26/04/11

Brave New Reuters? Apparently not

Regular readers know that I have little time for the uber-correctness that tries to wipe sex out of our daily loves and lives. But I am more outraged than usual at the price paid by journalist David Fox, one of the best conflict correspondents in the business, for an off-colour remark made in what he thought was a private chat. Reuters new bosses fired him, with no right of appeal.

I used to be proud to have worked for Reuters. It was an organisation of clever, brave people dedicated to reporting the truth in often difficult situations. I continue to be proud to have spent 10 years living with David Fox. His determination to give a voice to the men, women and children who are the pawns in conflicts not of their own making definitely took a toll on our marriage. I learned to recognise the lock-down mood that followed yet another assignment in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Iraq, Albania, Afghanistan. I laughed at the sick jokes that go with the daily reporting of incomprehensible grimness. As anyone who has worked as a surgeon, doctor, cop, undertaker or soldier knows (and as comments on Reuters’ imperious behaviour reflect) gallows humour helps you cope with shitty situations. I work on a sexually transmitted infection that has killed 30 million people; I can do a tasteless joke or two of my own. But along with the wisecracks came top quality journalism. I never failed to be moved by the stories David filed for an employer increasingly short of brave people who could be dropped in to a disaster area with equipment charged, functional, and ready to file. Read his coverage of the refugee crisis in Zaire and try not to weep.

So short is Reuters of people with David’s experience and competence, that they pulled him from his new post as bureau chief in Indonesia to help out with the coverage of the tsunami in Japan. He crunched his great height into an economy seat on an overnight flight and went to work on not enough sleep. An old mate, chatting with him on line in the middle of the night, made a crack about the effect radiation might have on the already bald David. David responded to a fairly classic disaster crack more or less in kind, although bringing women and Brazilians into the comment definitely upped the level of vulgarity. Most of the reporting of this incident has pussied around what David actually said and he will doubtless be appalled if I’ve let the cat out of the bag. But I feel the need to say that I can see why women might be upset; we’re all in a total quandry about our pubic hair these days. Though the subject is virtually taboo even in girl-talk, we spend inordinate amounts of time agonising in private: to wax or not to wax, landing strips yes or no? The constant dilemma of whether to disclose your status before you take your clothes off, the shocked looks if you strip before you tell. For the record I believe that men will soon lose interest in having sex with women who have tortured themselves into looking like pre-pubescents. In this context alone, I’m a proud defender of bush.

Still, it’s not a subject that most people want to engage with, least of all when facing an overwhelming human tragedy in the middle of the night. David can be a bit of a lad — it goes hand in hand with volunteering to report from the front line — but he is neither a sexist pig nor an insensitive idiot. He thought he was replying only to the mucker who had made the crack about his hair falling out. Fatally, though, he sent the comment by mistake to a Reuters-only chat room, populated at that hour by a couple of dozen people. Everyone’s worst nightmare. He realised his mistake right away and called the IT people within minutes to try and get the comment erased. It seems the techs at one of the world’s foremost electronic communications agencies were unable to help.

For an unintended slip of a keystroke conveying a silly, laddish comment to a small number of staffers in the middle of the night, a slip which he tried instantly to rectify and for which he apologised without reservation, David was fired. Let me repeat that. Thompson Reuters fired a brave, loyal journalist who has put himself on the front line for the company time after time after time for 20 years, because he mistakenly shared a gallows-humour joke with an internal audience.

Is that a company to be proud of?

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This post was published on 26/04/11 in Pisani's picks.

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17 comments

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  1. Pingback by It is possible to divorce well, 26/04/11, 02:07:

    […] Ms. Pisani sticks up for her ex husband. […]

  2. Comment by Mary Motta, 26/04/11, 02:37:

    For shame on Reuters. Gallows humor is indeed, a stress buster necessary to get through war zones, death camps and some such.

    And this was posted on an “internal” chat room?!!! This is “political correctness” out of control.

    More crass humor, less suits at Reuters! Disgusting!

  3. Comment by bilbaoboy, 26/04/11, 03:29:

    The sign of our times. A micro-slip in the ‘correct’ standards and even if you are a world beater, you are stuffed.

    And to the self-righteous prigs who approve of his sacking, I ask: Have you never…? Really,never???

    Assuming that something like that defines the person requires an arrogance that I am not prepared to accept.

    You are making a worse world.

    And never let me catch you telling a joke, ‘cos some minority will be suffering and you will be cast out into the wilderness…

  4. Comment by DWD, 26/04/11, 05:13:

    I guess (unfortunately)that it shouldn’t be surprising based on past action: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/business/2011/04/reuters-journalists-fired-disciplined-remarks/36835/.

  5. Comment by Donald Baxter, Iowa City, IA, 26/04/11, 08:10:

    I feel your pain. We live in a world that’s overly careful with the unimportant and yet lets the critical slip by without so much of a notice.

  6. Comment by Neels Ferreira, 27/04/11, 02:44:

    I think it’s disgusting that a company like reuters would go to this extent with someone of Davids calibre. They should be utterly ashamed of themselves. I sincerely hope that common sense prevails and David gets a fair ruling.

  7. Comment by Muscleguy, 27/04/11, 04:06:

    I agree that it stinks to high heaven and is indicative of a company that has stopped valuing it’s core assets (talented, hard working staff).

    Also for the record I like to make love to a woman, not feel like I’m screwing a prepubescent girl. I would hate to think a woman was having a Brazilian for me.

  8. Comment by cerissa nyen, 27/04/11, 05:18:

    i’m a proud defender of bush too

  9. Pingback by Broadcast Journalism – BJBlog.co.uk » Blog Archive » Weekly Link Digest – 28th April 2011, 28/04/11, 01:37:

    […] Brave New Reuters? Apparently not Another cautionary tale of harsh punishments for things mistakenly said on the wrong part of the internet. Careful. […]

  10. Comment by Ironya Sudby, 28/04/11, 10:25:

    Along time coming.Reuters lost its heart and soul a long time before Glocer sold out to Thomson so he could buy a fourth luxury cottage.

  11. Comment by Tom Hyland, 29/04/11, 12:58:

    Sometimes you come across an incident which provides final and conclusive proof that the world has gone absolutely stark raving mad.
    David’s sacking is such an incident.
    Experience, courage, loyalty and ability count for nothing when insipid, prissy and gutless managerial eunuchs find reason to take offence.
    Fuck the lot of them.

  12. Comment by Selma Kalousek Fisher, 30/04/11, 02:12:

    Ms.Pisani claims to have “let the cat out of the bag” re her ex-husband’s supposedly inappropriate comments. I still am trying to understand what it is he actually said. Can someone please publish the actual words? I understand that they were said in a private chat room, in as much as anything can be deemed private in an online chat room. Since he was fired over them, they can hardly be deemed as private anymore. Until I can read exactly what it is that Mr.Fox said, he is guilty by omission. Unlike what Ms.Pisani says, there are many of us who do not shy away from sex, either in word or in action. However, as one of a legion of women who’ve had to suffer insulting, vulgar and sexist comments from male colleagues over the years, I am not ready to excuse Mr.Fox on the basis that he had spent years risking his life in war zones. I know many who have as well, and know what she speaks of. Since Ms.Pisani states that she has “little time for ueber-correctness,” why pussyfoot around by paraphrasing what Mr.Fox said. I am prepared to be shocked — or not — by his actual words. And what is the point of digressing into talk about how women like to wear their fur. Is she trying shock-therapy readers to show that, oh gosh, here she is talking about, oh no, PUBES, and it’s OK. Yes, it’s totally fine, but it does not, ultimately, help in the defense of David Fox.

  13. Comment by elizabeth, 02/05/11, 12:34:

    Selma, I don’t know the exact words David used; there was no public disciplinary procedure so the exact phrase has not been made public, and I have not asked him to give me the word order. Here’s what I know: A mate of his commented that David would be dead before he knew he was exposed to radiation, since one of principal signs is that your hair falls out. David, who has been bald since his mid 20s, replied along these lines: “Ah well, at least it will save all the cute women in Tokyo money on their Brazilans” (the waxing of their public hair). So as you say, oh,gosh, there he was talking about, oh no, PUBES. As you say, it’s OK, it’s totally fine, if you’re making the comment in private to an old friend and drinking buddy who is making fun of you. It’s obviously less OK if you are making it in public at a time when people’s sensitivities are quite rightly heightened by the immensity of the tragedy they are suffering. David believed he was in the former situation. The instant he recognised his mistake – posting to an internal chat room rather than a two-person private chat window — he tried to remedy it. And he apologised, repeatedly, profusely and without any prompting.

    I’m sorry I can’t be more specific. I would urge you to contact Tom Glocer, the CEO of Thompson Reuters, and find out just how appalling the wording of the comment was. It must have been a pretty grim take on pubic hair to merit being fired. I tried myself to comment on his blog post about brave Reuters staffers in Japan (http://tomglocer.com/blogs/sample_weblog/archive/2011/03/30/2608.aspx) but my comment was disallowed by moderators).

  14. Comment by Unspun, 02/05/11, 01:48:

    :47:42 AM Asia_top_story_2 Andrew Marshall thomsonreuters.com:
    So how is the radiation situation mate? Has your hair been falling out?

    2:50:16 AM Asia_top_story_2 David Fox thomsonreuters.com:
    Lets hope it affects all those cute jap girls who do have a strange tendency to grow their pubes …

  15. Comment by Lee Rudolph, 02/05/11, 11:23:

    elizabeth makes the Freudian typo so many dread to make–“the waxing of their public hair”–and, _mirabile dictu_, the context is such that it’s entirely apposite.

    Unspun, assuming your quotation is accurate, would the “strange tendency” part be a passing comment on the (I believe still in effect) legal ban on depicting pubic hair in Japanese graphic art?
    I don’t imagine (well, actually, I do, but I don’t *believe*) it would be a reference to John Ruskin’s reported shock, on his wedding night, at finding his wife’s _mons veneris_ quite unexpectedly unlike those of the statues of antiquity, hair-wise.

    Since Selma Kalousek Fisher has already introduced the word “pussyfooting”, let me be the first to say that Thompson Reuters
    has been pusillanimous, and that *they* should be apologizing, repeatedly and profusely.

  16. Comment by Rod, 09/05/11, 11:46:

    Disgusting news and David Fox deserves far better treatment.

    I’m sorry to say this summary dismissal shows Thomson Reuters management for what they really are “fat cat pc correct liboturds”.

    I sincerely wish David the very best with his future career and TR have lost an extremely talented member of their staff.

    I hope Tom Glocer diagrees with David’s dismissal because if he doesn’t the board should look long and hard Thomson’s management and fire a few of them!

  17. Comment by kim, 28/05/11, 11:07:

    shame on Reuters again….

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