By August 29, 2020ISDose

It seems I’ve been doing a lot of writing about free speech recently. Mostly it’s been about Facebook and its bogus claim that its irresponsibility in controlling its website is a reflection of a commitment to free speech. But there’s more…

Speech issues raised their ugly heads again this week in the ad industry. Tom Goodwin, Head of Futures and Insight (oy) at Publicis Group and, ironically, author of the book Digital Darwinism , was fired for tweeting some controversial — and in my opinion, stupid — opinions about COVID-19. If stupid opinions were grounds for dismissal, the ad industry would have a tough time fielding a softball team.

Goodwin’s point of view, expressed in tweets, included this gem, “I find the total obsession with Covid deaths over all other deaths entirely gruesome.” Apparently your modern-day fortune teller has a difficult time grasping the concept of “news.”

Goodwin wound up in a tweetsquabble with some highly sensitive ad aristocrats who seemed only too eager to shut him down. As if anyone in the real world gives 25% of a flying shit what some ad guy thinks about COVID.

But fire him? Isn’t Goodwin entitled to express opinions on a topical issue on his personal Twitter account without fear of being fired?

Of course, like all corporate hell holes, Publicis says it has a policy of diversity and inclusiveness. And like all these “policies” it’s mostly PR and hot air. Apparently “inclusiveness” doesn’t include expressing unorthodox opinions.

There was a time when creative enterprises welcomed — even encouraged — crackpot thinking and outrageous speaking. It was a badge of honor in the creative arts that we were tolerant and respectful of nutty ideas and immoderate speech. In fact, it was believed that creativity required a dose of such behavior.

Sadly, you have to be pretty dopey to think of our current crop of demoralizing holding companies as creative enterprises. They are dutifully pious Wall Street constructs who are afraid of their own shadows. Publicis has an annual Client Bravery Award.” They extol “bravery,” but practice cowardice. It takes no balls whatsoever to  fire someone with unpopular ideas.

Publicis should have issued the following statement…

“The leadership of Publicis, and the vast majority of our employees, do not agree with opinions expressed about COVID-19 by Tom Goodwin. But Publicis is a creative enterprise that respects diversity, including diversity of opinion, among all our employees. We do not agree with Mr. Goodwin’s personal opinions, but in keeping with our respect for democratic principles, we support Mr. Goodwin’s prerogative to express them.”

Did Publicis have the right to fire Goodwin? I’m pretty sure they can fire anyone they damn well please (in Bob World, just having the title “Head of Futures and Insight” would get you fired.) But that doesn’t make it smart or correct. Have we come to the point in this industry at which we can no longer tolerate dumbass opinions?

This is not the first time Goodwin has expressed unpopular or intemperate viewpoints. I’m sure there are people who consider him an annoying loudmouth. I happen to be very fond of annoying loudmouths.

COVID has been a horrible thing, and I’m sure there are many who would find Goodwin’s ideas offensive — especially those who’ve lost family and friends to the disease. But if free speech doesn’t protect provocative yammering, what’s the point? If I read our constitution correctly, Goodwin’s right to express offensive opinions supersedes my yearning to lead an un-offended life.

Guest Author: Bob Hoffman is creator of the popular “The Ad Contrarian” blog and newsletter, named one of the world’s most influential marketing and advertising blogs by Business Insider

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