The Multinational Monitor


N A M E S   I N   T H E   N E W S

The Eye of the Beholder

As Exxon's September 15 clean-up deadline approaches, the battle over what lessons will be learned from the Valdez spill heats up. In late July the state of Alaska issued its formal report on Exxon's 11 million gallon spill of oil into Prince William Sound to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The document blasts the irresponsibility of both Exxon and the Alyeska Pipeline consortium, holding that the Exxon Shipping Company's poor management and Alyeska's "massive failure" in responding to the spill greatly contributed to its cause and severity. "The real causes of the Exxon Valdez disaster," the report reads, "were not heroic but only pedestrian. There was not a berserk captain waving a bottle on the bridge, there was not an autopilot device run amok, there was not a broken radar, or a storm. There were simply arrogant and complacent people at the top levels of Exxon Shipping Co. and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. who did not pay attention to their responsibilities."

State investigators conclude that the oil industry position, which holds up the absence of major accidents prior to the Valdez grounding as an "endorsement" of its Alaskan operations, is flawed. The authors of the report suggest that the spill "should bring Exxon Shipping and Alyeska to the sobering realization that the past history of relatively uneventful Valdez operations is no cause for cheer or complacency." The report goes on to call for real change in the shipping industry, saying that the accident "hopefully will cause the shipping industry (and its affiliated terminal operators) to change their retrogressive attitudes and approaches toward marine safety and the environment."

But Exxon and Alyeska show no sign of such a shift. The two also issued reports to the NTSB, offering a somewhat different perspective on the spill. Exxon heralded its response to the Valdez grounding as "immediate and appropriate," and found that none of its managerial policies, including its drug and alcohol policy and the standards for size and proficiency of tanker crews, were contributing factors.

Alyeska, the consortium of seven oil companies charged with preparing and executing appropriate oil spill contingency plans, performed equally well in its own eyes. Its report offers the unequivocal conclusion that "No response action, or failure of response action, by Alyeska during the first 24 hours of the spill would have significantly affected the course or environmental impact of the spill."

Sorry, Wrong Number

The California-based Coastal Insurance Company (CIC) is a recently insolvent automobile insurer. Like many borderline insurance outfits across the country, it was managed atrociously. CIC's executives focused on high volume sales to generate big commission income while paying little or no attention to the quality of the business the company was taking on or to customer service. The litany of abuses (and possibly crimes) they committed as the company raced towards bankruptcy is impressive, but one practice stands out as especially creative and noteworthy: Coastal had a badly under-staffed switchboard system which was unable to handle the volume of customers phoning in their claims. Thou-sands of calls each day were routinely going unanswered so Coastal's managers hooked up a link which transferred callers to an outlet where their service claim calls were automatically switched over to a 900 "pay-forporn" phone network.

RJR's Tasteless Ads

Even by Tobacco industry standards, the advertisement for Camel cigarettes run by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the May issues of Rolling Stone, Sport, National Lampoon and other national magazines was exceptionally tasteless. The four page pull-out featured a blonde model on the front page under the suggestive headline, "Bored? Lonely? Restless? What You Need Is..." Inside, in a section entitled "How to Impress at the Beach," the ad suggested, "Run into the water, grab someone and drag her back to the shore as if you've saved her from drowning. The more she kicks and screams, the better." And the advertisement contained a coupon for a free pack of Camels with the purchase of another pack, along with the advice, "Ask a stranger to redeem it."

Outraged public health advocates claimed that the coupon offer and accompanying instructions were de-signed to encourage adolescents too young to buy cigarettes legally to circumvent the law. Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen's Health Research Group likened that part of the ad to "aiding and abetting in the crime" of peddling tobacco to minors, and called on state Attorneys General to prosecute Reynolds.

Women's organizations were also angry. The National Organization for Women (NOW) and other groups accused the company of encouraging violence against women with the advice on "How to Impress Someone," Said NOW president Molly Yard, "We are totally irritated by them. We've been recommending that people write to whatever magazine they see the ads in."

Even some in Congress were moved to comment. Representative Gerry Sikorski, D-Minn., wrote to R.J. Reynolds chairman James Johnston blasting the ad and demanding an explanation. Johnston, no doubt concerned about having provided fodder for health activists seeking further to restrict or eliminate the right of cigarette makers to advertise their wares, replied humbly, "The ad should never have been run."

� Garth Bray

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