Saturday, March 19, 2005

American Legacy Foundation Defends its Award to Time Inc.

In a statement posted on Globalink Thursday, the American Legacy Foundation defended its award to Time Inc. for "progress in tobacco-free publications" (see previous post and update).

The first paragraph of the response stated: "The American Legacy Foundation has for several months been aware of the concerns expressed by some members of the tobacco control and public health communities regarding the selection of Time Inc., as a recipient of the 2005 Progress in Media award at our annual American Legacy Foundation Honors event. This award for progress is just that: an award to encourage progress, not reward success. The foundation also presents three other awards: one each for public service, community activism and corporate leadership. ... Some awards honor leadership, others encourage progress, and others are based on research and activist leadership."

The response also attacked the author of this blog, accusing him of joining forces with the tobacco industry:

"So to those critics who believe we have 'exited tobacco control,' we disagree. And we note with interest that they have oddly joined forces with their enemies in the tobacco industry, who share their fervor for eliminating our organization."

The Rest of the Story

The American Legacy Foundation's response to criticism of its award to Time Inc. is, in many ways, even more problematic than the actual award.

The primary response of the Foundation was that the award was not an award to "reward success" but to "encourage progress." What a bunch of crap!

First of all, the verb award is defined as "to give as due or merited" (Random House Dictionary of the English Language). Thus, it implies that the recipient has done something to deserve the award. The Legacy Foundation can define the word, after the fact, however they may please, but the clear meaning of the award, as it is going to be interpreted by the public, is that Time, Inc. is being recognized for some sort of merit in tobacco control. In fact, the invitation to the awards dinner explains in some detail the "accomplishments" for which Time Inc. was being recognized.

Second of all, nowhere in the invitation to the awards dinner was there any implication that Time Inc. was being awarded solely to encourage them to make progress, rather than to recognize them for making progress. The invitation itself stated that the award was being given for "progress in tobacco-free publications" and for "reaching millions with an anti-tobacco message." The very name of the award - "Progress in Media" - makes it very clear that the award is recognizing progress.

Third, the very idea of giving an award to "encourage progress" is absurd. In 20 years in tobacco control and public health, I've never seen a public health group give an award to an organization that has done significant harm to the public's health solely to encourage progress. Generally, those of us in public health try to change harmful corporate behavior by criticizing that behavior, not by rewarding it.

If the American Legacy Foundation really wants to give an award to "encourage progress," why don't they simply give an award directly to Philip Morris? After all, if they want to encourage progress, the best place to start would be directly at the source.

What is most disturbing about the American Legacy Foundation's response is that they apparently have the audacity to believe that we - individual practitioners in tobacco control - are stupid enough to buy the explanation that they gave the award not to reward progress, but simply to encourage it. How stupid do they think we are? Even my children understand that when they they are awarded for something, they are being rewarded for an accomplishment of some sort, not that they are being told that we're unhappy with their behavior and want them to change - so here's a reward.

Instead of publicly issuing such a stupid response, why couldn't the Foundation simply admit their mistake and apologize? That's all that's required. No fancy explanations, no strange re-definitions of unambiguous, well-recognized words. Just a simple admission of a mistake, and a simple apology.

Finally, I cannot allow the Legacy Foundation's accusation that I have "oddly joined forces with [my] enemies in the tobacco industry" to go unmentioned. The statement is a pure lie - I have not joined forces with the tobacco industry and they know it. So does everyone in tobacco control.

Nevertheless, the Legacy Foundation's statement accusing me of joining forces with the tobacco industry is not most disturbing to me because it is an untruthful personal attack. It is most disturbing to me because it suggests that their view is that anyone within public health who criticizes their actions must be working with the tobacco industry. They apparently view their "truth" campaign as so sacred, and so important, that anything anyone says that may in any way interfere with Legacy's efforts to secure funding for that campaign, even if such efforts are viewed as being inappropriate, is tantamount to helping out the tobacco industry.

Actually, by having the courage to speak out and help ensure that the means by which public health practitioners achieve their desired ends are ethical, appropriate, justified, truthful, and carried out with integrity, we are helping to strengthen and improve the public health movement, not the tobacco industry.


Curmudgeon said...

Hi, Michael,

It seems to me that your outrage is a bit overwrought. There is not necessarily a contradiction between "encouraging progress" and "rewarding progress"; an award that "rewards success" (or progress) also "encourages success" (or progress). It did not seem to me that the Foundation, by responding to your critique by saying that they were "encouraging progress," was denying that they were also "rewarding progress"; the operative difference is not between "rewarding" and "encouraging", but between "progress" and "success," or so it seems to me.

What is the progress that was being rewarded? You pointed out in an earlier posting that Time, Inc. provides one of the largest venues for tobacco advertising, but that they do not accept tobacco advertising for several of their child- and parent-oriented magazines.

Why should that not be considered progress? I can see why you (especially :-) ) might consider that progress too meager to be rewarded, but, after all, that is a quantitative matter of judgment, not a qualitative issue of hypocricy.

And their identification of you with the proponents of tobacco is, after all, a rhetorical device. Indeed, I wonder whether your interpretation of the Foundation's response, in which you alleged that they admitted to "merely encouraging" rather than "encouraging by rewarding" progress, was meant rhetorically or whether you fully believed the interpretation you responded to. All I can say is that I would not have interpreted the words you quoted in the way you seem to have.

By the way, something I'd like to hear you discuss is the extent to which tobacco advertising causes people to smoke who don't already, and the extent to which (on the other hand) it leads people who already smoke to try the advertised brand. This is something you probably know a great deal about, and which bears importantly upon the dangers of tobacco advertising.

Michael Siegel said...

Thanks Curmudgeon for adding these comments. You make an important and valid point - that an award can both reward progress as well as enourage more progress. That, in fact, is probably the point of most awards. I agree that any award may serve both to reward progress as well as encourage further progress.

The problem is that either of the two possible interpretations of the American Legacy Foundation defense of its award are severely problematic. If they are admitting that Time Inc. has not made substantial progress and that the award was primarily to encourage progress, then that flies in the face of the definition and general understanding of the term "award" as well as with their statement describing the award as an award for "progress in tobacco-free publications."

If, instead, they are arguing that Time Inc. has made "progress in tobacco-free publications" by virtue of the fact that Baby Talk, Parenting, Health, Cooking Light, and Real Simple do not take tobacco ads (and the award is to encourage their other publications to follow suit), then this argument flies in the fact of the fact that this does not represent progress. To the best of my knowledge, each of those publications was already "tobacco-free" prior to the American Legacy Foundation's existence.

So Time Inc. has not made "progress" in terms of the number of "tobacco-free" publications. They have also not made progress in the volume of tobacco ads since there has been a substantial increase in tobacco advertising from 2001 to 2004, and from 2001 to 2005 (for the first two months).

The bottom line is: I don't see any progress whatsoever in "tobacco-free" publications.

So I think either way one interprets the Foundation's defense of its award, their position is severely problematic.

Curmudgeon said...

Hi, Michael,

You're sounding more reasonable already. :-)

I'm not sure that the progress being rewarded has to have been in the lifetime of the Foundation. It seems to me that in this vale of tears, just the fact that a major magazine chain has *some* tobacco-free mags might be deemed worthy of praise and even reward. Did these mags ever have tobacco ads? If so, then, OK, it's time they were rewarded for having removed tobacco ads so long ago. Since there was no Foundation around to reward them back then, aren't we lucky that we have one now?

Were some of these mags founded recently enough that they never had tobacco ads? OK, then, they're being rewarded for starting new magazines with tobacco-free policies. Considering that they didn't *have* to make them tobacco-free, why shouldn't they be rewarded for having done so?

But, you might say, they made them tobacco-free only to make more money by producing products to induce the niche of people who care about such things to buy their products. In other words, they made some of their publications tobacco-free not out of an intent to benefit the general welfare, but out of greed: to make more money.

I said "you might say;" I don't know whether you actually would say what I said you might. But if so, then more power to them. If someone does something good -- even a small good thing -- out of greedy motives, it's still good. Maybe even better. I'm all in favor of cakes that one can eat and have, too.

The Rockefellers, J. P. Morgan and Henry Clay Frick probably caused as much human misery as have the tobacco ads in Time, Inc.'s publications. But I still salute them for having given us MOMA, the Morgan Library and the Frick Collection.

Of course, Time, Inc., in contrast, has nothing to show but a hideous blot on the landscape at Columbus Circle, a red balance sheet and a bunch of kiddie magazines nobody reads except for children too young to smoke anyway and their do-gooder parents -- which is why they have to settle for a crummy little award from a foundation that most people have never even heard of. Still, progress is progress, so let's praise it. We'll get to the famous men later, if there are any left by then.