Reader EmilianoZ pointed to a key section of a review of the documentary, “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” by Chris Hedges, who worked at the Times for 15 years. This is one of the best short summaries I’ve seen of the Faustian pact elite organizations (at least American ones) expect their members to enter into. From TruthDig:
The Times, like Harvard University, where I attended graduate school, is one of the country’s most elite and exclusive institutions. Its ethos can be best summed up with the phrase “You are lucky to be here.” That huge numbers of people at The Times, as at Harvard, buy into this institutional hubris makes the paper, where I spent 15 years—nearly all of them, thankfully, as a foreign correspondent a few thousand miles from the newsroom—a fear-ridden and oppressive place to work. The Times newsroom, like most corporate nerve centers, is a labyrinth of intrigue, gossip, back-biting, rumor, false piety, rampant ambition, betrayal and deception. Those who play this game well are repugnant. They are also usually the people who run the place.
When you allow an institution to provide you with your identity and sense of self-worth you become an obsequious pawn, no matter how much talent you possess. You live in perpetual fear of what those in authority think of you and might do to you. This mechanism of internalized control—for you always need them more than they need you—is effective. The rules of advancement at the paper are never clearly defined or written down. Careerists pay lip service to the stated ideals of the institution, which are couched in lofty rhetoric about balance, impartiality and neutrality, but astutely grasp the actual guiding principle of the paper, which is: Do not significantly alienate the corporate and political power elite on whom the institution depends for access and money. Those who master this duplicitous game do well. Those who cling tenaciously to a desire to tell the truth, even at a cost to themselves and the institution, become a management problem. This creates tremendous friction within the paper. I knew reporters with a conscience who would arrive at the paper and vomit in the restroom from nervous tension before starting work.
Hedges has gotten to nub of how these organizations work: the ambiguity, the insecurity, and the competitiveness, but there can also be variations within this pattern. For instance, McKinsey and Goldman both focused on academically successful people, not simply because they were presumably bright and diligent, but because they were also more likely to be compliant. Both firms also worked to discourage destructive competitiveness, such as backstabbing (remember, unlike journalism, most business activities, including consulting and investment banking, involve teamwork). At both firms, the real hard core jockeying took place in the partnership ranks, behind closed doors; the goal was to keep the juniors task focused and productive. So the fully panoply of ugly behaviors that Hedges witnessed may kick in at a more senior level in some settings than in others. Moreover, the the lip service to lofty ideals, the many overt and subtle ways the firms preyed on ambition and insecurity, and the way those who questioned the way the enterprise really worked were treated as invading viruses, all ring true to what I have seen.