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Arrington v Bartz: why do we care?

I would not normally weigh in on a combative public display of bad taste and shock jock baiting of the kind that Mike Arrington, founder of TechCrunch trapped Carol Bartz into earlier today. If anyone thinks that was a fireside chat (or for that matter whether Arrington will get another shot in the same way) then they are deluded.

I would not normally weigh in on a combative public display of bad taste and shock jock baiting of the kind that Mike Arrington, founder of TechCrunch trapped Carol Bartz into earlier today. If anyone thinks that was a fireside chat (or for that matter whether Arrington will get another shot in the same way) then they are deluded.

But then us enterprisey types are not so shy. Remember when Leo Apotheker was caught in a less than 'on message' moment?

ZDnet: “I don’t give a s**t if it’s Accenture or IBM. I care about the customer. I find it shocking people are walking around talking to customers and have no experience on [SAP]. [Consultants] get hired of people and have no clue. It’s annoying but that’s a fact. Let’s start by certifying people,”

Or how about last week when I caught Vishal Sikka on video expressing pain at Vinnie's 'spray paint' accusations? Or better still when Dr Hasso Plattner went off script and called BS during a keynote to 50,000 people? Contrast the differences.

Mike Arrington kicked off the 'conversation' with a welcome that might be appropriate among soccer mates but shows almost no respect for the CEO of a large company that has enough problems without having to deal with loutish interviewing in the public arena. In each of the SAP cases, the exec concerned was not baited into saying anything off color. They made those decisions for themselves: as human beings, in the moment. We lap it up and applaud them for their candor, even if the PR's go apes&*t. It adds character and human-ness to companies that sometimes seem soulless.

Is it any surprise that later in the 'conversation' that Ms Bartz told Arrington to "f&*k off?" I am surprised it's taken a CEO as long. I suspect he has set the tone for the future but one that will see CEO's much more guarded in what they say - assuming they're willing to turn up and be filleted mercilessly.

But to the broader issue of colorful language as US folks might say I worry that Mike Arrington has set a standard (of sorts) that will obscure the real stories and instead focus on the titillating miscues that some execs will inevitably be sucked into. None of us will be any the better for it.

I am reminded from time to time that ZDNet is a 'family friendly' site and so there are plenty of occasions where otherwise 'robust debate' (euphemism for F-bombs etc) need parsing to get the real message across. That's fair enough. When I met with Bill McDermott I was specifically asked not to go in all guns blazing. We'd never met before and SAP wants to nurture blogger relations. Regardless of my disagreements with the company  across multiple dimensions it serves no useful purpose ripping into someone when we have no relationship.It was good advice and we came out the other side with agendas to pursue but shaking hands.

It is one thing to have a slanging match behind closed doors, perhaps under the Chatham House Rule in order to get to the nub of passionately held beliefs or to unearth the verité of a story. Anyone who knows me will attest to my participation in that way. It is quite another to behave like a latter day Kyle Sandilands. In that sense, I think that Insignificant Thoughts gets it right: Bartz Makes Arrington Look Stupid.

We're all the worse for it. Coming from someone who has no problem eviscerating Twits and other numbnuts in no uncertain terms that must sound pious and hypocritical. Not at all. There is a time and place for everything. Equally, there are reasons why people like Ms Bartz are chosen for their position. We can all learn by respecting the individual even if we do not agree with what they stand for. The difference is vitally important to a continuing and rigorous debate around issues of importance. Anything else is lurid entertainment that plays to the basest form of reality TV mentality and not to the hard dollars of enterprise IT value.

In my (not very) humble opinion.

PS - Do I think Mike Arrington has lost the plot? Not at all. He's done this industry a great service by from time to time wearing his heart on his sleeve and speaking on topics about which he has passionately held beliefs. Mostly we're the better for parsing those thoughts. He and I are no strangers to argument at a personal level but I hold no personal grudge. I do however think he's stepped over an invisible line which might regrettably come back to bite TechCrunch in the rear end. I hope it doesn't hurt everyone else in the process.