On June 18 of last year, in a post entitled "Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights Uses False Information to Stir Members to Action," I pointed out what I felt was a misleading and inappropriate public attack on ANR's web site.
Specifically, an ANR action alert intended to outrage its readers and stir them to demand an investigation of the recent change in the Department of Justice's requested smoking cessation remedy informed the public that Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum is "a former tobacco industry lawyer."
The truth is that McCallum is not a former tobacco industry lawyer at all. Instead, he previously was a partner at a law firm that represented R.J. Reynolds. There is no indication that he represented the tobacco company, as I think is clearly implied by ANR's attack on McCallum.
I repeated my charge that ANR's characterization of McCallum was inaccurate and that its personal attack against the man was unjustified, and noted that ANR had apparently decided to retain the misleading information on its website.
ANR defended its actions in a statement that was posted on its website as well as sent by a prominent tobacco control activist to hundreds of tobacco control advocates. According to the statement: "not only is there good reason to state that Mr. McCallum has been a tobacco industry lawyer, but there is sufficient reason for the Department of Justice to investigate his role in this case, and for an ethics complaint to be filed with the Federal Bar." ANR's sole basis for defending its claim that McCallum was a tobacco industry lawyer was that he had been a partner in a law firm that did work for R.J. Reynolds, but ANR presented no evidence that McCallum had represented the tobacco company.
I suggested that ANR's use of the term "tobacco industry lawyer" was absurdly broad and that regardless of any technical accuracy in the term, the communication was clearly going to deceive and mislead the public, as I believe that it did, and that it was therefore irresponsible and wrong. I also opined (post 1 post 2) that ANR's call for an ethics complaint to be filed against McCallum was unjustified and suggested that perhaps ANR should focus on its own ethical standards rather than hurl out undocumented charges of ethical impropriety.
The Rest of the Story
I think there is hope that eventually, with time, organizations will see their mistakes, and I am happy to report that ANR has corrected its miscommunication and changed its statement on McCallum to no longer suggest that he is a "former tobacco industry lawyer," but instead, to clearly spell out that McCallum previously was a partner at a law firm that did work for R.J. Reynolds.
The statement now reads: "Representatives Henry Waxman and Martin Meehan requested that the Office of the Inspector General of the DOJ investigate the role of Attorney General Raul Yanes, a former tobacco industry lawyer, as well as the roles of Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum and General Chief of Staff Theodore Ullyot, both former partners in law firms representing tobacco companies."
It looks like ANR has finally admitted its mistake and acknowledged that its communication was deceptive and misleading.
And what harm was done by making this change? The action alert still gets across its point, but it does so without falsely accusing an individual or deceptively suggesting to the public that there was a high degree of ethical impropriety for which there is simply no evidence.
I would be more reassured that ANR was changing its ways if it weren't for today's revelation that ANR is again massively deceiving its constituents in yet another action alert.
The rest of the story reveals that it is possible to tell the truth, to be honest and forthright, and to not deceive the public and one's constituents in order to practice effective public health and tobacco control.
Deception and unethical behavior need not be a part of our public health arsenal, and I hope that ANR drops this inappropriate tactic from its advocacy actions immediately.