Service of Full Disclosure

July 16th, 2010

Categories: Audacity, Books, Business Decisions, Cheating, Full Disclosure, Information, Magazines, Media, Newspapers, Public Relations, Restaurant


In his column, The Ethicist, Randy Cohen wrote recently in The New York Times, “Your wife should err on the side of caution and not take anything of value from a supplier.” The woman supervised travel for a company and she’d won the grand raffle prize of two roundtrip tickets to Japan at an event sponsored by several airlines. There were some 1,000 guests.

matchbookIn my first job out of college I worked at Dun & Bradstreet writing credit reports. We were told that if a company we visited manufactured matchbooks not to take a single match, even to light a cigarette. That has been my guideline ever since.

Yet I think that Cohen is being harsh in this instance. He softens at the end of the column, noting to the husband who sent in the query, “At the least, she must disclose her winnings to her supervisors and get their green light before she packs her bags.” I’m comfortable with that.

Some in the media won’t let a PR person buy them so much as a cup of coffee. Others gather enough loot over years to fill a strip mall. Reporters and editors don’t have a lot of time to schmooze over lunch these days, nevertheless, just as business is done by some on a golf course, I can’t imagine how, for the price of a lunch or a coffee, anyone would sell their soul and run photos of horrible looking, poorly made or faulty goods in a new product column or run positive coverage of a lackluster ad campaign or sleazy business.

bookstarsWhat about a book or movie reviewer who is sent/given a galley or invited to preview the flick? I don’t recall reading in their reviews that they didn’t pay for the book or seat at the theatre and it doesn’t bother me. What about a beauty editor sent samples that aren’t samples but entire bottles and jars? No problem in my mind. Making up samples would cost a fortune and wouldn’t provide the same experience. Packaging–how the beauty product looks and how the dispenser works–is part of the evaluation.

Full disclosure: I send promo codes to reviewers who ask for them so they can try a client’s smartphone application and have given hundreds of yards of fabric and countless rolls of wallpaper and dinnerware and flooring to be used for newspaper or magazine new product pages or to decorate a home that a magazine photographs.

Obviously, if a company pays any of the reviewers for their assessments, they must disclose this relevant piece of information, whether they write for a blog, web site, an online or print newspaper or magazine. Special sections or advertorials are paid for by the participants and are clearly identified by publishers, usually at the top of the page.

Because attitude and service are more than half of the experience, I think that a restaurant, hotel or travel reviewer should be anonymous and pay for all his/her expenses, no exceptions. 

What about stock brokers? Should they tell you that they’ve been told to push an investment by the boss?

Where do you stand on full disclosure? Do you care?


5 Responses to “Service of Full Disclosure”

  1. JCH Lee Said:

    In most non-Northern European cultures, gift giving to suppliers and the like varies from the generous to the lavish. Furthermore, in some cultures, the declining of a gift causes great offense.

    Some years ago I served as an outside director of an African public company at the behest of my employer. At board meetings we directors were quietly handed the equivalent of $5,000 in “pocket money” by a company executive. This was in addition to directors’ fees and the like, which went, as they should have, directly to my employer and were declared as income by it.

    Since if I accepted the cash, I knew I would be violating the laws of the place of incorporation of the entity, probably the laws of the locus where the board meeting was being held, and worse most certainly both US federal and state law, I faced a serious moral dilemma. I couldn’t give the cash to my employer, because were it to accept it, it could be deemed to be violating those same laws. Refusing to take the money would have most certainly caused disastrous consequences for the business relationship between my employer and this entity and me personally. Had I had accepted the money personally; I would have seriously violated my terms of employment and been subject to immediate dismissal. And if I declared it on my personal tax return, both my accountant and the IRS would have had expensive fits.

    What I did in each case, was simply not seek reimbursement of a like amount of travel expense from my employer. My conscience was clear. My employer had no knowledge of anything wrong having occurred, and a good business relationship remained intact.

    I think the way out of such moral dilemmas is not legislation, not full disclosure, rather a solid moral compass consistent with community standards wherever you happen to be. If you don’t like corruption, don’t be corrupt yourself and shun those who are.

    But then again, no one should attempt to be Jesus Christ himself!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JCH Lee,

    Global Full Disclosure…obviously a different kettle of fish. Fascinating situation and creative solution.

    I understand your point about not making more rules and regulations, but unfortunately, so many are not trustworthy. Almost daily we hear of sleazy moves by once venerable brands. Not everyone is as honest or savvy as you appear to be.

    I’m still scratching my head over the tiny amount of money Goldman Sachs offered? agreed? to pay for illegal actions that affected the mortgage debacle, leading to the crises–an amount as painful to them as a tenth of a cent would be to me and as effective in mopping up the resultant mess. They got away with murder–no wonder the stock went up today. And you think we don’t need regulations? I wish you and your clones were running these companies. Until that happens….

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    It has been a while since I have had a chance to write a response to this blog which never fails to address issues of great importance in our daily living.

    The enormous amount of misrepresentation that has permeated our culture has contributed in no small way to our current economic disaster.

    It is extremely important that advertorials be clearly presented as such. Specifically in fashion and the arts, there is often an annoying repetition in the list of advertisers and of products featured in editorial pages. My attitude remains cynical with regard to such coverage.

    However, I am far more adamant about the need for “full disclosure” in the financial and political areas. I resent, and consider possibly unethical, a stockbroker withholding information about the criteria for choosing investments being made on my behalf. I certainly feel that the consumer is entitled to full disclosure in this situation.

    I have no tolerance for the behavior of politicians who foolishly and shamelessly betray their constituents’ interests for the sake of undisclosed financial gain, such as recently happened with the BP disaster.

    I think that “full disclosure” in most cases is beneficial to the client, the consumer and the citizen.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Having been caught by a financial advisor who for years honestly counseled and subsequently turned to a representative of his company leaving my [and any of his other clients’] interests out of the picture, I think it is essential that brokers and advisors say whether their company has any other business with the corporations they are promoting and if so, just what.

    Misrepresentation makes us all nervous and on-edge. One rotten company can spoil it for all the others. There is no industry that doesn’t have its examples. Creepy PR firms have ruined it for reputable ones–no doubt about it.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    The term “full disclosure” should be further defined. What does it mean? Placing your entire life on a clothesline for all to see?

    Full disclosure with a boss and/or employer should entail anything and everything having to do with the company. Personal life should not be a requirement. That should mean not discussing company activities or secrets to so anyone: Family members, friends, down to the pet cockroach. A government investigation is the subject of another discussion.

    The same holds for friends and family. Accepting a confidence, then whispering in the grapevine is a serious breach of trust and should be treated as firmly as the blabbing employee. The World War II slogan of “Lose Lips Sink Ships” remains an imperative guideline.

    It is important to stress that demanding full disclosure of intimate and personal details is a serious invasion of privacy, one that is being witnessed by this interminable string of “scandalous” headlines revealing fights with girl/boyfriends, and related matters which have nothing to do with the ability of a person to carry out his/her job. The public and boss are entitled to know if one is a crook, but not details of personal activity. The private individual has greater latitude, but need not be wondering why he is no longer trusted by friends and family when caught violating a confidence or found to behave in an outrageous manner.

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