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Somehow the conservative media found a way to link a program promoting childhood health to an increase in pedestrian deaths. The magic word? "Obama."
The Drudge Report linked to this Washington Examiner story that gave the impression that there was a link between the "Let's Move!" campaign begun by first lady Michelle Obama and increased pedestrian deaths.
Rush Limbaugh promoted the version of the story appearing on his affiliate in the DC region, WMAL. That story was headlined "Michelle Obama's 'Get Moving' Program Linked to Pedestrian Deaths." Serial misinformer Jim Hoft wrote on his blog Gateway Pundit, "Michelle Obama's 'Get Up & Get Moving' Program Linked to Increase in Pedestrian Deaths," while Clarice Feldman of Pajamas Media wrote that "Michelle's 'Get Moving' Led to Increases in Pedestrian Deaths." The Daily Caller didn't want to be left out of the story, and produced a story with the headline "First Lady's anti-obesity campaign could be causing more pedestrian deaths."
From the Examiner:
First lady Michelle Obama's campaign to get people to exercise outdoors might be a factor in an increase in the number of pedestrian deaths during the first half of last year, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha said her organization doesn't know why there were more deaths in the first six months of 2010 than in 2009, but the increase is notable because overall traffic fatalities went down 8 percent during this period, and the increase ends four straight years of steady declines in pedestrian deaths.
But the "get moving" movement, led by Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to eliminate childhood obesity, could be to blame, Harsha told The Washington Examiner.
The Examiner had this tidbit four paragraphs in, however:
"There's an emphasis these days to getting fit, and I think people doing that are more exposed to risk [of getting hit by a vehicle]," said Harsha, who conceded to having no scientific evidence that the Let's Move campaign has led to an increase in walkers and runners, or deaths. (our emphasis)
In comments to Media Matters, GHSA spokesman Jonathan Adkins called the story a "total sham," and said, "some people have an agenda" to tie the non-partisan group to a "partisan" story, and noted that more mainstream outlets like USA Today reported the story accurately. Adkins said that GHSA "support[s]" the Let's Move program. Adkins also told Media Matters that none of their research showed any connection at all between the Let's Move program and pedestrian deaths.
TBD.com spoke to Harsha after the story gained traction:
Well, the folks at GHSA were awfully surprised when they read this morning's paper. In fact, Harsha tells us, she didn't tell the Examiner that at all. "It's ridiculous," she says. According to Harsha, the first lady's fitness campaign never even came up in her discussion with [Scott] McCabe. "Absolutely not," she says, adding that she actually supports the "Let's Move" campaign.
But as McCabe points out to us, the Obama nugget came from the GHSA's pitch to him for the story, which he passed along: "Why the increase? We don't really know but speculate that it could be a couple factors. One is the possible increase in distracted pedestrians and distracted drivers. We've been focusing on the drivers, but perhaps we need to focus some attention on distracted walkers! Additionally, Mrs. Obama and others have been bringing attention to 'get moving' programs, so perhaps pedestrian exposure has increased."
Harsha says her theorizing to the Examiner never went beyond the predictable and mundane: More people seem to be walking and running, particularly while listening to music or fiddling with their smartphones, and not paying attention to traffic signals. "What we were trying to say is if people do walk more, there's more risk," says Harsha. "We're concerned with the increase in pedestrian fatalities, and we need to monitor it. Maybe some education needs to be done for people who are into physical fitness."