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    Published on: February 6, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    I think it was Mark Twain who once wrote, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."

    Someone should have told Brian Williams.

    Perhaps you've heard about the trouble in which the NBC News anchor finds himself. In 2003, while covering the war in Iraq, he was in a helicopter that ended up landing because the one in front of it took on enemy fire. Over the years, as Williams moved from reporting to the anchor desk and became the face of NBC News, the story got embellished and he started talking about how he was on the helicopter than got hit by RPG fire. The problem was, there were other people on that helicopter, and the other helicopters in Iraq that day. People talked. Eventually, the real story got printed and posted, and suddenly the veracity of one of the guys who delivers the news to us each night was called into serious question.

    The truth, as they say, was out there. And then Brian Williams went on the air and made it worse, blaming his misstatements on confusion and time and the "fog of war."

    Now, Brian Williams doesn't just look like he puffed himself up, like he didn't let the truth get in the way of a good yarn. Now he looks like something a lot worse. Like some of the people he covers, who dissemble rather than state facts and deal with truth. That's not really a good place for a journalist to be. It leaves everything you say open to question, and certainly gives ammunition to rivals and critics.

    I have no idea if Brian Williams' career will survive this. If I had to guess, there will be a suspension and maybe a round of redemptive interviews in which he'll have to eat a helicopter full of crow. It's kind of too bad; I've never met the man, but he always struck me as a decent, NASCAR-loving New Jersey native who was smart enough to know he'd hit life's jackpot, and wise enough not to take it for granted. (He lives one town over from me in Connecticut. A salesman at a men's clothing store there once told me that Williams was an incredibly nice man who could afford to spend a lot more on clothes than he did. That means something, though I'm not exactly sure what.)

    But there is an important business lesson and life lesson here, and Mark Twain offered it a long time ago. Tell the truth.

    The subset of that lesson is that if you don't tell the truth, the internet will almost certainly expose you for it. Fast. Brian Williams had been telling the same story for a dozen years, and it seems like his credibility got undermined in about a dozen minutes. (It is a shame that we need that subset. But apparently we do.)

    That can happen to anyone. It can happen to any business. But only if you don't tell the truth.

    Trust, like the soul, never returns once it goes. That's the Latin proverb.

    It is an Eye-Opening lesson that Brian Williams may learn the hard way.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    At the urging of a friend of mine, I went back into the MNB archives to look at something that I'd forgotten about - the "Last Week Tonight" episode from June 24, 2014, in which John Oliver suggested that the daytime talk host Dr. Mehmet C. Oz - known best just as "Dr. Oz" - had fallen into a kind of quackery, using his celebrity to sell "magic beans" to an unsuspecting and gullible audience. (You can see the segment at left. It is devastatingly funny ... unless of course, you happen to be in the business of selling magic beans. Then, not so much.)

    Those magic beans, as it happens, also go by another name - nutritional supplements. Yes, that's right, the supplements that were the subject of an investigation by the New York Times, and eventually, a probe by the New York State Attorney General's office. That probe led to the AG's office accusing GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart of selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements and demanding that they remove those products from their shelves. This demand - which not all of the retailers have decided at this point to comply with - then resulted in a torrent of articles, press releases and letters-to-the-editor, including yours truly, defending the supplement industry, suggesting the probe was a "self-serving publicity stunt under the guise of protecting public health," accusing the AG's office of using faulty methodologies in its testing, and claiming that there is, despite suggestions to the contrary, an elaborate enforcement structure governing the supplement industry and plenty of authority for governmental agencies to act.

    Clearly, not everybody agrees.

    But then the friend who reminded me about the John Oliver episode told me something else. Not that long ago, he was present at a meeting of supplement manufacturers - mainstream, respected supplement manufacturers - and in an informal audience poll, the opinion overwhelmingly was that in roughly 50 percent of supplements, the ingredients inside the bottle did not match the ingredients listed on the label. Oddly, somehow this seemed acceptable to the people in the room. (Not to my friend, however.)


    This isn't a new controversy, though it has been given fresh legs by the New York Attorney General. I don't know about you, but this is one case I'd like to see go to trial. A nice, big, public trial. I'd like to see the accused face the accusers, have people actually put under oath and required to tell the truth under penalty of a perjury conviction. I'd like to see methodologies compared.

    In other words, I'd like to know who is telling truth. Because here's the deal: Somebody is lying. Either these products have the ingredients the labels say they have, or they don't. This doesn't seem all that tough to me.

    Let's also be clear about something. I'm not sure anyone has said that all nutritional supplements are useless and/or mislabeled. Just a percentage. (Like maybe 50 percent?) Albeit a sizable enough percentage requiring regulatory attention.

    (There's an interesting intellectual exercise for you. How "sizable" is "sizable enough" to create regulatory interest and consumer outrage? What's the number? Five percent? Ten percent? Two percent? Just curious...)

    (By the way, a tangential thought has just occurred to me. This debate about supplement efficacy and labeling accuracy is taking place at the same time as a debate - and I can hardly believe I am writing these words - about the efficacy of vaccinations. I'm just wondering ... what might be the overlap between the population that believes in and trusts in supplements, and the populations that does not believe in vaccinations. I'm just curious. As I said, an odd, tangential thought. But mine own.)

    Oh, yes. One other thing. I'd like to see all this done in an arena where lobbyists have absolutely no persuasive powers. (Which means they don't get to write checks to politicians and political action committees to get what they want. BTW...if roasting Dr. Oz isn't enough of an attraction to watch the John Oliver piece, take a look at how he goes after two US Senators. A thing of beauty, it is.)

    I said yesterday in this space that I'm willing to wait for the results of the debate to reach any final conclusion. Which I suppose is just another way of saying that I suspect the NY AG is pretty much on target, but I'm perfectly willing to admit if I'm wrong.

    And, if I may, a final thought. I'm really, really glad that John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight," returns to HBO on Sunday at 11 pm. Because I've missed it.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2015

    Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has announced her imminent departure from the agency. Hamburg, who is leaving after six years, tells the Wall Street Journal that "it was her decision to leave after almost six years leading the agency because 'this is a difficult and demanding job where you’re buffeted by all sorts of points of view'."

    The Journal notes that Hamburg's tenure was "marked by an expansion of food safety regulation and speedier drug approvals," and that she "led the agency during the passage of the Food Safety and Modernization Act, signed by President Obama in 2011. The law is intended to pay for beefed up inspections of production, sale and import of fruits and vegetables, and will involve greater levels of inspection of imported food. Since its passage, the FDA has regularly won more funds from Congress to make the law work despite congressional budget cuts."

    The Journal goes on to report that "her temporary replacement will be the FDA’s chief scientist, Dr. Stephen Ostroff. One possible permanent successor is Robert Califf of Duke University, whom Dr. Hamburg recently selected as her deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco."

    Following the announcement, Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), released a prepared statement: “I commend Dr. Hamburg for her years of dedicated service as FDA Commissioner.  Under her leadership, the agency successfully ushered in the most sweeping set of reforms to our nation’s food safety system in a generation through the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  She was an activist commissioner in the best sense of the term: personally engaged in the important issues and always seeking the views of all stakeholders.”
    KC's View:
    Perhaps the most important passage in this story is the part about how, since passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), "the FDA has regularly won more funds from Congress to make the law work despite congressional budget cuts."

    There are some who think that FSMA is going to go away, that the FDA will get defunded, that they don't have to worry about the implications of this new law.

    Just ain't true.

    Published on: February 6, 2015

    The New York Times has a terrific piece this morning about a visit by Geoffrey Zakarian - described as "an 'Iron Chef' winner, a star of the Food Network, the chef and owner of the Lambs Club and culinary director of The Plaza hotel - to a NYC McDonald's.

    As it happens, it is his first trip to a McDonald's. Ever.

    Part of his evaluation: "Of course, the food could be better,” he said. “All fast food could be better. McDonald's has been incredibly successful, and you have to respect that. It only has to be incrementally better ... Price and value are important, and people don’t want to wait. But they need to tell a better story, talk more about quality, the source of the ingredients, address the health concerns. I can assure you that if they had a great story and a better company culture, this same burger would taste a lot better.”

    But he loves the fries and coffee.

    It is a really good piece, taking a look not just at McDonald's approach to food, but also its approach to store design ... and you can read the entire story" target="_blank"> here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2015

    The Chicago Tribune reports that "struggling consumer electronics chain RadioShack, founded nearly a century ago, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late Thursday. It plans to sell 1,500 to 2,400 stores to its largest shareholder, investment firm Standard General, and has filed a motion to proceed with closing the remainder of its 4,000 U.S. stores."

    The story goes on to say that "wireless carrier Sprint Corp. has a deal with Standard General to open mini-shops in as many as 1,750 of the RadioShack stores Standard General is buying. Sprint would take up about one-third of the retail space in each RadioShack store, and Sprint employees would sell mobile devices and Sprint plans. And Sprint would be the primary brand on those RadioShack storefronts and marketing materials."
    KC's View:
    There had been some speculation that Amazon was in discussions with RadioShack to acquire some stores that it could convert to showrooms and pick-up depots, but that part of the deal has not come to fruition. Yet.

    Published on: February 6, 2015

    There is a good piece in the Seattle Times that offers some historical perspective on Haggen's growth from 18 to 168 stores, virtually overnight, as a result of a purchase of stores divested in the Albertsons-Safeway deal.

    An excerpt:

    "Haggen’s sudden ascent into the ranks of large regional grocers underscores the turmoil suffered by the grocery industry, a low-margin business assailed by competition from large discounters such as Costco and Walmart, specialty grocers such as Whole Foods and online retailers. 'There is high risk and possibly high reward,' said Burt Flickinger, managing director of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2015

    Internet Retailer has an interesting observation about the proposed deal that would have Staples acquire Office Depot for $6.3 billion, a move that is going to draw a lot of regulatory attention because of perceived competitive issues. The story says that if the deal is successfully concluded, it will create "a company with combined total sales of $39 billion and Internet Retailer-estimated web sales of $14.5 billion," which would make it "no. 3 on the Internet Retailer 2014 Top 500 behind and Apple Inc."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2015

    Bloomberg reports that Tesco is facing a new investigation, as Britain’s Groceries Code Adjudicator said that it will "review methods employed by Tesco that caused delayed payments to suppliers. The regulator has evidence that the practises 'were not isolated incidents' and that each involved 'a number of suppliers and significant sums of money,' it said in a statement on its website."

    The probe is seen as "the latest fallout" from revelations that Tesco inflated its revenues and deflated its costs as a way of improving perceptions about its books, which has created both internal and external probes into its accounting methods, as well as considerable management tumult.

    Time magazine has a piece about Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who, despite the fact that he has been extremely politically active and has criticized business-as-usual approaches in Washington, says he has no interest in running for office at the moment. The story also says that Schultz doesn't think he's temperamentally suited to the compromises required for a political career, and he dismisses the notion of either running for president as either a Democrat or a third-party candidate.

    • The Lakeland Ledger reports that "Publix Super Markets Inc. has agreed to pay $30 million to settle a lengthy legal battle about overtime pay ... Publix had been accused of failing to pay required amounts of overtime compensation to department and assistant department managers who were paid on a 'fluctuating work week' basis.

    Publix says that it vigorously defended the case and has denied all liability, but that "settling the lawsuit at this time was most beneficial to our stockholders."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2015

    • Walmart announced that Mark Ibbotson, COO of its Asda Group in the UK, is moving to the US, where he will become a senior vice president leading its innovation efforts.

    And Bloomberg reports that Walmart "is assigning a veteran employee to a newly created post in China, with the goal of improving the retailer’s reputation after accounting, inventory and food-safety missteps. The executive, Maggie Sans, has been named senior vice president and chief corporate affairs officer in China." She most recently has been vice president of international corporate affairs at Walmart.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2015

    We had some discussion earlier this week about the Nationwide commercial on the Super Bowl that focused on household accidents and portrayed a small child talking about all the things in life that he didn't get to experience because he died in such an accident. An awful lot of people found this commercial to be a downer ... but then I got this email from an MNB reader:

    My daughter was 20 months old when she pulled a TV on her like the Nationwide commercial showed. She fractured her skull in multiple places and has been left deaf in one ear. All because of poor judgment on her parents' part regarding what was safe and what wasn’t within the home.

    The commercial didn’t feature anything to do with that hotly debated topic of gun ownership & safety, it showed simple everyday items in every viewer’s home – TV, bath, chemicals – that can kill if you are not paying attention. I commend Nationwide. I got lucky and she survived. Many don’t. Would you support a $5 to $8 million TV commercial expense if your child had died and it might trigger just 1 person into making sure it doesn’t happen to them?

    Damn right I would. And I really appreciate your email.

    When my kids were little, TVs were big and heavy and unwieldy ... I don;t remember ever worrying about one being pulled on top of them. But these new flat screens obviously are different, but it never occurred to me that they could be a safety issue. (My kids are big now, but I may have grandchildren some day ... I've learned something valuable here.)

    I think it is worth pointing out here that Nationwide pointed to a website that is dedicated to this issue:

    There are folks who said that the Super Bowl was the wrong place for such an ad. But in retrospect, I disagree. Nationwide could have done an ad about puppies and made everybody feel good. But maybe they've helped save a life or two. Good for them.

    On the subject of the controversy surrounding dietary supplements, MNB reader Jerome Schindler wrote:

    The chickens have come home to roost - or something like that.

    For years I have also been urging the FTC to go after the media (newspapers, magazines etc.) that accept advertising for these products with claims that they surely should know are false/misleading. They probably make as much money off these ads as the sellers of the products.

    From another reader, on the same subject:

    I remember years ago there was legislation to regulate these and one of the biggest opponents was Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.  I guess those lobbyists were/are into him good.

    Unfortunately people usually have to die before Congress does anything about it (guns excluded).

    MNB reader Kevin McCaffery wrote:

    This list of supplement ingredient’s “contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies." Looks very similar to the list of ingredients found in Taco Bell “beef” that was discussed last year.

    Still another MNB reader wrote:

    As a spouse of a pharmacist who is reading this dialogue with great interest...

    Please keep hammering your points!    This story has needed to be told by someone and If that someone is the NY AG’s office, that’s where it can generate a lot of publicity.   In my wife’s mind, it’s not as much the issue of whether the supplements do or don’t work, but more that the companies who sell them either can’t or won’t provide verification of what ingredients are (or aren’t) in these products-----and there is no oversight by the federal government to force these companies to either provide such proof or remove the products from the market.

    On another subject, MNB reader Mark Delaney wrote:

    Congrats to the reader who wrote in saying “can’t bring peanuts to school, don’t bring measles…”... Politicians are doing everything they can to impale themselves on this issue and while that’s entertaining to watch, the reality is that most of the parents making these decisions not to vaccinate weren’t even walking the earth when these diseases were still killing people – and I’m not sure the modern medical world is ready if we were to see epidemic outbreaks again. Your decision to not vaccinate does directly impact me when your child is next to mine on the bus, in the mall, or riding a ride at Disney.

    Unfortunately this is one area where you can’t have it both ways. Put the child in a cocoon with no contact with other children (or adults with chronic illnesses) and I suppose you can make your point but I haven’t seen anyone willing to do that. While I normally sympathize with parents who face a dizzying array of choices and implications in 2015 – this one is a no-brainer – do the research and roll up your child’s sleeve – for all of our sake….

    We had a story earlier this week about a study saying that despite the vast number of apps available, the majority of people spend most of their time on just five of them. Which prompted MNB reader Sue Borra - who, for purposes of this discussion, needs to be identified as Senior Vice President of Communications and Strategic Planning at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) - to write:

    The mobile app statistics from Mobile Marketer reinforce the importance of producing content that is relevant and targeted if you are to have any hope of reaching today’s new consumer.  This may not be the most comforting stat for someone, like us at FMI, who recently launched a news app to serve the food retail industry. However, while we recognize the challenge of breaking into this highly dominated arena, we hope that the FMI News app will be a valuable resource for information of specific and useful significance  to the food industry. We invite your perusal and feedback on this new platform – if you can break away from the top 5 for a few moments.

    On the subject of my minor rant yesterday on the subject of religion and the workplace, one MNB reader wrote:

    This is a great topic - I think you will be getting lots of comments on this one!  I believe as you do that with all the crisis going on in the world today, what makes us think that God (if there is one) is looking down at a football game?  Or a golf game?  Get over yourself - he had nothing to do with it.

    From MNB reader Tom Robbins wrote:

    I know there have been many times that we have been in disagreement but today I say: You are spot on! Everyone needs to take a deep breath and relax a bit (maybe a lot).

    Finally, one MNB reader took issue with my constant criticism of the lobbying culture:

    The function of lobbying is simply to make sure that decision-makers have access to both sides of an issue before making their decisions.  Are you sure that sheer ignorance would lead to bliss?

    Not at all. I'd just sort of prefer it if the people with the deep pockets didn't have an innate advantage over the folks who don't. If I were in charge, there would be incredibly strict regulations on who is allowed to lobby (with no loopholes for former lawmakers to dance through) and total transparency about what organizations are spending to support candidates, committees and causes.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2015

    I write a lot here about differential advantages, and often use original product efforts by both Netflix and Amazon as examples of how two retailers increasingly are spending money on what essentially are private label products to highlight their unique positions to consumers.

    One of the things that Amazon does - and Netflix does not - is create pilot programs that Prime customers can view and opine about; the ones that get the best viewership and reviews get "green lighted" to go to series. I watched two of these pilots the other day, and am happy to report that they may be as good as anything on TV - well-produced, acted and written, thoughtful, provocative and unusual.

    "The Man in the High Castle" is based on a 1962 Philip K. Dick’s novel that imagines an alternate history in which Germany and Japan have won World War II, with Japan occupying the US west coast and Germany running the east coast. There are tensions between the two, however, and signs of a resistance movement that hopes to reclaim the country. It is absolutely terrific - written by Frank Spotnitz of "The X-Files" fame, and executive produced by Ridley Scott - and there are images that are positively haunting. (I'm thinking specifically about a scene in which there appears to be a light snowfall...)

    The other show is "Mad Dogs," about four middle aged guys who go to visit an old friend who has sold his company and now lives in a gorgeous Belize mansion. There is the bit of "The Big Chill" about the story, except with an underlying creepiness that only gets more pronounced until a moment well into the hour that changes everything. "Mad Dogs" is just great.

    There's only one problem with "The Man in the High Castle" and "Mad Dogs." Assuming they get picked up by Amazon and turned into series, it is going to take at least a year before we're able to see their second episodes and succeeding episodes and find out what happens next. That's almost too long to wait ...

    Of course, at the moment I'm seeing this from the other perspective. In about a week, "Bosch" will be coming to Amazon ... a series based on the Michael Connelly novels about LA Detective Harry Bosch (played with brooding intensity by Titus Welliver). The pilot came out about a year ago, made an immediate impression, and now the series is ready to go. Yippee.

    While I was in Florida last week, I had the opportunity to eat at a Winter Park restaurant called The Ravenous Pig, and I can only describe the meal as sensational. We started with an appetizer of tacos made with crispy rock shrimp, cilantro, avocado and pickled jalapeño, and then followed that with yellowfin tuna rubbed with alepo pepper and served with heirloom tomato and farro. It was all melt in your mouth good ... especially with the Pazo Senorans 2013 Albarino that we used to wash it all down.

    One other thing. The Ravenous Pig serves this amazing Old Fashioned, which is made from bacon-infused bourbon, vanilla maple, bitters...and a small slice of bacon. Just spectacular.

    That's it for this week ... have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: