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Questionable Comments Put AOL CEO Back on Defensive

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong

It seems that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong just can’t keep his foot out of his mouth–even when the company has good news to report.

The good news should have been that AOL’s fourth quarter earnings showed the company’s best growth in a decade, thanks in part to recent efforts to cut costs and streamline operations.

But, instead, that good news was overshadowed by yet another in a string of missteps by Armstrong, who seems to need a remedial course in PR.

The latest media firestorm centers on a recent decision by Armstrong to reverse cuts to employees’ 401 (k) retirement benefits. So, one might ask, what was the problem?

The problem was that in a town hall meeting last week, Armstrong linked the company’s original decision to cut the retirement benefits to Obama Care generally, and specifically to two unnamed women whose “distressed babies” added millions to AOL’s health care tab.

Moreover, a mother of one of the “distressed babies,” emerged to discuss Armstrong’s insensitive comments in an article Sunday on Slate.com.

The ensuing media backlash, which permeated both traditional and social media channels, was likely partly responsible for AOL’s reversal on the retirement benefits cuts but also forced Armstrong to issue an apology regarding his comments.

“On a personal note, I made a mistake and I apologize for my comments last week at the town hall when I mentioned specific healthcare examples in trying to explain our decision making process around our employee benefit programs,” Armstrong reportedly wrote in a memo that was obtained by Reuters.

The woman, Deanna Fei, who was reportedly the wife of an AOL employee and the mother of one of the Armstrong-referenced “distressed babies,” called Armstrong’s comments “an absurd justification for corporate cost-cutting,” in the Slate.com piece.

Armstrong’s past comments—and actions—haven’t exactly been of the warm and fuzzy variety.

Last year, Armstrong was roundly criticized for eliminating more than 400 editors, writers and other employees from AOL’s struggling Patch online news unit.

Also last year, Armstrong drew criticism when he fired Patch’ creative director during a live conference call.

What do you think of Armstrong’s recent comments linking the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) to justification to cut employees’ retirement benefits? Should CEOs be allowed to scapegoat individual employees’ health care situations to further legitimize corporate decision-making? Tell us in the comments or Tweet to us @10000words.

Armstrong photo via allthingsd.com

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