Newsletter 6 September 2023: Lying labels; bad blurbs; cable reflux.

Week 8: Food shouldn’t lie and neither should you. Also: blurbing out of context, media’s redux, plus 3 people to follow, 3 books to read, and a plug just for women authors.

Lies on food labels are deplorable. So are lies on people’s labels.

Food shouldn’t lie. Understanding the food you eat is essential to maintaining the health. Food labels should say what they mean.

If you agree, there’s a lawyer who’s got your back. In The New Yorker, read about Long Island attorney Spencer Sheehan, who files class action suits about food labels that lie, like Country Crock Plant Butter Made with Olive Oil, which is mostly made from palm oil and canola oil.

Sheehan has sued the makers of frosted strawberry Pop-Tarts (dearth of real strawberries), Hint of Lime Tostitos (absence of lime), Snapple “all natural” fruit drinks (absence of natural juice), Keebler’s fudge-mint cookies (lack of real fudge and mint), Cheesecake Factory brown bread (insufficient whole-grain flour), Trident original-flavor gum (lack of real mint, despite package’s illustration of a blue mint leaf), and many more, generally seeking millions in damages from each. He also pursues class actions unrelated to food, involving subtle fraud in products such as toothpaste (Tom’s of Maine Fluoride-Free Antiplaque & Whitening, for containing no ingredient that fights plaque) and sunscreen (Coppertone Pure & Simple, for being neither).

There are a lot of things to complain about in this world, but for me, labels that lie generate rot and corruption in a place where trust should rule. I detest lying labels, and I salute attorney Sheehan for railing against them. The food industry is infamous for embracing health trends (“low fat!”, “gluten-free!”, “keto-friendly!”) without highlighting what’s really inside (“lots of sugar and salt!” “fiber deficient!”, “sugar alcohols!”). It’s enough to give you indigestion.

There are government regulations that allow Sheehan to sue these companies. But unfortunately, there are few regulations on the lying labels people put on themselves.

Like the “bestsellers” that bought their way onto the list, or were tops in a subcategory of a subcategory on Amazon for 15 minutes.

The “award-winning” consultants who paid to get on a list for some bogus award.

The hustle hucksters who are selling you a shortcut to amazing revenue but live in their mom’s basement.

And the politicians who promise you benefits for all with no cost, or cite one unusual outlier to justify squelching the freedoms of millions of people who just want to live their lives without interference. You know, like proponents of book banning.

“You can trust me,” they all say. Umm, no, experience has taught us that we can’t. If you put a lying label on yourself, don’t whine if somebody points out that you’re as fake as a high-calorie tub of Country Crock “Plant” “Butter” “Made with Olive Oil.”

News for authors and others who think

Why get people to write blurbs in place of your book when you can just take a few words out of context from people who hated it? Read about deceptive blurbing tactics by authors like Jordan Peterson in The Guardian.

Peter Hartlaub, culture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, wonders whether Keith Richards will outlive the reporters who have prewritten his obituaries. (Surely you knew that reporters write obituaries for people who haven’t died yet, right?)

Of course streaming is duplicating the dynamics of cable bills, as Insider documents. Media costs money. There is never such a thing as a free lunch. Aggregation is constant — only the aggregators vary.

Three people to follow

Tim Hanlon, who brings an insider’s perspective to the world of media and advertising.

Jeff Jarvis, CUNY journalism professor, is retiring from teaching. But the unique perspectives he brings to journalism and tech are unlikely to slow down.

Hiawatha Bray has been covering tech for the Boston Globe since forever. Whatever you’re excited about, he’s seen it before and knows it won’t just take off so easily.

Three books to read

Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in this Uncertain World by Melissa Agnes (Mascot Books, 2018). Stuff will go wrong in your business. Read this and do what it says, or you’ll get caught with your pants down.

The Self-Employed Life: Business and Personal Development Strategies That Create Sustainable Success by Jefrey Shaw (Page Two, 2021). Nearly everything you need to think about and do to be a successful freelancer.

Death by Ego: What We Can Learn From Entrepreneurs Who Kill Their Companies With Hubris by David M. Carlson, Ph.D. (Protomet Media, 2018) . Long before Elon Musk and Donald Trump, these self-absorbed wizards drove their companies into the ground.

Plugging for women authors

Join me on a panel put on by Innovation Women, discussing how women innovators can succeed with business books.

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