Having said all that, the Times’s piece could have been better balanced. Surprisingly, it doesn’t report that most of the “Friends of Herbalife” letter’s signers had taken Herbalife cash, as earlier reported by the Post. It notes only one, the National Puerto Rican Coalition. And it doesn’t mention anything about the millions it has poured into UCLA, whose scientists have given it their imprimaturs, as the Los Angeles Times’s Michael Hiltzik found last year.

More problematic, the Times doesn’t mention that Herbalife spent seven times more money lobbying last year than Ackman did. Herbalife isn’t even in the Fortune 500, but it ranked 290th in the country in lobbying last year after ramping up to fight Ackman.

To a certain extent, then, it looks like Ackman’s trying to fight fire with fire. That doesn’t excuse the astroturfing, of course, but it raises questions about why the Times, in a generally fine piece, didn’t focus at least a little more on Herbalife’s activities.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.