INSIDE THE BELTWAY: Total recall - What could faulty Firestones and presidential praise possibly have in common?

At a moving ceremony on August 9, President Clinton awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, to a distinguished group of men and women. Among the recipients were a former chief of naval operations, the commander of US troops in Kosovo, economist John Kenneth Galbraith, labor leader Mildred Jeffrey and the man who, probably more than anyone else, extricated us from the war in Vietnam, Senator George McGovern.

At a moving ceremony on August 9, President Clinton awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, to a distinguished group of men and women. Among the recipients were a former chief of naval operations, the commander of US troops in Kosovo, economist John Kenneth Galbraith, labor leader Mildred Jeffrey and the man who, probably more than anyone else, extricated us from the war in Vietnam, Senator George McGovern.

At a moving ceremony on August 9, President Clinton awarded the

Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, to a

distinguished group of men and women. Among the recipients were a former

chief of naval operations, the commander of US troops in Kosovo,

economist John Kenneth Galbraith, labor leader Mildred Jeffrey and the

man who, probably more than anyone else, extricated us from the war in

Vietnam, Senator George McGovern.



On the same day, Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires, and an ugly

squabble began among Firestone, its Japanese parent Bridgestone and the

Ford Motor Company, on whose sport utility vehicles the tires were

shredding at an alarming rate. Ford and Firestone traded charges as to

who knew what when - the files seemed to show clearly that

Firestone/Bridgestone concealed thousands of complaints from Ford - and

little dignity was added to corporate America.



To make matters worse for Firestone, and to the advantage of organized

labor, a survey showed most of the defective tires were produced during

a short period in which one of the Firestone plants was manned by

nonunion replacement workers hired during a strike.



The connection between the tire scandal and the Medal of Freedom is not

hard to find. As the companies began this unfortunate exchange of

accusations and charges of untruths, the White House ceremony included a

Medal of Freedom awarded to James Burke.



Now Burke, for the benefit of our younger readers, was the chairman and

CEO in 1982 of Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer and distributor of

Tylenol, an enormously popular medicine. On September 30, 1982, news

stories reported the deaths of seven people in Chicago from consuming

Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide, inserted by someone who had

tampered with the containers. Faced with a national panic and no

emergency plan for this crisis, Burke ordered a warning not to use the

company’s most used product; a stop to production and advertising; a

recall of all product then on the shelves (31 million bottles valued at

more than dollars 100 million); and the immediate design and production

of new, tamper-resistant packaging.



He also allowed customers to return their Tylenol for full credit.



But Burke did one more thing. He gave complete answers and cooperated

with the media - ’Tell the truth, tell it all and tell it now.’ The

panic receded, new packages soon returned to the market, market share

was reacquired and Burke became, quite logically, a richly deserved

recipient of the Medal of Freedom. As Clinton said, he ’placed the

safety of consumers ahead of company profits.’



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