Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

How Mozilla botched CEO's ouster

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigned after an uproar over his 2008 donation to California's Proposition 8 campaign.
Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigned after an uproar over his 2008 donation to California's Proposition 8 campaign.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ: Mozilla CEO resigned after firestorm over 2008 donation to anti-same-sex marriage Prop 8
  • He says this is less a free speech issue than a poor move in the first place by Mozilla board
  • Far more in U.S., particularly millennials (Mozilla's consumers) are pro-gay marriage than in 2008
  • LZ: Mozilla should have planned how it would handle the inevitable backlash over Eich

Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a CNN contributor, a senior writer for ESPN and lecturer at Northwestern University. Commentary by the former Hechinger Institute fellow has been recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- We've all done things in our past we might prefer the general public not talk about, but only the lucky few get to be the targets of whole industries dedicated to digging those things up.

Targets like celebrities.

Politicians.

And apparently CEOs, that is if the abrupt resignation of Mozilla's new chief Brendan Eich is any indication.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

For many, the story of Eich -- who stepped down this week amid criticism of his contribution to a 2008 initiative to ban same-sex marriage-- is one of freedom of speech trampled by the intolerant.

I don't see it that way.

Don't get me wrong; to paraphrase Voltaire, I disagree with Eich's views on marriage equality but will defend to the death his First Amendment right to express them. But as I've written in the past, the First Amendment doesn't protect him, Mozilla, or anyone else from others' using their First Amendment right to signal their disapproval.

To me, Eich's case is about the power of information, and how -- with technology, 24-hour news and social media- -everyone's past is just a hashtag away from being the present.

Sometimes this is a good thing for the public, like the digging up of David Duke's KKK past as he attempted to climb the political ladder. Sometimes the information is significant, but used mainly to score points against a political opponent, as in the GOP's escalation of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky saga. But more often than not it's about gossip to sell magazines or get clicks on a website.

NeNe Leakes, one of the stars of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," for example, is currently trying to explain why a 20-year-old mug shot of her is on the cover of Star Magazine. The Robertson family members, of Duck Dynasty fame, were exposed as frauds after photos of the clan looking less like down-home folks and more like a J.Crew ad began circulating on the Internet. The more notable a person is the riskier the strategy of distancing him or herself from the past in hopes that it just goes away. Did Mozilla even think about this?

New tool shows who's tracking you online
Mozilla unveil plans for cheap smartphones

To Eich's credit, he has stuck with his position on same-sex marriage despite a torrent of complaint from inside and outside his company. That the company didn't anticipate the backlash is the real head-scratcher.

Six years ago, when Eich donated to an anti-marriage equality initiative, less than 40% of Americans favored marriage for same-sex couples. Today 54% do, including nearly 70% of people ages 18-29. That latter number is particularly important to Mozilla because 1) no group goes online more than millennials, 2) no group supports marriage equality more than millennials, and 3) millennials are a significant portion of current and future employees. The Eich fallout is less about the First Amendment and more about a business not understanding its business.

The country's present attitude regarding same-sex marriage is not top secret. And neither is Eich's past. Mozilla should've had a better strategy than "let's hope nobody notices."

Yet the fact that the board caved to the pressure, instead of standing behind its choice, suggested it was completely blindsided by the uproar. This is mind-boggling considering that the controversies surrounding Chick-fil-A and Paula Deen did not happen in an alternate universe. By all accounts Eich, who helped develop some of the Web's most important technologies, was qualified for the job and Mozilla would likely be hurt by his resignation.

But Mozilla is an activist organization more than a money-making corporation. The Apples and Googles of the world can lure top young talent with money and perks. Mozilla's recruiting success depends on its ability to sell its mission. Thus the effectiveness of the CEO rests heavily on his or her ability to foster a community, not just make a buck.

And generally speaking, discrimination is a community buzzkill.

Still, the company's leadership, not Eich, is to blame for this PR nightmare, They're the ones who thought what happened in 2008 stays in 2008.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:34 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT