Washington Gadfly

Another Montel Williams Backed Company Busted For Preying On Consumers

Evan Gahr Investigative Journalist
Font Size:

The Tommie Copper, which relied heavily on shyster loan enthusiast Montel Williams, to convince desperate people that its pricey copper-infused clothing offered miracle pain relief, agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission $1.35 million to settle false advertising claims on Tuesday.

This is undoubtedly the biggest bummer of 2015 for Williams since the New York State Department of Financial Services forced him to stop promoting a payday loan company charging upwards of 1300 percent interest rates.

Worse yet, Williams spokesman Jonathan Franks just served up a border line whopper in response to the Tommie Copper agreement when he insisted that the ex-talk show host stopped hyping the company “years ago.”

It was apparently only December 2013 when they parted ways, hardly the distant past Franks suggested.

According to the settlement, which many reporters apparently did not bother to read despite writing about it, Tommie Cooper deceived consumers when it claimed, backed by Williams, that its compression clothing and sleeves, would cure pain for a slew of diseases, including MS and arthritis, more effectively than medicine or surgery.

Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a press release announcing the agreement that, “It’s tempting to believe that wearing certain clothing will eliminate severe pain, but Tommie Copper didn’t have science to back its claims.”

But they had Williams to convince desperate people that wearing their copper-infused compression underwear, t-shirts or knee and elbow sleeves would eliminate their pain. Williams appeared in four out of the seven examples of deceptive ads or promotions that the FTC cited.

The 2012 catalog quotes him saying, “Tommie Copper doesn’t just give you your bounce back… it doesn’t give a little motion back. This can give you your life back. Period.”

But now, Williams is running away from Tommie Copper about as quickly as somebody might scurry if he saw WaPo media blogger Erik Wemple’s wife walking around town with a pooper scooper.

Franks said in a statement yesterday that “Mr. Williams’ relationship with Tommie Copper ended years ago. We learned of the FTC matter for the first time as a result of the AP’s inquiry, and until we have time to review it, we cannot comment substantively other than to say Mr. Williams is not a party to the FTC action nor have we received any communication therefrom.”

In a testament to journalistic sloth reporters from the Associated Press on down simply regurgitated Franks’ statement whole. The obvious question, especially given the vague phrase “years ago,” should have been how many years exactly?

But only one other reporter asked him, Franks said.

Even more troubling, anybody who troubled himself to read the settlement would have seen that Williams was hawking Tommie Copper as recently as July 2013. And if reading the actual FTC settlement was too taxing a simple Google search would have made clear the relationship hardly ended “years ago.”

Franks claims he said just “years ago” in the statement because had no time to find the precise date. “I could not have read a 45-page document.”

Actually, the whopping page total is 11.

Franks at first stuck to his story. “It has been years ago. Twoish years ago.”

After further questions he tweeted an updated statement that said Williams had not been associated with Tommie Copper for two years.

Take a wild guess, everyone, about reporters are going to update their story now.

But on the plus side, it is worth noting that Franks, unlike WaPo executive editor Marty Barron, BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith and Wemple, did not hang up or feign incomprehension when this reporter asked pesky questions about his possibly problematic behavior.

Meanwhile, the legal headaches for Williams continue. As reported exclusively here, he was named in a class action lawsuit against Tommie Copper this October.

The ex-Marine has not yet responded to requests for comment.