NY Times Laments Demise of City's Soda Ban 'Dashing the Hopes' of 'Health Advocates'

Reporting on yesterday's demise of New York City's jumbo-soda ban in New York State's Court of Appeals, the New York Times's Michael Grynbaum loaded his June 27 story with weighted language in favor of the vanquished side of the policy and legal arguments and presenting the fight as one between well-intentioned health advocates on one end and evil, greedy soda barons -- Big Fizz? -- on the other.

"The Bloomberg big-soda ban is officially dead," the Times staffer mourned in his lead sentence, adding (emphasis mine), "The state’s highest court on Thursday refused to reinstate New York City’s controversial limits on sales of jumbo sugary drinks, exhausting the city’s final appeal and dashing the hopes of health advocates who have urged state and local governments to curb the consumption of drinks and foods linked to obesity." By contrast, he noted "The ruling was a major victory for the American soft-drink industry, which had fought the plan." It was also a victory for the leave-me-the-hell-alone ethos of many a New Yorker who opposed the soda ban, but it seems Grynbaum failed to consult the proverbial man on the street by say hitting up a local bodega and asking the average customer for his or her thoughts. 

Instead, Grynbaum painted the losing side as the selfless, public-interested paladins of virtue. Take, for instance, one of the dissenting judges, Susan P. Read, who issued a "blistering dissent" charging that:

the ruling ignored decades of precedent in which the board was given broad purview to address public health matters, such as regulating the city’s water supply and banning the use of lead paint in homes.

The opinion, Judge Read wrote, “misapprehends, mischaracterizes and thereby curtails the powers of the New York City Board of Health to address the public health threats of the early 21st century.”

Grynbaum later turned to a supporter of the soda ban, Columbia law professor Richard Briffault, who lamented that the city would not be able to explore "innovative forms of regulation" to prod the Big Apple's denizens into healthier living.

Grynbaum capped off his two articles by casting a wary eye at the beverage lobby, which refused to quietly acquiesce to the soda ban. Whereas ban backers were simply "health advocates," the soda lobby is cast as a deep-pocketed special interest which manipulated New Yorkers into seeing the issue as one of government encroaching on liberty (emphasis mine):

The soft-drink industry, through lobbying and public-relations campaigns, has helped defeat soda taxes and other regulatory measures in states and municipalities around the country. After Mr. Bloomberg announced his plan in May 2012, the industry poured millions of dollars into an ad campaign that framed the proposal as infringing on consumer freedom. The industry later retained the law firm of Latham & Watkins to challenge the limits in court.

The American Beverage Association, the industry’s trade group, said in a statement that it was “pleased” with the Court of Appeals ruling, saying the proposal “would have created an uneven playing field for thousands of small businesses in the city and limited New Yorkers’ freedom of choice.”

Economy Regulation New York Times Michael Grynbaum Michael Bloomberg