Restaurants Left out of Stories on Trans Fat Ban
âNew York, New York is getting ready to lead the nation in evicting a killer from restaurants,â teased Katie Couric at the intro to the âEvening News.â
The CBS anchorâs take on a proposed trans fat ban was the most dramatic of the September 27 evening newscasts, but CBS reporter Sharyn Alfonsi delivered the most balanced story among the three networks.
Network news portrayed a proposed New York City ban on trans fats in the Big Appleâs restaurants as a public health coup akin to stamping out secondhand smoke. Only CBS aired a restaurant industry spokesman and mentioned the high-dollar fine proposed for restaurants in violation of the new law.
NBCâs âNightly Newsâ presented the most biased story, with reporter Robert Bazell leaving out any critics of the proposed ban. Whatâs more, Bazell presented the ban as harmless to the bottom line for dining establishments in the city.
While âSome restaurant owners are considering a lawsuit to stop the new regulations,â Bazell quickly added that âothers like Juniorâs in New Yorkâs Times Square have already eliminated most of the trans fat on the menu.â The NBC science correspondent then included a sound bite from that restaurantâs manager, suggesting to viewers that restaurant owners are ready for a mandated switch in cooking oils and that customers wouldnât notice the difference.
Unlike NBC, ABCâs Bill Weir did acknowledge criticism of the ban, but only scratched the surface of a common complaint against a group pushing the ban.
âI remember when they were telling us to switch from butter to margarine because they said it was healthy,â said Walter Olson of the Manhattan Institute. That was the only sound bite critical of the ban in Weirâs story. Weir didnât ask which âtheyâ Olson meant and didnât look into the agenda of interest groups that have pushed for the ban.
One such liberal advocacy group that calls for banning trans fats, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), once promoted trans fat-bearing cooking oils as an alternative to oils high in saturated fat.
CSPI called the ban âboldâ in a September 26 press release, and executive director Michael Jacobson said that âIt makes perfectly good sense for health authorities to set limitsâ on the fat. Whatâs more, CSPI took partial credit for the health departmentâs proposal, saying CSPI âhas been urging cities, states, and the federal governmentâ to ban trans fats and force restaurants to put calorie counts on menu boards.
Nutritionist Mary Enig slammed CSPI for pushing fast food companies to adopt partially hydrogenated cooking oils in the late 1980s and early 1990s. âIn 1988, CSPI published a booklet called Saturated Fat Attack, which defended trans fatty acids and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and called for pejorative labeling of âsaturatedâ fats,â Enig wrote in an article entitled âThe Tragic Legacy of Center for Science in the Public Interest.â âThe booklet contained a section called âBiochemistry 101,â which claimed that only tropical oils were dangerous when hydrogenated.â
Enig went on to blast CSPIâs advocacy of partially hydrogenated oils, charging that âThanks to CSPI, healthy traditional fats have almost completely disappeared from the food supply, replaced by manufactured trans fats known to cause many diseases.â
But aside from the healthfulness or lack thereof, another issue remains that the media downplayed: consumer choice.
None of the three networks posed tough questions on-camera to health department spokesmen about the regulatory costs of the proposed ban.
Whatâs more, only CBSâs Sharyn Alfonsi aired a sound bite from a representative of New Yorkâs restaurant industry. Alfonsi also mentioned, at the close of her âEvening Newsâ story, the high cost of noncompliance with the proposed fat ban.
âRestaurants that serve pizza or chips that are too fatty could be slapped with a $2,000 fine,â she noted, before taking a closing swipe at government paternalism.
âSome restaurant owners say their customers want to eat like 9-year-olds, they just don't want to be treated like one.â