How Fox News Channel Invented The Biden 'Burger Ban'
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
Update (4/26/21 4 p.m.): This piece has been updated, to include Fox News anchor John Roberts' on-air correction Monday.
After a right-wing British news site introduced a blatant lie about President Joe Biden's green-energy and infrastructure proposals — fraudulently suggesting that the administration is attempting to limit people to having one hamburger a month — Fox News then stepped up as the venue to amplify it into a much wider and frankly embarrassing discourse with its American audience.
In doing so, the network's purported "news"-side personalities are just as guilty as the officially billed opinion hosts, who have all contributed to this fake story now being spread by high-level Republican politicians. For one, the Biden administration does not have a specific plan yet —but rather an outline of goals to reduce emissions, with a focus on transitioning to clean-energy infrastructure. There is nothing about mandating a virtual end to meat consumption — nor would there ever be in any eventual plan from an administration in the real world — not that the network's anchors would acknowledge such facts.
This latest narrative is in fact a revival of a false attack that right-wing media have been pushing for at least two years, attempting to exploit and discredit any proposal to reduce pollution that affects the climate, and turn it into a vast conspiracy of government controls.
This time, right-wing media are distorting a University of Michigan study from 2020, which found that "replacing half of all animal-based foods in the U.S. diet with plant-based alternatives could reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions 1.6 billion metric tons by 2030." The study's lead author told CNN's Daniel Dale over the weekend: "I, admittedly, have no idea what Biden's plan has to say about our diets."
Essentially, in right-wing media's telling, Biden wants to reduce emissions by shifting to green energy and electric vehicles; this old study said that slashing meat consumption would reduce emissions; therefore, Biden wants to cut meat consumption. (This is a misuse of the transitive property of mathematics, a seemingly easy concept that is in fact "useful to study in order to avoid mistakes in situations where it doesn't hold.")
The right-wing British outlet The Daily Mail started this new cycle of false attacks with a headline claiming, "Biden's climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH." The article cited "a study by Michigan University's Center for Sustainable Systems," without mentioning that the study was a year old and unrelated to any Biden plans. Soon,Fox News picked up this rhetorical sleight of hand on both its "news" and "opinion" sides.
On Friday's edition of America Reports with John Roberts & Sandra Smith, co-anchor Roberts opened a segment by declaring: "Say goodbye to your burgers if you want to sign up for the climate agenda. That's the finding of one study."
Roberts claimed that "researchers say" people would have to cut meat in order to meet Biden's climate goals, while an on-screen graphic cited the University of Michigan. A chyron at the bottom of the screen throughout the segment claimed "bye-bye burgers under Biden's climate plan."
Roberts and Smith then brought on Fox Business host and former Trump administration economic adviser Larry Kudlow. Roberts opened the discussion with a joking reference to the Wendy's fast-food advertising campaign from the 1980s, "Where's the Beef?"
And on Fox's late night news time slot, anchor Shannon Bream opened her broadcast by rhetorically asking viewers: "Could new climate impact plans limit you to just one burger a month?"
Fox News White House correspondent Kevin Corke falsely claimed: "The Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan says cutting, quote, 'small diet-related greenhouse gas emissions by half' could help reach Biden's climate numbers by the 2030 target date." (The Michigan study did not talk about Biden's plans or any government mandates.)
Bream responded: "OK. About the burger thing, I'm not going to comply with that. So, I'm wondering, can you buy credits, like you can go buy the carbon credits. Can I buy, like, cheeseburger credits? Because I'm willing to do that — I'm not willing to go one burger a month."
But then in an odd development, Roberts ran a short correction on Monday in which he acknowledged that the University of Michigan study was from 2020. He then blamed "a graphic and a script" for having "incorrectly implied" that limiting meat consumption "was part of Biden's plan for dealing with climate change. That is not the case."
The segment in question had featured an on-screen graphic claiming to explain "Biden's climate requirements," with the citation to the University of Michigan,. failing to mention that the study was from 2020. But the segment also involved multiple other chyrons, such as the aforementioned "Bye-bye burgers under Biden's climate plan" as well as "Study: 90% of red meat out with Biden climate plan" and "Biden's climate plan burns all-you-can-eat burgers."
Roberts himself had said in that segment: "In order to help hit the Biden administration's climate goals of reducing emissions by 50% from 2005 [levels] by 2030, researchers say you'd have to cut about 90% of red meat from your diet." Roberts, Smith, and Kudlow never acknowledged that the study was from 2020 and unconnected to any current proposals from the White House.
Roberts now appears to be implying that the words he said on the air as a news anchor were simply "a script," thus passing responsibility to others.
Fox Opinion And "News" Anchors Promote Same Falsehoods
The coverage from Fox's "news"-side personalities was indistinguishable from the "opinion" hosts, as they dishonestly told their viewers that Biden's climate goals or some direstly related study discussed banning burgers. Viewers were never told that the study being cited was a year old and not connected to the White House's proposals.
On Friday morning's edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed that "part of [Biden's] climate or green targets are to cut our red meat. He wants to cut out 90% of the red meat that you all eat." Fox Nation host Rachel Campos-Duffy said in response that Biden never would have won Wisconsin in 2020, where she lives, if the public had known he was going to make this proposal.
Fox Business host Charles Payne also claimed that "one analysis of the plan" said that Biden's climate goals would cut meat consumption, which an on-screen graphic called "Biden policy effect on meat." Payne further compared the proposal to the 1970s dystopian sci-fi movie Soylent Green.
And on Kudlow's Fox Business show — around 90 minutes after he had just appeared with Roberts and Smith — the host cited "a study coming out of the University of Michigan, which says that to meet the Biden Green New Deal targets," Americans would have to stop eating meat. Kudlow then repeatedly warned that people would be subjected to the horrors of "plant-based beer" on the Fourth of July. Beer, of course, is a plant and fungi-based product to begin with, and Kudlow earned public mockery from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and many others on Twitter.
But on the other hand, Kudlow's parade of horribles does make a bit of sense when one realizes that he has made a successful career in both right-wing media and the government out of being wrong on just about everything.
Then things got even more absurd on Saturday night, starting with Fox host Jesse Watters on his show Watters' World.
"The Democrats always said they want government to stay out of the bedroom — but it looks like the government just walked downstairs into your kitchen," Watters said. "Because Americans are going to have to cut their red meat consumption by 90%, in order to reduce emissions to hit Biden's target. That means you're only allowed to eat four pounds of red meat a year. That adds up to a burger a month — that's it."
Of course, there is no such forthcoming government mandate.
Fox host Jeanine Pirro, meanwhile, told any of her viewers who might enjoy a burger that "the left with their Green New Deal wants to make sure you don't."
By this point, neither Watters nor Pirro even bothered to cite the misused study from the University of Michigan — instead, the accusation of the Biden administration virtually eliminating meat consumption had simply been given its own independent existence, without even requiring a pretext of any evidence.
Pirro went with a visual that simply must be seen to be believed:
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