Right-wing media ignored immigration experts and blamed President Obama's immigration polices for the recent influx of unaccompanied children apprehended illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In reality, experts cite increased violence in Central America as the driving factor.
Fox News contributor and Washington Post columnist George Will derided efforts on college campuses to combat the sexual assault epidemic as a ploy to "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege."
In a June 7 syndicated op-ed which appeared in The Washington Post and the New York Post, Will dismissed "the supposed campus epidemic of rape, aka 'sexual assault,'" arguing that the definition of sexual assault was too broad because it could include "nonconsensual touching" and disputing the evidence that shows 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault on campuses in the U.S., implying that individuals were pretending to be victims because colleges have made victimhood a "coveted status" (emphasis added):
Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating.
They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous ("micro-aggressions," often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.
Now the Obama administration is riding to the rescue of "sexual assault" victims. It vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today's prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults.
The administration's crucial and contradictory statistics are validated the usual way, by official repetition; Joe Biden has been heard from. The statistics are: One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12% of assaults are reported. Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12% reporting rate is correct, the 20% assault rate is preposterous.
Education Department lawyers disregard pesky arithmetic and elementary due process. Threatening to withdraw federal funding, the department mandates adoption of a minimal "preponderance of the evidence" standard when adjudicating sexual assault charges between males and the female "survivors" -- note the language of prejudgment.Combine this with capacious definitions of sexual assault that can include not only forcible sexual penetration but also nonconsensual touching. Then add the doctrine that the consent of a female who has been drinking might not protect a male from being found guilty of rape. Then comes costly litigation against institutions that have denied due process to males they accuse of what society considers serious felonies.
Will also criticized colleges and universities for attempting "to create victim-free campuses -- by making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimization."
Despite Will's dismissal of the statistics, a report on sexual violence by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed that "in a study of undergraduate women, 19% experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college." Moreover, the dangerous stigmatization of sexual assault victims has kept many from reporting these crimes -- particularly because victims who do report can become the targets of vicious attacks. According to the FBI, people falsely report sexual assault only 3 percent of the time.
The New York Post took quotations out of context to push the sexist smear that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's wife Chirlane McCray was a "bad mom," after McCray admitted that she initially found balancing children and her career to be challenging.
A May 18 Post article featuring the headline, "NYC's first lady: I was a bad mom" claimed that McCray admitted in a New York magazine profile that she "was unable to embrace motherhood and initially neglected Chiara," her daughter. The paper went on to claim that McCray's disclosure was "bound to horrify most moms":
In a startlingly frank confession, Mayor Bill de Blasio's wife says she was unable to embrace motherhood and initially neglected Chiara, who last year dropped the bombshell that she was in treatment for abusing booze and pot.
"I was 40 years old. I had a life. Especially with Chiara -- will we feel guilt forevermore? Of course, yes," McCray told New York magazine for its cover story this week.
"But the truth is, I could not spend every day with her. I didn't want to do that. I looked for all kinds of reasons not to do it."
The disclosure -- bound to horrify most moms -- shatters the carefully crafted image of de Blasio's close-knit family, which helped vault him into office.
The Post ran the article as its May 19 cover story:
But the full context of the New York magazine profile makes clear that while McCray initially found "as with so many women" that juggling new-motherhood with her career was a challenge, she became fully "committed" and was "a devoted and relaxed parent" -- a far cry from having "neglected" her child (emphasis added):
Conservative media can't seem to agree whether or not Hillary Clinton's 2012 concussion was faked or was so serious she now has permanent brain damage, but whichever it is they seem ready to ignore all medical evidence in order to politicize her health.
In late December 2012, shortly before she was scheduled to testify before Congress regarding the attacks in Benghazi, Clinton sustained a concussion after she fainted due to dehydration from the flu, and was subsequently hospitalized with a potentially life-threatening blood clot in her head. The State Department postponed her testimony, and she ultimately appeared before Congress in January after her doctors confirmed she would make a full recovery.
Karl Rove reportedly dismissed this medical evidence last week when he claimed Clinton might have brain damage from the episode. Rove doubled down on his remarks today on Fox. Rove insisted that while he did not use the phrase "brain damage," he did believe she had "a serious health episode" and "she's hidden a lot" of information about the extent of her injuries. Wildly speculating about her health was reasonable, according to Rove, because she might someday run for president.
But back in December 2012, conservative media weren't worried that Clinton's health might impede a presidential run; instead, right-wing media immediately accused Clinton of faking her concussion to avoid testifying on Benghazi, taking a potentially life-threatening incident, which the former Secretary of State thankfully recovered from, and making it a political cudgel.
Fox contributor John Bolton accused Clinton of faking a "diplomatic illness." Monica Crowley dismissed the illness, calling it a "virus with apparently impeccable timing." Fox's The Five took the attacks a step further by mocking the Secretary's health, accusing Clinton of running "a duck and cover" and joking, "How can she get a concussion when she has been ducking everything [related to Benghazi]?" On Special Report Charles Krauthammer quipped she was "suffering from acute Benghazi allergy," a joke Sean Hannity liked so much he laughed about it later on his own show. When this mockery came under fire, host Greg Gutfeld attempted to defend Fox's actions by dismissing their remarks as mere "skepticism" and accusing journalists of "ginning up fake hatred, or outrage, towards skeptics." It wasn't just Fox, though; The Los Angeles Times, for instance, posted an online poll giving credence to the concussion conspiracy theories, asking readers "did she fake it?"
As The Wire noted, some of these conspiracy theorists quickly flipped when conservatives realized mocking a serious health condition, including the blood clot, was not a winning strategy. The New York Post, which had initially featured the headline "Hillary Clinton's head fake," followed up with a sober report on her condition noting that "Cynics in the media and in Congress sneered that Clinton was faking the concussion to avoid testimony about the attack" -- without acknowledging their own previous coverage. The Daily Caller similarly reported in February that "whispers" suggested Clinton's health was so bad she "may not even be capable of making it to Iowa and New Hampshire," after having wondered two months before why "we're supposed to just take her word for it" that she collapsed and hit her head. Fox, however, seems to be sticking with concussion trutherism; just this month, host Eric Bolling claimed Clinton purposefully "hit her head" so someone else could "take the bullet" on Benghazi.
So she either lied about a serious injury in order to avoid testimony (which she still gave), or she's now lying about being healthy in order to run for president (which she isn't currently doing). Either way, Rove's comments continue conservative media's stubborn insistence to politicize her health in whichever direction suits them at the moment, regardless of medical evidence.
The New York Post continued its history of dismissing the epidemic of sexual assault by blaming assault victims' "bad judgment" for their "regrettable sex."
New York Post columnist Naomi Schaeffer Riley penned a May 6 op-ed denouncing national efforts to curb sexual assault on college campuses. Riley denied the existence of the widespread sexual assault epidemic, instead dismissing them as "sexual encounters fueled by bad judgment and free-flowing alcohol" (emphasis added):
The White House task force says at least one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their college careers.
Looking back, we can conclude that one of two things occurred.
In one scenario, the task force has its numbers right -- in which case our campuses have been overrun by thugs. What was needed was a good dose of law and order -- more likely to be doled out by, let's face it, conservatives.
Sexual assault is a serious crime. If campuses are really seeing these rates of violence, then nothing less than an overwhelming police presence is called for.
Not the keystone campus cops, either, but gun-wielding officers protecting women as they walk to classes, parties and club meetings, even escorting them home from dates. Maybe Ray Kelly would be up to the job; then again, even New York's worst neighborhoods don't report these rates of violence against women.
In the second (more likely) scenario, there's been no epidemic of assault but instead a preponderance of sexual encounters fueled by bad judgment and free-flowing alcohol.
Riley also disputed the fact that 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault on campus. But a report on sexual violence by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed that "in a study of undergraduate women, 19% experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college."
The New York Post's unwillingness to acknowledge the epidemic of sexual assault both on and off college campuses is well-documented. Last year the Post's editorial board called a homeless shelter criticized for reports of sexual assaults "too generous" and columnist Arthur Herman labeled military sexual assault reports a "bogus epidemic."
The New York Post responded to a new report debunking the paper's conspiracy theory that the Census Bureau manipulated unemployment data for political reasons by doubling down on its unsubstantiated conspiracy campaign.
In November 2013, the New York Post cited an anonymous Census Bureau employee to claim that the government dishonestly manipulated unemployment figures while President Obama was seeking reelection in 2012. The conspiracy theory quickly became a right-wing talking point, despite the fact that the Post failed to provide evidence that the September 2012 unemployment rate was either unusual or manipulated and attributed the supposed data manipulation to a Census worker who was not even employed by the Bureau at the time in question.
On May 1, the Commerce Department inspector general (IG) issued its investigative report on the claims, finding "no evidence" to support them. The report thoroughly debunked the Post's accusations, noting that it had "exhaustively investigated these allegations and found them to be unsubstantiated."
The Post responded to the debunking by doubling down, standing by its original claim that "Census 'faked' 2012 election jobs report" in an effort to help re-elect President Obama. In a May 1 article, John Crudele called for a "special independent prosecutor" and disputed the IG findings with his own "investigation":
Now it's my turn to speak. My own investigation over the past six months has found the following facts:
- In the course of my own investigation several whistleblowers have come forward to allege that Census workers regularly fabricate or fudge economic data. In addition to the Philadelphia Census office, whistleblowers who work in the Chicago and Denver regions have alleged that data was regularly falsified and higher-ups told them to shut up about it.That casts a shadow on three of the six regions in the newly aligned Census organization. I don't know if workers in the other three regions will make similar claims because I have spoken to any yet.
- One of those whistleblowers has told me -- and has also told the Oversight Committee and the IG -- that supervisors in Philadelphia were particularly concerned about the unemployment data during the last Presidential election. And this source has said Buckmon wasn't the only one messing with data.The IG's report said "we found no evidence of systemic data falsification in the Philadelphia Regional Office." And it concluded that moving the national unemployment rate would simply be too hard to do.The word "systemic" is loaded. As I mentioned, Buckmon's actions alone could have affected the results for half a million households. If two or three others were also falsifying data that would have changed the results for 2 million households. Would that have constituted a problem with the "system?"
- One of those whistleblowers has told me -- and has also told the Oversight Committee and the IG -- that supervisors in Philadelphia were particularly concerned about the unemployment data during the last Presidential election. And this source has said Buckmon wasn't the only one messing with data.The IG's report said "we found no evidence of systemic data falsification in the Philadelphia Regional Office." And it concluded that moving the national unemployment rate would simply be too hard to do.
Yet again, the Post's conspiracy theory relies on anonymously sourced whistleblowers and unsubstantiated speculation. In contrast, the IG report identified the specific evidence that informed its finding:
OIG thoroughly investigated these allegations, and found no evidence that management in the Philadelphia Regional Office instructed staff to falsify data at any time for any reason. Further, we found no evidence of systemic data falsification in the Philadelphia Regional Office. Addressing allegations raised in the media, we found no evidence that the national unemployment rate was manipulated by staff in the Philadelphia Regional Office in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election. To accomplish this, our analysis concluded that it would have taken 78 Census Bureau Field Representatives working together, in a coordinated way, to report each and every unemployed person included in their sample as "employed" or "not in labor force" during September 2012, an effort which likely would have been detected by the Census Bureau's quality assurance procedures. Moreover, our analysis shows that the drop in the unemployment rate at that time is consistent with other indicators, including payroll estimates by Moody's Analytics and Automatic Data Processing (ADP).
The New York Post reached new lows publishing "an open letter to Chelsea Clinton's fetus" -- rather than simply reporting on Clinton's recently announced pregnancy or offering the couple well-wishes, the Post took the opportunity to attack the new baby and soon-to-be grandparents Bill and Hillary Clinton under the guise of "news."
The April 22 letter told the baby that "what makes you so special" is "you're going to live your whole life in make-believe." The Post labeled the child a "campaign asset" and "stage prop" for "Lady Pantsuit" and non-"maternal" Hillary Clinton:
Welcome to advanced gestation! Since you're new around here, I thought you'd like to know a little bit about what makes you so special. The reason is, you're going to live your whole life in make-believe!
In two years or so, when most babies are just learning to crawl, you will be hitting the road! Grandma Hillary is going to need you to smile and coo whenever there are Sunshine Men around. So play nice and don't projectile vomit. Grandma is not what grown-ups call "maternal," and was busy turning $1000 into $100,000 in the magical cow trading market when your mommy was a baby, so she will have to make believe she is really "helping out" with you. No crying if she gets the diaper on the wrong end!
The best part of your make-believe Clinton-Mezvinsky life is that people will pretend you're good at things and give you gifts like high-paying consultancy gigs when you just got out of college, jobs reporting for NBC News when you have as much camera-awareness as a smoked flounder, and the leadership of the free world because you "deserve it."
Right-wing media attacked a decision to shutter the New York Police Department's (NYPD) ineffective Demographics Unit surveillance program that that profiled local Muslims and subjected them to increased police scrutiny.
Libel and slander cases are increasingly viewed as long-shot legal propositions that aren't worth the effort required to see the cases to completion only to suffer defeat. But three high-profile libel suits against media organizations are bucking that trend and making their way through the legal system. Two of them have already cleared steep judicial hurdles, opening the way for the discovery phase and possible jury trials. All involve well-know conservative media defendants: National Review, the New York Post and Glenn Beck's The Blaze.
As Media Matters has documented for years, newsroom standards for conservative journalists leave much to be desired and outlets routinely trample over established norms of responsible behavior. But has the recklessness reached such heights, and have the attacks become so slanderous, that courts will rule against the offending media outlets? And if so, how high could the penalties run?
"Damages for every case come down to whatever the jury wants them to be," former New York Times general counsel George Freeman tells Media Matters.
Responding to speculation that a pricey courtroom loss could drive National Review out of business, publisher Jack Fowler assured readers in January that the magazine has libel insurance to cover damages, although he conceded "our insurance does not cover all the costs related to the suit." But even if the three outlets avoid a big jury loss, simply paying the legal fees becomes tantamount. "The costs can be absolutely staggering," says Robert Drechsel, professor at the University of Wisconsin who specializes in media law.
Not surprisingly, the three headline-making suits revolve around hot-button issues for the right-wing media: last year's Boston Marathon terror bombing case, which led to the suits against the New York Post and Beck, and the political jousting over climate change, which pits National Review versus Penn State meteorology professor Michael Mann.
"All three are plausible libels suits," says Drechsel.
Right-wing media distorted an AP story about narrow health care networks to falsely claim that most or all enrollees in the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) exchanges cannot access elite cancer treatment facilities.
On March 18, the AP released the results of a survey it had conducted which found that access to cancer centers such as New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering and Houston's MD Anderson would be restricted for some patients who purchased coverage on the ACA's health insurance exchanges.
Right-wing media outlets distorted the story with headlines like the New York Post's "Nation's elite cancer hospitals off-limits under Obamacare." Fox News' Fox & Friends highlighted the story as well, but deceptively omitted some of the AP's wording to claim only four cancer centers could be accessed through coverage purchased from the ACA's exchanges:
Nothing in the AP report says that any of the cancer treatment facilities are excluded from all of the exchange plans in a given state, like the New York Post and Fox suggest.
What's at issue is a reality of the health insurance industry known as narrow networks. Narrow networks generally offer patients more affordable coverage but provide coverage at fewer hospitals and doctors. While the ACA is having an impact on narrow networks, they existed before the law was implemented as a way for insurance companies to control costs. The truth is that a hospital being included in a particular plan's network is a decision that's made between the provider and the insurance company, and the choice to restrict access to certain providers, especially high-cost providers, is one that insurance companies have been making for decades.
Despite studies that consistently point to discrimination as the cause for disproportionately harsh discipline on students of color, a National Review Online article falsely suggested that unrelated black crime rates and "family breakdown" are to blame.
On March 21, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights released new data, including this snapshot on school discipline which found "disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color."
In a March 24 post, NRO's Heather Mac Donald criticized the Department of Education study for highlighting the racial disparity in school discipline, claiming without evidence that the black crime rate, not discrimination, "explains the school-suspension rate":
Black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at ten times the rate of white and Hispanic males of the same age combined. Given such high crime rates, what do the civil-rights advocates and the Obama administration think is going on in the classroom -- docile obedience and strict self-discipline? In fact, the same weak impulse control that leads to such high crime rates among young black males inevitably means more disruptive behavior in school.
Mac Donald proceeded to discuss the recent story of a 14-year-old who opened fire on a New York bus, asking, "Did anyone doubt the race of the killer, even though the media did not disclose it?" She concluded her piece blaming "family breakdown" as another factor behind student behavior that leads to the disparities in discipline among children of different races, calling it "common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive":
None of the federal studies mention or control for single-parent households, of course. Instead, we are supposed to believe that well-meaning teachers, who have spent their entire time in ed school steeped in the doctrine of "white privilege" and who are among the most liberal segments of the workforce, suddenly become bigots once in the classroom and begin arbitrarily suspending pacific black children out of racial bias ... Given the black-white crime disparities, it is equally common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive in class as well.
The refusal to take student behavior and family breakdown into account in interpreting student discipline rates means that more millions of taxpayer dollars will be wasted suing hapless school districts for phantom racism and sending teachers and administrators back to anti-racism training. The advocacy and anti-bias training complex cleans up, while the root cause of student misbehavior still goes unaddressed.
Despite Mac Donald's claims, experts and studies find discrimination as a cause of the racial disparity in school discipline. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that research shows "[e]ven when they commit the exact same offense as white students, black students suffer more severe consequences," and the Education Department's snapshot showed similar discipline disparities even between students with disabilities, finding "[b]lack students represent 19% of students with disabilities served by [the Integrated Disability Education and Awareness Program], but 36% of these students who are subject to mechanical restraint."
Multiple Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlets, including the New York Post, Fox News, and The Wall Street Journal, have launched false attacks against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's record on charter schools to paint him as waging a "war on children" and "poor kids," all while ignoring the benefits of de Blasio's push for universal pre-K in the city.
The attacks on de Blasio from Murdoch's media came in response to the announcement on February 27 that he blocked three New York City charter schools from using public school space rent-free. News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch himself kicked off the attacks with two incendiary tweets on February 27, asking how "de Blasio [can] do this" the same day President Obama unveiled his initiative for young boys and men of color, and falsely claiming that de Blasio's move "hurts poor families who only want a better school for their kids."
On Fox News, On The Record host Greta Van Susteren claimed the next day that "New York City democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, he just declared war on children," calling him "selfish, really selfish" and accusing him of "picking on the poor kids," asking, "Who could be that rotten?" On the March 3 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox correspondent Charles Gasparino accused "comrade Bill" of wanting "essentially to end charter schools." Later that day, The Real Story host Gretchen Carlson said that de Blasio "ax[ed] three planned charter schools," asking one of her guests, "Why is this an outrage in your mind that Mayor de Blasio is going to strip kids from going to charter schools?"
In print, the New York Post likened de Blasio's charter school move to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal (in which the governor's office engaged in political retribution), calling it "Chartergate" and writing that "de Blasio is taking good schools away from disadvantaged minority children to get back at his enemy." The Wall Street Journal editorial board called for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to defend the closed schools, claiming, "National Democrats are silent as Bill de Blasio kills charter schools."
But the facts tell a different story. According to The New York Times, de Blasio said "he would block three charter schools from using space inside New York City public school buildings." The Times explained that "[i]n reviewing 49 proposals to share school space approved under [former New York City Mayor] Mr. Bloomberg, he left untouched a majority of plans affecting charter schools." He did not "end" them or "kill" them or wage "war," as Murdoch and his media outlets claim. Furthermore, city officials told the Times that some of the plans, which were approved by Bloomberg, "would have required elementary school students to attend class inside high school buildings, and others would have required cutting programs for students with disabilities."
What right-wing media conveniently ignore in characterizations of de Blasio as picking on "poor kids" is his push for universal pre-K in New York City, which would mean greater early education access for every child regardless of their income status. The New York Times reported last week that de Blasio estimated "up to 29,000 [pre-K] seats could be opened at schools and so-called community based organizations" using his plan to fund pre-K through a higher state income tax. And as Washington Post columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel pointed out in January, de Blasio's plan "reflects growing evidence ... that high-quality, universal access to pre-K can make a significant difference in the lives of children, especially those from low-income families."
Don't expect to get the facts from Rupert Murdoch's media outlets any time soon -- their history of inflated rhetoric about de Blasio ensures his education plans will continue getting the fact-free right-wing treatment.
Serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey falsely claimed that 25 million consumers in the small-group health insurance market would lose coverage due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), citing a controversial and widely criticized 2011 survey that admitted it "was not intended as a predictive analysis of the impact of the Affordable Care Act."
In a January 14 New York Post op-ed, McCaughey claimed the ACA "will hurt twice as many people as it helps" by making "employer-provided policies illegal" for millions of Americans. As evidence, McCaughey pointed to a February 2011 survey to claim that "a conservative estimate is that 25 million people, out of the 60 million in small group plans, get dropped in 2014":
Even the chance that ObamaCare's "employer mandate" will go into effect in 2015 isn't apt to deter employers from dropping coverage. The penalty for not complying with the mandate would add only 98 cents an hour for a 40-hour worker -- a bargain compared with the $1.79 cost of providing coverage plus the enormous amount of red tape, reporting requirements and fees that ObamaCare piles on employers who provide coverage. In truth, the law discourages employers from insuring their workers, making it far easier and cheaper to send them to the exchanges.
That's why the management consultants at McKinsey & Co. warned in 2011 that nearly a third of employers surveyed already were considering dropping coverage, with the figure rising among those familiar with the law's requirements.
So a conservative estimate is that 25 million people, out of the 60 million in small group plans, get dropped in 2014. Add that to the 5 million or so whose individual-market already canceled on Jan. 1, and you have a lot of losers.
McCaughey's "conservative estimate" was extrapolated from a two-year-old survey conducted by management consultant company McKinsey & Company that "offers a snapshot of attitudes that suggests the shift away from employer-provided health insurance could be greater than expected." But in the introduction to McKinsey's post on its own survey, the firm admits that the survey "was not intended as a predictive analysis of the impact of the Affordable Care Act." The survey's methodology further warns:
Right-wing media launched a series of sexist attacks on Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt after she took a photo with President Obama during the Nelson Mandela memorial service, calling her "Denmark Babe," "Danish Pastry," and referring to her as a sexual object.
The right-wing media is using a photo from Nelson Mandela's memorial service to fabricate a sexist depiction of President Obama and Michelle Obama.
A photographer from Agence France-Presse took a series of photos of the Obamas and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was seated next to them at the December 10 service.
The New York Post seized on one of the photos to produce this cover for its December 11 edition:
Fox & Friends picked up the angle later in the morning. "I remember the last time I was sitting with the Danish prime minister," co-host Brian Kilmeade quipped. "She caused trouble in my relationship as well."
Fox and the New York Post used the image to concoct a sexist narrative that suggests that the only reason President Obama could possibly have to be friendly to the prime minister of Denmark is because he wants to flirt with her, and that portrays Michelle Obama as jealous.
But the photojournalist who took the pictures rejected the interpretation that his photos showed Michelle Obama was angry, writing of another photo, the "selfie" that President Obama took with Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron:
I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.
Indeed, via Twitter, here's a photo of Michelle Obama smiling as President Obama and Thorning-Schmidt converse: