Private email is an oxymoron: lessons from the DNC scandal

FILE - This Oct. 11, 2012 file photo shows Democratic National Committee Chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D- Fla., speaking at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. President Barack Obama wants Wasserman Schultz to stay on as his party’s chairwoman. Wasserman Schultz has overseen the Democratic National Committee since early 2011. Party officials credit her in part with helping the president carry her home state of Florida, as well as leading the party to an expanded majority in the Senate and more seats in the House. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Photo: AP/Carolyn Kaster, File

I once had a cool, but ethically questionable business idea. I asked my boss if I should go ahead with it. “Ask yourself this,” he suggested. “How would you feel if everyone, including your mom, knew what you were doing? Then decide.” I decided not go ahead. That’s the same question the Democratic National Committee staff should have asked, but they decided to go ahead anyway, and now we’re all reading their email and learning what they’ve done.

A quick recap: DNC Chair Deborah Wasserman Schultz and her staff made questionable decisions, in many cases coordinating with and supporting Hillary Clinton over her rivals, including Bernie Sanders. An anonymous source leaked all their emails to Wikileaks. Schultz will resign, and this is sure to inflame conspiracy theorists and turn Sanders supporters against Clinton.

What would happen if everyone were reading your emails? It’s not an idle question. Whatever you’re doing, you should assume everyone will read it. Here are some email sins that the DNC staff committed, and that you shouldn’t.

Using racist and offensive language

No, I’m not talking about curse words, which no one will be surprised that you’re using. I mean language that demeans people and that you’d never say out loud. Like making fun of someone’s name.

From: Rob Smith – Chief Product Officer – NY
Subject: DNC LGBT Event
Gentlemen . . . . I’m going to have LaQueenia [my executive assistant] send out some options for next week.

From: zallen
LaQueenia is a NAME! I’m sorry, boo. I hope you got a raise with this title.

Lesson: Your sexist or racist remarks will come out. You may not be able to avoid thinking these things, but avoid the temptation to share them. (I once called a young female colleague a smartass in email, which I thought was fairly mild, suggesting a quick wit. She was offended, complained, and forwarded the email, and I had to explain myself to the boss.)

Conspiring in secret

Email is great for nefarious plans. In the case of the DNC, those plans included a pervasive bias in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders, who wasn’t even a Democrat until he ran for the presidency. For example, one staffer suggested getting the press to question Sanders’ religion.

You work with losers. But be careful if you call them losers in an email. After Sanders Campaign manager Jeff Weaver complained about how the Democrats ran the Nevada caucuses, Schultz called him a liar.

From: Paustenbach, Mark
Subject: Weaver on CNN re Nevada
FYI, this morning on CNN Jeff Weaver was asked about the protests and threats of violence in Nevada. He begins by saying Sanders supporters should “act in a civil way” but then goes on to hit the state party.

Now that the emails are public, Donald Trump is having a blast with them.

Lesson: Assume your worst enemy is reading your emails. What will he do? How will you respond? Plan for that.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

One Comment