The big fuss in NYC late this past week was Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to place limits on the sale of sugary drinks as a public health measure. The idea has drawn opposition ranging from the transparently self-interested to the viciously satirical--the Colbert clip, linked here, is truly awesome--with the pushback drawing additional zing from the mayor's push to ban large sugar drinks while making the media rounds to celebrate (who knew?) National Donut Day.
The proposal makes me uncomfortable on liberty grounds, though the public finance implications give me some pause; if I had to come down one way or another, I'd probably oppose it and urge continued educational measures, maybe even as far as requiring labels on 32-ounce sodas similar to those on cigarettes. (Imagine a Before-pic of Louie Anderson looking up at you as hold the Big Gulp, saying, "Do you really need all 600 of these empty calories?)
But what's really interesting about this to me is how the various ostensible shapers of opinion in the City have lined up on this question. The generally liberal New York Times published an editorial criticizing the ban; the consistently right-wing New York Post wrote in support of it. Add to this that the two ideologically opposed outlets took the same respective positions recently when the City's controversial "stop and frisk" policies resurfaced on the public agenda.
Stop-and-frisk infamously falls most heavily on the poor and non-white. Though I don't have numbers for this, my strong suspicion is that the sugary drinks changes would have the biggest impact on the same groups. And this to me explains why the Times and the Post, and those whose views they more or less represent in the public discourse, have taken the positions they have.
The thru-line is whether or not you believe that low-income, less-educated, less connected non-whites really have the same rights and deserve the same consideration of their wealthier and whiter counterparts. Yet another issue in this bucket, on which the Times and Post would take (and have taken) the editorial positions you'd expect them to take, is on measures that make it more difficult for individuals to register and vote. The right-leaning outlets will cite concerns over voter fraud--which pretty much always have zero basis in reality--to justify restrictions, while the liberal-leaning voices will emphasize equal access.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Murdoch-owned voices and their allies consistently favor policies that, in contrast to the old journalistic truism, comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.