Free Market Project Follow-Up Finds Media Obsessed With Obesity - Press Release - December 14, 2004 - Media Research Center

Free Market Project Follow-Up Finds Media Obsessed With Obesity
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A follow-up study just released by the Media Research Centers Free Market Project, Supersized Bias II, reveals that network television news is obsessed with obesity, airing newscasts and reports laced with anti-corporate bias that is misinforming the public.

The major media continue to do the general public a terrible disservice by reporting stories laden with an anti-corporate, anti-food industry bias, said Free Market Project National Chairman Herman Cain, a former chairman and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. This study shows a habit of blaming the food industry for the obesity problem instead of fully examining the role of personal responsibility.

The study examined all obesity stories aired on the three broadcast network evening newscasts and prime time magazine shows, as well as all obesity stories published in The New York Times and USA Today between May 1 and October 31, 2004. It follows a study that looked at coverage from the same outlets between May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2004.

Key Findings From Supersized Bias II

ABC News Still the Most Biased, Times Still Skewed ABC aired seven stories that blamed business practices for obesity, compared with just three that highlighted personal responsibility. This continues its record from the Free Market Projects earlier study where they covered 16 stories, and 15 of them blamed business practices for causing obesity. The New York Times stories continued to be skewed against business and the free market. However, Times staffers did give some coverage to personal responsibility as a reason for weight gain.

Anti-Corporate Activists Still Front and Center, Businesses Still Bypassed Journalists relied mainly on small anti-corporate activist groups to portray a slanted view of the obesity debate. Fifty-six percent (44 times) of the experts quoted were anti-industry, while only 44 percent of those quoted were pro-industry (34 times). Two of those stories criticized the very industry experts they were quoting.

Personal Choice Still Favored Over Government-Imposed Solutions On a positive note, nearly half of the stories in the study (48 percent) focused on personal solutions to obesity. Still, more than 30 percent (30 stories) presented arguments for new burdens on business, such as regulations or a fat tax. Eight of ABCs nine stories presented government involvement in the obesity epidemic as positive.

Journalists Cant Get Their Statistics Straight Several stories overstated childhood obesity rates nationwide as being nearly 100 percent higher than they actually were. For example, USA Today reporter Nanci Hellmich cited three different numbers in a two-month span. Those numbers ranged from 16.5 percent (nearly correct) to more than 30 percent.

Activists Agendas Still Hidden Anti-corporate activists were treated as unbiased experts in nearly every obesity story. This mirrors our results from the previous study and represents an ongoing problem in the media. The liberal Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), for instance, was called a consumer group and food industry critic Marion Nestle was portrayed as a nutrition professor, even when she was at her anti-corporate best criticizing the industry for providing healthier food options. Conservative groups didnt receive the same treatment. For example, a conservative organization was labeled as an advocacy group funded by the food industry.

Free Market Largely Ignored Businesses continue to respond to consumer demand for healthier foods, but the media typically ignore them. Only 18 percent of news stories (just 18 out of 97) discussed ways by which corporate America is addressing the obesity crisis. Ironically, this represents an improvement from our previous study. At the same time, it shows a media that pay little attention to free market solutions.


  1. News organizations must do a better job of investigating and reporting the agenda and track record of advocacy groups such as the CSPI. These groups must not be presented as sources of objective and unbiased information.

  2. Balanced reporting requires journalists to include an appropriate response from a targeted corporation or industry association when either one is criticized or attacked in a news story.

  3. It is important to balance activists demands for government intervention with recognition of the facts and benefits of Americas free enterprise system.

Related Item:
Free Market Project's Study: Supersized Bias II

To schedule an interview with Mr. Cain, or with Free Market Project Director Dan Gainor, contact Tim Scheiderer (ext. 126).