Faulty Caffeine Story Jolts CNN's Desire for Government Regulation

     CNN’s “American Morning” jolted its viewers awake with a series of stories on caffeine that emphasized government regulation and threw in some good old-fashioned misreporting.

     The bulk of the February 22 caffeinated coverage was devoted to the potential dangers of the energy drink Spike Shooter, which purportedly made students sick and was banned at a Colorado Springs high school.

     CNN reporter Greg Hunter emphasized the many warnings on the drink including one for underage use. “Don’t use if you are under the age of 16,” he claimed it said. While Hunter talked, the camera showed the detailed warning label, which clearly lists the age of 18, not 16, as the cutoff.

     Though no one at CNN noticed, the entire reason for the story went down the drain with that mistake. The only ones who seemed to be aware of it were the manufacturers of the drink. According to the corporate response, “the only explanation for kids becoming sick is that they are not following the label instructions or are abusing the product.”

     Local reporter McKenzie Martin got it right in the next hour. But none of the reports elaborated on how kids, as CNN anchor Miles O’Brien called them, got sick when no one under 18 was supposed to drink Spike Shooter.

     The problems with the coverage didn’t end there. O’Brien actually claimed extensive warnings “might be an invitation in some sense to kids to try this out.” He then got to the heart of the matter. “I think a lot of people are surprised that the Food & Drug Administration or some other arm of the government doesn’t regulate these drinks. Caffeine is after all a drug.”

     In the next hour’s report on the drink, O’Brien again pushed for regulation. “Should there be some more government oversight over these kinds of drinks given how potent they are?”

     “Many critics would say yes, there should be,” Hunter responded, ignoring that many others would say no. He added that the FDA is “fairly powerless” to oversee dietary supplements.

     The company’s not doing anything wrong. Not illegal,” concluded Hunter, giving barely an inch to the firm.

     CNN wasn’t done having its fill of caffeine. In at least five separate stories during the February 22 program, CNN also drowned its audience with talk of soft drink labeling and, ironically, the heart-healthy benefits of caffeine.

     After all of its morning reporting on caffeine, anchor Soledad O’Brien added the final dash of irony by showing its benefits. “A cup of coffee might be doing your heart some good,” she said. “A new study says caffeine might cause a healthy rise in blood pressure to counteract the blood pressure drop that occurs after meals.”