Hewers CEO Loses It

Hewers crisis manager accuses me of “cyber bullying bordering on defamation” for accurately reporting what it says on his website

Yesterday I blogged about Hewers, a self-proclaimed “niche market crisis communication and issues management advisors protecting personal and brand reputation.”

Hewers CEO Neeran Naidoo (source)

Hewers states on the front page of its website that it “was inspired by a speech by apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd.”

Via History.com:

As prime minister from 1958, [Verwoerd] instituted an intricate system of laws separating whites, Africans (blacks), Coloureds, and Asians, and resettled blacks in backwater reservations. These policies provoked anti-apartheid demonstrations by blacks, which were brutally crushed by government forces at Sharpeville and elsewhere.

Via Twitter today, Hewers CEO Neeran Naidoo accused me of “embedded journalism” and “Pottinger-style cyber bullying bordering on defamation.”

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Unappealing

Crisis management reps for complainant in “Banting for Babies trial” say they were inspired by controversial “apartheid architect” Hendrik Verwoerd

I recently blogged about the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), whose former president reported University of Capetown professor Tim Noakes to medical authorities for a single tweet in February 2014 (click here to read more).

ADSA hired crisis management company Hewers to field questions about its uncertain role as complainant in the case subsequently brought against Noakes by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

After a lengthy legal battle lasting just under two years, last month Noakes was found not guilty of unprofessional conduct. The HPCSA is currently appealing the verdict.

Professor Noakes during Banting for Babies trial” (source)

Trying to get answers from Hewers CEO Neeran Naidoo about ADSA’s role proved futile, but last week I got an interesting tip regarding the etymology of the name “Hewers.”

Via Irvine, CA Ophthalmologist Dr. James H. Johnson:

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The Hewers website states that “the name Hewers was inspired by a speech by apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd,” and even quotes “the late politician” as saying that “black South Africans ought to be trained to become ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water.’”

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Verwoerd is a hugely divisive figure in South Africa.

As prime minister during the late fifties and sixties, Verwoerd “introduced numerous laws to establish the raced-based discriminatory system known as apartheid – earning him the title, architect of apartheid.” (Robertson, 2010)

Hendrik Verwoerd (source)

In March 1960, government forces in the South African township of Sharpeville opened fire on a crowd of peaceful black protesters, killing 69 people. Speaking to the British press one year later, Verwoerd described apartheid as “a policy of good neighbourliness.”

In the mid-thirties, Verwoerd (himself an immigrant to South Africa) protested the arrival of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany.

I’ve asked Neeran Naidoo if he believes that openly taking inspiration from such a divisive figure helps with his company’s stated goal of “protecting personal and brand reputation.”

I’ve also asked ADSA’s current president Maryke Gallagher for her take.

ADSA Doubles Down

“Highly unprofessional” – Attempts by South African dietetics organisation to manage PR “crisis” backfire, but spin doctor Neeran Naidoo still won’t answer uncomfortable questions about “Kafka-esque” Tim Noakes inquiry

Last month, I blogged about the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), who recently hired a PR “crisis manager” to answer uncomfortable questions about the “Kafka-esque trial” of University of Cape Town emeritus professor and low-carb high-fat (LCHF) proponent Dr. Tim Noakes.

Professor Tim Noakes (source)

Noakes risked losing his medical licence after former ADSA president Claire Julsing-Strydom complained to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) about a tweet Noakes had sent to a breastfeeding mother in which he said good first foods for infant weaning are LCHF.

After a lengthy legal battle lasting just under two years, last month the HPCSA found Noakes not guilty of unprofessional conduct.

When I e-mailed Julsing-Strydom for comment on the HPCSA’s not guilty verdict, I received a reply from Neeran Naidoo of Hewers, a self-described “niche market crisis communication and issues management advisors protecting personal and brand reputation, especially when things go pear shaped [emphasis added].”

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Naidoo told me he’d been “contracted by the Dietitians Association of South Africa to manage their communications” and that “all queries on this case are referred to me.”

However, he stopped replying when I asked him about evidence suggesting Julsing-Strydom had complained to the HPCSA in her personal capacity and not on behalf of ADSA (more on that shortly).

After I published my item last month, Naidoo began tweeting from his Twitter account for the first time since joining in November last year.

Responding to questions from South African health and nutrition journalist Marika Sboros, who’s covered the Noakes inquiry from the start, Naidoo insisted there is no crisis, only a “conspiracy.”

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When Sboros asked if Naidoo’s services were funded by members’ fees or by sponsors, Naidoo tweeted: “And who funds you to be a Noakes praise singer masquerading as a journalist?”

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In the lengthy comment thread that followed Naidoo’s tweet, Twitter users including award-winning SA legal journalist Tony Beamish criticised Naidoo as being “unprofessional” for taking a “cheap shot unworthy of the respectable diet practitioners among those you’re supposed to represent.”

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I’ve asked Naidoo what ADSA members think about money being spent on his services, and if they believe he is doing a good job of representing ADSA to the public. On that question, I also invited current ADSA president Maryke Gallagher to give her opinion.

ADSA president Maryke Gallagher (source)

Gallagher declined to answer further questions, telling Marika Sboros she doesn’t wish to “provoke debate” and “harp on the past,” but here’s Sboros’ own reply to the question of whether or not Julsing-Strydom complained to the HPCSA in her personal capacity, and why this issue matters:

This issue has definitely and definitively NOT been answered. It has important legal implications for any future action stemming from the hearing. I heard nothing and see nothing in the transcripts to suggest that they addressed the evidence. My opinion is that HPCSA and Claire just ignored all the evidence that Noakes and Michael Van der Nest placed on record showing her personal complaint and unilateral change to her status. Reason? IMHO it’s difficult to answer away bald facts.

Perhaps if they released proof of correspondence showing that they informed Tim of change to her status and why, and thereafter secured his agreement and understanding…That might put the matter to bed finally.

Sboros has also permitted me to publish her unanswered questions to ADSA:

• ADSA’s response to the significant body of evidence that the defence presented for safety and efficacy of LCHF to treat and prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease and increasingly, other serious health issues?

• Will ADSA change its dietary advice in response to the totality of robust science?  If so, when? If not, why not?

• Is ADSA aware of any science for the recommendation to “make starchy foods the basis of most meals”? If so, please provide full journal references. If not, what is evidence-base for ADSA’s support of this recommendation?

• What is ADSA’s response to the latest response in the SAMJ by Prof Tim Noakes and Dr Zoë Harcombe showing that the Naudé Review is so riddled with errors that its conclusions cannot be robust?

• Who funds the services of both ADSA’s PR company, Liquid Lingo and now Neeran Naidoo, CEO of Hewers Communications,  as ADSA’s crisis manager?

• Why does ADSA say that the issue of the HPCSA’s change to Claire’s status as complainant is settled when evidence on the record at the hearing contradicts that view?  Have Maryke and the rest of ADSA’s executive accessed and read all the transcripts, particularly those related to Claire’s status?

• I have still not received clarification of Claire’s email saying that she would “prefer” that I say she complained from the outset as president. That is despite her tweet, emailed letter of complaint and initial correspondence from the HPCSA to Prof Noakes showing clearly that she did so in her personal capacity only. Evidence at the hearing is clear that she complained in her personal capacity. When and why did HPCSA make the change? Why has it taken so long for Claire to clarify that statement?

• There are ambiguities in the document which ADSA executive signed in 2015, well after the fact of Claire’s complaint in her personal capacity in 2014. Who requested the document from the executive? What was the intention behind it?

• Clarification, please, on the statement ADSA released during the October 2016 hearing. In it, ADSA says that it did not lodge a complaint against Prof Noakes but was only “seeking clarity” on conduct of health professionals on social media? Does ADSA still maintain that position? If not, why the statement? Presumably, ADSA was unaware that the HPCSA does not have guidelines for health professionals on social media? Did ADSA ask the HPCSA for guidelines before issuing the statement?

• Last but not least: what is the status of ADSA executive member Katie Pereira’s complaint against Prof Noakes also lodged with the HPCSA in 2014? HPCSA has informed me the case is still ongoing. Will Katie pursue or withdraw?

ADSA in Crisis

The Association for Dietetics in South Africa hires crisis management company to answer uncomfortable questions about “Kafka-esque” Tim Noakes inquiry

Last week, professor Tim Noakes was found not guilty of unprofessional conduct after a lengthy legal battle lasting just under two years.

Some critics have referred to the inquiry as being a “trial,” a nod to Franz Kafka’s 1925 novel about “one man’s fight against a nightmarish bureaucracy.”¹

Noakes risked losing his medical licence had he been found guilty.

Dr. Tim Noakes (source)

The Health Professions Council of South Africa charged Noakes with unprofessional conduct in June 2015 after he allegedly gave “unconventional advice to a breastfeeding mother on a social network.” That was for a single tweet in February 2014, in which he said good first foods for infant weaning are low-carb high-fat (LCHF).

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The charges were brought following a complaint by Johannesburg dietitian Claire Julsing-Strydom, former president of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), who wrote to the HPCSA in her personal capacity.

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According to leading South African health and nutrition journalist Marika Sboros, the HPCSA breached its own rules when it changed Julsing-Strydom’s complaint “from personal to professional and made ADSA the complainant.”

Claire Julsing-Strydom (source)

Julsing-Strydom resigned from her position as ADSA’s president sometime after making her complaint to the HPCSA.

Last week, I e-mailed Julsing-Strydom for comment on the Noakes verdict. Yesterday, I received this e-mail from Neeran Naidoo of Hewers, “a niche market crisis communication and issues management advisors protecting personal and brand reputation, especially when things go pear shaped [emphasis added].”

Hi Dean
You emailed Claire for comment on the verdict.
I have attached a statement with useful links as well as comment from Maryke Gallagher, the current President of ADSA on the verdict.
Let me know if you have any specific questions.
Regards
Neeran

When I asked Naidoo why he had replied on behalf of Julsing-Strydom, he said he had been “contracted by the Dietitians Association of South Africa to manage their communications” and that “all queries on this case are referred to me.”

Neeran Naidoo (source)

When I asked about Julsing-Strydom’s current relationship with ADSA, he said: “Claire is a member of ADSA as a dietitian but she has no formal portfolio.”

Claire Julsing-Strydom’s ADSA profile (source)

Naidoo refused repeated requests for Julsing-Strydom to comment on the Noakes verdict, but said she was willing to answer “other specific questions.”

When I asked Naidoo if Julsing-Strydom agreed she’d complained to the HPCSA in her personal capacity, he said “the complaint was lodged of behalf of ADSA” and that “those with official designations like the President use their personal e-mail or gmail accounts for ADSA purposes.”

However, Naidoo didn’t reply when I asked why Julsing-Strydom told Marika Sboros that she’d “prefer” Sboros to say that she had complained as ADSA president from the start, and why the HPCSA had changed her status after confirming in first correspondence that she was the complainant.

ADSA’s official statement is available to read by clicking here.


¹Bureaucrats look to Kafka by Henry Samuel, The Telegraph, April 15, 2006

Q&A with Marika Sboros

“Not just a tide, a tsunami – Leading health and nutrition journalist Marika Sboros answers my questions about the low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet and explains why the scientific consensus is starting to turn on diet and nutrition

marika-sboros

Marika Sboros

Marika Sboros is one of South Africa’s leading health journalists, with over 30 years experience in the newspaper industry. She has written for several major South African publications, including the Rand Daily Mail and Business Day (owned by Times Media Group), where she currently writes a regular fitness column and commissioned features.

At her highly recommended health and nutrition website FoodMed.net, she writes in-depth about the science behind low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets – or “Banting” as they are known in South Africa.

Since launching last year, FoodMed.net has become the go-to source for all things nutrition-related, with particular emphasis on the Kafka-esque “trial” of LCHF pioneer and University of Cape Town (UCT) emeritus professor Dr. Tim Noakes.

In 2014, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) charged Noakes with unprofessional conduct for giving “unconventional advice to a breastfeeding mother on a social network [Twitter].” That was for a single tweet in February 2014, in which he said good first foods for infant weaning are LCHF.

Last month, I contacted Marika to ask her about the LCHF diet, and about recent efforts by health authorities from around the world to shut down doctors, nutrition scientists, and even journalists whose work challenges the conventional wisdom on nutrition.

She generously agreed to answer my questions.

Q. How did you come to write about the LCHF diet?

A. Nearly three years ago, I started noticing a spate of nasty media reports aimed at South African scientist Prof. Tim Noakes. The reports created the impression that he had lost the scientific plot, that he was doing something terrible, advising beyond his scope of medical practice, expertise etc. Worst of all, that he was telling people to eat foods that would end up killing them on a grand scale.

That piqued my interest as a journalist. I had interviewed him many times in my career – mostly to do with high-carb eating, the benefits of carbo-loading for athletes, optimum nutrition for long-distance runners, that sort of thing. I had always found him to be very rational, a man of huge integrity and intellect. So, I wondered what could be behind this apparent change.

I contacted him to ask for a Skype interview. He agreed immediately, and we ended up speaking for ages.

One question I asked: “I see you only eat apples these days. Why?”

He answered: “I don’t eat apples. I only eat berries.”

“So why did you tell this journalist you only eat apples?” I asked. He told me he had never spoken to the journalist. I was gobsmacked. The journalist, who I knew well, had quoted him verbatim in a lengthy interview in a well-known magazine.

I wondered what on earth would motivate a good journalist to do something like that? I started digging deeper into media coverage and found it littered with similar instances of journalists quoting him directly without ever speaking to him – and without checking their facts.

LCHF proponent Prof. Tim Noakes (source)

I was skeptical about what Prof. Noakes was saying about the research that prompted his dramatic scientific U-turn – what I call his “Damascene” moment. However, because I had respect for him as a scientist and an ordinary human being, I started reading up on the literature, just as he had done.

Slowly but surely, the same awful realisation began to creep up on me: the “experts” had got it all very wrong for decades. We had all been fed a big fat lie. The diet-heart hypothesis was unproven dogma – and still is. It’s the basis on which the “experts” told us to avoid healthy animal fats. Far from avoiding fad diets, I had been on the biggest and most dangerous fad diet of them all most of my adult life because I listened to experts I trusted. I was horrified at the implications, both for my family’s health and people across the globe.

Thus began my journey, my very own Damascene moment, in February 2014.

A year later, I attended the first Low Carb Summit Prof. Tim Noakes and Karen Thomson organised in Feb 2015. Karen is a dynamo all on her own. She is author of a brilliant book, Sugar Free: 8 Weeks to Freedom from Sugar and Carb Addiction. I recommend everyone to read it.

She was so incensed at unprovoked, irrational attacks on Prof. Noakes, who she knew well, she mustered global scientific forces to support him.

The summit was an eye opener, a seminal event for me on my scientific journey. I met many of the world’s finest LCHF minds. Among them: Prof. Steve Phinney, Dr. Eric Westman, Dr. Jay Wortman, Dr. Jason Fung, Dr. Michael Eades, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, Dr. Gary Fettke, and British obesity researcher Dr. Zoe Harcombe. It was a revelation.

What was also a revelation was how nice and decent and perfectly rational these experts were – and are. They were approachable. They also didn’t speak with one “voice.” Some don’t even call their theories LCHF. However, they all say that when people eat real food, that is unprocessed food, as close to its natural state as possible, and avoid grains like the proverbial plague, they naturally tend to eat LCHF.

I began to feel even more confident that I was on to something really big in the world of nutrition science.

I attended the first HPCSA hearing against Prof. Noakes in June 2015. I started off skeptical of his view that there was a concerted campaign to discredit him. I came away convinced of it – and it had nothing to do with him trying to convince me.

I watched in horrified fascination as the HPCSA got to work – as they tried to load the panel with dietitians against him. It made me suspicious. All my interactions with the dietitian who started it all, Claire Julsing-Strydom, just confirmed all my suspicions about hidden agendas. As soon as I started asking questions Strydom didn’t like – about her links with Big Food and the Association for Dietetics in SA (ADSA) of which she was president at the time – she went silent. Until then, I had had a good relationship with her professionally.

Ditto for the HPCSA. They simply wouldn’t talk to me about why they were going after Prof. Noakes as if he were a medical devil incarnate.

Prof. Noakes at the “Banting for Babies” trial early last year (source)

Again, that piqued my interest as a journalist. If there were nothing to hide, why were they keeping everything such a secret?

From there, the rest, as they say, is history. The more I dug, the more orthodox doctors I spoke to, the more their criticisms – more like venomous personal attacks on a distinguished colleague – just didn’t make sense scientifically, ethically or professionally. It all seemed like a vicious over-reaction.

Would you say your experience with LCHF reflects the general experience of others who have come to the diet?

I can’t really answer for the experience of others. I know there is great variety. From my own experience, I can say that I only started on the lifestyle about nine months after I started writing about it. Twitter trolls kept accusing me of being a “closet Banter,” a “cheerleader” for Prof. Noakes, etc. They said that made me biased, unethical, etc., ad nauseum. So I thought I might as well be hanged for the lamb (a great LCHF food) as for the tougher sheep.

I decided to give LCHF eating a try. I had no preconceptions, as I had tried every other diet under the sun in more than 30 years writing on health. Not for weight loss, as I’ve never had a weight problem, but just for health. I was also mostly vegetarian at the time and didn’t much relish the prospect of eating meat. 

I went cold turkey (another good Banting meat). I cut out all bread, pasta, pizza, chocolate, sugar, all personal favourites. I was a BIG chocoholic. My experience was astoundingly positive. After a week to 10 days I started feeling different, better in many subtle ways. Especially mood swings and that predictable “afternoon slump” that would have me reaching for a high-carb snack as if my life depended on it. The only variable that had changed was to my diet.

I kept it quiet at first because I knew if I started bleating about my personal experience, it would energise the trolls. Now I don’t care what they say and no longer bother to give them oxygen. If anyone accuses me of bias in Prof. Noakes’ favour, or any other LCHF expert, I say: “sure I’m biased – in favour of good science.” And if anyone can show me the science to prove they’re wrong, I’ll publish it.

Why the recent clampdown on journalists (Nina Teicholz, US) and doctors (Dr. Gary Fettke, Australia) who question the conventional wisdom on nutrition?

On a macro level, I see it as powerful, global vested interests at work, drug, food and soft drink industries who have a lot to lose if the low-fat, high-carb paradigm is no longer mainstream. On a micro level, it is individual doctors, dietitians and academics who are in bed with those industries and who have bad cases of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.

As Upton Sinclair said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Prof. Rory Collins in the UK and his irrational support for statins is but one of the most egregious examples.

One thing all these people lack is humility – and the courage it takes to say: “I got it wrong. I’m sorry.”

Is the tide turning on the old ways of thinking about nutrition, and do you see the science vindicating Prof. Noakes and Dr. Fettke, as with Nina Teicholz last month?

Oh I’d say the tide is most definitely turning. Developments in the HPCSA hearing – trial really – against Prof. Noakes in South Africa is one big sign. Another is Down Under – the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) attack on Dr. Gary Fettke; in the US, the attacks on Nina after publication of her groundbreaking book, The Big Fat Surprise. That’s another book I think every doctor and dietitian should read. 

US author/journalist Nina Teicholz (source)

Recently, nearly 200 assorted Canadian doctors and other health professionals having the courage to speak out.

And most recently, another blockbuster book by US science writer Gary Taubes, The Case Against Sugar. It continues the demolition job science has done on the science – or lack thereof – on which official dietary guidelines have been based for decades.

Not just a tide, a tsunami.

Any recommendations from the LCHF cookbook you think might possibly sway a long-time vegetarian like myself?

I’ve never heard any LCHF “guru” or pioneer I’ve spoken to say that LCHF is for everyone. They all say that there is no one-size-fits-all diet. LCHF is brilliant for those who are obese, diabetic, have heart disease, even cancer. But it’s very much trial and error.

Prof. Noakes once told me he knows of a vegan extreme athlete who is LCHF, and eats only avocado and coconut oil! He says he wouldn’t advise that anyone else do that, but it works for the athlete. His times are good, all his health markers are good – his microbiome clearly copes with that diet.

I have told Prof. Noakes to write Banting for Vegetarians. He has put it on his lengthy “To Do” list.

One of his favourite sayings has become indelibly etched in my mind: If you have to exercise to regulate your weight, your diet is wrong. Get rid of addictive foods.”

Great advice for us all.

To read more from Marika, click here to visit her website, FoodMed.net.
You can follow her on Twitter by clicking here.