Cosmo's 'Cancer Diet' Makes Awful United Airlines Look Smart

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OK, people. When truly idiotic corporate decision making in the health arena comes to the fore, it's necessary that we put our studies, statistics and control groups aside for a moment. Instead, here's a pop quiz.

Question: Which well-established, nationally-known company acted more reprehensively this week while showing the least sensitivity – United Airlines or Cosmopolitan Magazine?

By now, virtually everyone in America knows to what lengths United has gone to thoroughly embarrass itself with its horrific, brain-dead execution and subsequent mishandling of an incident that literally involved dragging a passenger down the aisle and off one of its planes. 

But possibly you haven't yet heard of Cosmo's catastrophically clueless and insensitive promotion of one of its health and diet articles. So let's turn our attention there.

Just one day after the United passenger, Dr. David Dao, was hauled off his oversold flight on Sunday, Cosmopolitan's social media department – apparently working in a cave somewhere, failing to absorb the cautionary tale of that company's unfolding PR nightmare – came up with this bright idea.

To boost readership of a story about an Australian woman with a rare form of cancer, who then went on to lose a massive about of weight after her diagnosis, Cosmo's crack staff decided to promote it on Twitter as a sensational, stunning, how-did-she-ever-do-that? weight-loss piece, with this tweet: "How This Woman Lost 44 Pounds Without *ANY* Exercise".

Then these geniuses didn't stop with just that grossly-misleading teaser line; underneath was an equally-misleading picture of the smiling woman, Simone Harbinson, in a fetching, revealing pink top. These written and photographic elements taken together, it was about as disingenuous a promotion – not just a Twitter post – as you'll ever see. It probably took less that two minutes to create, but the outrage it's producing is prodigious and on-going.

"Cancer is not a diet plan," read one of the tamer critiques, while a more agitated observer wrote, "Whoever came up with headline to treat cancer like weight loss cure deserves to be fired! What a disservice to cancer victims!"

If you're interested in viewing some the running and well-deserved ridicule, log on to Twitter and search "Cosmopolitan Cancer." Just don't bother looking for the magazine's original post (above) which was captured by screen shot across the blogosphere before Cosmo pulled it down.

This occurred Monday. What has Cosmopolitan or Hearst, its corporate owner, said in response? Nothing. No public comment whatsoever.

As of Wednesday at 1pm ET, the story is still on the magazine's website. But here's an interesting side note. Take a look at the URL: Even that highlights the "no exercise" portion of the story, while the word "cancer" is excluded, indicating how Cosmo's editors chose to internally archive the story. To them it's not a cancer story, it's a "no-exercise" story, another dubious decision that's separate from the one made by their social media bungelers. Stunning.

Throughout the article, "A Serious Health Scare Helped Me Love My Body More Than Ever," written by Elizabeth Narins  – who shouldn't be implicated in this promotion debacle, unless of course we learn that she's responsible for sending the offending tweet –  the author catalogues the range of Ms. Harbinson's health problems. They included a kidney removal; a "malignant carcinoid tumor of the appendix"; having a portion of her colon removed; a partial lung collapse; and being "diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by her cancer diagnosis."

Only after all of that, in the final section of the article at the bottom, do we learn that though a new eating program she adopted, "Simone has lost 44 pounds without a single session at the gym." Yet, that's what Cosmopolitan shamelessly promoted. 

After reading this, if your answer is that United is America's top corporate clown this week, you're in good company (and this brilliant, must-read takedown of the airline in The New Yorker is not to be missed.) But if your pick is Cosmopolitan, you're in equally good standing. Difficult choice, indeed. Perhaps what it may all come down to is whether it's more egregious to be duped and have your intelligence insulted online, or physically abused at the airport.