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Metabolife Maker Targets ABC News

October 6, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ The maker of a dietary supplement is launching a pre-emptive strike against ABC News in advance of a ``20/20″ segment it believes will show the company in a negative light.

Metabolife International Inc. is posting on the Internet a videotape of an interview that its CEO, Michael Ellis, conducted with ABC News and is spending at least $1.5 million in advertising to call attention to it.

A full-page ad directing people to a Web site with the interview ran in today’s edition of The New York Times.

``What I’m concerned about is that the whole story won’t be out there,″ Metabolife’s CEO, Michael Ellis, said today. ```20/20′ may, and I’m not saying they will, have a different agenda on how they want this story to go.″

An ABC spokeswoman confirmed ``20/20″ is working on a story that examines health claims made by Metabolife for its products. It has no scheduled air date.

``They clearly think this is as important an issue as we do, or else they wouldn’t have been devoting all these resources to rebutting a piece that they haven’t seen yet,″ said Eileen Murphy, ABC News spokeswoman. ``It seems curious to us.″

Ellis said a ``20/20″ representative called to talk to Metabolife 10 days after the company filed a defamation lawsuit against WCBV-TV, an ABC affiliate in Boston, for a story it ran about potential harmful side effects to its products.

Metabolife fears the ``20/20″ story may be in retaliation for the lawsuit, Ellis said.

Murphy said WCBV’s story was one of the reports that persuaded ABC to take its own look into Metabolife. But, she said, it was ``completely and utterly false″ that the assignment was made out of retaliation.

ABC’s interview with Ellis was conducted in an auditorium before more than 300 Metabolife employees and their guests, and was videotaped by Metabolife. Ellis said this was done because he had so many requests from employees to see the interview, and was not an attempt to intimidate ABC.

Murphy said ABC agreed to conduct the interview before an audience because the network believed it was important to get Metabolife’s side of the story.

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