The White House also debated hard-ball strategies to undercut Republicans and garner favorable press coverage. In July 1995, the White House considered enlisting disease victims to help criticize Republican-led budget cuts. Public anger over reductions in meat inspections was “wounding the Republicans,” the memo said. “This would be an opportunity to once again hit them,” wrote chief speechwriter Michael Waldman. “We could, for example, have an event with E-coli families.”
That meeting never happened. And, that is true about most meetings with victims of foodborne illnesses. The above reminded me of a blog post I penned after a meeting with Dave Theno in Tampa a few years ago:
Shortly after leaving Tampa, I spent time with a family in South Carolina whose 4 year old ate cookie dough tainted with E. coli O157:H7 and suffered months of hospitalizations, weeks of dialysis and seizures. She faces a lifetime of complications despite oversight by the Food and Drug Administration of the food she consumed.
After leaving South Carolina I headed to Cleveland, Ohio where I sat across the kitchen table with a family who lost their only daughter, Abby, because she died from an E. coli O157:H7 infection from meat inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Services.
Neither head of either agency, nor the president of either corporation, whose product took the life of one and nearly the life of the other, ever visited either family, and, that is a shame.
In 20 years of litigation, in 20 years of spending time with Lauren’s or Abby’s family, I am changed. I see the world far differently than most do now.
If I had any advice to offer to corporate or governmental leaders – run your departments like Dave ran food safety at Jack in the Box. Go meet the families that Dave and I have met. Sit across their kitchen tables. Go to their child’s hospital room and see more tubes and wires than you can count. Understand what these people have lived though. Take their stories into your heart.
It is hard, very hard, but it will give you a real reason to do your jobs and to love it.
Next time Mr. President, have that meeting.