Deanna Fei, the mother of the “distressed baby” that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong blamed for cutting employee benefits, wrote a moving response on Slate this morning, in which she blasted Armstrong for blaming her daughter for corporate greed.
Fei’s entire article is a must read, but her description of her family’s personal pain being used as a scapegoat for corporate greed was particularly politically relevant, as Republicans argue that people are not entitled to healthcare. (This is the inherent underpinning to the Republican policy position, or else it’s just “go die.” Neither is a public relations winner and that is why they won’t have a real discussion about healthcare other than to demonize Obamacare.)
Deanna Fei wrote, “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.”
Fei pointed out that on the day that Armstrong, who made $12 million dollars last year, blamed her baby for cutting employee benefits, he also gloated about having 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.”
The “whiff of judgment” Fei referred to is the undercurrent in the way Republicans frame the “debate” on healthcare. There is always the insinuation that anyone who wants healthcare who doesn’t already have it is being greedy and lazy. There is the assumption that people don’t need healthcare and are not entitled to it. And there is the ever present “how dare you assume your health should interfere with corporate profits” condescension.
To which Fei replied that they had not set about to have a preemie in intensive care, “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?”
Armstrong called Fei’s baby out because the Very Important People who run corporate entities have been allowed to believe that their bottom line is the Most Important Value in the USA.
Fei explains that they had no indication that her pregnancy was troubled. It was not a high risk pregnancy. “(W)e experienced exactly the kind of unforeseeable, unpreventable medical crisis that any health plan is supposed to cover. Isn’t that the whole point of health insurance?”
No, that is the point of health insurance for the entitled. Those who are not a CEO making 12 million dollars a year are not entitled to have catastrophes that insurance helps to pay for. That is the message, because if Tim Armstrong went through this exact same scenario, no one would dare point the finger at his baby as a scapegoat for corporate greed. His baby would have “earned” the health care insurance costs by virtue of being the CEO’s baby.
The real discussion that we should be having here is how much longer are we going to let business reward sociopathic behavior completely lacking in empathy and even proper public responses. This is not the behavior of someone who deserves $12 million dollars a year, though he did apologize in a letter that reads like a very competent PR person packaged it well for him, including an ode to personal responsibility for his PR failure.
But Armstrong, like so many CEOs, also blamed Obamacare for reducing 401K benefits. Then he set his sights on a distressed baby — the perfect scapegoat for corporate greed, apparently.
Both of these targets are inappropriate, because while Obamacare is a law, it represents access to health insurance for millions who do not have it. When CEOs demonize Obamacare, they are demonizing the people whose lives might be saved by the healthcare access provided by the ACA. This is a grotesque position to be proudly strutting about with, but it is the position of the Republican Party and the top 2% they represent.
It’s a relentlessly subtle shaming of the people who need healthcare and it is meant to silence them. They are nothing compared to corporate profits. They are easy targets to be blamed for cuts to employee benefits, so that the employees losing benefits blame the distressed baby instead of the real culprit – corporate greed. This is a micro level of what is also happening on a macro level.
Blaming people for having medical needs is reminiscent of medieval witch hunts.
Fei pointed out, “Our daughter has already overcome more setbacks than most of us have endured in the span of our lives. Having her very existence used as a scapegoat for cutting corporate benefits was one indignity too many.”
Deanna Fei laid out the problem with greedy corporate entities seeking to deny healthcare benefits to their employees by scapegoating a baby: It’s her little daughter against Tim Armstrong. That’s the route Republicans are going as they champion this kind of selfishness.
This is not only bad optics, but more importantly, it brings into high relief the contrast between the values being espoused and it raises the question: Do we think Mrs. Fei’s baby should be blamed for employee benefit cuts? If we do, how do we hold that position while also claiming to be pro-life?
And if we do not think her baby should be blamed for cuts to employee benefits, then how can we blame the millions of Americans who did not have access to health insurance prior to Obamacare, sometimes due to a pre-existing condition, for needing health insurance? How can we say to them, hey, you don’t deserve this.
It wasn’t too long ago that Republican audience cheered the death of an uninsured person. That kind of gleeful, careless scapegoating of another person is exactly what those at the top want, and it’s what Tim Armstrong tried to do with Deanna Fei’s baby.
Image: Tim Armstrong/ AP via The Wire
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.