I thought my post from last week would calm things down, at least for a little while, but it seems there are still folks out there in the anonymous world of the Internet with some very angry keyboards. This hostility seems to define the new “normal” on the Internet. There appears to be little concern for the truth and even less respect or concern for the feelings of others. What ever happened to human characteristics, such as compassion, empathy, consideration, respect, honesty and kindness, let alone love for one’s fellow man? I had always found the HSN Bulletin Boards to be a peaceful place where folks could ask questions, exchange ideas and share experiences. The dialog was friendly, cordial and respectful, but recently, like our society, there seems to be more and more anger and hurtful content. Sadly, some recent posts on HSN’s Bulletin Boards have forced me to respond. I know you have told me that I should just ignore these angry posts, the same as we teach our kids that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” However, I guess I am not sufficiently spiritually evolved to just turn the other cheek. That is something I can always aspire to. Also, this instance is different, since this is not just an attack on me, but on a very dear friend. It was an unjustified, unprovoked and completely false attack on the reputation of one our country’s finest charities and its unselfish Founder. It is so sad when the Internet gives rise to such attacks, but even worse when it is against someone who is a committed humanitarian and his remarkable charitable organization.
Before I respond more fully to the above, I first wanted to say I was humbled by the outpouring of support following my most recent blog post. Thank you. I initially hesitated to write that post, because the world has already become far too political. Then I realized that I was not defending any political views, but simply the truth. I suppose after almost 30 years on TV, I have grown some thick skin, but it still breaks my heart to read this recent attack against Vitamin Angels and its Founder, a gentleman who has always conducted himself and his charity with the utmost honesty, dignity and transparency. Vitamin Angels’ Founder, Howard Schiffer, is truly a humanitarian and one of the kindest human beings you could ever hope to meet. He has dedicated his life to bringing children’s vitamins and now prenatal vitamins to the furthest reaches of our planet. He goes wherever children and mothers need his help – regardless of politics. In fact, when I spoke to him this morning, he was in a small village in Honduras where families must survive on a bit more than $1 per day. These are the kinds of remote places that Howard goes to save children and their mothers. To call his charity “Vitamin Devils” is outrageous and hurtful. What could possibly possess someone to say such things and fabricate such stories? To say that Howard Schiffer, Vitamin Angels and I are involved in some left-wing conspiracy to destroy Israel is beyond unimaginable. These lies would be troubling if they were not so absurd. What would inspire someone to invent such nonsense?! It is also troubling to see the speed with which others will jump on the bandwagon and happily attack me. Making all of this worse is the fact that everything lives forever on the Internet – even the worst lies, so I am forced to respond not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of Howard Schiffer and Vitamin Angels.
Politics has absolutely nothing to do with my company or my vitamins. I truly love our country, but, as I have said for many years, I have grown weary of modern day partisan politics. Just as with my company, Howard makes certain that politics has absolutely nothing to do with the incredible work of Vitamin Angels. Howard has often said that mothers and their children should never be the innocent victims of politics. Howard and Vitamin Angels focus on the Mothers and Children he has dedicated his life to saving. Howard and I could not imagine what could inspire someone to post these lies on HSN’s Bulletin Boards about our alleged desire to harm or destroy Israel. It is hard to believe that someone actually consciously typed that. That is crazy! Have we become so angry and cynical as a society that we blindly accuse others of terrible things? It is true that Israel is not on the list of countries that Vitamin Angels presently serves and that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are on the list (referred to as the “Occupied Palestinian Territories”). Perhaps for some folks the phrase “Occupied Palestinian Territories” is politically charged, but Vitamin Angels was only using the standard nomenclature from the United Nations. Is it possible that the simple use of that phrase might cause someone to believe we want to harm and destroy Israel? Again, that is nonsense. Also, despite our efforts to get our prenatals to Israel, there are no agencies, entities or health care providers, either government or non-government, that have expressed a need. Israel has a remarkable health care system (likely the best in the Middle East), so they have not needed Vitamin Angels’ help. As far as the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the health care system is not the same as that in neighboring Israel and, as a result, we have received numerous requests for assistance. Of course, we are happy to fulfill those needs wherever they might be and just as we do around the world, we validate that the products are in fact getting directly into the hands of those mothers and children in need.
The standard United Nations designation for the West Bank and Gaza Strip are the “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Is it possible that someone managing the list of countries on Vitamin Angels’ website intended to destroy Israel with the clerical act associated with typing in those three words? That is obviously not the case and a ridiculous assumption to make. In any event, the Vitamin Angels website has now been changed to refer to those areas as the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Regardless, the prior phrase in no way justified the lies that harm a good man’s life’s work. Vitamin Angels’ sole goals are the mothers and children they help. Children and women are all too often the innocent victims of politics, so Howard makes sure politics plays no role in the activities of Vitamin Angels. Although we would be happy to send them all the prenatal vitamins they need, apparently, Israel does not have any present need. Like the US, their highly developed health care system reduces the need, compared to other developing countries with lower standards of living and dietary challenges. If the person who wrote this post would like to see my prenatal vitamins in Israel, then help us find an organization that needs them. As I said, Howard and I will be happy to immediately send all they need. Accusations and lies are easy to spread, particularly thanks to the Internet; however, it is a lot more difficult to make a positive difference in the lives of others. That is the unselfish and unceasing work of Howard Schiffer and Vitamin Angels. His work and that of his nonprofit are truly admirable. Again, I am not sure why someone would write such angry lies with no knowledge of the facts or circumstances, but it reminds me of what my Grandma used to always say, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.” Fortunately, there will always be men like Howard Schiffer who will continue to his good work and his good deeds. I am proud and fortunate to know him.
Given the attack on the good reputation of Vitamin Angels, I thought I would take a moment to say a little about them. Vitamin Angels existed long before our Prenatal Program. Over the past few decades, Vitamin Angels and its Founder, Howard Schiffer have distributed more than one billion doses of Vitamin A to children throughout the developing world, saving millions of lives and preventing blindness in millions of children. They have also distributed more than a billion doses of children’s vitamins. I had always contributed to their exceptional work, but several years ago, I told Howard that I wanted to do something more significant than writing a check. That I wanted to make a difference in the world and have a direct connection to making that difference. I was aware that there were so many nutritionally vulnerable populations, both around the world and even right here in America. One day, while reading my weekly research summary I found the answer in a study discussing the unrivaled difference that a prenatal vitamin can make in the life of a mother and her baby in the developing world. There was no other time of life when vitamins could play such a life-saving and life-changing role. The answer appeared to be prenatal vitamins and I certainly knew how to make them, but how could I get them to millions of mothers around the world. So, I asked Howard, since he was already getting vitamins to children everywhere, perhaps he could do the same for prenatal vitamins. It was definitely far outside what they were already doing, but since Howard agreed that mothers were perhaps the most vulnerable population that he would figure it out and do whatever it took to make this happen. He unselfishly said that as long as I make the prenatal vitamins, he will get into the hands of mothers in need. His commitment has never wavered and our prenatal vitamins are now found around the world and throughout America – regardless of politics. I believe we are now the world’s largest single source of donated prenatal vitamins.
All this talk of political differences reminds me of my experiences a couple of decades ago, back when we advertised on radio. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the best radio shows for an “intelligent” advertisement were talk radio shows, since folks “actively” listened to those shows. Many of those talk radio shows were highly political – some far left and some far right. As a result, I would frequently receive angry letters from folks on the left, saying they would boycott my brand if I continued advertising on shows that were on the far right. I also received angry letters from folks on the right, telling me that they would boycott my brand if I continued advertising on shows whose host was on the far left. Even the folks in the middle were not pleased. It seemed I could not win at all. I was just trying to provide some healthy information and I ended up offending and alienating many folks not because of what I said but as a result of “where” I was saying it. I could not understand how health or vitamins had anything to do with politics, so I decided to respectfully “fight back.” To me, it was obvious that everyone deserved to be healthy no matter what their politics might be. So, from that moment on, each time I received letters and phone calls complaining about politics, I would personally write or call the folks or organizations who sent them. I would calmly, respectfully and patiently inform them that my company and its products were completely non-political and so long as these hosts had not done or advocated anything wrong or illegal, then just because there were political differences, it did not mean that our political opponents deserved to be unhealthy. Without exception, they all agreed with me and, so long as I remained nonpolitical, they agreed they would not boycott my products. It was at that moment that I learned a very important lesson: That even those with the most extreme political views can still be receptive to a respectfully communicated different opinion. The world may have changed too much since then, but it is my fervent hope and prayer that we can all find a way to peacefully coexist despite our differences in the future.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day and whether our Mothers are still with us or not, it is an opportunity to contemplate and celebrate the person that brought us into the world, and without whom, we would not exist. Also, as Americans, we get to enjoy this day under circumstances far better than most of those with whom we share our Vitamin Angels prenatal vitamins. It underscores how blessed we are here in America and why our work with Vitamin Angels is so important today and every day. Thanks for taking the time to read this post.
Best of Health.