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 12:26 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT