What Facebook Can Learn From the Tylenol Murders (Podcast)

Johnson & Johnson’s handling of an atrocity was a master class in crisis PR

Last Updated: June 21, 2018 @ 3:56 PM

It’s hard to imagine a public-relations debacle worse than the one Facebook is in now, but it isn’t impossible: The 1982 Tylenol murders provided a worst-case scenario for any company — and a crisis PR masterclass in corporate responsibility.

Someone (we still don’t know who) spiked dozens of bottles of Tylenol with cyanide in Chicago-area stores in 1982. Seven people died in a single day, including a 12-year-old girl. What the owner of Tylenol did next is the focus of our new “Shoot This Now” podcast. It’s an insane story that involves the Unabomber, the man who inspired “Mad Men,” and “Devil in the White City.” You can listen on Apple or below:

We highly recommend two of the source materials for this episode: this obituary for James Burke, the Johnson & Johnson CEO who led Tylenol through the atrocity, and this 2000 Chicago Reader story about James Lewis, who exploited the killings.

If you aren’t familiar with “Shoot This Now,” it’s a podcast in which Matt Donnelly and I run down biographies, stories, tweets, reality shows and Craigslist ads — among other narratives — to find stories that should be made into movies and TV shows.

If you have any ideas of stories you’d love to see onscreen, give us a shout. Our contact info is at the end of this week’s episode.