Friday, September 28, 2012

Partisan Sampler Platter: How 'Drudge Report' Drove Media Coverage Of 'We Are Hungry' Video

Fact check: A national outcry against the new school lunch standards?  If you believe Drudge and two GOP Lawmakers...
"We are Hungry," a music video created by Kansas high school students to protest the calorie limits in the National School Lunch Program is being waved as a flag by large media outlets to illustrate a coast-to-coast outcry against USDA's nutritional standards mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010.  Most stories that include the video point to the fact that it has "gone viral" to indicate that protests against the lunch standards are an aggressive national grassroots movement.  But the video achieved its "viral" status after being posted to YouTube on Sept. 17 thanks to being featured in headlines on the conservative-biased Drudge Report multiple times this week, which linked to conservative media reports about the perceived "national outcry" against the lunch standards.  Drudge featured a photo compilation of First Lady Michelle Obama with the student who stars in the video, Callahan Grund, above the banner on Sept. 25 (above), and national media outlets piled on after, including CNN, USA Today, The New York Times, Today Show, Fox and ABC, among others.

Thus Drudge drove the coverage in what are supposed to be unbiased media outlets (Fox is excluded from this category).  The partisan-fueled coverage has included regular bashing of Mrs. Obama--she's starving students, according to Fox; one radio commentator likened Mrs. Obama to Eva PerónThat story also got its own headline on Drudge this week. 

While Presidential spouses in past administrations have been off-limits for attacks, Mrs. Obama has been routinely attacked, often personally, for the Let's Move! campaign by Drudge and conservative media since she launched the campaign in 2010. Two Republican House lawmakers who have a larger anti-Obama agenda have also adopted the video, and promoted it aggressively as they, too, bashed Mrs. Obama in the name of her campaign. 

Some facts about the video, the partisan fueled "controversy" and the coverage:

1.  How many "starving" kids go to that Kansas school?
The students in the video, from Sharon Springs, KS, attend school in the Wallace County School District USD 241, which has a total enrollment of 185 students, Kindergarten-12th grade.  There are 19 seniors and 11 juniors in the high school.  The total population of Sharon Springs was 748 in the 2010 Census, with 92.8% of the citizenry identified as white.

There are 32 million children at more than 100,000 institutions participating in the National School Lunch Program, according to USDA. Can the Kansas kids, who are praying for junk food in the video, really be taken as spokesmodels for the millions of children who rely on the National School Lunch Program for mid-day meals?

2.  Rep. Tim Huelskamp
The video first got put on the road to Drudge-fueled "viral" status when the school sent it to US Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-K).  The local Kansas CBS outlet reported the sending on Sept. 18, noting it had been sent "last week." If that is true, it means Huelskamp got the video before it was posted to YouTube on Sept. 17.

A member of the GOP-dominated House Agriculture Committee, Huelskamp is the co-sponsor of the No Hungry Kids Act, a bill to repeal USDA's nutrition guidelines, specifically the calorie limits.   He is using the video to promote his "Nutrition Nannies" Facebook page; there is a link to the Nannies page with the video on YouTube.  The video and Facebook campaign is also featured on Huelskamp's Congressional website.  Huelskamp has promoted the video during his appearances in the national media. 

3.  Rep. Steve King
Co-sponsor of the No Hungry Kids Act is Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), also a member of House Ag, who has been a vociferous, across-the-board critic of the Obama Administration.  King has also promoted the video.  He took to the House Floor on Sept. 20 to bash Mrs. Obama and the Let's Move! campaign, chastising her for promoting a "nanny-state government."

"The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was written and passed to satisfy the wishes of the First Lady who had the Let's Move Initiative to get our youth in shape," King said.  "This is nanny state run amok."

4.  King is running for re-election against the wife of the Secretary of Agriculture
King, it's more than worth pointing out, is locked in a tight race for his Iowa Congressional seat against Christie Vilsack, wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the man who is responsible for overseeing the National School Lunch Program.

5.  Huelskamp and King have a larger anti-Obama agenda, and are using the video and their legislation to push it 
Among other media outings, King and Huelskamp co-authored an opinion piece that appeared on Sept. 27 in The Hill about their bill, titled "Let's Move is Flawed.  'No Hungry Kids Act Will Fix It.'"  They claim that the current nutrition standards were passed "by a discredited Congress in the lame duck session of 2010," and add that "the background of the rule and the outcry from parents and children has led to our legislative response."

The problem: The two introduced their Act on Sept. 14, well ahead of any lunch "protests" making national media headlines.  King and Huelskamp also admitted that they are taking issue with far more than just the First Lady and Let's Move!.

"The bottom line is that President Obama and his administration continue to find ways to develop the nanny state," they wrote.

"The goal of the school lunch program was -- and is -- to ensure students receive enough nutrition to be healthy and to learn,"  King said when introducing the legislation. "The misguided nanny state, as advanced by Michelle Obama's 'Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act,' was interpreted by Secretary [Tom] Vilsack to be a directive that, because some kids are overweight, he would put every child on a diet. Parents know that their kids deserve all of the healthy and nutritious food they want."

In a news release about their measure, Huelskamp wrote "Big government wins again," once more beating the larger anti-Obama drum.

6.  School lunch is one meal of the day 
Lunch is not supposed to fulfill all of children's daily calorie requirements.  The current calorie standards, 650 calories for meals for kindergarten through fifth grade, 700 calories for seventh and eighth grade and 850 calories for high school, were created from recommendations from the Institute of Medicine.  Previous child nutrition legislation only included calorie maximums, and the new standards are intended to provide portion control.

Sec. Vilsack told ABC News that he had not seen the video, but said that school meals should be supplemented with healthy snacks. That also led to a headline on Drudge, featuring a photo with Mrs. Obama winking.

"It's not surprising that some youngsters will in the middle of the day be hungry," Vilsack said.

7.  The Kansas school district encourages applications to the federal program
The good folks at Wallace County Public Schools are actually so happy about getting free and reduced-price lunches through the federal program that they encourage every family that is eligible to apply for the program, even if students will not dine at school.  Notes the student handbook:

"...families are strongly encouraged to complete the application process.  Even if parents choose not to accept free or reduced lunch based on the application, their eligibility helps USD 241 in acquiring state and federal funding via grants and other revenue sources.  Application forms are available in the school office."

8.  An adult wrote the video lyrics, not the students
The students who "made" the video were guided by high school English teacher Linda O'Connor, who wrote the lyrics for the song.  The school district's Publications Director Brenda Kirkham has also been credited as helping with the video, and Kirkham has written on her Facebook page:  "Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan VP, I will NOT vote for Obama in 2012."

9.  The school district is thrilled about being a partisan tool
The video is the biggest thing to ever happen to Sharon Springs, and the school district's website features it prominently on the front page, noting the Drudge coverage and the media outlets where the video has been mentioned. This, too gives a good indication that the "viral" nature of the video is due to media intervention, rather than a "grassroots movement" against the lunch standards.

Notes the website:

"As of Friday, September 21, over 40,000 had viewed the video on YouTube's website.  September 24, Monday evening's count at 11 p.m. was 60,000 and Tuesday, September 25 at 12:30 p.m. showed 133,000.   On Tuesday evening, September 25, 249,934 views were recorded after midnight."

Tuesday, Sept. 25 is when the video first landed in a headline with Mrs. Obama's photo above the banner on Drudge.

10.  Kansas has a child obesity rate of 29.6% 
Last but perhaps not least, the kids who are "starving" in the video live in a state that is in spitting distance of the top ten fattest states in America, which have obesity rates above 30%.  These include Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas. Onscreen, the kids are longing for junk food, rather than the whole grains, leaner meats, fruit and vegetables food served in the National School Lunch Program.

The video, based on a song by the band Fun.:

Related:  Jon Stewart bashes the media for hypocritical coverage.