Dateline: ‘Even-handed”? Ha!

Dear Editor:
We can’t believe you found Dateline NBC’s segment on improper sales ethics within our industry to be “even-handed” and “as journalistic reporting goes, leaving little room for criticism” (Viewpoint, p. 6, April 2003). Our 51 employees at Gordon Bros. Water in Salem, Ohio, think NBC did a thinly disguised “hatchet-job” on our entire industry, notwithstanding the reprehensible scare tactics employed by those salesmen in West Virginia.

For starters, the entire segment was based on NBC’s apparent belief that if a water supply meets certain government standards it cannot—and should not—be improved. Of course, that’s a false premise, as the vast majority of your fine magazine’s readership will attest. Most of us wouldn’t be in business if that were the case. In fact, we do not exonerate, as you and NBC did, the one salesman who didn’t even mention reverse osmosis or other options for improving the drinking water in that West Virginia home.

Contrary to your assertion, we feel Dateline NBC did little or no “balancing” to show how the woman in West Virginia might have been helped by a reliable dealership. On the contrary, NBC’s implication was the water being tested was fine as is and that we are (all) charlatans to want to improve it. You write that NBC talked about “good and bad apples,” but we saw little evidence of the “good” ones.

NBC even chose to deride the standard hardness test that everybody uses, and our company has used for almost 58 years. You’ll recall that the NBC reporter thought it sinister that during this test the water turned… RED!!!

You’re right-on when you write that the post-mortem of this sting operation was either missing or glossed-over. Peter Censky was right when he said the scare tactics shown were isolated incidents, and that our industry does make water more usable, appealing and, yes, healthier for our millions of customers.

Our 51 employees are proud to be in the water improvement business. Our company was recently honored both locally and nationally by the Better Business Bureau with a Torch Award (for business ethics). We’re proud of that. We’re proud to be a Kinetico dealer because we know of no other manufacturer with better products or with more integrity. We’re proud of our service to our communities, to our industry, and to our thousands of customers over 57-¼ years.

WC&P also has a long tradition of service, and we’re grateful for your support of our water improvement industry over many years. We’re disappointed, however, that in this one instance you chose to (partially) endorse the biased and unfair portrayal of that industry by Dateline NBC.

Bruce P. Gordon, Chairman and
Edward P. “Ned” Jones, III
Gordon Bros. Water
Salem, Ohio

The Publisher responds: We do not see where most of your criticisms aren’t reflected in what was written in the Viewpoint in our April issue. We cannot simply criticize the media just because our industry happened to be the one singled out, even when an effort was made to balance the report with responses from the manufacturers in question. That effort may not have been all we wished it to be, but it was as balanced as the circumstances seemed to have allowed (i.e., the companies would not comment except through written correspondence). The only thing Dateline might be faulted for—other than those issues duly raised by WQA executive director Peter Censky (which were included in the Viewpoint)—is not acknowledging earlier on that the “Kinetico” dealer identified in the broadcast had been dismissed by the company months before for failing to meet the company’s and the industry’s code of ethics. And, yes, such programs as Dateline NBC—generally a TV tabloid located somewhere between Access Hollywood and 60 Minutes—do often focus overly on the sensational but that does not mean they’re always without a valid point. Our industry—through proper training and surveillance of dealers and manufacturers alike—does have to be very careful about how its products are presented in the home. The dangers of the few “bad apples” can hinder the opportunities for the thousands of good, ethical businessmen and women that are out there every day—like yourselves—helping customers improve the quality of water in their homes as well as businesses.

Nice job!

Dear Editor:
Your Viewpoint on “RO sales scandals” bared on TV is terrific.

I would only add that the days when RO manufacturers take no responsibility for health related claims made in the home are over. While they can’t be there with their dealers, they must accept the responsibility to formally train dealers and their salesmen to handle the subject honestly and responsibly—then punish them by denying access to products—when the dealer is caught betraying their trust.

Salesmen should be trained to temper their references to possibly harmful contaminants with such statements as:

  1. “Nobody really knows what the long-term health effects of many contaminants found in drinking water may be…but a system this good can provide you with a degree of ‘peace of mind’ concerning the water your family drinks every day.”
  2. “Now, I’m not saying all or even some contaminants I mentioned are actually present in your drinking water. Nor am I saying that their presence is necessarily harmful to you and your family. All I’m saying is RO, combined with carbon filtration, removes a high percentage of chemical and mineral contaminants. If you tell me your specific concerns, I’ll tell you whether this system significantly reduces them.”
  3. As for potential chemical or bioterrorism agents, dealers should point out that there are no testing protocols or certifications toward that end yet for POU/POE products, although such a thing is under discussion now with the USEPA.

It seems to me all companies should train their dealer salespeople to include caveats such as these in their in-home sales presentations. If they don’t, both they and the industry will continue to be vulnerable to criticism.
Some will say the problem would be eliminated by simply “not talking about” consumer health concerns and product performance relating to potentially harmful contaminants. They are kidding themselves. You can’t turn back the clock to the days when RO was sold strictly on aesthetic claims. Why? Because, in today’s “terror era,” consumers want to know the health aspects and will not pay a premium for a superior system without knowing they are buying “peace of mind.”

Dave Martin
Lenzi Martin Communications
Oak Park, Ill.

 

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