Forbes Lets Tucker Max's Strategist Play Contributor

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Yes, Planned Parenthood turned down a half million dollar donation from fratire author Tucker Max, but the bigger question is why Forbes is allowing Max's PR lackey to write about it.

To those familiar with the long-running did-we-offend-you marketing approach of Dov Charney, Ryan Holiday served as the spokesman for American Apparel who explained why softcore porn is acceptable advertising. Click on Holiday's Forbes "contributor" bio, and you'll see that he's currently "a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene." Considering that ginning up a controversy between Planned Parenthood and Tucker Max sounds like a strategy a marketing director would come up with, you should read his account with a skeptical eye. 

According to Holiday, these are the basics: Max, famous for his babes and beer stories, was looking for a way to reduce his tax burden (presumably because he's made piles of money with his stories about fellatio gone wrong), and promote his new book. Max's strategist and Boswell, suggested this: "What if you gave a bunch of money to Planned Parenthood and they named a clinic after you? They need donors, it’d be awesome and you’d get a ton of positive press out of it for a change." But the awesome plan went awry, Holiday claims, when Planned Parenthood refused the donation because of Max's reputation. 

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But it wasn't a total loss:  Max's strategist was able to write up the whole stunt as part of Forbes' contributor network. As Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin described it last month, "The job of contributors is to bring understanding from their life-long passions and careers to readers hungry for depth of experience and knowledge."  Where exactly does the conflict of interest boundary fit into that? Going by DVorkin's assesment, and Holiday's piece--nowhere. The Atlantic Wire reached out to DVorkin to ask about Holiday's piece, but he declined to comment through a representative. 

What's perhaps more troublesome is that this isn't the first Tucker Max rehabilitation piece on Forbes.  Back in January they devoted seven pages to the healing Max found through therapy, from, another contributor, Michael Ellsberg. And Forbes' latest Max update also sounds like its being set up as part of a bigger marketing plan by Holiday.  

Back in November, The New York Observer's Emily Witt presented Holiday's own proposal and strategy for his upcoming book, Confessions of a Media Hit Man, which involves spilling the beans on Max taking advantage of blogs and news outlets:

Once the market is seeded with the “newsworthiness” of the project, we will begin a whisper campaign that Confessions of a Media Hit Man is actually a tell-all about tabloid targets Dov Charney and Tucker Max. This can be accomplished through a combination of anonymous and unnamed tips to gossip blogs with which Ryan already has relationships.


In a nod to the hip hop tradition of up-and-coming rappers attacking bigger acts in mix tapes and seeing their profile raised by the inevitable response, Confessions of a Media Hit Man will use the sensitive egos of bloggers against themselves.

While we aren't sure if this mention is part of Forbes/ Holiday just seeding the "newsworthiness" of the project or what kind of instrument they are in Holiday's proposed plan for world, errr, media domination, it is disconcerting that Holiday is apparently aware of (or has theory on) how to work the system and now has a platform to do it.  

But back to this whole Planned Parenthood stunt ... It's sort of comical how miffed Holiday sounds because Planned Parenthood rejected Max's $500,000 donation. He quotes someone at the organization as saying, "We don’t feel it would be appropriate, given Planned Parenthood’s mission and your body of work, to accept your donation," (Forbes did not seem to offer any followups from Planned Parenthood officials).

Holiday works in PR and should know that a women's health organizations probably would have trouble explaining a massive donation from a guy who has written charming phrases like "Miss Chokesondick." And well, there's also this deleted tweet from the author of "Miss Chokesondick" himself (via WaPo's Sarah Kliff):

Holiday goes on to spin write: 

And that was the final irony in this case: Planned Parenthood did to Tucker exactly what the Susan G. Komen Foundation had done to Planned Parenthood. Let perception and moral superiority and BS politics get in the way of their real mission of helping people in need.

That's  an interesting argument--one that's more complex and more damning, than say, "Planned Parenthood just didn't want to be a part of this publicity stunt." But Forbes apparently did.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.