- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Betting on Zero” takes Herbalife to task for what, its critics say, is a pyramid scheme that has robbed millions of Americans — most of them poor, immigrant or non-native English speakers — of their savings. In the midst of it all is CEO Michael O. Johnson, cheerily proclaiming that anybody “can” get rich by selling their meal replacement shakes and supplements, but subject after subject tells of investing thousands of dollars, only to have the unsold inventory rotting on shelves at home.

The mantra of the company, according to the film, is simple: Get more people to sell. Working from the top down, those at the bottom suffer while those at the top only line their pockets.

The doc follows efforts by a billionaire activist investor named Bill Ackman to expose Herbalife’s model as a pyramid scheme. While the “investigation” is somewhat less than fascinating, it’s a boost to those who might fear that anyone with resources at his disposal cares not for the “little guy.”

“Betting on Zero” screens Friday at 8:30 p.m. At the National Portrait Gallery. A Q&A will follow with director Ted Braun, Mr. Ackman, film subject Julie Contreras and NPR’s Ricardo Sandoval Palos.

UPDATE: In a Monday statement provided by director Ted Braun, the filmmaker claimed that members of Heather Podesta + Partners, a D.C. lobbying group that represents Herbalife, purchased 173 tickets — half of all available seats — to the sold-out screening at the Double Exposure Film Festival.

“Those tickets went unclaimed, effectively preventing interested members of the Washington, D.C., community from seeing our film,” Mr. Braun said. “Herbalife never responded to an invitation by Double Exposure to participate in a discussion following our screening. That decision, coupled with Heather Podesta + Partners’ deliberate attempt to thwart an interested D.C. audience from seeing our documentary, seems like another step by Herbalife to avoid the serious questions raised by the film and the recent FTC settlement, and to prevent the public from seeing ‘Betting on Zero.’ In the context of a festival devoted to investigative filmmaking, such actions are particularly questionable and disappointing for a publicly traded company operating in an open democracy.”   

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