“Dumbest News Story Ever Written in Human History”

WaPo breaks First Lady Lunch news

Per the Washington Post yesterday:

[A] Washington Post journalist on the scene confirmed…

Consider, for a moment, all the possible endings to this sentence. Go on, newspaper romantic! This is coming from the house the Grahams built! The birthplace of Woodward and Bernstein! Think urgent news—historic, even!

Now, here’s the actual rest of that sentence, as it appeared yesterday in the “politics and policy” section of washingtonpost.com:

….the first lady, who’s made a cause out of child nutrition, ordered a ShackBurger, fries, chocolate shake and a Diet Coke while the street and sidewalk in front of the usually-packed Shake Shack were closed by security during her visit.

Also? “According to nutritional information on Shake Shack’s Web site, the meal amounted to 1700 calories.”

Now, the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates read this as the “dumbest news story ever written in human history” (also, apparently, the “most popular” news story for a time yesterday on the Post’s site ) but let’s not forget the Post’s exclusive report from the summer of 2003 that “First Lady Laura Bush, who’s made a cause out of family literacy, watched back-to-back Full House re-runs on the East Wing TV.” (Ok, not really.)

Coates and others have already written smart things (invoking Jay Rosen, even) explaining exactly why the Post’s First Lady Eats Burger report was less than well done journalism. Such as this, from The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer:

On the scene! Yes, this is incredibly dumb—but it’s a symptom of a journalistic culture that values catching a political figure in an act of hypocrisy far more valuable than evaluating the impact of their actual political views. The former, as Jay Rosen might put it, allows the reporter to maintain “innocence” because they’re attacking a pol for a nonideological sin, while dealing with the facts of policymaking might actually force a reporter into “taking a side” on whose version of reality more closely resembles planet Earth.

With the serious media criticism already spoken for (except, I don’t concede, as above, that this was an actual “act of hypocrisy” on Mrs. Obama’s part, in that she promotes healthy eating, not, um, never eating anything unhealthy eating) I am left to ferret out the highlights in the press coverage of Shake Shack-gate to date.

Fox & Friends, alone among cablers, picked up the news of Mrs. Obama’s Less Than Lean Lunch this morning.

Tease number one, delivered by Fox’s Steve Doocy:

The First Lady promotes healthy eating, so why is she loadin’ up her plate with nearly 1600 calories worth of burgers, fries and a shake?

Doocy’s second tease, a few minutes later:

The First Lady gives us a lesson in healthy eating: a big juicy burger, fries and a shake to the tune of nearly 1600-calories. [Laughter]

And, the “story,” in its entirety, moments later—and accompanied by this image:

1700! That was how many calories were in this meal Michelle Obama ordered from the Shake Shack down in DC. She got a burger, fries, shake and Diet Coke. The First Lady said treating yourself occasionally to a big meal like that is okay as long as you do it in moderation….

….Other people said that scarfing down a big meal like that is not okay—hog-like, in fact—even in moderation. Nah, Fox didn’t include that last bit. But ABC News did!

ABCNews.com today advanced the story of the First Lady’s Fatty Fatty Food Run, reporting :“Michelle Obama’s Shake Shack Burger Indulgence Defended by Nutritionists.” (Except for one expert ABC News found who offered this “via email” condemnation: “Shake OR fries OR burger, not all 3 at once!”)

“Most experts,” though, told ABC News that an occasional indulgence is fine and also that “the first lady’s lunch is being unnecessarily scrutinized” and also, added one expert sensibly, “She ordered it, but we don’t know how much she ate” and, also, as ABC News reminded itself:

The first Lady told ABC News’ Robin Roberts last year, “I love burgers and fries, you know? And I love ice cream and cake. So do most kids. We’re not talking about a lifestyle that excludes all that. That’s the fun of being a kid. That’s the fun of being a human.”

Here’s my favorite of the expert comments In Defense of Mrs. Obama’s Lunch Order compiled by ABC News:

I invite only those whose diets are housed with no walls of glass to hurl a burger in the first lady’s direction on the basis of this one lunch.

USA Today today reached out for comment from the First Lady’s press office but, turns out, “her press office isn’t commenting on the lunch.”

You know who is commenting on the lunch? George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America, who noted this morning that the First Lady “let go” at Shake Shack yesterday before throwing it to a colleague—who, he said, was “countin’ calories”—for the full report.

And, these screen shots summarize that full report:

And (yes, those are french fry letters!):

GMA’s report concluded:

Pundits will argue whether the First Lady’s lunch amounts to a scandal. The rest of us, who’ve fallen victim to the lure of a greasy burger more than once, certainly hope not.

Minus, of course, those “of us” who hope so.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.