Change your Interpretation of Accountability

In 2008, CNN’s Richard Quest was found in a public park with drugs on him. And worse, there was a rope round his neck with the other end tied to his genitals. Today, he’s still bellowing at CNN.

In 2012, Fareed Zakaria admitted to plagiarism and has been accused of more plagiarism since, but he’s still with CNN.

After the recent earthquake in Nepal, CNN crew filmed Sanjay Gupta, on-site in his role as chief medical correspondent, as he performed brain surgery on an eight-year-old girl and resuscitated another victim of the quake using a cardiac thump.

This was not the first time Gupta practiced medicine on a patient in front of the camera.

In doing so, he violated both medical and journalism ethics. As a doctor, he is obligated to protect client confidentiality. He may not show the procedures being performed on them without their informed consent, and in a foreign setting under emergency conditions, informed consent by patients is impossible. In the US, doing what Gupta did in Nepal on camera would be against the law. As a journalist, meanwhile, he is required not to interfere with the story he is covering. Performing medical procedures on camera makes him part of the story. Worse, it exploits injured victim for drama, sensationalism and ratings. Gupta’s behavior was self-aggrandizing and narcissistic.

Wait, there’s more – there is now a dispute over who exactly Gupta operated on – an eight-year-old girl or a 14-year-old one.

It was painful watching him and CNN trying to wrangle out of that one.

Despite all that, Gupta is still with CNN.

Desmond Quek, CEO of Singapore Mass Rapid Transit continues to stay employed – and gets to keep his extraordinarily obscenely huge salary – despite an increase in train disruptions since he took over from “empress dowager” Saw Phaik Hwa. The latest disruption on July 7th during peak hours inconvenienced 250,000 commuters and was the worst traffic disruption in the history of Singapore. (Trains on two major lines broke down at about 7:00pm and service only resumed at 10:30pm.) Just hours before, on the same day, at the company’s AGM, the ex-general was bragging about how much train services have improved. The fact of the matter is that since he has taken over, Desmond Kuek has presided over 60 SMRT incidents, yet not only is he still employed, his salary actually went up to S$2.2m.

In some cultures those subpar performers I named above would have gone down on their knees, apologize in public and resign.

But some companies obviously have a different understanding of the word “accountability.”

Apologies are empty words when no change takes place after the apologies. Words cost nothing. I can say sorry a million times for an act of commission or omission, but if I continue to behave as per normal, what’s the use?

It’s time we take a cold hard look at the word “accountability” and decide what we really mean.