We know that a PR professional’s job often includes telling powerful people what to say–and when to say it. Today we feel fairly safe offering this little nugget of wisdom to every client: Unless you’re a left-wing Eastern European politician, never use the words “fascist” or “fascism” to describe your opponents, no matter who they may be. It’s never appropriate, and it always makes you look like an ass. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey recently learned that lesson.
Mackey stepped into the national health care debate back in 2009, when he penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that President Obama‘s signature health care overhaul was a form of “socialism” that would ultimately lead to complete government control over our nation’s health care system.
Now he’s hitting the various media outlets to promote his book Conscious Capitalism, which apparently details the ways in which certain businesses (his own included, of course) make the world a better place without the interference of the big, bad government. While visiting NPR‘s “Morning Edition“, he turned his previous criticism on its head, arguing that:
Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it…
While the health care law does indeed apply certain regulations to insurance providers, they are still very much privately owned and operated. And we wonder how Mackey feels about the government’s very chummy relationship with defense contractors, financial institutions, the oil industry and others…
Now Mackey, realizing that he made a stupid comment, has begun to back off, telling CBS news that:
I think that was a bad choice of words on my part … What I know is that we no longer have free enterprise capitalism in health care … The government is directing it. So we need a new word for it. I don’t know what they right word is.
Oh, ya think? Unless you’re running for office in certain parts of the country, comparing our current government to the not-in-any-way-similar totalitarian regimes that earned the “fascist” label is not going to win you many fans. And we hate to generalize, but we have a sneaking suspicion that most of the people who answered Mackey’s quote with a “Hell yeah!” probably don’t shop at Whole Foods in the first place.
We don’t regularly go to “Whole Paycheck” and we have very little interest in Mackey’s book. But we will definitely take everything he says a little less seriously after this incident.
PR pros: How do you try to prevent your clients from saying dumb things?