Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fuzzy Math?

Last night's season premiere of Boston Legal featured a wrongful death lawsuit against a tobacco company. David E. Kelley informed us via his TV mouthpiece, James Spader's Alan Shore, that "in 2005, [tobacco companies] spent more than 15 billion on advertising and promotion." Moments later, in the very same closing argument, he tells us that "last year alone, they made 12 billion dollars in profits."

I understand that 2005 and "last year" -- i.e. 2007 -- are not the same. Even so, it doesn't take a math whiz to notice something amiss. Either the writing is unclear, or David E. Kelley believes that tobacco companies are so evil that they gleefully throw away $3 billion every year for the privilege of killing people with cigarettes.

And you know what? I don't care; I love Boston Legal. As a moderate conservative I'm forced on a weekly basis to confront passionate, intelligent arguments with which I disagree. The mental gymnastics required of me are something that I will sorely miss when the show goes off the air at the end of the season. May we all have a place where opposing viewpoints are broadcast so competently.

I'm not sure, but I think the key word might be "profits." I take that to mean the money they had left over after expenses, including production, distribution, lobbying, and marketing. Just like all the hullabaloo over the oil companies' windfalls - if they were bringing in more money just because of the skyrocketing price of crude, their net profit should've remained about the same. What got everyone bent out of shape was that even after accounting for their increased expenses, their net profits were soaring.

Not one of Kelley & Co.'s best episodes, but maybe this explains your particular issue.
This does explain it; it was late and I was tired, and I watched the closing arguments three times to make sure I was hearing the numbers right, but I assumed that I was missing something. Obviously, in the harsh light of day, you're completely right; the key word is "profits." He said "profits" and my addled brain heard "revenue."
It was late, and that wasn't one of Kelley's fun "let's watch it three times" closings, either. Had you been thinking clearly, I'm sure you would've considered that $12 billion in gross revenue is laughable for the tobacco industry. What's that come to, like 3 billion packs a year? Andy smokes that many on his own!

Not that Kelley is always (or even often) right. He just happened to be this time.
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