The 2005 Foot in Mouth Awards
By Evan Hansen
Tech execs say the darndest things. And so do shuffling presidents, and disgraced scientists, and Wikipedia fakers. It’s time to relive 2005’s biggest spoken gaffes.
“Screw the nano.”
— Motorola CEO Ed Zander
Cell-phone makers hoping to break into the music business got little traction in 2005 in the face of Apple Computer’s iPod dynasty. The shortcoming was made all the more glaring for Motorola, when its Rokr iTunes phone debuted alongside Apple’s newest entry, the iPod nano. (Motorola later issued a press release saying Zander’s statement was a “joke.”)
“I’m going to f***ing bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I’m going to f***ing kill Google.”
— Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in statements attributed to him in court documents by former Microsoft engineer and recent Google hire Mark Lucovsky
The accusations flew fast and furiously in a high-stakes court battle between Microsoft and Google over alleged employee poaching. Drama aside, the case highlighted a tectonic power shift in the technology industry brought on by post-IPO Google.
“Walk this way, talk this wa-ay.”
— Intel chairman Craig Barrett
The most embarrassing executive antics of the year came early in 2005, as a tone-deaf, stiff white guy stepped up to the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show and joined Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler in a duet. Silicon.com has the video.
“Most people don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?”
— Thomas Hesse, president of Sony BMG’s global digital business division
The music giant responds in an NPR interview to complaints that anti-copying technology on some of its CDs creates serious security vulnerabilities in computers.
“You’re obviously from France.”
— Intel CEO Paul Ottelini
This zinger deflects criticism when a reporter with an accent asks why Intel is so far behind Advanced Micro Devices on a dual-core server chip. After the laughter subsides, AMD continues to assault Intel’s leadership position.
“All research up until now has been conducted in strict observance of the government-set guidelines.”
— Korean stem-cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk
The cloning pioneer initially denies accusations that he broke ethical guidelines in conducting stem-cell research, but eventually admits he lied to protect co-workers. Later, he withdraws a groundbreaking research paper amid accusations of falsified data.
“I know what I don’t know, and to this day I don’t know technology and I don’t know accounting and finance.”
— Bernie Ebbers, ex-CEO of WorldCom
At his $11 billion telco fraud trial, Ebbers tries to pin the debacle on ex-WorldCom CFO and state’s witness Scott Sullivan. The jury is not convinced, and Ebbers is convicted of conspiracy, securities fraud and false regulatory filings on all counts. An appeal is pending.
“Lightweight, and crank it on, and you shuffle the shuffle.”
— President Bush
Brit Hume interviews the president about his iPod on Fox News, as recorded in a hilarious transcript published by The Washington Post.
“It was done as a joke that went horribly, horribly wrong.”
— Fake Wikipedia poster Brian Chase
A false post linking journalist John Seigenthaler Sr. with the Kennedy assassinations spilled over into public debate over the merits and failings of Wikipedia, a publicly maintained database of encyclopedia listings open to all comers. The controversy ends with an anticlimactic apology, but raises tough questions about the reliability of a new brand of participatory media, loosely dubbed “Web 2.0.”
“Mr. Negroponte has called it a $100 laptop — I think a more realistic title should be ‘the $100 gadget.'”
— Intel chairman Craig Barrett
At a press conference in Sri Lanka, the head of the world’s biggest chipmaker disses a plan by Nicholas Negroponte to give the world’s poorest children affordable computers.
“(Telecoms) and the cable companies have made an investment, and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes (for) free is nuts!”
— SBC Communications CEO Ed Whitacre
Intimations of a “two-tiered” internet emerge in this Q&A with Business Week. The frustrations come out near the end of a year that saw the telecom industry begin to shake off bankruptcies and fraud only to confront an inescapable paradigm shift in the shape of broadband.
Heard any good ones? If you have a favorite verbal blunder from 2005, please share it in the Rants & Raves area below.