Unethical Headline Of The Month: NBC Sports

I suppose the Ethics Alarms headline could also be Ethics Dunce: Bill Baer, for the NBC baseball writer responsible for the irresponsible, misleading, ignorant and mighty close to libelous story under the headline, which is…

Sherwin Williams is trying to back out of a charitable contribution at Angel Stadium

No, it isn’t. Not even close.

Here, in part, is what Baer writes. Raise your hand when you realize that he is full of beans:

The paint company Sherwin Williams created a neat promotion at Angel Stadium. There’s a giant paint can with the brand name in left-center field. If a player hits a ball into the can, Sherwin Williams will donate $1 million to the Angels Baseball Foundation, the Angels’ charity for kids.

Angels outfielder Justin Upton appeared to trigger that charitable contribution when he hit a solo home run to left-center field against Indians closer Cody Allen on Tuesday night. The ball bounced in front of the can and then went in on a hop.

ESPN reports that Sherwin Williams is using a technicality to try and get out of the obligation. Because Upton’s home run didn’t land in the can on the fly, Sherwin Williams is saying they’re not obliged to make the $1 million donation. In 2014, Frazee Paint and the Angels agreed to the paint can promotion and indeed the press release says, “…if an Angels player hits a home run that lands in the can on the fly, the company will make a $1 million donation to benefit the Foundation’s efforts to improve the lives of children in the community.” Frazee Paint is now owned by Sherwin Williams.

The first lie in the story that helps generate the false headline is, “If a player hits a ball into the can, Sherwin Williams will donate $1 million.” False. As the story itself confirms, the paint company agreed to donate the sum if a player hits a ball into the can on the fly, meaning without hitting the ground first. Also, presumably, this has to occur during a game, and not batting practice. I would assume that a player can’t stand ten feet away between innings and try to hit a ball into the can either. Or use a tennis racket to do it.

The second lie is that Sherwin Williams is using a technicality to try to get out of the obligation. Actually, the second lie is that ESPN reports that Sherwin Williams is using a technicality, because ESPN’s story, unlike NBC, is accurate. It doesn’t use the term “technicality” anywhere. Its headline is also accurate: ” Justin Upton’s homer doesn’t count for $1 million paint can promotion.”

That’s correct. The homer didn’t, and doesn’t. The ESPN story does say that the crowd applauded and cheered when the ball landed in the can, thinking the terms of the promotion had been met. What a surprise: a crowd of fans doesn’t know what’s going on. Sports reporters, however, are paid not only to know what’s going on, but to accurately explain it to the great unwashed.

After three lies, Baer (all right, if the headline is the first lie, then it’s four lies), writes, “indeed the press release says, “…if an Angels player hits a home run that lands in the can on the fly, the company will make a $1 million donation to benefit the Foundation’s efforts to improve the lives of children in the community.”

Wait, what? If that’s “indeed” what the deal was, then obviously the ball landing after it bounced into the can did not trigger the contribution. This is not a “technicality.” This is called a “material fact.” Sherwin Williams is not trying to weasel out of a commitment, as Baer claims, because it never made a commitment to donate money unless a ball, hit by a player during a game, lands in the paint can on the fly.

It didn’t.

Try cashing in a Powerball ticket that is one digit off from the jackpot, Mr. Baer. When the official says, “But that’s not the winning number,” come back with, “Well, that’s just a technicality!”

Baer, permitted by his editors and NBC, then continues to try to make Sherwin-Williams a villain in traditional, despicable,  social justice warrior fashion: The company is rich, so why didn’t it just write a check? He writes,

“According to Forbes, Sherwin Williams is worth $29.2 billion, ranking at 724 on the Global 2000. One would imagine ponying up the relatively minuscule sum of $1 million would be worth it rather than taking the P.R. hit from the dozens of articles that have been and will continue to be written about the company’s pedantry over a charitable donation to needy children.”

Are there other equally dishonest articles, or is Baer trying to prompt them? ESPN’s piece wasn’t about “pedantry,” and the company insisting that the terms of a commitment involving a million dollars be met as agreed isn’t “pedantry.” It is law. It is fairness. It is common sense. Baer, an evident ignoramus, thinks the standard for meeting a specific written term is “close enough for horseshoes.”

Well, he’s called a reporter in his contract, so I can see his confusion.

There is hope: Baer’s dishonest, rabble-rousing, so-legally-ignorant–that-it-hurts effort to extort Sherwin-Williams generated few supportive comments last I looked, though several idiots voted “thumbs down” on correct comments like, “It didn’t land in there on the fly, thus doesn’t meet the guidelines to warrant the payment. Enough said.”

[As an aside, this is why I don’t permit this feature on ethics alarms. It allows fools to proclaim their foolishness anonymously.]

The small minority seems to think that Sherwin-Williams should pay the money or a smaller amount anyway for PR safety (due to threat to ist image created by the lies of idiots like Baer), because, as one comment put it, “it’s not like major corporations ever pay out huge sums of money for outrageous crap before.” Everybody does it! That same fatuous commenter also invokes another rationalization, “It’s for a good cause.” Another ethically-challenged individual writes (and got a lot of “thumbs up”), “when it’s a charity, they probably should have announced that while the conditions for the payout were not met, they’re going to donate a smaller sum because of Upton’s home run.” That’s an ethics chess fail. Sherwin-Williams allowing itself to be mau-maued into paying a significant sum because hacks like Baer intentionally misrepresented what occurred guarantees that companies end such promotions for their own protection.

I think NBC is obligated to donate the one million.

Right after it fires Bill Baer, his editor, and the headline writer.

24 thoughts on “Unethical Headline Of The Month: NBC Sports

  1. Sports related contests are all about technicality. If they get hounded they will take their toys away. If it’s that important to the writer, use their stellar prose to write up a crowd fund. If every person they’ve suckered into hating a paint company, threw in a fiver they’d have much more funding. And please people, don’t hound businesses that make a real product, too many don’t produce anything concrete,

  2. One can only wonder what would happen if Sherwin-Williams tweeted out:

    “We don’t respond to lies and misrepresentations by obviously unqualified and uninformed reporters – we ignore them.”

    • I wish they would. My guess is that they’ll allow themselves to be lied and bullied and extorted into some donation, if not the whole amount. Corporations seldom display any integrity or courage in these situations. Of course, I cold be painting with too broad a brush….

  3. Jack wrote, “I think NBC is obligated to donate the one million.”

    Either that including a public apology for their libelous story or be sued for libel and then the proceeds from the suite can be donated to the fund.

    Jack wrote, “I think NBC is obligated to… fire Bill Baer, his editor, and the headline writer.”

    These libelous social justice warriors should be fired for perpetrating such a false story to smear the paint company. Firing these SJW doesn’t remove NBC’s responsibility for intentionally publishing the libelous story.

  4. This is story about a reporter named “Baer”, and a comically large paint bucket sponsored by a company named “Sherwin-Williams”.

    The fact that there is a paint company named “Behr” unrelated to the story, made my head hurt while reading this story in the AM. I clearly need more coffee….

    • Not only that, but given the material fact that paint is central to the story and discussion, color is thus also inherently involved – which probably means (in some SJWs’ sick minds) that anyone engaged in the discussion is a racist.

  5. I agree with you on every point. However, it struck me that another ethical issue underlies the entire fiasco; using laws of probability and luck to condition a predetermined behavior to promote yourself. To me, these promos do little to actually benefit the charitible beneficiary. The promoter gains goodwill without necessarily having to do anything. It seems to me that if the odds of the event actually taking place is 1 in every 1000 homers or more then the expected cost is only 10 grand or less. I think they could get more PR traction by donating a smaller amount of money to the organization and publicizing the actual contribution rather than signaling their virtue by suggesting they actually would contribute a million dollars. Using your example Sherwin Williams could have bought the youth development group a powerball ticket every week for 100 years and claim that it is donating the potential payday.

    • Yeah, that seemed a bit off to me as well. I disagree that a straightforward contribution would be better publicity, though. The giant can of paint is definitely more flashy. Stunts like this seem like they would elicit more goodwill if they’re designed to be very difficult, but ultimately almost certain to succeed. Maybe that’s what this one is meant to be. That’s a question for the future, though.

      I hope people come down hard on these whiny people. Trying to erode rules and agreements because things are “close enough” and “people deserve it” is extremely dangerous. It’s fine for people to show compassion and make exceptions, and it’s fine for other people to attempt to persuade them to do so. It is not fine to attempt to force compassion. That just devalues compassion and makes people want to avoid any situation where they could be called upon to help.

      • EC

        Flashy yes, more short term publicity probably but only when the promo is announced and if there is a payoff. Contributing directly to the cause can keep your name in front of the public when you contribute smaller amounts on a regular basis. The giant can is there because they bought the space I’m almost sure so the visual is a constant reminder. These payoffs are usually a claim to an insurer who calculated the odds and charged a premium to the firm. That is how it is done with those events that pay big $$$$ for the fan who makes a half court basket. Can it be done- sure. How likely-probably the same risk as being eaten by a shark.

    • While I understand your point Chris I am not certain that the businesses in these situations are acting unethically by relying on odds. It has been my experience that businesses have a relationship with the charity and that such a campaign is in addition to other support given. Also the contest, if you will, promotes the charity as well as the business. I don’t have a trouble with this conditional giving.
      Contests like this or hole in one contests at charity golf tournaments, etc. are often backstopped by insurance. it is the insurer who is really playing the odds. I’m not saying this is true in the present case. But ain’t no way an insurer would waive the rules, even for a charitable beneficiary and I would expect nothing more (or less).

      Speaking of baseball, hat tip to Jack’s Red Sox clinching another playoff spot last night. Impressive run this year. Lots of exciting games.

  6. I’ve been listening to a lot of Astros radio broadcasts this season. They have an advertiser who has been saying that if the Astros win the final series (i.e. win the World Series) this year then your $3000 bed purchase will be free.

    It’s an unusual promo, but seems to fit in with the guy’s radio ad personality.

    As well, I think this may be the guy who opened his furniture stores to Hurricane Harvey refugees — if you remember the article Jack posted here about the mega church that did not.

    The Astros broadcasters had him on a few days ago during a game broadcast. It was one of those deals — usually for a charitable organizational rep — where they bring someone in during the 2nd inning and let him talk about his group while they continue to call the game action..

    • Diego, you are correct: You are talking about none other than “Mattress Mack,” Jim McIngvale of Gallery Furniture. A truly, extraordinarily kind and generous man, insofar as I have come to know him.

  7. It seems to me that. if you read the story this is the first lie:

    The paint company Sherwin Williams created a neat promotion at Angel Stadium.
    It was the paint company Frazee Paint that created this promotion and apparently Frazee Paint was subsequently bought out by Sherwin Williams. So Sherwin Williams inherited this promotion.Sure they own it now, but presumably they would have had the option to back out of it when they bought the company (unless the owner made it a condition of the sale) — when you buy a company you don’t necessarily buy every one of the assets or liabilities, and to Sherwin Williams this would be pretty much one of the liabilities.

    Where this could matter is how the promotion was set up — a corporation such as Sherwin Williams might or might not go the insurance route. A private businessman is more likely to be thinking that he’s going to donate a million of his personal money if it pays off. As well, for a small business, this would be a source of community goodwill that simply wouldn’t make much of an impact to a mega corporation.

    The private businessman I think would be much more likely to say — hey, it was close enough for me and pay up because his aims and purposes are more closely intertwined with the local community and local causes. A corporation, I think, has to look at this as a contract that must be honored.

    Of course, it could be that Frazee Paint was actually owned by Ebeneezer Scrooge in which case I’d say………….never mind.

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