In charge but not in control
On Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., was sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying and obstructing a probe into the leak of a CIA operative’s identity. Libby told investigators he forgot that Cheney had already imparted unto him the highly classified information that he claimed to have first heard from a television journalist.Either Libby’s neighborhood GNC store was fresh out of ginkgo biloba every time he stopped in to buy a bottle, or at some point Cheney gave him the Cadillac of annual reviews. Many Washington insiders have placed their money on the latter. After all, not every boss inspires the kind of loyalty that leads to two years’ probation and a $250,000 fine such as those that judge also handed Libby this week.Trust me on this one.When I worked at Oxygen Media, my boss, Julie, was more like a sister or a friend than an actual boss. (Then again, in a company where the female-to-male ratio is roughly 400-to-three, everyone is sort of like a sister.) Julie and I went out to dinner regularly. I helped her mom plan her baby shower. Her husband consulted me when shopping for her anniversary and birthday gifts. She invited me over to her house for Academy Awards, Super Bowl and Grammys parties.But after two and a half years at the network, when I announced that I had accepted a position at a new TV show and then politely rejected Julie’s counteroffer of a raise and a promotion – at which time she realized I’d be making more money than her at my next job – the love affair ended abruptly, and I became enemy No. 1. Julie asked human resources if she could fire me instead of allowing me to resign, claiming she taught me most of what I knew and therefore allowing me to depart voluntarily would mean I’d be stealing away with precious company-owned data. Her anti-crime campaign was unsuccessful; nevertheless, it was an uphill battle mustering sunshine and roses when the topic turned to her during my exit interview with HR.Being a true friend of the boss is tough. After all, it’s rare to crave time outside of work with the person about whom you traditionally whine to your real friends when sharing a few rounds at happy hour. No matter how close-knit the relationship, the boss is always the boss.Still, at least Julie wasn’t a yeller. They’re the worst.New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is famous for loudly and publicly belittling his team managers and players. Lots of fictional bosses yell, too. Like Tony Soprano (of nearly blessed memory). And J. Jonah Jameson, the publisher of the Daily Bugle. You know, Peter Parker’s boss who demeans him and screams all the time. You know, in the make-believe world of “Spider-Man.”While it may not seem out of place for a make-believe boss to yell at a make-believe employee on TV or in the movies, it can seem grossly inappropriate when it happens in real life. Especially for someone like me, who was raised on a quiet cul-de-sac in a civilized suburb by loving parents who generally tried not to raise their voices unless I was upstairs, they were downstairs and yelling was their best guarantee that I’d hear what they were saying.The first time I was ever on the receiving end of a yell at work I felt like a 7-year-old who had just been falsely accused of pilfering another kid’s Halloween candy stash. (Even then, I don’t think my parents would have yelled. They probably would have expressed their disappointment in me. Which, of course, is way, way worse.) My boss, John, strolled into work three hours late one day reeking of cigarettes, whiskey and a foul mood. He sat down at his desk, checked his voicemail, set down the receiver and then proceeded to scream at me because he had missed a personal phone call that had come in late the night before. I said nothing and looked around the office, wondering, “Did anyone else hear what he just said? He didn’t actually yell at me, did he? For what, exactly?”To his credit, John apologized a few hours later. Then he bought me lunch and swore he’d never raise his voice again. Of course he continued doing it off and on (but more on than off) for the next two years. Alas, the cycle of emotional office abuse.Then there was the film director, Jim, I worked for one summer who hollered at me like Fred Flintstone at Wilma or Ralph Kramden at Alice because he disliked immensely the tile I haphazardly picked out for the master bathroom floor in his beach condo. Apparently I had been far too dim to understand that “production assistant” was a euphemism for “house decorating and dry cleaning pick-up bitch.” Silly me.But obviously not everyone will be so lucky to have the kind of bosses that Lewis Libby has had. After his sentence was handed down this week, Cheney shared his thoughts on his former employee, saying warmly, “Speaking as friends, we hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man.”And while neither Cheney nor President Bush was among the Washington brass who submitted letters on his behalf to the court requesting leniency, Libby can presumably expect to remain on the White House Christmas card list. I mean, that is truly the very least they can do for him at that this point, right?Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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