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Spurlock Watch
July 19, 2005 1:33 AM   Subscribe

Morgan Spurlock Watch
posted by srboisvert (113 comments total)

 
WHY DOES MORGAN SPURLOCK HATE AMERICA???

It's interesting that MacDonald's burgers are not tasty due to the fact that ground beef patties are simply not that tasty to start with. I guess the same could be said for bread, but there must be some reason why MacDonald's buns are so vile.
posted by chrid at 1:55 AM on July 19, 2005


It's not a bad critique from what I read, even acknowledging that Spurlock was right on at least one point. And the author Radley Balko is pretty open about his aims and credentials.
posted by peacay at 2:03 AM on July 19, 2005



Some questions.

How long can this website possibly last before it runs out of things to say?

OK, so it's 100% beef. What I wanna know is the lips'n'assholes percentage. What about the odd grogan like bits of tendon or fascia? I'm guessing that counts as 100% beef, yes?

Why such an effort to stick up for McDonald's? Sure, Spurlock is a crank whose methods have been exposed as less than scientific, but I get the feeling there's something more to this.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:04 AM on July 19, 2005


Nice weblog, cute pic of Spurlock. I noticed a couple of things.

The author of this weblog is one Radley Balko, according to the email contact. From his website:

I'm a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, though opinions expressed on this site are strictly my own, and not to be associated with Cato unless otherwise indicated. I'm a biweekly columnist with FoxNews.com, and a contributor to Tech Central Station. I've been published in several daily newspapers, online magazines and journals (see resume or published writing).

That's the same Tech Central Station that runs this site, about Morgan Spurlock's film. So perhaps *someone* should start a Typepad weblog called "Watching the Morgan Spurlock Watch." Or something.
posted by gsb at 2:06 AM on July 19, 2005


you got a problem with lips'n'assholes?
posted by jimmy at 2:07 AM on July 19, 2005


you got a problem with lips'n'assholes?

Yeah, it's just the eww factor. I know I should get over it.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 2:09 AM on July 19, 2005


Metafilter: You got a problem with lips 'n' assholes?

This blog is pretty boring... Shouldn't this guy be out harrassing Michael Moore or something?
posted by klangklangston at 2:18 AM on July 19, 2005


How long can this website possibly last before it runs out of things to say?

Now that Spurlock has a new series on FX called 30 days? A while is my guess.
posted by srboisvert at 2:20 AM on July 19, 2005


The sooner a fast food joint stops being all pansy and gets back to basics the better.
If they had a massive sign outside saying
"We make our food to be eaten, not tested. It'll sh*t up your diet but it tastes great!"
I'd eat there.
posted by NinjaPirate at 3:09 AM on July 19, 2005


"When you base your whole identity on reaction against somebody,
it's the same as being in—
"
posted by Eideteker at 4:02 AM on July 19, 2005


Someone who contributes to FOX NEWS is worried about factual errors, misrepresentation of fact and freedom of choice?

Now, and only now have i read everything. Turn off the internet, i'm done.
posted by Good Sir Johnny at 4:15 AM on July 19, 2005


How long can this website possibly last before it runs out of things to say?

You're new to weblogs, aren't you?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:19 AM on July 19, 2005


Nice try from this guy. I don't buy it. It reads like resentiment.
posted by OmieWise at 4:20 AM on July 19, 2005


Why Spurlock? he may have some factual drops here and there but fundamentally was concerned with the nation's health. With the world's health.

That's bad, what? i missed a meeting?

It's cos i'm english?

Spurlock is a great advert the American way. He had an idea, he put his own health and well being on the line to test it.

He turned out to be right. His film went beyond McDonalds, beyond junk food, to the broad topic of our health, and our lifestyles.

We all need more people like this.

People who go after Moore i get, i don't like it, but i understand. But Spurlock? i makes no sence!
posted by Good Sir Johnny at 4:29 AM on July 19, 2005


Isn't that movie like 2 years old now? And the show is in repeats already -- I don't know if its been picked up for a second season. Why didn't he start this at the height of Spurlock-mania (you know, if there was a height).
posted by macadamiaranch at 5:08 AM on July 19, 2005


Why Spurlock?

Pessimism against McDonalds is seen as a "liberal" ideal and therefore there's an effort from many on the more pathetic fringe of the right wing (in this case, as others noted, some TSC/FoxNews dork) to find any opportunity to mock it... you'll find more right wing blogs, for example, linking to the latest embaraassing antics of PETA than any liberal group ever will.

This is all about Super-Size Me. The organization I work for sent some interns to report on the Conservative Politicial Action conference last year- there were at least two or three seperate documentaries or movies made by right-wing college students "responding" to Spurlock. There's a visceral hatred from right-wingers about the idea that someone might (gasp!) dare to challenge the perfection of an American corporate mainstay like McDonalds- especially under the premise that Americans have to be better people to combat it.

Someone on the right declared Spurlock liberal, therefore Spurlock is wrong, therefore it is necessary to prove it constantly.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:08 AM on July 19, 2005


Why Spurlock? he may have some factual drops here and there but fundamentally was concerned with the nation's health. With the world's health.

I'll second this sentiment, and add that if anyone hasn't seen 30 Days, they need to Tivo it or plan some time to catch an episode. I've left almost every show thus far being completely amazed; I cried once and I have one saved on my Tivo simply because I couldn't bring myself to delete it.

Most impactful to me so far has been the 30 Days of a Christian living with a Muslim family -- It should be shown in classrooms all over the country.
posted by VulcanMike at 5:14 AM on July 19, 2005


they're trying to push the vegan lifestyle.
So Spurlock's controlled by his vegan chef wife? hahaha, AWESOME. I do always enjoy the Devil's Advocate game, so thanks for the post--very very interesting.

In the end, Morgan Spurlock's kick ass mustache wins out over ALL.
posted by ibeji at 5:19 AM on July 19, 2005


Why Spurlock? he may have some factual drops here and there but fundamentally was concerned with the nation's health. With the world's health.

The ends justify the means, eh?
posted by event at 5:30 AM on July 19, 2005


> What I wanna know is the lips'n'assholes percentage

Zero, according to this statement.

I wouldn't be so confident about the McNuggets though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:35 AM on July 19, 2005


For me, "Supersize Me" was so objectionable because of its relentless fear-mongering about food. Americans are already skittish enough about completely benign food items (oh no! organs! strange ocean creatures! find me highly processed bland food with which i feel comfortable!). It really gets my goat to see someone like Spurlock trying to get people not to eat a hamburger because "it contains lips" or not to drink McD's orange juice because "it was in a BAG instead of a normal BOX! omg"

I don't believe that he's "fundamentally concerned with the nation's health." I think he is fundamentally opposed to the ubiquity of McDonald's and is using disingenuous and manipulative tactics to hurt its business.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:41 AM on July 19, 2005


For me, "Supersize Me" was so objectionable because of its relentless fear-mongering about food. Americans are already skittish enough about completely benign food items (oh no! organs! strange ocean creatures! find me highly processed bland food with which i feel comfortable!). It really gets my goat to see someone like Spurlock trying to get people not to eat a hamburger because "it contains lips" or not to drink McD's orange juice because "it was in a BAG instead of a normal BOX! omg"

This really exemplifies the "what you don't know won't hurt you" concept of corporatist society. Or, from the businessman's view, "if it ain't broke." And I think that's the more serious issue than the mere aspect of McDonalds selling unhealthy food.

Look at it this way: McDonald's is the most successful restaurant chain in the world. Under their current production and sales model, there's essentially no way for them to stop turning a profit. So why would they endorse anything that risks constricting that? As the anti-Spurlockers whine constantly, "them stupid Americans KNOW they're eating fast food!" So clearly any revelation of their ingredients isn't going to raise the interest of the health-conscious. It's only going to upset existing or potential customers.

The fact that McDonald's wants to supress this information by claiming that it's "fear-mongering" such as you just did is pretty much a serious issue in itself. Patent and copyrights of our era eliminate the idea of a "secret recipe" to defend, and yet McDonald's finds it outrageous that someone dares point out what their food is made of. They fought tooth and nail to prevent having to post nutritional information. If a car salesman showed you this much aversion you'd flee from the lot. This is something you're ingesting.

Look, I eat at McDonald's on a semi-regular basis, but come on. Does it "get your goat" when someone notes that veal is actually baby cow? That fois gras is force-fed goose liver? That Soylent Green is people? If so, why? There's no sensible reason why a producer of a product shouldn't be obligated to say what the product is made of- and saying it's the consumer's fault for doing it because the producer won't is ludicrous.

Media reports about shark attacks. "Orange alert" and vague suggestions that someone bad might do something, somewhere- that's "fear-mongering." Pointing out that a Big Mac contains cow lips just becuase it, you know, does, is not.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:09 AM on July 19, 2005


Media reports about shark attacks. "Orange alert" and vague suggestions that someone bad might do something, somewhere- that's "fear-mongering." Pointing out that a Big Mac contains cow lips just becuase it, you know, does, is not.

Morgan Spurlock does not "point out" that certain foods contain certain ingredients. As I already said, I believe he deliberately manipulates (or attempts to manipulate) opinion by taking advantage of people's irrational fears. Would I like to know whether my mass-produced sandwich contains beef, or trans fats, or nut products? Yes. Am I going to attempt to scare people out of eating a product I'm personally biased against by pretending that we should all have a strong (yet irrational) dislike of the ingredients of that product? No.

It GETS MY GOAT, YES, when someone "points out" or "notes" details of the production of veal or foie gras. I have no problem with either of these things, and I'm perfectly aware of how they're made. Most of the time, when someone is "pointing out" or "noting" in this way, he is trying to convince me to share his opinion on the propriety of a certain practice. When it comes to eating, I don't enjoy being lectured in that way.

And yes, just in case it needed pointing out, "orange alert" is a more serious case of scare-mongering, and it's certainly evil of McDonald's to try to suppress information about its products, but that doesn't make the "oh no, maggotburgers!" business insignificant.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:49 AM on July 19, 2005


Meh. Whoever started this site seems a wee bit obsessed, doesn't he...
posted by clevershark at 6:56 AM on July 19, 2005


they're trying to push the vegan lifestyle.

That's stupid. Morgan is NOT vegan, his girlfriend is. He loves meat and mentions that frequently.
posted by agregoli at 7:01 AM on July 19, 2005


Full disclosure up front: the author of the blog is a friend of mine from graduate school. Additional disclaimer: I don't in any way speak for him.

That said, read the "about this blog" page on Spurlock Watch, or his Cato Institute Bio, and you will discover that he is not in any way on "the more pathetic fringe of the right wing." Go read his Fox News columns; they are written from a classic liberal viewpoint (critical of the drug war, conservative "marriage promotion", and Bush's nanny state programs, for example).

As for the "wee bit obsessed" assessments, read his post about why he's writing the blog in the first place. Balko's areas of focus at Cato include combating the reactionary, scaremongering rhetoric related to the "obestity epidemic," and Cato in general is dedicated to individual liberty. So I think when he read Spurlock's book and saw his documentary, and then saw smart people drawing lessons from the "facts" in there, he decided to tell the other side of the story.

Some of his Spurlock Watch posts (about the nature and effect of consumerism, for example) present one side of an argument to which there are two valid sides. Some others, though, bust Spurlock for bad fact-checking or out and out inaccuracies. See his post about orange juice, about the beef patties that McDonald's uses, about what's really in milkshakes, or about Aspartame for examples.

There's lots of stuff to bust on McDonald's about. When Spurlock goes into making stuff up, it is worth it to call him out.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:06 AM on July 19, 2005


What the fuck is wrong with cow lips?
posted by spilon at 7:30 AM on July 19, 2005


Cato in general is dedicated to individual liberty.

You know, it's funny the Heritage Foundation also claims to be an "independent" "think" tank based on "individual liberty" yet I always see these two groups on talking head shows supporting whatever comes out of the right and railing against whatever comes out of the left. That doesn't seem very independent or supportive of individual liberty.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:42 AM on July 19, 2005


Previous MeFi thread about Balko, and his response in the same, mentioned in the front page's sidebar. It'd be cool if he came in and commented in this one, too.
posted by zsazsa at 7:45 AM on July 19, 2005


I've skimmed the postings here, and don't believe anyone's pointed out that the author is a MeFite.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:47 AM on July 19, 2005


D'oh!
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:48 AM on July 19, 2005



The author of this weblog is one Radley Balko, according to the email contact. From his website:

. . . . I'm a biweekly columnist with FoxNews.com, and a contributor to Tech Central Station.

That's the same Tech Central Station that runs this site, about Morgan Spurlock's film.


And, conveniently enough, the same TCS that is published by the DCI Group, a lobbying firm that represents McDonalds.
posted by bibliowench at 7:50 AM on July 19, 2005


they're trying to push the vegan lifestyle.

Two people in this thread have jumped on this snippet, implying that it is aimed at Spurlock. The full context:
PCRM is a rather militant animal rights group. Its aim? To end medical research on animals, and to foster public fear of eating cheese and meat with scare campaigns. Through lawsuits, intimidation, and stealth media placement, they're trying to push the vegan lifestyle.
Also, before the ad hominems start clogging up the thread, are there any arguments/links for refuting some of the claims in Spurlock Watch? In general, Balko seems to make well-reasoned arguments backed up with links to the raw data.
posted by event at 7:56 AM on July 19, 2005


rc3.org posted about this site back on July 7th. Old news. And it's the same boring old pattern: someone dares to say "hey, maybe this thing, though it makes a lot of money, isn't a great idea in general" and some pundit will make a career grinding an axe and defending what needs no defense.

Spurlock doesn't say McD's shouldn't exist. He just reminds us, if we need any reminding, that there's a downside to eating crap. That, for me, was a useful reminder. And his films are entertaining. They're not peer-reviewed submissions to some medical journal. They're not scientific in that way. But they're useful anecdotal evidence.

McD's has a large enough PR department to fight its own battles. You guys are just helping This Cato/FoxNews jerk's pagerank by visiting his crap site.
posted by wheat at 8:01 AM on July 19, 2005


Radley Balko, here.

I'm not obsessed with Spurlock. The blog takes 2-3 hours per week of my time, and is in line with the issues I study for a living, anyway. I started the blog because I was disturbed by the factual inaccuracies in Spurlock's book, and at how many of the 40 and under set take his propaganda seriously. I thought it was time someone challenged him on the misinformation he's spreading around.

Pollomacho: Cato does stand for individual liberty. We are not the Heritage Foundation.

Cato opposes the Drug War, favors gay marriage, opposes the war in Iraq, and supports the legalization (or continued legalization) of gambling, prostitution, pornography, and other consensual crimes. We are in favor of drug reimportation. We oppose the PATRIOT Act. We've lashed out against over-aggressive prosecutors and cops with no respect for civil liberties.

We do side with conservatives on issues like Social Security privatization, low taxes, minimal regulation, and limited government. This, again, is because we value individuals rights over group rights.

But it's a far stretch to call us right-wing.

I cover civil liberties issues. Which means I spend most of my time fighting conservatives on drug war, war on terrorism, alcohol control, and consensual crimes issues. Of course, the left isn't much better on these issues, nor are they very good on obesity issues. "Public health" crusaders can be every bit as threatening to individual freedom as the moral right.

My beef with Spurlock isn't that he's liberal (though fawning over Cuba is a bit much for my taste).

It's that he's spreading misinformation.
posted by rbalko at 8:04 AM on July 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


I think one day, we'll all have our own "watch" website, fact-checking our lives as we live them.
posted by fungible at 8:12 AM on July 19, 2005


But it's a far stretch to call us right-wing.

That's hilarious. No, really, it is.
And your DCI connection is purely coincidental, right?
posted by mr.marx at 8:25 AM on July 19, 2005


As Mr. Marx mentioned, I don't think it's any stretch to call the Cato Institute right-wing. Emphasizing the individual over the group, minimizing the role of government, laissez-faire economics... by your description, Mr. Balko, it would seem that the Cato Institute is the poster think tank for classic right-wing thinking. What you seem to be inveighing against is that Puritan strain of thinking that compels people to try and tell us how to run our own lives.

I don't like that nannyish attitude either, from any political stripe. But I have to say that I prefer Spurlock's naive utopianism better than Focus on the Family's sexual tyranny.
posted by palinode at 8:34 AM on July 19, 2005


Look at it this way: McDonald's is the most successful restaurant chain in the world.

Subway is actually the most successful restaurant chain in the world.

Re: The restaurant coming out and saying our food isn't healthy.

Burger King did something close to that with their French Omelete burger. McDonald's has veered towards healthiness while Burger King has went back to core principles, ie. big cheap burgers.
posted by drezdn at 8:38 AM on July 19, 2005


Whatever.

Guess it's easier to merely dismiss some as with the "right-wing" moniker than it is to actually adress the arguments I've made.

For the record -- I voted for Kerry last election. I've bashed the current administration in published opinion pieces and on my personal blog.

If that's right-wing, your starting point must be somewhere left of Stalin.
posted by rbalko at 8:54 AM on July 19, 2005


Metafilter's discussed Mr. Balko's work before. This particular hoo-hah is a lot less interesting than his refutation of the DEA, though.

All political posturing and innuendo aside, rbalko, hasn't Spurlock's misinformation been debunked to your satisfaction already? It seems odd that you'd be taking up the banner of accuracy for an issue so trivial, and doing it for an entity well enough able to protect themselves in the court of public opinion.
posted by boo_radley at 9:24 AM on July 19, 2005


xquz:

Pessimism against McDonalds is seen as a "liberal" ideal and therefore there's an effort from many on the more pathetic fringe of the right wing (in this case, as others noted, some TSC/FoxNews dork) to find any opportunity to mock it... you'll find more right wing blogs, for example, linking to the latest embaraassing antics of PETA than any liberal group ever will.

perhaps in part due to the fact that mcdonald's and much of the fast food industry has historically aligned itself with the republican party. (see here -- an even better resource is Fast Food Nation, which has shitloads of sources.)
posted by moz at 9:26 AM on July 19, 2005


There's a high bar to jump for credibility here. Attack his words people. He's not hiding, his website is upfront. Has rbalko written incorrect things about Spurlock's claims? [I care not - I put my 2c in up the page]
posted by peacay at 9:32 AM on July 19, 2005


rbalko: misinformation? If you eat a lot of unhealthy shit, you get fat and sick. How is that misinformation? I appreciate some of what CATO does, but this Spurlock thing is just weird and unbecoming of a Hoosier.
posted by bardic at 9:34 AM on July 19, 2005


Actually, I like it when someone here hold beliefs that don't easily get slotted to this strange either/or left-right dichotomy.
posted by peacay at 9:35 AM on July 19, 2005


Who gives a shit?

Anyone here actually WATCHED Spurlock's show "30 Days" on FX? Some of the best TV out there right now.
posted by OhPuhLeez at 9:37 AM on July 19, 2005


The guy acknowledges that pointing out that he's a Cato employee and writer for the corporate public-relations mouthpiece "TechCentralStation" is an "ad hominem attack." I think the guy knows that he has no credibility to begin with and makes his living as a corporate shill-- he just thinks that, despite all of this, it shouldn't reflect poorly on his point of view.

Yes, Cato has more credibility than the Heritage Foundation, but writing for TechCentralStation outs one as just a run-of-the-mill hack. He knows that this is a black mark on his record, but wants to dismiss it as irrelevant.
posted by deanc at 9:54 AM on July 19, 2005


I really don't get these guys who devote so much time to tearing down people like Spurlock or Michael Moore. If they held their elected officials to the same standards of truth, we'd have a Democrat president, Rove would be in jail, and the US wouldn't be in Iraq. But yet people still actually think it's worth their blood pressure to get all upset about filmmakers. These people really just hate anything that smacks of liberalism. Get your priorities straight, there's a fucking war going on. And you ARE fat.
posted by jimmy76 at 10:18 AM on July 19, 2005


Anyone here actually WATCHED Spurlock's show "30 Days" on FX? Some of the best TV out there right now.

OhPuhLeez...

It's interesting, but some of the best TV out there right now? I don't think so. It's a tad better than "Wife Swap".
posted by Moral Animal at 10:25 AM on July 19, 2005


This retard is completely wasting everyone's time. If you don't agree with Spurlock, don't watch his show or pay to see his movies. I really thought it was that simple. I didn't know you had to create a website now too.

It's people like this guy who make America suck more every day.
posted by wakko at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2005


bardic-- if you can't identify many of Spurlock's claims as misinformation, you are either an ideologue or a fool.

deanc-- Balko's relationship to TCS is irrelevant to his claims.

mr. marx-- If you would call both the Cato crowd and Brent Bozell "right-wingers," maybe you ought to develop a better political lexicon. Otherwise, you're just smearing.

palinode-- Who says that one must subscribe to either "Spurlock's naive utopianism" or "Focus on the Family's sexual tyranny?" Seems like Balko is trying to eradicate both naive utopianism and sexual tyranny.

wheat-- Spurlock doesn't "just remind us... that there's a downside to eating crap." He makes shit up. And why is Balko a "jerk?"

wakko-- If you don't agree with Balko, don't read his blog or his columns. It's retards like you who make America suck more every day.

All that said, this thread is unbelieveable. Spurlock slanders McDonald's, and the reaction here is either:

"Who cares?"
"I don't like the politics of the guy who writes the blog,"
"Fox news! Fox News! TCS! TCS!"
"It's okay to lie if you have a good heart"

It's great that no one gives a fuck when the truth gets smacked around a bit, unless the batterer is a corporation or Republican. At least we know from whence these deep principles are hatched.

That being said, I do have a newfound respect for pecay, and I heartily enjoyed watching XQUZYPHYR (of all people!) imply that someone is a "dork."
posted by Kwantsar at 10:50 AM on July 19, 2005


I like quonsar a whole lot more than Kwantsar.
posted by wakko at 10:52 AM on July 19, 2005


This retard is completely wasting everyone's time. If you don't agree with Spurlock, don't watch his show or pay to see his movies. I really thought it was that simple. I didn't know you had to create a website now too.

It's people like this guy who make America suck more every day.


So by your standards if Spurlock didn't agree with McDonalds, he should just not eat there instead of producing a documentary about it?
posted by gyc at 10:57 AM on July 19, 2005


I consider myself liberal. I liked Super-Size Me. I Tivo "30 Days" religiously...

...And I think the author of this piece has a point. I don't see Spurlock's work as full of gross distortions, because it is so difficult to argue with the underlying concept: McDonald's is really freakin' bad for you.

But he is guilty of lazy inaccuracies, some of these inaccuracies are pretty embarrassing. I wouldn't sink this much effort in to proving Spurlock wrong on the micro level when almost everyone agrees he is correct on the macro, but I guess everyone needs a hobby.

CATO seems more libertarian than right-wing. I disagree with them more than I agree with them. But at least this guy seems to have principles that transcend party politics.

That's worth a gold star in my book.
posted by hipnerd at 10:57 AM on July 19, 2005


It's great that no one gives a fuck when the truth gets smacked around a bit, unless the batterer is a corporation or Republican.

Frankly, I have no sympathy. The institution of the corporation and (more recently) the Republican party are operating in a manner nearly diametrically opposed to their intended functions. They've gone off the farm. They are literally out to rob the country blind. They speak in favor of free trade and then make every effort to undercut it. Since their representatives have no respect for the truth or reason, you cannot argue with them on a factual basis. The only response left for a lover of liberty is:

Fuck 'em.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:04 AM on July 19, 2005


"It's okay to lie if you have a good heart"

I don't think anyone is saying that. But if I had 3 hours a week to spare attacking someone, it wouldn't be Morgan Spurlock. I think we'd all like the truth to be held in higher regard, but worrying about small-timers like Spurlock seems a bit disingenuous.

on preview: sonofsamiam says it better.
posted by jimmy76 at 11:11 AM on July 19, 2005


...And I think the author of this piece has a point. I don't see Spurlock's work as full of gross distortions, because it is so difficult to argue with the underlying concept: McDonald's is really freakin' bad for you.

No...eating burgers and fries for every meal is really freakin' bad for you. It shouldn't matter what restaurant they're from. Spurlock isn't acting out of concern for your health and well-being. He's not trying to combat America's obesity problem. He's strictly anti-McDonalds. Someone (like Spurlock watch) should figure out what's behind his obsessive quest.
posted by rocket88 at 11:29 AM on July 19, 2005


Hey, rbalko, while I respect your willingness to defend your positions here in person, I gotta ask, as others have: Why Spurlock? Why put this much effort into hairsplitting about a guy whose apparent raison d'etre is to demonstrate that McDonald's food (and fast food generally) is, in effect, poison? Why focus so much time and energy on the whistleblower and not on the multibillion-dollar industry that spends millions of dollars every year to convince the world's children to crave and demand food that's demonstrably bad for them? You've got the old Quaker doctrine of speaking truth to power exactly ass-backwards: you're speaking half-truth to the (comparatively) weak.

And by half-truth, I mean stuff like this:

In truth, McDonalds' hamburgers are made with 100% beef (scroll down to the "beef patty" ingredients). It is USDA inspected. The restaurant adds salt and pepper after cooking. That's it. No additives or preservatives. No filler. No beef flavor enhancers.

Here, you take Spurlock to task for his negative review of the taste of McDonald's burgers, an inherently subjective matter. (I stopped eating McD's pretty much entirely about five years ago, and on the rare occasions when I have eaten a burger there, I've found the taste to be ridiculously salty and sweet though familiar and innocuous enough otherwise, and I've had major indigestion without fail about a half hour afterward.)

But back to Spurlock: so you chastise him for getting the facts wrong about his opinion (?), and then you split the hair by point out that there are no additives, preservatives or filler in the patty, as if that debunks the claim that McD's food is artificial. When in truth almost no one eats just the patty, and everything else in the burger is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavours, colours and preservatives. (The bun contains everything from ammonium chloride to something called sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, the pickles [which you'd think could be preserved the natural way they have been for centuries] are rich in artificial preservatives, the ketchup's drowning in the dread HFCS and the cheese contains sodium aluminum phosphate, among other things. [Source.])

So you're technically correct: Spurlock's attributing the artificial taste of the burger to the patty instead of the shit it's wrapped in and slathered with. But you're way, way off on the big-picture truth, which should, to my mind, be the goal of good journalism. And which makes you come across like a myopic shill for the fast-food industry, whether that's your intention or not.
posted by gompa at 11:30 AM on July 19, 2005


I heartily enjoyed watching XQUZYPHYR (of all people!) imply that someone is a "dork."

Your e-mail address is named after a talking piece of poo. But thanks for the link.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:33 AM on July 19, 2005


I agree, Cato is not Heritage, I concede that was not a fair comparison. However, to say that they are somehow not a right wing organization is a stretch. They might be more centrist, however center-right.

Let's check out Cato's Newsroom, shall we:

Takeover of Unocal = Okey-dokey
Public Broadcasting = not so good
Social Security = needs reform
Campaigns = no longer competitive
Big government hidden behind veil of Police State

and finally:

Social Security System Betrays Liberal Ideals

Now, I'd say, yeah, campaign reform, that's a pretty bipartisan issue, true. The "individual rights" article supposedly about a growing Federal police state, is really just a complaint about government controls on business. The PBS article quickly goes from "taxpayer rights" into accusations of liberal bias within the third paragraph and I'm a libertarian and therefore unbiased against the liberal media (to paraphrase) is flung out immediately afterwards.

Let's not forget the upcoming book talks about how great vouchers are and how businesses are the best way to solve global water shortages.

This is hardly a page full of unbiased centrism. It was certainly, unkind and wrong to lump Cato and the extremist Heritage Foundation, however, they both do claim political independence, libertarianism, and "individual" rights as a goal and they both lean decidedly to the right.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:43 AM on July 19, 2005


That's one post out of about thirty, gompa.

And I put that post up to point out the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't position corporations often find themselves in when it comes to critics. I could care less what Spurlock thinks about McDonalds hamburgers.

(Of course, if they taste so bad, why is he worried about people becoming "addicted" to them?)

As for why Spurlock, it isn't the guy so much as the idea he's perpetuating. He's spreading the myths of the Nanny-State lobby, which has become pretty damned powerful of late.

So I think I am speaking truth to power.

I'm speaking truth to a federal government that wants to run every aspect of our lives. Spurlock is part of the public health sham industry, one that's wholly embraced by petty bureaucrats who want to regulate risk and bad habits out of our lives. I resent that.

I resent it when it comes from the moral right on issues like the drug war or who we want to sleep with, and I resent it when comes from the public health left on issues like obesity, alcohol control, and tobacco.

This is about consumer choice and individual freedom. Even the freedom to do stuff that's bad for you.

I fear that Spurlock's fallacious attacks on the food industry have won over young converts -- people who will be making public policy decisions tomorrow.

My aim with the site was to give them reason to look at Spurlock and the position he promotes a bit more skeptically.
posted by rbalko at 11:44 AM on July 19, 2005


Man, I have the worst craving for a burger right about now...
posted by Moral Animal at 11:51 AM on July 19, 2005


How does Morgan Spurlock criticizing McDonald's jeopardize people's freedom to do things that are bad for them? I don't really follow.
posted by agregoli at 11:53 AM on July 19, 2005


Someone (like Spurlock watch) should figure out what's behind his obsessive quest.

Maybe the fact that McDonald's is one of the largest and most ubiquitous fast-food purveyors on the planet, and thus the most obvious and powerful symbolic target for a rhetorical attack on the fast-food industry generally?

Or maybe . . . maybe it's the insidious and all-powerful Vegan Conspriracy that's funding him. That's gotta be it! Those power-mad vegans are always forcing their worldview on us. I mean, turn on children's TV and you can barely find Pikachu for all the flashy ads for vegan products. And what modern parent hasn't been forced to acquiesce to Junior's constant, media-induced nagging and pull over and just buy the kid a big honkin' sack of alfalfa sprouts and a Biggie-sized wheatgrass juice at the flashy vegan food emporium with the enormous kids' playground inside? You know, just to shut Junior up, maybe get him a little plastic lesbo-organic-farmer action figure from the latest alternative-lifestyle blockbuster at the cineplex to play Co-operative Living Experiment with for the rest of the ride to grandma's? Know what I mean? Yeah, someone's gotta put a stop to this Spurlock fella, or the lecturers at Hamburger U. may see a drop in enrollment . . .

/facetious rant

On preview: You go, rbalko! Fight the power! Why just yesterday I found my nephew playing Nanny-State Lobbyist with the toy position paper he got for free with his Tofu McLiberal Meal at the local outlet of the multinational health-food conglomerate, and when I asked him what he wanted for dinner, he was all, Field greens in an organic vinaigrette! Field greens in an organic vinaigrette! I'm worried he might never demand another oversalted, oversweetened, vitamin-deficient slab of factory-farmed meat again. Thank god someone's thinking of the children.

/second facetious rant

(And no, I'm not even a vegetarian, much less a vegan. They haven't gotten to me yet . . .)

posted by gompa at 11:59 AM on July 19, 2005


I've got to say, I'm really disappointed by the level of discourse in this thread. Balko's criticisms are specific and measured, but the response here comes off as ideologically driven, shrill, and thoughtless. Except for gompa. gompa makes some good points.

Hell, I'm strongly sympathetic to both Spurlock and Cato; I think there's plenty of room for an actual intelligent discussion here.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:03 PM on July 19, 2005


How does Morgan Spurlock criticizing McDonald's jeopardize people's freedom to do things that are bad for them?

Oh, I don't know. perhaps giving the nanny-state "Ban/Tax this Food!" lobby even more empty ammunition to fight with? You can't seriously (without living under a rock) believe that "Supersize Me" wasn't cited endlessly (along with overblown obesity statistics) by those people just itching for taxes on fast food.
posted by vanadium at 12:06 PM on July 19, 2005


rbalko: If you wanted to tackle this issue from a real libertarian perspective, why not attack the corporate "nanny-state" as perpetuated by McDonald's and others, which is far more corrosive to American society?

From massive tax breaks for "training" people to do menial tasks that do nothing to prepare them for real careers, to massive government subsidies of the beef, dairy and sugar industries -- McDonald's gorges itself at the government till as a welfare corporation that can't survive without subsidy from the government.

If the government truly allowed the invisible hand to control the price of beef, dairy and sugar, I don't think fast-food would be nearly the problem that it is today. It would be too expensive.
posted by hipnerd at 12:10 PM on July 19, 2005


That said I rarely eat at McDonalds, don't shop Wal-Mart, and vote with my dollar. It isn't a terribly difficult concept in contrast to the type of action Spurlock's acted as a repeater for.

Eat healthy, be healthy, buy healthy. Not a difficult concept, and it doesn't exactly require legislation to accomplish.

I confess that I watch "30 Days" weekly, albeit with a wary eye. He's got a genuine presence and fervor for what he's presenting, which is always great to see. However, the devil is in the fallacies. I also watch "Penn & Teller's Bullshit!" every week, but at least they bother to do some fairly hefty research given that their viewpoint tends to be among the most unpopular, yet correct.

BTW, to call CATO "right-wing" is a bit like calling the Democrats members of the Green Party. CATO works from more of a classical liberal (some would say paleoconservative) school of thought, keeping in mind socially liberal and economically conservative policies.
posted by vanadium at 12:15 PM on July 19, 2005


Here's a kind of fun little moment of media-consolidation zen that I don't think anyone has pointed out yet:

Balko's a columnist for Fox News; Spurlock has a show on FX: both men are employees of News Corp.! You guys should take this argument to HR....

hipnerd writes "massive government subsidies of the beef, dairy and sugar industries"

I think this is a huge issue, hipnerd, that most Americans have ignored. Agricultural subsidies are one of the great social injustices of the developed world; a massive redirection of taxpayer money to corporate interests. They also have a massively distorting economic effect, misdirecting resource distribution and crippling the developing world's ability to create a trade in agricultural commodities.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:17 PM on July 19, 2005


From the McDonald's statement:
McDonald's uses only prime cuts of boneless beef.

Why is it, then, that McDonald's hamburgers taste so uniquely and consistently bad? (In my opinion, of course.)

If I bought USDA prime beef, brought it home, ground it myself, cooked it medium rare and seasoned it with nothing but salt and pepper, it'd actually taste terrific (as it usually does); even if I cooked all the pink out of it, it'd still probably taste good, and would taste NOTHING like a McDonald's hamburger.

In fact, no hamburger tastes like a McDonald's hamburger, anywhere, under any circumstances. And they all taste exactly the same. Out of sheer curiosity, I tried a McBurger in Moscow. It tasted exactly the same -- not very good, and not like any beef I've ever had anywhere else. It's kinda creepy.

All that said, their fries are pretty yummy.
posted by chuq at 12:19 PM on July 19, 2005


There's no excuse for corporate welfare, period. I think CATO (and Balko) would agree.
posted by vanadium at 12:20 PM on July 19, 2005


So there are people doing PR for something as gigantic as McDonalds & the like without even getting paid for it?

*weeps for humanity*
posted by funambulist at 12:23 PM on July 19, 2005


There's no excuse for corporate welfare, period. I think CATO (and Balko) would agree.

Yeah, but Radley "Truth To Power" Balko's not spending a couple hours a week maintaining a High-Fructose Corn Syrup Watch site, is he?

To me, it's a question of scale. Let's say Spurlock does distort the facts of McD's a bit to make his point. Is Spurlock more powerful and/or influential than Radley "We Shall Overcome" Balko? Probably. Than the US corn lobby? No way. Than the major TV networks that air fast-food ads during children's programming? Nope. Than McDonald's? Not even close. So which of these power centres is most in need of watching?

Or, put another way, which has a more direct, negative, and involuntary impact on my (and your, and Radley "I Have A Dream" Balko's) own liberty: an indie documentary or a lifetime of McDonald's ads? Which did I choose to watch once, and which assaults me from billboards daily? Which tries to persuade me to eat healthier, and which to eat high-caloric garbage? Which one will spend millions of dollars in the coming years trying to invade my daughter's mindspace, and which has a TV show on specialty cable?
posted by gompa at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2005


Morgan Spurlock is no stranger to reality television, having hosted a spring break-themed game show on MTV a couple years back. I always just figured that "Super Size Me" was just a cheap and easy way to get his name out there, simple as that.
posted by jimmy at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2005


You can't seriously (without living under a rock) believe that "Supersize Me" wasn't cited endlessly (along with overblown obesity statistics) by those people just itching for taxes on fast food.

No, but that's something I didn't consider. Thanks for bringing it up - could have used less incredulousness, though.
posted by agregoli at 12:59 PM on July 19, 2005


Actually, on that reality show for MTV, Spurlock paid people to eat disgusting things -- a ball of hair, a jar of mayonaise, etc. Odd that he now pays the bills blasting the food industry for selling people bad things to put into their bodies.

As for stuff I've written that attacks corporations, corporate welfare, or unfair competition, check...

Here.

Here.

Here.

Here.

Here.

Here.

Here.

Here.

Here.


Here.

Here

...and...


Here.

posted by rbalko at 1:07 PM on July 19, 2005


mr. marx-- If you would call both the Cato crowd and Brent Bozell "right-wingers," maybe you ought to develop a better political lexicon. Otherwise, you're just smearing.

no, Kwantsar, maybe YOU ought to at least open a political lexicon. by any international standard (you DO know people live outside the US, right?) "libertarians", or "plutocrats" as I prefer to call corporate cocksuckers, are pretty fucking right-wing.
posted by mr.marx at 1:38 PM on July 19, 2005


Clearly food is the new moral battleground. I declare myself pro-choice.

Burp.
posted by srboisvert at 1:38 PM on July 19, 2005


This website is about holding Morgan Spurlock accountable for the factual distortions in his book, TV show, and public appearances. It isn't meant to be a defense of McDonalds, or any other food corporation. Like any corporation, McDonalds makes decisions based upon what it perceives to be in its interests. And like any corporation (or individual, for that matter), there will always be the temptation to cheat.

Why is it that this guy is hanging Spurlock out to dry for exaggerations in his doco, but let's McDonald's slide on it's tempation to cheat? It's pretty obvious Morgan had an agenda against McDs, and a temptation to cheat all the same.
posted by santiagogo at 1:40 PM on July 19, 2005


no, Kwantsar, maybe YOU ought to at least open a political lexicon. by any international standard (you DO know people live outside the US, right?) "libertarians", or "plutocrats" as I prefer to call corporate cocksuckers, are pretty fucking right-wing.

There are IO types of people in the American Political Spectrum.
posted by srboisvert at 1:41 PM on July 19, 2005


I'm curious, Mr. Balko, what you think of the section of Super Size Me in which he takes on the subject of fast food being offered as or in lieu of school lunches? I found that the most enlightening and disturbing part of the film. Dug up anything on that, or is that outside the scope of your examination?
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:57 PM on July 19, 2005


I think hipnerd makes the biggest point here: The overarching message of Super Size Me is this: don't eat a steady diet of crap. It's bad for you. It's worse for you than you think. The fast food industry spends a lot of money to influence your eating habits.

Nowhere in that film does Spurlock suggest that fast food should be eliminated or even regulated. The only parts of the film that discuss regulation have to do with fast food (including vending machine food) in public schools.

What's more, besides just bitching about obesity, Spurlock, I would argue, suggests some solutions: 1) eat less of it, and 2) keep it out of public schools, 3) place a priority on physical education in public schools.

I don't see what's unreasonably or controversial about any of that. That seems like sound advice to me. And it sounds like a far cry from "misinformation." He also, by way of an odd counter example, brings in the guy who eats several Big Macs every day of his life and seems to suffer no ill effects from it (and is thin as a rail). And there's an odd trip through some collectors of McDonalds toys/etc. The film is hardly the left-wing screed that it's being made out to be here.

And 30 Days is really solid.

I respect rbalko's willingness to come here and defend his points, even though I think he is more ideologically motivated than his nemesis, Spurlock. For that alone, however, I apologize for calling him a "jerk."
posted by wheat at 2:03 PM on July 19, 2005


This thread's a keepsake for tangential myopic rumination and teflon foreheadery. Thanks.
rbalko, would you please sort that little Iraq war-thingy problem out once your obligations to refashion corporate America in MetaFilter's pristine image are discharged? There's a good chap.
posted by peacay at 2:35 PM on July 19, 2005


Guess it's easier to merely dismiss some as with the "right-wing" moniker than it is to actually adress the arguments I've made.

That is MetaFilter's modus operandi.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 4:11 PM on July 19, 2005


AgentRocket writes "Balko's areas of focus at Cato include combating the reactionary, scaremongering rhetoric related to the 'obestity epidemic,' and Cato in general is dedicated to individual liberty."

1. Anyone who feels the need to constantly use "reactionary" and "scaremongering" when discussing those who don't agree with him, really don't deserve a second look from me.

2. Evidently Spurlock's "individual liberty" does not extend to speech?

I dislike Spurlock myself and think (as most people probably do) that the whole "Super Size Me" schtick is profoundly stupid starting from the premise onward. But I dislike wankery like the linked site even more, because frankly it's petty, it's entirely derivative of someone else's work, it's frankly infantile, and it evidently tries to excuse itself with lofty phrases when in fact it was most probably born out of envy for the publicity Spurlock has managed to make for himself -- while ironically giving the man even more publicity than he originally had.
posted by clevershark at 5:26 PM on July 19, 2005


Oops... in (1), s/don't/doesn't/
posted by clevershark at 5:27 PM on July 19, 2005


Evidently Spurlock's "individual liberty" does not extend to speech?

Wow. You nailed him with that one, clevershark.
posted by event at 6:08 PM on July 19, 2005


event writes "You nailed him with that one, clevershark."

You're kidding, right? Balko isn't arguing that Spurlock should be prevented from speaking; he's just pointing out errors in his work.

I mean, I'm picking an argument with you right now, but the fact that I think you're wrong doesn't mean that I think you should be prevented from speaking. So long as your freedom to speak is balanced by my freedom to respond to you, everything is hunky dory. That's how the marketplace of ideas is supposed to work.

Hell, I'd bet that if Spurlock wanted to respond to Balko, Balko would post those responses (or at least links to them) on his blog, for two reasons:
1. It would make for compelling reading.
2. He would want to respond to Spurlock's responses.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:41 PM on July 19, 2005


You're kidding, right? Yes. clevershark's post didn't seem worthy of a more substantial response.

Also, to answer my own question:
before the ad hominems start clogging up the thread, are there any arguments/links for refuting some of the claims in Spurlock Watch?
Apparently not. Just ad hominems.
posted by event at 7:54 PM on July 19, 2005


I don't think I've resorted to ad hominem attacks once.

I do question a basic premise of the author that Spurlock encourages a "Nanny State" in SuperSize Me. That is his rational for attacking Spurlock instead of the multi-billion dollar fast-food chains that are doing tremendous damage to society.

Spurlock doesn't advocate legislation. He doesn't advocate lawsuits against McDonald's. What he does do is point out some of the ways that fast-food companies, particularly McDonald's, attempt to hook consumers and hide the true cost of eating their food.

You can nit-pick at individual details all you want, but his main point: that eating fast food is bad for you, is pretty much irrefutable.

We're facing an obesity epidemic that coincides perfectly with the rise of fast-food chains. That is not a coincidence.
posted by hipnerd at 8:57 PM on July 19, 2005


Yes.

Whew. I hope you can understand my confusion, though; sometimes it's so hard to tell....
posted by mr_roboto at 8:58 PM on July 19, 2005


I don't think I've resorted to ad hominem attacks once.

Yes, on rereading the thread, you're right, hipnerd. My apologies.

I do question a basic premise of the author that Spurlock encourages a "Nanny State" in SuperSize Me. That is his rational for attacking Spurlock instead of the multi-billion dollar fast-food chains that are doing tremendous damage to society.

This seems to boil down to the same ends-justify-the-means argument others have made earlier in the thread. "It's okay for Spurlock to play fast and loose with the facts, to distort the science, because we agree with his goals."

Spurlock doesn't advocate legislation. He doesn't advocate lawsuits against McDonald's.

Whether the intention is there or not, he can still be playing into the hands of the nanny state lobby, no?

What he does do is point out some of the ways that fast-food companies, particularly McDonald's, attempt to hook consumers and hide the true cost of eating their food.

McDonald's is bad, so if he provides distorted or misinformation about them, we should let it slide?
posted by event at 9:34 PM on July 19, 2005


The problem with regulation/free markets is that both are good in moderation. Ideologues on either side should be generally held suspect, and while I agree with some of the premises of the Cato institute, I disagree with many of the conclusions. Oh, and I do wish they'd work a little harder on publicizing things like the porkbarrel of the shrimp industry (and work a little less hard on being pedants any time movies are cited for policy discussions).
That said, I think that both sides having an active debate is a good thing.
posted by klangklangston at 9:36 PM on July 19, 2005


Event: The problem I see with that line of thought, that all information should be meticulously combed and that intentions don't matter, is that it's too often used by the hacks like the guy who does the Junk Science for Fox to attempt to deemphisize legitimate claims.
For example, I don't think Supersize Me's thesis (that eating too much junk food is bad) would have been any less true if he had occassionally eaten at Wendy's instead of McDonalds. If arguing that the "debunking" is largely of trivial, ancillary issues is an ends-justify-the-means stance, then the argument that McDonalds' lack of lips in their burgers is a can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees example.
posted by klangklangston at 9:42 PM on July 19, 2005


Super Size Me's thesis is only valid if the argument to support it holds water. Balko has shown us that Spurlock has holes in his argument -- Spurlock hasn't supported his claims.

His thesis may be correct (debatably) but, regardless, he got there the wrong way. Using it as the basis for policy or personal decisions is bad science.
posted by event at 10:07 PM on July 19, 2005


event This seems to boil down to the same ends-justify-the-means argument others have made earlier in the thread. "It's okay for Spurlock to play fast and loose with the facts, to distort the science, because we agree with his goals."

No. That wasn't my point at all.

Balko states that Spurlock is helping "perpetuate the myths of the Nanny-State." This is why it is evidently important to attack his credibility.

I have not seen any evidence that SuperSize Me promotes a "Nanny State." It does not advocate government intervention in any form, except for the rather mild and sensible suggestion that healthier food and more physical education should be put in our schools, since we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic.

Most of his criticism is directed at a book that I have not read, nor do I plan on reading.

I mentioned that I had not resorted to Ad Hominem attacks. But Balko has.

Let's just start with the premise of the blog. Balko is attempting to discredit Spurlock as a source. He doesn't limit himself to one particular issue or to the film. Instead he uses a scattershot approach, frequently attacking Spurlock's politics and bringing up issues that have nothing to do with Spurlock's claims in SuperSize Me or nutrition in general.

His entire first post is an attack on the "Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine." Evidently Spurlock uses them as a source and they have crazy ideas and mate with stray dogs or something.

I have no idea what information from that group Spurlock put in his book or whether it's true, because Balko does not spend any time in the post conducting legitimate criticism of facts in the book. Instead he attacks PCRM ad hominem, and brands Spurlock via guilt-by-association as a liar in league with kooks without ever bringing up a single fact, which Spurlock cited that was incorrect.

An earlier post does pretty much the same thing by attacking the living-wage group ACORN, who helped with the first episode of 30 Days.

Again, no inaccuracies in Spurlock's work was noted. Just guilt-by-association and ad hominem attack.

The point of this blog is not to destroy Spurlock's arguments. It is to destroy his credibility by any means necessary. Categories for posts include such gems as "Socialist Tendencies."

I have no idea how "socialist tendencies" would be relevant to a discussion on nutrition, but it certainly plays to Balko's audience.

Here's one of my favorite quotes from the blog:

This may be true, I'm not sure. Spurlock's source is a 2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencier article, and the reporter gives no specific source for the claim, other than the tag "according to the USDA."

Spurlock uses this same S-I article a number of times, but never bothers to doublecheck its assertions. He could have at least checked with the USDA to verify.


I love it. He manages to insinuate that Spurlock is probably wrong in directly quoting a published article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer because "he could have at least checked with the USDA to verify." (Many reporters do tend to lie about USDA reports, I suppose.)

The irony is that Balko didn't bother to check with the USDA either. He insinuates that Spurlock used sloppy journalism for not getting a primary source, then doesn't bother getting any source at all.

Spurlock's Secondary Source > Balko's Non-Existent Source

Later in that same post, Balko attributes the lack of fruits and vegetables in the poor inner city to the fact that activists won't allow Wal-Mart Supercenters to operate.

The number of logical fallacies here is astounding. He starts by attributing a straw-man position to Spurlock. He had no proof of Spurlock's feelings about WalMart at all. (He later found a quote to support his claim, but that does not make the original argument any more honest.)

The argument is further weakened by the fact that it is a classic example of a false dilemma. Two choices are given: "no vegetables" or "WalMart Supercenters. "

The reality is there are all sorts of other ways that more fresh vegetables could be brought to poor neighborhoods. To say "WalMart or nothing" is disingenuous at best.

And, of course, the biggest canard here is the idea that fresh vegetables is the only issue relating to a giant WalMart moving into town. I'm sure Spurlock and others with "socialist tendencies" are just hate the idea that poor people might get carrots. The probably don't care about WalMart's documented abuse of its workers, it's penchant for using illegal aliens as labor, it's contribution to the movement of American jobs overseas or any of a host of other issues that surround WalMart.

Nope, it's the carrots.

Balko might have some points, but they mainly seem to be taken from Spurlock's book, which I still plan on not reading. And his method of arguing does not seem any cleaner than Spurlock's to me.
posted by hipnerd at 11:34 PM on July 19, 2005


hipnerd,

I wonder if you even read the post. I did consult the USDA, who pointed me to their study showing how cheap it is to actually eat fruits and vegetables.

You write that my facts "mainly seem to be taken from Spurlock's book, which I still plan on not reading."

But that was the whole point of the blog! It was to take on Spurlock's book. The movie is old news. The book was just published last month. The TV show does many of the same things wrong as the movie (like posing a scripted show with foregone conclusions as a "documentary"), but most of the episodes aren't all that controversial. I have no problem with efforts to eliminate gay stereotypes, or trying to foster understanding between Christians and Muslims.

The book is where Spurlock goes on record with his misinformation. So that's where I spent most of my time.

Check the Splenda post, the aspartame post, the BSE post, the 400,000 post, the orange juice post, or the shake post.

Incidentally, the book is also where Spurlock calls for government intervention to address the obesity problem. At one point, he writes "I prefer litigation" to other forms of addressing the problem. He heaps praise on Tom Harkin, a guy who wants to impose all sorts of restrictions on the food industry, yet is huge reason why we have farm subsidies (read: high fructose corn syrup), and will never let us get rid of them.
posted by rbalko at 2:38 AM on July 20, 2005


I wonder if you even read the post. I did consult the USDA, who pointed me to their study showing how cheap it is to actually eat fruits and vegetables.

I read the post. We're talking about two different sections of it. If you consulted with the USDA, I wonder why you started with: This may be true, I'm not sure.

If you checked, you would be sure.

Seems to me that if you checked with the USDA, you would know one way or the other.

The book is where Spurlock goes on record with his misinformation. So that's where I spent most of my time.

Check the Splenda post, the aspartame post, the BSE post, the 400,000 post, the orange juice post, or the shake post.


Fair enough. Although the book has nowhere near the reach of the film, which I quite enjoyed, and seemed to have virtually none of these factual inaccuracies.

I think the BSE post is a little misleading, though. Even though the vast majority of all BSE cases occurred in Europe, that doesn't mean that BSE is not the root of why we can't export beef there.

The laws passed about how cows must be fed and handled to avoid getting BSE are what kept American beef off the market. We didn't meet that standard So I believe Spurlock was a lot closer to correct than you give him credit for.

But my bigger "beef," so to speak, was with the nature of some of your attacks. The ad hominem attacks, false dilemmas and especially the guilt by association are not solid arguments. They are smears.
posted by hipnerd at 8:30 AM on July 20, 2005


But my bigger "beef," so to speak, was with the nature of some of your attacks.

I agree with you on this one, hipnerd. Either Spurlock's arguments stand on their own, or they don't -- his backers should be largely irrelevant.

But by the same argument, those two ad hom posts shouldn't discredit the remaining 30 posts that do appear to use sound arguments and the raw data to show that Spurlock's arguments don't stand on their own.
posted by event at 9:19 AM on July 20, 2005


My exposure to Spurlock's work comes from SuperSize Me, which did not use any of the disputed facts from the book.

I haven't read the book, so I am taking Balko's word for its content, and he has shown a small preponderance for unfair attacks.

If a few bad posts do not undermine the totality of Balko's argument. I would suggest that a few bad facts do not undermine the rest of Spurlock's work.

You're giving Balko the benefit of the doubt that you refuse to give Spurlock.
posted by hipnerd at 9:31 AM on July 20, 2005


I also have no particular affection for Morgan Spurlock nor do I plan to read his book. So I can't tell if this sentence - "Leftover bits and pieces [of dead cows] are scooped up, ground together and fed back to the cows. And then those cows are ground up and fed to you" - was in context or not.

But it's not "Damn Close to Libel," because it's a fact. McDonalds' suppliers are not "breaking federal law" because, as Balko seems unaware, the ruminant feeding ban of 1997 contains several loopholes, including this one. The process occurs in the inclusion of ground-up cows in chicken feed. Some of that is of course eaten by chickens, some of which are ground up and fed back to cows. We don't know if prions survive that process. What we do know is that not all of the feed is eaten. Some of it, including the ground-up cows, is indeed scooped up off the floor along with chicken shit and processed back into cow feed. And then, yes, those cows are ground up and fed to you.

This is just one of the loopholes in the 1997 feed ban. More directly, beef makes it into beef feed from uneaten restaurant food (based on the hilarious begging-the-question notion that such food must be BSE-free or it wouldn't have been served to a restaurant patron). Also cow blood, which most experts suspect can transmit prions, is mixed with feed for calves. These are some of the reasons why Balko's sentence "And the whole point was rendered moot after 1997, when the FDA banned feed with ruminant remains for other ruminants" is false. The point (risk of contracting vCJD from Mad Cow beef) is very much in contention among people who are following what's going on with the USDA's and FDA's BSE policies - as well as the USDA's 7-month coverup of the second mad cow.

Now, where Spurlock got rBGH "linked to" BSE, I have no idea. It is, however, "linked to" cancer, in that it stimulates the growth of cancer-friendly IGF-I cells.

At any rate, while Spurlock does sound like a sloppy author, Balko doesn't set much higher of a standard.

Also, I have to say, event, your "But by the same argument" doesn't quite wash: Discrediting an entire argument based on external ad hominems is not the same as discrediting an entire argument based on examples of bad logic within the argument. Neither discrediting may be warranted, but they're based on different things.
posted by soyjoy at 9:47 AM on July 20, 2005


You're giving Balko the benefit of the doubt that you refuse to give Spurlock.

This isn't a matter of giving the benefit of the doubt to one party or the other. This is a matter of looking at the arguments and determining whether the premises lead logically to the conclusion. Balko shows us that some of Spurlock's premises are invalid, which thus makes Spurlock's conclusions suspect.

On preview: soyjoy, I agree with you. Discrediting an argument based on ad hominems is a logical fallacy. Discrediting an argument based on examples of bad logic within the argument is a perfectly legitimate way to discredit the argument. That said, I have no idea why you think that applies to what I said. Please elaborate.
posted by event at 9:59 AM on July 20, 2005


Huh? What you said was this:

I agree with you on this one, hipnerd. Either Spurlock's arguments stand on their own, or they don't -- his backers should be largely irrelevant.

But by the same argument,
those two ad hom posts shouldn't discredit the remaining 30 posts that do appear to use sound arguments and the raw data to show that Spurlock's arguments don't stand on their own.


You cited the irrelevance of his backers to the validity of his argument, then immediately said "But by the same argument," and pointed to a different concept, the one about bad logic within the overall argument. I had thought that was pretty clear. Hope it is now.
posted by soyjoy at 10:11 AM on July 20, 2005


When I said, "by the same argument," I was refering to arguments of the form, "Discrediting X does not discredit Y and Z, if Y and Z do not depend on X."

To expand on what I meant, specifically:

Spurlock has made a number of claims and used them as the basis for drawing several conclusions. Discrediting his backers does not discredit Spurlock's path from claim -> conclusion.

Balko has made arguments to discredit some of these claims. Discrediting one of these arguments does not discredit the remainder.
posted by event at 10:26 AM on July 20, 2005


OK, I was reading "same argument" more narrowly than you meant it. Got it.
posted by soyjoy at 10:28 AM on July 20, 2005


Yeah, I should have said "by a similar argument" or somesuch. My bad.
posted by event at 10:49 AM on July 20, 2005


Discrediting an argument based on ad hominems is a logical fallacy.

No it isn't. Ad hominem attacks are a textbook example of a weak argument, which is why you said I agree with you on this one, hipnerd. Either Spurlock's arguments stand on their own, or they don't -- his backers should be largely irrelevant.

I'm adding that to the other logical inconsistencies Balko uses, such as WalMart is the only method to get vegetables to the inner city and recycling equals grinding up roadkill to feed to cows. And of course, that Spurlock has "socialist tendencies," so his arguments must be false.

When you start striking those types of posts, you're not left with all that much.

Your thesis appears to be this: Balko shows us that some of Spurlock's premises are invalid, which thus makes Spurlock's conclusions suspect.

But that's an incomplete picture. The real argument that Balko is making is that some of Spurlock's premises in his book are invalid, so that the conclusions reached in his movie are suspect.

The movie made its point without using any of the facts that Balko attacks. It didn't need them.

On Preview: event: Balko has made arguments to discredit some of these claims. Discrediting one of these arguments does not discredit the remainder.

Exactly
posted by hipnerd at 11:09 AM on July 20, 2005


Discrediting an argument based on ad hominems is a logical fallacy.

No it isn't.

Haha! I guess my statement was subject to multiple interpretations. The intended meaning of that sentence is, "Using an ad hominem attack to discredit an argument is a logical fallacy." I meant the discrediting was based on the ad hominem, not the argument. If you scroll back through the thread you will see that my position has consistently been that ad hominem attacks are invalid.

The real argument that Balko is making is that some of Spurlock's premises in his book are invalid, so that the conclusions reached in his movie are suspect.

The movie is irrelevant. The only one here talking about the movie is you.

Exactly

You misunderstand my point. The arguments to which I was referring were Balko's arguments. By pointing out that two of Balko's posts were ad hominems, you have discredited those two arguments, but you haven't discredited the remainder. And with that remainder, Balko has discredited some of Spurlock's premises. With some of his premises discredited, it's not clear that Spurlock conclusion logically follows from the premises he has left.
posted by event at 11:49 AM on July 20, 2005


The movie is irrelevant. The only one here talking about the movie is you.

So you're talking only about the book? Have you read it? I've admitted I haven't. But it's a pretty big book. Balko found some factual errors, and some disputable points. I am quite sure that he did not disprove the majority of facts in the book.

He did not discredit the remainder. Using the logic you use to support Balko, Balko's criticism does not invalidate Spurlock's argument.

And if Spurlock made his argument successfully in the movie without using the disputed facts, then he is right. So the movie is germane.

you have discredited those two arguments

Just two? Let's look at the front page.

1. PCRM - Guilt-by-association, ad hominem

2. Pressing the Meat - Attacks Spurlock's opinion that burgers taste like "industrialized meat-flavored substitute." Goes on to massive non-sequitor about importing beef from other countries, complete with straw-man argument that "people like Spurlock" are to blame, although he has no proof that Spurlock holds that position, and he creates a false dilemma that the only choices are domestic grain-fed beef or foreign grass-fed.


3. Spurlock's Right - Agreed.

4. History Lesson - Balko attacks Spurlock's assertion that "Everybody in the world, in every culture, has known that overeating was bad for you."

Anytime you make a sweeping blanket assertion like that, you can probably find some examples to the contrary. But generally speaking, I think Spurlock's statement does not drift into dishonesty. Most societies have known that overeating is bad for you.

5. Morgan Spurlock Hates recycling - Sets up false comparison between recycling human waste and grinding up cow waste and road kill to feed to livestock. Balko claims that this practice is "safe," ignoring the fact that it is most certainly how mad cow disease is transmitted and has been banned in Europe and many other parts of the world.

Thrown in an ad hominem attack because Spurlock has "socialist tendencies" for good measure.

6. Les Sayer - Attempts to show Spurlock's experiment was flawed because Les Sayer did a similar experiment and lost weight. Sayer attempted to eat healthier foods at McDonald's and exercised 4-5 times a week.

Spurlock ate whatever he felt like and exercised as often as an average city dweller.

Neither experiment is hard science, but Spurlock's seems a little more grounded in reality. Outside of eating McDonald's every day, he described the life of many average Americans.

7. Jacob Sullum - Balko points out that Sullum, who was interviewed for the movie, disagrees with many of the movies conclusions.

Spurlock used one quote from Sullum in the course of the film, and he used it correctly. The fact that Sullum disagrees with Spurlock's conclusions on a personal level does not make Spurlock wrong.

The first big quote by Sullum is a long ad hominem attack against Spurlock and "like-minded people." He doesn't attack their arguments, just their character.

Spurlock's other crime was to give his opinion on the quote when asked about it by a reporter. The way the question was phrased, the reporter was asking for Spurlock's opinion of Sullum's opinion. I didn't see any malicious misrepresentation of Sullum's position there.

8. Cancer - Balko accuses Spurlock of distorting data about obesity and cancer while noting that most media came to the same conclusion Spurlock did.

So I looked up the study and here is the data right from the abstract on the front page

Results The heaviest members of this cohort (those with a body-mass index [the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters] of at least 40) had death rates from all cancers combined that were 52 percent higher (for men) and 62 percent higher (for women) than the rates in men and women of normal weight. For men, the relative risk of death was 1.52 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.13 to 2.05); for women, the relative risk was 1.62 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.40 to 1.87). In both men and women, body-mass index was also significantly associated with higher rates of death due to cancer of the esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and kidney; the same was true for death due to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Significant trends of increasing risk with higher body-mass-index values were observed for death from cancers of the stomach and prostate in men and for death from cancers of the breast, uterus, cervix, and ovary in women. On the basis of associations observed in this study, we estimate that current patterns of overweight and obesity in the United States could account for 14 percent of all deaths from cancer in men and 20 percent of those in women.

Conclusions Increased body weight was associated with increased death rates for all cancers combined and for cancers at multiple specific sites.


Spurlock and the major media's interpretation does not seem incorrect to me. You might be able to spin the data other ways, as Balko did. But Spurlock's argument is well-supported.

9. 400,000 - Balko claims that Spurlock is using bad data because a new study by the CDC has come up with a lower figure.

However, Balko admits later, "The CDC has been slow to embrace the new study." So Spurlock used the data that the CDC currently claims is most accurate.

It may not be accurate, but that does not mean Spurlock is being dishonest if those numbers are still being distributed.

10. Poor People and Vegetables - Balko attacks Spurlock's source as inadequate without providing a counter source. He then set's up a massive false argument involving Wal-Mart. I already covered this earlier.

11. Poor People and Fat - We start by going off on a tangent where Balko uses horrible logic to assert that higher taxes on cigarettes encourage wealthy people to quit but not poor people.

He fails to account for the fact that greater education and social pressures probably account for the greater reduction in wealthy smokers.

12. Kids and Fat - Balko complains that Spurlock uses the current, commonly accepted method to determine whether a child is obese.

13. Communist Chic - Ad hominem attack.

14. Obesity Crisis - Balko vs. the CDC again, which modified the way that we meause whether a person is obese. He complains that " It's the result of an alarmist government moving the goalposts to manufacture hysteria."

That's an opinion, and an unsupported one. Why would the CDC want to "manufacture hysteria?" I would assume that they revised the numbers based on the best available science at the time.

For years we had a food pyramid created by the beef and dairy lobby. It is not unreasonable to change government data based on more accurate science.

15. Consumerism - Basically an ad hominem attack. Spurlock opposes consumerism as a culture. Balko supports it. Both might have some valid points, but labeling Spurlock with the "socialist sympathies" tag again doesn't help Balko's case.

16. ACORN - Guilt by association and ad hominem attacks. Nothing else.

17. 30 Days - Balko claims that 30 Days is dishonest because its outcome is "predetermined."

He cites as proof a WSJ column which cites a note from a producer on the show:

"This process aims to deconstruct common misconceptions and stereotypes. . . . Our character will learn firsthand about Islam and the daily issues that . . . Muslims in America face today. The viewers will witness our character emerge from the immersion situation with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Muslim-American experience. . . . The potential is great for this program to enlighten a national television audience about the Muslim American experience and increase their compassion, understanding and support."

So the producers were way off in la-la land when they assumed that living with a muslim family in a muslim community would cause someone to "emerge from the immersion situation with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Muslim-American experience"?

You don't have to be scripting the show to make a pretty solid guess that immersion in Muslim culture will lead to a deeper appreciation and understanding of the Muslim-American experience.

There's nothing here that suggests they staged anything.

18. Damn Close To Libel - As has been pointed out earlier. There are loopholes in the laws allowing cows to be fed "animal matter." Balko himself defends the practice latter with his "recycling" post.

***

There, that's 18 points of contention on just the first page.

Did Balko have some legitimate points? Sure. But to paraphrase event:

I have discredited discredited some of Spurlock's Balko's premises. With some of his premises discredited, it's not clear that Spurlock's Balko's conclusion logically follows from the premises he has left.
posted by hipnerd at 1:19 PM on July 20, 2005


Yes, I have read the book. It's related to the movie, but both its premises and conclusions differ from the movie. So, again, it is largely irrelevant.

You most recent post is quite interesting and you make a number of good points, but I think there are also a number of cases where you have condensed Balko's words to the point of changing his messages, or where you may have misinterpreted them.

That said:

I have discredited discredited some of Spurlock's Balko's premises. With some of his premises discredited, it's not clear that Spurlock's Balko's conclusion logically follows from the premises he has left.


So Balko has discredited some of Spurlock's claims, and hipnerd has discredited some of Balko's claims. That is, neither Balko's nor Spurlock's conclusion is fully supported.

Does this coincide with reality? I think so. The world is probably not as bleak as Spurlock paints it, but neither is it as rosy as Balko paints it.
posted by event at 2:08 PM on July 20, 2005


Kwanstar: I was referring to the film. I haven't seen any evidence that Spurlock "makes shit up" in the film. I haven't read the book. Perhaps it is sloppy work. I don't know. I'd have to check that out myself. I think the film is relevant to the conversation, which is why I mentioned it.

And I think hipnerd just gave your boy a spanking.
posted by wheat at 2:33 PM on July 20, 2005


Must be rbalko's turn to respond to hipnerd's extended analysis no?
posted by peacay at 12:26 PM on July 21, 2005


* crickets *
posted by soyjoy at 11:52 AM on July 28, 2005


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