Monday, October 26, 2009
Gaby Wood Libels, Defames MeMe Roth
Gaby Wood wrote a smear piece. She got all sorts of attention for it, and plenty of bloggers and lesser publications cite the article daily. It served her needs. But did it serve the reader?
I made my career in public relations, I earned a degree in journalism, and I'm nothing if not a news junkie. I get it. Doing P.R. is a bit of a Faustian Bargain--I'm not naive. And with National Action Against Obesity being a non-partisan, all-volunteer organization, i.e., no money, P.R. is an efficient means for moving the agenda forward--but a means that comes with a degree of risk.
So working with the press over the years, I've taken my lumps...comes with the territory. False introductions on live tv, lazy reporters who just cut-n-paste from rumor blogs, aggressive license-taking with the truth...
But also I've had the pleasure working with real pros committed to getting it right, getting the facts, and substantiating those facts. In most cases, legitimate journalists stake their reputations on sound journalistic methods and ethics--the Journalistic Code.
While various existing codes have some differences, most share common elements including the principles of — truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability — as these apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.
Gaby Wood of the Guardian/Observer conducted an interview with me early this year. As does any writer, she made choices. But in Gaby Wood's case, she chose to ignore much of the truth, was blase about accuracy, lacked objectivity and impartiality, and delivered a piece to the public that was not a fair and accountable example of journalism.
Gaby Wood decided I should look bad, and took every opportunity to deliver on her personal agenda, whether getting her jabs in about my maiden name, glasses and hair or reworking my answers into half-truths.
The truth is that I'm a national news pundit and nutrition counselor who regularly sees the damage of improper eating. That doesn't make me someone who hates food--far from it.
I grew up surrounded by the devastating effects of obesity's toll on those I love and respect the most. That is not an attack on my mother.
I believe the power of pop culture can be harnessed to influence positive change in nutrition. No, I didn't criticize Jennifer Love Hewitt--I defended her. Yes, I criticized Angelina Jolie for stuffing Cheetos down the throats of her beautiful children. Do her and Brad Pitt's kids not deserve better than transfat, artificial food coloring and MSG? If not, what's all that money and hired help for..?
I believe, just as we've done with littering, plastic bags and smoking, that we must stigmatize the products and practices associated with obesity-not the people.
I believe once we hold the individual responsible for his/her choices, we individuals will band together and force industry to make change. We've shown we can be swift and forceful. Look to the examples of transfat, bovine growth hormones and BPA.
I believe food makers and marketers knowingly harm their customers, and yet, justify their despicable methods by claiming customers "enjoy it."
I believe there's no need to fetishize food or unyieldingly pressure people to eat when nourishing one's body already delivers a cascade of pleasure chemicals.
I believe food should never be used as prize or punishment.
I damn sure don't believe harmful, food-like substances should be in daycare centers and schools.
And yeah, I'm a big proponent for the soda tax, testified for calories on menu boards, and volunteer on several sub-committees of the non-partisan Center for Science in the Public Interest. This makes me a frequent target of the food/beverage lobbyists.
I do not see obesity as a health and beauty ideal. For that, the pro-fat-acceptance movement wants to bully me into submission.
I seek to challenge cultural memes that have ushered in this era of obesity. That includes every business meeting having to involve eating, (I love eating and love meeting, but the combo diminishes the pleasure of both.), eating by the clock rather than the demands of one's day or needs of one's body, and falling into our culture of mindless, improper eating. My approach is mindful eating. And my results?
Gaby Wood wants you to believe the worst about me, when here I am fighting to stay healthy, defying a family history of obesity, and breaking the obesity cycle before it ensnares my own children.
She refused to report that I'm at a healthy weight for my height. Every item on my recent physical is healthy--from the mammogram and thyroid check to every single line item on the blood panel including triglycerides, cholesterol, glucose, etc. I've conceived, carried and nursed two healthy children. I'm on zero prescriptions. And quite frankly, I really dig my body.
It's true I've never been wild about breakfast. (Now, 3am at Waffle House is a COMPLETELY different story.) If I'm traveling or have back-to-back meetings, I do enjoy oatmeal with sliced almonds, raisins, a little skim milk and a pinch of brown sugar. As many of you know, I'm a "mostly-Vegetarian." And while I don't exactly count calories, based on my weight and exercise habits, I average about 1600-1800 calories per day. (Burrito Bowls from Chipotle are the best..! More on that in another post.)
And yeah, I do exercise about an hour everyday. And no, I don't like to run with food on my stomach. I found out a long time ago, like many runners, that's a total no-go. Two pregnancies only made it more true.
Gaby Wood made a point in our meeting that she has blood sugar problems in her family and they must eat more frequently than most. I don't have any blood sugar issues. More importantly though, I thought I was meeting her for a half hour, not 2 and a half hours. I had worked late into the night, slept in, rushed to meet her, and then had to rearrange my day on the spot as the meeting dragged on, including making alternate arrangements for my children to be picked up from school. Gaby didn't disclose any of the above in her article--it didn't help tell the story she was determined to tell.
Gaby Wood ignored my vast knowledge about obesity and the food industry. She simply didn't do her homework reviewing the many available resources to her, interviewing clients and colleagues I've worked with over the years, or contacting the world-renowned physicians who support my efforts. There are more than 1000 members of the NAAO community in the U.S., as well as a few members in the U.K., Australia, Canada and India. There's even a high school NAAO club in Florida. How many of you heard from Gaby Wood? Gaby Wood didn't even bother with basic journalist practices of follow-up questions or fact-checking. Creative writing doesn't require one to follow journalistic code.
That's exactly what Gaby Wood delivered in her smear piece. She took threads of truth to weave together a fanciful yarn of pure fiction. Her piece has done incalculable damage to my personal and professional reputation. Yes her work was libelous. Yes her work was defamation. Sadly, repeated requests for retraction and formal apology will be answered only with the aid of lawyers.