The anonymous postings of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey slamming a smaller competitor, Wild Oats, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, have certainly been the fodder of much media and blog discussion the last two days. The basic facts of the matter are not in dispute -- Mackey admits on the Whole Foods news site to years of venomous posting against Wild Oats under the pseudonym "rahodeb." He says he did it because "I had fun doing it," and that he "never intended any of those postings to be identified as me." To that last point we can be sure -- he never intended to be exposed.
But something is missing from all the coverage to date. Neither media nor the blogs have jumped into the story with the same fervor they would have if say, the CEO of Exxon or Wal-Mart had done the anonymous attacks. Here's the story as reported by ABC News. Obligatory comments from experts criticizing the lack of transparency to be sure, but it's all downplayed as "not exactly new news" considering such past ethical violations as the Wal-Mart-Edelman flog.
Where was Diane Sawyer asking Mackey if he planned to resign as she asked the President of Virginia Tech the morning after the VT massacre?
That Mackey's behavior was irresponsible is without a doubt. Whether it was also criminal is a key issue: Mackey deliberately used his anonymous attacks to hurt his competitor, and likely to drive down its stock price in advance of Whole Foods' attempted takeover of Wild Oats. That's worse than shady behavior.
So why haven't journalists and bloggers rushed to condemn this unethical behavior? Why has Mackey's lame excuse -- that it was harmless prankish behavior -- played without criticism.? Don't you think the "Wal-Marting across America" flog was pretty tame by comparison?
The kid gloves treatment Mackey has received to date is clearly a case of media archetyping. Whole Foods has been a poster child for good behavior -- entrepreneurial company, organic food, environmental social responsibility, etc. This type of company plays the "good guy" in archetypical reporting, both in the media and in the blogosphere.
There is so much to genuinely like about Whole Foods. But the serious ethical (even if they don't prove to be technically criminal) violations of its CEO should not be swept under the rug. There should be a blog storm calling for his resignation whether or not the FTC (or SEC) seeks criminal charges against him.
So let's get it rolling. John Mackey needs to resign or be fired. Period.
- Jon Harmon