Two Against One in Food Fight

Two Against One in Food Fight
Balance not on the menu in NBC report on food industry.

by  Megan Alvarez
July 7, 2005

     NBCs lack of balance in a segment titled Food Fight that aired on the July 6, 2005, Nightly News set up a lopsided discussion between sides of the obesity debate.

     The segment centered on the struggle between two groups, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and their battle over obesity. When introducing the spokesmen for these groups, Rick Berman and Michael Jacobson, respectively, reporter Kevin Corke labeled the Center for Consumer Freedom as food industry funded, but then provided no label for CSPI.

     By calling CCF food industry funded and using no label when introducing CSPI, Corke undermined CCF while leaving the perception that CSPI was unbiased.

     The truth of the matter is much different. CSPI is an anti-free market group that advocates for a fat tax and government-mandated warning labels on foods they deem to be high-fat and high-calorie. Jacobson, executive director for CSPI, was quoted in a July 7, 2005, New York Times article titled The Food Industry Strikes Back saying, If someone is saying that a 64-ounce soda at 7-Eleven contributed to obesity, that person should have his day in court.

     Additionally, CSPI was a participant in the Public Health Advocacy Institutes annual conference, Legal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic, in September 2004. That conference featured an article by Jacobson titled A Time to Sue? in which he openly advocated suing the food industry. Simply put, CSPI is not an unbiased, agenda-free organization and should be represented more accurately in news coverage.

     This type of selective labeling is not a new occurrence. It has been documented in two Business & Media Institute special reports, SuperSized Bias and SuperSized Bias II. Both studies found the majority of the mainstream media reluctant to label CSPI as liberal or left-wing, but comfortable with labeling CCF an advocacy group funded by the food industry. This latest report by NBC is in keeping with the trend.

     NBC was also biased in its use of guests. Along with the spokesmen for CCF and CSPI, NBC also gave air time to Dr. David Ludwig. Again, besides the title Doctor, NBC provided no label, leaving the perception that Ludwig was unbiased and agenda-free.

     In reality, Dr. Ludwig is an ally of CSPI. In Childhood Obesity: public health crisis, common sense cure, which Ludwig co-authored, he advocated government intervention, including a fat tax, subsidies on nutritious foods, nutrition labels on fast food packages, prohibition of food advertising directed at children, and increased funding for public health campaigns.

     Dr. Ludwig openly attacked CCF in his NBC appearance, saying, What level of personal responsibility does Consumer Freedom want a five-year-old to take in the face of endless advertising of fast food? To which Rick Berman, spokesman for CCF replied, Kids are not driving themselves to McDonalds. It's not about kids and their choices. It's about parents and their choices.

     Any attempt at balance was lost when NBC failed to include an additional voice in support of the free market and consumer freedom. Instead, NBCs Food Fight teamed Jacobson and Ludwig, who were portrayed to be unbiased, against Berman, who was labeled food industry funded.