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Free Market Project

3/2/2006 9:59:32 AM

Updated 02/24/06

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Networks Hound Burger King for Launching ‘Enormous’ Sandwich

ABC and NBC shake their collective finger at the naughty peddlers of the new Omelet Sandwich.

By Amy Menefee
April 1
, 2005

     It’s been a rough week on TV for Burger King. The King’s chief concept officer, Denny Marie Post, appeared on morning shows and nightly newscasts several times explaining the simple idea of marketing a new product to a target audience. But when that product is the 730-calorie Enormous Omelet Sandwich, it’s fair game for those who would protect Americans from themselves.

     Peter Jennings, on March 28’s “World News Tonight,” referred to “the nutritionists” who would call the new breakfast sandwich “food porn.” Actually, “food porn” is a term used by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a radical anti-food-industry organization. Jennings did CSPI’s work for it in his newscast, telling viewers that “Burger King isn’t even trying to pretend its new breakfast offering is good for you.” He went on to say, “The money is in the size.”

     This is consistent with findings in two Free Market Project studies on news coverage of obesity. Most recently, in “Supersized Bias II,”  food industry critics were portrayed as unbiased experts most of the time. Jennings’ characterization of CSPI as “nutritionists” is just such a portrayal. On NBC’s March 29 “Today,” long-time industry critic and nutrition professor Marion Nestle was a familiar go-to source for calorie condemnation.

     ABC reporter Dean Reynolds called the sandwich a “gut-buster,” and Jennings finished his report by ominously linking the Burger King breakfast to obesity. In fact, Jennings implied that you’d better watch your neighbors – they might be grabbing a Burger King breakfast, and “everyone may pay for it in terms of health care” down the road, he said. NBC’s Alexis Glick, reporting on “Today,” said, “Nearly 59 million Americans are considered obese. Nutritionists say these portion sizes don’t help.”

     Likewise, Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” warned: “You should be careful. You might need to go on a 10-mile run to work it off.” Lauer also referred to the expanding girth of Americans. Calling himself “all about personal responsibility,” Lauer pointed to the sandwich and said, “Any knucklehead who goes in and buys this five days a week deserves an angioplasty.”

     Lauer understood that the notion of personal responsibility makes the free market work. Alexis Glick of NBC pointed out on March 29’s “Today” that Burger King had already sold 750,000 of the omelet sandwiches in the first week. Burger King says it is selling a product marketed to a specific demographic – young, active men who want a hearty but quick breakfast. “It’s kind of like a platter between two buns,” Denny Marie Post said on “Today.”

     During the lengthy “Today” segment in which Hardee’s and Pizza Hut’s latest “big food” items were also exposed for their calories and fat, nutritionist Heidi Skolnik squeezed in a bit of praise for Burger King for its healthier menu options, such as salads and soda alternatives.

     Matt Lauer, at least, seemed aware that he couldn’t blame the fast food restaurants for America’s obesity problem. Ending the fast food-bashing segment, he said, “Again, it’s all about personal responsibility. If you go into a restaurant and order this every day, it’s your own fault if you end up with problems.”

     “If you really know what’s going on,” Skolnik added.

“Supersized Bias” was the Free Market Project’s first study on media bias against the food industry in the obesity debate.


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