A few weeks ago, we wrote about an interesting development in what had been a fairly standard Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Made in the USA (MUSA) settlement. In short, the company had some major beef with the FTC’s press release about its case. The company and its owner filed a motion to get out of its settlement and to make the FTC change its press release, which, among other things, accused the company of “lying.”
The FTC has a long history of standing by its press releases when challenged and certainly does not have a tendency to change the content of its releases. But lo and behold, something happened here and rather quickly.
We were on ftc.gov the other day and noticed that the FTC press release at issue had been quietly changed – the word “lying” had disappeared from the press release. The headline previously read “FTC Sues Marketer of Personal Protective Equipment and Light Fixtures for Lying About Products Being Made in the USA and Government-Certified.” It has been toned down, now reading “FTC Sues Marketer of Personal Protective Equipment and Light Fixtures for Advertising Claims About Products Being Made in the USA and Government-Certified.”
But that was not the only change. The company was also quite unhappy that the FTC press release didn’t mention that it had neither admitted nor denied the allegations in the complaint, and now in the first paragraph of the press release, we have this prominent statement: “The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability. Defendants neither admit nor deny any of the allegations in the Complaint, except as specifically stated in the Order.”
A recent entry in the federal court docket indicated that the parties had resolved their issues and that the FTC had agreed to revise the press release. So, we have many thoughts about this. First, kudos to the FTC for agreeing to the changes in order to get this matter settled and not having to spend more resources unnecessarily litigating this case. Although the agency denied that there was anything wrong with its press release, sometimes it is OK to give a little. Second, for our readers, don’t read too much into this story. There is a lot we don’t know about what transpired, but do not make any sort of assumption that the FTC will negotiate press release language with companies going forward. There is a long history of the agency not doing that, and we don’t see this matter changing that practice. And also don’t assume that the “neither admit nor deny” language will appear in future press releases. Third, we are not holding our collective breath, but maybe this incident will remind the agency heads who review press releases that words do matter and toning things down just a bit can get the same message across without creating unnecessary collateral issues and requiring the expenditure of lots of resources. We did notice an Aug. 30 press release of another MUSA case that avoided the word “lying.” It can be done.