CBS Showcases Activists Who Want to 'Protect' Kids from TV Ads

     The TV made them do it.

     It made them “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.”

     CBS’s Katie Couric used the cereal slogan as she introduced a March 28 “Evening News” report. The nanny-staters were at it again, this time warning that children who like sugary cereals are “setting off alarms.”

      “Parents better watch what their kids eat, or their kids will continue to eat what they watch,” said reporter Bill Whitaker.

     While that might sound like a call for parental responsibility, Whitaker’s story about the Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest report was anything but. The attack on the food industry featured activists who want more government regulation of advertising – but the industry under attack was neither seen nor heard.

     Instead, viewers got a bowlful of activism.

     The story featured Vicky Rideout, a vice president with the Kaiser Family Foundation who heads that group’s Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health Publications

     Kaiser has been attacking the food industry for some time. Back in January, CNN used an older Kaiser study to complain about advertising to kids – and then Rideout was talking about the lack of “oversight” for the Internet, with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta chiming in that Internet ads aren’t regulated like TV ads.

     Whitaker also brought on Susan Linn, “one of a chorus of critics calling for the government to ban the ads.”

     Whitaker introduced Linn as a psychiatrist with Harvard Medical School. What he didn’t mention is that she’s also the co-founder of the liberal Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and author of “Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children from the Onslaught of Marketing & Advertising.” One article featured on the CCFC’s Web site says “Forget Big Tobacco, Big Food Kills.”

     His story called for a ban on the ads and attacked the food industry, but Whitaker didn’t have anyone giving the opposing viewpoint.

     The reporter mentioned in passing that “processed food makers say kids are heavier today because they’re more sedentary. Still, some have volunteered to cut back on their ads to children.”

     But it’s not just food companies who suggest exercise could help overweight children. In addition to common sense, a recently released British study found dramatic improvement in kids who added only 15 minutes a day of exercise to their lives.

     In the meantime, the specter of increased regulation in the United States is real. As a March 29 AdWeek article explained, the Kaiser study “comes as policy makers are increasing pressure on broadcasters to do something to help shrink American's expanding waistlines. A task force of lawmakers, FCC commissioners, broadcasters and food and beverage industry executives conducted their first meeting last week.”

     Several companies, including McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, have voluntarily changed their advertising policies when it comes to ads aimed at kids. But Whitaker’s story didn’t mention any companies by name and quickly dismissed corporate efforts, as Linn declared, “Self-regulation has failed.”

     The reporter didn’t mention the obvious fact that parents could monitor how much TV their kids are watching – and that the kids aren’t buying their own groceries, no matter how many sugary commercials they see.

     The Business & Media Institute has documented the trend in news stories leaving parents out of the equation and the media’s fondness for the flawed Body Mass Index to address obesity in children.