Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

So, Julie Contreras has been in the gnus a lot lately.
NY POST Stories about
Julie Contreras
And after today(technically now yesterday when originally posted), she is certain to be in the news again tomorrow(today) after Michelle Celarier writes another story about her(at least, I suspect she will, although she hasn't yet). The real question is how much of the truth is Celarier and the NY Post actually reporting? You see, today, a small group of six(possibly 7 or 8) Herbalife protesters gathered outside of the GM Building in which Carl Icahn's offices are located. Surrounding that group of anti-Herbalife protesters (red asterisks) was a group of approximately 200+ pro-Herbalife counter-protesters wearing "I AM HERBALIFE" t-shirts, carrying Herbalife banners and various posters. It was a scene similar to the Ackman-sponsored LULAC Waukegan event held in Chicago's Lincoln United Methodist Church in January. What was strikingly different about the event though was Michelle Celarier. Granted, she was present at the Chicago event, however at the event, she was not merely a casual observer, but was actually orchestrating and directing the anti-Herbalife protesters, even suggesting where the group situated themselves and even attempted to gain them access to the GM building. Below is a picture in which you can clearly see Celarier above the group on the steps, in her black fur hat and red leather gloves; a circle of pro-Herbalife supporters in between her and her charge.

The @HerbalifeTRUTH twitter handle also posted pictures appearing to show Celarier was also assisting the demonstrators in attempting to gain access to the GM building.

How did she get there though? Well, it all started yesterday when her friend

Julie Contreras got called out in a letter signed by a voting member of LULAC's National Board of Directors and National Vice President, Ralina Cardona, as well LULAC's New York State Director, Eduardo Laguerre. In that letter (embedded below) Cardona and Laguerre requested that the NY Post's Editor in Chief, Col Allan, retract and correct Michelle Celarier's February 24th article. In that letter Ms. Cardona states that Contreras' recent actions are not sanctioned by the National LULAC organization, or the New York State Organization(or any of it's local councils). National Executive Director Brent Wilkes disagreed with this assessment. His official statement to me was:
“The National Board of LULAC has voted on repeated occasions to engage in an advocacy campaign with respect to Herbalife that will do three things:

1) to encourage Herbalife to make reforms to its business model that we believe will benefit Latino consumers including the company’s current distributors,

2) to support law enforcement investigations of the company’s business practices by helping Latinos defrauded by the company to file complaints with the appropriate agencies, and
3) to assist Latino victims in their efforts to recover money they lost to the company.”
It'd be interesting if the NY Post were to ever report both sides of the story(much less correct their gross inaccuracies), but I won't hold my breath. I was quite surprised actually when Josh Kosman wrote in the Post(and Celarier coat-tailed him) that TPG "took a long look" buying Herbalife.  I'm not sure why the Post would ever ignore any internally inconsistent claims at LULAC, but it is clear that there is a dividing line with Brent Wilkes on one side and Ms Cardona on the other. Discounting the possibility of any potential beef between a NY LULAC member getting their turf stepped on by a local Illinois member, Cardona further reveals in that letter that the Illinois State Director, Jose Javier Lopez, made a formal complaint to the national board about Ms. Contreras' comments regarding Dr. Juan Andrades, a LULAC supporter and Presidential Citizens Medal recipient. The letter also indicated that the New York Post's article inferred Contreras' activities were somehow sanctioned. Ms. Cardona expands by stating:
"In fact, at the October 2014 national board of directors meeting in Washington DC, the board passed a motion that LULAC would refrain from any further actions for or against this issue until a final decision regarding their investigation is rendered by the Federal Trade Commission."
Regardless of what you think about Herbalife, from a policy perspective this stance seems pretty reasonable. It seems to be saying that LULAC should stay out of the fray until the FTC makes a determination about Herbalife following review of materials gathered through the CID they sent the company.

Actually, it really all started earlier, when on Tuesday the New York Post wrote a story that LULAC was protesting Carl Icahn's and George Soros' investments in Herbalife. A vigil of about six individuals that is taking place right now(see picture above). In that same article the Post wrote that Soros has sold down it's stake in Herbalife, but then added 1.6 million shares, for a 3.8% stake in the company. Funny story about that, is that Celarier had previously reported in January that Soros had completely sold out of Herbalife and was no longer in it.

"Sohn left Soros Fund Management in November, The Post learned late Monday, shortly after the fund sold its last Herbalife shares — possibly getting out with a marginal profit."
What is confusing to me is how the Post could have these two stories coexist. The same author, the same paper, the same editors, the same stock. They sold their last share or they didn't. They own the stock or they don't. It is striking to me just how much grief Celarier gave Bloomberg, officially contacting two journalists' editors demanding they include an additional disclosure about analyst Tim Ramey (although all of his research reports have all the disclosure you'd want), yet when challenged on the inaccuracies and inconsistencies in their own "reporting" flippantly dismiss such concerns and refuse to correct them.

She's actually bragging that Bloomberg corrected an article because she emailed the editors!

This is after Celarier's previous reports that activists "quashed a talk at a top lawyer's conference that was expected to focus on the controversial company's battle with hedge-fund nemesis Bill Ackman." Celarier expanded on the theme by taking to Twitter to claim that the panel was modified over FTC concerns.

Interested in the truth, I dug around myself; as it turns out, one esteemed registrant for the ABA conference (that does NOT work for Herbalife, so don't even go there) referred to this idea as "prePOSTerous" and denied that activists had any affect on the panel whatsoever. They referred to the premise as "crazy" and informed me of another report elsewhere that directly contradicted the Post's version of the events; a sentiment echoed by numerous sources.

Well, I guess it actually all started a couple of weeks ago  when the New York Post wrote a story that former Herbalife distributors, (organized by Contreras of course), were going to object to a class action settlement reached in October between litigants in the Dana Bostick case. The article further claimed that literally after months of agitating in the state, that Contreras had reached a total of 25 individuals that had filed complaints against Herbalife. I'm not certain how many thousands of Herbalife members and distributors there was/is in Illinois, but I'll guess it's far more than 25. 

Well, no I take that back. It actually it all started In February when the New York Post manufactured a story about Ms. Contreras' rage that the FTC Chairwoman, Edith Ramirez, was appearing at the American Bar Association's Annual Consumer Protection Conference. I guess technically it was true that "the move is angering some consumer activists", but it seems to ring hollow when it is the same activist over and over again.

No wait, I stand corrected, it actually all started in mid January when the New York Post wrote a story about Bill Ackman's attendance at a Contreras/Ackman organized event attended by about 100 people (half of which appeared to be either reporters, analysts or film crews).
The Post story pretty much deflected the fact that literally BUSLOADS of pro-Herabalife protesters showed up to the event and chose instead to claim that George Soros had completely sold out of it's Herbalife position(a claim the post has yet to correct).

Geez, it's a little hard to get my facts straight here. My memory is a bit fuzzy. You see, it actually all started in January when the New York Post wrote a story about a Contreras organized event slated to take place later that month, in which Contreras referred to Ackman as a "brother in the struggle." In that same article the Post reported that the National office of LULAC had demanded that local chapters return donations Herbalife had made to them.

Errr...ummm...,well it actually all started in July when the New York Post wrote a story about Herbalife's request that Contreras formally retract defamatory statements she made on Univision about the company.

No, that's wrong too, because it really all started in May with a four adult protest of the National Museum of Mexican Art Gala in Chicago. Julie, who is the local council leader for LULAC's Waukegan, IL chapter and a big-time critic of Herbalife, had organized the protest over Herbalife's sponsorship of the event.

All sorts of confused here; it actually all started in April when Contreras was quoted as a source in a NY Post article last April claiming that the Illinois Attorney General was investigating Herbalife, which she learned when she met with lawyers in Madigan's office.

Oh, who knows anymore when it really all started. Its clear to me that Michelle Celarier and Bill Ackman have cultivated a relationship with a local LULAC member and are attempting to leverage that for sound bites and clickbait in any way they can muster. Celarier claims that Contreras is an "unpaid volunteer" and she very well could be (I don't claim otherwise). I tried to find out. I've emailed her over the past couple of weeks asking directly if she'd compensation or future commitments to future compensation, but she has yet to respond. I have also reached out to Ms. Celarier (and her editors) yet as of this update, I have not received a reply. If they do respond to those inquiries I will update this post immediately.

Let me be very clear that I am not accusing Contreras in any way of being on the take. What I can say  though is that practically anybody can easily see for themselves that over the past 10 months or so, the NY Post, and Ackman, have continually utilized Ms Contreras as either a tool or a quotable source. It is entirely possible Contreras is not being compensated in any way for this so don't discount that possibility. I do not know Ms. Contreras, so I cannot be a judge of her character in any way, nor do I know her motivations. It has caught my attention because she is a local chapter member in Illinois, which has hosted local events in Illinois, but is also traveling to New York to organize, unsanctioned activities without the consent of LULAC and in direct defiance of LULAC's national proceeding on the matter. It is also notable that a friend of Celarier's, has continually been written about in the NY Post and held high by the Post as the standard view of LULAC when there is clearly dissent within LULAC about any LULAC sponsored actions against Herbalife(both Herbalife and Pershing Square have donated to LULAC). It is also interesting that this same member is also organizing a challenge to the prospective Herbalife settlement, although this settlement was approved by complainants in the Bostick class action case, complainants' counsel and the presiding judge. I do not know if Contreras herself is a party to the action. So, is Celarier promoting a friend(Contreras/Ackman, take your pick) or reporting the news? 

When Josh Brown learned from Michelle Celarier that she shouldn't gloat, but was right about Ackman and Herbalife I can't help but think what exactly she's gloating about? Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for attempting to blow up your confidential sources, your inaccurate and possibly libelous reporting/tweets and your obviously partial participation in crafting the very anti-Herbalife events you write about. I cannot muster one iota of respect for a reporter that was so quick to jump on the Brian Williams bandwagon yet simultaneously creates news for the sake of another, while hundreds and thousands of honest, accurate, hardworking journalists articulate real news tirelessly day after day. One young journalist said to me that they learned in school to 'never take a ride on a billionaire's private jet.'

I guess when it comes to your friends though, no news makes good news, until the gnu is the news.