This is shaping up to be a really bad week for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). It’s only Wednesday and the group has already managed to commit two colossal PR blunders, starting with this stunningly smug press release condemning food companies for charging “too much” for portion-controlled bags of snacks. (Keep in mind that low-calorie serving sizes are exactly the sorts of innovations that CSPI is constantly pressuring the food industry to adopt.) In fact, CSPI has gone on record commending companies for packaging food in low-calorie ways. Yet — surprise, surprise — the second CSPI’s dietary killjoys get their wish in one area, they’ve already found something else to complain about.
The day before the release, CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson made the inexplicable decision to appear on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. In case you’re not familiar with the show, it’s anchored by comedian Stephen Colbert, who plays a satirical political commentator modeled on conservative broadcasters like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. Colbert’s whole shtick is to criticize through parody. So guests need to have a sense of humor to do well on his show.
But Jacobson is the opposite of funny. Seriously. Look up the word “funny” in the dictionary. Scroll down to its antonyms. Next to “humorless” you’ll find this picture of Jacobson’s scowling, palpably sanctimonious face. (For more, see his groan-inducing attempts at sarcasm on 60 Minutes and his defiantly unclever wordplay at press junkets.)
This train wreck of an interview is the sort of thing that needs to be seen to be believed. (Obviously oblivious to Jacobson’s hapless performance, CSPI has proudly posted it online.) Our favorite moment came when Colbert asked his guest point-blank if he likes “American foods” like hot dogs and apple pie. Jacobson responded by listing off a bunch of ingredients and diseases. Apparently, his new PR strategy forgoes the heavy lifting of making actual arguments for his positions; instead, he just lists a series of disconnected but scary words in the hope that one of them sticks.
And Jacobson doesn’t do much more than nervously giggle when Colbert asks him unusually forthright questions, like whether he practices “the science of bummer-ology” and this favorite of ours: “What’s the latest thing you’re warning people not to enjoy?”