"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."
- Abraham Lincoln (attributed)The recent scandal with News Corp. and media kingpin, Rupert Murdoch, teaches many valuable lessons -- about leadership, responsibility, humility, or any number of morals. What I hope to approach here is the value of both history and arrogance.
To recap, one of Murdoch's many media outlets, News of the World (a British tabloid), has been exposed for illegally hacking into the voice mails of various public and private individuals to gain information related to news stories. Among these were invasions into the privacy of the British royalty, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a missing British teen, and family members of 9/11 victims. Now, the looming question is not if News Corp. is guilty, but who will ultimately bear responsibility. The reporters? Middle management? Editors? Murdoch himself?
What makes a corporation or individuals believe they can blatantly break the law as a means to an end? Hubris and arrogance. An overbearing, exaggerated sense of self-confidence. That attitude of being bigger than the law and the systems we live in. The troubling aspect of this scandal is how contagious this mindset has become in the world. Then again, the adult world is no different. Human beings will go to great lengths to obtain desired results if they don't believe they will be caught.
After the wave of corporate scandals in the early part of the 2000s, USA Today ran an article pertaining to the mindset of individuals who bilked companies for millions of dollars. Psychologists asserted multiple reasons in an attempt to explain the ultimate question -- why? Some of the reasons include: competitiveness, boredom, entitlement and the corruption of power.1 I would assert these characteristics fall under the umbrella of hubris and arrogance and explain the behavior of any number of scandals.
Moreover, these traits are not unique to the business world. Think of all the political scandals and military debacles that have occurred because of a foolish line of thinking where politicians believed themselves to be beyond normal men.
Does anyone really believe former President Bill Clinton was sexually involved with Monica Lewinsky because she was attractive? What about the late President Richard Nixon? Did he really spy on the Democratic HQ at the Watergate because he was fearful of losing the election? Or more recently, former Congressman Anthony Weiner?
Professional athletes act in a manner similar to politicians. Scan through the sports page of a newspaper for a week and an article will appear about an athlete who believes himself to exist somewhere beyond society's rules. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Ben Roethlisberger, Reggie Bush, Tiger Woods, Rick Pitino (coach, I know), Cam Newton, and Brett Favre have all been implicated in some sort of recent scandal. Why? The same reason we all bend or break rules given the opportunity.
Another disturbing aspect of this News Corp. scandal is the notion that people have no sense of history. When repeating a certain pattern of unethical behavior, corporations and individuals are exposed. This fact appears inevitable -- yet people are willing to take great risks regardless of historical precedent.
The possibility also exists that the unscrupulous of society are aware of the history, the risks and choose to follow their impulses anyway. People believe they are different than those who came before them, as if beyond discovery and reproach.
My question for the responsible parties is this: was it worth the price? Because I'm quite certain Nixon, Clinton, Weiner, Bernie Madoff, et al. would speak to the fact that it is most definitely not worth the risk. Hopefully, history will stop repeating itself.