From Soda Taxes to Happy Meal Toy Bans, Media Feed Viewers Food Police Message
Food-filled winter holidays will soon arrive. But the liberal news media have already spent recent days comparing soda to an illegal drug, promoting a toy ban in kid’s Happy Meals, and generally bashing fast food companies for giving customers exactly what they want.
CNBC’s Erin Burnett outdid food police groups on Nov. 8, when she compared soda to cocaine in a segment discussing a “fat tax.” After citing some claims about people being fatter and living shorter lives, Burnett asked a beverage company spokesperson: “Is your industry killing us?”
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A little later Burnett said “adults who drink one or more sodas a day are 27 percent more likely to be obese than those who don’t drink soda.”
“Let me ask you, is there anything good about drinking a full-calorie soda? Why do they even sell it? What’s good for me in drinking it?” Burnett asked Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association.
Neely replied, “Because it tastes delicious like a lot of things we consume that are just fun to drink or eat. And you have to balance that with fruits and vegetables …”
“I’m sure you could say we like cocaine, right, right?” Burnett interrupted. “But we don’t allow people to do drugs. Where do you draw the line?” Neely kept her head and replied that soda and cocaine aren’t even “in the same universe.” Burnett’s argument was flawed since calories and fluids are both necessary for life, while cocaine isn’t.
Media fear-mongering about soda has been spilling into news coverage since 2007. Katie Couric has warned soda “may be bad for our hearts,” and Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s medical editor, pushed the same study and claimed it linked soda to heart disease risk factors.
In her typical “nanny” style, Snyderman told viewers the study “suggests soft drinks become more of an occasional treat.”
The news media have also been dishing up anti-fast food bias lately over San Francisco’s recent vote to ban toys in children’s meals above 600 calories, and relished the opportunity to bash fast food companies following a study about kid’s meals and marketing from a food police group.
A Not So ‘Happy’ Food Regulation
The food police have been attacking McDonald’s and other fast food chains for years for not offering “healthy” options, and for supposedly targeting children with advertisements. And now a second California city has taken the “Happy” out of the Happy Meal.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted last week to prohibit toys in fast food meals for kids if they do not meet certain nutritional standards. They had enough votes to block a veto from Mayor Gavin Newsom, the public official known for plastic bag bans and bottled water bans. The Associated Press called it “a big victory for activist and public health advocates.”
As with many anti-food industry stories, AP had little to say about the responsibilities of parents and even included a woman lamenting that “If the babies don’t get what they want, then they won’t stop crying.”
CNN’s Dr. Elizabeth Cohen called the ban “one way to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity,” on “Newsroom” Nov. 6. Cohen who has touted many regulatory interventions said, “Tell your child, ‘If you want a high fat, high calorie Happy Meal -- go ahead, but you won’t get a toy. But if you get a healthier Happy Meal, then you will get a toy’.”
The Los Angeles Times reported on Nov. 6 bolstered the ban, saying it could spread to other cities. The New York Times called the toy ban “another important vote,” Nov. 4.
The news media have had a taste for food regulation for years. In July of this year, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski boasted about her “new hero” Newsom’s ban on soda in vending machines – but claimed it wasn’t enough.
“And in San Francisco, a ban on sugary drinks in city vending machines is starting to take effect,” Brzezinski said. “That's so great. It was issued by Mayor Gavin Newsom, my new hero, Mike Barnicle – in an effort to combat obesity and improve citizen’s health, and it will. In fact, if people would just not drink soda pop, they would be healthier and less fat.”
Ironically, Brzezinski co-hosts “Morning Joe brewed by Starbucks Coffee.” Starbucks is regularly attacked by food police groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who accused the coffee company of “pouring food porn” back in 2002. Many of Many Starbucks coffee drinks are laden with sugar, fat and caffeine.
Media Continue Assault on Fast Food’s ‘Unhealthy’ Kids Choices
The mainstream news media always eat up studies from anti-obesity groups and this week was no exception. On Nov. 8, Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released findings of the nutrition of kids’ meals at 12 chain restaurants.
The Rudd Center is a non-profit that says it is “devoted to improving the world’s diet, preventing obesity, and reducing weight stigma.” But they do that by “holding industry and government agencies responsible for safeguarding public health.” Translation: regulation.
Of course the media from CBS and CNN to NPR jumped at the opportunity to play nanny and berate restaurants for serving up unhealthy options. But they rarely criticized parents who should be making the purchasing and television viewing decisions.
CBS “Evening News” led with that attack on restaurants and call for regulation on Nov. 8. Katie Couric teased Ben Tracy’s report saying, “They promised to fight childhood obesity, but the biggest chains may be working harder than ever to get kids hooked on fast foods.”
The Rudd Center, and consequently the media, criticized fast food chains’ marketing tactics too. Specifically, the latest movie-tie in toy in a McDonald’s Happy Meal and the number of ads viewed by children and teens.
“It's of course a happy deal for marketers but an unhealthy deal for children,” Tracy said. He included Allen Kanner, co-founder of the litigious Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, who bashed the restaurants saying, “The industry has been promising for years that it would do something about this. Self regulation is a trick, it’s a farce, it’s a joke.”
ABC decided to go the dramatic route, using “hidden cameras” to imply that the fast food restaurants were doing something wrong. “World News with Diane Sawyer” warned that parents need to be “on alert” because if the parents don’t ask for milk or juice or apple slices the children’s meal will almost always include French fries and a soda.
After the segment was over, Sawyer asked reporter Dan Harris what is the role of the parents. Harris replied that “there’s no question parents have a role,” although he didn’t bother to explain what that role should be. Then he presented the food police argument again and claimed “parents need some help."
USDA’s Obesity Irony
Sometimes it would seem the point of anti-obesity campaigns or legislation has more to do with the government grasping for power or tax revenue (as with cigarette taxes and a potential soda tax, etc).
That becomes most evident when a double-standard is exposed. According to the Nov. 6, New York Times the USDA was promoting and helping companies market increased cheese consumption, “while warning about fat” in foods like cheese.
Perhaps the motto of the US Department of Agriculture should be “Do as we say, not as we do.”
Michael Moss’ story in the Times exposed the USDA’s involvement in the Domino’s Pizza turnaround. An organization called “Dairy Management,” worked with Domino’s to improve their pizzas – by adding 40 percent more cheese.
But Dairy Management isn’t some public relations firm, or food industry representative. It’s a bona fide marketing creation of the USDA. “The same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting,” Moss wrote.
The annual budget for Dairy Management is nearly $140 million, and is paid for mostly “by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry,” Moss noted.
NBC followed up on the “apparent conflict of interest,” but turned cheese into the villain instead of criticizing the government for being involved in food marketing altogether.