The Hamburglar? How a story about meat limits fell apart

FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2019, file photo when former Vice President Joe Biden was running for president, Biden works the grill during the Polk County Democrats Steak Fry in Des Moines, Iowa. President Joe Biden spent only a weekend as the "Hamburglar" in the conservative media world, but the incident illustrated the speed at which a false and damaging story can spread. The Daily Mail wrote about things that could potentially be in a Biden climate change plan, and cited an academic study that mentioned reductions in greenhouse gases that could be achieved with limits on beef consumption. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2019, file photo when former Vice President Joe Biden was running for president, Biden works the grill during the Polk County Democrats Steak Fry in Des Moines, Iowa. President Joe Biden spent only a weekend as the "Hamburglar" in the conservative media world, but the incident illustrated the speed at which a false and damaging story can spread. The Daily Mail wrote about things that could potentially be in a Biden climate change plan, and cited an academic study that mentioned reductions in greenhouse gases that could be achieved with limits on beef consumption. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

NEW YORK – President Joe Biden spent only a weekend as the “Hamburglar” in the conservative media world.

But while the false story lasted, it moved with a damaging speed and breadth, another example of a closed ecosystem of information affecting public opinion.

An academic study published a year before Biden became president was used to speculate that he would place limits on how much red meat Americans can consume as part of his stated goal to sharply reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

It was a potentially potent, visceral argument with punchy cable TV octane, namely that Biden was trying to limit people to eating one hamburger a month — an allegation that could seriously undermine his climate change plan before he even announced it.

There was one main problem: He's said no such thing.

Yet two days after the Daily Mail brought up the topic in a report last Thursday, Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican, was tweeting, “Why doesn't Joe stay out of my kitchen?”

The Mail's story, by Emily Crane, was headlined “How Biden's climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH, cost $3.5K a year per person in taxes, force you to spend $55K on an electric car and ‘crush’ American jobs.”

Crane cited a January 2020 study by the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems, which discussed how a transition to a more plant-based diet by Americans could cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. The paper estimated the environmental impact of a 90% reduction in beef consumption.