Back to School Lunches: The 7 Worst Defenses of the First Lady’s Lunch Plan

Networks can’t ‘understand’ opposition to lunch changes, defend ‘unlikely gladiator’ Michelle Obama.

As the school season starts up again, parents will be facing the choice of having their kids buy their lunch or pack it. With the changes to the National School Lunch Program, many are choosing to brown bag it.

But in spite of backlash from children, parents and school districts, the media have been quick to defend First Lady Michelle Obama’s school lunch program.

The school lunch program, which is one part of the Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, has been criticized over costs, poor taste and small portion sizes. In fact, the backlash has been so bad that schools have been pulling out of the program or refusing to implement it altogether. EAG News reported on Sept. 2, that the Downers Grover High School district in Illinois is one of the latest districts to consider dropping the National School Lunch Program after a huge drop in purchases of school lunches.

Part of the reason for this is the increasing cost of healthier foods. According to Breitbart.com, the overall cost of school nutrition programs has more than doubled since 2006.

Yet, the networks continued to promote Michelle Obama’s work and downplay critics. In the past year alone, nearly 94 percent of broadcast network news stories about the school lunch program promoted it (15 out of 16). Of ABC, CBS and NBC, CBS promoted Obama’s program the most with 11 stories in the past year.

One way the media tried to promote the changes to the school lunch program was to link it to research showing a decline in preschool obesity. Media outlets hyped a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claim of an astounding 43 percent decline in obesity among preschoolers in the last decade. But that statistic was weak at best. In fact, the data was so vague that Reuters said the the obesity rate actually may have increased.

On March 16, Reuters explained that the 43 percent number was in question because of the large margin of error rates acknowledged by the CDC, as well as the CDC’s admission that “there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012."

Just in time for back to school, here are seven of the worst examples of the broadcast networks’ promoting or defending the First Lady’s unpopular changes to the lunch program since they were implemented.

1.  CBS Co-Anchor ‘Will Never Understand’ Opposition to Program

When Republicans wanted to change Michelle Obama’s school lunch mandate, the networks went on defense for the First Lady. CBS “This Morning” co-anchor Gayle King, said on May 28, 2014, said “I will never understand the downside to encouraging people to eat healthy.”

Her co-host, Norah O’Donnell, was quick to back her up. "I know, with a third of obese or near obese, there have to be changes made. And as someone who ate school lunches growing up, boy, I wish there had been healthier options."

2. Politics Is ‘Uncharacteristic’ For First Lady

When the lunch program was met with congressional opposition, the networks portrayed her as the underdog, trying to stand up for a just cause against Republicans who were “playing politics.” On NBC’s “Today Show” on May 29, NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker praised the First Lady for “uncharacteristically tackling politics head on” despite typically avoiding “thorny political fights.”

3. Credit First Lady with Good News, Leave Her Name Out of Bad

When ABC did mention the lunch program’s shortcomings, the network failed to mention the First Lady’s involvement at all. On Aug. 28, 2013, ABC’s “Good Morning America”  anchor George Stephanopoulos noted that "[s]chools across the country are dropping out of a federal program to curb childhood obesity because the kids just won't eat what they're served."

ABC reporter David Kerley added that the "national school lunch program rolled just last fall to great fanfare. But this morning, some schools are dropping out, claiming the cafeterias are losing money. Why? The kids don't like the food.” The connection to Michelle Obama was not mentioned anywhere during the segment.

4. Tag-team to Downplay ‘Republican’ Opposition

ABC’s “Good Morning America” on May 27, 2014, co-anchor Stephanopoulos and ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl worked together to promote Michelle Obama’s “rare political move” fighting against “Republican efforts to roll back standards” for school lunches.

5. First Lady, an ‘Unlikely Gladiator’ to Diane Sawyer

During that political fight over the school lunch program, ABC “World News with Diane Sawyer” anchor Diane Sawyer cheered the First Lady in May, calling her "an unlikely gladiator" and gushing that she “came out swinging about an issue close to her heart.”  She added that Mrs. Obama was "someone who’s carefully stayed out of the fray until now.”

6. Dismissing 'Industry' Critics

“NBC Nightly News” included criticism of the new school lunch program in a May 2014 story. The School Nutrition Association was included, but NBC National Correspondent Peter Alexander quickly dismissed efforts to stall the implementation of the program as being “backed by Republicans and pushed by the food industry.”

7. Not Just News, NBC Sitcom Also Joins Pro-Michelle Obama Push

Network television shows have also promoted Obama’s healthy living campaign. NBC’s popular sitcom “Parks and Recreation” featured a cameo by the First Lady, during which she inspired Amy Poehler’s character by hyping the success of her own healthy living campaign.

— Mike Ciandella is Staff Writer/Analyst for the Business and Media Institute at the Media Research Center. Follow Mike Ciandella on Twitter.