On February 14, 2010—Valentine’s Day—LA Times reporter Michael Hiltzik shared the first of several investigative pieces about a Beverly Hills outfit marketing lap-band gastric bypass under the easy-to-remember call-in number 1-800-Get-Thin. He ended the article with information about a woman who was charged $15,000 in advance on her credit card by TopSurgeons for surgery she says she never agreed to, forcing her to go to court to win back a $3,000 “cancellation fee.”
A year later, via a lawsuit filed against the LA Times July 1 in U.S. District Court, 1-800-GET-THIN LLC is making its own explosive allegations. Among the marketing company’s contentions is the charge that Hiltzik posed as other people to comment on his own articles on the LATimes.com website*:
On February 14, 2010, a “blogger” named “snapshots” published the following on LATimes.com: “Thank you for researching what could very well be a public health and personal financial risk to many…”
1-800-GET-THIN is informed and believes that “snapshots” and many other bloggers identified below are actually Hiltzik operating under false “sock-puppeteer” aliases where he created phony “shills” and “strawmen” screen names to promote himself.
1-800-GET-THIN is also going after Hiltzik’s colleague Stuart Pfeifer for a trio of 2011 articles it says were “sponsored by competitors.” In addition to Hiltzik and Pfeifer, the complaint names dozens of online commenters as defendants, including RUJoking?!, RamonaInCorona, and OCChick.
*If substantiated, this will not be the first time Hiltzik has run into problems for reader-response impersonation. Please see comments below.