When ex-staffers rat you out

June 4, 2008, 2:36 PM UTC
Fortune



Two events in the media happened recently that gave me, as a manager of other people, a cold shudder down the back of what’s left of my spine.

The first was the publication of Scott McClellan’s book What Happened. You can argue all day about whether Mr. McClellan was a) a bad guy for having lied to the American people, as he was instructed to do by his boss, about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or b) a bad guy for ratting on his boss now or c) a good guy for telling the truth to the American people now, when it’s extremely important, it being an election year and all and the truth never really being inappropriate or finally d) a good guy for ratting on his boss, because there is no statute of limitations on the kind of executive abuse we’re talking about here.

All I know is that as a boss, Mr. McClellan makes me nervous. Okay, perhaps the things I have done while in this comfy recliner don’t hold a candle to the depredations visited on the American public and the world by Mr. McClellan’s former boss. But certainly, not everything I do every day is perfect. Some of what I do, what I have done over the years, might make me seem, to the casual or unkind eye, ridiculous, stupid, ill-tempered, or a sloppy eater.

Then there’s the publication this month of a piece in Vanity Fairby the writer Todd Purdham. It’s about Bill Clinton and it isn’t very kind. Mr. Clinton has already had a major, obscene freak-out about it, and it’s sort of easy to see why. In a very astute blog on Slate, writer Jack Shafer cites the number of unnamed sources Todd Purdham used in his thorough take-down of Mr. Clinton’s financial, personal and sexual ethics. Here they are: 

  • one former aide to Clinton who is still in occasional affectionate touch with him
  • Another former aide, trusted by Clinton for his good judgment
  • A longtime Clinton-watcher, who has had ties to the former president since his first campaign for governor of Arkansas
  • Yet another long-serving Clinton aide
  • friends who worry that Clinton has never been the same since his quadruple-bypass surgery
  • one senior aide, who has known and served both Clintons for years
  • a participant [in a 1992 condom presentation to Clinton]
  • one former longtime aide
  • A former Clinton aide
  • one of [Maggie] Williams’ former colleagues and friends
  • A range of Clinton loyalists
  • one former aide
  • someone who knows [current Clinton aide Doug Band] well
  • a former Clinton aide
  • four former Clinton aides
  • the aide
  • another aide
  • several Clinton aides and friends
  • A former Burkle associate
  • One person, who has worked at the highest levels for both Clintons
  • A Clinton aide
  • A Clinton adviser
  • one Clinton aide
  • Many of those who know [Clinton] well
  • one former aide
  • One senior aides
  • one of [Clinton’s] closest former aides
  • Aides to both Clintons
  • the aide
  • Aides
  • this aide
  • a person close to [Edward] Kennedy
  • a Clinton campaign official
  • aides
  • Some aides
  • Clinton aides
  • one senior Clinton adviser
  • [Clinton] associates
  • friends

Now, the thing you need to know about this, if you don’t already, is that Mr. Purdham is married to Dee Dee Myers, and she, like Mr. McClellan, was the White House Press Secretary, serving Mr. Clinton as Mr. McClellan subsequently served Bush Part Deux.  

So to reiterate: Mr. McClellan served Mr. Bush as his spokesman, and in that role was privy to a great amount of unfiltered veracity to which he was only inconstantly constant. Ms. Myers, too, served as the President’s spokesperson, and in that role came to know many, many people within Mr. Clinton’s inner circle. She is now married to a gentlemen who is making full use of that inner circle to pillory the former President, who may or may not deserve it, depending on your point of view.

Once again? Whatever you may think of the role of a free press, and the value of whistle blowers, and the nature of the truth in world affairs and all that? If you have anybody working for you, anybody close to you who, in the setting of your workplace, knows where all the bodies are buried… well… you’ve got to be a little nervous by these developments, I think. Sure, maybe the two Presidents are each receiving exactly what they deserve. But as Hamlet asked, if each of us were to get what we deserve, which of us would escape whipping?

And does any boss have the right to an expectation of ongoing discretion and loyalty after the last paycheck is cashed?