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Chewing the Fat Over Food Labels

Aired July 10, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: You are what you eat. But do you know what you're eating? And should the government make you pay attention?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at the label and try to keep down the intake of saturated fats.



ANNOUNCER: What happened after he took the cake.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: And congratulations on your book selling a million copies.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Thank you so much.

ANNOUNCER: The adventures of our very own sole man -- today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

CARLSON: Welcome to CROSSFIRE, the program that proudly refuses to be labeled for calories, carbohydrates and especially for trans fat consent, whatever that is. We'll debate whether or not food neurotics ought to be able to control what you eat.

But we begin this feast, as we always do, with the best political briefing in television: our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

President Bush today visited Botswana, a poor Southern African nation that's been virtually ignored by the Western world for virtually forever. And that's a shame, since Botswana now has the highest percentage of AIDS patients in the world, approximately one in three residents of that country. Finally, thanks to George W. Bush, the United States is doing something about it. As Botswana's leader put it today, as a result of the president's leadership, we are working to put a strategy in place to treat people and provide help for those who suffer. There you have it. We finally have a president who's actually doing something about AIDS, a lot less rhetoric than his predecessor and a lot more action. Amen.

BEGALA: God bless George W. Bush for building on the fine work of his predecessor. This is something where President Bush has done a very good job. He is trying to rally America and the world to help people in Africa who have AIDS. And God bless for doing it. I'm not going to attack him for that.

Actually, you ought not attack President Clinton for beginning the process that Bush is continuing.


CARLSON: But that's just not true. This is something that I followed pretty closely. No, I'm serious, Paul. This is a subject that I think was close to Bill Clinton's heart. I think he genuinely cared about Africa. And it turned out to mean absolutely nothing.

He said he was going to do something about AIDS in South Africa. How much money do you think went in the Clinton years?


BEGALA: He's still going over there today now. He spends a huge amount of his time with Nelson Mandela, another guy I guess who you think doesn't care about Africa.

CARLSON: Oh, please.

BEGALA: Trying to fight AIDS in that continent. Give the man a little credit. I give Bush credit. You ought to give Clinton some.

CARLSON: He cares. He just didn't do anything.

BEGALA: Two more American soldiers were killed in Iraq today, bringing the total number of Americans killed there since President Bush landed on that aircraft carrier and declared -- quote -- "mission accomplished" to 79.

President Bush today said -- quote -- "We're going to have to remain tough." But a former senior Bush administration intelligence official, Greg Thielmann, says the administration had what he called -- and I quote -- "a faith-based policy" -- unquote -- on Iraq that manipulated intelligence and ignored the fact that, when the war began in March, Iraq posed no threat to the United States or to its neighbors. I guess it's easier for Mr. Bush to be tough than to be honest.

CARLSON: OK, so you're still mad that we went to war. But the fact is, we did


BEGALA: No, I'm mad that we don't have a plan for the occupation and we're losing a guy every day over there.

CARLSON: I actually think it's upsetting, very upsetting, that American soldiers are being killed in Iraq. And I guess the question is, what do we do about it? I'd be interested to know your feelings. Do we send more troops in? Do we send more American troops in right now?

BEGALA: Do you want to know my


CARLSON: Yes, I do. I'm asking the question.

BEGALA: No. We should internationalize the occupation. We can't right now because President Bush botched the diplomacy going into it. If we had a new president, we could bring in foreign troops to control that occupation and internationalize the conflict.

CARLSON: Internationalize. So what is Western Europe doing in Afghanistan right now, I wonder? That was a conflict that we had the participation of the whole world in. They've not lived up to what they promised.

BEGALA: That's been President Bush as well. President Clinton had occupiers enforcing the peace in Bosnia and none of them got shot, Tucker, because we internalized it in Bosnia and Kosovo. That's what a good president does.

CARLSON: That's because it was a war waged from the air, Paul. Come on.

BEGALA: That's because it's an effective president.


Jerry Springer has a brand-new television program. Not a single chair is thrown, unfortunately. Instead, it's a 30-minute infomercial: everything you've ever wanted to know -- assuming you've wanted to know something -- about the serious side of America's schlockiest talk show host. Springer, of course, is considering a challenge to Ohio's Republican U.S. Senator George Voinovich.

The combination infomercial and fund-raising plea will not run in Ohio, but instead across the country. Is this a sign that Jerry Springer has national aspirations? Laugh if you want, but then ask yourself, is the idea really more ridiculous than Howard Dean?

BEGALA: Yes, I love when the elites in politics go after Jerry Springer. He is the guy...


CARLSON: I'm not going after Jerry Springer. I'm going after Howard Dean. I think, actually, Jerry Springer is every bit as legitimate as Howard Dean. I absolutely do. BEGALA: You know what? What he's trying to do is the same thing as Dean is doing, is raise small amounts of money from lots and lots of people.

CARLSON: That's right.

BEGALA: As opposed to just seven oil companies giving him a few million dollars.


CARLSON: I'm in favor of Jerry Springer. I think Jerry Springer, like Al Sharpton, like Dennis Kucinich, like Carol Moseley Braun, like Howard Dean, truly, like John Kerry, is the perfect embodiment of your party's values. Amen.

BEGALA: Right, because they know the truth about a war. Every one of those people told the truth about this war.


CARLSON: I may send money to Jerry Springer, because I think he's the archetypal Democrat. And I don't why you're embarrassed of him.

BEGALA: I'm not. I love having him come on CROSSFIRE. I want him to come back on CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Would you vote for him for president?

BEGALA: He's not running for president.

CARLSON: He should.

BEGALA: Well, Pittsburgh Pirate first baseman Randall Simon was booked on charges of battery for allegedly hitting a 19-year-old woman with a baseball bat. The woman Simon allegedly beat was wearing an Italian sausage costume as part of a race against people who were dressed up as a wiener, a Polish sausage, and a bratwurst.

Why is this on CROSSFIRE, you may ask? Well, here's why. Some legal experts suggest perhaps Simon may plead trans fat rage, a novel legal defense based on the Bush administration's new campaign to highlight the deadly dangers of trans fats in our diet. Italian sausages are, after all, very high in trans fats. And the Health and Human Services Department has asked all Americans to knock out the fat. By the way, for those of you scoring at home, the bratwurst won the race.

CARLSON: See, this is exactly what happens when the food neurotics take control and start whipping everyone into this fear frenzy about food. People start assaulting luncheon meats. It's inevitable this is going to happen and you're going to have snack rage.

BEGALA: Exactly. Again, here I'm defending Bush again. His government, President Bush and Secretary Tommy Thompson, they said knock out the fat. This guy takes out a bat and he pounds the sausage. And...

CARLSON: He does what?

BEGALA: He hit the...

CARLSON: He beat that sausage.

BEGALA: He did.


BEGALA: There, he did it with his baseball bat.

CARLSON: But if I could just make one observation, since we are continuing and we can say this. The problem here is, the video is just so darn good. This will never die.

BEGALA: It is. It's just too good. I once saw a video of a guy eating a shoe, and we must have played it 1,000 times and we'll play it 1,000 more.

Well, knowledge is power, they say. So, in a minute, we'll ask a couple of guests what's wrong with requiring big corporations to disclose to consumers just how much junk they put in the junk food that they peddle to our children.

And, speaking of eating things, we will catch up on the mileage old Tucker is getting out of the shoe he was presented by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton just yesterday. Thanks.


BEGALA: Welcome back to the intellectual feast that we call CROSSFIRE. It turns out nearly two-thirds of all Americans are overweight. So, this week, the Bush administration ordered food- makers to give us more information on what it is that's making us so fat. By the year 2006, food labels will have to list the amount of artery-clogging trans fat that each food product contains.

That would then empower consumers to make an informed choice about the food that they buy. They could compare ingredients the same way they now compare prices.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate this: Fred Smith, president and founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute; and David Schardt, the senior nutritionist for the Center For Science in the Public Interest.


BEGALA: Thank you very much for joining us.

CARLSON: I don't mind admitting I'd never heard of trans fat until yesterday when I picked up my "New York Times." We took a little poll of our audience a moment ago. Most people here hadn't heard of it either.

And I guess that's my point, is that this sounds to me like more quackery, or at least science about which we don't know much. I'm going to give you an example. "The New York Times" this morning: Some scientists think that trans fat may also do something else, that it can increase this. The fact is, there is no state of the art of this. We're not exactly sure what trans fats do. And trends change.

DAVID SCHARDT, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: That's not true at all, Tucker. As a matter of fact, last year, the National Academy of Sciences told Americans, after reviewing all the evidence, that trans fat was worse than saturated fats and that Americans should eat as little as possible of it within a healthy diet.

CARLSON: But 20 years ago, we were told, eat more carbohydrates and you'll lose weight. Now we know that's wrong. You need to eat more protein.

SCHARDT: Over the last 10 years, we've learned that trans fat is a real nasty fat. It's worse than saturated fats. It raises your LDLs, the bad cholesterol. And it lowers your HDLs, the good cholesterol. It gives you a double whammy.

And Americans would be better off, at least those who have heart disease or those who don't want heart disease, to reduce their consumption of trans fats. And the problem is, you can't know which food has it unless it's on the label, because you can't tell by just looking at the product.

BEGALA: Well, isn't that the problem, Fred? Here, for example, is Crisco, right?


BEGALA: Which apparently is not only for social occasions. This is it. This is what it looks like. This is what's baked or buried into this. Now, do you want to take this and slather it all over your heart and your arteries without even knowing that it's there? Look at this. Come on. Got make a fistful of Crisco here.

SMITH: It's disgusting.

BEGALA: Exactly. It is. So shouldn't you know if this disgusting stuff is in your food?

SMITH: Shouldn't you know that this Oreo is smaller than the ones we normally eat? Look, we all know that.

BEGALA: That is self-evident. It's not self-evident is this stuff is baked into the food we eat.

SMITH: Well, but I think we were talking earlier, it's not self- evident how labels actually affect consumption. Look, there's a $1 billion diet industry out there telling us to eat carbohydrates, eat Atkins. But we all know that those diets don't work very well for long periods of time, lots of studies out there. And we basically are trying to say that a label is going to affect people's knowledge and behavior? I don't think there's any data of that at all.


SMITH: No, that's not true.


BEGALA: I can't tell you if it's going to affect behavior, but it certainly will affect knowledge. All that we're doing is empowering consumers. By the way, this is President Bush, who I attack every night on this show, doing the right thing, standing up to corporations and empowering consumers. God bless him. Why is George Bush all of sudden a villain in your eyes?

SMITH: We now are in the age of bipartisan nannyship. We are going to be the happiest world -- in the world.

Here we have an FDA that should be addressing serious problems. Last April, they finally got around to approving a stent, a coded stent for the heart.


BEGALA: Of which we need more of because of the fats in our food.

SMITH: That had been approved for one year in Europe and they were delayed. Why? Because the FDA's running around worrying about whether we know that more fats are going to make us fatter.

CARLSON: Mr. Schardt, I want to show you a commercial put up by a consumer group recently that sort of sums up this whole controversy, in my mind. Here it is. This says it all.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Just look what this reckless cooking-making business has done to my client. Your Honor, obviously, she's guilty and needs to pay me -- my client -- damages. You make them taste good on purpose, don't you?



CARLSON: I mean, I guess the point here is twofold. One, if you're eating a lot of mini-Oreos and you get fat and you didn't know that the Oreos were helping make you fat, then you probably shouldn't be eating anything in the first place. Second, this is


SCHARDT: We're not talking about being fat. We're talking about heart disease. This is heart disease.

You don't know the effects. If it's fat -- making you fat, you can tell by getting on the scale. We're talking about heart disease. Trans fat raises your risk of heart disease. And you can't tell the effect it's having until years later, when you start having heart attacks and dying. So we're trying to help people who want to avoid heart disease or people who have been told by their physician to be watching what they eat to cut down on saturated and trans fatty acids.

We're trying to help them identify which foods are better for them and which foods are not. And that's it.

BEGALA: Right. So why not let them -- so here's, like, a light margarine. What if I had coronary artery disease, which I don't, thank God? But I would look at this and it seems to be low in fat. It says 5 grams, only 1 gram saturated fat, 2 grams of polyunsaturated.

You know what it doesn't tell me? How much trans fatty acids, which is the real killer here, apparently, according to scientists. You have to look here. It says it's there, but it doesn't tell you not how much. So we're being misled in many cases by some of these corporations.

SMITH: We may or may not be misled.

Look, there's a lot of data about foods. There's infinite numbers of things you could say about that margarine you just pulled up. The question is, how do we sort out, from all that data, what information consumers want and need? And that's a question that I think we too quickly rush to the political process. Democrats and Republicans are both -- easy to save us from our horrible, evil, individualist ways.

But, look, the real question is whether or not the information, if it's useful -- and it looks like it is useful. This does look like something that's a serious question we ought to be differentiating between. But, again, if we eat 2 ounces of regular fat and replace it with 1 ounce of trans fatty acid, are we better or worse off? We don't know that yet, as I understand it.

BEGALA: But wait a minute. The best scientists in the government have been spending four years on this. You just said they were spending so much time, they were distracted from heart stents. You can't now say they don't really yet know the facts yet, Fred.


BEGALA: You're arguing against yourself.

SMITH: No, no, quantity vs. quality is what we're talking about. It does appear that trans fatty acids are worse -- I think we both agree with that -- than are the regular -- the traditional acids. And I take it, both of those fats are less good than fish fats. And God knows, there's probably seven other fats out there that we don't know about.

But the point is, we don't want to have to have a Ph.D. in nutrition before we're allowed to have lunch, right?

CARLSON: Mr. Schardt, isn't that exactly the point? It's almost an aesthetic point. Shouldn't people just -- just eat the Oreo. Should you really be sitting in the back reading the nutrition chart? Isn't there something sort of anti-human about that? Just lighten up and eat it.

SCHARDT: Tucker, you may be too young to be worrying about heart disease, but there are millions of...

CARLSON: I'll always be too young when it gets in the way of my Oreos. Don't you think it's neurotic?

SCHARDT: There are millions of people for -- heart disease is the No. 1 killer in this country. And trans fat is a major reason why maybe 1,000 people a year are dying from this. The HHS, Tommy Thompson, suggests that maybe a person a day will live instead of die if we put trans fat.

CARLSON: Well, obviously, they have a reason to say that, don't they?

BEGALA: Because they want us to live.

SCHARDT: Well, that's what the evidence shows.


SMITH: Let's look at Tommy Thompson. While you've been often critical of the administration, occasionally, I have been complimentary of it.


CARLSON: Well, I'm sorry, Fred. We are totally out of time.

BEGALA: We have to sell some ads to some of these corporations that I've just been attacking. So...

CARLSON: I don't know. I think they make good products.


CARLSON: Mr. Smith, thank you both very much. Live long and eat Oreos. Thank you very much.

Historically, being overweight has never been a political liability, which brings us to today's "Ask the Audience" question. Pull out your audience voting devices and tell us who was the heaviest president in U.S. history. Press one if you think President Grover Cleveland was the weightiest man to occupy the White House. Press two if you think the heavyweight title goes to President William Howard Taft. Press three if you think all those Big Macs turned Bill Clinton into the heaviest president in history.

We'll have the answer when we return. BEGALA: As we eat -- and I'm helping to feed the audience here by throwing these Oreos at them -- do you suppose Tucker has walked off all the fat he gained from that delicious shoe-shaped cake that my hero, Hillary Clinton, brought him yesterday?

Stay with us for highlights of Tucker's talk show marathon, including his grilling this morning by none other than ABC's Barbara Walters. That's all after a quick break and Wolf Blitzer's headlines.

Stay with us.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

In case you've been living in a cave for the last 24 hours, the big news has been that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has now sold more than one million copies of her very fine memoir, "Living History."

Tucker Carlson, of course, had been promising to eat his shoes if, in fact, that happened. And so Senator Clinton herself, ever gracious, presented Tucker with a gigantic shoe-shaped cake yesterday here on this very stage.

Today, Tucker was just about everywhere talking about his big surprise. He went toe to toe, as it were, with Barbara Walters on "The View." And then he explained his culinary tastes in footwear with members of "The Early Show" on CBS.


JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST: Barbara basically put you over the top on this one, because she sold single-handedly 300,000.


CARLSON: I really appreciate that.

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST: But let me ask you something. So she came on, very smart and very charming.


WALTERS: Because she is a charming lady.

CARLSON: She is, surprisingly so. I respect that.


WALTERS: So have you changed your opinion about her now? And if so, what happens to your career?

CARLSON: Well, it will be destroyed. (END VIDEO CLIP)


CARLSON: I do think alcohol is going to have to be a key component of the meal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that's why we're starting here. The pasta is the second course.


CARLSON: Fantastic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what we have here is a delicious lovely shoelace linguine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You see the steam coming out?

CARLSON: That actually looks pretty good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, what's nice about this is that nylon doesn't really have any carbohydrates, so it's very Atkins-friendly.


BEGALA: I've got to say -- now, you didn't eat any of that, did you?

CARLSON: Actually, I tried to eat the fillet of sole, but it was actually it was really a sole.

BEGALA: It was an actual...

CARLSON: Yes, it was actually a shoe sole. And it's early in the morning. I guess -- it is "The Early Show." And I'm not a morning guy. So I was confused by it.

BEGALA: So, like you've never been confused and sort of picked up your sandal and started


CARLSON: Well, it was breaded anyway. So I thought it was a joke or something. So I picked it up to take a bite into it and it was made out of vinyl. So I put it down.


BEGALA: OK, now, let me say something as your friend and co-host here, though.


BEGALA: A lot of my liberal friends have been e-mailing in. They loved the thing last night with Hillary. It was a terrific moment. But let me say, it's over, OK?

CARLSON: I totally couldn't agree more.

BEGALA: If it's good enough for Hillary and my fellow liberals, it's good enough for me. Tucker does not have to eat real shoe leather, does he, guys? Can we let him off the hook now, my fellow liberals?


BEGALA: Let's give Tucker a little round of applause for being so gracious about the whole thing, though, huh?

CARLSON: I'm trying. It was my fault in the first place.

BEGALA: Well, I want to thank everybody who bought the book, and Hillary especially, who played a long so graciously. She was wonderful.

CARLSON: Yes, I agree with the second part.

BEGALA: Yes, but if you want her career to end, just endorse her right now.

CARLSON: Well, thank you.

BEGALA: It won't hurt your career. She'll be through.

CARLSON: That's my next ploy.

Next: the answer to our "Ask the Audience" question about who was the heaviest president in U.S. history, then our e-mail bag. We call it "Fireback." We'll present it to you when we return.

We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time for "Fireback."

But first, the results of our audience quiz, in which we asked, who was the fattest U.S. president, on the heels of our conversation about trans fat, whatever that is? Cleveland, said 20 percent of our audience. Taft, said 68 percent, wisely. Clinton, said 12 percent. That's the one criticism of Clinton that was unfair. He was never fat.

The answer, of course...

BEGALA: It's Taft.

CARLSON: It's Taft.

BEGALA: The audience certainly got it right. President Clinton will be glad to know that very few people here think that he is fat, or the fattest, anyway. CARLSON: Yes. He wasn't fat.

BEGALA: Time now to answer our e-mails. By the way, we were overwhelmed with e-mails about Tucker and his shoes. I promise this will be the last of it. But so many thousands of people wrote in, Mary Ann Lakeman being one of them. She writes: "Hillary Clinton has class and Tucker Carlson handled himself with great restraint and respect. It was a funny and touching moment on CROSSFIRE."

I couldn't agree more, Mary Ann. Thank you.

CARLSON: Next up is -- let's see -- Jessie Lilly from North Hollywood writes: "My girlfriend Debbi has a cat named Tucker who is quite fond of dragging her shoes under the bed and chewing on them. Perhaps Mr. Carlson could try this at home."


CARLSON: Perhaps people could stop naming their pets Tucker. I don't know.

BEGALA: That would be...


CARLSON: And that's it for the shoes.

BEGALA: From now on, we're talking cowboy boots, OK, boys and girls?

CARLSON: No more shoes.

BEGALA: This is manly footwear. You know what I'm talking about.

Yes, sir. What's your question or comment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Chris (ph) from Eagle River (ph), Alaska. And my question is, will Oreos become like cigarettes and have a surgeon general's warning?

CARLSON: Yes, I think -- I actually -- this sounds alarmist. People 20 years ago said: Can you imagine? They may ban smoking on airplanes. It will never happen.

Truly, I think that's going to happen. There are certain people who want to control what you eat.

BEGALA: Well, thank God they banned smoking on airplanes, because that put their pollution in our lungs.

But this is just information. President Bush is right in trying to give consumers information. If you want to eat that garbage, eat it. But it should say: Warning, this contains garbage.

Yes, sir. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is Vasu Bataf (ph) from Edison, New Jersey. My question is, if our government gets involved in the business of protecting citizens from overeating, what's next, you know, forcing obese people to exercise?

CARLSON: Well, that actually is next. There's a principle at stake. Stand up for it, America, I would say.

BEGALA: The principle is ignorance.

CARLSON: Oh, come on.

BEGALA: Do you think you have a right to be ignorant as corporate America feeds you a bunch of garbage?

CARLSON: You have a right to eat what you want.

BEGALA: No. If you want to eat it, eat it. But you have a right to know what's in it.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again next time for yet more CROSSFIRE.


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