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Slap: Lap-Band Doctors Paint Newspaper Reporters as Gangsters

Slap: Lap-Band Doctors Paint Newspaper Reporters as Gangsters

Picture of William Heisel

lap-band, william heisel, antidote, reporting on health, weight loss

The doctors behind the "Diets Fail!" campaign to get people to undergo Lap-Band surgery have innovated again.

Failing to win a libel case against the newspaper that exposed their shady business practices, they are attempting to persuade a judge to treat newspaper reporters like characters out of The Sopranos.

Here's what they're essentially saying:

Eat whatever you want. Then get a Lap-Band. You don't like that medical advice? You must be in the mafia trying to extort money.

I almost didn't believe it when I saw this piece from Courthouse News Service: Ad Profits Steer Negative LA Times Coverage, Lap-Band Marketer Says. The suit is being brought by 1-800-GET-THIN, the company that markets cheap Lap-band surgeries all over Southern California in clinics that have seen a series of bad outcomes and patient deaths. It names the Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times, and reporters Michael Hiltzik and Stuart Pfeifer.

The Courthouse News story almost reads like a press release for the lawyers bringing the lawsuit, but stick with it. Matt Reynolds at Courthouse News writes:

Boosting revenue for the ailing newspaper was the sole motivation behind the Times' "sham attack against its advertisers' competitors," the weight-loss company claims, noting that the newspaper is plagued by a $13 billion debt and filed for bankruptcy on December 8, 2008, as part of the Tribune Co.

"Its extreme financial condition has placed it in the position of operating what amounts to a gangland protection racket," 1 800 Get Thin says, adding that the newspaper essentially "sold immunity against adverse news" to its advertising clients.

You have to give the 1-800-GET-THIN guys credit for persistence. This is the fourth lawsuit they have filed against the newspaper.

"They tried to bring these same claims in federal court, and Judge Otis Wright rejected them," Times Vice President for Communications Nancy Sullivan told Reynolds. "Three other lawsuits filed against the Los Angeles Times and its employees have been thrown out of court. We are confident that this latest, equally meritless lawsuit also will be thrown out."

As Reynolds notes, two days after this lawsuit was filed, the Times' Stuart Pfeifer wrote a story about another patient who died after undergoing surgery at a clinic that was part of the "Dieting Sucks" and "1-800-GET-THIN" campaigns. Pfeifer wrote:

An Orange County woman has died after weight-loss surgery at a West Hills outpatient clinic, the fifth person to die shortly after Lap-Band procedures at clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN advertising campaign since 2009, according to lawsuits, coroner's records and interviews.

Paramedics rushed Paula Rojeski on Sept. 8 from Valley Surgical Center to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead, said Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter. The coroner's office performed an autopsy but has not yet determined how she died.

Rojeski, 55, was the second Lap-Band patient to die after surgeries at the West Hills facility on Woodlake Avenue, which has used multiple names, most recently Valley Surgical Center. Three patients have died after procedures at another clinic on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, which also has used numerous names including Beverly Hills Surgery Center.

Perhaps the most ridiculous claim in this lawsuit is the claim that Hiltzik is working with a series of bloggers to get them to write about the Lap-Band clinics, too. I used to work three desks away from Hiltzik, and I can't get the guy to reply to a single email. If any newspaper reporter ever had the time to organize an army of bloggers on their behalf, those days are long over.

The one accurate piece of information in the lawsuit is the fact that the Times – like newspapers across the country – is in very dire financial straits.

Slap blog posts highlight threats, lawsuits and other actions to stop reporters and whistleblowers in their tracks, make them second-guess themselves or make them shut up. Got an example? Post it in the comments below or email me directly at askantidote@gmail.com. To read more of my posts on irresponsible Lap-Band marketing, click here

Related Posts:

Slap: Help Me Track Attempts to Silence Health Reporters and Whistleblowers

Photo credit: Shockingly Tasty via Flickr

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