Jack Welch has earned the right to have a big mouth.
But the outspoken former CEO of General Electric has not earned the right to make controversial statements and not get taken to task for them. Ever since his tweet on Friday blaming strong unemployment numbers on “these Chicago guys” cooking the numbers for political gain, he has been the target of attacks.
Finally on Tuesday, Welch cried uncle, but instead of backing down from this claim he stepped down from his soapbox column hosted by Fortune and Reuters. He said that the column that he co-wrote with his wife Suzy Welch would get better “traction” elsewhere.
He didn’t waste any time getting back on track and Welch late Tuesday offered a 1,000-word rebuttal in The Wall Street Journal explaining his Friday tweet. He teased it from his Twitter account: “Here, in the Wall Street Journal, is what I couldn’t say in 140 characters.”
A couple of hours after its posting, the story drew more than 175 comments, mostly political in nature. The issue exploded on Twitter, with strong comments running the party lines.
Welch’s further explanation might be too little too late, or just too hard to digest with all the partisan politics surrounding the issues.
Most national news outlets reported on his tweet and the loud reaction to it. His resignation from Forbes and Reuters came immediately after the publications of a particularly strong story by Fortune.com. The piece said Welch was a job destroyer, and GE lost nearly 100,000 jobs while he ran the company over two decades.
“I never put myself out there as an employment agency,” Welch told Fortune.
Welch further clarified his tweet in the Journal column saying: “Before I explain why the number is questionable, though, a few words about where I’m coming from. Contrary to some of the sound-and-fury last week, I do not work for the Mitt Romney campaign.”
And he backtracked, but only a bit, saying: “If could write that tweet again, I would have added a few question marks at the end … to make it clear I was raising a question.”
Giving that we are in the throes of the political season, a series of questions marks may not have made a bit of difference.
Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.