Ethics Quiz: What’s Fair Punishment For The Chick-Fil-A Video Vigilante?


I previously wrote about Adam M. Smith, the ex-CFO of  a Tucson medical supplies manufacturer who filmed himself dressing down a Chick-fil-A drive-in employee and placed the video on YouTube. I said in part…

“He’s a vile bully and a jerk, who thinks it appropriate to embarrass and abuse an innocent employee of a restaurant because he happens not to agree with the politics and moral positions of the company’s owner…The video served to alert millions to beware of this rude, rabid and self-righteous champion of gay rights, who equates faith-based advocacy for the current law of the United States of America with “hate.”

I was more accurate than I knew. Now we learn that since that August, 2012 fiasco which cost him his job, Mr. Smith has fallen on hard times. His self-posted indictment of his own character has poisoned his reputation and career. When he found a new job, he was later fired for not alerting his employers about the incident. When he has raised the video to potential employers, they have declined to hire him. Where he was once earning a six-figure salary, had $1 million in stock options, and lived in a stylish home, he now lives in an RV with his wife and four children, and is existing on public assistance.

It all sounds like the plot of an Adam Sandler movie.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today is…

Is Adam M. Smith the victim of excessive social media punishment for one ill-considered act?

At Salon, Jon Ronson, the author of “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” discussed the plights of various individuals who have experienced the consequences of online shaming. Some of his subjects have been defended here, notably Justine Sacco, who lost her job and became an international pariah due to a harmless tweet to her 170 Twitter followers. Ethics Alarms was not so sympathetic to another web-shaming victim Ronson discusses, Lindsey Stone, who along with her friend lost her job after posting a photo of herself shouting and giving an upturned middle finger to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Her  explanation was that she meant no disrespect. Yes, it really was. I wrote:

“My father is buried at Arlington, and I don’t feel vindicated or soothed by the firing of the two women. I agree that they shouldn’t be punished by society for one epically stupid gesture. That’s not the real issue, however.The issue is whether her employers, a company that provides care and living alternatives for the cognitively disabled, should want to have two women working for them who grievously insulted a substantial part of the country, embarrassed the company, and showed such miserable judgment that it calls into question the competence of anyone who would hire such insensitive jerks.”

This encapsulates my feelings about Adam Smith as well. No, he and his family shouldn’t be reduced to penury and their lives turned to ashes because of one outrageous example of rudeness and arrogance. He deserves a second chance, as do we all: his biggest mistake was posting the video, showing pride in his bad behavior as well as a stunning lack of comprehension regarding the eternity of online evidence of jerkishness. I’d hire him. If he hasn’t learned his lesson ten times over, I’d be shocked.

Nevertheless, I can’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to be represented by a man whose judgment was this wretched and who is best known for bullying an innocent minimum wage employee because he didn’t like her boss’s take on gay marriage. Actions have consequences, and while the cumulative effects of the foolish and damning video have been excessive, no individual component of it is. Someone should be kind, obey the Golden Rule and give Smith a shot at redemption, but no one individual is ethically obligated to do so. Smith’s sad fate, which extends to his family, is still his own doing, and he alone is accountable.

No, Adam Smith is not a victim of a social media witch hunt. He’s the victim of his own terrible judgment, and is accountable. Now he needs someone to give him a break.

I sincerely wish him luck. He’s suffered enough.


Spark: Fred

51 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: What’s Fair Punishment For The Chick-Fil-A Video Vigilante?

  1. I think that is EXACTLY right.

    I draw a parallel with a guy who seriously, massively plagiarized from me a few years ago. I warned him and he didn’t desist, so I engineered my own little shame game with him – rallied a dozen other bloggers, some of whom he’d plagiarized as well – and we just made a mess of his online presence.

    He finally took things down, but continued to blame the acts on his employee, refusing to take responsibility. I finally ended up doing sort of amateur counseling of the guy, and over a period of months, he came to realize how badly he had performed. He apologized sincerely, and set out to change things.

    Several years later, he called to ask if I’d take down the blogpost which exposed him, so it wouldn’t stay there to continue poisoning his career. I said he should be aware of – nothing is ever truly gone – but that i would take down the post from my site, which I did.

    I think you’re exactly right – that kind of behavior needs to be severely punished – up to a point. And there does have to be a point, some point, else we become sub-human by over-reaction.

    • That’s a great story, Charles.

      I have taken down older critical posts about individuals who asked me without threatening, and who seemed to understand the issues involved. I also requested one prominent legal blogger who wrote a nasty and excessive piece about me years ago that she even sort of apologized for to take down her post that pops up high on the Jack Marshall search results…she didn’t, and didn’t give me the courtesy of a response, either. Nice.

  2. Ironic that what happened to him is probably what he wanted to happen to Dan Cathy, the Chick-Fil-A exec who gave his honest opinion regarding marriage when asked. Does anyone think that Smith didn’t believe that Cathy shouldn’t have lost his job and been a social pariah?

    I read the article myself this morning. To be honest, I’m surprised he’s been without work this long. I’d expected him to find a position elsewhere or even be quietly rehired at his former workplace at a later time once the whole thing blew over.

    Nevertheless, I would think he’s learned his lesson by now. If going from a six figure salary to living in an RV and feeding your kids on food stamps doesn’t give someone a sense of humility, very few things will.

  3. Maybe he can go manage Dan Savage’s finances for him. He decided to jump on the gay-marriage bandwagon and prove his progressive bona fides by ripping apart some high-school age girl. Had he stopped there, ok, he acted like a jerk, everyone moves on and in a few weeks it’s forgotten. Then he made a second conscious decision, to film himself acting like a jerkass, insuring that anyone viewing the film would know exactly what happened, and exactly what he said. Then he made a THIRD conscious decision to put this film out on the web, where the entire online world would see it, indeed he HOPED it would go viral and be widely seen, all to prove his progressive bona fides.

    He had to know, as anyone with an IQ higher than a rock does, that once it’s out there, it’s out there. He also had to know that a rant that sounds good today might not sound so great once the backslapping and cheering dies away and he’s exposed as someone who goes around bullying kids, because that’s what he did. He didn’t “speak truth to power,” “call out hypocrisy” or any of those other progressive platitudes. He doesn’t completely shoulder the blame. I think social media and a mainstream media overly eager to grab headlines have created a “callout culture” where disagreeing out in the opening is encouraged, and the nastier the disagreement the better. Still, as a CFO, a husband, and a father of four he should have had the wisdom to think this thing through, weigh the possible consequences, and decide whether exposing his family to potential grave risk for the sake of a cheap fifteen minutes of fame was worth it.

    It’s really not wise to try to ape Sarah Silverman or Dan Savage or whoever unless someone is in fact paying you to stoke up a fanbase that will cheer on your every word. It’s doubly unwise to give in to emotion and say “why those *^$&ing whoever, I’ll show them!” and then go do it. This guy proved that he does not have the wisdom or the control to stop, think, and say, “wait a minute, this sounds crazy” when something is in fact crazy. As such, he deserved exactly what happened to him, and I hope to one day see him sitting in a cardboard box with his hand out…so I can spit in it.

    • As such, he deserved exactly what happened to him,
      I agree.
      He doesn’t even come off as genuine in that video.
      It’s more like he created the stunt to show how edgy and progressive he is.
      I wouldn’t hire him, he’s a douche.

      • I can answer that for Steve-O: yes.

        I think Dan has his value, even if its just to argue with. He’s kind of like the gay equivalent of the Jewish guerrillas in “Inglorious Basterds.”

        • Answering for myself, you bet your bottom dollar I want him dead. I think he is a hateful scumbag with a poison tongue and a poison pen, who can’t finish a sentence without using the f-word and who once stated he wished all Republicans would die. It should come as no surprise to you that I would think that. Wanna guess who the other 4 on the list are?

          • I think you are wasting 20% of your slots. The average person has no idea who he is, and his impact on society and the culture is about what mine is: negligible. If I had such a list, he wouldn’t make my Top 100.

            • Oh? If a master assassin owed you a debt, and told you he would eliminate any 3 people anywhere in the world in payment of that debt, who would they be?

                • Hahaha, I’m not surprised you’d say that. I would have a hard time, between idiot politicians, writers who produce opinions I can’t stand, and people who have wronged me in the past.

                • Don’t tempt me.

                  Though if I did give in to temptation, the second one would be me. Can’t have the power of life and death in the hands of someone who’d use it like that, they’re too dangerous. If it’s worth killing for, it’s worth dying for. And if not worth dying for, not worth killing for.

                  The third one would be the assassin themself of course.

                  • No, I would not assassinate someone, I would prefer that they fumble and do something that reveals the small mind and cruelty of their personality in a way they cannot deny. Something that was not a sting in any way and a negative example about abusing a working stiff who’s not to blame. This man assassinated himself, and that seems like karma to me.

                    I feel for his family as they had little to no control over his stunt and they are paying the consequences. It’s sad they didn’t retrench before they reached the RV level. I don’t feel as sorry for him because of the triple down.

          • I could never even hope to guess as I can’t believe that Dan Savage would make your Top 5. I assume (hope?) for this hypothetical that you are excluding all terrible monsters who are heads of State or guerrilla bands and massacring people?

        • Hyperbole and SLIGHT parody of similar statements I have heard in the past, partly fueled by the now-rising movement to freeze an entire state out of the national economy because its elected officials dared pass and sign into law a law similar to those in nineteen other states and on the Federal level, none of which have resulted in dire consequences.

        • Burn his RV? Well, maybe he should have his kids taken away from him, and placed in a home of affluence similar to the one they lived in before he decided to take out his rage on a member of another struggling and oppressed minority (a Chick-fil-A employee). The kids deserve better, at least, and so does the taxpaying public.

  4. The biggest turnaround in this story would be if Chick Fil-A offered him a job.
    I bet that they could use someone with his skills.
    I wonder if he would take the job, if they offered.

  5. JutGory beat me to it: Wouldn’t it be sweet (and, a kind example of ignoring any possible irony), if Dan Cathy personally intervened and – with earnest interest in helping despite having been the target of irresponsibly misdirected rage – arranged for Smith’s hiring by another employer? (I wonder if Smith would take the job offer, if he knew Cathy had made it possible.)

  6. I am frankly surprised that one of the celebrity warriors, for the cause for which Smith’s crusading led to his downfall, has not already started a gofundme or something like it.

  7. I’d be more sympathetic if he had been filmed without his knowledge acting like a jerk…but this guy was looking for YouTube fame. He wanted the attention. He thought he would be praised as a hero. He did this to himself and his family. The blame is 100% his.

    • Let’s think about that. “Ethics is what you do when nobody’s looking.” Is the guy who acts like a jerk secretly hoping nobody will know more ethical than the one who makes no effort to hide?

      • Good question. I guess there is something to be said for the element of shame. Three strikes laws work because they separate career criminals who just don’t care about anything from the of person who makes a mistake and can be reformed. And a guy who gets caught in tape acting like a jerk because he’s having a bad day is more sympathetic than a guy who planned his actions, filmed them himself, and then shared them online. That’s no crime of passion.

        All that said, for his kids’ sake I hope he finds a job. If he aimed lower, there’s a tier of employers who wouldn’t hold his YouTube infamy against him. I can’t imagine a Wal-Mart assistant manager position or something would be denied over that.

  8. Wow. I never thought I’d see the day you’d say, “He’s suffered enough.”

    Or that it would be perfectly appropriate in this instance.

    • As you know, my objection to the rationalization “he’s suffered enough” is when criminal acts or criminal negligence are involved, neither of which are involved here. I was pretty nasty to a CVS clerk yesterday who used the old “It’s not my fault my store is screwed up and doesn’t know what its doing, I just work here” excuse. I hate that, and I almost made her cry. In retrospect I was unnecessarily harsh, and I wouldn’t want the video widely disseminated: it wasn’t my best moment. But I didn’t broil my kid in a car, either.

  9. 1) It sounds like he is only interested in another C-level job. Something that at least for the foreseeable future he has shown himself unqualified for.
    2) This is only in the news because he has a book coming out which generally puts me on guard that anything we hear from him is PR BS.

    The right move to me would seem to be lying low, taking a lower level job and working my way back up by showing that I have learned and grown from the experience.

  10. Has he suffered “enough”? Beyond my pay grade, but yes, I think so (though I’m biased).

    But his family and especially his children have suffered far too much. They did from day one.

    I would be more certain that he’d suffered more than enough if he was on the opposite side of the debate. Then any bias I have would be against him, so I could be sure I’m not going too easy on him.

    In this case,… I also don’t see him getting a job anytime soon. Maybe I’m too cynical, maybe there isn’t as much anti-GLBT animus as I think there is.

    • Am I reading your last paragraph correctly? Your take on this is that he wont be getting a job anytime soon due to anti-GLBT animus? Is everything a nail, because you have a hammer?

  11. Never heard the name Dan Savage outside of these blogs. Checked it out in memory and among my wide acquaintance. It certainly doesn’t resonate with any gay people I know. (Well, vaguely, with one guy who thought he was a ballplayer.) I do remember, though, the name and words of someone who bullied me cruelly for a short time in 6th grade; the name still churns my bile and probably always will. If the person were to appear online today spewing the same sort of venom supposedly on behalf of some group or idiology, yes, my first reaction might be to color any assumed associations in the same way some people feel extreme negativity toward all white men because of acts by the KKK or toward black men because of the words of Malcolm X. And those were examples of people who DID have influence. Whereas Dan Savage, it appears, as far as representing gay people goes, does not. That he can inspire a hatred that taints all others he implies or says he represents (does he say so?) is something the hater needs to deal with – beyond that first reaction. When knee-jerk reactions are repeated often enough, they tend to kick out automatically at everybody who comes within perceived range, whether they belong to the hated/feared group or not.

    • Actually “idiology” would be a good new word, defined as “an ideology pushed by an idiot.” And Dan’s hate spew sure as the Devil fits that definition. I think the man is a heterophobe, a misanthrope, and a religion-hater, who isn’t happy unless he is angry and attacking someone, and he is trying to push the gay rights movement into an opposite copy of the religious right they claim to hate so much. I also think he took a good cause – that of stopping bullying in school – and twisted it into a cause about hating and bullying back. Put succinctly, the man is an apostle of hatred, just like Leonard Jeffries or Anjem Choudary, except they try to sound scholarly. Dan just writes columns that are 2/3 hate and 1/3 f-words. If you knew someone like him in real life you would make every effort to avoid him, and if he pushed your enough, you’d ask him to step out in the back alley and settle this.

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