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10/13/2010
11:24 AM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: On HP Vs. The Media, Michael Arrington Is Simply Wrong

Arrington says HP's board is 'bullying' the New York Times for its critical coverage, but I say bully for HP for defending itself.

When a public company and its board are being hammered in the press, do they have the right—even the obligation—to defend themselves?

If ever such a pair were getting beaten like a rented mule, it is Hewlett-Packard and its board of directors, which over the past 10 weeks have been castigated in the media for (a) having hired Mark Hurd and (b) firing Mark Hurd and (c) paying him too much and (d) letting him go to Oracle and (e) suing him for going to Oracle and (f) replacing him with Leo Apotheker.

There's plenty of blame to go around here, but the HP board in particular has been hammered for its various bumbling efforts related to the CEO position at the world's largest IT company. In one such instance that I wrote about recently, one of the world's most highly respected management experts, Jack Welch, referred to the HP board as "somewhat dysfunctional."

I'm not going to retread any of that old ground, but instead explore in the context of HP the question I've asked at the top of this column: after being exposed to such withering criticism, does HP's board of directors have the right and perhaps the obligation to defend itself and by extension its shareholders, employees, and brand?

Tech industry journalist Michael Arrington of TechCrunch doesn't think so. In fact, Arrington says HP's attempts to tell its side of the story in response to strongly worded criticisms in the New York Times has amounted to "bullying" by HP. As he wrote in a post this morning on TechCrunch.com:

"If you're press and you're criticizing H.P., watch out," Arrington writes. "They'll hit you back, and keep hitting until you're done.

"Those of us in the news business love to cat fight occasionally, and I've taken more than a few jabs at the New York Times over the years. But this is different. It smells like bullying, and I don't like it one bit."

Those are some heavy charges—let's take a look at a couple of them:

First of all, bullying. Really now—"bullying?" I don't know where Arrington grew up, but my sense of "bullying" carries quite a different context than a company standing up for itself and trying to articulate its position, its philosophies, and its decisions, particularly when under blistering attacks from a media community that can itself be absurdly thin-skinned and far too quick to play the card of righteous indignation.

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HP's new board chairman, Ray Lane, did indeed write a strongly worded letter to the New York Times but if Lane attempted to do any "bullying" with it, then the object of his aggression was surely not the media but rather former HP CEO Mark Hurd.

As I wrote the other day in a column called Global CIO: In Oracle Trial, HP Might Pay Higher Price Than SAP:

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