David Frum

02.17.12

How a Box of Milk Became a Right Wing Scandal of the Day

The League of Ordinary Gentlemen tells the story:

Making the rounds the last day or two has been this story from the “Carolina Journal,” the monthly newspaper of the John Locke Foundation, which bears the headline: “Preschooler’s Homemade Lunch Replaced with Cafeteria ‘Nuggets’; State agent inspects sack lunches, forces preschoolers to purchase cafeteria food instead.” (The story was eventually supplemented by significantly better reporting from another outlet here, which still fails to make the case being pushed by the narrative).

The headline sounds horrible, and the body of the story only makes it seems worse, conjuring images of government agents rifling through four year old children’s lunches to enforce USDA standards on healthy lunches, prohibiting children from eating food deemed insufficiently healthy (including turkey sandwiches!), and forcing them to instead eat government provided and mandated food (to wit: oh-so-healthy chicken nuggets). The original story also claims that the relevant regulations here apply to all pre-K programs, including home daycare programs, with the obvious implication that “this could happen to you!” This hits all sorts of libertarian buttons: invasion of privacy by the government, nanny statism of the highest order, government incompetence, not to mention forced-feeding of children. It even has the initial appearance of a well-sourced story, with quotes from the parent, the head of the state agency, and the school principal, not to mention the tie-in to Michelle Obama’s healthy school lunch platform.

Not surprisingly, this story has been picked up in large swathes of the libertarian and conservative blogospheres, including by Jacob Sullum, who is himself usually a pretty decent journalist, and entitled his post on the subject “North Carolina Food Inspector Rejects Little Girl’s Home-Packed Lunch in Favor of Chicken Nuggets.” The story even reached the pinnacle of attention within the right-of-center ideological media with a Rush Limbaugh segment (in which the “state agent” morphed into a “federal agent” charged with inspecting all lunch boxes). Predictably, the most outraged headline came from one of the folks at LewRockwell.com, “The Lunch Nazis are coming! No, They’re Here!”

One problem: the story is a load of bunk at worst, a non-story at best

Read the whole thing—and then do yourself a favor and remember never to believe anything you hear on Rush Limbaugh until it has been independently verified.