On Monday, July 29th, the internet was buzzing over a Huffington Post story about a new report from a “University of Kansas researcher” that claimed McDonald’s could double its employees’ wages and only raise the price of a Big Mac by 68 cents. Two days later — when it was revealed by the Employment Policies Institute and others that the “researcher” was actually a student, and that his calculations were off by half — HuffPo quietly replaced the original article with a nearly 500-word retraction.
One month later, the sensationalists at HuffPo are at it once again. In an article headlined “Minimum Wage Jobs Won’t Be Replaced With This Robot Anytime Soon,” business reporter Eleazar Melendez described a recent EPI newspaper ad focused on labor cost-related automation in the restaurant industry as a “burger-flipping fraud.” (He also described it as a “total fraud” on his Twitter account, and tweeted his article at reporters who had written about the original ad.)
Strong words. Unfortunately for Melendez, his claims aren’t worth the (digital) paper they’re written on.
The technology to replace both customer service staff and kitchen staff at fast food restaurants already exists. The former is already in wide use in European countries where the minimum wage tends to be higher; the latter is available via companies like Momentum Machines in San Francisco. EPI’s ad pointed out the obvious: If fast food strikers get their way on a $15 minimum wage, technology that accomplishes the same task as an employee at a lower cost will be the way of the future.
To provide a simple illustration of this concept, EPI used a photo of a Motoman robot designed with the ability to prepare a pancake. (The Momentum Machines robot, which is intended for industrial use, looks more like a conveyor belt and would have been confusing for viewers.) Melendez took EPI’s illustration as a jumping-off point for his exercise in bad faith journalism, describing in detail why the Motoman robot could cook but wouldn’t be able to hack it in an industrial kitchen.
Melendez took this as his “gotcha” moment, but a better response would have been “duh.” Other reporters who covered the EPI ad — as well as the KIRO reporter who initially used the Motoman image — had no problem with the illustration, since the technology referenced in EPI’s ad actually exists. Even a fact check by Silicon Valley’s newspaper of record acknowledged the ad’s accuracy.
EPI explained this to Melendez, but he was apparently more interested in ginning up controversy about a phony fraud than in the facts. Tactics like this might fly at Media Matters, but readers deserve better from outlets like HuffPo that supposedly take journalism seriously.