You cannot trust what you read or hear in the news—and I don’t mean in the “fake news” sense, which is a term that has come to mean anything insufficiently obeisant to our current president. Even when you are reading a reliably factual accounting of the day’s events, the people presenting the news to you are lying.
The lie is what is known as objectivity and balance, a standard of journalism that insists no matter how obviously and comically vile one party in any given event may be, it is nonetheless necessary to consider things from their perspective as well, in order to triangulate some amorphous center of fairness.
There are reports today that GloboCorp poisoned 10,000 elementary schools with rancid pig blood ice cream in the
None of this is news to you, obviously, you’re not stupid. But here we are, still doing this shit, day after day. Maybe we don’t have to be like this?
That was the idea behind my newsletter Welcome to Hell World, which started about a year ago, and then, much to my surprise, actually became kind of a modest sized thing, and was recently published as a book. As exhausting as it can be reading the traditionally neutered news model—that we all constantly complain about online now—it’s even worse having to write it. After a lot of years of in the freelance media trenches, I didn’t want to do that anymore.
As I explained in the introduction to the book:
Starting Hell World was as much about the things I didn’t want to do anymore as the things I could. I was sick of having to ask for permission to write about stories that interested me. I was sick of convincing an editor that a story would scale or do traffic. I was sick of waiting for something to be published based on marketing whims or business concerns I was not privy to. I didn’t want to have a timely news peg. I didn’t want to fit into the 800-1,000 word count that is the norm for web writing. I didn’t want someone to edit out my jokes or worse add new ones in—you’d be very surprised how often that happens! I didn’t want a billionaire to see me saying pee-pee, poo-poo to human rights violators and decide my article was not deferential enough to the powerful and delete it, which also recently happened as you may or may not have heard.
More than anything, I didn’t want to start a podcast.
I also didn’t want to write a story from the neutered and dispassionate center that most mainstream publications require. I didn’t want to hear from a person suffering and then give space to the person causing that suffering to explain themselves. Something I wrote in one of the first newsletters I sent out was that my only promise to the readers is that I will never hear both sides, and I think I kept that one.
So that’s what this thing is below. A chapter from the book. I’m not under the impression that simply stating the evident truth of any given situation and framing the news from a justice- and liberation-minded perspective is something that is ever going to catch on and take over what we have now, but might as well give it a try.
Observer editors made me use commas in here for some reason which you will not find in the book.
For a Select Few There Are No Consequences
Andy Rubin created the Android software; that’s the thing we all know about ol’ Android Andy as everyone calls him, but another thing we know about him now is that after an investigation into a sexual misconduct allegation, in which he is said to have coerced an employee into a sexual act in 2013, he was asked for his resignation by Google (GOOGL) CEO Larry Page. Google is actually called Alphabet (GOOGL) now, but I’m not going to call it that.
Rubin leaving the company sounds pretty bad, like it would come with all sorts of negative consequences, you would think. But as The New York Times reported, despite his departure from the company, he was awarded a $90 million severance package at the time, which we didn’t know about for four years because Google had managed to keep the whole thing quiet. They even praised him on the way out the door. The payments were reportedly broken up into installments of $2 million a month, the last of which was paid out toward the end of 2018.
Shortly after that all became public in November of 2018, thousands of Google employees around the world walked off the job to protest, among other things, the way sexual harassment allegations were being handled within the company. Richard DeVaul, the director of Google X, had also resigned that month when it was reported he had sexually harassed a job applicant.
“I know firsthand that our human resources and employee relations processes aim to protect the company, not the employees,” Colin McMillen, who worked at the Google offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and walked out in protest told me around then. “I know second-hand multiple stories of people taking credible allegations of harassment or worse to HR and getting unhelpful solutions.”
“A slap on the wrist for any credibly accused harasser is totally unacceptable and unjust, no matter how much money they bring in or what amazing products they helped build,” another employee from the Cambridge office who asked to remain anonymous said. “The lowest-paid worker must be given the same respect in a dispute as the most successful executive.”
At the time, chief executive Sundar Pichai sent out an email apologizing for the way the company had handled such allegations in the past and said that 48 people and 13 managers had been fired over the past two years—which is good news, I guess, but you sort of wish all that harassin’ hadn’t happened for so long.
“I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel,” Pichai wrote in the email to employees. “I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on an issue that has persisted for far too long in our society, and, yes, here at Google, too.”
All of which sounds very nice and understanding, but whoops, it turns out Google has been asking the government to narrow legal protections for workers organizing online all along—something that would curtail, for example, their ability to arrange actions like the walkout.
In 2014, the National Labor Relations Board expanded employees’ rights to use work email to organize. In the meantime, Google’s attorneys have been asking them to cut that shit out, Bloomberg reported in January, because it’s unfair for workers to use the email they have beneficently been provided in order to try to make their conditions somewhat better.
Elsewhere in The New York Times report on Google, the climate of sexual relationships between other employees was detailed, including one affair between David Drummond, the chief legal officer, and Jennifer Blakely, a senior contract manager. When the two revealed they had a child together to human resources, Blakely said her career stalled out while Drummond’s accelerated.
“For a select few, there are no consequences,” she told The New York Times. “Google felt like I was the liability.”
As was seen in Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and with much of the discussion surrounding sexual assault and misconduct allegations brought to light by the #MeToo movement at large, there persists a dogged undercurrent of fear about how such accusations can ruin the lives of men. Won’t someone think of the poor men. But much like everything else when it comes to powerful men, it turns out having your life ruined in such a fashion can be a pretty lucrative proposition; for every Louis C.K., who claims he “lost $35 million in an hour” after the news about him jacking off all over the place came out, there are men whose downfall comes with a significant financial parachute.
In September of 2018, when Les Moonves stepped down after further sexual harassment allegations had been brought against him, there were conflicting reports about what, if any, payout the cbs chief executive would be owed. At the time, CBS said it would place the $120 million he might have otherwise expected aside until an outside investigation into the matter was complete. It was determined that Moonves had obstructed the investigation and, among other things, that he at one point had an employee who was “on call” to perform oral sex, and the company decided that he was not eligible for the money after all. Moonves being a decent man said, “all right, fair enough, I’ll take the L here, I’m already rich.” Just kidding. He’s going to arbitration to get it because he still thinks he’s owed the cash.
In 2016, after he resigned from his position as the CEO of FOX (FOXA) due to numerous sexual harassment allegations of his own, Roger Ailes walked out the door with a reported $40 million package, according to The Guardian, but at least he’s dead now.
Another big time Fox News perv Bill O’Reilly reportedly paid out tens of millions of dollars to settle allegations brought against him a while ago, but in a weird twist, he landed on his feet financially as well. Even after Fox had been made aware of the payouts and allegations, his $25-million-a-year contract was renewed. What a world man. You can do whatever.
While he was eventually forced out after, it turned out, he had harassed too many women to feasibly ignore anymore O’Reilly was set up to receive all or a significant portion of his contract upon his departure The New York Times reported.
On the plus side, Matt Lauer’s contract was canceled after he was fired from NBC ,and casino executive and prolific creep Steve Wynn reportedly lost hundreds of millions in potential severance following his resignation from Wynn Resorts Ltd, The Wall Street Journal said, so there is occasionally justice in the world but not as often as you might like there to be.
One thing that people love to talk about vis-à-vis the universe balancing out on the side of the good guys (me and you) is when some random dude catches a break, like in July of last year when a young Alabama man named Walter Carr was held up as an exemplar of the indomitable spirit of American perseverance.
Carr is a 20-year-old college student, and he was set to start a new job on a Saturday morning with the moving company Bellhops. At the last minute, his car broke down and he wasn’t able to find a ride from friends to get there, so he decided to walk instead. He began the roughly 20-mile walk from his home at midnight, hoping to get there by 8 a.m. the next day to meet the rest of the movers, according to ABC News. He brought along a knife to protect himself against any stray dogs.
Along the way, around 4 a.m., Carr was stopped by local police officers who—out of the kindness of their hearts, if you know what I mean—asked him where he was headed. When he explained the situation and after his story checked out, they decided to give him a ride the rest of the way, even going so far as to take him to breakfast.
“He was very polite. It was ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir,'” one of the officers later said. I bet he was!
When he arrived at the moving job a few hours later, complete with a police escort, they explained the situation to Jenny Lamey, the woman who had hired the movers. Inspired by Carr’s work ethic and apparent decency, she shared the story on Facebook where it soon went viral, and before long, the story eventually came to the attention of Bellhops CEO Luke Marklin who arranged to meet Carr a few days later for a big surprise.
“This is how you pay it forward… treat your employees with respect and incentivize them and bet you’ll get a much better worker for it,” wrote one commenter on Twitter when the story came out. “It is awesome to see a young man not make an excuse like it’s too far to go to work, and then see him rewarded for it. Wish the young man and the company all the best in the future,” wrote another.
“He’s such a humble, kindhearted person,” Lamey said. “He’s really incredible. He said it was the way he was raised.”
“We set a really high bar for heart and grit and… you just blew it away,” Marklin told Carr when they eventually met, and then Marklin gave him his own used 2014 Ford Escape as Alabama.com reported. Barely used!
On top of that, a GoFundMe set up by Lamey to help Carr with his car troubles eventually raised over $90,000.
“Nothing is impossible unless you say it’s impossible,” Lamey told The Washington Post.
Nothing except for paying workers an actual salary with benefits, which you may not be surprised to hear Bellhops does not actually do. Essentially Uber for movers—Marklin came to the company from Uber—Bellhops relies on the labor of young college students like Carr who take jobs on a gig-by-gig basis. The company operates in dozens of cities around the country and has raised tens of millions of dollars in rounds of funding since it was founded in 2011 but it still pays movers between $13-16 an hour.
“It’s a transitional job,” Bellhops co-founder and president Cameron Doody told BuzzFeed News in a story from 2015 about how they do things. “It’s not a career,” he said which is what people always say about jobs that don’t pay very well or offer benefits or anything like that. Working at McDonald’s isn’t supposed to be a career people say.
Alabama, by the way, is only one of five states that has traditionally never spent any state money on public transportation, which a guy like Carr might have been able to use to get to his job that’s not a job.
Naturally, Bellhops were very proud of itself for helping the one guy there and reveled in all the attention. You can’t buy this kind of publicity.
“I want people to know this—no matter what the challenge is, you can break through the challenge,” Carr said. He also wants to become a Marine some day, he said, and you can imagine how much the Facebook page-lookin’ mole people liked that extra flourish.
To some, Carr’s story was yet another example that if you work hard enough and keep a positive attitude, good things will come to you. To others, it was a glaring indictment of the brutal and indifferent hell of the nightmare capitalist wasteland we all suffer in.
From Welcome to Hell World by Luke O’Neil. Copyright 2019 by Luke O’Neil. Excerpted by permission of the author and OR Books. Excerpt edited and condensed by Observer.