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Networks Cheer 'Gladiator' Michelle Obama Combating GOP 'Playing Politics With Children's Health'

NBC, ABC, and CBS all hailed First Lady Michelle Obama attacking Republicans for trying to make her draconian school lunch mandate more flexible. At the top of Tuesday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams proclaimed: "Food fight. Michelle Obama as we've rarely heard her before, returning to her campaign by accusing Republicans in Congress of playing politics with children's health." [Listen to the audio]

On ABC's World News, anchor Diane Sawyer cheered the First Lady as "an unlikely gladiator" who "entered an arena" after having "carefully stayed out of the fray." Sawyer gushed at how Obama "came out swinging today about an issue close to her heart."

Earlier in the day, Good Morning America co-host George Stephanopoulos eagerly previewed her "full-scale campaign against the food industry and members of Congress who are trying to roll back the healthy school lunch standard she fought so hard to pass."

CBS Evening News did not cover the First Lady's comments on Tuesday, but Wednesday's CBS This Morning promoted the story, with co-host Charlie Rose touting: "First Lady Michelle Obama gets political. Her battle with House Republicans over nutritional guidelines for school lunches."

Following a full report on the topic, Rose praised: "She more than anybody else is keeping the focus on this very important topic." Fellow co-host Gayle King declared: "That's right. I will never understand the downside to encouraging people to eat healthy." Co-host Norah O'Donnell chimed in: "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."

All three networks briefly noted the "downside" to the new lunch standards – namely the extra expense for schools and that kids were throwing out foods they didn't like. However, all of the broadcasts promptly dismissed such criticism and hinted that Republicans were in the pocket of the food industry.

On Nightly News, correspondent Peter Alexander observed: "It's rare territory for Mrs. Obama, waging a political fight against efforts backed by Republicans and pushed by the food industry that would exempt some districts from federal rules..."

On World News, correspondent Jonathan Karl explained: "Republicans and the processed food industry say healthier food is just too expensive and that schools complain most of it ends up in the trash."

On CBS This Morning, correspondent Nancy Cordes at least framed the line as an administration talking point: "The White House says Republicans are bending to the same forces in the food industry that pushed for tomato sauce and french fries to qualify as vegetables."

On Thursday, MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell and Let's Move executive director Sam Kass openly mocked Republicans for daring to oppose the controversial school lunch requirements.

Here is a full transcript of the May 27 Nightly News report:

7:00 PM ET TEASE:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And food fight. Michelle Obama as we've rarely heard her before, returning to her campaign by accusing Republicans in Congress of playing politics with children's health.

7:15 PM ET SEGMENT:

WILLIAMS: Michelle Obama made a foray into the political arena today like we have rarely seen or heard from her before. She is hitting back at Republicans who are trying to chip away at her plan to fight childhood obesity in this country by imposing rules about what schools can serve in the lunch room. It's a plan that has touched a nerve across the country. We get our report tonight from our national correspondent Peter Alexander.

PETER ALEXANDER: In school cafeterias, what belongs on the menu can be grounds for debate.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Important to eat healthy because if you don't, you'll probably get diseases like diabetes and I don't want that.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Sometimes it tastes like really nasty to me.

ALEXANDER: Now First Lady Michelle Obama, who's fought passionately to get healthier foods into schools, is diving back in.

MICHELLE OBAMA: We're now seeing efforts in Congress to roll back these new standards and undo the hard work that all of you, all of us have done on behalf of our kids.

ALEXANDER: It's rare territory for Mrs. Obama, waging a political fight against efforts backed by Republicans and pushed by the food industry that would exempt some districts from federal rules requiring more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunches.

OBAMA: It's unacceptable to me, not just as First Lady, but as a mother.

ALEXANDER: But some critics, including school officials, say schools can't afford to keep serving what kids won't eat.

JEAN RONNEI [SCHOOL NUTRITION ASSOCIATION]: If the students aren't accepting the meals that we serve, we will see waste, we will see participation go down. And across the country, that's what we're seeing.

ALEXANDER: A new documentary is fueling the debate.

MICHAEL POLLAN [AUTHOR: THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA]: The government is subsidizing the obesity epidemic.

ALEXANDER: Fed Up blames huge government subsidies to the sugar industry for a market flooded with unhealthy food and argues the Let's Move campaign misses the point.

The First Lady's nutrition policy advisor Sam Kass disputes that.  

SAM KASS: I think we got to work together, particularly with companies that are trying to do the best by American families, and put pressure on the other ones to follow suit.

ALEXANDER: Mrs. Obama insists what happens now can transform the health of an entire generation.

OBAMA: I don't want to look back with regret and think that we gave up on our kids because we felt like this thing was too hard or too expensive.

ALEXANDER: Peter Alexander, NBC News, the White House.

Here is a full transcript of the May 27 World News report:

6:41 PM ET

DIANE SAWYER: And now back here at home, an unlikely gladiator entered an arena today, someone's who carefully stayed out of the fray until now. First Lady Michelle Obama came out swinging today about an issue close to her heart and ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl tells us about her direct challenge.

JONATHAN KARL: A rare sight, the first lady into the fray.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Food Fight; First Lady Takes on School Lunch Critics]

MICHELLE OBAMA: This is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to me, not just as First Lady, but as a mother.

KARL: Mrs. Obama is digging in, defending federal standards that transform the old school lunch of cheese pizza and tater tots into lunches like this, whole-wheat spaghetti, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and kiwi fruit. She helped push the standards through, now Republicans want to roll them back.

OBAMA: The last thing that we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids' health.

KARL: Republicans and the processed food industry say healthier food is just too expensive and that schools complain most of it ends up in the trash.

REP. RODNEY DAVIS [R-ILLINOIS, AGRICULTURE CMTE.]: They're forced to serve food that they know kids won't eat, the plate waste is rising exponentially

KARL: But the San Diego school district, which ditched junk food long ago, says it's the only way to get kids to eat healthier.

GARY PETILL [FOOD SERVICE DIR., SAN DIEGO SCHOOL DISTRICT]: If you offer healthy and only healthy, they'll eat healthy.  

KARL: The Republican bill would allow schools to opt out of the healthy food requirements, but if today is any indication, they will have to fight the First Lady to do that. As for the complaint about food getting thrown out, the First Lady says that's not happening so much anymore because the healthy menus are beginning to catch on. Diane.

SAWYER: Alright, Jon, every American family has an opinion on this debate.

Here is a full transcript of the May 28 CBS This Morning Report:

7:31 AM ET TEASE:

CHARLIE ROSE: Coming up this half hour, First Lady Michelle Obama gets political. Her battle with House Republicans over nutritional guidelines for school lunches. Why GOP lawmakers say it is too much too soon.

7:35 AM ET SEGMENT:

NORAH O'DONNELL: And there is no sign this morning that congressional Republicans are being swayed by First Lady Michelle Obama. The House committee is expected this week to approve a bill weakening her signature initiative. It takes aim at nutritional guidelines for school lunches. Nancy Cordes is on Capitol Hill, where the food fight continues. Nancy, good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Food Fight; First Lady, Critics Spar Over School Lunch Changes]

NANCY CORDES: Good morning, Norah. The First Lady rarely wades into politics, but this is her big issue and she is pushing back against Republicans who say schools need more time to adjust to these new standards. She argues the rules are already making kids healthier.

MICHELLE OBAMA: This is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to me, not just as First Lady, but as a mother.

CORDES: Michelle Obama made the charge at a White House school lunch event, one week after a subcommittee in the Republican-led House endorsed changes to a child nutrition law she championed and that the President signed back in 2010.

OBAMA: My husband worked very hard to make sure that this bill was a priority in this session and I am grateful to you.

BARACK OBAMA: Because I would have been sleeping on the couch.

CORDES: The law set new limits for fat, sugar, and calories in school lunches that are being phased in over time. The First Lady argued Tuesday that healthier lunches are leading to higher test scores and better sports performance in some school districts.  

MICHELLE OBAMA: Now is not the time to roll back everything that we have worked for.

CORDES: But House Republicans say the new standards are proving too expensive and that kids are throwing away more food. They want to issue one-year waivers to schools that have lost money, a move the largest school nutrition organization supports.

LEAH SCHMIDT [SCHOOL NUTRITION ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT]: There's been so much change so fast and we'd just like to catch our breath and get these changes done and some districts haven't even gotten that far yet.

CORDES: The USDA has already tweaked some of the rules. Just last week, it gave some schools two extra years to integrate whole grains in response to complaints about the consistency of whole-grain pasta. But the White House says Republicans are bending to the same forces in the food industry that pushed for tomato sauce and french fries to qualify as vegetables.

OBAMA: Parents have a right to expect that their kids will get decent food in our schools. And we all have a right to expect that our hard-earned taxpayer dollars won't be spent on junk food for our kids.

CORDES: The delays to the school lunch program are likely to pass in the Republican-led House, setting up a negotiation with the Democratically-led Senate that could drag through the summer. Charlie.

ROSE: She more than anybody else is keeping the focus on this very important topic.

GAYLE KING: That's right. I will never understand the downside to encouraging people to eat healthy.

O'DONNELL: 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. Because I ate a lot of enchiladas with meat sauce.

KING: And the tater tots.

O'DONNELL: And tater tots, indeed.

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.