Topic: Science & Technology

Ethics and the Sleeping Cable Guy
(7/6/2006)

No doubt, it was a funny video. Georgetown University law student Brian Finkelstein discovered the Comcast cable repairman who had come to fix his system asleep on the couch after Comcast headquarters left him on hold for over an hour, and made a quickie video of the scene, complete with wry subtitles. He posted the 58-second production on YouTube.com, where it was viewed over 227,000 times and found its way to various cable news shows. Embarrassed, Comcast fired the now well-rested employee.

And he was the only ethically faultless one in this episode.

Finklestein is the worst culprit. As someone who has fallen asleep while waiting an interminable time on hold, I can attest that this is not necessarily a symptom of laziness, incompetence or inattention. Maybe the repairman had been up all night with his newborn child or sick wife. Maybe he works double shifts to feed his family. Maybe he volunteers at a homeless shelter. Finklestein didn't care: he was annoyed at the cable company, so decided to take advantage of its employee's plight to humiliate him and his company on the web, thereby virtually guaranteeing that he would lose his job. Golden Rule, anyone? Compassion? Forgiveness? Mercy, for heaven's sake? The ethical course was ever so simple: wake him up. But not nearly so funny, right, Ken?

Comcast was certainly put in a fix by Finklestein's stunt, and firing the victim of its own flawed service (the repairman didn't put himself on hold for over an hour) was an obvious and easy way out of the PR mess. It was not, however, fair or just. Comcast should have taken responsibility, placed accountability where it belonged (on the department responsible for responding to feld calls), and apologized without letting Finklestein's internet stunt lose a man his job.

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