home > archive > 2003 > this article
Jennings stumps for government action against food
By Trevor Bothwell
Considering all the hysterics who go apoplectic at the mere hint of liberal media bias, Peter Jennings and ABC didn't do much to console the emotions of the media elite's chronically offended last Monday night (Dec. 8) when they ran the documentary "How to Get Fat Without Really Trying."
In a nutshell, the ABC program blamed the federal government for "contributing to obesity by giving subsidies (to farmers) to create fattening food." This is obviously as ridiculous as blaming ice for figure skating injuries, but what was most astonishing (even for a mainstream media outlet) was its complete lack of objectivity.
Surely, ever since Michael Moore proved that documentaries don't necessarily need to be based in truth to be popular, it shouldn't come as a total shock that Jennings editorialized throughout his report. But shouldn't a primetime news broadcast at least hold out the possibility that there just might be more than one cause of our current obesity "epidemic?"
To be fair, ABC did give airtime to Chip Kunde, senior VP of the International Dairy Foods Association, who had the audacity to suggest that what people choose to eat "is a matter of personal choice." And Tommy Thompson, Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary, could barely keep a straight face when asked if he saw any connection between the federal government's agricultural subsidy programs and nutrition. He responded politely, "I really don't."
Although ABC did reveal these instances of dissent, they were merely reported as pawns for other experts to use in refuting the assertions. This allowed people like NYU Professor Marion Nestle to speak on behalf of ABC's preferred storyline by claiming, "We have government policies that promote … overeating from the beginning to the end of the food chain."
The conclusion that viewers drew from this docu-drama isn't as bothersome as the fact that ABC elicited it as a result of failing to even consider factors for obesity other than government subsidy alone. Upon even cursory review it should be evident that Americans have more money than ever before, which is often a direct result of working longer hours, which in turn contributes to eating food on-the-go. Many kids today have traded bike riding and football for television, the Internet, and video games. And despite what ABC thinks, it's simply irrefutable that we all choose our own diet.
But scrupulousness was hardly the point of the program.
If Jennings & Co. are so concerned about government farm subsidies making us fat, why not just call for their elimination? Indeed, the Cato Institute found that the value of farming in New Zealand soared after deregulation in 1984. But the answer is that ABC isn't interested in actually improving the situation by decreasing our dependence on government, but further socializing us by increasing that dependence -- by encouraging ever more government oversight on those evil private companies that advertise and market "junk food" to consumers.
ABC reported that the average American child sees "10,000 food advertisements a year on television alone," and most are for "foods dense in fat and calories." Naturally the answer here couldn't possibly be to hold parents accountable for what their kids eat, but instead to propose government regulation of junk food commercials to kids under eighteen.
Apparently, Bill Clinton can teach second graders about oral sex and Abercrombie and Fitch can market porn to ten-year-olds, but we're supposed to believe our kids will be warped ad infinitum if they go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
ABC did get one thing right when it reported that most government subsidy goes to our dairy and grain farmers. Corn, the most heavily subsidized product in America, seemed to be of gravest concern to Peter Jennings. It's so abundant and cheap that it can be processed and put into foods we eat every day, from sodas to chips and cookies to oils we put on popcorn.
But forgetting for a moment that ABC's "How to Get Fat" clearly had its own agenda, the report was essentially flawed from the outset. As the Cato report indicated, eliminating government subsidies to our agricultural industry would likely result in an even greater abundance of crops than we currently have, not less. And even at current levels of manufacturing, America still enjoys a wealth of food production, which lowers prices for everyone. In fact, America is practically the only country in the world whose poor people are overweight. In short, this is a good problem to have upon considering the alternative.
Perhaps most distressing is that ABC practically used this program to throw its hat in the ring to advocate the Big Food lawsuits on the horizon. It shouldn't be a coincidence that Jennings interviewed Kraft Sr. VP Michael Mudd, who said that his company has proposed a "wholesale review" of its products and marketing after concluding that obesity is an epidemic. I wouldn't imagine this has anything do to with parent company Philip Morris losing billions in the Big Tobacco verdict?
Look, advocating a healthy lifestyle is anyone's right, and it should even be encouraged. Private health organizations are free to persuade corporations to market nutritional foods, and if they can stomach the concept, it might help if they put more energy into convincing Americans that it's our own responsibility for what we feed ourselves and our children.
But in an increasingly senseless and litigious climate, it's apparently much easier to be a victim and to expand government, expecting it to "fix" a problem we blame it for creating in the first place.
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2018, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.