“What Can We Get Away With?”

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

I eagerly await an FTC investigation.

Mayor Bloomberg’s New York City health department has come in for repeated criticism in this space and elsewhere for crusading against salty and fattening foods through ad campaigns that manipulate viewer reactions in ways that border on the misleading and deceptive (“What can we get away with?” famously asked one official). They’re at it again. On January 9, Gotham’s for-your-own-good crew unveiled a new ad warning “Portions have grown. So has Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to amputations,” dramatically illustrated with a photo of an obese man with a stump where his leg had been. But as the New York Times reports, city officials “did not let on that the man shown — whose photo came from a company that supplies stock images to advertising firms and others — was not an amputee and may not have had diabetes.” Instead, they just Photoshopped his leg off, which certainly got the effect they were looking for, albeit at the cost of photographic reality.

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

43 Responses to ““What Can We Get Away With?””

  1. #1 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Lying for a good cause is not really lying…I guess.

  2. #2 |  kant | 

    Who needs truth or reality? We’re doing it for the chillin’s

  3. #3 |  Brian Moore | 

    Obese people eat less than non-obese people. Whatever photoshop sins were committed, they pale in comparison to the fact that the general premise is incorrect.

  4. #4 |  Joshua | 

    I don’t really see what’s wrong with this. Would we be outraged if it was a drawing of an overweight amputee? How about if the drawing was of the photorealist school? If not, why is that different?

  5. #5 |  Brandon | 

    Joshua, the outrage is not necessarily the photo, it’s the people taking money from you at gunpoint and using that money to publish ads blatantly lying to you and trying to convince you to give up more of your freedom. The fact that they couldn’t even find an actual photo of a Diabetes amputee is just icing on the bullshit cake.

  6. #6 |  cdg | 

    Wait, isn’t it 100% accurate that diet can lead to diabetes, which can lead to amputation?

  7. #7 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    I think that what’s wrong with this is really that Bloomburg and company have flat worn out any benefit of the doubt we might ave felt for them. This particular instance isn’t much, but overall they ave done so much plain lying that I, for one, have had more than enough.

    And I don’t even live in New York City.

  8. #8 |  Joshua | 

    Brandon, that’s my point. Focusing on the fact that they created an image instead of using an unaltered image distracts from the argument. It makes no difference whether they used a photograph of an overweight diabetic amputee (these people exist) or created one themselves.

    If we’re going to complain about the wisdom of a city advertising campaign targeting obesity, then that’s what we ought to complain about. The source of the illustration isn’t meaningful.

    Anyway, I’m sure it’s substantially cheaper to chop the leg off of a stock photograph than to find an amputee and take a picture of them, so this may actually be an example of frugality.

  9. #9 |  pierre | 

    I hardly think encouraging people to eat smaller portions is akin to “taking away peoples freedoms”

    I know alot of this comes across as “nanny state”, but as far as I’m concerned banning trans-fats and HFCS would be a good thing.

    If your doughnut doesn’t taste as good cooked in sunflower oil compared to shortning, tough titties. Not a disruption of your freedom.

  10. #10 |  Kutani | 

    @pierre
    It’s sure as heck a disruption of the freedom of whoever makes the doughnut.

  11. #11 |  Anthony | 

    #8 pierre,

    So using force to keep me from eating something I want to eat is not a disruption to my freedom? And if I don’t like it “tough titties”? But I’m still free?

  12. #12 |  Picador | 

    So… diabetes doesn’t ever lead to amputations?

    What Joshua said. You’re not convincing me that there’s anything misleading about the ad you’re criticizing.

  13. #13 |  DarkEFang | 

    On a sliding scale, using taxpayer money to fund ads that target food choice is bad, but not nearly as bad as using that money to enforce some new regulation targeting food choice.

  14. #14 |  brian | 

    Advertisers for fatty and sugary products portray their customers in equally misleading ways. This is simply a PSA playing by the rules of the larger advertising market. Nothing to see here in the substance of the ad; condemning nanny-stateism is worthwhile, but this particular argument doesn’t hold water.

  15. #15 |  PeeDub | 

    The difference is that I’m not paying for the companies’ advertisements.

  16. #16 |  Radley Balko | 

    If your doughnut doesn’t taste as good cooked in sunflower oil compared to shortning, tough titties. Not a disruption of your freedom.

    Are you kidding? Why do you get to decide for someone else how their doughnut should be cooked? And you want to ban HFCS? I’m as opposed to farm subsidies as anyone, but from what I’ve read, HFCS has the same effect on the body as processed sugar. So are you up for banning that, too? How about processed flour, which has very little nutritional value and contributes to both obesity and diabetes? Can we ban that? How about soda?

    At what point do you start allowing people to make their own decisions about what they eat, and what risks they take in their diet?

  17. #17 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    They need to run things like this by Wilfred Brimley before going to print.

  18. #18 |  nobody | 

    Whoa whoa whoa Radley, settle down. Pierre is only okay with banning trans fats and HFCS because he doesn’t like them. And if he doesn’t like them then who cares if anyone else has the right to them? That doesn’t matter! This really needn’t be a logical argument, nonono.

  19. #19 |  nigmalg | 

    Why stop at food? Why not continue onto banning or mandating anything in any realm or industry that may at some point be “bad” for you?

    This is the bit I don’t understand. What logical difference is there? When their city council is having meetings discussing safety, what would they say to a proposition of forcing everyone to exercise 1 hour a day or face criminal repercussions?

    Is it really only because the do-gooders haven’t “gotten to it yet”? Has no one questioned the role of government?

  20. #20 |  Joshua | 

    Speaking of getting away with things, it is now legal to threaten people with guns during road rage incidents in Knox County:

    http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2012/jan/24/knox-county-das-office-oak-ridge-officers-wont/

  21. #21 |  nospam | 

    Hello pudgy, doughy soccer moms who helped make smokers, divorced fathers and a host of others into sub-humans and pariahs….your turn is coming…soon. Remember, this is how it starts. You all had no problem with it happening to us. Do you think we’re going to have a problem with it happening to you? Enjoy the ride. We’ll keep a few seats in Hell warm for your fat asses.

  22. #22 |  Matt | 

    As an avid reader of yours I fail to see the point of this post. It’s a common practice in the advertising industry whoever their customer may be (public or private sector). It’s not like big pharma’s ads (or any other industry’s for that matter) are any more genuine. And it’s not like they would have had any problem finding a diabetic overweight person who had to go through an amputation.

    Rather that criticizing them for the ad they should be encouraged instead for trying to address whatever they perceive as an issue with an ad campaign rather than with more inept laws which narrow everyone’s ability to chose for themselves. So congratulations to the New York City health department for chosing to raise awereness rather than to enact more regulations and let’s hope their example will be followed by many more public departments/agencies. Keep the do-gooders happy and let everyone decide what’s best for themselves. Win-win as I see it.

  23. #23 |  BrianB | 

    @#9 Pierre,

    Just like the WoD, if we as a people aren’t allowed to decide what to put into our own bodies then to whom do our bodies belong? I don’t condone people shoving fatty and high caloric foods into their bodies anymore than I condone using drugs (which I don’t) but, if government can dictate a simple thing like what we can eat, can we really call ourselves a free people? And for the record, I stopped referring to the US as a free country quite a long time ago.

  24. #24 |  xysmith | 

    @19 nigmalg – If I have to pay for your healthcare (the metaphorical you in this case) then I certainly see absolutely nothing wrong with treating you as a child in all other areas of your life.

  25. #25 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Matt,

    Call me terribly old fashioned, but I remember when it was considered good to hold politicians to rather higher standards than Madison Ave.. It didn’t actually happen much, mind, but people weren’t scornful of the idea.

    I would like to point out, too, that the science against trans-fat and salt is by no means as clear cut as Bloomburg seems to think.

    And, as I have pointed out before both here and elsewhere, before we go completely Gung Ho over the War on Obesity, how about we celebrate having the first society in history where the commonest dietary problem of the poor is that they are FAT?

  26. #26 |  c andrew | 

    Bravo, CSPS!

    On all 3 counts.

  27. #27 |  Matt | 

    @ CSP: Let’s agree to disagree on the merits of this advertising strategy, I strongly dislike scrare tactics since I’m old-fashioned too but I’d rather hold everyone to the same standards without any discrimination.

    As for the content of the ad itself nowhere in this ad (or the other one) do I see anything mentioned about trans-fat and salt. Keeping how much one eats under check (which is what this ad is about) seems like a pretty darn good advice to me.

    That was not my point anyway. Even if I disagreed with the message, if the War on Obesity sticks to ad campaigns I’m perfectly fine with it. I don’t mind public or private entities telling us what to do as long as we’re free to decide for ourselves. I wish they’d stuck to the same approach for the other Wars on the People we would all be much better off.

    Coming from a city and mayor so keen on meddling in the life of people this is a pleasant surprise considering how tempted they must probably be to ration our food soviet-style.

  28. #28 |  John C. Randolph | 

    What? Power hungry scumbags will LIE to get more power? I’m shocked! Shocked, I say!

    -jcr

  29. #29 |  C. S. O. Schofield | 

    Matt,

    As regards the ad, I first suggested that the problem was less with the ad than with Bloomberg’s overall attitude. His “Daddy Knows Best” stance is inconsistent with his job as the elected representative of a city full of sovereign people. Later I reacted to someone who seemed to feel that holding politicians to higher standards than ad men was somehow silly. If you disagree that it isn’t, then, yes, we will have to disagree.

    As to salt and trans-fat, those are two previous targets of Mayor Bloomberg, hence my feeling that mentioning that he was off base on them was appropriate.

    I’m simply sick to the teeth of self-appointed nannies. And Bloomberg makes a suitably risible target.

  30. #30 |  Food law roundup | 

    [...] campaign, Photoshop leg off obese guy to turn him into supposed diabetic amputee [my new Cato post, Radley Balko; more Caroline May/Daily [...]

  31. #31 |  StrangeOne | 

    For one year, lets make it so that anyone can ban anything by merely asking it to be so. Let everyone’s freedom become subject to the stupidest whims of the general populace. After that year is over, everything goes back to normal.

    I’m fairly certain that after that year anyone who says “there ought to be a law” will promptly be stomped to death by an angry mob. The logical conclusion of all this pedantry will be obvious by then.

  32. #32 |  Matt | 

    @CS… Schofield

    I’ve not been following too closely Mr Bloomberg’s edicts until he made New-York a non-smoking city. Thanks to your post I discovered that he banned trans fats in restaurant too.

    I can only agree with your feeling.

  33. #33 |  Windy | 

    A good many people who have Type II Diabetes have gotten the disease due to taking beta blockers, not from their diet. My brother was given beta blockers after a heart attack and within 1 year he was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. The connection between these drugs and diabetes has been proven.

    Beta-blocker drugs causes type 2 diabetes:
    http://presscore.ca/2011/?p=2525
    This article says Vit C can lower blood pressure without beta blockers being necessary. Wish my brother’s doctor would have known that. As for me I take chromium picolinate and Vit C every day and have for a number of years. My blood pressure and blood glucose are perfectly normal and my cardiovascular health is excellent.

  34. #34 |  Pi Guy | 

    Wait, isn’t it 100% accurate that diet can lead to diabetes, which can lead to amputation?

    and

    So… diabetes doesn’t ever lead to amputations?

    Ah, the gateway drug argument. Ooo – oh! I can play, too! Here: “100% of all herion users have mothers. Therefore, the key to stopping herion use is the banning of all mothers.”

    I hardly think encouraging people to eat smaller portions is akin to “taking away peoples freedoms”…but as far as I’m concerned banning trans-fats and HFCS would be a good thing…If your doughnut doesn’t taste as good cooked in sunflower oil compared to shortning, tough titties. Not a disruption of your freedom.

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. Here, read this:

    It’s sure as heck a disruption of the freedom of whoever makes the doughnut.

    As an avid reader of yours I fail to see the point of this post…Keep the do-gooders happy and let everyone decide what’s best for themselves. Win-win as I see it.

    I’m don’t win because I don’t want my tax $ to go to misleading, freedom-disrupting, politically expedient campaigns. NYC: 1, citizen: 0. This one’s definitely zero-sum.

    For one year, lets make it so that anyone can ban anything by merely asking it to be so. Let everyone’s freedom become subject to the stupidest whims of the general populace. After that year is over, everything goes back to normal.

    I’m fairly certain that after that year anyone who says “there ought to be a law” will promptly be stomped to death by an angry mob. The logical conclusion of all this pedantry will be obvious by then.

    I’m conflicted by the thought of actually supporting this idea and then opening “Pitchforks R Us”, your one-stop shopping spot for torches, signs, and rentals for extra mob peeps with bad teeth and warts. *rubs hads together*

    Hit while the market’s hot, then onto the black market, next thing you know, I’m a Kennedy.

  35. #35 |  Pi Guy | 

    Doh! One kilopardon for the first open blockquote tag *

    *sigh*

  36. #36 |  JS | 

    @24 xysmith – If I have to pay for your healthcare (the metaphorical you in this case) then I certainly see absolutely nothing wrong with treating you as a child in all other areas of your life.

    Last I checked, I pay for my damn health insurance (I pay a sweet chunk every two weeks) and you can take your busybody nanny-statism and pretty much stick it where the sun don’t shine.

  37. #37 |  fwb | 

    Liars, damn liars, and politicians. What the hell does anyone expect of people running for office, in office, or having been in office.

    95% of the people are crap.

  38. #38 |  Goober | 

    @ #36 JS – I think #24 xysmith was making a point. Take another look at what he wrote and i think you’ll see that he made it quite well.

    The point was that once everyone is paying for a metaphorical “person’s” healthcare, then it starts to make more sense to give everyone else a say in how that person lives his life. After all, his choices will have a direct monetary impact on the people around him.

    This is the horror of socialized medicine. This is the main reason why I’m against it and will be forever.

  39. #39 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    http://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/2166-public-health-campaign-ads-truth.html

    A good overview of these issues, and includes an anti-obesity campaign in Georgia which included pictures of what turned out to be fat child actors claiming to have diseases they didn’t have.

  40. #40 |  Kip W | 

    So one leg isn’t dishonest? Good thing they didn’t remove them both. They wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

  41. #41 |  pierre | 

    Sorry, Im late to check back. The difference is Trans-fats are in all ways poison. Not food. Food is natural. Trans-fats are not. Sugar is natural. HFCS is not (the argument that HFCS is the same as sugar is corn industry propaganda). I’m of the opinion that in order for something to be food it SHOULD BE FOOD.

    Same goes for genetically engineered crops. Not natural, should not be ingested.

    Or if you want to take the ultimate libertarian view on this – at the minimum everything should be SUPER clearly labeled as containing this garbage, If not just labelled as being a DRUG and not FOOD.

  42. #42 |  markm | 

    Pierre: And yet, from the 1960’s until the 1990’s, government agencies were telling us that transfats were better for us than natural animal fat.

  43. #43 |  Rick H. | 

    markm:

    But you don’t understand. The government was merely misguided then. Now they’ve ironed out all the kinks, and as a result, gov’t positions are irrefutably, precisely scientifical in every aspect.

    Science has stopped at this perfect moment of clarity. All controversies of fact have been solved, and we need only consult the experts, who are in 100% agreement! Hurrah!

Leave a Reply