Guest column: Papows never hid in shadows of anonymous e-mail

It had to happen. The very week that my interview with Lotus Development CEO Jeff Papows was posted on the IDG news wire under the headline "Papows: Classy, competent and clued-in," the Wall Street Journal ran a page 1 piece on Papows that is unquestionably the most disparaging character portrayal I've seen in nearly nine years in this job.

In case you missed it, the Journal piece contended that Papows has lied throughout his career about his personal history -- most notably by significantly embellishing the record of his service in the US Marine Corps, including concocted stories of daring feats.

The article also took issue with claims attributed to Papows regarding his higher education, his status as a martial arts expert, and his family history. Essentially, the article painted Papows as a glory hound who is preoccupied with enhancing his own image and depicting himself as a larger-than-life hero.

Apparently the "classy, competent and clued-in" piece I did created in some quarters the perception that I'm a Jeff Papows butt kisser, because the day the Journal story hit the street, I received a few e-mails from people who were keen to bring it to my attention. One of those e-mails, which came complete with a link to the online version of the Journal story, was particularly interesting. The subject line was "Papows flights of fancy," and this is how it read:

"Don, See today's story in the Wall Street Journal. It's at (URL of the online version). I don't know why Jeff had to lie, his accomplishments are fine in any case. I guess it just shows how we Americans worship military prowess. Yours respectfully, Kinsey Milhone."

What's interesting is that whoever sent it didn't have the balls to identify himself. The sender's e-mail address field read "Anonymous ", and Kinsey Millhone happens to be the name of a fictitious female private investigator in a series of mystery books written by Sue Grafton (my gutless correspondent couldn't even spell Millhone correctly). I have no way of knowing what this person's motives in sending me the Journal story were, but I can't help but be suspicious under the circumstances.

In any event, if this person had had the dignity and the integrity to identify himself, my response would have been the same one I wrote to the other people who brought the article to my attention. I would have told him that I've interviewed Papows several times over the years, and talked to him informally on many other occasions, and that in all that time he never once mentioned his military service, educational background, martial arts status or anything else that could in any way be construed as self-serving. I would have pointed out that Papows has invariably been just the opposite -- always very self-effacing and self-deprecating.

I also would have told this person that I wasn't defending Papows or making excuses for him, and that it did in fact appear that he had screwed up. I would have noted that I was simply relating my own experience, along with the suggestion that the Journal piece might not have been as balanced as it could have been.

For what it's worth, I e-mailed Papows that same morning Hong Kong time as a courtesy, to let him know how I was responding to my e-mail on the subject. Bear in mind that this would have been about 12 hours after Papows first saw the Journal article, so you can imagine the chaos he and the Lotus people were enveloped in at the time. Yet, within a couple hours of sending that e-mail, I heard back from him.

"This thing has so many tortured contexts and outright mistruths it's not even worth commenting on," Papows said in his e-mailed response. "Work hard and some people get jealous, but believe me this thing is not me, not even close."

Whatever. Hey, I can only go by my own experience. If someone had asked me a month ago to rate Jeff Papows from 1 to 10 on the decency scale, I would have given him a 10. I'd do the same thing today. And if the person who sent me that anonymous e-mail is reading this -- just so you know -- you get a 1.

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