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CBS Promotes Taxing 'Fattening, Non-Nutritious' Food

CBS's Michelle Miller leaned towards supporters of taxing junk food on Tuesday's Early Show, playing three sound bites from them and none from opponents. Miller only made one vague reference to the opposing side, and she immediately followed it by playing up the supposedly positive result of a tax: "While some say a new tax is the last thing we need, it could mean a healthier America."

The correspondent led her report by hyping how "we're paying quite a hefty toll" for creating "cheap fast food," and launched into her first sound bite, which came from Michael Jacobson, the executive director of the perennial "food police" organization, the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

After a second clip from Jacobson, Miller lamented how "poorer consumers are often priced out of healthier options, because fresher, purer foods cost more. With the percentage of obese adults doubling in the past 30 years, and the percentage of obese children tripling, the annual health care cost of obesity has soared to over $100 billion."

The CBS News journalist then turned to her second "industry expert," Mark Bittman of the New York Times, whom she labeled as merely an "author and food columnist," without mentioning the media outlet that he writes for. Only two days earlier, as Clay Waters of MRC's TimesWatch noted, Bittman pushed for taxes on "things like soda, French fries, doughnuts and hyperprocessed snacks" in a Sunday article in the Times. He used almost an identical line during his first sound bite:

MARK BITTMAN, AUTHOR AND FOOD COLUMNIST: We ought to start discouraging the consumption of junk food, soda, and hyper-processed foods the way we discouraged smoking.

MILLER: Some industry experts, including author and food columnist Mark Bittman, think soda and junk foods should be taxed, just like cigarettes.

BITTMAN: The way we discouraged smoking, and continue to discourage smoking, is we tax cigarettes a lot in some states, and we force the tobacco companies to contribute money to anti-smoking programs. Now, if we taxed soda and junk food similarly, and began a huge public health campaign that said, this is the way we ought to eat, we might see similar results.

Near the end of her report, Miller played a clip from a man-on-the-street type interview she did where she hypothetically tripled the price of a bag of potato chips. She followed this with her "healthier America" line:

MILLER (on-camera): How much did you pay for those chips?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: A dollar.

MILLER: A dollar?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: Yeah-

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3: Yeah.

MILLER: So, if they were two bucks more, would you still buy them?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: No (laughs)–

MILLER: No?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: It would be too expensive to be a snack.

MILLER (voice-over): While some say a new tax is the last thing we need, it could mean a healthier America.

Earlier in the segment, anchor Erica Hill actually gave a more detailed consequence of imposing such a levy in her introduction to Miller's report: "Some public health advocates are pushing cities and states to tax fattening, non-nutritious items, like soda, french fries, and doughnuts. Opponents, though, say poor Americans would just have to pay too much, and people should have the right to eat what they want, when they want."

CBS has consistently advocated for government intervention in the food industry as a way of dealing with obesity. A February 26, 2009 report on The Early Show cited a study that recommended "banning junk food from vending machines" as a way of preventing both obesity and cancer. The morning show also brought on Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the brother of liberal politician Rahm Emanuel, who also suggested junk food taxes are "one option that should be considered."

On the November 8, 2010 edition of CBS Evening News, correspondent Ben Tracy touted how "some think government needs to get involved" in trying to fight childhood obesity and cited San Francicso's ban on Happy Meals and other child-targeted fast food meals with prizes.

The full transcript of Michelle Miller's report on Tuesday's Early Show:

ERICA HILL: In this morning's 'Health Watch,' taxing junk food. Some public health advocates are pushing cities and states to tax fattening, non-nutritious items, like soda, french fries, and doughnuts. Opponents, though, say poor Americans would just have to pay too much, and people should have the right to eat what they want, when they want.

CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller has more.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: What is that?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: Cheeseburger.

MICHELLE MILLER (voice-over): For the nation that created cheap fast food, we're paying quite a hefty toll.

MICHAEL JACOBSON, EXEC. DIR., CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Potato chips, pretzels, cookies, those big, greasy cheeseburgers loaded with saturated fat and calories.

MILLER: When it comes to what we eat, many Americans are making bad choices.

JACOBSON: Soft drinks have been treated like- almost like water. You know, it's part of the average meal.

MILLER: And poorer consumers are often priced out of healthier options, because fresher, purer foods cost more. With the percentage of obese adults doubling in the past 30 years, and the percentage of obese children tripling, the annual health care cost of obesity has soared to over $100 billion.

MARK BITTMAN, AUTHOR AND FOOD COLUMNIST: We ought to start discouraging the consumption of junk food, soda, and hyper-processed foods the way we discouraged smoking.

MILLER: Some industry experts, including author and food columnist Mark Bittman, think soda and junk foods should be taxed, just like cigarettes.

BITTMAN: The way we discouraged smoking, and continue to discourage smoking, is we tax cigarettes a lot in some states, and we force the tobacco companies to contribute money to anti-smoking programs. Now, if we taxed soda and junk food similarly, and began a huge public health campaign that said, this is the way we ought to eat, we might see similar results.

MILLER: According to Yale's Rudd Center, a national penny per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages would generate some $13 billion a year in tax revenues. Call it a junk food tax and whole foods subsidy: raise the price of foods high in fat, calories, and preservatives, and drop the cost of fresh vegetables, fruits, and other organic perishables.

MILLER (on-camera): How much did you pay for those chips?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: A dollar.

MILLER: A dollar?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: Yeah-

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3: Yeah.

MILLER: So, if they were two bucks more, would you still buy them?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: No (laughs)–

MILLER: No?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: It would be too expensive to be a snack.

MILLER (voice-over): While some say a new tax is the last thing we need, it could mean a healthier America.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: A healthy lunch, huh?

MILLER: Michelle Miller, CBS News, New York.

HILL (on-camera): One Columbia University study estimates a one penny on every ounce of sugar-sweetened beverages in New York State alone would save $3 billion in health care costs over the next decade.

—Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.