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Jonathan Weil

Bill Ackman's Hilariously Inept Crusade Against Herbalife

Bill Ackman isn't playing nice in his campaign against Herbalife, but he's playing the system the same way big corporations do.
Is the astroturf growing? Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg
Is the astroturf growing? Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

Astroturf-marketing campaigns and manufactured news events are standard fare for big corporations looking to influence lawmakers, regulators and the public. We've grown numb to their antics. So it's usually not a big story when some hare-brained promotion or lobbying effort goes wildly off track.

But when a billionaire hedge-fund manager uses the same techniques to attack a company whose stock he's shorting, the dark arts of public relations suddenly seem novel again. And so the New York Times today delivered a well-researched opus on Bill Ackman's hilariously inept crusade against Herbalife Ltd., the nutritional-products distributor.