Student: Mr. Naughton — I’m a journalism student who will graduate next week.  I’ve noticed that on both of your blogs, you frequently complain about biased reporting. In fact, you inspired me to examine the news more critically, which led me to conclude that bias is not only rampant, but may in fact be a job requirement.  Since you were a journalism major yourself, I hope you’re willing to give me some advice:  namely, can you share some pointers on how to write biased news stories?  In this economy, with so few jobs available for new graduates, I could really use an edge.

Fat Head: I graduated in the midst of the 1981-82 recession and know exactly how you feel.  I’d be happy to help to you develop the necessary bias in your reporting, but first let’s distinguish between strategy and tactics.  A strategy is plan for achieving a goal.  Tactics are the methods you employ to implement the strategy.  Your goal is success in journalism.  You asked for pointers, and we’ll get into those shortly, but those are tactics.  To succeed as a biased reporter, you must first understand the strategy, which is:  

1) Whenever you tackle complex issues, you will rewrite them as neat dramatic narratives that
2) happen to be exactly the neat dramatic narratives that most appeal to your fellow journalists — especially editors and other gatekeepers.

Student: I think I may have a problem with that.

Fat Head: Look, if you care about your career, you’ll forget all that nonsense they taught you about ethics and objectivity and–

Student: No, no, no, that’s not a problem.  I just don’t understand how to create neat dramatic narratives.

Fat Head: Oh, well, it’s a mostly matter of selection.  If you’re a diligent reporter looking into an important story, you’ll probably find all kinds of complexities and contradictions.  That’s not what your editors want.  So when you sit down to write, first come up with a Hollywood-style pitch line — the whole story in one sentence.  Then throw out anything that doesn’t fit. That’s your first tactic.

Student: Can you give me an example?

Fat Head: Sure, I remember one that had me screaming at the TV.  CBS sent a reporter to look into why California went broke.  The entire story focused on two things:  the national economic recession and Proposition 13, which put a cap on property taxes.  I was living in California at the time and knew that in spite of Proposition 13, California still had higher per-capita property taxes than most other states, that Proposition 13 had been around since 1978 and didn’t cause budget shortfalls in the ’80s or ’90s, that Californians paid more in combined taxes than people in 45 other states, and that in spite of the recession, the state’s tax revenues during the previous four years had actually increased by 25 percent, while spending went up 40 percent.

But the CBS reporter realized the neat dramatic narrative that would most please his fellow journalists was “Cap on taxes produces budget crisis,” so he didn’t mention a single one of those facts.  And just to make sure nobody missed the narrative, he ended the report with, “Well, Dan, as long as Californians decide to set their own tax rates instead of trusting their legislators to do it for them, they may be facing budget shortfalls for a long time.”  Dan looked delighted.  I’m guessing that reporter got a raise.

Student: Wow … that is a neat dramatic narrative.  But I’m not interested in reporting on economic issues.  I’m more interested in public policy issues, especially regarding nutrition and health.  That’s why I read your blog.

Fat Head: Excellent … in that case, you only need to remember a single dramatic narrative to guide all your reporting. Write this down and put it next to your keyboard.  No matter what specific issue you’re covering, the narrative is:  HEROIC GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS TRY TO SAVE HELPLESS AMERICANS — GREEDY CAPITALISTS OPPOSED.

Student:  I love it!  Good versus evil.  Can you teach me to write that story?

Fat Head:  Easily.  Let’s take a real example from the Los Angeles Times and show how it’s done.  Read this story about the FDA’s effort to reduce the salt content in food. Then we’ll discuss the tactics employed to create the narrative.

Student: Okay, I read it.  Seems factual to me.

Fat Head: That’s the beauty of it.  It’s factual, so it looks like an objective article.  But it’s also been constructed to create a neat dramatic narrative.  Look at the opening paragraphs:

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday announced a gradual but potentially far-reaching effort to reduce the amount of salt Americans consume in a bid to combat high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and other health problems that have soared to near-epidemic proportions.

The FDA’s efforts will begin by seeking voluntary cutbacks by the food industry. But ultimately, the agency may resort to regulating acceptable levels of sodium in food and beverages.

Right away, we’ve established a hero with a noble cause.  The FDA is going after the evil food industry to save helpless Americans from heart disease and strokes.

Student: But isn’t that the FDA’s intention?

Fat Head: Bingo!  There’s your next tactic:  when you are reporting on government health agencies, always judge them by their intentions.  Never, ever wonder if their actions will actually produce the desired results.  If the government demands calorie counts on restaurant menus to reduce obesity, just assume the result would be a reduction in obesity.  Don’t ask if the nutrition labels the FDA imposed in the 1990s reduced obesity, as the FDA predicted at the time.  Don’t ask if people who eat lunch at McDonald’s will actually order lower-calorie meals if they’re confronted with calorie counts.  And if you do, for heaven’s sake, don’t even think of asking if those same people might just eat more later in the day because they’re hungrier.  So if we’re talking about salt, then –

Student: Wait a minute … I see!  The FDA is demanding that food manufacturers put less salt in processed food, but we don’t really know if that will ultimately reduce heart disease and strokes, because –

Fat Head: Stop thinking! I’m trying to help you here!

Student: Sorry.

Fat Head: It’s okay. You’re right.  We don’t know if putting less salt in packaged food will lead to people eating less of it overall, and we certainly don’t know if eating less salt will reduce heart disease and strokes.  But we’ll come back to that.  Look at this next paragraph:

The FDA’s decision was applauded by public health advocacy groups and scientists, who have long pointed up the link between high salt intake and a host of serious – and costly – medical problems.

Student: I see it.  It’s that “link” thing.  You’ve mentioned many times that associations don’t prove anything.

Fat Head: Correct, but that’s not the tactic I’m pointing out here.  It’s more about establishing the narrative.   Remember, the first part of the narrative is HEROIC GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS TRY TO SAVE HELPLESS AMERICANS.  So how do you prove to your audience that the government officials are heroes?  Why, you just tell them that health advocacy groups and scientists are applauding.

Student: But that seems like a factual statement.

Fat Head: Read it again carefully. The decision was applauded by “scientists.”  Really?  All scientists?

Student: Oh, I see …

Fat Head: That’s the tactic.  Arrange the narrative so it appears that all the good and smart people are on the government’s side.  That means you write “scientists say” or “scientists support” instead of “some scientists say” or “some scientists support.”  Bernard Goldberg, a former CBS reporter, described the process brilliantly in his book Bias:   you call around for quotes, but then only use the quotes from the experts who support your narrative.

Student: Now wait a minute.  In journalism school, I was taught to present both sides of an issue.

Fat Head: So was I.  The trick is in how you do it.  Take a look:

But it was also criticized by some industry groups, and some conservative political leaders denounced it as another government assault on personal freedom.

I noticed this tactic years ago:  When you need to quote someone from the other side, make sure it’s someone your audience doesn’t like or doesn’t trust.  So, an industry group is criticizing the FDA?  Who the heck is going to trust some industry group?  They’re not health experts; they’re self-interested capitalists. The whole purpose of quoting them at all is to set up the GREEDY CAPITALISTS OPPOSED part of the narrative.

But the head of the salt lobby blasted efforts to curb salt consumption as unwarranted and overly broad. “It’s not scientifically sound,” said Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute. “They’re talking about some very drastic reductions. They could be harming people.”

So the salt lobby doesn’t like the proposed regulations. Who would’ve predicted otherwise?  Compare that paragraph to these:

The 14-member panel’s findings, more than a year in the making, come on the heels of a welter of studies tallying the health and economic costs of excessive salt intake.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health predicted that, if dietary sodium consumption declined to the levels recommended in the 2005 federal guidelines, some 90,000 deaths could be averted yearly.

A Rand Corp. study published in September estimated that reducing American sodium intake to recommended levels could save $18 billion yearly in treatment for hypertension, stroke, renal disease and heart failure associated with excessive salt consumption.

“There is now overwhelming evidence that we must treat sodium reduction as a critical public health priority,” said Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Harvard School of Public Health’s department of nutrition.

So we’ve been objective and factual and presented both sides, right?  Heroic government regulators and scientists versus the salt lobby and conservative politicians we don’t trust anyway. Very neat and tidy.

Student: I don’t get the part about not trusting conservative political leaders.  Isn’t a large percent of the audience conservative?

Fat Head: You’re assuming the readers and viewers at home are the intended audience.  Remember, your narratives must appeal to other journalists. A successful career in journalism requires thinking exactly like your peers.  That’s why, as Goldberg points out, conservatives are always clearly labeled as conservatives in news stories… a conservative think-tank contends that … a conservative group is opposing the regulation, etc.  The message is:  here’s what the other side says, but you should be suspicious of them because they’re a bunch of right-wingers.

Meanwhile, you can read the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times for years and never see a reference to “a liberal think-tank.”  I’ve seen members of pro-government, pro-regulation liberal groups simply referred to as “experts” or “researchers” in countless news stories.  Even the vegan wackos at the Center for Science in the Public Interest are usually introduced as “consumer advocates.”  Well, gee whiz, who the heck wants to oppose good people who are just looking out for us?

Student: “Us” being all those helpless Americans?

Fat Head: Indeed.  Here’s how helpless we are:

The institute declared that expeditious “regulatory action is necessary” because efforts to educate the public about the perils of excessive dietary salt and voluntary sodium-cutting efforts by industry have failed …

Now, a reporter not trying to pound a complex story into a neat dramatic narrative might just stop and wonder if the reason “efforts to educate the public about the perils of excessive dietary salt” have failed is that people like salt and choose salty foods on purpose.  She might even wonder if the public’s reaction to “voluntary” sodium-cutting by the food industry will be to reach for the salt shaker whenever they taste a low-salt food.  But that would raise pesky questions about whether the FDA’s actions will actually reduce salt consumption.  And worse, it would undermine the HELPLESS AMERICANS part of the narrative.  Which leads to our next tactic.  Here’s an example:

On a daily basis, Americans consume almost 50% more than the roughly one teaspoon of salt recommended as a maximum by the federal government’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, according to the institute’s report.

Student: Okay, we so consume too much salt.  I don’t see the tactic being used here.

Fat Head: The tactic is this:  in order to present government regulators as heroes saving helpless Americans, always cite government recommendations as gospel.  You need to create the impression that the evil food industry is overdosing us on purpose, so just breathlessly report that “this double cheeseburger contains more sodium and saturated fat than the federal government recommends for an entire day!”  Never, ever ask if those recommendations are based on real science.

Student: You mean the salt recommendations aren’t based on science?

Fat Head: I told you not to ask that.

Student: Sorry, but -

Fat Head: Okay, since you’re in still in training here … no, they’re not based on science.  Neither are the recommendations about fat intake.

Remember our neat little narrative?  The food industry versus the FDA, which is being applauded by all the scientists?   Well, I don’t have access to the same resources as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, but it only took me about five minutes to come up with quotes like these:

The INTERSALT researchers conveniently neglected to mention that the population of the four countries responsible for skewing the total figures to coincide with their preconceived conclusion also had less stress, less obesity, ate far less processed foods and much more fiber from fruits and vegetables. They also tended to die at younger ages from other causes and often too soon to have developed any significant degree of coronary atherosclerosis.

When the available data from the other more civilized societies was reviewed, statisticians found that as sodium intake increased there was a decrease in blood pressure, just the opposite of what had been reported. The lowest salt intake seemed to be in a subgroup of Chicago black males despite the fact that their incidence of hypertension was above average. Conversely, high blood pressure was relatively rare in participants from China’s Tianjin Province even though this study group had the highest salt intake.
– Dr. Paul J. Rosch
President, The American Institute of Stress
Clinical Professor of Medicine
New York Medical College

In a meta-analysis of 56 clinical trials done since 1980 in people with normal blood pressure, extreme salt reduction offered little benefit.
– GRAUDAL ET AL., Journal of the American Medical Association

The salt hypothesis has no large-scale studies to back it up. Fifty-eight trials published between 1966 and the end of 1997 were reviewed to estimate the effects of reduced sodium intake on systolic and diastolic blood pressure, particularly as in recent years the debate has been extended by studies indicating that reducing sodium intake has adverse effects. They found that reducing salt intake did reduce blood pressure slightly, but that it increased LDL cholesterol, the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol. They conclude that ‘These results do not support a general recommendation to reduce sodium intake.’ Many thousands of papers have been published in the medical journals over the years which failed to show any benefit from reducing salt intake. These are not mentioned.
– Dr. Barry Groves

The most slender piece of evidence in favor of a salt-blood pressure link is welcomed as further proof of the link, while failure to find such evidence is explained away.
–Dr. Olaf Simpson, Otago Medical School, New Zealand

This observational study does not justify any particular dietary recommendation. Specifically, these results do not support current recommendations for routine reduction of sodium consumption.
– Dr. Michael Aldeman, from his study published in The Lancet

Dr. Aldeman, by the way, has characterized drastically reducing the salt content of food as “an uncontrolled experiment” and said he’s concerned about the unintended consequences. I could go on, but you get the idea.  It’s the CBS tactic … only present the facts that support your narrative.  The reporter could’ve dug up any of these quotes, along with dozens of studies that concluded reducing salt is worthless, but that wouldn’t fit the narrative.  Now it’s not just the evil food industry that’s against restricting salt, it’s other scientists as well.  You don’t want to risk leaving the audience confused.

Student: Well, most newspaper readers aren’t that scientifically literate.

Fat Head: I’m talking about the other journalists.

Student: I keep forgetting.

Fat Head: As for the audience at home, you certainly don’t want them thinking that perhaps the government is wasting a lot of time and taxpayer dollars trying to force them to eat less salt for no good reason.

Student: I think I’m getting the hang of it. The strategy is to create a neat dramatic narrative. The tactics are to select only the facts that support the narrative, establish the government regulators as heroes by suggesting all the scientists and health advocates are on their side, always judge the regulators by their intentions instead of speculating about the actual results, quote government recommendations as gospel even if they’re not based on scientific evidence, present the opposing viewpoint by quoting people the audience doesn’t trust anyway, and portray Americans as helpless victims of evil industries who are overdosing them on purpose.  Thanks, Mr. Naughton.   If I keep all this in mind, I may just wind up with a job as a journalist after all.

Fat Head: And if that doesn’t happen, you can always work in Hollywood.

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21 Responses to “Q&A: How To Bias A News Story”
  1. Sean says:

    Absolutely brilliant. Researching the salt bs is what originally got Taubes onto the fat bs. http://www.junkscience.com/news3/taubes.html

    Yup, after his book on cold fusion, someone told him if he really wanted to see some bad science, he should look into nutrition. The rest is history.

  2. Jim Purdy says:

    Funny, but not very much like the hard-working real journalists I knew when I was a wire service news reporter..

    It’s sarcasm, of course … but it’s amazing how often these stories fit the exact same template.

  3. Bartacus says:

    The phrase “liberal think tank” has appeared in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times twice in 2010. The phrase “conservative think tank” has appeared…umm…twice. Sorry if that runs counter to your “neat dramatic narrative.”

    I stand corrected for the LA Times, but the year is young. Perhaps Goldberg’s book finally made some LA Times editors notice the disparity.

    In a search of the NY Times for the past 12 months, using exact phrases and limiting results to articles (so as not to catch letters to the editor, blogs, etc.), I get 739 hits for “conservative think tank” and 12 for “liberal think tank.” My use of the word “never” was clearly incorrect. I should have substituted “rarely.”

    For your next experiment, add up the column inches of quotes from liberal vs. conservative sources in public-policy news stories, giving extra points to the bold-text callouts. Or if liberal vs. conservative is too confining, make it pro-regulation vs. pro-freedom quotes. If you don’t see roughly a 2 to 1 ratio or higher, send me a link. The article linked in this post is more like 4 to 1.

  4. Susan says:

    I love this for so many reasons.

    My degree is in journalism, I live in California (thank you for that example, by the way), and I have been TRYING to tell my salt phobic friends that cutting back is not gonna help their mom’s high blood pressure.

    Then again, I’m just a crazy liberal hippie whole food advocate here in granola town. :)

    My mom went on the 6 Week Cure diet and her BP dropped 20 points.

  5. Jan says:

    I have nothing to add to the conversation today except that I had my first Grilled Double Down for lunch today, and it wasn’t half bad – kinda salty, but I find most commercially prepared foods on the salty side.

    Oh, and I ran across a vegan site railing against it while looking for the nutritional info (KFC’s site only posts calorie and fat content, not carbs) and after about a minute and a half had to come over here and read something intelligent before my brain imploded.

    I downloaded a PDF nutrition guide from the KFC site.

  6. Thanks, Tom!! This is one of the reasons I like your blog so much. It actually makes me laugh about these horrible truths in a good, stress-releasing way…

    But this particular one brings up the question: where are the young idealists who follow the rules of unbiased journalism they learned in school? It makes me wonder if schools haven’t yet degraded to the point that they are actually teaching their students to write creative narrative to the exclusion of the unbiased facts!?!?

    This sounds like the method (mostly) used to write grant proposals, except that you are the hero, and you focus on the victims and the money you need to save them from _______ (whoever…).

    I was being sarcastic, of course. Bernard Goldberg doesn’t believe there’s any conscious conspiracy to bias the news, but when roughly 90 percent of the news media vote the same way (and that’s according to their own research), there’s an echo-chamber effect, and unintentional bias is the result.

    On the other hand, I believe the bias was very much intentional when The Dan was running CBS News. Too one-sided to be unintentional. Even Walter Cronkite’s former boss once said that The Dan had skewed CBS News so far left, he couldn’t stand to watch it anymore.

  7. Donnie Winn says:

    I love your pointing out that Prop 13 did not cause the problems earlier; the citation you mentioned asks the people to depend upon a legislature which does not have enough sense to restrain spending to available revenues, even though required by the state constitution, to set tax rates. They actually DO have the ability to raise the taxes, through super majority vote; however, they DO have enough sense to know that if they do so, a recall election will follow the increase, recalling every legislator who voted in favor, ergo no property tax increase by the legislature, which is NOT prohibited by Prop 13, but the procedure is detailed, and hangs accountability squarely on those who raise the taxes.

    And the idea that people in California should trust their legislators to be responsible on taxes and spending is laughable all by itself.

  8. Jonathan says:

    They can cut all the salt out of the processed stuff now… I don’t eat it anymore. And if I do, I’ll do what I always did… add more table salt to it, it will just need even more now. :-) Course, I’m one that will eat a packet of salt without food.

    I had a boss once that had high BP and his wife threw out every high sodium thing in the house. He still needed meds to get it down. Then after a few months on a low-carb diet, his BP went too low and had to stop the meds. Must have been the salt restriction.

    It’s bad enough the gov takes freedom away little by little so that no one complains but they gain total control in the end like a tick that attaches so slow you never feel it but it gets your blood in the end, but they have to take control to force the dumbest, most useless policies. Is it me or do they only seems to pass policies that have solid evidence against them and never pass the no-brainer good policies. I don’t think I’ve ever heard about something being passed where I thought “wow, it’s about time” or “that’s a great idea”. Makes me wonder if the politicians actually believe what they are doing is right. Oh… opps.. I shouldn’t question heros. :-)

    To give credit where credit is due, the anti-smoking campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s reduced the rates of smoking among adults by nearly half. That truly was a no-brainer.

    But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a government health campaign that appears based on solid evidence and stands a good chance of actually achieving the stated goals.

  9. Dave, RN says:

    … there’s a lot of those that think that smoking isn’t that bad… as long as it’s not a cigarette. They say it’s the chemicals used that makes them dangerous. Think about it. How many who live to their 90′s and beyond enjoy a good cigar every day? More than a few. George Burns comes to mind. High quality cigars are just pure tobacco leaves. No chemicals. Not that I’m going to pick up cigar smoking, but maybe cigars come under the same category as sodium: not the devil we think they are.

    As someone who belongs to a cigar club, I certainly believe the danger of smoking is in the chemicals and the fact that cigarette smoke is inhaled. I only smoke my cigars outdoors, usually while walking late at night.

  10. Patrick T. Peterson says:

    Great Stuff Tom!!!!

    Thank you, Pat.

  11. Dave Dixon says:

    I wonder about the true intentions of FDA regulators? They don’t get fired if their regulations turn out to be a waste of time and money, right? And do they only get promoted if something good happens, or just because they regulated something regardless of the outcome?

    Milton Friedman once discussed the incentives of regulation. In a nutshell, if you regulate or ban something and the ban turns out to be unnecessary, you probably won’t suffer any career damage. You might even ban something and cause indirect harm in the process — millions died of malaria after DDT was banned — but again, it’s unlikely you’ll suffer any consequences. But if you don’t ban or regulate something and then it DOES cause harm, now it’s your fault and you will likely be eaten alive. So the incentives are usually on the side of regulation.

  12. Ms. X says:

    I think the first thing that will happen is the salt shakers will disappear from the restaurant tables. If you want additional salt, you’ll have to request a shaker from your server.

    Great, now I’ll have to bring my own shaker.

  13. Jeanne says:

    You don’t inhale while smoking a cigar?!

    Good lord, no. I don’t a single cigar smoker who does. The smoke is too intense. But that’s why I smoke them outdoors; in a closed room, you’d end up breathing the stuff, albeit in a diluted form.

  14. Linda J. says:

    Tom, I love how you get your point across with humor. It is so effective.

    I have a sneaky suspicion that you and I may have opposing political views now and again, but I’ll always read what you write because you’re funny! Absorbing a differing view is always easier to take if you are laughing.

    On the salt issue, I am not too afraid of what the government will do to reduce sodium levels. If there is any success at all in this effort, the effect will be small. We like our food to taste good. If sodium levels go down markedly in processed foods, we won’t buy them because they just won’t be as palatable. Take out the fat, the sugar, and the salt and you’ve got cardboard. But I understand completely the concern that our government is “protecting” us based on unsound science – or no science at all!

    I am delighted to hear there is little research to back up the claims that people must reduce sodium levels to reduce hypertension. I tried that for years, unsuccessfully. Now I know why – it wasn’t me after all. However, even switching to a low-carb diet and dropping 47 pounds over a year and a half didn’t improve my blood pressure. I’m bummed (but happy to be a size 8 instead of a size 16.)

    Before I went low-carb, I tried the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) diet. In a nutshell, the diet recommends lots of fruits and vegetables, lots of whole grains, some low-fat diary, some nuts, and modest amounts of of lean meat and fish and little fat. It did have a positive effect. I’m thinking it was the fruits and veggies and nuts that did it and I try to keep that in mind today. The second DASH diet and the one recommended today includes a low sodium intake. The results from that study improved when salt intake was lowered. So go figure.

    In general, I think most of us get plenty of sodium in our diets and we’re not at much risk of becoming sodium-deficient, although there can be certain circumstances where that may not be true. For example, I live in the Mojave desert and in the summer, I may be working outside in the heat for 2 to 3 hours a day. I sweat and drink a lot. Give me some salt – and potassium and magnesium, for that matter. And I’m just a little old lady. Many outside workers are working much longer hours, of course. I guess when I say most of us won’t become sodium deficient, I’m thinking of the office worker, which is very elitist of me. I take it back.

    Much processed food does taste just too salty to me. It is true that if you make a conscious effort to reduce sodium in your food, soon what tasted good before begins tasting too salty. It’s what we get used to. Just as we’ve become accustomed to large amounts of sugar in our diet we’ve gotten used to more and more salt. I’ve tried the KFC Double Down sandwich twice now and I don’t think I’ll do it again. The predominant flavor to me was salt. But I worry much less about salt now and happily add salt to my meat, my eggs, my tomatoes, and so on. And I enjoy my bacon guilt free – mostly. I still get a few pangs when I crunch on a dill pickle, but I’m working on it.

    A common medication given to people with hypertension is a diuretic. I took one for years. It does seem to work – at first. But if I pee out the “extra” water in my body, won’t I just drink more later when I get thirsty? This seems to be a way to dilute the sodium content in my body, but what about other nutrients? Sure enough, when I was in the hospital for an unrelated condition, the hospital lab results showed I was deficient in potassium. They dripped bags of the stuff into me through an IV. What else is getting washed out? The drug info for the diuretic says you are at more risk at getting dehydrated. Is this really a good idea? Any way, I digress.

    Keep the info coming in a light-hearted way, Tom. You’ve got a huge fan here (although I’m much smaller than I used to be).

    I’m happy to have fans of all sizes. Gary Taubes made the point in his article on the politics of salt that vegetables appear to have more of an effect on hypertension than reducing salt, perhaps because of the potassium.

    Low-carb diets help some people as well, apparently because they encourage the kidneys to flush out sodium. My mom finally cut out the carbs and her BP dropped 20 points.

  15. dairy_queen says:

    Tom, what do you think of government budget watchdog Walter Burien’s assertion that government entities are cleverly hiding assets in their CAFRs (Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports)? This is Wikipedia’s entry about general budgets versus CAFRs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comprehensive_annual_financial_report

    “While a budget might indicate that a specific government or agency has financial trouble and debt, because of excess spending or mismanagement within the select grouping of “general fund” accounts presented, the CAFR may indicate, that overall, the same government entity, has many facets possessing large holdings considerably greater than what is shown in a budget report or the “general fund” alone. A few examples from recent history include, Jesse Ventura’s returning 1.8 billion dollars (from the 8 billion targeted by him) of the government surpluses to voters as governor of Minnesota.

    Another example, in 1994, Orange County California government lost about $1.5 Billion on investments in the now massive derivative market and claimed they needed to declare bankruptcy per their general purpose budget even while holding several billion(about 11.3 billion) in profitable holdings in their investment portfolios as seen in the CAFR. The University of Kentucky’s holdings of 85% of CHA Health[3] insurance stock was exposed in 2005 in the Lexington Herald Leader newspaper when CHA was sold to a rival firm[4] as part of the UK president’s effort to raise a billion dollars to fund becoming a “top 20″ research university an ongoing effort; to name a few examples.”

    This is Burien’s website URL:

    http://cafr1.com/

    I’ll have to check it out.

  16. Ted Bohannon says:

    All these articles where you “interview” yourself are boring cop-outs. I find myself coming back to this blog less and less.

    We’ll miss you.

  17. Sizzlechest says:

    The DASH trial at the turn of the millennium did find drastic reductions in salt yielded lower blood pressure, but it was very, very small. I looked up the study results myself and discovered that the benefit wasn’t linear to sodium reduction. If you cut your salt intake by half the recommended amount, you don’t get half the benefit. You get a lot less. For some reason, the anti-salt crowd claimed this as a victory. I suppose it was in the sense that it was the first time anyone was actually able to show a link at all. Nevertheless, it’s silly to worry about salt when there are so many other dietary things people should be doing to lower blood pressure, like lowering carbs and increasing potassium intake.

    To the person wondering about smoking and tobacco. Yes, tobacco is a toxic substance and many of the chemicals in there are carcinogenic all by themselves. However, any time you burn something, you’re going to create carcinogens. Inhaling smoke will never be healthy.

  18. anand srivastava says:

    Actually low sodium will help if there is a corresponding increase in potassium. The body needs electrolytes, and potassium is the preferred one.

    If you eat vegetables fruits and nuts you will get the required potassium and sodium, and then you don’t need to supplement with sodium salt.

    A meat only diet does not have enough potassium, unless you drink blood and have bone broths.

    Grains/legumes are poor in both sodium and potassium. Any diet heavy in grains/legumes will require added salt.

    Also if you are in a high sodium balance reducing salt drastically will create problems.

    Potatoes and tomatoes are very heavy in potassium. I am trying to add more potatoes to my diet ;-) .

    Then my wife’s stews are probably potassium heaven. Lots of vegetables and the bones don’t come out until serving time.

  19. Gwen says:

    @Jonathan: The reason the low-carb diet helped is plotted out in excruciating biochemical detail in Dr. Lustig’s video “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”. Fructose produces uric acid as a waste product, and he shows evidence that uric acid, in addition to being the cause of *gout*, is also causally linked to hypertension.

    It’s also interesting to note that http://gout.com — the site on the radio that claims to “help you fight flares”, says that diet alone isn’t really the issue, and concentrate on “purine foods” as the triggery culprit. “In fact, even when people follow the strictest low-purine diet possible, they generally don’t reduce their uric acid levels by much more than 1 mg/dL! ” They say, but they sort of shrug at any other villain in the uric acid equation.

    Fructose. Sugar is half fructose. It makes uric acid as waste in your liver. If you get a lot of fructose, you’re pumping massive quantities of uric acid into your system. It contributes to gout and to hypertension.

    To corroborate this, here’s a slide presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/nephron/uric-acid-fructose-and-hypertension “Uric Acid, Fructose, and Hypertension”, by Joel M. Topf, MD. It’s another crusader sammich against fat head bologna.

  20. Bob Johnston says:

    I recently started reading your blog and I’m combing through the older posts and I find this article to be amazingly prescient. This post perfectly explains the bias behind global warming, saturated fat, cholesterol, anything Obama pushes, etc.

    Thank you for all your efforts.

    Thanks for reading. I’ve covered bias on my other blog as well:

    http://www.tomnaughton.com/?p=427

    http://www.tomnaughton.com/?p=180

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