Friday, February 21, 2014


A few years ago, the NY Times ran a story about a company where employees sign an "agreement to values" form that forbids gossip. The human resources manager is quoted saying the following to an employee when that employee interviewed at the firm:
There’s no back-stabbing here, and no office politics. Gossiping and talking behind someone’s back are not tolerated.
I can tell you that my blood ran cold at the article, especially the quotation above. The company doesn't exist where there are no office politics. It happens everywhere.

What this company has is an effective means of keeping employees from obtaining independent information from each other about what goes on at the company. If you're not allowed to talk to each other, you don't know who the office creep is. You know, the one who commits sexual harassment. If someone leaves, the company can tell you whatever it wants, and you have no way to tell whether it's the truth or they are lying through their teeth to protect themselves.

The woman interviewed says this:
At my last job, gossip was rampant. So many people had negative attitudes. Workers would become frustrated if one person was slacking off, so they’d vent about it.
I once worked in a group which had a notable slacker, and believe me, I'm glad we were able to talk to each other about it. Managers don't always know what's going on; in this case, because we talked about how we were affected by the slacker, well, eventually the person didn't work for our company any more. If you don't talk to each other, how do you know that management expectations are fair, and that people are being treated fairly?

It sounds as though the company discussed in the article does have a culture where individuals are encouraged to call out problems, and of course that is a good thing. Still, I would worry about what isn't being discussed and what is being concealed.

Okay, enough ranting about a company I don't work for. But now you understand my view of the value of gossip.  If you're wondering what this has to do with my usual beat, I don't have a direct connection.

However, I do have a few things to say about House of Cards, Netflix's hit made-for-Netflix TV show, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as a Congressman and his wife, who works in the nonprofit NGO sector.

The show is beautifully produced, well-directed, well-written, looks great, snappy cinematography, everything you'd expect of a well-funded TV series. It has one huge gaping problem, though: Congressman Francis Underwood gets away with an amazing amount of double-timing, betrayal, back-stabbing, breaking promises, etc., etc. And I just don't believe this could happen. He is the House majority whip, and his behavior, and everyone's failure to notice it, would be possible only in an environment where nobody talks to each other. It is not possible that in Washington, DC, senators and representatives don't talk to each; their staffs don't talk to each other; reporters and bloggers and Congress-watchers don't speculate or talk to each other.

Just not possible. Gossip is everywhere, and Frank Underwood could never get away over years with the kinds of manipulations you see in the show without getting caught at it and winding up on the front page of the Washington Post and NY Times and Daily Kos and HuffPost and.....

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