Moral Panic - Chapter 3


Chapter 3


The organization of the protesters was swift. They stood outside Paragon headquarters two hours after the story tore across the Internet, waving signs and chanting slogans.


“Stop the Corruption!”


“Job Stealers!”


“Break the Monopoly!”


Diana Trellion stood in Peter Joyce’s office, looking out the window and shaking her head. Her shoulder length brunette hair swiveled in synchrony with her head, brushing the shoulders of her black pantsuit. Where do they find the time? she wondered.


Peter’s office was a minimalist’s dream. Two large windows faced out toward the San Francisco Bay. Peter’s desk was a custom-designed up-cycled Plexiglas art piece with two chairs set up on the opposite side of his ergonomically designed throne. His computer was positioned so he faced the door, not the windows, to ensure productivity while he worked. As such, he rarely looked out of them. But Diana was taking full advantage of the view.


Diana was an investor in Paragon. Her father had a seat on the board before he died, and she had assumed his position as one of Peter’s lead advisors. She also inherited his $30 billion fortune, and had put it to work in a variety of tech companies and startups around the Bay Area.


Debates had raged for a few years, both in public and private circles, about her effectiveness as an investor. Several of her more technical ventures had publicly imploded a few years earlier, and rumors swirled that she was personally to blame for making bad bets on bad tech. A few former business partners had made comments hinting at an anger problem and an inability to manage people effectively, but she had deflected much of that criticism due to massive growth in her media investments.


She had a knack for marketing and public relations, earned from her younger days as a famous socialite, and she had helped Peter put out a serious public firestorm after a payment security breach the year before.


At the moment, she wanted Tanner’s head.


“You can’t keep him on, Peter. This type of publicity brings too much negative attention to the project.”


Peter sat at his desk, a tired attitude weighing on his slumped, sixty year old shoulders. Ten different news articles highlighting Tanner’s comments to Ms. Noral were open in his Internet browser.


He was visibly annoyed by this conversation, more so as he glanced out at the protesters. He had been putting out Paragon’s publicity fires for fifteen years, and though Tanner’s youthful ignorance had stretched his patience, he was not prone to making rash decisions. “A little public pressure and you want to drop our CTO? I’m not going to make a snap decision just because a few private citizens get mad. We can side-step this right?”


Diana was adamant, “Side-step the claim that we decide government policy? Are you kidding? This is a disaster! We’re one week away from rolling this out. It is not worth it.”


“What if we slap a hundred thousand dollar fine on him? It’s not enough to really make a dent in his finances, but it should satisfy the public. Then we issue a statement that the stress of the development schedule made him say things that don’t represent the views of the company.“


Diana simply stared at him.


“What? I don’t trust anyone else to finish the security elements of this project.”


“Peter, don’t you get why he scheduled this interview?”


“What do you mean?” Peter crossed his arms, peering over the tops of his glasses.


“You really don’t get it, do you?” Diana said with a slightly shocked shake of her head.


“Just tell me.”


“An interview piece immediately after a hugely successful presentation? A week away from launching a massive project that will affect American culture in a big way? He wants your job,” Diana said. “You saw that performance yesterday. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind being the youngest CEO of Paragon since the company was founded.”


Peter swallowed, moving his crossed arms to crossed hands as she placed his underlying concerns in plain view.


“And who do you think the board would side with if it came to that?” he asked.


“You know I’m on your side. My father trusted you and I trust you as well. But if I’m honest, I think the board would be glad to exchange the two of you. He has more youth, more energy. So consider yourself lucky that these stories are coming out. He’s effectively destroying his chances of running Paragon. This is your chance to demonstrate that this company needs someone with a calm head on their shoulders.”


Peter sighed, stood up and walked to the window as she continued.


“There are a dozen non-profit watchdogs who have been demanding increased taxes and labor regulations on us for years. This story could actually make that happen. Don’t be weak. This is the only opportunity you’re going to get to kill two birds with one stone.”


“What do you mean?”


“Bury this story with a bigger one. Fire him. Publicly.”

 

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