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The Value of a Quick Disavowal

Joshua Clarkson  Follow

By now you very well may have heard of Tom Perkins, a founder of the well known VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers' extremely inflammatory letter that was published in The Wall Street Journal last Friday, wherein he compared the "occupy" movement and similar groups to Nazism. Despite its relatively short three paragraph length, the letter manages to open with absurdly offensive hyperbole:

"I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its 'one percent,' namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the 'rich.'

And then segue into some far more benign hyperbole related to Mr. Perkins' ex-wife:

"We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel [emphasis added], alleging that she is a 'snob' despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades."

kpcb_tweetNow, back to the aforementioned VC firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), they wasted no time in taking to Twitter to dispel any speculation about Mr. Perkins' current role at the firm, or lack thereof (as seen to the right).

It was notable that KPCB took to Twitter to immediately disavow the comment, as opposed to issuing a more traditional media statement. Given the fast moving, tech-driven world that the firm and its stakeholders operate in, this was likely the swiftest and most effective method of getting the message out. Additionally, this concise and to-the point message obviated the risk of getting bogged down in semantics around their views on the letter.

Generally, most media reactions so far seem to have understood that the sins of the no longer involved founder should not necessarily be borne by the eponymous firm.

However, not everyone agreed with KCPB's tone. Notably, as VentureBeat first reported, one Twitter commented "Way to throw one of your founders under the bus. Politely saying the current firm has different views would have been preferable." I would posit that given the harshness of Mr. Perkins' letter, KCPB was well within the bounds of acceptable behavior to issue what some may have perceived as their sternly worded message, and Twitter seems to agree with me.

Mr. Perkins has not been content to let this lie though, on Monday he took to Bloomberg TV to both apologize for any misunderstanding of his message, which he characterized as "a terrible misjudgment." Though his apology also seemed tinged with some animus, as he echoed the previously mentioned Twitter user in saying that KCPB "chose to throw [him] under the bus." He went on to say that he has moved away from KCPB and that, "there has been a corresponding decline in the firm."

Whereas KCPB generally made the right move here with a quick and complete disavowal of the offensive statements, Mr. Perkins did rather the opposite. Instead of apologizing and defending himself in the same breath, Mr. Perkins would have been better served by a sincere, or at least sincere sounding, apology, full stop.

None of this should be taken as saying that an open and honest conversation about how wealth is viewed in America is not a conversation worth having. Quite the opposite, that is a topic that is worthy of our attention and thoughtful debate.  Hopefully moving forward others will take this as a teachable moment and think (at least a bit) before opining on the matter.

Fun (probably) unrelated facts about Tom Perkins:
  • In 2007 he published a novel "Sex and the Single Zillionaire," maybe he should have let his adventures in publicly disclosed prose end there.
  • Back in 1996 he was involved in a fatal yachting accident that saw a French court convict him of involuntary manslaughter, so maybe it's a good thing that he sold his largest and fastest yacht back in 2009.

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