Benjamin Wey on Sony’s Amy Pascal and E-Mail Smarts

 Benjamin Wey discusses Amy Pascal stepping down at Sony Pictures — and offers some valid suggestions for avoiding an embarrassing e-mail gaffe of your own. (© infusny-142/INFphoto.com/Corbis photo)
Benjamin Wey discusses Amy Pascal stepping down at Sony Pictures Entertainment — and offers some valid suggestions for avoiding an embarrassing work e-mail gaffe of your own. (© infusny-142/INFphoto.com/Corbis photo)

Up until recently, Amy Pascal was co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. She came up the hard way as woman in what is still a very male-dominated industry, and her first job (which she got by answering an ad in The Hollywood Reporter) was answering phones for BBC producer Tony Garnett. Like me, Benjamin Wey, she had come a very long way since getting started in her chosen field.

One of the key factors contributing to her forced resignation that was announced last week, was her e-mail. She used it foolishly. And in all likelihood, that would not have mattered greatly had the e-mails she sent remained private. After Sony’s servers got hacked by North Korean operatives, though, privacy and Pascal’s e-mails parted ways.

Read more: Is Sony to Blame for Its Back-to-Back Cyberattacks?

Her e-mails were not the sole cause of her departure via a producing contract. Her business decisions were questionable, she gave a green light to films that bombed, and she had been in the job long enough that some people might have been tired of her. The trouble with the e-mails, though, is that they were easier to put into an article than a film-development story, and they were profoundly embarrassing. Hollywood journalism loves simple and embarrassing.

The LA Times reported:

“Perhaps the most damning reveal was a racially insensitive back-and-forth between Pascal and high-powered producer Scott Rudin. Before heading to a November 2013 fundraising event for President Obama hosted by DreamWorks Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg, Pascal fretted to Rudin about what to ask the president at the “stupid” event.

“Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?” Pascal asked, referring to “Django Unchained,” Quentin Tarantino’s slavery-themed western.

“12 YEARS,” Rudin responded, citing another movie about slavery, “12 Years a Slave.”

“Or the butler. Or think like a man? [sic]” Pascal continued, referring to movies predominantly starring African-Americans.

Shortly after the e-mails were made public, Pascal and Rudin issued apologies, and Pascal set up a meeting with Al Sharpton.”

When you have to call in Al Sharpton to get out from under a racist cloud, you’ve done something stupid.

There were also exchanges regarding Angelina Jolie that were far from flattering and Pascal’s decision to green-light “The Interview,” the film that posits an assassination attempt on North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un by the CIA.

Read more: It’s Official: North Korea Caused Sony Tsunami 

Cardinal Richelieu, the man who invented modern France and was the villain in Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers,” said, “Give me six lines written by the most honest man, and I’ll find something in it to hang him.” This is what happened to Pascal.

We have always been a little too easygoing when it comes to the new technology in communications. E-mail is here one minute and gone the next, while instant messaging is even less tangible. But that doesn’t mean that they are not permanent. Because of the way these technologies work, there are copies of messages on more than your computer; anyone can access things on servers if they know how, which makes your message eternal even if you wipe your account clean.

So, when you write e-mails, send IMs and so on, make sure that what you are sending is not going to get you in trouble.

Benjamin Wey‘s 3 basic rules about work e-mails:

1. Avoid anything that insults others.

2. Skip the name-calling.

3. Beware of ambiguity (“I can’t say too much about Tom’s contributions” — is that because it was so vast or because it was so little?).

Benjamin Wey‘s 3 advanced rules about work e-mails:

1. Don’t send financial information (even forecasts), private contact information or schedules.

2. Make a phone call. Yes, phone calls can be recorded, but that isn’t automatic.

3. Never forget that e-mails leave a trail.

Benjamin Wey is a financier, investigative journalist, professor and a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine and other media outlets.

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