Reuters recently posted an egregiously one-sided story about the beverage industry’s use of open records laws to request public documents from a few cities that are using federal stimulus money to run misleading advertising campaigns that single out and attack our products.
The article runs down a path that is both deceptive and dangerous – and Reuters ignored nearly all of our important points and perspectives. We’ll focus today on the points countering the most absurd claims in the story, as well as provide more context for why we’re seeking public records on this matter.
The Reuters story trumpeted sources who attempted to compare us to the tobacco industry for making these legitimate open records requests, saying that this activity would overwhelm public health departments. If you believe that, we have a time machine we’d like to sell you. States and cities have offices specifically dedicated to fulfilling open records requests. They can handle it. Also, we’ve been quite patient in waiting for them to answer our requests.
The fact is that the beverage industry is nothing like tobacco. And while some activists would like you to think otherwise, our products are not even in the same universe as tobacco. Smoking kills. Soda doesn’t. You can enjoy soda and be a healthy person. And you certainly don’t hear about health problems from “second-hand soda.” It’s just not accurate or remotely legitimate to go down the tobacco road when it comes to beverages.
The activists levying these attacks against our industry also need to stop their “tobacco playbook” non-sense. If anything, with these Freedom of Information Act requests, we’re following a common media playbook. Why shouldn’t our organization have the same rights as the media or any other citizen to seek public documents?
If anyone is using the “tobacco playbook” in their tactics it is some of these activists. In fact, if you read a New York Times story from last October, one would think that playbook might be sitting on a desk in the health department.
Last year, The New York Times reported on a protracted conversation within the New York City health department about the legitimacy of the claims in its advertising campaign attacking our products. The story quoted high-ups in the department as asking “What can we get away with?” This is the standard public health officials were using in determining how far they could manipulate the data and messages in these over-the-top ads.
The New York Times garnered this information through an open records request – similar to the one our organization has made.
So yes, we want to know more about these campaigns about our products. We remain clear in our positions opposing discriminatory taxes on our products, and we continue to be transparent about our objection to grotesque, dishonest, taxpayer-funded advertising that attacks our industry. And honestly, “What can we get away with?” sounds to us a lot like something the activists would accuse tobacco of saying.
The complaints by activists in the Reuters story elicit the common turn on a Shakespearean phrase: “methinks thou doth protest too much.” The louder and more extravagant their attacks on a straightforward, transparent request for public records, the more it begs the questions: What are they hiding? And what are they afraid of?