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NBC Was Right To Fire ‘What’s The Internet’ Video Leaker

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NBC (NSDQ: CMCSA) News is feeling a bit of blog-generated backlash this morning following its decision to terminate an unnamed employee accused of leaking 16-year-old Today footage (view after the jump) in which its anchors struggle to understand what the then-new internet thingy was. But anyone who believes that anything short of taking the offending staffer and drop-kicking him or her off the top of 30 Rock is the right thing to do is hopelessly naive.

The firing was reported by The Washington Post (NYSE: WPO) reporter Rob Pegoraro, but has yet to be confirmed by NBC. UPDATE: NBC has confirmed the termination.

This isn’t about NBC being over-sensitive to how the network might be perceived. Heck, “Today” smartly had enough of a sense of humor to air the footage on the program and have a laugh over it.

What this is really about is NBC realizing it was employing somebody reckless enough to take its intellectual property without permission and exhibit it on the internet. Working at a media company means respecting a set of rights binding the product. To misunderstand that basic concept is idiocy.

The footage in and of itself may have been perfectly harmless, but that’s irrelevant. This isn’t about what the employee in question did, but about what this person could conceivably do next. The action taken is basically telling the company, “I cannot be trusted.”

All this might sound mighty uptight, but consider how you would look at the situation if you worked alongside this employee at NBC. Picture sending a sensitive e-mail to a co-worker only to see it get leaked.

There’s been comparison in some blogs’ discussion of the video to the PR nightmare Best Buy weathered when the retailer fired an employee who created a hilarious video mocking the iPhone. But creating a new video is totally different than appropriating footage that doesn’t belong to you.

You could argue that firing the employee is unduly harsh, but a slap on the wrist doesn’t quite cut it, either. This person could be totally apologetic, but the action taken is so careless that it speaks volumes about his or her character. The employee is a time bomb who is going to explode in some other fashion at some point down the line.

This person would have been much smarter to have shown the footage to a Today producer and suggest it as funny segment. To do otherwise was basically asking to be terminated.

14 Responses to “NBC Was Right To Fire ‘What’s The Internet’ Video Leaker”

  1. This sounds suspiciously like supporting cover-ups. Granted, in this situation it’s merely embarrassing as opposed to scandalous, but the point is the same: This clip was in the public domain. NBC aired these views once, and I expect somewhere in the world there is a VHS tape of them somewhere gathering dust. But simply by bringing them to public light (again), the chap gets fired.

  2. @Andrew nobody cares about NBC… firing the guy is their loss. In the end all corporate media will bow down to the internet hive mind anyway. And the harder they resist it the more painful it will be. I’m just surprised you don’t see this that’s all.

    Also don’t you dare slandering horses now. They’ve been enslaved for such a long time I fear an uprising is on the horizon. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the horse wars do you ?

  3. Andrew Wallenstein

    As much as I’m enjoying all these adorable metaphors about horses and parking, I fear they’re obscuring a rather simple issue. Bemoaning a punishment disproportionate to the crime reflects a misunderstanding of how NBC is assessing the situation. The network’s decision to fire the employee is not about the incident per se; it’s about erasing the probability that a person who showed either a spectacular lapse in judgment at best (or malicious intent at worst) does no harm to the company in the future. Deride that sentiment as servility to “The Man” if you must, but if you can’t toe a certain line drawn by the company that signs your paycheck, look into self-employment.

    In any case, I appreciate all the thoughtful responses here and look forward to being likened to Eichmann in subsequent comments to this article.

  4. sethgodin

    I’m sort of amazed at both the severity and your appreciation of same. Surely we ought to encourage the death penalty for people who double park as well–double parking is dangerous, it blocks emergency vehicles, it should not be tolerated, thus we should terminate the offender.

    Is NBC such a draconian corporation that the only remedy available is firing someone? And is the message they want to send to the staff, “don’t go anywhere NEAR this topic, or you too will be fired?”

    If it were me, I’d fire the guy who had anything to do with Jay Leno and, I don’t know, take away lunch privileges for a week from the leaker.

  5. First of all:
    “To misunderstand that basic concept is idiocy.”
    Erm.. are you sir calling me an idiot ? I’m pretty sure you insulted half of the internet with that.

    “Today smartly had enough of a sense of humor to air the footage on the program and have a laugh over it.”
    No actually “Today” just showed us what a bunch of stuck-ups the people at NBC really are. You can hear it in their voice how they’re tip towing through the segment, probably afraid not to say anything that would get them fired. That’s why corporate media will never be funny!

    The smart thing to do would of been to ride this viral campaign that Rob Pegoraro just handed to them for free. They could of made a whole show about this. But no, they decided to fire the one guy that actually understood the whole thing. Talking about idiocy huh ?

    @JeffJarvis didn’t know Black Thunder passed away. I guess he lived a good long life and is now in horse heaven.

  6. Thank you for sharing this news. I had no idea that the person who found and released that ammusing clip had been fired. I have two minor suggestions that I hope you will find useful.

    You should not compare publishing private email with sharing a clip of a TV show that was publically broadcast under government spectrum monopoly protection. This unjustly enlists the reader’s emotional response to a private and personal betrayal for what is really a case of corporate control and discipline. There are many coppies of this show in people’s collections and NBC’s use of public spectrum should place obligations on NBC that lessens their control of what they broadcast.

    You should avoid the term “content” to describe artwork. “Content” is a term of disrespect used by careless publishers to desciribe what they purchase to fill in the spaces between advertisements.

  7. “Manage such disruption”?!? Whoa. That horse left the barn, ran over the horizon, met other horses, had baby horses, raised them, and died.

    No, friend, the goal now is to find the opportunity in that disruption. I *thought* that’s what PaidContent was all about. Just found the big exception.

  8. Andrew Wallenstein

    Thanks for weighing in, Jeff. By “tools of publicness” i assume you are referring to the ability of an average Joe to upload video to a public website. I suppose you could argue that the usage in question is one of “fair use,” though that’s probably debatable. Regardless, isn’t it a whole other matter when you’re an employee of the very company whose intellectual property you’ve appropriated? You can do something perfectly legal that still violates a company’s rules.

    The day may yet come when the “culture of control” is usurped by “tools of publicness,” but would that extend to letting employees indiscriminately raid a company’s archives? I’m doubtful.

    It’s true I cover “disruption,” but more to the point I cover corporations’ abilities to manage said disruption. That’s exactly what went on here.

  9. At the very least, he probably broke some clause in a non-disclosure agreement by taping proprietary archival footage and posting it on the Internet. NBC doesn’t really have much of a choice in a situation like this. Dude broke the rules publicly.

  10. Mr. Wallenstein’s depiction of the terminated employee as “so careless that it speaks volumes about his or her character” and as a ” time bomb who is going to explode in some other fashion at some point down the line” is so beyond the line of professional that it’s hard not to think of this as a piece from The Onion.

  11. This was a great clip. Was the Today Show video ever on the net before the “Leak”? You know we are not talking WikiLeaks here; this guy did not open a shoot on a Jet Blue plane while abusing customers. A promotion to the NBC or Kabletown programing department may have been a better decision. ’15 minutes of fame’ is now in order for this soon to be sought after former employee. Hope he got a exit package from Comcast.