Meyerson's Feudalism


The American Prospect's Harold Meyerson is indignant that the National Labor Relations Board recently upheld the rights of a security-guard company to prohibit its employees from "fraterniz[ing] on duty or off duty, dat[ing] or becom[ing] overly friendly with the client's employees or with co-employees."

So are there any off-duty activities that an employer can't proscribe? … Just how much control over our personal lives do the citizens of the land of the free want to accord to our employers? […]

There's a word for the kind of employer-employee relationship that the NLRB has just sanctioned. It's "feudal."

There's another descriptive phrase that comes to mind -- "just like The American Prospect." At least if my personal experience is any guide.

In the winter of 2002, the Prospect approached me about becoming a regular media columnist, to which I happily agreed. In January of 2003, my first piece had graduated to the fact-checking process, and then suddenly I was hit with an e-mail informing me that my article, and in fact my services overall, were no longer desired, precisely because of my "off-duty activities." An excerpt:

some of the editors had concerns … that your affiliation with the soon-to-launch L.A. Examiner … rather firmly places you on a different part of the political spectrum than the Prospect. Though it's clear to me from reading your writings that you are … more politically independent than conservative, the increasingly prominant affiliation with [Richard] Riordan has given some of our editors pause.

Seeing as how Prospect Editor-at-Large Meyerson is a key columnist for the L.A. Weekly, and had just the week before written a laughable piece asserting that a newspaper edited by me and the author of this site was going to be "neocon" … it wasn't hard to guess who "some of the editors" might mean. In subsequent phone conversations, my list of disqualifyingly undesirable "off-duty activities" was expanded to include writing six articles for Reason, and being paid to speak at a single weekend conference hosted by the devilish Institute for Humane Studies. It was also suggested that maybe my politics were drifting Rightward without me even realizing it. These things happen, I was told, and not without some sympathy.

Later still, all that was withdrawn as some kind of terrible misunderstanding; the real reason for parting ways was that my work didn't pass muster. But in the meantime, would I mind not writing about the details of this little communication breakdown? (Which I didn't for 10 months, and only then after my indiscreet neighbor Cathy Seipp spilled the beans.)

But to bring it back to Meyerson's policy debate, why shouldn't the Prospect be able to set rules about who its staffers or prospective columnists hang out with after hours, and what conferences they attend? It may sound like a crude method for detecting and discouraging political-spectrum deviance, but in my case it arguably saved them from the ignominy of having a contributor insufficiently enthusiastic about the Kelo decision. Like Reason, the Prospect is an opinion magazine with specific political goals, and the marketplace would happily determine whether such a "feudal" approach to extra-curricular activities will attract better employees and lead to more effective partisan journalism. I'd guess not, but I'm routinely surprised by what working conditions my colleagues are willing to accept, and by what expressions of political conformity prove to be popular. It is no longer much of a surprise, however, to encounter a Labor-obsessed paleo-lib pontificating out one side of his mouth while running his business out the other.