Massive research by Johnson & Johnson insider Scott Bartz should cause a re-examination of the Tylenol murders by media that have been unrestrained in their praise of how J&J handled the tragedy.
Far from being open in 1982, J&J ducked a press conference and pleaded ignorance when it knew that there were giant unsupervised gaps in a distribution system that relied on an assortment of middlemen to package and deliver the acetaminophen for its Tylenol capsules.
J&J, while avoiding on-the-record, in-public discussion of its manufacturing and distribution process, heaped praise on itself for dealing with the press. It was the Big Lie repeated over and over and finally swallowed whole by a lax business press.
"The Tylenol Mafia" describes the flawed, insecure J&J distribution system in almost infinite detail. Any reader of this book will come away convinced that the poisonings took place on J&J’s watch and were not the work of some “madman” going from store to store.
Neither J&J, the FDA or the Tylenol task force ever talked about distribution channels, suggesting that Tylenol was bottled and packaged at McNeill plants and shipped to retail stores in unopened cases of 72 bottles.
J&J shipped some Tylenol in bulk in fiber drums (powder or capsules) to repackagers who bottled and packaged it. Cartons containing 72 Tylenol bottles were shipped to distribution centers and then opened by warehouse workers who loaded individual Tylenol bottles into order fulfillment “picking” machines.
The Tylenol bottles were handled again by the picking machine operators who filled orders for individual stores. Another handling was by workers who boxed the items for individual stores. The bottles were handled yet again by rack jobbers/merchandisers who restocked the shelves.
Bartz says Tylenol was repackaged and manually handled at numerous points along the distribution channel and that the killer apparently put handfuls of poisoned capsules into several bottling production lines at one Illinois repackaging facility.
In defiance of logic and normal police practice, almost all of the Tylenol in the Chicago area was either destroyed by individual consumers or turned over to J&J without being examined by police. What other suspect in a crime ever got exclusive control over the evidence?
A “smoking gun” is that 27-year-old new mother Lynn Reiner got her poisoned pills from a secure hospital pharmacy and not from some store shelf.
Vast Conspiracy Described
Bartz assembles evidence that the public has been bamboozled by a vast conspiracy of J&J employees and suppliers, the FDA, FBI, local and state police, public officials, media, the courts and PR firms, the object being to save J&J from being sued for hundreds of millions of dollars.
FDA chief Arthur Hull Hayes Jr., one of J&J’s staunchest supporters, later went to work for a company funded heavily by J&J. FDA declared J&J’s manufacturing units innocent of any wrongdoing on the second day after the murders. The FBI without explanation reversed its initial finding in 1986 that Tylenol’ packaging had not been tampered with.
“Tamper-resistant” was a no-brainer anyway since what police force would buy “bullet-resistant vests?” Would anyone buy canned foods that were “botulism-resistant?” Would surgeons use instruments that are “almost sterile?”
Some sources say the industry with the motive for the murders was that which puts fingernail-breaking protective seals on just about everything including rat poison which is already deadly.
J&J/Tylenol is an example of large numbers of people remaining silent for many years in the face of obvious corruption. Another example is Enron/Arthur Andersen, where many thousands knew of law-breaking but laid low. Finally, whistle-blower Sherron Watkins, one of Time mag’s “People of the Year” in 2002, did her thing and Enron collapsed, the stock going from $90 to $1 and investors losing $11 billion. Andersen and its 70,000 employees disappeared.
Hot Shot Reporters Now on Case
The O’Dwyer Co. has long challenged J&J’s claims of press cooperation with regard to the Tylenol murders.
Beat reporters were amazed at the praise heaped on J&J.
The company “wouldn’t give us the time of day” before the Tylenol crisis, said ABC-TV reporter Karen Ryan in 1983. “It was like pulling teeth to get anything out of the PR dept.” She said appointments with camera crews would be set up but cancelled “on the spot.” The only way to get a story was to bypass PR, she told PRSA/New York.
Not only has the Bartz book given us hope, but also the fact that two hotshot reporters are now involved in covering J&J.
A list of the 25 journalistic prizes won by Wilson (who applied for them) is at the end of this blog. He is the author of Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret.
Goodman is the author of "Past Due," which covers the financial plight of the average American worker. He joined the Washington Post in 1999 as economic correspondent and NYT in 2007 where he wrote about the financial crisis of 2008.
One contribution was “The Reckoning,” which became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won a Gerald Loeb Award in 2009.
Goodman has been sent blogs on the Bartz book and we hope to hear from him.
Media Taking the J&J PR Pill
New York Times reporter Natasha Singer praised J&J on May 3, 2010 for its “fast and adept” handling of the Tylenol murders in 1982.
NYT contributor Judith Rehak, on March 23, 2002 wrote glowingly of J&J/Tylenol, the story getting the headline, “Tylenol Made a Hero of J&J.” J&J was praised for “placing consumers first” and for “forthrightness in dealing with the media.”
NYT business writer Peter Goodman (former national economic correspondent who is now with HuffPost) on Aug. 22, 2010 wrote a nearly three-page NYT feature saying “Exhibit A in the lesson book on forthright crisis management is the mass recall of Tylenol in 1982 after the deaths of seven people.”
Harvard Business School in 1989 praised J&J for its “immediate and spontaneous response to the press” in handling the Tylenol murders. “All available information was given to the press so that the public could be informed and thereby protected,” it said. J&J was said to be “completely candid” in handling 2,500 press calls. Lots 1910MD and MC2880 were recalled, it noted. (Poison was found in six lots).
The Economist April 10, 2010 said J&J “without hesitation” pulled Tylenols from the market and its actions set “the gold standard of crisis management.”
The Christian Science Monitor said Jan. 15, 2010 that what J&J did in 1982 “is still regarded as a shining example of corporate social responsibility.”
The Motley Fool (fool.com) on May 6, 2010 said that J&J “has always been the poster child for how to handle a crisis.”
Fortune magazine on May 28, 2007 hailed J&J/Tylenol as the “gold standard in crisis control” in a full page article by Jia Lynn Yant.
wikipedia.com says J&J’s “quick response” in 1982 “has become the gold standard for corporate crisis management.”
Tactics of PRSA praised J&J in a full page in 2007 for providing “an enduring example of crisis management done right.” Both J&J and Burson-Marsteller got special PRSA Silver Anvils in 1983 for showing the “appropriate role of PR in major management decisions” and demonstrating “social responsibility.”
List of 25 Journalistic Awards of Wilson
National journalism awards of Duff Wilson (25)
- 2005 Investigative Reporting Award, Associated Press Sports Editors, 2nd place (with Pete Thamel)
- 2005 Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, Association of Health Care Journalists, large newspapers (with Susan Kelleher)
- 2003 George Polk Award for Local Reporting (with Brian Joseph and Sheila Farr)
- 2003 Sigma Delta Chi/Society of Professional Journalists Award for Deadline Reporting, Newspapers over 100,000 circulation (with staff)
- 2003 Finalist, Pulitzer Prize, Breaking News Reporting (with staff)
- 2002 Harvard University Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting
- 2002 Finalist, Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting (with David Heath)
- 2002 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism (Large Newspaper Category)
- 2002 Heywood Broun Award, The Newspaper Guild
- 2002 Clarion Award, Investigative Reporting, The Association for Women in Communications
- 2002 Best of the West (Investigative Reporting)
- 2001 George Polk Award for Medical Reporting
- 2001 National Headliner Award
- 2001 Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award
- 2001 Associated Press Managing Editors' Public Service Award
- 2001 Scripps-Howard National Journalism Award for Public Service Reporting
- 2001 Sigma Delta Chi/Society of Professional Journalists Award for Excellence in Journalism, Investigative Reporting, Online
- 1998 Finalist, Pulitzer Prize for Public Service
- 1998 Harvard University Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting (co-winner)
- 1998 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism
- 1998 Robert L. Kozik Award for Environmental Reporting, National Press Club
- 1998 Clarion Award, The Association for Women in Communications
- 1997 National Headliner Award
- 1996 Outstanding News Story, International Association of Firefighters
- 1991 Penney-Missouri Paul Myhre Award for Excellence (Certificate of Merit).