RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
If you Google the words Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, you'll come up with no end of vicious spoofs and mockery on Twitter and Facebook. Google the name Warren Anderson, and you won't get much at all.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:
Yet, Warren Anderson was CEO of the chemical company Union Carbide back in 1984, when thousands were killed after toxins were released from the company's plant in Bhopal, India. In terms of human lives lost, that disaster would seem far worse than BP's catastrophe in the Gulf.
MONTAGNE: Lucy, good to talk to you again.
MONTAGNE: Now, one obvious difference is that in 1984, when the Bhopal disaster took place, there was no Internet, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube. How much does that factor in, do you think?
MONTAGNE: I think it's enormous. I mean, hating people in this way has become a global pastime. You know, it unites people - and it's fun, too. I mean, you can really put your back into it. You know, if you go onto Twitter, there are masses of sort of quite funny "I hate Tony Hayward" sites or people pretending to be Tony Hayward. And most dramatic of all is on YouTube. I don't know if you've seen the BP coffee spill.
MONTAGNE: I have, actually.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MONTAGNE: I mean, it's absolutely hilarious.
MONTAGNE: I mean, for anyone who hasn't yet seen it - and there can hardly be any of you left, because I guess it's been watched by about a million people a day at the minute. But it's a whole group of executives, one of them spills a Styrofoam cup of coffee, and then there's a lot of debate with everyone else on how to clean it up. And it just gets worse and worse and worse, and they start -
MONTAGNE: They're burning it. They've got straws.
MONTAGNE: But I mean, yeah, straws, and they start trying to get - sort of make little cranes. And I mean, it's very, very funny. But the effect it has on you really, really hypes up the hatred. It makes you think: What a load of idiots, can't even clean up a cup of coffee. And then there's the Facebook groups. And even more important than all of them, the fact that you could watch the live feed of what was actually happening with the oil makes it all very, very real. So I think that's an enormous factor.
MONTAGNE: What about the attitude toward the corporate world generally, though? I mean, has that really changed? Did people hate companies less 20, 30 years ago than they do now?
MONTAGNE: Another thing that's made a difference is pay. It's very much in the public mind that these guys are paid too much. And that's a big change since the Union Carbide catastrophe. You know, these chief executives are paid a hell of a lot. So if they're seen to be screwing things up and then are being tactless about it, then all hell breaks loose.
MONTAGNE: And in this recent column that you wrote for the Financial Times, you do point out that companies are more personal. And that, you might say, is a more subtle change, and it has to do with the way companies present themselves to the public nowadays. They've sort of cozied up, you know, filling their marketing with lots of rhetoric about values and whatnot. Sort of in this effort to be liked and personalize their entities, they've actually made themselves more vulnerable to public anger.
MONTAGNE: Well, love and hate are sort of the same thing, in the end. And the flip side is that when things go wrong, then people turn against both the CEO and the company in a far more emotional way than they used to. And in the end, that's the company's fault.
MONTAGNE: Lucy Kellaway is a columnist for the Financial Times newspaper, speaking to us from London. Thank you very much.
MONTAGNE: Thank you.
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