good to be true
Paul Sheehan and the magic water
1 February 2005
Down at the Brushtail Café the talk was mostly about the resurrection
of Kim Beazley. How many times, the wits were asking, can you reheat
a pork pie before you end up down at the emergency ward getting stomach-pumped.
But I wasnt chewing the fat, I had a missing persons job that
really intrigued me: the disappearance of Unique Water inventor Russell
Beckett. The Canberra
scientist had skipped town and I had a client who wanted to find him.
He was said to be in the US or maybe Canada in the company of Tania
Shelley, daughter of Berts Soft Drinks owner Denis Shelley. Berts
manufactures the magic mineral water thats supposed to cure or
prevent everything from arthritis to Alzheimers plus make you live forever
and have many babies.
Becketts disappearance had Denis Shelley worried, and not just
because he hadnt heard from his daughter. Beckett had vanished
before the start of the products long-promised clinical trials
at Royal Melbourne Hospital trials that would make or break magic
waters wondrous and untested medicinal claims; trials that were
awaited with interest by the ACCC.
Becketts disappearance had the Sydney Morning Heralds
celebrity loony-right journalist Paul Dog Whistle Sheehan
worried too. In the 24 January edition, exclusively revealing the scientists
disappearance, Sheehan was back-peddling and trying to sound like hed
always been a cautious Unique Water sceptic, rather than a booster.
What on earth was he thinking?Sheehan wondered publicly.
But the real question is: what was Sheehan thinking when he triggered,
in his own words, a bonanza of free publicity for the product
when it was launched in April 2002.
Sheehans original puff piece ran in the Good Weekend of
6 April 2002. He got the cover too, and his story directed the public
to Berts Taren Point factory, where the stuff could be purchased
Of course Sheehan worked disclaimers into his Unique Water articles,
but there was an air of nudge-nudge, wink-wink about them, a sense that
they were a boring formality demanded by political correctness
and scientific bureaucracy. Overshadowed as they were by Sheehans
personal testimony and palpable excitement , they werent likely
to dissuade the desperate and gullible.
Sheehans story was good for Berts. In the first week they
sold $1.8 million worth of the stuff. Almost three years later, with
Unique Water now marketed in Australia, New Zealand and South Korea,
the Shelley family are crying poor, according to Sheehan. Theyve
invested something over a million in the production facilities and still
havent by a long shot, earned their money back. I
dunno. Do the maths yourself. On the face of it the product should have
made millions by now.
Ah yes, what was Sheehan thinking? By his own account hed been
put onto the story by fellow right-wing journalist Peter Bowers who
, with his wife, was taking the water. Sheehan, who seems to suffer
from a wide variety of exotic debilitating ailments, tried it and reckoned
it worked. But this is anecdote, it aint science.
The fact that Beckett believes that there is no
reason for living organisms, including humans, to age physically, to
suffer from degenerative diseases or to die should have raised
a red flag. At least Sheehan reported this awkward fact in his Good
Weekend story, but another red flag was wagging in the background.
Back in April 2002 Sheehan didnt tell us hed found out about
a 1991 Canberra coronial inquiry that recorded an open finding into
the death of Becketts wife Robyn. Counsel assisting the inquiry
had put to Beckett that he had engaged in a campaign of cruelty against
her (he denied it), and it emerged that Robyn Beckett had told at least
ten people that her husband said he would kill her slowly and painfully
with a substance that couldnt be traced.
Russell Becket denied any role in his wifes death and the coroner
made no finding against him, but, if you were a journalist, wouldnt
you have wondered, after stumbling on this disturbing story, whether
you shouldnt ask the mans scientific critics a lot of searching
questions about his theories, or maybe put this particular story on
the backburner (in favour of the one about the Prime Ministers
dog having puppies)?
But Sheehan rushed on, and he wasnt unaware of the dangers.
Some people have suggested that Beckett has been hiding from critical
review, he wrote on 15 April 2002, in a breathless follow-up story
that reads somewhat poignantly now. I think exactly the opposite
may be true, that he's been racing to get the water into production
so that as many people can test it as soon as possible. He was thrilled
when the first clinical researcher at a hospital contacted him last
Weve all passed a lot of water since then, and the clinical reviewers
are still waiting. Maybe they should give it to Kim Beazley
that would be a test.
More on Paul Sheehan ...
Sydney Morning Herald and the dirty politics of the religious right
1 November 2004
No story about the 2004 Federal election more clearly illustrates
the reactionary role played by the religious right than the Muslim-baiting
of Ed Husic, Labors candidate for the seat of Greenway in Sydneys
piss and journalism
In which Nick takes Joadja's tomcat to be desexed and Dr Gupta the
vet sounds off about far-right celebrity journalist Paul Sheehan.