Appearance Alert!
MRC's Brent Bozell talks about media bias on FNC's The Kelly File, 9:30pm ET/PT Thursday

NBC Food Police Ask: 'What Does Congress Have Against Healthier Lunches For Kids?'

At the top of Thursday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams scolded Congress for opposing new Obama administration regulations on school lunches: "And out to lunch. Does pizza really look like a vegetable to anybody? The better question may be what does Congress have against healthier lunches for kids?"

Correspondent Anne Thompson later began a report on the supposed controversy by showing images of pizza and sarcastically remarking: "Look at this picture. What do you see? In this week's Washington Rorschach test, Congress sees a vegetable." She lamented: "...this week Congress rejected the Department of Agriculture's attempt to make school lunches healthier."

A sound bite followed from Margo Wootan of the left-wing Center for Science in the Public Interest leveling this accusation: "Congress has put the interest of the pizza and french fry industries before the interests of our children and before our children's health."

The new school lunch regulations are a pet issue for congressional Democrats, evidenced by another sound bite featured in the piece from Democratic Congressman Jared Polis: "What's next? Are twinkies going to be considered a vegetable?"

Thompson went on to use the issue to praise Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign:

In the last 30 years childhood obesity rates in the U.S. have more than tripled. First Lady Michelle Obama is on a mission to change that, urging America's kids to exercise and encouraging healthy eating. McDonald's got the message, reducing french fries and adding fruit to its happy meals. Red Lobster and Olive Garden are making their children's menus healthier, too. But Congress isn't budging. It says pizza is a vegetable....Giving America new food for thought.


Williams introduced Thompson's report by taking a shot at Ronald Reagan: "Well, back in the days of the Reagan administration there was a big flap over the government's effort to classify ketchup as a vegetable for the purposes of this nation's school lunch program. It didn't work then."

Ketchup being defined as a vegetable has long been a favorite media line of attack against Reagan. Back in 1981, a New York Times reporter put this question to the late president: "The style of your Administration is being called millionaires on parade. Do you feel that you are being sensitive enough to the symbolism of Republican mink coats, limousines, thousand-dollar-a-plate china at the White House, when ghetto kids are being told they can eat ketchup as a vegetable?"

During a February 22, 1995 interview with former Congressman Duke Cunningham on NBC's Today, then-co-host Katie Couric fretted over the idea of school lunch requirements being left up to states: "Since the states won't have to adhere to any federal guidelines and they can basically do their own thing, aren't you worried that we're going to go back to the days when Ronald Reagan suggested that ketchup and relish be designated as vegetables?"

On CNN's Capital Gang on April 7, 2001, Time magazine's Margaret Carlson drudged up the liberal talking point to attack President Bush:

Remember when Ronald Reagan tried to save a few pennies on the school lunch program by classifying ketchup as a vegetable? Last week the Bush administration went further, axing a regulation that forced the meat industry to test hamburgers served in school for salmonella. Imagine, Mad Cow Disease among children, K through 12. The day it hit the papers the proposal was quickly withdrawn. [If] the Bush administration keeps trying to kill health and safety regulations at this pace, soon we won't be able to eat, drink or breathe.


Here is a full transcript of Thompson's November 17 report:

7:00PM ET TEASE:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And out to lunch. Does pizza really look like a vegetable to anybody? The better question may be what does Congress have against healthier lunches for kids?

7:09PM ET SEGMENT:

WILLIAMS: Well, back in the days of the Reagan administration there was a big flap over the government's effort to classify ketchup as a vegetable for the purposes of this nation's school lunch program. It didn't work then. But now there's a new fight over pizza and what really constitutes healthy food for our kids in school. Our report tonight from NBC's Anne Thompson.

ANNE THOMPSON: Look at this picture. What do you see? In this week's Washington Rorschach test, Congress sees a vegetable.

JARED POLIS [REP. D-CO]: A pizza alone, particularly pizza with no vegetables on it, just tomato paste, it's common sense, it's not a vegetable. What's next? Are twinkies going to be considered a vegetable?

THOMPSON: Congress says a slice of pizza qualifies as a vegetable because it has two tablespoons of tomato paste. And it will remain a vegetable, since this week Congress rejected the Department of Agriculture's attempt to make school lunches healthier.

MARGO WOOTAN [CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST]: Congress has put the interest of the pizza and french fry industries before the interests of our children and before our children's health.

THOMPSON: The Agriculture Department wanted to cut back on french fries, reduce sodium, increase fruits and vegetables, and require a half cup of tomato paste for a pizza slice to get a vegetable credit. But the food industry balked and argued kids would, too.

KRAIG NAASZ [AMERICAN FROZEN FOOD INSTITUTE]: For many of those kids served by the federal school program this is their primary source of nutrients through the day. So we need to ensure that we are providing them foods that they will eat.

THOMPSON: Parents in Chicago also want foods that are good for kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Junk. I don't think it belongs in school lunches to be honest.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I don't want the kids to be my size, you know.

THOMPSON: In the last 30 years childhood obesity rates in the U.S. have more than tripled. First Lady Michelle Obama is on a mission to change that, urging America's kids to exercise and encouraging healthy eating. McDonald's got the message, reducing french fries and adding fruit to its happy meals. Red Lobster and Olive Garden are making their children's menus healthier, too. But Congress isn't budging. It says pizza is a vegetable.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B: Vegetables are vegetables. You know, that they're coming out – they're growing out of the ground.

THOMPSON: Giving America new food for thought. Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York.


- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.