I don’t know how you could have missed it, but General McChrystal’s wasn’t the only high-profile firing of an employee for criticizing his superiors. Andrew Kurtz, a young man paid by the Pittsburgh Pirates to put on a giant pirogie suit and compete in The Great Pirogie Race around Pittsburgh’s PNC park in the fifth inning of home games, broke the cardinal rule of employee loyalty by disparaging the team in a post on his blog. The Pirates, who understandably refused to countenance a disloyal pirogie, fired Kurtz and turned his job over to one of the 17 other part-timers who get a $25 check each time they masquerade as a walking, semi-circular, boiled turnover made of unleavened dough.
Unlike Gen. McCrystal’s staff, Kurtz understandably avoided using the phrase “Bite me!”, which is dangerous for a pirogie. Still, any employer has a right to insist that an employee not denigrate or harm its image in the employee’s spare time. This is not, as some journalists seemed to think (and write, thus misinforming the public about what the Constitution says about the matter), a free speech issue, unless the employer happens to be the government. As many, many, too many, naive and now unemployed Americans have learned to their sorrow, writing about what a jerk your boss is on Facebook can be justifiable cause for dismissal.
Why? Essentially for the same reasons Gen. McCrystal had to go: a superior cannot trust someone with responsibility who undermines his or her authority, encourages defiance and lack of respect among other staff, and shows the poor judgment to criticize one’s colleagues and organization.
Except in the case of giant pirogies.
A guy in a silly costume doesn’t have to be trusted much: how much trust is necessary to have someone run mutely in a staged race with other people dressed as pastries? For the Pirates to fire an otherwise anonymous part-timer because he voiced exactly the same sentiment 90% of all Pirate fans hold (the team has stunk for too long, and needs a new direction and new management) doesn’t look like a decision based on a breach or trust and loyalty. It looks petty and vengeful. The message is not “support your organization,” but rather, “you are completely expendable, and there’s no reason we have to have a pirogie who criticizes us, so get lost.” It was on this basis that there was a public outcry against Kurtz’s dismissal—-not that he was such a great pirogie that he should be given extra slack, not that maintaining the quality of competitors in The Great Pirogie Race should take precedence over addressing employee misconduct, but that firing him was an over-reaction with nothing behind it but anger.
The Pirates, to their credit, rehired Kurtz, explaining that their own employment procedures made it clear that his was an offense warranting a warning but not dismissal. What is an unforgivable ethical breach for a general during wartime is not as serious for a pirogie.
And when a high-ranking general is a pirogie? I’ll puzzle that one out when and if it happens.