Diet-pill vendor plays - Web offense with ABC

SAN DIEGO: Fearing what it believes will be a negative report on its product by ABC’s 20/20, the maker of a controversial weight-loss supplement has launched an aggressive - and unprecedented - PR counterattack.

SAN DIEGO: Fearing what it believes will be a negative report on its product by ABC’s 20/20, the maker of a controversial weight-loss supplement has launched an aggressive - and unprecedented - PR counterattack.

SAN DIEGO: Fearing what it believes will be a negative report on

its product by ABC’s 20/20, the maker of a controversial weight-loss

supplement has launched an aggressive - and unprecedented - PR

counterattack.



Metabolife International, which produces the herbal weight-loss

supplement Metabolife, has posted an entire ABC interview with its CEO

on the Internet, before the show has aired.



’Don’t wait for ABC to show its edited version of the interview with

Metabolife’s CEO and medical doctor,’ shouts the site. ’See the full

interview right here!’



Leading the PR charge is Michael Sitrick, head of Sitrick & Co. and no

stranger to playing down and dirty with the media (see profile p14).



Metabolife’s main beef is that it thinks ABC will base a ’significant

portion of the story’ on the comments of Dr. Steven Heymsfield, who is a

trustee of rival Slim-Fast’s Nutrition Institute.



Sitrick also hinted the timing of the piece was suspicious, since 20/20

called Metabolife a short time after the company filed a defamation

lawsuit against a Boston ABC affiliate which ran a story about

potentially harmful side effects. ’Hopefully, this will give them some

inclination to do a balanced story,’ he said.



ABC News vehemently denied that the assignment was borne out of

retaliation, and accused Sitrick of using strong-arm tactics. ’To get

people to believe that it’s retaliatory is preposterous,’ said ABC News

spokeswoman Eileen Murphy. ’(The campaign) is a clear attempt to

intimidate us and have an impact on our editorial process, and we’re not

going to let that happen.’



Asked if the PR gambit will do more harm than good, Sitrick replied, ’We

think the facts are on our side.’ Responded Murphy: ’They’re trying to

muddy the waters before people even see (the show).’ The piece will

probably air within a month.



The interview - conducted in an auditorium in front of 300 employees -

was taped by Metabolife as well as by ABC. Sitrick claimed the company

taped the interview for its employees: ’We didn’t start out with the

idea of putting it on the Web.’



But it is there now and has the media buzzing, with Metabolife claiming

that this is the first time an uncut news magazine interview has been

released to the public.



The Web site also contains reams of data on the supplement.



Metabolife says its product speeds up a person’s metabolism even without

exercise, curbing the appetite of users.



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