Tim Armstrong, the chief executive of AOL, issued an unusual apology Tuesday to his entire staff for the public manner in which he fired an employee during an internal conference call Friday.
A recording of the firing was leaked to news outlets and caused a firestorm around Armstrong, who has been trying to turn AOL from a struggling Internet portal into a successful media company.
The three-paragraph statement, sent to AOL employees at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and obtained by The New York Times, said, "I am writing you to acknowledge the mistake I made last Friday during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz. It was an emotional response at the start of a difficult discussion dealing with many people's careers and livelihoods. I am the CEO and leader of the organization, and I take that responsibility seriously."
The firing took place during a conference call with more than 1,000 employees of Patch, the local news service that AOL runs for hundreds of towns. Armstrong had convened the meeting to emphasize the direness of Patch's circumstances and prepare the staff for coming layoffs and management changes.
"If you think what is going on right now is a joke, and you want to joke around about it, you should pick your stuff up and leave Patch today," Armstrong told the employees.
Right after that statement, he can be heard reprimanding Lenz, Patch's creative director, who was photographing the meeting, then firing him.
"Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you're fired. Out!" Five seconds later, to stunned silence, he proceeded with his message.
In his letter to the staff, Armstrong further explained the reason for the firing, saying that confidential meetings should not be recorded and that Lenz had been warned previously not to make recordings.
A person briefed on the situation said that Lenz would not be hired back but that Armstrong had contacted him to apologize.
AOL has spent hundreds of millions on the Patch service but has acknowledged being disappointed with its financial performance.
During a call with analysts last week, Armstrong said he would sell off or seek partners for as many as 400 of Patch's 900 local sites, a move that could result in hundreds of layoffs.
The extent of the layoffs are expected to be announced internally Thursday or Friday.