The Strange Tale of Tucker Max and His Failed $500,000 Planned Parenthood Donation
For the past few days, several corners of the Internet have been all a-flutter over a recent piece on Forbes.com by a man named Ryan Holiday, who describes himself as a "strategist for big authors and big brands." Holiday apparently had tried to arrange a donation of $500,000 from one of his clients to Planned Parenthood. But Planned Parenthood had the audacity to turn it down because that client was Tucker Max, pioneering "fratire" author whose I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell has been on the New York Times Best Seller list since 2006.
Max wanted to give $500,000 to Planned Parenthood of North Texas, our local affiliate, in exchange for a clinic being named after him. But PP pulled out at the last minute, Holiday writes, citing Max's "body of work" being incompatible with the non-profit's mission.
Holiday and Max were both "stunned," Holiday writes.
He goes on:
As a marketer, it was one of the stupidest and most depressing things I've ever seen. This would have been a win-win-win-win situation. Cut a check, keep a clinic open. Rehabilitate some of Tucker's PR. Reduce a tax burden. Encourage other donors. And most importantly: Help women keep access to vital reproductive services. But nope. So I tell this story not simply to call out Planned Parenthood -- though they deserve it and more. Tucker wasn't trying to make a fool of them with the donation I set up, but they acted like one anyway.
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What the hell, Planned Parenthood? Don't you like free money? Don't you need it? Especially right now, with family planning clinics statewide losing $73.6 million and the Medicaid Women's Health Program being destroyed?
That was the refrain of Holiday's piece: Planned Parenthood needs money now more than ever, and they were short-sighted not to accept it from a man who has plenty to give.
But Holiday neglected to mention that the failed donation happened in August of 2011, more than eight months ago. And he and Max sharply disagree about whether the money was a stab at trying to rehab Max's public image, an attempt to drum up publicity for his newest book or just an outgrowth of Max's sincere desire to help women.
Both of them deny that writing about this incident now is a publicity stunt, and they say this certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with Max's recently released book, or the one Holiday has coming out this summer -- a tome titled "Trust Me I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator." As Emily Witt pointed out last year in the New York Observer, the 24-year-old Holiday has worked for Max and controversial American Apparel founder Dov Charney. But his real love appears to be courting press, any press, even negative press, as long as it gets his name out there.
Sarah Wheat, co-CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capitol Region, says Max called the Planned Parenthood of North Texas eight months ago to ask about making a donation, in exchange for a clinic being named after him. Although she doesn't deny that emails were exchanged, as Holiday says, about the logistics of naming rights, she says it ultimately wasn't hard for PP to decide that taking money from Max would violate the organization's donation policy, which bars the organization from taking "gifts and grants that may be discriminatory, are for purposes outside of our mission, or are too difficult to administer."
"It makes it pretty clear why we'd reject a gift like this," Wheat says.
An unnamed Planned Parenthood source told Jezebel that Max, through an agent named Ian Claudius, has tried this sort of thing several times before and has been turned down each time. Wheat couldn't confirm that, saying, "To my knowledge, that's the only donation he tried to make."
But the Jezebel piece also has screenshots of some tweets that make it pretty clear why PP can't and won't accept money from Max, in which he says things like: "Planned Parenthood would be cooler if it was a giant flight of stairs, w/someone pushing girls down, like a water park slide #FF @PPact." In another tweet, he likened South Florida to a Planned Parenthood waiting room: "Shitty design, slutty whores & no culture." The tweets have since been removed.
Jezebel also implies that Max specifically wanted an abortion clinic named after him, but the email Holiday shared with us from PPNT never specifies that. It only talks about naming opportunities for various buildings -- but all of them are in Fort Worth, at PPNT's surgical center there, which performs abortions.
I asked Holiday why, if he was so stunned and depressed that PP rejected the donation, he waited eight months to mention it. In an email, Holiday told me he'd simply been too busy with the launch of Max's book, February's Hilarity Ensues.
"Now that it is over, I had a chance to write up the events," he said. "I find it incredibly sad that PP would be so caviler [sic] about pointing out how much time as passed since the rejection donation because in that time several Planned Parenthood clinics have closed and the Susan G Komen foundation attempted to rescind their funding and the Right [sic]. Is it really their position that closed clinics are better than one named after Tucker Max? Apparently it is."
Holiday also told us that Planned Parenthood knew from the start that Max was doing this not just out of charity, but for tax breaks and a little publicity: "Could that money have helped women in need? Yes. Was that our intention? Yes. Did we also want to get ancillary benefits from it in the way of taxes, publicity and recognition? Yes. And were we clear about that from the beginning? Absolutely."
Max disagrees. "The PP donation was not an attempt to change my public perception," he wrote to us. "I don't think my reputation or perception needs to be rehabbed, I'm fine with it. The donation was an attempt to do several things at once; help people, support a organization that I thought supported women's reproductive rights, and get a different type of press for the release of my third book."
So yes, in other words, it was an attempt to get "a different type of press."
Holiday also told us that the donation was an attempt to prove that Max isn't "anti-woman," writing that Max was quite saddened by the rejection: "I think it hurt him personally here. Especially since the idea was to kind of prove that stuff wrong."
We asked Max the same question: Was this an attempt to prove he's not a misogynist? Did it hurt to have PP reject a donation on the basis of his poor public image? Again, he said no.
"Your question assumes that my public image is poor. I have three books on the non-fiction NY Times Best Seller List right now. The only other person in history to do that is Malcolm Gladwell. If I had a poor public image, I don't think I'd be selling millions of books to millions of people. How does that mean I have a poor public image?"
Ultimately, after I quoted Holiday's words to Max, he added, "I wasn't hurt, I was more confused, but whatever, I don't necessarily disagree with Ryans assessment, I just would have worded it differently."
But Max isn't confused now: After Holiday's piece came out, Max followed up with his own, clarifying that these events happened in August. He adds that Susan G. Komen attempting to pull their funding from Planned Parenthood is nothing less than "karmic retribution" for PP declining his donation. People angry with Komen for that decision "are now MAD AT ME because Planned Parenthood did to me what the Komen Foundation did to them. What preposterous fucking irony."
Of course, it's nothing of the sort. People were angry with Komen because their stated mission is to fight breast cancer, and they tried to pull money from PP's breast cancer screening programs because Karen Handel doesn't like abortion. And no one except Holiday and Max are angry about PP's decision not to take Max's money, because his public stance as a proud sexist is incompatible with PP's mission of caring for women and their health.
I've spent a fair amount of time around anti-abortion people: interviewing them, attending their rallies, listening as they denounce PP clinics as greedy, dirty, money-grubbing "abortuaries." A donation from Tucker Max would never, ever go away, because anti-abortion groups would make sure it didn't. They could easily link it to things like Tucker's charming "Female Rating System".
Abortion is a divisive issue, and Planned Parenthood is as divisive a nonprofit that exists. But ultimately, it seems nearly everyone can agree on one thing: Tucker Max is an ass, and a vehemently sexist one at that. No amount of money, no matter where it goes, can change that.
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