Shame on the Wall Street Journal. In a story published today, reporters Janet Adamy and Richard Gibson write that the fast food industry is organizing to "rebut the allegations," in the upcoming movie "Fast Food Nation" and in a new book by Eric Schlosser, "Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food," that fast food chains "contribute to the nation's obesity epidemic and other problems." A spokesman for the National Cattle Association is even quoted as saying, "We felt like there are an awful lot of factual errors in this book."
What are these factual errors? Well, we don't know, because the spokesman "didn't elaborate."
One of the cardinal rules of journalism is that if a person alleges factual errors but then refuses to provide details, that person is just blowing smoke. Any reporter reading the "didn't elaborate" line knows right away that this is a bogus non-story. But will every reader?
There may be a legitimate news story as to the lengths to which the industry is going in trying to discredit the new movie and book. But if there is actually a rebuttal to the "allegations" that connect Big Macs with obesity, then let's hear it. Better yet, let's do some reporting as to whether the rebuttal holds water. One of the great things about Eric Schlosser's books is just how deeply his reporting is rooted in verifiable fact. That's exactly what makes him such a challenge to the industry.
Why even bother to quote someone saying there are factual errors if none can be provided? Simply writing "He didn't elaborate" is wussy in the extreme. Perhaps it's too much to expect the Journal to write, "When pressed for details, the spokesman could provide no examples of the alleged errors, thus leading this reporter to conclude that he was full of shit." But certainly the Journal could have done better than this. For a start, it could have considered not running the story at all.