In the scientific community, expert opinions are presented, debated, digested, and referenced. In the world of broadcasting, those same opinions can be “packaged, beamed, fed, and aired”—television terminology used for applying recorded interview segments to a news story that eventually can be combined with other stories and distributed via satellite or fiberoptic systems to other TV stations that re-record and redistribute it to its viewers. This standard procedure in broadcast newsrooms resulted in widespread distribution of IFT-member expertise throughout December.
It started on November 19, 2002, when an excerpt of an interview with John Allred, Ohio State University, on the topic of nutritional supplements as “brain food” was included in a Columbus-area television newscast. Allred told viewers that there is no food proven to make people smarter, but acknowledged that food can promote brain power in a diet that keeps the heart and arteries healthy, noting that restrictive blood flow can hinder memory. WCMH-TV NBC aired the story as part of its NewsChannel 4 at 5 evening newscast, then attached it to the regular news feed that is distributed daily to NBC stations nationwide.
On December 5, the story—with Allred’s comments—aired on NBC affiliates in 17 states and Washington, D.C. In Flint, Mich., WEYI-TV Channel 25 broadcast the story twice. The next day, Allred’s comments were aired in Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, and played for a second day in Louisville and Flint. Before running its course, the news story was aired on 33 newscasts at 30 TV stations coast-to-coast, with the last known broadcast on December 16 in Springfield, Mass., nearly one month after its original broadcast.
While Allred’s comments were making the rounds, food science insight provided by Carl Winter, University of California at Davis, was reaching nearly as many viewers instantaneously by a very different means. On December 6, The CBS Early Show, based in New York City, interviewed Winter via satellite in Sacramento during a 7 a.m. health segment on recent Food and Drug Administration research on acrylamide in foods. Winter told host Julie Chen and a national audience of nearly 3 million viewers that the FDA study is in its very early stages, and that “it’s too early to get overly concerned” about acrylamide in popular foods like French fries and breads. “The dose makes the poison,” he said. “It’s the amount of the chemical [in the food]—not its presence or absence—that determines its potential for harm.”
Portions of the Winter interview were replayed as part of CBS affiliate newscasts in 13 markets nationwide, including Las Vegas, Baltimore, and St. Louis. Additionally, Winter received congratulatory messages from colleagues and IFT for conducting such a successful interview while sitting in a nearly vacant studio at 4 a.m., Pacific time. The Early Show producers provided Winter less than 24 hours’ lead time before conducting his live interview.
IFT Rapid Response Food Science Communicator Charles Santerre, Purdue University, got the luxury of a 3-day advance notice before joining a live, televised 20-minute roundtable discussion about irradiation on WTTW-TV’s highly regarded nightly program, Chicago Tonight. An irradiation advocate and an outspoken critic of the processing method joined Santerre on the three-member panel, and Santerre set the record straight. “Irradiated foods have been researched for 50 years,” he said, “There is not a single food that has received this much examination.” Responding to criticism that irradiation creates free radicals within food, Santerre told viewers, “Free radicals are formed every time foods are cooked.” And when responding to erroneous claims that chemicals produced by irradiation cause cancer, Santerre drew upon the catch-phrase employed by Winter during his CBS interview. “From a toxicological standpoint, the dose makes the difference,” he said, and no one could ingest enough irradiated food to absorb potentially harmful levels of these chemicals.
WTTW-TV is Chicago’s leading public broadcasting station, reaching more than 6 million viewers in four states. Chicago Tonight has been a staple for Chicago audiences for 15 years.
IFT also recently received noteworthy broadcast exposure of its scientific insight. After IFT issued a news release on acrylamide in foods on December 6, television newscasts began issuing 30-second reports within days, calming consumer concerns over the acrylamide scare. CBS, NBC, and ABC affiliates in Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Kentucky relayed to viewers that IFT believes that more research is needed on acrylamide, but in the meantime consumers need not avoid French fries and potato chips as long as they maintain a healthy diet.
by JAMES N. KLAPTHOR
Media Relations Manager