The New York Times' Happy Meal Hypocrisy

Includes: MCD, NYT
by: Ira Stoll

The New York Times (NYSE:NYT) had an editorial the other day under the headline "Not So Happy Meals." It criticized McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) for "standard marketing: pitch your product to the most easily persuadable. Or as Roy Bergold, a former McDonald's head of advertising, argued once: 'Go after kids.'" The editorial concludes, "it would be easier for parents to do their job if they didn't have to push back against the relentless tide of marketing aimed at their children."

The Times, of all places, should know about this. Though it isn't disclosed in the editorial, the newspaper markets itself to children who can barely read, promoting the newspaper to "K-12 classrooms" by offering discounts of more than 50% off the regular price and games like "news bingo." Teachers who worry their students might be a little young for the Times are reassured, "Consider short articles and other features. Try the weather page, for geography and graphs, and the TV listings, for vocabulary in the brief descriptions. And photographs and captions provide endless opportunities for analysis, interpretation and response."

The Times characterizes this all as "social responsibility." But it's really not that different from a McDonald's Happy Meal in the sense that it is a for-profit company marketing its product to children. Why is it wrong when McDonald's does it but "social responsibility" when the New York Times does it? Relentless, indeed.

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