AIG CEO: Bonus Backlash Was ‘Just As Bad’ As Deep South Lynching

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Uh, Bob. Photo: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

New rule: When your company melts down and has to be rescued with $182 billion in taxpayer money, you have to wait at least a decade before comparing your well-paid employees to the victims of Jim Crow lynchings.

AIG CEO Bob Benmosche, the "in-your-face CEO" who told New York last year that AIG deserved a thank-you from the government for being restored to health after its 2008 implosion, is apparently just as filter-free these days. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Benmosche — who, remember, was not CEO during the crisis — said that the backlash AIG faced for handing out employee bonuses after its bailout “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that — sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."

Here's the full quote, which shows that the context isn't that much better:

“That was ignorance … of the public at large, the government and other constituencies. I’ll tell you why. [Critics referred] to bonuses as above and beyond [basic compensation]. In financial markets that’s not the case. … It is core compensation.

“Now you have these bright young people [in the financial-products unit] who had nothing to do with [the bad bets that hurt the company.] … They understand the derivatives very well; they understand the complexity … They’re all scared. They [had made] good livings. They probably lived beyond their means … They aren’t going to stay there for nothing.

The uproar over bonuses “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that — sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.

“We wouldn’t be here today had they not stayed and accepted … dramatically reduced pay … They really contributed an enormous amount [to AIG’s survival] and proved to the world they are good people. It is a shame we put them through that.”

There might be a cogent point hidden somewhere in Benmosche's rant. But Benmosche being Benmosche, it's buried beneath a mountain of swagger and an extraordinarily poorly chosen historical comparison. Free PR tip: Try going analogy-free next time.