The "Beat Tony Hayward" Contest

From "I'd like my life back," to "I don't know, Congressman" ad nauseam at the hearing, to "rare private time" on his yacht in clean European waters, BP's Tony Hayward has put on the most self-damaging and institution-harming performance by a supposedly savvy bigshot since, well.... I can't think of anything comparable.

  - John Edwards destroyed himself with flat-out lies, but until he was caught out he didn't act as tone-deaf as this.

  - The pre-philanthropic Bill Gates was harmfully haughty during the 1990s-era Microsoft antitrust trial, but that was a long time ago.

  - Mark Zuckerberg did not make Facebook any friends with his flop-sweat performance at a recent conference, but that was a small insider group.

 - Zhang Qingli, a Chinese Communist official, called the Dalai Lama "a jackal clad in Buddhist monk's robes," but he was mainly playing to a supportive domestic Chinese audience.

All in all, I can't think of any CEO or similar figure who has been as consistently, unbelievably, and consequentially self-destructive as Hayward, especially in this past month. I can remember when this guy was thought of as a sparkling young hotshot! That was only four years ago. If anyone has a nominee for a worse public performance than Hayward's, please let me know. Will report any suggestions that cross the "worse than Hayward" threshold.    

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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