Sullying someone’s family name and good reputation is not a trifling matter.
Once, unintentionally, by mistake may be one thing. But twice, after you’ve been warned, is another matter altogether.
That goes doubly so if you happen to be the chief prosecutor and legal beagle for an entire state — like Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.
Hunter has been pursuing a lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant and Band-Aid and baby shampoo manufacturer Johnson & Johnson for its alleged role in Oklahoma’s state opioid epidemic. A week ago a judge ordered J&J to pay $572 million in that case, a verdict which the company says it will appeal.
But in inveighing against Johnson & Johnson last May, Hunter criticized it for portraying itself as a “family company.”
Wrong Johnson, of course. Racine-based SC Johnson, manufacturers of household products like Pledge, Ziploc, Saran Wrap and bug sprays like Raid and Off — but not pharmaceuticals — took note of the mistaken reference because it has marketed itself for decades with the familiar SCJ advertising tagline: “A family company.”
SCJ company President and CEO Fisk Johnson promptly contacted the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office back then and, he says, was assured that they would make it clear on the record that SC Johnson was not associated with Johnson & Johnson. SCJ even reminded Hunter’s office of the naming issue as the court decision came to a head last week.
But Hunter repeated his previous blunder and, according to SCJ, went on national television to discuss the $572 million verdict and said Johnson & Johnson’s actions were “inconsistent with all of the grand statements that they (Johnson & Johnson) make about being a family company.”
Fisk Johnson fired off another communication to the A.G.’s office saying it was “shocking and quite frankly outrageous, that you (Hunter) still went on national television again propagating this misinformation. There was simply no reason for that.”
Johnson went on to say that SCJ could find no occasions when Johnson & Johnson has ever referred to themselves as a family company and added, “I can only conclude that these theatrics are in the service of personal political advantage.”
That prompted A.G. Hunter’s communications director to issue a statement saying: “To be abundantly clear, we in no way meant for anyone to confuse SC Johnson with Johnson & Johnson. It is regrettable if someone did. The reference to Johnson & Johnson as a ‘family company’ comes from the way it tries to appear to the public.”
If that’s a retraction, it’s a lame one. We don’t know what the legal parlance for that statement would be, but out here in the land of common-speak it’s known as weaseling.
We would urge Attorney General Hunter to try again with a public retraction for mistakenly tarnishing the good name of our Racine-based company and its long-held tagline and pledge not to do it again.
Perhaps Fisk could send Mike Hunter a case of Pledge to use around his office and to serve as a permanent reminder not to drag this family company into a name-sullying lawsuit in which it has no part. He could use it to shine up the retraction, too.