A week ago, our financial section told about a new Federal Trade Commission policy on endorsements.
"From now on," it said, "baseball players, pop singers and others plugging products in commercials must actually use the products if the ad says they do."
The FTC has worked hard to minimize deceptive business practices, and because of this, I love the FTC.
Some of my business-oriented friends think I'm nuts. They think the FTC is one of the federal agencies against which Throttlebottom campaigned with the slogan, "We must get the dead hand of government off the throttle of American industry."
Hogwash! I am as business-oriented as the next fellow, and I think that when the FTC keeps advertising honest it helps businessmen as well as consumers.
After all, what could benefit business more than an agency that can make advertising honest and believable, and therefore profitable?
I phoned W. Benjamin Fisherow, deputy assistant director of FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, and told him how pleased I was to read about the endorsement guidelines.
Then I asked: "Why couldn't we just insist that when an advertiser pays for an endorsement, he must reveal how much he paid?"
I assume Fisherow is a lawyer because the sigh he emitted was the same kind I get when I ask my lawyer an innocent question to which there is no quick or easy answer.
"One of the basic principles in the guidelines we put out to advertisers," Fisherow said, "is the one to which you just made reference -- that there should be disclosure of any material connection between the endorsement and any benefit given to the endorser, whether it be money or anthing else.
"The commission has felt that almost all members of the public are sophisticated enough to realize that prominent people don't give endorsements free. The amount paid is not as important as the knowledge that the endorsement was bought.The public is then in a position to judge the value of that endorsement.
"However, when a TV commercial purports to show an average consumer on a hidden camera and it creates the impression that this is a genuine endorsement from an ordinary person who is not being paid for it, we must insist on an honest presentation. They can use professional actors in these scenes if they want to, but if they do they must say so. They can give that 'average consumer' money or other things of value, but if they do they must say so. We don't tell people how to advertise, we just say that their advertising should not mislead or deceive."
"Bravo!" I said. "Some day I'd like to be able to walk into a fast-food place and buy a hamburger that looks like the one in the color photo on their front window."
"Ah, yes," he said, and this time the sigh was that of a hamburger-lover, not a lawyer. "If you'd really like to pursue that issue, I can give you the name of a person who is an expert on deceptive practices."
"Yes, please do," I said. And he did.
Unfortunately, I am not yet in a position to tell you about the relationship between the half-inch thick full-color beauties in the window and the dismal gray wafers of meat available at the counter inside. I have been calling the deceptive practices expert for a week, but I haven't gotten through yet.
The FTC people who monitor deceptive practices are obviously busy with practices that involve more important issues than anemic hamburgers. I just hope Congress keeps its grubby hands off the FTC and permits it to do its job. NEWSPAPER STUFF
A Fairfax reader has sent me two clippings and a note that says:
"On page C 4 of your paper for Jan. 17, there was an item about two unrelated murders. The Post 'covered' the first in eight lines of type -- 1 inch. The other death was worth six lines, plus four lines to say the police had already made an arrest in the case.
"On page C 6 of the same issue, 10 inches were devoted to telling about a sick raccoon that airport policemen either beat with a long pole or tried to pick up with a snare on a long pole because they were afraid it might be rabid. Tell me why a sick raccoon was worth almost five times the combined space allocated to the murders of two human beings."
You make a valid point. However, editors can't ponder space allocations at their leisure. Decisions must be made in minutes, so we can't expect perfection of editors. On average, I'd say they do well.
Keep in mind also that on late-breaking murders, details are often unavailable at press time. We can't print what is not yet known.
But I agree with your basic point: The murder of any human being is worth more than eight lines of type.