[Guest post by DRJ]
Montel Williams has multiple sclerosis and he appears on behalf of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a pharmaceutical-supported organization that provides prescription medicines to poor people. Williams was recently in Savannah GA to appear at an event for the Partnerships “Help is Here Express.”
Before the event, Williams was interviewed by Courtney Scott, a 17-year-old high school journalism intern for the Savannah Morning News. Scott’s second question irritated Williams:
“Before the rally in Johnson Square, Williams stood for an interview with Scott. With her second question she asked, “Do you think pharmaceutical companies would be discouraged from research and development if their profits were restricted?”
It was a question she came up with after discussing the issue with her Advanced Placement English teacher.
Williams bristled. “I’m trying to figure out exactly why you are here and what the interview is about,” he replied. He asked if she suffered from any illness, to which she answered no.
“I’m here as a patient advocate talking about the fact that medications available today are saving people’s lives, that’s what saving mine and after that, this interview is done.” He snapped his fingers, said thanks and walked away.”
Susan Catron, the Savannah Morning News Executive Editor, defended Scott’s question but it’s what happened later that day that made news:
“Later, Scott, web content producer Joseph Cosey and intern Phillip Moore went to the Westin for an unrelated assignment featuring gingerbread houses at the hotel. Williams and his bodyguard were in the lobby, too.
“As we were preparing to film, Montel walked up with his bodyguard and got in Courtney Scott’s face pointing his finger telling her, ‘Don’t look at me like that. Do you know who I am? I’m a big star, and I can look you up, find where you live and blow you up,’ ” Cosey said. “At this time he was pointing randomly at all of us.” Moore and Scott corroborated the statement.
“He was really mad. He was angry at me,” Scott said. She is a 17-year-old senior at Jenkins High School working for the Morning News in an apprenticeship program through Savannah-Chatham public schools. “I wasn’t expecting him to come at me and go off, I was expecting him to say, ‘No hard feelings from before.’ I’m not sure if he meant ‘blow me up’ and ruin my career or really blow us up, but it was threatening.”
Williams later released a statement about the incident:
“I apologize for the misunderstanding,” the statement read. “I mistakenly thought the reporter and photographer in question were at the hotel to confront me about some earlier comments. I was wrong and I apologize for my overreaction.”
Scott conditionally accepted Williams’ apology:
“I won’t accept the apology unless he does it on his show in front of everyone,” she said, “because he embarrassed me in front of a crowd.”
Ken Johnson, senior vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, “said the question would have been better directed to himself because he represents the drug industry, and Williams is paid to raise awareness of the drug program.” While Johnson agreed that Williams’ behavior was not acceptable, he also pointed out that “[m]ost people have no idea of the pain he [Williams] suffers because of MS.”
I am sympathetic to Williams’ medical condition but if he is going to appear on behalf of and be paid by a pharmaceutical organization, he should be prepared to answer questions like this. In any event, it was an excellent question and it sounds like Courtney Scott kept her composure in a difficult situation.