Republican lawmakers reportedly plan to demand the suspension of first lady Michelle Obama's school lunch program in order to avoid a government shutdown, an ultimatum that follows follows a sustained conservative media campaign against her anti-obesity efforts.
According to The New York Times, congressional Republicans plan "to scale back Michelle Obama's school-lunch nutrition mandates and curtail some clean water regulations in a $1 trillion spending bill that would avert" a government shutdown on December 11. Republicans have staked their ground against a program the Times describes as an attempt to "improve school nutrition by reducing the sodium content and increasing the percentage of whole grains in school lunches."
While Pew polling has found that a majority of Americans agree that "the government should play a significant role in reducing obesity among children," Michelle Obama's efforts to combat childhood obesity have been met with consistent opposition from conservatives, including right-wing media. Here are some of the worst attacks on the first lady's school nutrition initiative:
Healthy School Lunches Are Government Fiat
Michelle Obama Is Too Fat To Lead Nutrition Efforts
Nutrition Standards Caused "Plate Waste" And Hunger
Michelle Obama's Efforts Lead To Higher Pedestrian Deaths
From the October 15 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Right-wing media are falsely blaming the recent surge of undocumented children from Central America for spreading a deadly strain of the enterovirus. Conservatives are claiming the children are a form of "biological warfare" and President Obama and the government are "bringing in infected children and putting them in our public schools" because he's "so obsessed with winning Latino votes." However, the disease has been detected in the country for decades and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told Media Matters that there is "no evidence" of a link.
Fearmongering about undocumented children spreading enterovirus D68 is the latest chapter in the conservative media's book of xenophobic smears. The right-wing media, in their efforts to oppose immigration reform, have previously blamed undocumented immigrants for diseases such as Hansen's disease (leprosy) and tuberculosis.
This year, a surge of unaccompanied children fled violence-stricken Central America and crossed the border into the United States. Many of the children were relocated to various cities and are starting school.
The CDC has confirmed over 600 cases of EV-D68 since mid-August. The agency notes that "Almost all the confirmed cases this year of EV-D68 infection have been among children. Many of the children had asthma or a history of wheezing." While investigations are ongoing, the virus has been "detected in specimens from five patients who died and had samples submitted for testing."
Public health experts have debunked the alleged connection between the influx of undocumented children into the United States and the spread of EV-D68. CDC spokesperson Jeanette St. Pierre told Media Matters: "Currently, there is no evidence from testing at CDC that EV-D68 infections in the U.S. are a result of unaccompanied minors moving into the country."
MLive reported that conservatives "have implied a link between undocumented children from Central America and the spread of enterovirus, but public health experts say that's simply not the case." The Michigan-based site, which publishes The Grand Rapids Press and others, wrote:
Fox News host Keith Ablow continued his attacks on First Lady Michelle Obama's weight, suggesting the first lady is a hypocrite on nutrition standards because photographs he claims to have seen prove, in Ablow's mind, that Obama has "struggled with her own weight" while in the White House.
Ablow was widely criticized after he dismissed the first lady's school nutrition efforts on the August 12 edition of Fox's Outnumbered, because he determined "she needs to drop a few" pounds. His comments engendered a widespread backlash, including from his own Fox colleagues. Ablow went on to defend his comments the next day to Politico, saying he was "not taking food advice from an American who dislikes America" and "has not been consistently a picture of fitness."
On the August 21 edition of Outnumbered, Ablow doubled down on his offensive comments, citing unspecified "images online" as proof of Michelle Obama's personal hypocrisy on fitness:
ABLOW: Well, listen, first, let's provide some context. The context was to remind people the draconian standards set by the first lady in her school lunch program, such that children are throwing their school lunches away. They're inedible. They won't eat them. And what I was reacting to was the hypocrisy. Let me phrase it slightly differently. For someone who has struggled with her own weight, which I think she would agree with -who has struggled so many of us have -- for someone like that to say we're going to set draconian standards and dial everything so far down thatit's inedible.
FAULKNER: How do you know she struggled with her weight?
ABLOW: Well, okay, because I know from the images online that she has struggled with her weight or chosen -- or chosen to be much heavier than at other points in the administration. Maybe she's chosen it. You're saying how do I know she's struggled. Maybe she didn't struggle. Maybe she chose to be a larger woman for some --
Fox News host Keith Ablow defended his attack on First Lady Michelle Obama's weight, telling Politico that it was "hypocrisy" for her to act as a "role model" on diet when she "has not been consistently a picture of fitness."
Ablow came under fire for his comments on the August 12 edition of Fox's Outnumbered, where he argued that Michelle Obama is not a credible voice on school nutrition because "she needs to drop a few" pounds. Even one of Ablow's colleagues at Fox, Janice Dean, criticized his remarks, tweeting "please keep your comments about women 'dropping a few' to yourself."
Nevertheless the next day Ablow told Politico that he was "not taking food advice from an American who dislikes America" and "has not been consistently a picture of fitness":
"I do dislike hypocrisy and I really do believe that people speaking about diet should be role models themselves, and I'm not sure if the First Lady is that role model," Ablow said in an interview.
"I'm not taking food advice from an American who dislikes America, who in many photographs during her tenure as First Lady is obviously not fit, and who has a record of saying things that show that she's two-faced," Ablow said Wednesday. "This should be obvious, I don't know why it isn't."
Ablow is standing by his comments and saying that people "should be less sensitive about talking about [weight]."
One reason for his criticism, he says, relates to consistency.
"It happens to be the case that the First Lady during her tenure has not been consistently a picture of fitness," he said. "That's all, it is just a fact."
UPDATE: Keith Ablow defended his remarks on August 13 in an interview with Politico, saying it was "hypocrisy" for Michelle Obama to act as a "role model" on diet when she "has not been consistently a picture of fitness."
A member of Fox News' "Medical A-Team" argued that Michelle Obama is not a credible voice on school nutrition because "she needs to drop a few" pounds.
First Lady Michelle Obama has made fighting childhood obesity a cornerstone of her time in the White House. Recently, she's faced backlash from conservatives seeking to put an end to one of Obama's victories: federal school lunch standards that emphasize healthy eating.
The hosts of Fox News' Outnumbered continued this fight on August 12, when Dr. Keith Ablow, a prominent member of the network's "Medical A-Team," claimed that Obama cannot be taken seriously on the issue of nutrition because she "needs to lose a few" pounds. Ablow's female co-hosts expressed surprise and quickly changed the subject.
KENNEDY: We don't need the federal government applying -- projecting -- these standards upon us. And Michelle Obama is so, like, the duchess when she speaks.
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: She's kind of annoying that way.
KENNEDY: She is.
ABLOW: And how well could she be eating? She needs to drop a few.
ABLOW: I'm telling you, let's be honest --
HARRIS FAULKNER: You did not say that --
ABLOW: We're taking nutrition advice from who? Who are we taking nutrition advice from?
The First Lady has long been the target of offensive personal attacks from the right, and Ablow is no stranger to sexist rhetoric himself, well-known for his anti-LGBT commentary and analysis that is often unsupported by the medical field at large.
Update: Fox News senior meteorologist Janice Dean later tweeted at Ablow, saying "please keep your comments about women 'dropping a few' to yourself. Sincerely, all women."
Fox News host Gregg Jarrett ridiculed New York Mets player Daniel Murphy for taking paternity leave for the birth of his son. Jarrett said Murphy "is rich. He could have like twenty nannies taking care of his tired wife, and he's got to take off two days? It's absurd. It's preposterous."
Jarrett's remark came after controversy over similar criticism by New York radio broadcasters Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa. Esiason, a former professional quarterback, said he would have told his wife to have a C-section so he wouldn't miss any games, while Francesa said, "You see the birth and you get back ... Your wife doesn't need your help the first couple days." Esiason later apologized for his "flippant and insensitive remark." Francesa is reportedly standing by his remarks.
Paternity leave is a common practice in baseball. Fairleigh Dickinson University professor Scott Behson wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "almost 100 baseball players, including three other players this season, have taken paternity leave since MLB enacted the policy in 2011, according to Paul Mifsud, Senior Counsel for Labor Relations for Major League Baseball. None have received the public criticism Murphy had to endure." Teams are not short a player during paternity leave, as they are allowed to replace that player for up to three days (Mets minor league infielder Wilmer Flores, for instance, substituted for Murphy).
Major League Baseball, however, is an outlier when it comes to providing paid paternity leave in the United States. The United States does not guarantee paid maternity or paternity leave, and just "three states, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, offer paid family and medical leave."
Fox falsely accused President Obama of disregarding the law after he pledged not to use health care enrollment information as a deportation tool.
In a March 19 interview with Univision Deportes, Obama promised that information provided for the purpose of enrolling in the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) health care exchanges would not threaten family members who may be undocumented, saying "if you have a family where some people are citizens or legally here, and others are not documented, the immigration people will never get that information."
Fox & Friends co-hosts attacked Obama's statement the following day, pretending his comments were a revelation and that his plan violates current law. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the decision would set HHS apart from other agencies, "where if they find out something, they share it." He went on to frame the plan as "extraordinary," and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck agreed, suggesting it is against the law:
But the policy that Obama discussed is, in fact, consistent with the law's implementing regulations. As the National Immigration Law Center has pointed out, ACA regulations do not require applicants who are not seeking health coverage for themselves "to provide information about their citizenship or immigration status and are not required to provide a Social Security number."
Not only is the policy not new, it is not unique to the ACA. In fact, government agencies are only required to report undocumented immigrants in relation to three federal programs - Social Security, public housing, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families -- and only if the individuals' immigration status is known. Obama's promise is consistent with longstanding federal policy:
The ACA codifies longstanding federal guidance, known as the Tri-Agency Guidance, which was issued by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture to ensure that applications do not require unnecessary information from nonapplicants, because these inquiries deter eligible people from securing benefits for which they may be eligible. According to ACA regulations, applications "may not request citizenship status, status as a national, or immigration status from an individual who is not seeking coverage for himself or herself on any application or supplemental form."
The policy was designed to alleviate concerns from mixed-status families that enrollment of eligible family members may cause repercussions for their undocumented family members. As Reuters reported, these fears can leave eligible children without coverage:
"A lot of mixed-status families are afraid that if they enroll, that the government will come and divide up their family through deportation," said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president at the California Endowment, a health foundation.
One couple who last month came to a Los Angeles event by the group Vision y Compromiso demonstrates the types of problems these families face, said program manager Hugo Ramirez. The organization, dedicated to improving the health of the Hispanic community, received funding through Covered California to promote Obamacare.
The undocumented parents, a father who is a construction worker and a mother who works as a house cleaner, feared information they might submit to enroll their three children in Covered California could be used against them by U.S. immigration officials, Ramirez said.
An advocate advised the couple they would not risk running afoul of immigration authorities, but that in enrolling their children and providing details on the family's earnings, they would have to begin paying income taxes despite being undocumented, Ramirez said. The couple seemed inclined to buy coverage for their children, ages 17 and younger, he said.
In keeping with right-wing media's recent smears of President Obama's surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy as "anti-gun," Fox News framed Murthy's support for "allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes" as a controversial position. However, doctors discussing gun safety with patients is a responsible, common sense practice that is protected by the First Amendment.
On the March 18 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, Shannon Bream reported that "critics" of Murthy's nomination are "worried" by the physician's "support for things like allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes":
BREAM: Well Murthy is well known for his support of Obamacare but his critics say they're most worried about his advocacy for tougher gun laws and his support for things like allowing doctors to ask children if their parents keep guns in their homes.
And given those Second Amendment concerns, once the NRA announced it would score the vote, meaning it would keep track of and publicly talk about how the Senators voted on that Murthy nomination, a number of those moderate democrats -- a number of them in red states up for re-election this fall there started to be chatter that they too would not support this particular nominee.
From the March 7 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the February 27 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Rush Limbaugh attacked a federal program that keeps children from going hungry, arguing that food stamps are instead the cause of childhood obesity -- but studies find no link between the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP -- also called food stamps) and obesity in children.
On the December 3 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh agreed that a Washington Times op-ed by James Bovard proved the theory that "more food stamps means fatter kids." Limbaugh asserted that minority children were casualties of "Obama's obesity epidemic" because the "Democrat party has made everybody they can think they are victims" by giving them food stamps.
But Limbaugh's claims are false. Bovard's op-ed never asserted that most childhood obesity occurs among minorities and Bovard mislead his readers about obesity studies to craft a false narrative that food stamp use is linked to childhood obesity. Bovard referenced a study by Baruch college professor Diane Gibson titled "Food Stamp Program Participation is Positively Related to Obesity in Low Income Women" which "estimated that participation in the food-stamp program for five years boosted the odds of young girls being overweight by 43 percent." But Gibson pointed out that her research "did not control for food insecurity, and this omission potentially complicates the interpretation of the FSP [Food Stamp Program] participation variables."
From the October 10 edition of Fox's Hannity:
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The Wall Street Journal attacked the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) Medicaid expansion by claiming that Medicaid beneficiaries would have better health outcomes with no insurance at all. But the Journal's analysis relies on an inaccurate reading of an Oregon health care study and ignores that Medicaid has been shown to lower rates of depression, reduce financial strain, and benefits low-income children, mothers, and veterans.
In Sean Hannity's newest effort to blame Democrats for the ongoing government shutdown, the Fox News host amplified a right-wing distortion of an exchange between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and CNN's Dana Bash to smear Reid as having an "angry, bitter" attitude toward children suffering from cancer.
CNN's Dana Bash asked Reid during an October 2 press conference if Democrats would be supportive of a House bill that would reinstate funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That funding, which includes a program that provides access to clinical trials for children with cancer, was halted after House Republicans refused to pass a bill to fund government operations in an effort to derail the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Bash then asked, "If you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn't you do it?" Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) replied to Bash, "Why pit one against the other?" and Reid, who was critical of the Republican idea that Congress could "pick and choose" which parts of the government to fund, added, "Why would we want to do that? I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force base that are sitting home. They have a few problems of their own." Reid's comments referenced his push for a bill that would fund the entire government, including the NIH.
Hannity knocked Reid's comments as "partisanship at a really despicable level," before rhetorically asking Reid how he would feel if a member of his own family had been affected. Later in the show, Hannity claimed that, "Harry Reid says he wouldn't want to help one kid with cancer." At one point, Hannity accused Reid of being, "cold, callous, heartless, mean spirited, hateful," among other things:
HANNITY: All this casual cruelty of Harry Reid, he's going to subordinate literally compassion and decency for partisanship? He won't keep the parks open. He won't allow the vets to do go to World War II? He's not gonna fund the NIH even if it's gonna help one kid with cancer? I mean, that's pretty sick. What a twised, old -- I'm sorry.
Hannity's characterization of the exchange unfairly distorted Reid's remarks by ignoring the context in which they were made. Reid was not dismissing the idea of funding cancer treatment for children. Rather, he was dismissing the notion that that funding the NIH should be accomplished via a lone spending bill when it could instead be achieved with the passage of a "clean" continuing resolution that would fund the entire government -- a bill Republicans are refusing to pass. His question asking Reid how he'd feel if it affected his own family was particularly callous given the fact that Reid's wife is a cancer survivor.
Hannity's take on Reid's comments mirrored other right wing media figures' reactions, of which Politico's Dylan Byers wrote, "I can't imagine the intellectual leaps and bounds you'd have to go through to arrive at the conclusion that Sen. Reid doesn't care about cancer patients."
Hannity's efforts to shift blame for the government shutdown away from Republicans are laughable considering that he was one of conservative media's loudest cheerleaders of the shutdown strategy -- cheerleading that his own colleagues have acknowledged can lead to the very hyper-partisan congressional dysfunction that helped cause the shutdown in the first place.
Photo Credit: Center for American Progress Action Fund via Flickr