I've had several friends and colleagues I admire deeply who have worked for AOL over the years, but I passed on at least three opportunities to work there myself. When AOL people kicked around Daddy Types early in the blogging boom, I turned down any discussion of selling out to the company. I was critical of the current AOL's purchase the Huffington Post, which I saw as built on an unfair structure that funneled almost all the company's value to one person, even as many of those who created content for the company went uncompensated at all. To me, whatever valid journalism HP has managed to produce has always been tainted by the company's exploitative core. And don't get me started on Patch.
I've been satisfied all these years to accept that talented, smart, even visionary people have been able to work there, even though the company has never felt or seemed right for me. Or to me. Which was fine. But in the 20+ years I've followed the company closely, nothing AOL has ever done surpasses CEO Tim Armstrong's actions this week for sheer outrageous #$*%(ed-upedness. And yes, that includes the Time Warner merger.
Tim Armstrong announced the company was cutting employer contributions to 401k plans, and then blamed Obamacare, which was bullshit in the first place. But then to bolster his claim of out-o-control healthcare costs, he claimed two "distressed babies" born to AOL employees in 2012 had, on their own, cost the company over $1 million apiece in medical expenses. This logic and this claim has been gutted by many journalists this week, and in the face of public backlash, Armstrong kind-of-apologized and reversed the 401k cuts.
But the hand has already been played, and the damage has already been done. That a CEO of a major company in 2014 would even think to blame "high-risk pregnancies" for cutting employee benefits should be unacceptable. That he did so while paying himself $12 million/year, several times the cost of the cuts themselves, only crystallizes Armstrong's unsuitability for his job. That he did this all after wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on his failed vision for Patch, shows that neither Armstrong nor the board exhibit a shred of responsibility to shareholders.
All of this was obvious yesterday, though. That was before Deanna Fei, the mother of one of those "distressed babies" Armstrong blamed, told her family's harrowing story in Slate. It is exactly the kind of totally unexpected, potentially catastrophic, and utterly necessary medical treatment that health insurance is designed for. If Armstrong were clueless about this, he'd be stupid and unfit for his job. The fact that he made bullshit excuses and blamed a system that saved a kid's life like it should means he should be fired immediately, and that AOL's board is on the hook for every day he remains at the company.
My Baby and AOL's Bottom Line [slate]