ABC News' Hunger at Home: Crisis in America Segment a Sad Commentary

ABC News segment can't distinguish hunger from hyperbole

By , Columnist

I used to be a TV news junkie.  When I lived in Los Angeles in the mid '80s, the three network newscasts came on back to back, and I watched each until one night I decided that Peter Jennings did the best job of presenting the news thoughtfully and objectively.

For the rest of the '80s, and then through the '90s and early '00s, I continued to watch ABC News regularly, but then Peter died and Charlie retired, and as much as I like Dianne and George, ABC is owned by Disney and they have to compete with Fox, et al., entertainment trumps objectivity, and no one seems to know what fair and balanced really means. 

I rarely watch television news anymore, preferring to get real and reliable news from The Economist or The Christian Science Monitor, but occasionally, like tonight, I do, and, I still tend to default to ABC. They are doing a series called Hunger at Home: Crisis in America, and the segment I caught, "More Americans in Their 50s Facing Hunger," profiled a "hungry" 50-something couple dealing with illness and job loss.

more americans in their 50s facing hunger.jpg

We tend to eat dinner on TV trays while watching the news if we are home early enough, but definitely Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy (are gay couples really so different from straight couples?).  Tonight's healthy dinner was curried chicken with carrots and sweet potatoes, brown rice, Tasty Bite Chunky Chick Peas, beet greens, and a nice Rosenblum zinfandel. We settled in and were looking forward to the hunger segment.

Then it started. Usually, I'm the one yelling at the TV, but Jim was in rare form tonight. Both of us couldn't believe what we were seeing, and he was the one hurling our horror at the hi-def.  How could ABC be profiling two clearly overweight people in a hunger series?!  Were they blind?!

I went to the story at ABC News to see what others were saying, and we were not alone.  The vast majority of comments reflected our own:  ABC, are you effing kidding? Could you not find a truly hungry family and not just two people with some serious food dysfunctions?  I added my own comment, but checked back a little while later and saw it had been removed.  I didn’t use any foul language, but I did include a link to The Morton Report.  Maybe their ABC London correspondent, Nick Watt, doesn’t like Andrew, but I'm guessing I wasn't supposed to put a plug in for TMR or Calorie Ken.

The couple profiled both had undisclosed illnesses, and I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt—I wondered if their obesity was caused by their illnesses. I mean, maybe they were just puffy from taking steroids.  But, with a refrigerator full of sugar-laden soda and other empty calories, I knew I was being too kind. A more likely possibility is that their obesity caused their illnesses, but, what was very clear is that they didn’t need help paying for food; they needed food interventions and behavior modification!

Some of the stories in this series are legitimate, and reporter, Steve Osunsami’s “Reporter’s Notebook” story about growing up hungry is moving.  However, I can’t imagine what the ABC News producers were thinking when they aired this segment and then, adding insult to injury, ended it by asking us to give money to Feeding America.  Hunger at home is real, however the crisis in America is not that people are starving, but that, as a society, we are so blind to our food dysfunctions that even a respected news organization can't distinguish between bad habits and real hunger.

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For two years, Ken Brooks (Calorie Ken) was a volunteer in the Tufts University CALERIE Study. He is now a nutrition evangelist. Send your nutrition, weight management, general health and exercise questions to calorieken@gmail.com.

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