A response to USA Today and their sins of omission

The media rarely fails to surprise me in their ignorance and sheer laziness when reporting on the topic of multilevel marketing, and alas,  USA Today is no exception. Today they published an article Many in multilevel marketing sales find it hard to earn much that was somewhat critical of MLM, and attacked two companies in particular – Amway and Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing. It’s so full of poor journalism, errors, misconceptions, and downright deceit I don’t quite know where to start in response.

(note: I’ve focused only on Amway here and not covered the article’s discussion of Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing as I know little of how they operate)

A good place is probably the various sins of omission, perhaps most obvious with a glance at a calendar. Why do I say this? Well, the journalist, Jayne O’Donnell, cites three former Amway distributors in the piece – husband and wife Jim & Lori Wittlich and Jack Tucker. The Wittlich’s report they were with Amway for two years, ending in 2000. Tucker says he was a distributor until “the late 90’s“.

USA Today has clearly has missed the fact that it’s currently the year 2011! More than a decade has passed since these folk were involved with Amway. Can you imagine someone writing a story on say, General Motors, and talking to customers and employees from more than a decade ago to get a picture of the company? Why wouldn’t you interview current or recent distributors? Are they that hard to find? The only reasons I can think of do not reflect well on either Ms O’Donnell nor USA Today.

Yet that’s one of the lesser sins of omission.

The piece also cites Roland Whitsell, who is described a “a former business professor”. I was unable to find out much information about Mr Whitsell, he’s remarkably unremarkable on Google. He claims to have been researching multilevel marketing for 40 years , but alas he doesn’t have a single published academic paper on any topic showing in google scholar, let alone any papers on multilevel marketing. We do learn however that he is an associate professor at Volunteer State Community College. That’s some CV you have, professor.

So one has to ask – why did they interview Roland Whitsell? Why not Professor Charles King, Professor of Managerial Studies at the University of Illinois, who has quite an extensive list of publications, including a book entirely about multilevel marketingThe New Professionals: The Rise of Network Marketing As the Next Major Profession. If they wanted an academic who has specialised in Amway, then they may have considered Professor Dominique Xardel, former head of one of Europe’s most prestigious business schools, ESSEC, and author of the book The Direct Selling Revolution: Understanding the Growth of the Amway Corporation.

But they didn’t ask either of them. Instead they chose a non-descript associate professor, with no publications to speak of, from a Tennessee Community College.

Why is that?

But let’s not stop there. They also cited Pat Slaven of Consumer Reports, on the value of Amway’s SA-8 powder. In 2010 they apparently evaluated it and didn’t rank it so well. What USA Today fails to also report is that a few years earlier they compared SA-8 not with standard washing powders – but with environmentally friendly washing powders only. SA-8 came out well on top, scoring 99 out of 100, 12 points higher than the next best competitor.

No mention of that in the USA Today article.

And it continues …. USA Today goes on to compare Amway’s premium Nutrilite Double X, at $75 for a month’s supply, to what they term GNC’s “most comparable product” Ultra Mega Green multivitamins, at $40 for a 60-day supply. They may be correct in stating Ultra Mega Green is the “most comparable product” to Double X, but for some reason they neglect to mention that Amway has another product, Nutrilite Daily, which is Amway’s “most comparable product” to Ultra Mega Green. It’s price? $11.30 for a 3 month supply – significantly cheaper than the GNC brand.

And yes, there’s even more.

They quote Amway’s “average income” of $115/mth, as given in the Business Reference Guide and state it is for “active” distributors, which they claim is IBOs who “get at least one bonus check or make one sale or meeting a year.” Yet another sin of omission. It includes any IBOs who *attempt to make a sale*, not who actually make a sale. For some reason, USA Today has decided to omit the word “attempt”. Join Amway, ask your brother if he wants to buy an XS. He says no. You decide it’s all too hard and go back to watching TV – voila, you’re an active IBO. Tell me folks, is $115/mth a good or a bad income for that? But of course, you can always have fun with statistics. You don’t even have to omit words that change definitions quite drastically.

And we can go on. They –

  • quote (associate) Professer Whitsell claiming that “You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone making over $1.50 an hour” (here’s some help, Professor) and completely ignore industry statistics collated by the Direct Selling Association
  • claim that people are “effectively required to purchase products and event tickets from the high-level distributors” – which is  a little hard to reconcile with the statistics, reported in the TEAM vs Quixtar lawsuit in California, that half of distributors never even place an order after registering, let alone attend events!
  • fail to clarify that the tools and training which the (decade ago) IBOs refer to purchasing weren’t even sold or offered by Amway but by 3rd party companies
  • fail to note that the California judge has rejected the initial attempt to settle the Pokorny & Blenn class action, noting that a major chunk of the settlement with Pokorny & Blenn is simply to pay their lawyers!

But seriously, interviewing people who were reps more than a decade ago?! Do we really need to say anything else about this article?

UPDATE 2011-02-09: MLM Attorney Kevin Thompson has also written a good response

31 thoughts on “A response to USA Today and their sins of omission”

  1. A theory why this was published:

    Negativity sells. People don’t want to hear anything positive about a direct selling organization, and only want more reasons to prejudice against it. Thus keeping them skeptical, critical, close-minded, and even (potentially) poor.

    1. February 7, 2011, ibofightback (David) writes an article and mentions a man’s name. This man, and ex-IBO, was interviewed by USA Today. Three years later, February, 27, 2014, this ex-IBO responds and asks David to publish his last five years of tax returns for all of us to read. Say what! That is nobody’s business. This is not the first time this has happened. They never respond to David when he asks to see theirs. Seems like there are different strokes for different folks. What can they possibly be thinking?

  2. This is one of the best posts you wrote till date. Clearly your post itself shows how much research work you have done.

    This post clearly justifies that why you kept the name of your blog “truth about Amway”

    good going mate!!!

  3. I came here hoping to find more impartial information on Amway and the industry as a whole. Unfortunately it seems like this site has a clear bias as demonstrated in many of the blog titles.

    1. Why bother looking at the titles? I explicitly state on every page that I am an Amway Business Owner. Of course I have biases, so does everyone else, including you. The difference with this site is I base my posts on facts, with links to supporting evidence where possible, and I am both supportive and critical of Amway and the way it is promoted.

      There have been numerous books written about the Amway business and network marketing industry, however you’ll find that critics of the industry instantly dismiss those books as untrustworthy and not independent. They do so on the basis that the books praise the company and/or industry so therefore cannot be trusted! Uhuh.

      How about you try asking some legitimate questions?

      1. I appreciate your enthusiasm for the company you work for, but I don’t think your defensive attitude does anything to further your cause.

        I’m an impartial reader of your blog looking to find out more about Amway. I simply Googled “Amway” and your site was one of the first links.

        I have not said one negative thing about Amway at all. If you want true discussion as you claim, your replies to every non-positive comment are not helping your cause. Just a tip.

        If your goal is to have only positive-Amway comments on your blog, then you should simply say so. It would save fact seekers like myself a lot of time. I have no interest in having any sort of discussion with anyone who clearly is looking to belittle anyone who doesn’t agree with his stance.

        1. No belittlement was intended – which part did you take offence from? I must say I do suffer from a deal of cynicism, there’s a small number of mlm critics constantly posting comments here and elsewhere under fake names, repeating the same old discredit rubbish over and over it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not.

          Your opening comment was one to attack me for apparently hidden bias, when I’m very clear about my “bias”, so I think a little defensiveness is warranted, don’t you?

          I must say I’m a little confused by your simultaneously saying I post only “positive comments” at the same time as, twice, successfully posting comments that were nowhere approaching “positive”.

          Shall we start again?

          What exactly is it you are looking for?

          1. you seem angry and super defensive..why? I am just researching the laundry detergent for possible use in my laundromats…..gosh, hope all Amway people are not so sensitive and argumentative..surely they are not, as theres always a dramatic one in the group….

          2. Loni, you’ve replied to a comment I made several years ago that isn’t particular “angry” or “defensive” so I’m not quite sure what you mean.

          3. My name is Jim Wittlich. I’m the guy quoted in the USA Today piece.

            I just have one request. Why don’t you post copies of your income tax returns for the last 5 years for your Amway business…

            If you’re really honest and “truthful” about your Amway business, you should be transparent about your real income after expenses.

            We’ll all be waiting.

          4. Jim, I haven’t been building an Amway business for the past 5 years, so of what relevance would that be? You seem to be implying people can’t make a profit from Amway – would that be a reasonable interpretation of your comment?

            Unlike myself, you have however made public and explicit claims about your Amway business and income/expenses, so could you please post copies of your income tax returns for the 2 years you were a distributor, outlining your expenses, and just as importantly could you please give us details of what you actually did each week for those 2 years? It would be educational.

        2. Perhaps you should read “The Business of the 21st Century” written by the author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” Robert Kiyosaki.

        3. Jlimbo. The only way to truly investigate any body of business is to take an unbiased approach to investigate from the inside and not on the internet. Information on the internet is only as good as the information input by the writer. if he is bias it will be “for” if he is judgmental it will be against. Am I an Amway business owner yes and I am not here to convince you over joining the Amway opportunity that is not for me to decide.

  4. It would be interesting to see the “hit count” and “comment count” statistics on this article versus other articles in the issue. Is it just an illusion that these types of articles generate a lot of responses, because I’m a part of the MLM community? When an editor shut down the comments section on Robert Pagliarini’s blog (from CBS Moneywatch) in support of Amway, he admitted that it generated a record-breaking number of comments. (Well, maybe it doesn’t count if half of them were from Tex.) In order to leave a comment on Pagliarini’s blog, I had to register. Ever since, I’ve been getting e-mails almost daily from CBS Moneywatch and it’s affiliates. Therefore, USA Today probably bases the article’s success on the traffic it generates, not on it’s journalistic integrity.
    IBOFightBack wrote about the Pagliarini blog here: http://www.thetruthaboutamway.com/independent-financial-expert-tells-why-you-should-join-amway/

  5. You pro-Amway clones are all the same. The writer is ignorant and missed the facts……she deserves more credit than you give her for a well thought out expose.

    1. What makes it well thought out? She violates several tenants of journalism. I am not a journalist however I am married (for 16 years) to a former one of 20 years (who has also written for USA Today, by the way).
      There are basic skills that Jayne should have learned at her J-school, and implemented in her piece if this is to be considered a “news” story.
      Yes it’s an article, however I would not define it as a news article and certainly not an expose.

  6. I thought it ironic that http://www.usatoday.com removed the story from the home page and buried it at the bottom of the Money page since there is an Amway ad on the home page today and tomorrow.

    I can relate to the people that were coerced to buy tapes, books, and go to functions because that is how my upline used to run his business when I participated in the system.

    On the other hand, if you do something (I mean really try, not just say you tried) for several months and it is not working, either stop doing it, ask for advise from a credible person (in this case, someone from customer support who can get you to a sales advisor, NOT someone in your upline), or try some different ideas until you find something that works for you.

    When I fell flat on my face trying to build an organization, I unplugged from the system, went inactive for a while, then devised a way that would work for me by building a large retail business, then after I achieved success with that, I began sponsoring others to do the same.

    When I start off with the products, it is easier for me because it gets the whole “Is it Amway?” thing out of the way right at the beginning. I also show some cost-per-use comparisons on the concentrated products and do product demos to show the high quality. You simply cannot compare our products to the stuff that is sold at discount stores. If people try the products, are satisfied with their performance and realize that they are fairly priced because of superior quality or economical on a cost-per-use basis, they will buy them over and over again. Successful businesses are built on repeat business. IBOs can, and do, in fact, come from customers who were satisfied with the products and have a good impression of the business.

    The business really does work when it is worked properly.

    1. GOOD POINT! You are a professional, and have an excellent method of introducing your business, honestly and with stats…repeat business is the key, with integrity.. good for you!

      1. Oh well in that case, her investigative journalistic skills are off the charts super duper. 😉

        Seriously though, she isn’t a business writer, and doesn’t include any aspect of the actual Amway sales and marketing plan, but then concludes that Amway that is not a good business opportunity. Um, ok…

        Her focus is on the products, which makes sense since she is a “retail writer.” The challenge though, and the mistake many people make, is assuming that the only viable product business model is that of “bricks and mortar” stores. And to compare Amway products to Wal-Mart is indication that she’s ignorant. Not stupid, just ill-informed.

        Direct selling companies are not mass marketers. That is not their business model, and the masses are not their audience.

        Just because the business opportunity is available to everyone, doesn’t mean the business opportunity is for everyone. What makes Amway great is the fact that it is open to anyone willing to do the work.

        I would much rather be a part of that kind of business, and deal with flack like this article, than be a part of something that caters only to those with money, connections, status, etc.

        1. Is this the kind of people that write articles?
          Is this the kind of research she does?
          Where is the journalistic balance??
          Are these the kind of people that are entrusted the most important job of reporting news to the masses? Isn’t there such thing as responsibility?
          Just because you have a mouth doesn’t mean you can spit on anything! Disgusting! Pathetic!
          and what credibility does these anti-Amway authors/Critics have – I’d really like to know! What qualifies them to be so RIGHT about Amway?
          What books did they write? What positions did they hold? with what organizations? What research did they do? How? With what motive???
          I’d really like to know! How can any Tom, Dick or Harry accuse anyone and lay the burden of proving innocence on that anyone???

  7. I looked at the links but didn’t find any information as to the amount of money the authors have made from Amway or the mlm industry.

    Have those authors’ books been promoted throughout the world by Amway’s Network 21? Have they been popular speakers at Amway meetings?

    Before you believed a study on global warming, wouldn’t you want to know if the author is getting paid by the global warmists or by the oil companies?

    1. (1) read the books, it tells you there
      (2) if a study is good science, it doesn’t matter who paid for it.
      (3) why, as SP pointed out, haven’t you inquired as to who is paying for the critics? As a commentator noted on the USA Today article, newspapers survive on advertising, something which Amway’s competitors buy a lot of, and Amway not so much.

      But you don’t bother asking about that, do you?

      What you seem to be implying is that if an independent person researches Amway and writes a book about it, they will naturally be popular within Amway circles. This therefore means their independently written book is no longer independent and should not be trusted.

      ergo, by your logic, there can be no independently trustworthy book on Amway. It cannot exist.

  8. I would like to know more about the pro-Amway author and the pro-mlm author.

    How many books did they sell to Amway or mlm crowds? How many speeches were given to coliseums of eager distributors?

    Dr. Charles Paul Conn, also a college professor, wrote a number of books about Amway in the 80s and 90s. They sold millions throughout the Amway world.

    And he got paid for countless speeches around the world touting Amway and its founders.

    I am not discounting anything from any of these professors. But it helps to know people’s motivations.

    1. I provided links to the CVs of both, you could always try clicking on them. Typical critbot response though. MLM critics should be cited and accepted without question. On the other hand, anyone supporting MLM must, by definition, have an ulterior motive and cannot be trusted. It follows that there is no credible support for MLM.

      1. I would like to know more about the anti-Amway authors and the anti-mlm authors.

        How many books did they sell to non-Amway or non-mlm crowds? Any Amway IBO has so many relatives/neighbours, etc. who, as soon as he/she gets involved in Amway, should buy these anti-mlm books and show them to him/her to “prove” they’re right and that he/she should abandon it. 😀
        So, it is one pro-Amway book sold to Amway IBO compared to several anti-Amway books that are sold to his/her relatives/neighbours/former IBOs…

        I am not discounting anything from any of these anti-Amway authors… but wait a minute – I do! 😀 But it helps to know people’s motivations.

        😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

  9. OMG!!! What a freakin joke!!! Some of the comments that have been posted to the news article are a testament to ignorance & fear a lot of people are crippled by.
    It truely is a shame that Journalistic “standards” allow this type of shock mongering to occur. Unfortunately, it’s not restricted to USAToday, or even the US in general. Similar base level “journalism” exists here in Australia as well – “facts” mixed in with a good dose of… ummmm…. trying to think of a nice was to say shit… makes for a ripping good yarn.
    That is a recipe Tabloid readers eat up!

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