A new study on school lunches casts doubt on conservative media's politicized rhetoric regarding first lady Michelle Obama's school-lunch initiative.
In January 2012, Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled healthier standards for school lunches, the first effort to do so "in more than fifteen years." However, in May of this year, the new standards suffered a political backlash in Congress. The Washington Post reported that the House Appropriations Committee voted for a "Republican-backed measure" to temporarily roll back the standards in a "party-line vote [that] served as a rebuke of sorts to the first lady."
Right-wing media, who have a poor track record when it comes to talking about school meals, especially free ones, took to attacking Michelle Obama and the school lunch program itself for "plate waste" amid reports that students supposedly didn't like the new, healthier food.
However, a new study published Monday in the journal Childhood Obesity shows that students get used to the new lunches with time. According to The Boston Globe, the study found that "over time, children adapt and tolerate school lunches just as much as in the old days":
Fox News' reporting on Hillary Clinton's upcoming keynote address at a University Of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation fundraiser falsely suggested that university funds will be taken from students to pay for Clinton's fee, which will be donated to charity. But the university's spokespeople have made clear that private donations -- not university funds -- are paying for Clinton to speak.
A Wall Street Journal editorial dismissed the student loan relief plan outlined by President Obama as a distraction from the so-called Bowe Bergdahl "scandal," even though conservative media had previously declared Bergdahl's release a distraction from other alleged "scandals."
In a June 9 editorial, the Journal's editorial board attacked Obama's plan to extend income-contingent loan repayment options to all recipients of federal student loans. The Journal chided Obama's decision to extend through executive action reduced payment options to 5 million previously unqualified borrowers who had taken out loans before October 2007. The Journal also invoked myths that college loans are driving up attendance costs and represent taxpayer handouts to college graduates.
The Journal concluded its anti-loan relief tirade by claiming that the president's announcement, along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) proposal to lower student loan interest rates, amount to little more than "attempts to change the subject" from alleged "scandals" and "government failures." From the editorial:
The Warren bill has no chance to pass the House, as Democrats know. The Warren bill and the Obama debt-forgiveness-by-fiat are attempts to change the subject from the cascading examples of government failure -- the VA scandal (see nearby), the Taliban prisoner swap, the rising cost of health insurance under ObamaCare. In the Obama era, government failure is never a failure. It's another political opportunity to call for more of the same.
The Journal's claim that proposals to relieve millions of student loan borrowers buried under more than $1 trillion in outstanding debt are a distraction from "the Taliban prisoner swap" is just the latest in a series of right-wing media outlets obsessing over the notion that each policy proposal or news development from the White House is a "distraction" from something else:
The Journal's decision to force the "distraction" talking point into the student loan debate proves that no news item is safe from being uncritically dismissed by right-wing media outlets bent on turning every issue into a political scandal.
Fox News is ignoring economists' warnings that record student debt is a drag on the economy and attacking President Obama's plan to provide an avenue for student debt relief as a "distraction" that Fox claims will leave taxpayers "footing the bill."
Fox News is echoing Republican attacks on healthy school food standards that come from a group receiving funding from companies that sell food to school districts.
On the May 27 edition of Fox's Outnumbered, co-host Sandra Smith defended new Republican-sponsored legislation to roll back school nutrition standards, providing waivers from standards to those schools that report a financial loss in their food programs during the previous six months. Smith attacked the healthy food initiative as a program whose "economics" is "failing," asserting that "90 percent of schools...are now reporting increased costs" and that the legislation simply takes into account the difficulties faced by school nutritionists, who she claimed "just want some flexibility because it is being forced down their throat right now":
While Smith did not disclose the source of her information, the Associated Press notes the claim that "90 percent of schools that are now reporting increased costs" and that school meal programs are losing money come from the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which describes itself as "a national, nonprofit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country."
SNA receives a significant amount of funding from companies that sell food to schools. Among its "major" contributors is Schwan's Food Service, which makes pizzas and sandwiches for schools and similar operations. Other SNA donors include more companies that sell food to schools, such as ConAgra, Kellogg's, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Domino's Pizza, and Tyson Foods.
The Washington Post reported that the SNA, in a "dramatic change" of position, supports the Republican-backed waivers. The Post noted that White House assistant chef and nutrition policy adviser Sam Kass opposed the change, meaning that "congressional Republicans are choosing to favor corporate preferences over the recommendations of nutritionists and physicians." The food industry has previously sought to weaken food standards, according to the Post, succeeding in 2011 to change rules so that pizza with tomato sauce could be counted as a vegetable.
A new GOP push to dramatically cut federal spending for summer school lunch programs comes after years of right-wing media misinformation about and attacks against funding for school lunch programs.
On May 19, House Republicans proposed an agriculture budget that would cut the summer lunch program for low-income schoolchildren in urban areas and would require the Agriculture Department to "establish a waiver process for local school districts who have found it too costly to comply with tougher nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs," according to Politico (emphasis added):
In the case of nutrition programs, the House bill seeks to open the door for starchy, white potatoes to be added to the list of qualified vegetables under the WIC supplemental feeding program for pregnant women and their young children. The Agriculture Department would also be required to establish a waiver process for local school districts which have found it too costly to comply with tougher nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs.
And in a surprising twist, the bill language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households -- both urban and rural -- during those months when school meals are not available.
These proposed cuts echo years of right-wing media attacking the need for summer lunch programs, and school lunch programs in general. As far back as 2010, radio host Rush Limbaugh challenged the Summer Food Service programs, suggesting hungry children from low-income families can "dumpster dive" for food (emphasis added):
LIMBAUGH: I think, you know what we're going to do here, we're going to start a feature on this program: "Where to find food." For young demographics, where to find food. Now that school is out, where to find food. We can have a daily feature on this. And this will take us all the way through the summer. Where to find food. And, of course, the first will be: "Try your house." It's a thing called the refrigerator. You probably already know about it. Try looking there. There are also things in what's called the kitchen of your house called cupboards. And in those cupboards, most likely you're going to find Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, Lays ridgy potato chips, all kinds of dip and maybe a can of corn that you don't want, but it will be there. If that doesn't work, try a Happy Meal at McDonald's. You know where McDonald's is. There's the Dollar Menu at McDonald's and if they don't have Chicken McNuggets, dial 911 and ask for Obama.
There's another place if none of these options work to find food; there's always the neighborhood dumpster. Now, you might find competition with homeless people there, but there are videos that have been produced to show you how to healthfully dine and how to dumpster dive and survive until school kicks back up in August. Can you imagine the benefit we would provide people?
Fox News has also voiced opposition to the summer lunch program and attempted to gin up controversy about the program by baselessly speculating that it was a "come one, come all" invitation for taxpayer-funded meals that ineligible children would exploit. Last year, Fox's Stuart Varney criticized summer lunch programs, ignoring the fact that such programs play an instrumental role in reducing child hunger.
The right-wing media's campaign against school lunches extends beyond summer. Fox and others have previously asked if children should work for school meals and claimed free school meal programs hurt low-income kids, yet ignored their usual lunch stance when it involved students who usually pay for their lunch.
Food insecurity affects millions of children -- 10 percent of households by USDA data-- and reports hold that hunger is on the rise in many U.S. cities. Studies show that child hunger impairs their academic achievement, facts that right-wing media overlook in coverage that provides public cover for harsh GOP cuts.
Fox News often promotes myths about student loan debt in the United States, misinforming about everything from the lack of protections borrowers receive, to the unsubtantiated claim that student loans drive up college costs, to the myth that struggling borrowers are taking a government handout. As the two-year anniversary of student debt surpassing $1 trillion takes place this week, here is a sample of the network's past student loan misinformation.
Despite the success of many female athletes representing the United States in the 2014 Winter Olympics, the legislative reform largely responsible for the growth and success of women's sports in the United States -- Title IX -- has been conspicuously absent from media coverage of the games.
The passage of Title IX in 1972 led to an explosion of women's participation in collegiate sports. The law forbids most educational programs which receive federal funding from discriminating against participants based on sex, and specifically requires equal opportunity in athletic programs for men and women. The National Center for Education Statistics found that thanks to Title IX, women's participation in college-level sports has increased dramatically, particularly in the last decade.
The 2014 Winter Olympics provides even more evidence that the law has had a lasting effect on post-collegiate athletics as well. In the women's two-person bobsled, American women achieved history by taking home silver and bronze medals at the same Olympics. Each of the four women medaling in the event -- Elana Meyers, Lauryn Williams, Aja Evans, and Jamie Greubel -- participated in collegiate athletics before adapting to Olympic bobsled competition thanks to Title IX. The other American team competing in the medal round -- Lolo Jones and Jazmine Fenlator -- was also comprised of athletes who participated in college sport programs that likely owe their existence to educational reforms brought about by Title IX.
Furthermore, this year's gold medal match in women's hockey featured the two best teams in the world, the United States and Canada; of the two teams' 42 combined athletes, 36 played collegiate hockey in the United States (Olympic rosters here and here).
In 2012, when the law's 40th anniversary coincided with the Summer Olympics in London, America's athletic successes garnered praise for the law. Numerous outlets reported on the role of Title IX in leveling the playing field for American female athletes. Media outlets like ESPN and Sports Illustrated dedicated airtime and column space about the role of Title IX for American Olympians. The United States national team celebrated the anniversary with a lengthy and informative piece on its official website. The law was celebrated on The New York Times' official London 2012 blog.
But despite continued Olympic achievement for the United States' women's teams in this year's Winter Olympics, Title IX has received little attention from media this time around.
A Media Matters review of current Olympic coverage from three major print outlets -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal -- revealed no substantive mentions of Title IX as it relates to current or former American Olympians since the start of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games on February 7. A further review of transcripts from broadcast evening -- ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS -- and cable evening and primetime -- CNN, Fox News, MSNBC -- news coverage of the 2014 Olympics shows a similar lack of coverage concerning Title IX's role in encouraging and supporting American female athletes.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS) from February 7, 2014 through February 20, 2014. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: olympics or sochi or title nine or title 9 or title ix.
Media Matters conducted Nexis and Factiva (for The Wall Street Journal) searches for print articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post from February 7, 2014 to February 21, 2014, using the search terms: olympics or sochi or title nine or title 9 or title ix.
The following television programs were included in the data: PBS NewsHour, World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Situation Room, Crossfire, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The Kelly File, The Ed Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air re-runs, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.
The Wall Street Journal hid widespread popular support for Obama administration initiatives, including immigration reform, expansion of early childhood education, and increasing the minimum wage.
A November 10 Wall Street Journal article suggested that a recent dip in the president's approval ratings created "new complications for his second-term agenda" and could hinder his efforts to "enlist the public as allies in the push to pass an immigration overhaul, expand access to early-childhood education and raise the minimum wage." The Journal's suggestion ignores that immigration reform, early childhood education, and a minimum wage increase already draw high levels of popular support.
Public support for immigration reform is high. A January Associated Press poll on Americans' view of immigration reform found "major increase in support" for immigration reform efforts following the 2012 election, as "more than 6 in 10 Americans now favor allowing illegal immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens." Politico reported on November 7 that recent polling reveals this support has remained strong; a majority of Americans are now "more likely to support a candidate who backs immigration reform," and 73 percent of voters surveyed nationwide would support a pathway to citizenship, "if it includes requirements to cough up penalties, learn English, pass background checks, pay taxes and wait at least 13 years."
The President's immigration proposal includes those provisions, creating a pathway that requires applicants to wait multiple years before obtaining citizenship, pay their taxes and a penalty, learn English, and undergo background checks. A Congressional Budget Office found that the proposal would greatly benefit American workers and the economy over the long term, increasing wages and GDP over the next twenty years.
Studies from the National Bureau Of Economic Research and the Economic Policy Institute have also found that immigration tends to increase average wages for native-born workers over the long term, and UCLA professor and immigration expert Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda found that passing comprehensive immigration reform would add at least $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy over 10 years.
Early Childhood Education
Gallup polling found that 84 percent of Americans believe that investing in early childhood education is either "very important" (61 percent) or somewhat important (23 percent) to America's future, and found that almost two out of three Americans are willing to support preschool programs for children from low-income households with taxes.
Obama has proposed the Preschool for All Initiative, aimed to improve quality and expand access to preschool for low- and moderate-income children, in addition to expanding Head Start, a grant program that funds comprehensive early childhood education programs across the country, which include health, nutrition, and social services.
Studies from Health and Human Services have shown that Head Start programs had significant health benefits for children and parents, and the National Bureau of Economic Research found that many Head Start participants were more likely to complete high school. The National Education Association (NEA) says that early childhood education programs generate a twelve percent return on investment, making it "one of the best investments our country can make," which "yields significant long-term benefits" for students later in life.
A strong majority of Americans support increasing the minimum wage. In July 2013, a poll by Hart Research Associates found that 80 percent of Americans supported President Obama and Senate Democrats' proposal of increasing the minimum wage to $10.10. Among Republicans, 62 percent agreed. Support for such proposals is consistently high. In February 2013, after President Obama pushed for a minimum wage increase to nine dollars during his State of The Union Address, a USA Today/Pew Research Center poll found that 71 percent of Americans supported the plan.
At the ballot box, all of the statewide minimum wage increases that have been proposed since 1998 have passed, including a recent constitutional amendment in New Jersey which voters overwhelmingly supported. Business owners also favor an increase: an April poll by Small Business Majority found that a "67% majority of small business owners agree the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour should increase, and that it should be adjusted annually to keep pace with the cost of living."
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) says that a minimum wage increase to $10.10 would be a "win for workers," positively impacting "nearly one in every five workers in the country." A February 2013 survey of economists conducted by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business found broad support for President Obama's previous call for raising the minimum wage to $9.00. The Center for Economic and Policy Research has explained that raising the minimum wage has no "discernible impact" on employment, and that wage increases often result in more jobs rather than less.
Continuing right-wing media attacks on the Department of Justice's attempts to protect school integration in Louisiana, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly completely ignored the multiple federal court orders blocking a school voucher plan that may cause re-segregation.
Recently, right-wing media have been ignoring their proclaimed fidelity to the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution by dismissing violations of civil rights law, supposedly out of sympathy for other persons of color unaffected by the racial discrimination in question.
The most prominent example of this paradoxical stance has been right-wing media's strenuous defense of the New York Police Department's (NYPD) stop and frisk policy on behalf of crime victims of color, despite the fact that federal courts have found it unconstitutionally discriminates against millions on the basis of race. This selective disregard for legal requirements when discussing significant civil rights holdings reemerged this week, with the announcement that the Department of Justice agrees with a recent federal court decision that found the school voucher program in Louisiana was not in compliance with a decades-old court order.
On August 27, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal responded by attacking the Department of Justice's attempt to bring Louisiana back into compliance with multiple desegregation orders potentially violated by the voucher plan, and accused Attorney General Eric Holder of betraying the principles of Martin Luther King Jr. According to the WSJ, "[a] black Attorney General ought to be applauding this attempt to fulfill MLK's dream of equal educational opportunity. His lawsuit turns racial justice on its head."
Fox News has followed this lead by offering ill-informed explanations of the Department of Justice's actions and Louisiana's integration requirements. On the August 29 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly didn't even bother to mention the current court orders or the fact that Louisiana could easily seek authorization from the relevant federal courts for its voucher plan, instead accusing Holder and President Barack Obama of "siding with the left."
A Wall Street Journal editorial and a Fox News show of Journal editorial members ignored a major contributor to rising college costs -- state budget cuts to higher education -- while falsely blaming federal financial aid for the cost increase.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Fox Business anchor Melissa Francis claimed on Fox's Your World With Neil Cavuto that federal student aid spurs universities to increase tuition and that going to a top-tier university isn't worth incurring the debt it entails.
On August 20, Cavuto asked, "The more aid you give, the more excuse [universities] can have to ratchet up the tuition, right?" Francis agreed, saying that "it just gets absorbed right into the price." Francis then said, "It's like any time you print money. It causes inflation." Later in the segment, Francis referenced a recent study by Demos to assert that student loan debt may be costlier than it seems, claiming, "Down the road that costs them $200,000 worth of wealth, because as you're paying off those loans that's money you're not investing in the market, that's a house you're not buying, that's money you're not putting in your 401k."
Cavuto and Francis cited growing federal student assistance as a reason for increasing tuition costs. The vast majority of studies, however, have held that growing federal aid is not responsible for increasing tuition rates. President Obama also recently signed a new law that lowers student loan interest rates and is embarking on a bus tour to call for more action on college affordability.
Francis also claimed that for some, vocational schools may be a better financial choice in the long run than universities, because the cost of the education is not as great. But Francis ignored the fact that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in most cases those with higher education will make more money and are less likely to be unemployed.
Similar claims about federal Pell Grants have been made by the Wall Street Journal, and Fox News has repeatedly attacked federal student aid by suggesting that enrollment in fictitious 'cheaper' colleges or forgoing college entirely are solutions for those struggling with the costs of college.
ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer stated that "the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow" to the Head Start program -- by implementing the automatic spending cuts commonly known as the sequester -- before noting that "critics say" the cuts could have been avoided. While Sawyer did note that the cuts were linked to sequestration, she framed them as an action taken by the Obama administration while failing to highlight the responsibility Republicans in Congress share or mentioning the White House's long standing offers first to avert sequestration and now to replace it.
On August 18, The Washington Post reported that as many as 57,000 children lost access to Head Start's health, nutrition, and early education programs due to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. While covering that story, Sawyer claimed on ABC World News' August 19 broadcast that "an uproar is building tonight after an announcement that the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow to the program head start designed to helped preschool children catch up on education."
SAWYER: And now back here at home an uproar is building tonight after an announcement that the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow to the program Head Start designed to helped preschool children catch up on education. Word tonight: the administration says the sequester forced cuts, but critics say there may have been another way. And tonight 57,000 children are facing the possibility they will no longer get educational support.
Sawyer appeared to lay blame squarely on the Obama administration's shoulders, or at least ignored the responsibility held by Republicans. Sawyer reported that "critics say there may have been another way," but in fact, Obama offered another way with a plan to avert sequestration. Republicans refused to budge on a deal and some even said the cuts were necessary. Once sequestration hit, Obama called on Congress to replace it with a more balanced approach. The president has also been an advocate of early childhood education and even mentioned it in his 2013 State of the Union.
ABC's coverage was brief -- a common problem in the media's sequestration reporting that Media Matters has previously noted -- but left out critical context that gave the appearance of laying the blame on Obama.
Fox News hosts mislead viewers and each other by hyping the cost of a White House plan to fund high-speed Wi-Fi for schools while obscuring the plan's small impact on individual taxpayers.
On June 6, the White House unveiled the ConnectED initiative, a plan that would give 99 percent of American students access to "high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless" at school by 2018. The plan would be funded through a minimal tax increase on mobile phone users, which the as The Washington Post reported, "could work out to about $12 in fees for every cellphone user over three years."
Fox News similarly reported on the August 15 edition of Fox & Friends First that the initiative would only cost individual consumers about five dollars per year.
But a few hours later on Fox & Friends, the hosts and contributors seemed unable to accurately report what the predicted cost would be for individuals. Though co-host Gretchen Carlson asked Fox Business contributor Charles Payne to specify how much the initiative would "cost each of us as individuals," Payne claimed the "administration doesn't say" and instead hyped the program's net cost and unspecified higher taxes on the middle class:
PAYNE: The administration doesn't say. There's some estimates say it costs like $6 billion but you know how these estimates are when the government gets involved. We know It's going to be multibillions and billions of dollars. It's going to hit individuals, this brings us to the third point. Middle-class taxes, you know, there won't be middle-class tax hikes, but we know already there have been. These are the kinds of things that are taxes on normal, regular people. This would be a tax on every single person watching the show who didn't get a free phone from the government, they are going to have to chip in.
Later, a Fox News reporter once again explained that the increase would only be about five dollars per year, but Carlson remained confused about the ConnectED program's expected cost to individual consumers, saying in a subsequent segment: "I think it would be about $5 a year, or maybe $5 a billing cycle. I'm not exactly sure. But the entire cost is $4 to $6 billion."
Payne and Carlson both followed the media's common practice of relying on abstract and sensational raw number figures when discussing budgetary issues while either ignoring or misreporting the context that would make those figures relevant to viewers. Economists have noted that focusing on raw numbers rather than budgetary percentages or individual costs in economic reporting is often little more than a scare tactic intended to drum up fears about the economy. And Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has noted that the reliance on raw numbers also increases the likelihood that outlets will misreport information.
Fox News' Eric Bolling hosted Hotair.com's editor-at-large Mary Katharine Ham to push school choice and attack public schools, but failed to mention that school choice does little to address educational disparities and may actually disadvantage low income students.
On the August 8 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, guest host Eric Bolling criticized Matt Damon's decision to send his children to private schools despite advocating for the public school system. Ham used the story - which has received much right wing media hype - to push school choice as an alternative to investing in public schools:
HAM: I would love everybody to have that choice instead of spending all this money on schools that don't work.
BOLLING: Sure, and it really isn't that complicated. There's the charter school program, there's the voucher programs that are available, but they don't seem to want to do that. Why don't--what's the push back on those?
HAM: Well, the argument from the left, and from union leaders and frankly folks like Matt Damon is we need to invest more in public schools, it's always about more money and less accountability, is frankly what it feels like, and they're often very explicit about that. The fact is, holding schools accountable is part of making them work, and sometimes in order to do that you have to give kids a ticket elsewhere so that schools realize, hmm, maybe I should be serving this kid. And if that happens through charter schools, fine, that's a form of public schools that can be held accountable. But I do find it very interesting when the left tells the rest of us we have to invest in public schools and then they take their, perhaps their most rich investment, their own children, and they put them in private schools.