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.

No comments: