"I've been a bad, bad girl…"

by Katie Pizzuto on February 27, 2010

in marketing,Uncategorized

I’ve just spent the last 15 minutes laughing my ass off because companies that send out emailing list blasts and include me in there, obviously have no idea what they are getting themselves into. Consider this fair warning that if you find the blogosphere littered with posts this week about how awesome the Vintage Cellars website is and what a great company they are, be armed with, if nothing else, the knowledge that those bloggers have been handsomely rewarded with a $50 gift certificate from Vintage Cellars in exchange for the post. If the bloggers have any balls at all they will disclaim that in their posts, but I’m not holding my breath. Then again, I may have beaten them to the punch if they are busy with their weekend revelry, and perhaps they’ll rethink writing anything at all. Here’s the first paragraph of the email: “(not even a personalized “Dear Katie” to start) I’m writing as a lover of wine and also as a member of Vintage Cellar’s (typo) online marketing team. Right now we are offering $50 gift certificates in exchange for an article or a review with a link to the Vintage Cellars site. Vintage Cellars provides various wine-related storage accessories including cellar humidification and monitoring systems, an extensive stock of Riedel glassware, custom wine cellars, and a free wine cellar design for interested parties. Our website would greatly benefit from associating with your blog (really? how?) and I hope Vintage Cellars is a company you’d like to relate your blog and readers to—all for the sake of wine and its enjoyment!”

So what I’m wondering is…OK, I am now writing an article on Vintage Cellars, and have included a link to their site. Do I still get my gift certificate if this post isn’t a gilded ass-kiss festival? The world may never know. And even if they had the decency to live up to their vague email, know straight up that I wouldn’t ever take the certificate. I don’t even accept advertising on this blog so that it can’t ever compromise my ability to rant in any way, so I sure as hell ain’t about to take a bribe. Yes, a bribe: “money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust.” That about sums up offering a $50 gift certificate in order to influence our conduct—people in a position of trust. The sad thing is, I can’t figure out if I should be insulted that companies would think bloggers, like me, can be bought because they don’t believe us to be true “journalists”, or if I should be embarrassed because some of my fellow bloggers will no doubt kowtow to this.

What I find most hilarious is probably the fact that $50 will get you, what, maybe a couple of Riedel “O” Stemless glasses on that site? So not only are they bribing bloggers, but their throw down is meant to lure us into actually spending money on their site. Maybe it’s PMS, maybe it’s my insomnia, or maybe it’s the fact that people are trying to get over on my readers, but I want you to know, emphatically, that I will never take money to write a post on this…my website…and try to sway you in any way. If I love something, know that I love it from the heart, and if I should loathe something (or someone), know that there are plenty of good reasons for why they have pissed me off, and I will dutifully list them for you with the glee of a giddy schoolgirl.

Listen up, Vintage Cellars, here is my review: Your site looks as if it was designed by a first-year Graphic Arts major. If you are selling pieces of equipment that run as high as $7,500 each, you can afford a more distinguished, high-end looking website. As for your products, I honestly can’t afford any of them because of this fucking recession, so I’m not sure how you’d expect me to give any credence to how amazing, durable or beautiful they may or may not be. Lastly, if you are going to send out an email blast, for Christ’s sake, make sure it doesn’t have any typos. Did no one teach you how to handle possessives?!

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sasha February 27, 2010

Love that you called them out for their sins — not only the skeeviness of their practices, of course, but also their bad grammar and chintzy Web design. Nicely done. Can’t wait to see which bloggers do write about them!

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2 Don February 27, 2010

Good one Katie! I hate it when someone sends me a bribe too. (please send all future bribes to Idaho, as the recession is kicking our collective asses!) That said, i’m sure they meant well? I don’t know, you just have to scratch your head and wonder some times…

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3 Shane Pearson February 27, 2010

Great article. Way to call out someone with a poor online presence trying to pay their way to traffic. Hard to believe their type in the email they sent to you – lol

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4 Dale Cruse February 27, 2010

Katie,

Vintage Cellars hasn’t done anything wrong – & they certainly haven’t done anything wrong to YOU.

You’re bitching because they didn’t put your name at the top of an email? C’mon.

You’re bitching because they had one typo? C’mon.

You’re bitching because they’re asking you to write something & are willing to pay you to do it? C’mon. They’re not trying to deceive anyone or cover up what they’re doing. They’re up front & honest about the whole thing.

You’re bitching because their site “looks as if it was designed by a first-year Graphic Arts major”? C’mon. By the way, you ARE a graphic designer & you haven’t done much beyond customize your blog header in this WordPress Connections theme. What do they say about casting stones?

Rather than bitching, you could’ve offered to redesign their site. After all, you’re the one looking for work. You COMPLETELY missed the boat on that one!

I’ve been emailing & chatting with reps from Vintage Cellars for months. At no time did they ever ask me to do anything shady or deceptive. They paid me to put an ad on my website & I’m proud to have it there. That’s it. End of story on my end.

Katie, the problem here isn’t Vintage Cellars. It’s you.

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5 Katie Pizzuto February 27, 2010

Bullshit, Dale. Though they may not have personally done anything wrong to me, they are putting bloggers in a compromising position…if bloggers give that site a review because they were paid to do so, and they don’t disclose that they were paid to write that, THAT’s dishonest. If a winery paid Matt Kramer to write an article on them, that makes him partial…his objectivity as a journalist is thrown squarely out the window. Readers don’t read reviews under any sort of assumption that the writer is being paid to write that review. They assume that their opinions are NOT INFLUENCED IN ANY WAY. They aren’t being dishonest, but are putting bloggers in a position to be. I’ve got every right to bitch like this…I honestly believe readers would be royally pissed to learn that a review they just read, which is supposed to be impartial, was paid for by the subject at hand!

As for the arrows you threw at me, my blog is not about having a gorgeous design. It’s a forum for my thoughts…for my writing. When I design for my clients, I don’t ask if I can throw in a verse or two of poetry. Thus, the more graphic crap I put on this site, the longer it takes to load, and the longer it keeps the readers from my writing. Lastly, I have every right to criticize their site…they were the ones, after all, that asked me to review it.

I’m just curious, Dale, do they compensate you for defending them online as well? Seriously, though, you can’t possibly be looking at this in an objective way if they’re advertisers on your site.

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6 michele February 27, 2010

The issue, in my opinion, is that even if the blogger noted that they were compensated, you still have x amount of positive reviews that are not truly, or are at least questionably true, about the company itself. Because, really, how many compensated reviews are negative? It is more likely that positive reviews come from paid (in some form or another) bloggers/reviewers. It is the real customers whose opinions matter the most, but everyone and their mother is a blogger, or online in some form or other, and it is more difficult to find credible, honest opinions that you know were not paid for.

In my book (for what that’s worth), you’ve earned credibility just by talking about it openly.

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7 Jim February 27, 2010

C’mon, Dale. As someone who has received (or is receiving) ad revenue on your site from Vintage Cellars, your defense of them has to be taken with more than a grain of salt. You’re on the payroll. C’mon.

I don’t know anything about them (and really don’t care to if I’m being honest), but for you to tear into Katie on their behalf seems a little transparent to me. Might be your opinion, but it’s been compromised by your business relationship with them. C’mon.

Maybe Katie is being a little harsh here (PMS? Insomnia? Integrity?) but there’s a nod-and-wink undercurrent with these types of things, where it’s unsaid but understood – we’ll pay you for saying something nice. Katie’s just making that clear.

Maybe I’m wrong. I guess we’ll know when Katie receives her gift certificate.

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8 Dale Cruse February 27, 2010

Katie, I’m personally disappointed that you’ve chosen to keep this farce of an argument going.

Vintage Cellars does not compensate me for anything other than displaying an ad for them. I’m taking you to task on this because they simply haven’t done anything wrong. If this were a court case, the judge would throw it out before even listening to it.

Whether or not Vintage Cellars has given me a dime or not, your argument comes across as nothing but a person with an axe to grind.

No, readers don’t believe that what bloggers write is uninfluenced. That’s nonsense. The fact is you’re not a journalist – you’re a blogger. I was a journalist 10 years ago at CBSNews.com – I’m not now.

You could have turned this situation into something positive for you. You could have formed a relationship & convinced Vintage Cellars to let you redesign their site. You could have earned money from them without sacrificing any of your ethics. But you didn’t. You COMPLETELY missed the boat on that one.

Every single one of our peers that I’ve spoken with privately about this has expressed that your arguments are unfounded & overly harsh. I was hoping you’d come to your senses & delete the post. The fact that you haven’t makes me embarrassed for you.

Seriously, I thought you were capable of much more than this.

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9 smokenmirrors February 28, 2010

Katie, with an attitude like this youl Will never get any add/edorsement deals from Walmart. That said, continue fighting thé good fight.

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10 Tom Spedden February 28, 2010

What is the name of that boat you keep missing? The S.S. Integrity? One does not need to be a “professional” to speak the truth! I sense you are onto something, hence the personal attack.Fight the power!

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11 Evan Dawson February 28, 2010

Outstanding post. I’m not entirely convinced that the company has done anything wrong, but the simple act of disclosing this kind of (more common than people think) activity is an important public service. This post draws a line in the blog sand that many people – and many mainstream writers – do not believe exists.

It’s vital that blogs break away from the stigma that says blogs are about ego and getting free stuff. You could have simply declined the offer, but by writing about it, you’re sending a firm message.

And let’s be clear; I don’t blame mainstream writers for viewing food and wine blogs in a negative light. Most blogs are littered with poor writing and even poorer journalistic standards. Many blogs are indeed all about ego. But the quality blogs don’t deserve to be tarred with the offenders. This is the kind of post that provides separation.

I don’t fault blogs for accepting some ads. I don’t want to comment on your quarrel with Dale; I like both of you. But Dale’s wrong when he criticizes you for ripping the email’s grammar and spelling. It’s about professionalism. If they want to be taken seriously the least they can do is proofread.

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12 Don February 28, 2010

I’m really not sure what all the hoopla is about on either side of this argument. First off, Katie, is Vintage Cellars guilty of any wrong doing…well, maybe. Are they asking bloggers to support their products in a cheezy fashion, definitely! Is it illegal, or immoral, well it certainly isn’t for former, but lets just say it shows some shady ethical practices on their part. Is it the worst infringement on the Blogosphere? Not even close. But they have put their marketing on a slippery slope so if they get blasted by someone like you they get what they have asked for. Perhaps if they just changed their name to Vintage Sellers all this confusion could be cleared up.

BTW Dale, You are out of line. You owe Katie an apology…Big Time!

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13 jaimelia February 28, 2010

This reminds me of a certain wine magazine that, for a “small” fee, will send restaurants a certificate that names said eatery as a top pick in that particular magazine. Payola is payola however you look at it. Giving this retailer play for cash is no different than those 70s-era radio stations playing crap disco for cash and coke, is it?

And PS – Dale – if you take the time to read the About section of Katie’s blog, she full-on says she writes in the SUBJECTIVE. She has a right to voice her opinion, without being told she’s missed the boat. There is no boat to miss here. And for you to call her out on continuing the argument? That’s a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black, isn’t it, since you tried to have the last word…continuing the argument.

I don’t know a lot, but I know what I like…and Katie’s honesty is certainly something to be admired, not reviled.

And Katie – love the Fiona Apple headline…I’m going to go dig on that song now. 🙂

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14 Phil Oxera February 28, 2010

Dale you took the money so you can are most unlikely to bite the hand that feeds you. I judge that you have an agenda to protect your paymaster. Readers of your out of order comments will see your agenda. Katie criticised a company practice and makes a good argument. You, Sir, have responded with a personalised rant against the lady. This is the cheapest way to put down somebody that you do not agree with. You are far from being a gentleman and a scholar. My advice to you is to take the money and spend it quietly.

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15 Ida Moran February 28, 2010

I’ve attached an interesting link that discusses paid endorsements. My view is that as long as you disclose a review as a paid endorsement,all is ethical. You should only endorse a product or service that you believe in. You are doing your follower’s a service by sharing a great product. If someone endorses a crappy product just for the money,then they run the risk of losing their credibility and tarnishing their reputation. A Friend’s Tweet Could Be an Ad
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/business/22ping.html?_r=1

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16 subdaimon February 28, 2010

IMO, the moment any form of compensation enters the picture, reviews become tainted. Not to say full fledged paid commercials, however there will be a blemish to the integrity of any message offered.

DaD

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17 Lenn Thompson March 1, 2010

If you’re a blogger who accepts this $50 pittance in exchange for a review of the site, let me know so that I know to avoid your blog going forward.

Do it if you want, but I’d like to know so that I know who I should and shouldn’t read.

And yes, I was offered the $50 and after laughing for a moment, deleted the email without replying.

If this is the best the marketing department can do, I worry for them. I do.

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18 KAHUNA March 1, 2010

This is interesting all the way around – I have receieved products from food to pans to taste test and to evaluate. In no uncertain terms it is harder to be objective when this occurs- And I am not getting paid at all- I do not think it is impossible though.

I believe in full disclosure of all information about the products during the review of the product. Also the company that sends the product is made aware that full disclosure will be prominent and that yes I may not like the product.

Listen if Miracle Whip wanted to pay me to do a video of their product – the answer would be no- cause I hate Miracle Whip unless they were fine with a negative review- of course if Hellmans asked me to do it – I would because I like their Mayo and have a history of supporting it on my blog.

The biggest issue I have is all knocking on poor graphics, bad grammar and off spelling- My blog is designed around those three principals! Thank god no one mentioned pronunciation cause that is my gold standard of bad behavior:)

Does Katie come on harsh- sure as that was her intent and does Dale defend his position- yes he does. The real debate is whether as a reader of blogs you care if that blog has sponsors or not? If it does are you a commercial sell out and if it does not do you get to cast stones from Mount Mighty- In the end I think the whole body of work a blog provides will help the reader make those decisions.

Basically I have said nothing here…

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19 KAHUNA March 1, 2010

anyway Katie, I enjoyed the blog post- forgot that part

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20 Solo500 March 1, 2010

Katie, you are correct that this is wild.

I suppose that the world outside of the wine blogosphere hasn’t had to think about this issue. It’s clearer with a magazine where editorial and advertising can be firewalled off than in a blog where this work is done by one person.

I think accepting advertising is different from accepting a gift certificate. One can simply issue a disclosure note in the course of writing about issues pertaining to your advertisers. What kind of hilarious disclosure should you issue that you got a free decanter & corkscrew from Acme Wine Tchotchkes?

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21 Dragon March 1, 2010

Hey Dale, sounds like you’re projecting a little to much. This is Katie’s blog and she can say what ever the hell she wants to say. Continuing to attack her just makes you look like an ass. I’m embarassed for you.

Katie, soldier on, babe.

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22 Coupe 60 March 1, 2010

This is why I will never get caught reading some blog on the internet…

ummm, on second thought…I don’t think I would have much of an issue with accepting payment, as long as it was disclosed up front… Although it is still difficult to pan, I’d liker to think that someone that provides full disclosure is ethical enough to give a fair review…I think those people are also smart enough to realize that their good name goes out the window if the product they give a glowing endorsement to for $50 blows…I’d hope people value their name more than $50…

As for coming onto someone else’s blog and ripping them on behalf of a company that you take money from, that’s kinda poor form…

I now beg everyone to move away from any kind of online feud…you know what they say about arguing on the Internet … (I’d post the rest but it is very politically incorrect)

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23 Jim Mosier March 1, 2010

Hey Dale. I don’t know you, don’t care to, but…

Isn’t Festivus over? Especially the airing of the grievances? Whether you have a point or not, if you truly care about your position and Katie, this matter would have been better handled with a conversation, either in person or by telephone.

No one enjoys being attacked, and if your intention is to make her a better person, or blogger you screwed the pooch. Personally I don’t care if an Oxford Falls product graces your lips ever. You’ve demonstrated your “taste.”

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24 Heather March 1, 2010

The FTC, on October 15, 2009 announced their GUIDELINES for bloggers accepting a free product or coupon for product or payment from brands. They stated that “Bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.”

So I don’t care if you get a free frosted flake – you HAVE to say it if you think Tony the Tiger rocks on or even sucks ass.

Companies take a risk sending a product off to a blogger. What if the blogger HATES that free sample of pasta? Then WHAT? And the offering a $50.00 gift certificate seems quite excessive… even from a site where it looks like the average check out price would be about $700.00…

Attaching a price tag to a site mention is any company’s way of saying I give to you you give to me. Quid pro quo Clarise. And when it comes down to it – 19 out of 20 bloggers will say oooh nice I’ll brag about your company I jus got a cool 50 beans… Truth be told what is the advantage of the blogger? 50 bucks???? What is the advantage of the company? Getting back links on numerous food blogs. Talk about cheap ass advertising.

I applaud Katie for calling them out. After all it is HER site and she can say pretty much what she wants. Most of us blog about things that we are passionate about. This kind of email weeds out the passionate from the sell outs.

By the way if Moose House in Sweden is reading this – I DO ACCEPT FREE CHEESE!!!

Oh and Katie – take down the link to their blog. You are giving them additional SEO and why give it to them for free…

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25 Heather March 1, 2010

Well heck in my response I forgot to address Dale’s obvious misguided attempt to rabble the rousers!

Hmm. Yea… I sure did…

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26 Sue Guerra March 1, 2010

Typos are unfortunate but can be forgiven. Bad design is rampant and will probably always be a fact of life.

But I agree with Katie (and others who have commented here) that accepting money to give a review taints the review, puts into question the credibility of the blogger and doesn’t help to elevate the status of bloggers in general.

Dale has done nothing wrong by accepting ad revenue for placement on his blog especially if he likes the product.

But I really don’t understand the harsh tone? At least Katie was still laughing even with the PMS and insomnia.

🙂

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27 1WineDude March 2, 2010

Ok… so…

does Katie get the $50 gift cert. or not??

🙂

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28 Thom Calabrese March 2, 2010

Still on 1st cup of Joe, so excuse any grammar faux pas.
Dale…have you read this blog before??If your looking for warm and fuzzy get a cat!
I like your irreverent writing style, combined with information I find valuable. I do know what to expect when I come here.
Everyone gets to set the rules for their own blog of the things they will or won’t do and the readers determine what they want to read.
I’m a cynic where commerce is concerned, so I roll with Katie.
Dale,I’ll end with a quote from that great American capitalist J.P. Morgan…….“A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.”

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29 RichardA March 2, 2010

I really see nothing wrong with what Vintage Cellars is doing. Any ethical dilemma seems to be on the blogger only. Of course they should disclose any payment they receive, and unlike you, I have much more faith that most bloggers will reveal any such payments.

I also don’t see much difference here than if Vintage Cellars had sent out $50 in samples. Again, that is something a blloger should disclose. Readers can assess whether a blogger is being objective or not.

But it is interesting that under your own samples policy, if Vintage Cellars had sent you $50 in samples, you would never have bashed them.

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30 Katie Pizzuto March 2, 2010

While I agree that most of the dilemma sits in the blogger’s lap…to disclose…I just don’t have the faith you have. And here’s the question: as a wine blog reader, if you read a review of a company or site, and then see that the author was paid $50 for the review, don’t you question how objective it is? How many negative reviews could you possibly find? And I completely disagree with it being equal to sending $50 in samples (which I agree, should also be disclosed), for a couple of reasons, Richard:
1. A sample is the equivalent of a winery (or brewery or whatever) saying “Here is what I make. I want you to evaluate it, as any other consumer would, and tell people what you think of it.” They are, in essence, providing you with what you need in order to judge. 2. A blogger can’t possibly judge Vintage Cellars products in this case. The most they could do is comment on their site (which I gladly did). I personally can’t attest to the quality of their product OR their service because I’ve experienced neither.

And for the record, if someone sends me a sample, that by no means is an indicator that I won’t bash them. Quite the contrary, I explicitly tell someone sending a sample that if I don’t like it, I WILL STILL discuss it. Readers deserve to know the good and the bad. To tell them only what I like is unbalanced and childish. Sending me $50 worth of samples is supplying me with the materials needed to make a judgement call. Paying me to evaluate something I can’t possibly evaluate is a bribe…that’s simply my opinion.

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31 RichardA March 2, 2010

I would question their objectivity essentially the same as if they had received a free sample. Plenty of samples are worth more than $50, and there are bloggers who will write glowing reviews just so they continue receiving such samples. And there are bloggers who could receive a $50 payment and easily be objective about any article they wrote. It is something I evaluate on a case by case basis.

Some bloggers may have prior experience with Vintage Cellars and thus could write reviews. Others could write an article about it, though it does not need to be a review. I would simply evaluate what is written, to see whether it was a useless review, with no experience, or whether it did contain valuable insight. Again, I would evaluate it case by case.

Just because someone receives a sample does not mean they actually drank the wine, read the book, etc. They could still write a review, without such experience with the product. Some might just copy what others have said.

Your written policy, in your “About” page explicitly states you will not bash a sample, though you might criticize it. You state: “…and won’t bash something I dislike no matter how much fun it may be to do so—but that doesn’t mean I won’t include criticism, because I will.”

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32 Katie Pizzuto March 2, 2010

OK, one last time, because you actually quoted it yourself, it doesn’t mean I won’t criticize. As I said in my last comment, if I don’t like it I will still discuss it. Bashing would imply offering no reasons for your criticism–something I always offer plenty of. If people don’t like my criticisms, they don’t have to read my blog. Lord knows there are plenty out there that gush about everything. Those that stick around seem to respect the fact that I’m willing to say what some others won’t. This was a “buyer beware” piece for wine blog readers that may otherwise have no idea how often this happens. Period. I don’t have to defend myself any further.

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33 RichardA March 2, 2010

It appears you do not wish contrary opinions or criticism in your comments. You only want to hear people agreeing with you. That is certainly your perogative.

I still don’t understand your contradictory position on bashing, and it seems I won’t get a resolution. In comment #30, you state you can bash samples, but your own written policy states you won’t.

Take care.

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34 Don March 2, 2010

Methinks attorneys are about…

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35 Sarah March 3, 2010

I’m with team Katie on this one. Dale, your response was a bit harsh.

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