When a government audit claimed that the Justice Department once spent $16 each for muffins at a conference, Fox News made a huge deal out of it, with Bill O'Reilly and Stuart Varney in particular using it as an excuse to bash the federal government as excessively wasteful and to criticize President Obama as wanting "more tax money to buy more muffins."
On the September 21 edition of Fox & Friends, Varney asked, "This is the way government works, isn't it?":
On that evening's O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly declared that this story is "about a federal government that doesn't give a hoot about how much money it spends" and that "President Obama wants more tax money to buy more muffins":
O'Reilly reiterated his point later in the show, claiming that Obama is "not interested in reforming the muffin problem":
On the September 23 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., Varney tried to link the muffin story to an entirely unrelated story about money paid to dead federal workers:
Meanwhile, the Associated Press was reporting the other side of the story:
Hilton Worldwide, which manages and franchises hotels including the Capital Hilton where the conference took place, says the price included not only breakfast baked goods but also fresh fruit, coffee, tea, soft drinks, tax and tips. It says the report misinterpreted its invoices, which often use shorthand and don't reflect the full menu and service provided.
The IG says that the total cost per person at the reception was $14.74 -- 2 cents over the allowable Justice Department limit. Totaling up the items in the IG's report, the 534 attendees over five days were given 1,150 pastries, 1,350 pieces of candy and fruit, 1,250 cups of coffee and tea and 250 soft drinks.
The IG's audit of excessive spending at 10 Justice Department conferences was one of those news stories that make the public sit up and take notice. Once again, the profligate government was overspending. But it wasn't billions. Or even millions. It was muffins at $16 apiece, according to the IG's office.
The report referenced the $16 muffins half a dozen times and it said their cost was one of many food items that "appeared extravagant and potentially wasteful."
Not so, Hilton Worldwide said in a statement Thursday.
"In Washington, the contracted breakfast included fresh fruit, coffee, juice, muffins, tax and gratuity, for an inclusive price of $16 per person," Hilton Worldwide said in a statement.
"Dining receipts are often abbreviated and do not reflect the full pre-contracted menu and service provided, as is the case with recent media reports of breakfast items approved for some government meetings," Hilton Worldwide's statement added.
On Thursday night, IG spokesman Jay Lerner said that "we stand by our report." [Associated Press, 9/23/11]
So, it appears that not only did DOJ not extravagantly overspend for food and beverages at the conference -- it went 2 cents over the allowable limit -- many other things besides muffins were included in that $16 cost, including service, tax, and gratuity.
Will O'Reilly or Varney report this side of the story? Don't count on it.