retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from Tom Stenzel, president/CEO of the United Fresh produce Association:

Kevin, I enjoy your biting commentary and edgy perspectives that make Morning News Beat the great read that it is.  But I have to take strong exception to your personal comments about Stewart Resnick and his company Wonderful Brands.  It’s great to share your views criticizing the fluidity or content of the Q&A session, but you went on a personal attack on a person and a company with no reason, and without the facts.  In fact, FMI and United asked Mr. Resnick to do the Q&A session; neither he nor his company asked for that role.  We had originally planned for both Leslie Sarasin and me to sit with Secretary Clinton to have a conversation, but the Secretary’s team required only one questioner.  We made the decision to ask Mr. Resnick if he would be the moderator, as we didn’t want to choose only one association for that role, and potentially confuse our members about whether one association was closer to Secretary Clinton than the other.  Your rant about Wonderful Brands is also a pretty cheap shot without all the facts – they’re a company pushing the envelope on health claims no doubt, but tackling some of the same issues that the broad food and beverage industry is facing trying to talk with consumers about the health benefits of their products.  You should cover those issues in depth if you want.  But it’s simply wrong to toss in unrelated vitriol about a company or individual, just because you didn’t care for the performance.  Keep up the satire and sarcasm, but you’re better than the snide attacks without the facts.

I went back to read what I wrote over the past two days. I actually think that I was a lot tougher on Hillary Clinton than I was on Resnick, though upon reflection I'd probably change two words from yesterday's commentary. But I'll come back to that in a minute.

I'm not sure I crossed the line into snide, but that may be in the eye of the beholder. I was - and usually am - going for sardonic. No matter. It is fair to say that I walked away from Tuesday night's Clinton speech and Q&A session in high dudgeon … I'm not even entirely sure why. The whole thing set me off - the lateness of her arrival on stage, the cursory nature of her attempt to customize her opening remarks, the over-rehearsed quality of the speech itself, and then an "interview" that utterly lacked in any spontaneity … made even worse by the fact that Resnick was completely out oh his element.

Maybe that wasn't Resnick's fault. I completely accept the explanation that the Clinton camp put demands on FMI and United that created the situation, and that by trying to protect her from what could have been an engaging conversation admittedly without a safety net, they made the situation worse.

It is possible that this is one of the things that annoyed me so much about Tuesday night. I have the utmost respect for both Tom and FMI's Leslie Sarasin, but I also think that Clinton - who, let's face it, has gone head-to-head with US senators, heads of state and her husband - could've handled anything they threw at her. But she - or her staff - played it safe. Big mistake, in my view.

I've gone over in my mind what, if I'd been writing her speech for Tuesday night, she should've said. I think it might've gone something like this, at least in the first few minutes…

One of the reasons it is such a pleasure to be with you today is because food has played a central role in our lives over the years. You all know that it wasn't that long ago that my husband loved to jog to McDonald's and never met a barbecue stand he didn't like. But years of bad eating habits caught up with him, and in the end he's had two heart surgeries, and now pretty much is a vegan. Which means that his dietary habits and changes reflect those of many Americans.

But you see, we were lucky. We had terrific doctors. We had access to wonderful hospitals. We've enjoyed the advice and friendship of nutritionists and dietitians who guided us along our path. And, best of all, through it all we've had the pleasure of great food.

Now, here's the good news. Most of us in this auditorium are, to varying degrees, the same way. We have access to health care and quality food and the kind of information necessary to make intelligent and informed decisions. But many people in this country don't. Not yet.

So I'm here today to talk about my book, "Hard Choices," but I also want to ask you to make the choice to work together - with me - to change this. To commit to doing what we need to do in order to improve the quality of life for our citizens. To understand that helping people live healthier lives and eat healthier food - to want to adopt healthier lifestyles - is a matter of both common sense, good economics, and smart business - since both your employees and customers will live longer to buy more, and that's good for all of us.


But she didn't. (And I suppose that people far smarter about such things than I am can point out all the reasons such a speech would not have made sense.) And because she retreated to the safe, I got irritated. And Resnick, who was part of the problem (even if not of his own making), got caught in the line of rhetorical fire.

Now, let's get to my Resnick remarks…

I am completely comfortable with my comments about Pom Wonderful. It has, in fact, been the subject of a long-running argument with the Federal Trade Commission over what the FTC says is deceptive advertising of health claims not supported by science. And that is all I said. (I was actually pretty careful about that.)

I actually like guys who push the envelope. I do a little of that myself. But the confluence of a sponsorship by a company with that baggage and a politician on stage playing it safe (and maybe even playing with the facts a bit) was too much for me to resist, so I drew the connection. I think that was fair. I'm not sure it was so much a cheap shot as a cheap joke.

As far as a personal attack on Resnick, I suppose some would suggest that my saying that he was wearing "an appallingly ugly pair of striped socks" crossed the line. But to be fair, I only brought up his wardrobe because I'd been criticized for mentioning Clinton's wardrobe and not his in my original column. And the socks were really awful.

But I said earlier that I'd probably change two words from yesterday's commentary. Those words would be in the phrase, "as bad as the socks were, they paled next to the sheer incompetence of the way in which he asked questions."

"Sheer incompetence" was maybe a little harsh. While Resnick had no idea what he was doing up on stage, a simple fact that was evident to every single person with whom I spoke after the event, it never occurred to me that it was as painful for him as it was for us, that he'd been placed in that uncomfortable position though no fault of his own … and so perhaps I could've - and should've - been kinder.

But hey. Clinton is a professional politician and a multi-millionaire. Resnick is a hotshot businessman and a professional gazillionaire. I'm just a professional wisenheimer … I was fighting way above my weight class, trying to have a little fun.




Let's get to something less controversial. Fatherhood. Except in this case, it is a little controversial, because it has to do with the comments that NY Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy made at a conference defending his decision to miss two games when his wife gave birth to his first child, noting that he'll be a husband and a father long after he's stopped playing baseball.

I totally agree with him on this one, despite the carping of some that he let down his teammates.

MNB reader Thomas Palmer wrote:

I have to agree with you on Daniel Murphy’s decision. A baseball fanatic in my youth and a baseball and softball coach for 25 years through 4 children, I was present for every birth and cut every umbilical cord. I was even there for a C-section on one, taking the baby from the doctor while he put everything back together.

Now a grandfather of 4 with more surely on the way, I have always thought that parenting and engaging with your children and their friends was a very special thing. My hats off to someone who thinks past the “kids game” - as Andy VanSlyke once coined it on TV regarding his disbelief in getting “paid to play a kids game and have fun” -  to things of the future!


MNB reader Steven Ritchey wrote:

At first when I saw the subject line, I thought maybe you’d been able to do something cool with your Dad, like the baseball road trip.  However, I agree with you wholeheartedly about Daniel Murphy.  There was a time when baseball was a real Scrooge, umpires didn’t get any days off during the season, so they missed important family events, were never home once the season started.  Baseball players were expected to stay with the team no matter what.  I’m glad to see that in some respects, baseball is joining the 20th or maybe even the 21st Century.

While I expect the player to do the best they can every day, and  be loyal to the team, I expect loyalty from the  team to the player.  Mmmm, think maybe there’s a business lesson there.  I remember many  years ago, when Doug Melvin became the GM of the Texas Rangers, and he hired Johnny Oates to be his manager.  First training camp, Oates' wife got sick.  Melvin and Oates won my respect when Melvin allowed Oates to tend to his wife, drive her home across several states and make sure she was cared for before rejoining the team in spring training.  They showed me they had their priorities in order.


And, from another MNB user:

I'm totally with you on this one too as are countless others. And not because I am a mother and wife. Because I'm a PERSON with a heart and a brain. I think Murphy has it absolutely right. Good for him.

Agreed.
KC's View: