Guess what? It IS your fault!

I had mentioned in a post a while back that I was thinking about that phrase, “It’s not my fault.” The worst thing anyone in the world can say, as far as I’m concerned. And I wasn’t sure where I was going with this until William Swanson, CEO of Raytheon came along. He is the guy who’s not getting as much press coverage for his plagiarism as is Kaavya Viswanathan, the young Harvard student accused of plagiarizing in her chick-lit book. (Note: I just read in today’s NYTimes that her publisher, LIttle, Brown, will not now re-issue her book with revisions to those plagiarized parts. It won’t be published at all.)

According to an article by David Leonhardt in today’s NYTimes, the writer notes that Mr. Swanson–unlike Ms Viswanathan–had never apologized for his transgression. Mr. Leonhardt writes:

I pointed this out to Raytheon’s top spokeswoman this week, and last night she called me to read a new statement from Mr. Swanson. This time, he did apologize — twice — and he blamed a staff member for the problem. [Note: this new statement does not appear at the Raytheon website.]

In 2001, Mr. Swanson gave the staff member a file of material to help prepare a presentation, and the file included Mr. King’s book, according to the statement. Mr. Swanson didn’t realize that so much of the finished product came from the book, rather than his own notes.

This may well be true, but it certainly isn’t consistent with Mr. Swanson’s previous boasts about how he came up with the rules. In the book, he wrote that they had come from advice from others and his own thoughts. In any event, he has failed his own integrity test. ” ‘Integrity,’ to me,” he writes, “is having the fortitude to do what is right when no one is watching.”

So, yeah, when things start to go bad and people start pointing out inconsistencies in your story, blame the assistant! It works every time. How can you take this guy Swanson seriously anymore? He gives this un-named assistant a pile of notes (including the copied-from book by W.J. King) and then is surprised–surprised!–to learn that so many of his own–his own!–lessons came from this book. Baaaad assistant. It’s not Mr. Swanson’s fault. His name may be on this collection of “Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management,” but apparently that doesn’t require him to actually concern himself with where they came from. Oh well.

But why? Why blame the assistant? Why doesn’t Mr. Swanson just own up to the fact that he made a mistake? He asked someone to do a job he should have done himself. If he didn’t have the time to put together his own rules, he shouldn’t have been handing out this collection with his name on it.

Well, you say, so many books are not written by the person whose name is on the cover, anyway. I know that. I used to work in the ghostwriting business and I’m aware of how many books are not written by the listed author. (That’s one reason I’m a close reader of acknowledgments, since that is where the author or authors are revealed, at least if the “author” has any shame whatsoever. )

But if Swanson had actually written his own notes and had any familiarity with the W.J. King book and if he had bothered to read his own finished product, wouldn’t he have wondered where all of his own material had gone?

It’s not his fault, I guess. His name is on it, but it’s not his fault that it’s comprised mostly of someone else’s words. I’ve got to wonder about all those Raytheon employees today who are held to those corporate values and how they feel about the fact that their CEO, their leader, doesn’t have to comply with them. How many other people are going to be saying today, when something goes wrong, “It’s not my fault.”

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