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Watchdog apparently rolls over for treats

November 18, 2010|By TIM ROWLAND | timr@herald-mail.com
  • Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

In the early part of the last century, there was a lawsuit entitled U.S. v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca Cola, in which the government sued the soft-drink company because its namesake product did NOT contain any cocaine.

No lie.

Instead, the lawsuit alleged that Coca Cola contained the evil additive caffeine, which it used in place of the coca leaf. The lawsuit also noted that the drink contained "little if any cola."

The government lost, but the concept of false advertising was born, and, along with the principles that created the Pure Food and Drug Act, came a movement that led to the founding of the Better Business Bureau.

I always assumed the Better Business Bureau was on the level — after all, its motto is something like: "Trust That You Can Trust."

But a recent ABC News spot makes it look as if it's on the take. The BBB's rating system stands accused of basing its ratings on how much a company is willing to pay for an A grade.

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I was appalled. So you're telling me that all my calls to the Better Business Bureau to complain about the inaccuracy of Vinnie Vegas's Stone Cold Lock of the Week went for naught because I didn't slip the BBB a few Benjamins?

Who knew that BBB stands for Better Bring some Bucks.

According to the ABC News report, a fake company called "Hamas" (after the Mideast terrorist group) received a BBB rating of A-. One wonders what the "minus" was for. Some shoe bomber forgot his Odor Eater?

Hamas, it should be noted, was able to get its positive rating after paying BBB a $425 fee. The BBB called this a "simple mistake." Along with Hamas, a nonexistent sushi restaurant in Santa Ana was able to buy an A- rating for $425. This again was a simple mistake, the company said.

In another simple mistake, an A+ rating was given to a neo-Nazi website called "Stormfront." That's cool. I always like my skinheads to be consumer friendly.

Even worse than these "simple mistakes" was the fact that businesses were able to have their grades improved — and consumer complaints wiped from their records — in exchange for a cash payment.

Frankly, I wish more high schools would do this. It would have been nice to have paid $50 back in ninth grade for a B+ and to get off the hook for that heifer/science teacher's Volkswagen stunt. Long story.

The real danger though, is that now all those other spoilsport watchdog groups will smell blood in the water. I bet all those self-righteous, holier-than-thou little snots over at Consumer Reports are just enjoying the heck out of this.

But come to think of it, I'm not sure I ever believed any of these businesses that rank other businesses for profit. I remember back in the '80s there was some automotive company that would rank vehicles for "initial quality."

And it was always handing General Motors products its highest award for initial quality — which depending on your definition of "initial" may have been accurate; in those years it wasn't until you started actually driving the cars that all the engine parts would fall off.

It's kind of sad, because you know going in that money and greed are capable, if not likely, to corrupt the big investment banks, credit-card companies, mortgage lenders and the like. But if even the Better Business Bureau is capable of succumbing to this sort of, uh, mistake — well, capitalism was fun while it lasted.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via e-mail attimr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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