Monday, October 24, 2016

ICYMI: New Haven publisher's response to Huffington Post column by Dr. David Katz criticizing Yale Daily News reports about him


Last month veteran publisher Mitchell Young (New Haven Magazine, Business New Haven, etc.) posted a critical rebuttal to a Huffington Post column by physician/author/columnist David L. Katz MD MPH.

Young's comment was hard to get to, so I obtained Young's permission to publish it here.

It started with these three Yale Daily News articles.

Yale Daily News reporter David Yaffe-Bellany (source)

In February 2014, David Katz MPH ’93, the director of the Yale School of Medicine’s Prevention Research Center, wrote two glowing online reviews of a science-fiction novel called reVision.

In his biweekly column in The Huffington Post, Katz lauded the book’s “lyrically beautiful writing,” comparing it to the work of a veritable “who’s who” of great writers, including Plato, John Milton and Charles Dickens. “I finished with a sense of illumination from a great source,” he concluded.

...But Katz omitted a crucial detail from both reviews: the subject of his praise was his own self-published passion project, released two months earlier under the pseudonym Samhu Iyyam.
Via Instructor criticized for comments by Paddy Gavin, April 21, 2016:
David Katz MPH ’93, founder of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and a voluntary clinical instructor at the Yale School of Medicine, is facing criticism this week from doctors and health care professionals around the world for his quoted comments about investigative journalist Nina Teicholz in a recent article published in the Guardian.
Via Yale doctor’s column raises questions — again by David Yaffe-Bellany, September 12, 2016:
David Katz SPH ’93 — the Yale-affiliated doctor whose over-the-top Huffington Post review of his own self-published novel caused a furor in the nutrition community last year — has once again tested the boundaries of ethical journalism.

In another column for The Huffington Post over the summer, Katz lambasted the Massachusetts-based supermarket chain Big Y, calling its ad campaign for the In-Vince-Ible Pizza, a fatty snack named after NFL star Vince Wilfork, “deeply disturbing.” He described the pizza as symptomatic of the obesity epidemic in America, and questioned the parenting skills of Wilfork, who appears alongside his son in ads for the product.

...But nowhere in the May article, which also appeared in the New Haven Register, did Katz mention another crucial detail: Big Y is not just any supermarket. Just one month before the column was published, Big Y cut ties with a nutritional ratings service, NuVal, that Katz established in 2008 and has passionately championed ever since.

David L. Katz MD MPH (source)

To my knowledge, Dr. Katz did not write any letters to the editor or request published corrections for factual errors or ask for space to write rebuttals to any of the articles.

Instead, he responded via his September 15 Huffington Post column, Butter, Beef, And The Yale Daily News:
I keep turning up in the Yale Daily News lately...Alas, the coverage is all negative.

They reported that I wrote a blog in the 3rd person about my self-published fantasy/adventure novel (which, by the way, my Mother and I think is very good) when the publisher suggested it. In a bizarre story in The Guardian allegedly about the history of sugar, which the writer got substantially wrong, I was horribly misquoted on a topic that was never on the record in the first place. The Yale Daily News never even asked me if I said what I allegedly said (I did not), but they did repeat it, and built a story around that, too. Most recently, I challenged the propriety of a local grocer’s ads for maximizing meat intake, and linking it to ‘invincible’ health against all evidence. That third item was in the Yale Daily News this week.

...(The YDN’s) negative interest in me began exactly when I took a prominent, public position in support of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report; when I campaigned for the inclusion of sustainability in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans; and when I confronted the cabal working to undermine these very things, and peddle more meat.

That’s the common element in this otherwise random coverage: meat.

...That the agents of meat should come after me should surprise no one. When Oprah Winfrey highlighted some of the abuses involved in the mass production of beef in the U.S., they went after her. If Oprah’s platform does not dissuade attack, mine certainly will not.

...The agents of meat, apparently, sift social media daily looking for dirt on me, and have done so for the past two years at least. They don’t find much, because there isn’t much- but they make the most of what they find. And when they can’t make a story of the latest fleck themselves, they peddle it to the Yale Daily News, which is apparently always ready to buy it, few if any questions asked.
If you click this button at the end of his column...

And then click...'ll find Mitchell Young's September 28 comment. (Like I said, it's hard to get to.)

For clarity, I did some minor copy editing which Young approved.

Dr. Katz:

I sympathize with the feelings of unfair treatment in the local media. And I can understand that you believe many of your positive efforts should be well covered by media, especially the Yale Daily News (YDN). The nature of news coverage is that the "Man Bites Dog" story wins out and that's just the way it is.

I have, as you might remember, interviewed you for and in fact reported on your NuVal system. I personally vouched for the system and how it gave me insight into food quality. Further, our publications presented you with what for us is an important recognition of Health Care Hero, one of several that year from a world class community of researchers, providers, care givers. We hosted an event for our Health Care Heroes and presented you with an award directly.

Therefore, I think it is safe to say that our coverage was very positive and I certainly hold the view that your efforts to promote good nutrition and healthful practices have been very laudatory. But as you might imagine a "but" is coming, two in fact.

First, let me say one of your detractors did reach out to us about the negative stories that the YDN reported on. And while we chose not to cover them at the time, I will tell you that they did create problems in my view.

First of all, whether a novel or whether your mom likes a book or not is irrelevant and does not properly address what is (to media people anyway) an important issue. When a "truthteller" which we accept you as and which you present yourself as disguises himself to self promote - how can I say it best? - this is very bad. Frankly, if as repeated and reported is true, a sincere apology is required and not a personal anecdote.

Troubling to me, however, is the Big Y ad commentary. The Big Y Supermarket is the one I shop in and the supermarket that I wrote about when discussing and applauding your nutrition monitoring systems, NuVal.

What does disturb me, however, to the best of my understanding and in this column, is that you did not disclose that you have had through NuVal, a significant business relationship with Big Y in your article attacking their ad in regards to nutrition and health information.

Frankly there is much to attack in supermarket practices including Big Y - and while I applauded the NuVal system and wondered why Big Y chose to use it - it didn't stop them from heavily marketing much unhealthy foods, even more than the healthy ones.

When I was contacted about your alleged "transgressions" I did some checking and learned that at least my Big Y supermarket quietly dropped the NuVal labeling and their own staff wouldn't comment on it and some didn't even know that the labels were removed or covered.

Frankly, I had intended to follow up with you and the corporate offices because frankly that is A BIG STORY and I just didn't get around to it yet .

If Big Y did scale back or drop NuVal, that further underscores your obligation to inform readers of this and your relationship with Big Y when you criticised their promotion of meat.

For the record I do not eat meat, for the health reasons that you and others regularly discuss.

Today we have columnists, advocates, experts and a few journalists still. All are writing and reporting on topics, news and opinions. While columnists and experts might not believe they have a duty to disclose their relationships, one should expect that the public and other media will hold them to the journalistic standard in this case.

If you choose the path of "truthteller," then if you compromise it, YDN or anyone will feel an obligation to explore that – whether we've been fair or kind in coverage in the past or not.

I think that's what happened, and I don't think it is appropriate to make the YDN the target here.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I won my NJ public records lawsuit -- here's my attorney's statement [UPDATED]

UPDATE: Click here for all case records to date, including the judge's October 24, 2016 order in my favor.

UPDATE: Judge: Anyone May Access Records by Karen Knight, Cape May County Herald, October 21, 2016
A New Jersey Superior Court judge has determined that a Georgia man can access state records under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). That differs with a decision rendered earlier this year by an Atlantic/Cape May County Superior Court judge who said out-of-state residents have no right to benefits of the act.

Peter Heimlich, an Atlanta-based investigative blogger, filed a lawsuit in June challenging the Educational Information and Resource Center's (EIRC) denial for records filed under OPRA because he was not a state resident. Attorney C.J. Griffin, of Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, represented Heimlich and specializes in First Amendment law. (cont.)

This morning I won my public records request lawsuit filed against a New Jersey government agency.

As I blogged some months ago, in June attorney CJ Griffin, who specializes in First Amendment law, filed the suit in New Jersey's Gloucester County Superior Court on my behalf.

The case challenged a state agency called the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) which denied a request for records I filed under New Jersey's Open Public Records Act (OPRA) because I'm not a resident of the Garden State.


Here's a statement I just received from CJ who works at the firm of Pashman Stein Walder Hayden in Hackensack:
Today the Honorable Georgia M. Curio, Assignment Judge in Gloucester County, ruled that a person need not be a resident of New Jersey to gain access to government records under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act. Despite OPRA’s opening statement that government records “shall be readily accessible to citizens of this State,” Judge Curio found that the remainder of OPRA’s statutory provisions clearly provide that “any person” may request records and that any ambiguity in the statute was to be construed in favor of access in accordance with the State’s public policy of transparency. Accordingly, she held that Peter Heimlich, an investigative blogger who resides in Georgia, had standing to request records from the Educational Information Resource Center in New Jersey.

Curio is not the first judge to rule on this issue. Law Division judges in Burlington County and Ocean County have both held that “any person” may request government records under OPRA, not just citizens. One judge, however, in Atlantic County, has found that only citizens of New Jersey may request records. That decision is currently being appealed.

“New Jersey is often the subject of national news and is situated between two national media markets, New York and Philadelphia. It makes no sense that national news media would not be able to gain access to New Jersey’s records simply because their journalists do not live here,” said CJ Griffin, attorney for Mr. Heimlich. “We are very pleased that Judge Curio recognized that OPRA repeatedly states that ‘any person’ may gain access to government records and that she has refused to limit OPRA’s scope.”

“The public benefits when government records are made publicly available, regardless of whether they were requested by a local resident or by a journalist who wishes to publish a news story on an newsworthy event occurring in New Jersey.”
Click here for all the case documents I have -- I'll upload more as available.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Raley's supermarkets "phasing out" NuVal nutrition scoring system developed by influential scientists at Harvard, Yale, etc. [UPDATED]

Store locator map via

Last month the Yale Daily News reported that Big Y, a New England supermarket chain, had dropped the NuVal nutrition scoring system.

According to the story, a Big Y executive said the NuVal system --  which was developed by high-profile, influential scientists like Drs. Walter Willett of Harvard and David L. Katz of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center -- was "out of date."
Last week I published a crowdsourcing appeal asking readers if their local supermarkets were using NuVal.

As a result of a tip from a reader, yesterday the media representative of Raley’s Family of Fine Stores, which owns and operates 134 supermarkets in California and Nevada, wrote me that the company is "phasing out" NuVal by the end of this year.

Here are the details.

Shortly after I blogged my crowdsource  request -- my first, by the way -- I received this tweet from valued Sidebar reader Chris Wirth:

As I suspected by his nom de tweet, Chis subsequently confirmed that, like me, he's a fan of P.G. Wodehouse.

Chris also sent me this photo he took last week of a shelf at a Raley's store in Pleasonton, California -- as you see, there are no NuVal rating labels...

 ...which look something like this:


Via a September 14, 2011 press release issued by Raley's and NuVal LLC of Quincy, Massachusetts:
Raley’s Family of Fine Stores has introduced the NuVal™ Nutritional Scoring System in its 124 Raley’s, Bel Air and Nob Hill Foods stores. Raley’s is a family-owned and operated grocery chain with store locations throughout Northern California and Nevada.

...This robust food rating system was developed by a team of recognized nutrition and medial experts, led by Dr. David Katz of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. The NuVal™ Nutritional Scoring System is objective and had no retailer or manufacturer involvement in its development.
David L. Katz MD (source)

Via NuVal's website, here's the "team of recognized nutrition and medial experts":

Chair: Dr. David Katz, Yale University School of Medicine
Dr. Keith Ayoob, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Dr. Leonard Epstein, University of Buffalo; inventor, Traffic Light Diet
Dr. David Jenkins, University of Toronto; inventor, Glycemic Index
Dr. Francine Kaufman, USC; Former President, American Diabetes Association
Dr. Robert Kushner, Northwestern University
Dr. Ronald Prior, Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, USDA HNRC
Dr. Rebecca Reeves, Past President, American Dietetic Association
Dr. Barbara Rolls, Pennsylvania State University
Dr. Sachiko St. Jeor, University of Nevada
Dr. John Seffrin, President & CEO, American Cancer Society
Dr. Walter Willett, Harvard University


In an e-mail yesterday to Chelsea Minor, Raley's Director of PR and Public Affairs, I shared the information I received from Chris and asked her if Raley's was still using NuVal.

Here's her prompt reply:
Raley’s is phasing out the NuVal system at this time. Our stores are on different schedules, but expect the transition to be completed by end of year.
I e-mailed Ms. Minor a follow-up asking why Raley's chose to phase out NuVal and will update this item after I hear from her.

UPDATED, 2:55pm EST: I just got this response from Ms. Minor:
The conversation around nutrition and education has continued to evolve over the past five years and since Raley’s implemented NuVal. Our customers are asking for more information about product nutrition and overall health and wellness, and we are listening and responding. Recently we added a corporate dietitian and regularly feature educational information about nutrition and wellness on our website. Additionally, we share information through our Raley's Something Extra publication and via in store materials. We are also in the process of creating a new system that is personalized and easy to understand.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

CROWDSOURCE: If you shop at these supermarkets, I need your help!


Do you shop at any of the supermarkets pictured in the above map?

If so, I'd welcome your help to move forward a story I'm reporting.

At the moment here's where it's at.

On May 23 I reported an item which included information I turned up suggesting that the New England supermarket chain Big Y may have dropped a high-profile nutrition rating system called NuVal that was developed by these prominent names:

Chair: Dr. David Katz, Yale University School of Medicine
Dr. Keith Ayoob, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Dr. Leonard Epstein, University of Buffalo; inventor, Traffic Light Diet
Dr. David Jenkins, University of Toronto; inventor, Glycemic Index
Dr. Francine Kaufman, USC; Former President, American Diabetes Association
Dr. Robert Kushner, Northwestern University
Dr. Ronald Prior, Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, USDA HNRC
Dr. Rebecca Reeves, Past President, American Dietetic Association
Dr. Barbara Rolls, Pennsylvania State University
Dr. Sachiko St. Jeor, University of Nevada
Dr. John Seffrin, President & CEO, American Cancer Society
Dr. Walter Willett, Harvard University

After posting my item, I spent weeks spinning my wheels trying to find out if Big Y was still using the NuVal system.

Multiple e-mails and messages to Big Y, NuVal LLC (the Quincy, MA company that markets the system), Dr. David Katz, and other players went unanswered.

Four months later via the September 12 Yale Daily News (emphasis added), it turned out that my Spidey Sense got it right:
Big Y adopted NuVal, a service that assigns numerical scores to food products based on their nutritional value, six years ago as part of an effort to promote healthy eating habits. But last April the chain dropped NuVal because of concerns that its ratings algorithm was out of date.
I'm now trying to find out if other NuVal client supermarkets are still using the system.

Based on my previous wheel-spinning, I thought this crowdsourcing approach might be more productive.  

If you're game, next time you're shopping at any of the supermarkets on the map, look for NuVal rating tags like this:


If possible, please take photos and e-mail them to me with details including the store location, the date you visited, and any other information you'd like to share.

If you're really motivated, you could ask a manager or another employee if they know anything.

Click here for my contact information. If you want me to keep anything confidential, please let me know.