A special Wonkette guest column from Sal Cataldi!
It was one of the proudest moments of my 30+ year PR career. It was the day I gave the shit to the Fox & Friends staff, the smiley face behind your grandparents’ daily dose of right-wing extremist propaganda!
The year was 2004. And for the tens of millions of weight conscious Americans, the Atkins diet was all the rage.
Based on the bestseller by Dr. Robert Atkins, it was keto before keto – the first popular diet that emphasized low-carb consumption as the fast lane to rapid weight loss. Atkins’ diet was found to be extremely effective in terms of instant weight loss. However, according to the American Medical Association, the American Dietetic Association, and many other companies, doing so could be extremely dangerous in the long run. Why? Because the unlimited consumption of fats – mainly the saturated ones in steak, eggs, bacon, cheese and burgers, which have become staple foods in this high-protein regime – could lead to heart disease.
But by the early 00’s, Americans were in love with the immediate satisfaction that the Atkins Plan provided. Of course, the packaged food industry, with annual sales of $ 3.3 trillion, wanted to take part. To do this, they’ve partnered with Atkins to create Atkins-approved variations of their most popular offerings.
In early 2004, my public relations firm was hired to release a new line of Atkins co-branded products for a well-known bakery company. That included everything from cookies and crumble cakes to Danish cheese and donuts, which were supposedly easy on the waistline of the consumer and kept up with Atkins’ low-carb ethos.
How could they make such sugary delicacies that could also practically melt away fat? In large part, by replacing the sugar, one of the biggest and worst carbohydrates, with a substitute made from hardened corn and other vegetables. This diet wonder ingredient, maltitol, was 90 percent as sweet as sugar, but with less than half the calories and carbohydrates. And the number crackers at Industrial Food America loved it because it was much cheaper than real sugar.
Of course, our customer wanted to cause a sensation with this new product line. So we did what PR people do in cases like this – we sent out colorful sample packages far and wide – to newspapers, magazines, food blogs, AM radio jocks and of course the popular national morning news programs like “Fox &” Friends. “
Since the show debuted in 1998, I’ve been to the Fox & Friends studio almost every week. My job was to book my entertainment and business customers for their guest segments and to accompany them to the show.
In those early days, Fox News was definitely politically right. But it wasn’t the full asylum of crazy marginal hosts, lies, unfounded fears and dangerous daily incitement that it is today.
I was actually familiar with the two male hosts from previous settings. I knew the blonde from a time on a short-lived NBC lifestyle network called America’s Talking. the dark-haired Gent from a freelance appearance on a Long Island-based television news network. The first in a long line of long-legged blonde fembot hostesses from Fox & Friends was a talkative wild Texas woman I often joked with in the Green Room. This happened, of course, before it was replaced in 2008 because she described the playful gesture of then-candidate Barack Obama’s hand with his wife Michelle as a “terrorist punch,” which was (it wasn’t) popular with the Taliban.
When I called a Fox & Friends producer whom I knew well for offering tons of free cookies, cakes and donuts on offer, he said, “Yes, please! Send them over right now! We’re starving!”
In the fast paced world of news, meal times always take a back seat to feed the tough news animal. Maintenance is often deferred in the way of deadlines, so there is always a need for an easy-to-grasp meal for those whose deadlines are affecting a meal. So it went, our fridge-sized box. It probably contained at least 24 individual boxes of products. It was cute enough stuff to put a network of on-air reporters, producers, technicians, and unpaid interns into a diabetic coma.
When I called the producer the next day to see how they liked the treats, I didn’t get the response I was expecting.
Instead of raising his voice, he lowered it and whispered, “Sal, you bastard, you gave everyone the shit!”
“See, if you represent the Depends people, I suggest you send some big boxes of it as we still sprint to the head every 15 minutes,” he hissed. “There’s no way in hell we can do a segment with this stuff unless you want it to go really bad. And don’t show your face here with any of your clients for a long time.”
What I had not been told correctly was the stomach horror that the slightest dose of maltitol could trigger in far too many people.
Worse still, according to my producer friend, when the cakes and cookies arrived the newsroom went monkey shit. It was a mass consumption that would have made professional, competitive eaters like Nathan’s hot dog champions Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut proud.
You see, maltitol cannot really be completely digested by our body. That is, it ferments in the gut and can have a variety of negative consequences, starting with “bubblegut”.
Bubblegut is a snappy terminology for borborygmi – the bubbling sound your stomach makes when it tries to digest certain things. In excessive doses, gastric stew maltitol causes indigestion, nausea, gas and stomach pain. And at the bottom of the list there’s diarrhea of the explosive kind. The latter, with a chaser from Bubblegut that the audio folks actually spotted while reporters were on the set, was what the Fox News-Bingers of the C-Suite were about Studio troubled to the post office.
Today the crap pours out of the mouths of Fox News personalities. While I was appalled at the time of the incident, I take great comfort today in the discomfort I have caused – letting the literal crap flow from its rightful place.
At the end of the day, this would all be over. The product line was eventually withdrawn. Why? Because Americans just can’t consume a reasonable amount of anything, especially food. They overdo it to the point of stomach disaster. And when Fox News turned into atomic strength, right-wing craziness, and racial bait, I and the clients I was attracting didn’t feel like being a part of it.
All in all, I had only one regret from this incident.
My deepest wish was that Roger Ailes, the plump architect of the Fox News’ hate and misogyny machine, sauntered past the crafting table that day. And he was the food and control glutton he used to consume a royal ransom for those booby-trapped candy.
I can only hope that in the afterlife with Hitler, bin Laden and the men and women who invented Maltitol, he will still work out his eternally corrupt brain.
Sal Cataldi is a publicist, writer, and musician who lives in New York City and the Hudson Valley. He is president of Cataldi PR, leader of the band Spaghetti Eastern Music and a member of the duos Guitars A Go Go and Vapor Vespers.
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