A group sponsored by fast food companies and related trade groups has launched a campaign to smear the author Eric Schlosser, whose new book, Chew on This, examines the fast food industry's impact on children's health.
(Mr. Schlosser is also the author of Fast Food Nation. A film based on the latter will be distributed nationally this fall.)
The campaign, according to an internal McDonald's memo sent to franchisees and recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, is intended to "discredit the message and the messenger."
McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker has since denied that the memo quoted in the Wall Street Journal exists. The reporter Richard Gibson, when contacted about this denial, stood behind his story.
The main point of attack has been through third parties, many of which have long connections to the food and tobacco industries. Some of the attacks appear to have been coordinated by Washington lobbyists DCI Group and their Web arm, Tech Central Station (TCS), as well as other special interest groups. James Glassman, the head of Tech Central Station, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Until recently he was a columnist for the Washington Post, which finally ended the relationship after concluding that Glassman's numerous other entanglements conflicted with his role as a journalist purporting to offer expert financial analysis.
Tech Central Station is sponsored by a variety of corporations that also use DCI for public relations and lobbying initiatives, including McDonald's. Until recently it was reluctant to acknowledge the identity of its real publisher, the DCI Group.
DCI and its partners have initiated a stealth campaign, similar to the Swift boat tactics employed by the right wing against Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race (see below on their connection to the swift boat attacks), that puts forth biased individuals and groups masquerading as "independent" organizations, including: The Heartland Institute (funded by the tobacco industry, among others), the National Minority Health Month Foundation, and the American Council on Science and Health (funded by, among others, Burger King and the National Soft Drink Association).
Tom Synhorst, the chairman of DCI, according to an Associated Press report in June 2001, "has been linked to South Carolina push polls in the 2000 Republican primary that attacked candidate John McCain as 'a cheat, a liar and a fraud.'" According to the New York Times, (August 25, 2004) Chris LaCivita, another DCI employee, worked for Swift Boats Veterans for Truth as a media adviser. Timothy N. Hyde, a DCI founding partner, was the senior director of public issues at R. J. Reynolds from 1988 to 1997. Hyde oversaw all of RJR's PR campaigns.
The Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which denies the existence of global warming and has said that "the public health community's campaign against smoking is based on junk science," has accused Schlosser and Wilson of engaging in "Nazi" tactics.
In an essay on the site, Jay Lehr, the institute's science director, wrote: "In the 1930s Adolph [sic] Hitler recognized that . . . he could indoctrinate Germany's youth in support of his antihuman Nazi movement."
He goes on to claim that Schlosser and Wilson, by writing a book that educates children about the health and other implications of fast food, are making the same effort in their "drive to socialize" America.
Trade group representatives are posting negative comments about Chew on This on Amazon.com without revealing their affiliations, including Ruth Kava, the director of nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health and a frequent contributor to Tech Central Station.
The DCI Group and the fast food industry have attempted to stop Mr. Schlosser from speaking at schools. Employees of the McDonald's Corporation visited Glen Ellyn Middle School and asked the principal to reconsider his invitation to Mr. Schlosser. In Chicago, the National Minority Health Month Foundation also opposed Mr. Schlosser's visits to local schools.
The executive director, Gary Puckrein, was quoted in a local paper as saying: "He's really a proponent of a number of alternative lifestyles some parents would be uncomfortable with and likely to be the subject of discussion as he's presenting his new work." The National Minority Health Month Foundation issued a press release in March praising McDonald's nutrition labeling initiatives.
FAST FOOD AND CHILDREN
One in four children and forty percent of all teens eat fast food daily.
Twenty percent of all public high schools sell "branded fast foods."
Ninety percent of kids eat at McDonald's at least once a month.
Children see $3 billion plus worth of fast food advertising every year.
If a child is obese by the age of thirteen, there's more than a ninety percent chance that he or she will be overweight at thirty-five.
A ten-year-old child diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can expect to lose seventeen or more years of his or her life.