The dumbness of the times: In Saturday's print editions, the headlines sat at the very top of the New York Times' front page.
Journalistically, they came from a traditional place. The headlines read as shown:
U.S.D.A. Tries To Relax Rules On School FoodJournalistically, the headlines came from a traditional place. Sadly, though, the headlines weren't entertaining enough. They weren't catchy, or a whole lot of fun.
Easing Meal Standards Obama Encouraged
The headlines sat atop a news report by Lola Fadulu, who's two years out of college (Amherst, class of 2017).
Fadulu is currently at the Times as part of a one-year "fellowship program," the successor to the paper's intern program. Especially if she can escape from the Times, she may go on to have a brilliant career, and we hope she does.
At any rate, the news report by the very young scribe sat at the very top of the Times' hard-copy front page. But at the modern New York Times, the editors want us to have fun!
To a striking degree, the modern Times is devoted to dumbness and the silly. Perhaps for that reason, Fadulu's report now lives forever, enshrined online, under headlines which are dumber but more engaging:
Trump Targets Michelle Obama’s School Nutrition Guidelines on Her BirthdayYay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Some editor took those drab, gray headlines and made the readership's experience a lot more fun!
The Agriculture Department proposed a rule that would further unravel nutrition standards set by Mrs. Obama when she was first lady.
The headlines in the print edition came from an older world. In effect, they told a certain story "straight:"
The USDA was trying to relax certain rules concerning food served in schools. The proposed changes would ease standards which had come from the Obama Administration.
So the print headlines said. By way of contrast, the headlines which will live forever make the whole thing more fun. All of a sudden, Michelle Obama's birthday lay at the heart of the tale!
In fairness to the headline writer, Fadulu's report did begin with a rather shaky focus on the widely-admired former first lady's birthday.
The youngster had no idea whether the birthday was relevant, in any way, to the events at hand. But so what? She started with the birthday anyhoo, thus making the story more fun:
FADULU (1/18/20): The Trump administration moved on Friday to roll back school nutrition standards championed by Michelle Obama, an effort long sought by food manufacturers and some school districts that have chafed at the cost of Mrs. Obama’s prescriptions for fresh fruit and vegetables.Some Democrats had their doubts—or at least, that's what they'd said. We'll note that the unnumbered doubters were just aides, and that their names were withheld.
The proposed rule by the Agriculture Department, coming on the former first lady’s birthday, would give schools more latitude to decide how much fruit to offer during breakfast and what types of vegetables to include in meals. It would also broaden what counts as a snack.
A spokeswoman for the department said that it had not intended to roll out the proposed rule on Mrs. Obama’s birthday, although some Democratic aides on Capitol Hill had their doubts. Food companies applauded the proposal, while nutritionists condemned it, predicting that starchy foods like potatoes would replace green vegetables and that fattening foods like hamburgers would be served daily as “snacks.”
There is no sign that the unnamed aides had any idea what was true. But so what? At the Times, this manifest bit of piffle led the front-page report. Under the guidance of an editor who mercifully remains unnamed, that's the way the young reporter ended up deciding to start.
The young reporter had no idea whether Obama's birthday was an actual part of these events, but it did make the story more fun. It also tickled prevailing tribal feeling, in which our sense that The Others are very bad makes it hurt, and therefore feel, so good.
The young reporter had no idea if the birthday was part of the story. But so what! With the help of an editor who only had at heart her getting lost, the birthday element led her report, then migrated into the headlines.
This is the way the news gets served at the modern New York Times. The modern Times, quite routinely, is a very dumb publication—but given the branding surrounding the Times, the very basic point can be quite hard for liberals to grasp.
As Fadulu continued, she managed to work Sarah Palin into her piece—and also, Eleanor Roosevelt! She quoted emotional language about the way "our babies" get fed.
At times, her news report seemed more like an admiring profile of Michelle Obama than like a report on the topic at hand. We think of sprawling testimonial passages like this:
FADULU: Combating childhood obesity was Mrs. Obama’s signature issue, a rallying cry for her supporters and a lightning rod for conservative critics who saw it as epitomizing the liberal “nanny state” of the Obama era."Few doubted Mrs. Obama's intentions!"
Mrs. Obama pressed to update federal nutrition standards and to bring healthier foods to schools. She planted the White House kitchen garden on the South Lawn — the first real garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s World War II “Victory Garden” — and invited students to sow and harvest it each year. And she created the first Task Force on Childhood Obesity and developed the “Let’s Move!” campaign that aimed to get children to engage in 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
Mrs. Obama’s work “improved the diets of millions of children, especially vulnerable children in food insecure households,” said Juliana Cohen, a nutrition professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. More students are eating vegetables and whole grain-rich foods because of the former first lady.
“Food waste was a problem before the healthier standards were enacted, so rolling them back won’t solve that problem,” Ms. Cohen said. “It’s just that more people are paying attention to the issue now.”
With nearly 14 million American children, or about 19 percent, considered obese, few doubted Mrs. Obama’s intentions. And with more than 30 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, school meals were a powerful way to target poor diets. Of that total, 22 million children are from low-income families.
In fact, many did something much like that, Over There on The Other Side, Where The Wild Things Are. We base that rather obvious claim on Fadulu's previous statement about conservative critics' complaints concerning "the nanny state."
That said, as Fadulu went on and on, you'd almost think that the widely-admired Michelle Obama had spent eight years as president. Trust us! The way this silly paper is going, they may soon be making that claim, perhaps as part of their ongoing, clandestine "UsToo Project."
On the front page of Saturday's Washington Post, an experienced reporter handled this topic in a much more traditional way. If anything, her report was a bit dry, but it included a great deal more information than Fadulu's report while being a lot less fun.
At the Times, they managed to borrow from the Beatles, saying it was her birthday. In reaction to the report, we received a gloomy nocturnal submission from a group of disconsolate future anthropologists. Their despondent message glumly said this, discussing the years before the onset of Mister Trump's War:
"It was at the Times that Death by Dumb joined hands with Death by Woke."
In truth, the modern Times is a purveyor of a very stable dumbness. We'll offer comically awful examples every day this week.
Tomorrow: Go ahead! You can laugh out loud! The editors couldn't decide!