AA is a Cult, part 51

Eleventh Tradition. Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us. 

Short: Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films. 


There is a sixty-seven year old jab at an AA member in this Tradition. In 1940, famous baseball player Rollie Hemsley told the press he was recovering from alcoholism as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. In an instant, he became the public face of AA. Bill Wilson, founder of AA, was incensed. If anyone was going to get the glory and attention of press interviews, it ought to be him. So Bill broke anonymity, repeatedly, for years. 

The Twelve Traditions weren’t formally adopted until 1950, however the group had always had a policy of anonymity. This refusal to give glowing interviews about the wonders of the Oxford Group had been one reason the OG had been happy to break with these secretive drunks. The Oxford Group wanted glory and so, it turned out, did Bill Wilson. He gave a series of press interviews before embarking on a multi year national speaking tour. 

Probably the most influential article appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in March, 1941. AA membership quadrupled within a year to 8,000 nationwide. By the following month AA secretary Ruth Hock said she’d received 1,600 letters in response. After that Bill was on a press mission. AA was written about uncritically by the White Plains Reporter Dispatch, Fresno Bee, Dallas Morning News, Journal-Herald, Windsor Daily Star, Chicago Herald American, Washington Star, Los Angeles Times, and many, many more.

Radio interviews were a big deal too.  AA segments began on various local radio programs, and dedicated AA programs started up in New York and Florida. AA might not take out ads, but any suggestion it doesn’t actively seek to promote itself – and has not done so since the beginning – is laughable. AA loves positive free press and works hard to get it. 

Finally I just want to draw attention to the wording of the short form. Like much of AA literature, it has been preserved as if in a time capsule, back to the days of Bill W., before the internet existed. If the primary purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous was to help alcoholics get and stay sober, we could expect the materials to be updated to reflect changes in the world since the 1930s when it all began. But if Alcoholics Anonymous is a cult religion which treats its venerated founder as a messiah figure, preserving his archaic words makes perfect sense. 

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