Publicly shaming the Oscar accountant was wrong

(CNN)On Monday night, PricewaterhouseCoopers released a statement claiming to take “full responsibility” for Sunday evening’s Oscar screw-up in which a staffer gave the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who falsely announced that “La La Land” had won the Academy Award for best picture. But that isn’t exactly what PricewaterhouseCoopers was doing.



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While PricewaterhouseCoopers shouldn’t have named Cullinan publicly, it should have immediately announced that the (unnamed) staffer(s) responsible for the error had been fired or reprimanded. It also should have begun to outline other measures it’s implementing to fix its procedural problems. That would have demonstrated it was taking swift action to ensure that it never messes up like this again.
But by subtly trying to shift the blame instead of solving the problem, PricewaterhouseCoopers will only deepen the damage to its reputation.
It will also deeply wound Cullinan. People are already using the hashtag #YouHadOneJob to vilify him on Twitter. One man tweeted: “@BrianCullinan he had one job- but too busy taking pictures- typical dumb American.” Another tweeter wrote: “I bet @BrianCullinan got paid big bucks for the ONE job he failed to do. America wants a refund.”
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In his book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson explains what’s next for people who have been publicly pilloried — such as former IAC public relations representative Justine Sacco, who facetiously tweeted in 2013, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” By the time she landed, she was being excoriated on Twitter and had lost her job. Sacco told Ronson she had “cried out my body weight in the first twenty-four hours. It was incredibly traumatic. You don’t sleep. You wake up in the middle of the night forgetting where you are.” And, she said, “It’s not like I can get a date, because we Google everyone we might date.”
This kind of punishment is out of proportion for the “crimes” committed by people such as Sacco and Cullinan.
In fact, the idea of public shaming — such as exhibiting criminals in the town square — was rejected by America’s founders as too cruel. In 1787, Benjamin Rush, who signed the Declaration of Independence, wrote a paper arguing that “ignominy is universally acknowledged to be a worse punishment than death.” Within 50 years of its publication, public shaming was eliminated in every state except Delaware.
Cullinan should be fired for his error because it caused such a massive public embarrassment for a firm that relies on a reputation for accuracy and has put its future work with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in jeopardy. But he doesn’t deserve to be meted out a punishment worse than death by a company ill-advisedly trying to shirk its own responsibility.

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