The following was sent to the editor of the New York Times. I have no illusions that it will be published. But it had to be said.

Dear Editor:

If you studied PR with Michael Mudd, one of the first things you learned was that it’s all about the right BS at the right time. Mudd certainly practices what he preaches in the self-serving, history-rewriting, hypocritical, disingenuous, mendacious, steaming pile of BS that you uncritically accepted from him (“How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry,” Sun., Mar. 17, 2013).

Like ex-Nazis (“I vass only followink oh-ders”) and Church officials who cover for child-molesting priests, Michael rewrites history. His lies and hypocrisy drip from the page.

Where to begin?

Well, for one thing, readers should know that Michael was a beast of a boss – assignment-grabbing, discriminating, ostracizing, lying, micromanaging, bullying, haranguing, chasing other men out of the company, and probably some offenses I’ve forgotten about.

He divorced his wife to marry one of his employees. The department was 80-90% female during his tenure. “Michael likes babes,” said one woman exec by way of explanation. He did vile impressions of people behind their backs.

At the same time he was a complete toady. He once, after a management shake-up, referred to “our new masters.”

So his Jeremiah, Jesus-among-the-heathen pose simply doesn’t jibe with reality. Like the Nazis and monsignors, Michael tries to distance himself from the food industry’s guilt – and just when that guilt is becoming more and more apparent as the obesity and diabetes rates rise.

Perfect BS – and perfect timing. The master at work.

But given that Michael wasn’t on the Operating Committee for all but the last few years of his tenure, it boggles the mind that this liar can claim he was an apostle for good and finally left when he realized “change from within was impossible.”

Of course it was impossible for YOU, Michael. For most of your time, you were just staff, and PR did what the Operating Committee wanted. Will you have us believe that you were a crusader for healthy eating way back then? Because you weren’t, you liar. You were a complete toady, remember? And you would have been fired.

Where has Kraft been all these years, as nutrition and obesity become more and more of a public issue? Well, from a PR standpoint, it has been a staunch defender of the status quo and a major driver of the ballooning of America.

Back in 2003, Michael gave a food industry speech (recently reported in the NYT Magazine – are you guys his PR agency?) in which he said he could foresee the same fate as the tobacco companies had suffered, with executives being paraded before Congressional committees. He suggested studying the problem of overeating – the classic PR response when you know you’re in the wrong, and it’s totally disingenuous. People overeat because food companies program them to overeat, with fatty, salty, bleached-flour-laden products, especially snacks. No mystery there. That’s what the Times Magazine cover story was about.

There was a reason why a Kraft CEO, discussing an upcoming management conference with Michael and me in the privacy of his lavish office, said he wanted plenty of food – “and real food — not our products.” Imagine: a CEO who thinks his company’s products are crap.

That would have been a good time to be Food-Industry Jesus/Jeremiah and point out to the CEO that his very remark demonstrated that Kraft needed to study its portfolio and acquisitions goals and move in the direction of healthy eating.

But you wouldn’t suggest that, Michael. You were way too much of a brown noser, as indeed someone in your position has to be. Outrageous talk of healthy eating would have gotten you fired.

Throughout the 90s, Kraft’s strategy message took a decidedly military/sports slant: to be the “Undisputed Industry Leader.” So what? Execs and shareholders get rich; everybody else gets crumbs and slogans.

What if Kraft’s guiding motto had been “Healthy Eating for the 21st Century”? It would have been on the right side of the issue even before it emerged. Isn’t that what PR’s supposed to do?

If healthy eating were Kraft’s corporate theme,

– It would not have sold Bird’s Eye, instead developing many healthy vegetable dishes beyond generic frozen veggies, as the present owners have done.

– It would have acquired and built national brands from companies that market washed lettuce and cut-up fruits and veggies – anything to make them more convenient and “grabbable,” as the industry jargon has it.

– It would have gotten into healthy cereals MUCH earlier. That’s how cereal started – as America’s first health food.

– Above all, it would NOT have acquired Nabisco, 99% of whose product portfolio consists of unhealthy foods that people can do without. Same for Capri Sun, with all its sugary drinks.

– Instead, it would have bought up a bunch of natural/wholesome/organic, clean-label products, such as one finds at Whole Foods, and figure out how to build those brands and make money. Why isn’t there a single Kraft product in an entire Whole Foods store?

So Michael’s holier-than-they pose is just the right BS at the right time. He retired “when I finally had to acknowledge that reform would never come from within.”

What a crock. Even when he made Operating Committee, how was he going to change the minds of two dozen profit-hungry colleagues? Couldn’t have happened. If he made too many waves, he’d have been fired. Obedience is what gets you promoted.

It’s like Buddha retreating into a cave when he cannot enlighten the heathen. When I read that, I could hardly keep my breakfast down (none of it from Kraft).

Michael’s remedies are equally vacuous.

Forcing consumers to pay more means…they’ll pay more. The tobacco industry proved that. Is Mudd unfamiliar with the notion of price elasticity?

Instead of penalizing consumers by putting taxes on snack foods (and using the revenue for “education” and “communication,” the PR weasel’s go-to strategies), here’s a thought: the companies pay the tax, on every pack of chips and Oreos they sell, as when the government required a Corporate Average Fuel Economy from each automaker. Put the blame where it belongs.

Disclosure of calories? Old news. Been tried. Lots of non-chain restaurants slip under the radar, like the Sandwich Master near me, which serves a sandwich with five different kinds of meat.

Another senior PR colleague once told me that the foundation of PR is to tell the truth. I just did. Michael Mudd should try it sometime.

5 Responses to “On Ex-Nazis, child-molesting priests, and Michael Mudd”

  1. on 28 Mar 2013 at 11:45 pmAnonymous

    I wrote long impassioned screed. Was it lost?

  2. on 29 Mar 2013 at 12:55 amRick Levy

    “People overeat because food companies program them to overeat, with fatty, salty, bleached-flour-laden products, especially snacks. No mystery there. That’s what the Times Magazine cover story was about.”

    I wonder. People have a responsibility to take an interest in their own health and well-being, aided by government regulations requiring full disclosure of ingredients on food packages if Kraft et al won’t do it voluntarily (which businesses rarely do). No one is forcing the public to buy dreck including (and especially?)sugar laden soft drinks.

    For example several years ago (the last time I saw this item prior my expatriation) a product called Sun Chips touted itself as a healthy snack food with a very splashing and misleading “come on” label. But if you turn the package over and look at the ingredients, you will see that this crap has 0% nutritional value.

    Maybe I shouldn’t t project my own personal awareness about and dislike for (most) junk food, especially sodas which for the most part I detest, besides being worthless and a source of obesity, their taste and quality have deteriorated over the years, e.g. Coke. It’s just that I’m not a genius, and it’s not rocket science for consumers to think about what they’re buying before they part with their money.

  3. on 29 Mar 2013 at 2:36 amAlan

    To Rich…no screed found. Hope you can retrieve.

    To Rick…Points taken, but people don’t think, they respond to marketing, and this is what the food companies count on.

    At Kraft, I learned how subtly packaging is blended with marketing, so the healthy-looking package (with pictures of green pastures) masks a nutritionally dubious product.

    OK with me if you hate sugary soft drinks. They’re responsible, more than anything else, for the rising diabetes/obesity rates. Sugar really does screw up the body’s chemistry along with all the empty calories.

    The other point about free will/choice is subtle: the foods themselves are engineered to be addicting — fat, sugar, salt can create craving for more of the same. Betcha can’t eat just one.

    Healthy eating is much easier for the rich and educated. Poor folks don’t get nearly the education and information that supposedly enable healthy foods choices, but even if they did, there’s no reason to believe they’d make different food choices.

  4. on 30 Mar 2013 at 2:24 amAnonymous

    Crap. Crap. Abstract:

    1. US Economy, jobs, foreign & security policies, infrastructure, Leadership in All Fields, morale, social cohesion, health system, Education, immigration “policy” - so much else -are in Thomas Crapper’s invention.

    2. I worked for a military honcho who said, in the jargon of our times, roughly, “I aim to Empower my people to Obey my orders better.” We are beginning to see this on a National scale. I think it used to be called fascism.

    3. Instead of confronting our dire macro problems, our Dear Leaders are, instead, confronting us. What we eat, drink, do, smoke, how we live. The only exception is Sex.

    Nurse Bloomberg is the standard bearer of the Movement. He owns 11 (eleven) mansions, a private jet or 2, probably a yacht, and access to the finest pulchritude. You’d think his Desires would be sated. But nooooooo!

  5. on 31 Mar 2013 at 8:27 pmAlan

    Agree on all, though there is an ongoing crusade against sexual freedom (maybe it’s just background noise because it never goes away), from clotoridectomy to porn. Times Sq. used to be XXX Central, but Rudy Guliani cleansed it of sin.

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