Note to NYC Press: Public Health Experts Don’t Sell Cheeseburgers

For the second time in the past few weeks, a New York City media outlet has allowed Milk Burger owner Erik Mayor to claim that protected bike lanes in East Harlem will increase asthma rates. Earlier this month it was the Daily News, and over the weekend NY1 gave some airtime to Mayor too.

East Harlem is beset by disproportionate rates of obesity, traffic injuries, and asthma. The least a respectable reporter can do would be to check Mayor’s claims against the word of an actual public health expert.

Here’s what Joanne Eichel of the New York Academy of Medicine said at a recent community board meeting about the East Harlem bike lanes:

“There is no evidence to suggest that bike lanes increase asthma rates. On the contrary, we know that riding a bike has extraordinary health benefits.” Adding protected bike lanes would be “a major step toward improving the health of people of all ages in the community.”

Why does someone who sells cheeseburgers for a living get to spout garbage all over TV and the tabloids, while a public health professional like Eichel gets ignored?

  • Blah

    There is no way that the irony of bicycles somehow causing asthma is lost on the reporters. I think they’re just creating stories.

  • Harlemite

    Erik Mayor plays the asthma card any chance he can and, sadly, a lazy press allows his wild claims to stand.  He should not be taken as an expert on anything, and that includes running a restaurant.  In fact, if the press wanted a real story, it might investigate the cleanliness of Milk Burger itself, which got a C during its first inspection.  Mayor accepted no personal responsibility as the owner.

    http://theuptowner.org/2011/12/16/east-harlem-restaurants-graded-worst-in-manhattan/

    “I have a large building and it’s very old so there’s more to inspect,”
    said Erik Mayor, 36, owner of Milk Burger on Third Avenue. “The
    probability of something being there is much greater, and we also have a
    lot of pests in the area – just look at the asthma rates.”

    Because, you know, the rest of New York City is filled with brand new small buildings that are easy to clean and inspect.

  • Anonymous

    It is infuriating. This guy knows that this story will get his restaurant’s name ink in the papers and they are playing right into his cheesy, greasy hands. He learned this when he ripped off an image from Shake Shack, put it on his website, and wound up featured in the Village Voice and New York Magazine: http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2011/07/milk_burger_owner_surprised_pe.html

    “it actually sounds like the Shake Shack ripoff move is working in
    Mayor’s favor: Here he is getting a lot of publicity for his joint, all
    in comparison to a much-loved institution”

    Just plug yourself into some kind of readable controversy and away the local media goes with it like your own little PR machine.

  • Theman

    Yes Erik, all those dirty, polluting bicycles are causing asthma.

    Anyone who believes him should be executed on grounds of stupidity.

  • Glenn

    He’s like a NIMBY record player stuck on the “asthma rates” as the reason to thwart anything and everything, even used as an excuse for his restaurant’s poor cleanliness…

    If he cares so much about directly addressing the asthma issue, does he allow free health screening at his restaurant? Does he donate to the American Lung Association? Has he done anything to advance the public health in his community at all? If not, then he stop whining about stuff he doesn’t REALLY care about.

  • Cheeseburger Cheeseburger

    Next up: quotes from Ronald McDonald!

  • Erik Mayor is to asthma what Seniors for Safety is to safety.

  • We should pressure these outlets to retract their reports and issue a correction if they cannot find scientific evidence to back up these claims. I could just as easily tell a reporter that “oranges kill elderly people”, but it’s nonsense. Aren’t they responsible for the accuracy of published claims like this if they could be easily debunked and are impossible to demonstrate? And do they not have a stronger duty to the public (more than the simple duty of just collecting quotes on a topic) to point out that people who are involved in public policy are fabricating medical statistics and lying to the public – when there is clear, obvious evidence that such fabrications/lies are occurring regularly?

  • Brian, your trust in the better instincts of newspapers and television is heartwarming at the holiday season. It used to be hard to disseminate critical analysis of their news reporting, but now with the internet it’s painfully easy to learn how far short the Times and News and NY1 and the rest of them fall from the easily researched truth.

    Mass media will always have a bias toward business interests for two reasons: they are businesses and identify with other businesses, and they rely on advertising from businesses to pay their staff’s salaries.

  • jim.moore70

    “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through
    our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that
    democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
    ?
    Isaac Asimov

  • Matt C

    We’re all ignoring the central issue here, which is the undeniable fact that hamburgers cause asthma. 

    There, I said it. 

  • Ex-driver

    If he’s so concerned about asthma he should set an example by refusing to serve or employ anyone who drives to his restaurant.

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