All-Natural Suspicion


(Image of Vandersloot from an Inc. magazine 2004 Hall of Fame profile, with the headline: "The Importance of Reputation.")

If the all-"natural" multi-level marketer Melaleuca (profiled by our Laura Onstot today) is anywhere near as aggressive in pushing their product as they are in trying to bully reporters, it's no wonder they're growing by leaps and bounds. Based solely on the temerity of Laura asking questions about Melaleuca's business practices, the company CEO, Frank Vandersloot, and the company attorney, Michael LaClare, filled our inboxes with threats of legal action.

"Should you decide to publish an article that harms Melaleuca by providing an inaccurate picture, we will be forced to take all appropriate steps to protect the company?s interests. In particular, as you likely know, any inaccurate statements about Melaleuca that cause reputational or other damage to the company would give us grounds for a defamation lawsuit against the Seattle Weekly," intoned LaClare to our young editorial fellow. He also instructed Onstot, a recent graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, that she was obliged "to base reports on fact rather than bias, rumors, or innuendo."

Meanwhile, Vandersloot tried to bludgeon Onstot with oppostion research. Said the folksy CEO:

"I guess I really need to listen better because when you first called I understood you to say that you were doing a story on natural products but then your questions leapt towards my political affiliations and then jumped to questions about our company?s ethics. Our public relations firm has tried to figure out the connection between these apparently unrelated topics and suggests they may have found the possible answer in that one of your references on your resume, which is posted online, is John Foster of the Idaho Democratic Party. Since I am quite active in supporting conservative causes in Idaho, our P.R. firm suggests your upcoming story might be impacted by your political leanings."

Now, I would be the last person to blame anyone for distrusting the press. But Onstot's story, as turned in and as published, is fair and accurate and hardly a hatchet job. The company seems to have offered an object lesson in how to overreact. As Laura observes, it's like the little kid who, as soon as you arrive home, says "I didn't do it."

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