Some conversations are more difficult to have than others. Here’s a look back on seven tough moments of interpersonal communication from the past few decades.
1. Steve Jobs Gets Fired (1985)
John Sculley, then Apple’s CEO, was tasked with boosting sales of the Apple II. Jobs, then chairman and head of the Macintosh division, thought the Macintosh computer should get all Apple II’s marketing dollars, to try to boost its sales. The two men clashed. “I said, I’m going to go to the board,’” Sculley recounted recently. “And he said ‘I don’t believe you’ll do it,’ and I said, ‘Watch me.’” The board sided with Sculley, removed Jobs from the Macintosh division, making him essentially a king without a country. He resigned not long after.
2. The Unabomber’s Brother Turns Him In (1996)
David Kaczynski was filled with a sinking feeling when his wife pointed out linguistic similarities between the 35,000 word “manifesto” written by the Unabomber and David’s reclusive brother, Ted. In particular, the phrase “cool-headed logicians.” “It was a feeling of being trapped–trapped in this brother relationship, trapped in this dilemma in which people’s lives were at stake either way. One way, if we did nothing, another bomb might go off and more people might die. The other way, I turned Ted in and he would be executed,” David told the Guardian, about his agonizing decision. Finally, David decided to direct the FBI’s attention to his brother, who was living in remote Montana.
3. Floyd Landis Comes Clean (2010)
Pro cyclist Floyd Landis had his Tour de France title stripped in 2006 after testing positive for testosterone, but for years he denied he doped. He even wrote a book denying it, Positively False. But finally, in 2010 Landis wrote a letter to cycling officials owning up to everything, and implicating, among others, teammate Lance Armstrong in long-standing doping practices. “The driver pretended to have engine trouble and stopped on a remote mountain road for an hour or so so the entire team could have half a liter of blood added,” was one juicy tidbit.
4. Jonah Lehrer Panics (2012)
Then-New Yorker staff writer Jonah Lehrer plagiarized and made up facts and quotes for many of his stories. Lehrer was first pinned down in a lie by Tablet magazine’s Michael Moynihan, who thought some quotes from a book Lehrer wrote, attributed to Bob Dylan, sounded fishy. Moynihan pressed Lehrer in a series of squirm-inducing phone calls. “When contacted, Lehrer provided an explanation…Two of the quotes confounding me, he explained, could be found in a more complete version of that interview that is not publicly available….” After three weeks of these types of calls, Lehrer finally admitted to Moynihan he had “panicked” and was “deeply sorry for lying.”
5. Marianne Gingrich Can’t Go For That (2012)
During Newt Gingrich’s run for president, his second ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, told ABC news that in 1999, prior to divorcing her, Gingrich asked her on the phone for an open marriage. “I said to him ‘We’ve been married a long time’ and he said ‘Yes, but you want me all to yourself. Calista [Bisek, Gingrich’s then-mistress, now wife] doesn’t care what I do.’ He was asking to have an open marriage, and I refused.”
6. Paula Deen on the Today show (2013)
After admitting she had used “the N-word” in the past, during a videotaped deposition taken when a former employee sued her, some of Paula Deen’s business partners (Food Network, Smithfield Foods) severed ties. Then she got grilled on the Today show. Matt Laurer: “Right now it seems that an informal jury of your fans… are you a racist? “No, no I’m not,” wept Deen, who tried to explain that the “N-word” really upset her now, and she had only used it in back in the day.
7. Justine Lands (2013)
The racist tweet of InterActive Corp (IAC) PR director Justine Sacco, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS! Just kidding. I’m white!” was posted before her plane took off. It went viral when she was in the air, spawning the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet, and a tizzy of schadenfreude. One citizen journalist waiting at her arrival gate reported that she was greeted by what appeared to be a sister or friend who said, “Don’t worry, it will all blow over soon.” Sacco was allegedly on the phone, with a distraught look on her face, doing what appeared to be damage control: “No, I really didn’t think it would!”