AOL CEO "distressed babies" comments stir outrage
Kristen Dahlgren/NBC News
There was a remarkable turn of events this weekend involving one of this country's biggest media companies.
The company is AOL, and its chief executive, Tim Armstrong, received a great deal of criticism after announcing changes to AOL's benefits program, citing the high health care costs of two AOL families. This weekend, Armstrong reversed himself, but one of those families is speaking out.
For Deanna Fei, every day with her daughter is a miracle. Little Mila was born more than three months pre-mature. "On her first day we were told that there was a 1/3 chance of her dying before we were ever able to bring her home," said Deanna.
Fei's husband works for AOL. Last week, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong announced at a town hall meeting that it was changing its 401k benefit, saying in addition to the rising costs of healthcare, that it had paid a million dollars each for what he called two "distressed babies" born to AOL staffers.
He didn't name the families, but Fei knew.
Fei said, "It was sort of impossible to think he was talking about my daughter. It just seemed so completely dehumanizing, distressed babies cost so much money, to me it did sound like we were greedy consumers of healthcare benefits, gobbled up more than our share of the pie."
Fei wasn't alone in her shock. The Internet lit up with criticism, and AOL quickly did an about face-restoring its original 401k policy.
In a letter to the staff Armstrong said, "I made a mistake, and I apologize for my comments last week at the town hall when I mentioned specific healthcare examples in trying to explain our decision making process."
Today, NBC News reached out to AOL and a spokesperson said Armstrong has apologized personally to the family. Fei said, "He's spoken about in very heartfelt ways about how badly he feels for having cost us this hurt. And I accept that."
But for Fei who wrote an article in Slate Magazine, that has now gone viral, it's about her baby.
Deanna said, "I think it's important to have the national conversations about the healthcare spending that we are having. But I also think it's also important to keep in mind the lives that are sometimes so tiny, so vulnerable, so perilous, that are really what we're talking about."
A mom putting a face on a National conversation.