Bush, Assange, YPO & Controversy
Last weekend, I attended the YPO Global Summit in Denver, Colorado. As a member of both Vistage and YPO, each organization helps me achieve different professional and personal aspirations. (How they are so different is a good subject for another blog post, but I digress). The conference was a terrific opportunity for CEOs to connect and network, but as many of you may know, it was not free from controversy.
President George W. Bush was scheduled to be the keynote speaker on the closing day of the conference. Certainly there were many members who attended and traveled both from within the U.S. and abroad to hear the former President talk about his time at the White House and address the issues of the day. The day before the scheduled appearance, however, YPO facilitated a conversation via satellite with WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange – a late addition to the conference agenda. Upon hearing that YPO granted Assange an audience at the event, President Bush abruptly canceled. His spokesperson David Sherzer stated, “The former president has no desire to share a forum with a man who has willfully and repeatedly done great harm to the interests of the United States.”
So here’s the question: Did YPO use poor judgment by inviting Julian Assange to speak at its global conference? Or did YPO show courage? Was it wrong of President Bush to cancel the speaking appearance? Or did it demonstrate that he’s true to his values?
Let’s look at both sides:
From a YPO perspective, they were appealing to a global audience in a nation that trumpets the benefits of democracy, open society, and free speech. One might ask, “Where better than the United States to feature an open dialogue with a man who while some regard as a high-tech terrorist, others believe to be a modern-day hero in the age of transparency? YPO seems to believe these are exactly the kind of engagements a world-class leadership organization should be facilitating for its members.
From President Bush’s point of view, he would see it as completely inappropriate to appear on the same program as Julian Assange. Assange actually represents one of the few things Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell can agree on – that Julian Assange is a danger to the US and to many countries around the world. On top of all that, he has failed, to date, to answer for sexual assault charges in Sweden.
YPO handled the news of the President’s cancellation as best could be expected. They communicated the whole truth about what happened and why to its members and arranged for Tom Brokaw to fill-in as the keynote for the final day in Bush’s stead. They also received international coverage and exposure because of the controversy.
There was a roaring debate on the floor of the conference, which I’m sure will continue for quite some time, as to whether inviting Assange was worth losing the President. What do you think? Bad idea or not? How do you see it?