoke out the greasy rodents, you hire a bunch of hapless exterminators who end up burning down your house. The good news is, you got a couple of the rats. The bad news is, you can't live there anymore.
Who's to blame? It depends on how you look at things.
Is it Patricia Dunn, outgoing head of the HP (Charts) household? There's no question that the woman did stupid things. Authorized spying! The clandestine operations - two of them, a year apart - were called Kona I and Kona II, the island of Kona being the Hawaiian getaway home of Ms. Dunn. Awesome code name, dudes!
But it's hard to blame poor Patty. She was driven around the bend by the whole rat situation.
How about her fellow householders? The ones she called in to help handle the matter? Like Hunsacker, the lawyer and also - ha-ha! - chief ethics officer. I love this guy. Worried about the extreme measures being contemplated, he e-mailed the exterminator, inquiring whether the steps they were about to take were "above board."
"I think it is on the edge, but above board,'' came the reply, to which Hunsacker reportedly shot back, "I shouldn't have asked." An excellent reply, for anybody who is not the ethics officer.
But a villain? You think? He's living in the house too, after all. In the wee hours, when fears ran riot, he had to endure the unseen predators. How many were there? Were they about to gnaw through the sheetrock and attack the baby? What if outsiders found out about them and the property's value was destroyed?
It's not hard to imagine why people in that situation hire an exterminator. And what if the fellow contracted for the job is ugly and smells like poison? Doesn't that come with the trade?
I guess that's why it's also tough to get angry with the doofuses in HP's Boston office, who hired rat catchers, who in turn dragged in pretexters from Florida and Oklahoma. Nice guys? Probably not. Just doing their jobs? Certainly.
So, there's the chairwoman and the legal team and the dogsbodies who did their bidding, and they all give us the willies, and the feds and the press are rightly grossed out by the lot of them. Unfortunate, sorry crew! Are they to blame?
Nah. I blame the furry little leakers in the walls.
Maybe I've been inside my own house too long. But at the end of the day my heart goes out to the senior officers who were driven around the bend. Unless you've lived in an infested house, you don't know what it can do to you.
So I look at the board members. One of them, George Keyworth, seems to have provided outsiders with a host of interesting scuttlebutt he obtained while serving in his position of trust. You want to work with guys who disgorge their guts about private meetings? I don't. And if the material is, well, material, aren't there certain legal issues that arise?
Then there's Thomas Perkins, former board member, author of Sex and the Single Zillionaire, owner of one of the world's largest private yachts, who resigned in highest dudgeon when he learned of management's investigations. A couple of months ago, infuriated by the breach of trust represented by the spying (but not, presumably, the leaks), he went to sea with a reporter from Newsweek, spoke to him on background, you know, and then, when the leak story was about to pop in the media, gave the green light to publish the whole thing. The piece made Perkins look like the Dalai Lama, only cooler.
How about the rest of the board? Even now, the papers are full of people who refuse to be named, reporting to reporters who report on the juicy story.
This isn't whistleblowing we're talking about. It's old-fashioned leaking for all the reasons people leak. To make themselves feel big. To play the spy. To leverage their position, or position their leverage. Because they can.
What is to be done with such beasts? Shall we gather them all in a room without any sparkling water or caviar? Make them eat bagged spinach? Pull out their whiskers, one by one? Require them to fly coach? Fire the lot of them if they refuse to turn in the one who can't be trusted?
I say yes. All of the above. And immediately too.
No pretext necessary.
Stanly Bing'slatest book, "100 Bullshit Jobs ... And How to Get Them" (Collins), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.