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The Drama!
Monday, 2005 July 18 - 11:22 pm
It is all over the blogosphere now: the saga of the nanny who was fired because her employer read her blog.

There are two primary characters in this drama: the mommy employer, Helaine Olen (or "mud", as she is now known among bloggers worldwide), and the nanny heroine, "Tessy". Ah, but wait... I'm getting ahead of myself and taking sides already.

Tessy hadn't been working for the Olens long before she let it slip that she kept a blog. Why did she mention it? That's a question Tessy herself has agonized over. Perhaps it was an accident. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Tessy was an English major and Helaine was a journalist. Perhaps it's just something we bloggers do: we tell people about our blogs because we want them to get to know us. Whatever the reason, the fact did come out, and Helaine dutifully wrote the URL of the blog in her appointment book.

After a while, Helaine started to read Tessy's blog "obsessively", but never said a word to Tessy about it. She discovered stories of erotic fantasies involving Tucker Carlson, stories of bisexual experiences, and "tales of too much drinking for [her] comfort". Even though some of those prurient-sounding topics were just whimsical musings buried in mundane posts, the image of Tessy as a sex-crazed alcoholic grew in Helaine's mind. And though it started to make Helaine uncomfortable, she continued to read the blog in voyeuristic fashion, eagerly seeking out the next tidbit about Tessy's sex life, and relaying the details to her friends.

Helaine became disturbed when Tessy wrote about "a couple fighting within the confines of couples therapy-speak", and assumed that Tessy meant the Olens. We learn later, from Tessy, that the post was about something else altogether. I find that fact to be rather revealing about Helaine: as Carly Simon put it, "You're so vain; you probably think this song is about you." Or perhaps we can sum it up in one word: paranoia.

Based largely on that post, Helaine and her husband fire Tessy. The story might have ended quietly there, but then Helaine went ahead and wrote about the whole thing in the New York Times, over Tessy's strenuous objections about its borderline-libelous half-truths. So the article gets published. Tessy writes a lengthy refutation in her own blog. The story gets picked up by a bunch of big-time players in the blog world: Bitch Ph.D., Kottke, MetaFilter, Suburban Bliss, and even our own Crouching Hamster. Now it's the firestorm that's sweeping the blogosphere.

People are furious. From what I can tell, there are several things that are making people mad:
  • People are angry that Helaine judged Tessy for her lifestyle. That complaint is legitimate. I think this highlights something of a cultural war: the war between those of us who aren't shocked about sex and drinking and lesbians, and those who think all of those things are destroying the moral fiber of the country. The largely-libertarian blogosphere tilts strongly toward the former group, though you'll occasionally see some family-oriented blogs going the other way.
  • People are angry that Helaine fired Tessy over this. I think that complaint is also legitimate, and it's a big issue for a lot of bloggers. We write about our private lives, and we expect that the information we reveal will not be used against us in the workplace. I think this will eventually be something that Congress and the courts will have to address: in an era where there's almost no such thing as privacy, on what grounds is it okay to terminate someone's employment?
  • People are angry that Helaine wrote about this in New York Times. Here, I think, we see a bit of a double-standard for "mainstream journalists" versus bloggers, because if Helaine had written a piece like that on her own personal blog, I think there would be a lot less indignation. We understand that bloggers are not always factually accurate, and that everything about a blog may be tinged with personal feelings and opinions. That's gonzo journalism at its finest. I think the problem is when someone writes a gonzo piece and tries to pass it off as mainstream journalism; for that, I think we're entitled to be angry at Helaine and the New York Times.
  • People are angry because they see Helaine as a narcissistic, self-serving bee-yotch. And maybe that criticism is unfair; but it's just as unfair to characterize Tessy as a promiscuous, irresponsible party girl. So perhaps the real anger here is about the hypocrisy of getting angry when someone writes about you in their blog, and retaliating by publishing a newspaper article about it.

So now, Tessy is the new Dooce, the new Mark Jen... the up-and-coming hero of the blogging universe. Thousands of bloggers have risen to her defense. They tell her she should write a book, she should write articles, she should go on TV, she should sue Helaine for all she's worth.

Except that Tessy doesn't want all that. She just wants to finish her studies and live a quiet life in a small southern city. When I found that out, that's when she became my hero. That shows how earnest and genuine she is. She never did anything to be vindictive, self-promoting, or antagonistic. She was just writing in her blog to express herself. Now, she's closed the comment section of her blog, and soon she'll start a new, more anonymous blog, so she can step out of the limelight.

Tessy, I hope to meet you someday, in a quiet southern city, and shake your hand.

*Don't go to Someone else bought the domain and Melissa no longer writes there.
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Posted by Ken in: bloggers


Comment #1 from pinky (Guest)
2005 Jul 19 - 12:14 am : #
I don't know that she was dooced, exactly - didn't she go right to her next job? She already knew it wasn't a particularly stable household.

It's not the firing (god, I've read too much about this today) that most people seem to be all het up about, it's the fact that insecure bitch of an ex-employer wrote about it in the damn NYT.
Comment #2 from Crouching Hamster (Guest)
2005 Jul 19 - 2:00 am : #
Nice analysis.
I am thinking about blogging/getting dooced/ where do we go from here ...

You can fire someone for any reason or no reason at all, as long as you don't fire them on the basis of their sex, race, color, religion, or national origin. That's protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Back when I was in law shcool, most states, and certainly the feds, did not protect non-heterosexuals from getting fired for being non-heterosexual. That's right. You're gay? You're fired. Sadly, it's still true in most states and smaller cities. And back in the day, you could get fired for getting pregnant.) We also have the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, protecting workers 40 and older, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the ADA.

What if you SAID something about your employer or even about yourself, say, at YOUR dinner party, in YOUR home, and it got back to the employer. And your employer fired you. No protection there.

I can't envision a special protection for free speech or blogging. It would be nice, and it's certainly less controversial in this administration than being gay, but I don't see it happening.

Personally, I think any employer/employee relationship in this "employment at will" country is tenuous, unless you're a tenured professor or a federal judge. I'm always anxious when I have a job. I'm equally as anxious when I don't have a job!

(Someone correct me if I'm wrong on this stuff. It's been a while.)

Comments are closed for this post.

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