In the midst of the strongest quarter AOL's had in a decade, CEO Tim Armstrong blamed retirement cutbacks on the traumatic childbirth experiences of two employees. If that seemed callous (and illogical!) before, it sounds grotesque after hearing from the mother of one of the "distressed babies."
After initially blaming Obamacare for driving up the company's health care costs, [Armstrong] pointed the finger at an unlikely target: babies.
Specifically, my baby.
Fei then the describes the painful and terrifying attempts to save the life of her daughter, who was born four months premature, weighing 1 pound, 9 ounces and had to endure blood transfusions, head ultrasounds, breathing tubes, and suffered a brain hemorrhage and collapsed lung:
All of which made the implication from Armstrong that the saving of her life was an extravagant option, an oversize burden on the company bottom line, feel like a cruel violation, no less brutal for the ludicrousness of his contention.
Let's set aside the fact that Armstrong—who took home $12 million in pay in 2012—felt the need to announce a cut in employee benefits on the very day that he touted the best quarterly earnings in years. For me and my husband—who have been genuinely grateful for AOL's benefits, which are actually quite generous—the hardest thing to bear has been the whiff of judgment in Armstrong's statement, as if we selfishly gobbled up an obscenely large slice of the collective health care pie.
Yes, we had a preemie in intensive care. This was certainly not our intention. While he's at it, why not call out the women who got cancer? The parents of kids with asthma? These rank among the nation's most expensive medical conditions. Would anyone dare to single out these people for simply availing themselves of their health benefits?
It's hard to imagine the internal decision tree for a CEO who fired an employee on a company-wide conference call just for taking his picture. Unlike healthcare experts who question whether the "distressed babies" would have taken a financial toll on a corporation like AOL, Fei doesn't dispute the $1 million price tag Armstrong put on her daughter's life.
I take issue with how he reduced my daughter to a "distressed baby" who cost the company too much money. How he blamed the saving of her life for his decision to scale back employee benefits. How he exposed the most searing experience of our lives, one that my husband and I still struggle to discuss with anyone but each other, for no other purpose than an absurd justification for corporate cost-cutting.
On Thursday, within minutes of Armstrong's utterance, my husband began fielding questions from colleagues: Wasn't the CEO talking about his baby? Focused as he was on his job as an editor—who then had to assign neutral coverage of this brewing business story—he struggled to grasp that the baby behind the headlines was our daughter. That her near-death was already becoming fodder for reporters to gleefully note Armstrong's previous gaffes, a titillating item of news gossip for his colleagues to pick over.
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[Image via Getty]