ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- On the eve of a three-day obesity summit co-sponsored by ABC News and Time magazine, the Free Market Project at the Media Research Center released a comprehensive study of the medias coverage of the obesity issue and the food industry titled Supersized Bias: Big Medias Role In Covering And Promoting The Obesity Debate.
Free Market Project researchers analyzed all 205 news stories about obesity published in The New York Times, USA Today, and aired on the three broadcast network evening newscasts and nighttime magazine shows between May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2004.
Our findings reveal the media are bent on turning the food industry into the next tobacco-like pariah, said Media Research Center President Brent Bozell. Its no surprise that ABC News, which our study found as the most biased, is co-sponsoring this obesity summit. This goes beyond advocacy journalism, it is a classic case of social engineering.
Key Findings From Supersized Bias
More Blame for Food Sellers than Food Eaters: About half the news stories debated the causes of obesity, and a large majority of these (66) blamed Americas weight problems on the behavior of food corporations rather than on the personal behavior of those who eat the food (just 26 stories). Only 11 stories treated readers or viewers to a balanced debate over the causes of obesity.
ABC and The New York Times Were the Most Biased: ABC aired 15 stories blaming business practices for obesity, compared with just one story highlighting personal responsibility. New York Times stories were similarly skewed against business by a margin of 20 to two. CBS, NBC and USA Today were much more balanced.
Shunning Companies, Pumping Anti-Corporate Activists: By a three-to-two margin, news stories featured more quotes from a relatively small group of anti-corporate activists led by a Naderite group called Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) than all of the spokespersons for the industries being attacked.
Camouflaging the Crusaders: No news story applied an ideological label to any anti-corporate activist, although USA Today was careful to stick a conservative tag on the Family Research Councils Patrick Trueman. Instead, reporters promoted CSPI as a health advocacy group (ABC), a Washington-based consumer group (USA Today) or a consumer advocacy group (New York Times).
Personal Choice Favored Over Government-Imposed Solutions: Despite the medias bias in favor of blaming corporations for obesity, a plurality of stories (80, or 39 percent) focused on personal solutions to obesity. But one-fourth of all stories (49) included arguments for new burdens on business such as regulations or a fat tax on some products, and another fifth of the total (39) discussed milder ways of putting pressure on companies, such as lawsuits or the shame of negative publicity.
But the Free Market Was Practically Ignored: Even as activists claimed that cynical corporate marketing really determines whats on Americans plates, the marketplace was responding to consumer desires for healthier products and smaller portions. But less than 10 percent of news stories (just 19 out of 205) even hinted at how the free market is already helping to solve Americas obesity problem.
Blaming the food industry for the obesity epidemic betrays a lack of understanding of the free market. While some of the coverage did focus on personal responsibility, most of the reporting appeared to simply try to justify the medias pre-ordained, yet unproven, contention that the food industry is trying to make us all fat, Bozell said.
The Free Market Project study Supersized Bias: Big Medias Role In Covering And Promoting The Obesity Debate, is available at www.mediaresearch.org and www.freemarketproject.org. To schedule an interview with Mr. Bozell or another Free Market Project spokesperson, contact Katie Wright at (703)-683-5004, ext. 132.