AOL CEO Tim Armstrong made headlines last week when, in a conference call, he blamed the health-care costs associated with the "distressed babies" of two AOL employees for the company's decision to trim 401(k) benefits. He was widely condemned in the media, as various observers pointed out Armstrong's Quixotic support of AOL's money-hemorrhaging Patch project, questioned his math, wondered if he'd violated employee confidentiality and cited his generous compensation. Valleywag's Sam Biddle published a chart titled "Tim Armstrong's Salary, in Distressed Babies."
Over the weekend, Armstrong apologized for his comments and walked back the 401(k) changes in a memo to staff.
AOL, which is declining to comment beyond Armstrong's memo, is clearly hoping the story just goes away. But on Saturday, Slate published a powerful essay by novelist Deanna Fei titled "My Baby and AOL's Bottom Line" and subtitled "That 'distressed baby' who Tim Armstrong blamed for benefit cuts? She's my daughter."
Fei, who is not an AOL employee but is married to one, tells the harrowing story of the premature birth of her daughter, and writes of the "damage to my family" that Armstrong's conference-call comments caused:
I take issue with how he reduced my daughter to a 'distressed baby' who cost the company too much money. How he blamed the saving of her life for his decision to scale back employee benefits. How he exposed the most searing experience of our lives, one that my husband and I still struggle to discuss with anyone but each other, for no other purpose than an absurd justification for corporate cost-cutting.
The entire essay is an absolute must-read.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.