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While I write about guns here on TTAG, my main gig is as a marketing guy. As such, I have a little different perspective on a lot of news stories. I often-times see scandal-type stories through the prism of press releases, spin doctoring, and manufactured consent. And lemme tell ya, there’s two ways you can react when the excrement hits the rotating cooling device. The right way, and the wrong way. Care to guess which way the ATF chose?

Here’s the deal. When it’s SHTF time, you have a choice. You can circle the wagons, call all hands on deck, build your little stone wall around the perimeter, and hunker down for a long siege. Or you can grab the story by its horns, get on board and ride that sucker so you’re in the driver’s seat. Or saddle. (Lots o’ metaphors flying about. Hard to keep ’em straight.) A classic example of the right way to deal with a crisis would be Johnson & Johnson and the big Tylenol scare back in the 70s.

When some idiot forced packaging to change forever by poisoning several bottles of Tylenol, the head honchos at J & J faced a decision. Stonewall or get out in front? They chose the path less taken. They immediately called the first of several press conferences. In that presser, they acknowledged the problem, admitted they had no idea how it had happened, offered full cooperation with law enforcement, and announced concrete steps they had implemented to get the problem under control (in their case, a total recall of all Tylenol products). This is called “damage control,” and is a totally different response from the one most take, that of “deny, defend, and deny some more.”

In the following weeks, authorities rulled it a case of product tampering, absolving J & J from responsibility. Again, J & J took the right road. They announced the findings, and simultaneously announced new, tamperproof packaging. They slowly brought the brand back from the dead. Their strategy worked. Today, Tylenol is among the most recognizable, trusted brands in over-the-counter medicine. Many have forgotten all about the scandal. Because they chose to deal with the problem head-on, they saved their product, and quite possibly, their company.

Let’s contrast that to Peter Pan Peanut Butter. The parent company (We’re Beatrice!) was far more interested in branding their umbrella group than in paying attention to a product purity problem. (Say that three times, fast.) When their product made some people sick, they did the circle the wagons bit, and paid lip service to fixing the problem. Then the same problem hit again. This time, the FDA got involved. Peter Pan peanut butter disappeared from the shelves. Like millions of others, I switched brands. Peter Pan eventually returned from the Never-Neverland of damaged brands. But it’s no longer in contention for the top brand in the category. And like millions of other people, I won’t buy it ever again. Because their corporate response left a bad taste in my mouth that I won’t soon forget.

So lets talk ATF shall we?

Now you’d think with a United States Senator (Grassley), the might and power of Black Rock (CBS), and a growing number of online media outlets (welcome to the party, Drudge…what kept ya?), the ATF would be out in front on this story, trying their best to Get To The Bottom Of This! or at the very least, throw a few expendables under the proverbial bus to make it all go away. I can hear it now . . .

The ATF has discovered, much to our chagrin, that there are a few rogue agents within our organization that let their zealotry overcome their common sense. They took it upon themselves to implement a plan that led to tragedy for two Federal law enforcement officials. These individuals have been relieved of duty and will be prosecuted under the full extent of the law.

Yep. That might do it. If deftly-handled, where they would at least appear to be proactively helpful. But nooooooooooooooo! The ATF has conscripted a bunch of Conestoga Wagons straight off the set of Bonanza, and have hired the finest stonemasons to start a-buildin’ that wall. Witness the CBS follow-up to their initial report:

Public Information Officers:

Please make every effort for the next two weeks to maximize coverage of ATF operations/enforcement actions/arrests at the local and regional level. Given the negative coverage by CBS Evening News last week and upcoming events this week, the bureau should look for every opportunity to push coverage of good stories. Fortunately, the CBS story has not sparked any follow up coverage by mainstream media and seems to have fizzled.

It was shoddy reporting , as CBS failed to air on-the-record interviews by former ATF officials and HQ statements for attribution that expressed opposing views and explained the law and difficulties of firearm trafficking investigations. The CBS producer for the story made only a feigned effort at the 11th hour to reach ATF HQ for comment.

This week (To 3/1/2011), Attorney General Holder testifies on the Hill and likely will get questions about the allegations in the story. Also (The 3/3/2011), Mexico President Calderon will visit the White House and likely will testify on the Hill. He will probably draw attention to the lack of political support for demand letter 3 and Project Gunrunner.

ATF needs to proactively push positive stories this week, in an effort to preempt some negative reporting, or at minimum, lessen the coverage of such stories in the news cycle by replacing them with good stories about ATF. The more time we spend highlighting the great work of the agents through press releases and various media outreaches in the coming days and weeks, the better off we will be.

Thanks for your cooperation in this matter. If you have any significant operations that should get national media coverage, please reach out to the Public Affairs Division for support, coordination and clearance.

Thank you,


Scot L. Thomasson
Chief ATF Public
Affairs Division
Washington, DC
Desk 202-648-XXXX
Cell 206-XXX-XXXX

I dunno about you, but if I were ol’ Scotty, I’d ixnay the memos and instead of pretending the problem doesn’t exist, I’d concentrate on exposing it and demonstrating that the ATF will not put up with this kind of thing. Except that they DO put up with this kind of thing. In fact, they are all about this kind of thing.

The most disturbing thing in the memo is the line, Fortunately, the CBS story has not sparked any follow up coverage by mainstream media and seems to have fizzled. The question is, where’s the rest of the MSM on this story, and when will they get involved?

Be that as it may, the ATF’s unwillingness to follow the J & J crisis response model won’t help their case. But then, isn’t circling the wagons exactly what you’d expect from that bunch o’ cowboys?

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  1. Brad, from what I’ve seen the circle-the-wagons vs. get-out-in-front is representative of the struggle between the PR department and the legal department. Because of my background I view things from the latter perspective, and the legal dept’s answer is usually: Say nothing. In any situation where there might be litigation, the safest thing to do from a legal standpoint is to STFU.

    Why? Because once you say something, you can’t un-say it. Especially these days where everything said in public is captured forever on web caches and YouTube, any spokesman has to make sure his/her statements are carefully vetted by the legal department before they go out into the public domain. You gave a good example of a company that came out quickly with some positive PR spin but there are negative examples as well – people caught in scandals who make quick public statements only to end up having to eat crow later on (as in “I did not have sex with that woman.”)

    Bottom line: A closed mouth cannot make a regrettable statement.

  2. Lord, lord, lordy, Miss Claudy, I do so love watching the vermin at ATF tapdancing as fast as they can. They used to be satisfied with killing civilians at Ruby Ridge and Waco, but now they’ve turned on their own. Congressman Dingell was right — they’re jackbooted fascists.

  3. The MSM does as it’s told. A story such as this being practically ignored by the major news outlets is more than just a coincidence. Someone far up the propaganda food chain has been suppressing this story for a while now. I have my doubts project Gunrunner will ever gain the needed traction in mainstream news outlets.

  4. When some idiot forced packaging to change forever by poisoning several bottles of Tylenol, the head honchos at J & J faced a decision.

    While that was of course quite the heinous act, I find it rather ironic that the killer’s poisoned Tylenol didn’t kill 1 percent as many people as the regular Tylenol did that year.

  5. Desk 202-648-XXXX, Cell 206-XXX-XXXX ???
    I know this is correct procedure for avoiding the invasion of some Mundane’s privacy, but Ol’ Scotty works for We the Peons and this Peon would like to call him up at his govt-financed desk and ask him WTF, over?? A tsunami of phone calls from angry Americans inundating him to express their well-deserved outrage would be quite proper and fitting. while we’re at it, how about his e-mail address too ?

  6. “B”ATF is to used to having it their way, (which ever way that is) and getting away with it. Can you say Waco, and Good ol Boys plus many more railroad jobs like the Olafson case etc. Hell they even claim A T F stands for “always think forfeiture” that’s code for always pick on people who can’t afford a good lawyer and get him/her railroaded into prison nice and neat like. If they do it right the poor sap will cop a plea and still go to prison and save the agency from answering any real questions about the way they do business.
    THe truth is this agency should have been reined in 20 years ago but they found allies in high places like Schumer and the Southern Poverty Law Center to run interference for them and let the problem grow.

    I commend Agent Dodson for having the integrity to come forward and do the right thing …. something that is conspicuously missing in L E these days.

  7. The problem in THIS situation is that the criminality goes STRAIGHT TO THE TOP of this Administration. It infects more than just the ENTIRE BATFE leadership, overflows through the ODJ, and may even go higher than that. Unless the “Leadership” is SURE that none of the underlings have PROOF of their treason, it is extremely dangerous to try throwing someone under the bus. And Senator Grassley has ALREADY shown them he has evidence by their own hands.

    The stench is overwhelming. And it smells like pig.

  8. It’s long past time for ATF to be done away with. No other organization has gotten away with more trampling of rights or railroading of innocents as this one. Not to mention the murder of thier own agents (Waco). This little fiasco that they have now been exposed to have carried out should be the straw that breaaks the camel’s back but, it won’t! Too much power in high places (whitehouse). Our Republic has become a democracy (Socialist State) without a shot having been fired just as the top communist leaders predicted. With todays attitude and belief that we live in a democracy, which we don’t, what can we do? We have to start at the earliest level, I.E. public school teaching the truth. We live in a Constitutional Representative Republic, it’s easy enough, just check out the words to the “Pledge Of Allegience” to paraphrase- and to the REPUBLIC, for which it stands. There is no pledge to the “democracy” because we don’t live in a democracy. We have to hurry though folks, they have been corrupting our country for far to long unapposed. If we all start at home with our own kids we CAN turn it around while we still have a country to turn around.

  9. Circling the wagons is easy when leftists run the White House/executive branch and their media stenographic corps is all too willing to help bury a potentially damaging story. The work done by Codrea, Vanderboegh and the rest in the blogosphere FORCED current media coverage…such as it is.

  10. Holder’s flunky, Ronald Weich, has already denied all allegations of gunwalking and has directed uncalled for insinuations and veiled threats toward Senator Grassley. Weich’s letters are already public information. Anybody who has been following the Gunwalker story has already, or at least should have, saved those PDFs to disk and printed hard-copies. Of course Weich will have fallen into the memory hole by this time next year if not sooner.

    The arrogant SoBs at BATF and DoJ think they’re a lot smarter than the “honchos at J & J”


  11. Not to be a heathen here, but, I never even knew about the Peter Pan peanut butter thing until I read this. Been eating it since 1974 or before and entirely missed the scandal I had to google. I keep up on gun rights but not peanut butter issues, so depending on a person’s interest, it could work either way. Reckon it depends on how many people are paying attention that matter.

    • Well, fellow Texan, consider yourself fortunate to have missed out on the tainted peanut butter fun and games. We had not one, but two huge containers of the stuff they recalled. Fortunately neither had yet been opened, but it was a close thing.

      Now if they would just recall the ATF…

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