How To Wreck Your Reputation: John McAfee Edition
John McAfee suspected Fast Company would portray him as a con artist. Which is why it's so bizarre the software kingpin proceeded to act like one, publicly blabbing about the people he's misled and the fun he had doing so.
We wrote about McAfee last week, outlining Fast Company's argument that the anti-virus software maker may have greatly exaggerated his financial losses and then moved to Belize as part of a ploy to dodge potential liability in a wrongful death suit.
McAfee is now saying that the magazine article was all wrong—partly because he, McAfee, lied to the writer as part of a "joke." He also says in the Fast Company comments that he planted a misleading quote with the witer to try and fool the people suing him. And, according to a follow up post by Fast Company, a few years ago he told the writer, then on assignment as a journalist, about this time he carefully fabricated two controversies as a diversion from a real controversy involving his company.
Repeatedly deceiving people and admitting to it in public would seem to be a terrible way to fight an article saying you're a shady dissembler, but that's what the former software mogul says he was doing. From the Fast Company comments:
I have been plagued by emails from angry people who demand to know how I could do something so heinous as misdirect a reporter from a respectable publication... A man came into my home under false pretenses with the explicit intent of publicly promoting an existing private lawsuit against me. Do you seriously believe that I have a moral obligation to passively co-operate in my own hanging? If you do, then I respectfully disagree. Fast Company wanted an exposé. I provided them one. The end result was no less accurate than any exposé, just more ridiculous.
We should pause here to note there's something refreshing about John McAfee. Today's tech moguls tend to be all too antiseptic: Laser-focused on business, tight-lipped with the press and haughty with their rivals, their casual clothes and laid back airs notwithstanding. McAfee, clearly, is a throwback, a reminder of a wilder and more enjoyable era in tech. He has no compunction about inviting a hostile reporter into his house and — PR red alert! — engaging in some actual, non-safe humor. As he wrote in the comments, "I am a practical joker, and I joke no differently with the press than I do with my next-door neighbor. I'm not saying it's a particularly adult way of behaving, or business like, or not offensive to some. But it's me."
But when it's you personal credibility on the line, it would seem wise to cut it out with the jokes, especially when they seem to fall flat. McAfee, again from the comments:
I like Jeff [Wise, the Fast Company writer,], really. He's Young and smart and energetic. He will go far. I felt close enough to play out a joke. Dr. Adonizio and I agreed to give radically different accounts to Jeff of how we met, when we formed the company, what we were working on, etc., and when Jeff approached me about the horrific discrepancy I would take her to task and have a raging argument in front of Jeff. Please remember, members of the jury, that we do not get television on the North island of Ambergris (Direct TV won't authorize units) and we are highly susceptible to boredom...
What we didn't count on was the fact that Jeff, after hearing our stories individually and privately, neither laughed, nor did he even bring up the discrepancy to me for explanation... I have worked with the press long enough to identify the signs of a planned exposé. This is certainly the prime sign... We played out the remainder of the week, having as much fun as possible, sailing, fishing, snorkeling. We waved Jeff goodbye and got on with our lives.
McAfee also admitted he gave Fast Company the seemingly damning quote "A judgment in the States is not valid down here [in Belize]" to mislead people:
As to the comment about Belize being a hard company to collect judgments in — of course I made it. It's true. I live with lawsuits. They go on for many years. the psychological play between plaintiffs and defendants is extreme. You do everything within your power to psych out your opponent. It's good to have them know that collection may be difficult. But that is a long way from assuming someone will in fact not pay is a judgment is issued.
And according to Fast Company's newest post, McAfee also talked to the writer about how he once tricked a small resort town in Arizona. The town was upset with overflights by his club of noisy "trike" aircraft. So McAfee created a fake website and planted a fake notice at the post office, saying a fake national paintball convention would be coming to town. He also tricked everyone into thinking a lesbian biker convention was also coming to town. Amid all the outrage over the fake events, McAfee's trike club was forgotten about.
McAfee has some genuine points he's trying to make: He says Fast Company's writer overstated the value of his land; neglected to emphasize he rents rather than owns his home; and should have mentioned that his business, an airport, had no direct connection to the fatal crash over which McAfee is being sued — his nephew, who was flying the trike, merely rented a hangar from him, in which the nephew operated a flight academy. McAfee says he's caught up in a "shotgun" lawsuit with 35 defendants.
But it's easy to get distracted from those points when McAfee keeps talking about all the ways he continues to actively trick people. Advice to people defending their reputations: Try not to openly lie when doing so. Especially when you stand accused of, uh, lying.