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PEOPLE IN RED STATES ARE FAT! Three hundred million souls live in this nation. Can this be the best we can do? // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, MARCH 12, 2011

People in red states are fat: Doggone it! We did a poor job with yesterday’s piece about David Brooks’ recent work.

We blame it on the natural desire to compose a limerick concerning Brooks’ desire for limerence. Then too, there was the desire to push back at Brooks’ blubbering in Tuesday’s column, and with Charlie Rose.

That said, in all the chaos concerning limerence (it’s a real word!), we didn’t do a good job with Brooks’ actual column. Because we think his piece is important, we’ll try again next week.

But first:

We reached a very late station in life without understanding how inept our major journalists actually are. Just consider the latest column by the New York Times’ Charles Blow.

People in red states are fat, Blow declares. In this way, he helps us see that there is nothing in modern politics which won’t be foolishly tribalized. Blow writes only one column a week; this week, he wastes his platform on cant. And uh-oh! To generate his piece, he had to say what follows, right at the start.

What Blow says here is sheer nonsense. We’re sorry, but this is just false:

BLOW (3/12/11): “Should the government have a significant role in reducing childhood obesity?”

That’s the question the Pew Research Center began asking poll respondents a few weeks ago. Nearly 60 percent said yes. Only about 40 percent said no.

This is a remarkable change in public sentiment from 2005 when the Harvard School of Public Health asked a similar question and got almost the exact opposite result.

Wow! According to Blow, there has been “a remarkable change in public sentiment,” just since 2005! As he continues, he explains why this may have happened:

BLOW (continuing directly): So what happened in the intervening years? One major occurrence has been the push by the president and first lady to combat the problem. Their initiatives promote commonsense approaches like increased breast-feeding, better diets and more exercise.

This “remarkable change in public sentiment” has moved the Obamas’ way, and may have been caused by their efforts. From there, Blow fires up the resentment machine, complaining that the right just won’t get in line with the program. He never offers any data which suggest that conservatives have changed their minds on the question at hand. But as he continues, he plainly suggests that conservatives have flipped just to oppose the Obamas.

From there, he moves to the deathless claim that people in red states are fat.

Go ahead—read Blow’s column to see how the cult of resentment works. But let’s return to the premise which started this mess. Has there really been “a remarkable change in public sentiment” since 2005? Has there been such a change on the part of conservatives? On the part of whites? On the part of anyone else?

As far as we can tell, there has been no change on anyone’s part. Here are the questions to which Blow refers—the questions he said were “similar:”

Survey question in 2011: Should the government have a significant role in reducing childhood obesity?
(57 percent yes, 39 percent no)

Survey question in 2005: Would you be willing to pay more in taxes to support government funded public education campaigns to promote healthy eating and physical activity and reduce obesity?
(41 percent yes, 56 percent no)

As even Blow must understand, those questions just aren’t very “similar.” One question asks if respondents are willing to pay more taxes; the other question doesn’t mention taxes at all. (For all the questions from 2005, just click here.) As even Blow must understand, it’s completely absurd to compare the responses then declare “a remarkable change in public sentiment.” It’s even more absurd to suggest, in the absence of any evidence, that conservatives have flipped on this general matter just to spite the Obamas.

But as he continues, Blow plainly makes that suggestion, before going on to help us see that people in red states are fat.

Blow writes just one column per week—and this is the bullroar which starts this week’s piece! He starts the piece with a ludicrous claim—and an editor thought it made sense. This folderol occurs at the top of our national “press corps.”

It’s stunning to see how our scribes really work. Three hundred million folk live in this country. Can this be the best we can do?

And Downie makes two: David Broder died this past week. On Thursday, he was remembered in the Washington Post by Robert Kaiser, a very big player.

Kaiser, who is 68, has been at the Post his whole adult life. From 1991 to 1998, he was the paper’s managing editor. Currently, he’s an associate editor. It’s completely appropriate that he should share his recollections of Broder. But before long, he offered this:

KAISER (3/10/11): His shoe-leather reporting paid off repeatedly. In 1980, when the expert class was deeply unsure, Broder saw that Ronald Reagan was likely to win the White House and said so in print on the eve of the election. In 1994 he wrote before Election Day that the Republicans were going to recapture control of Congress for the first time in four decades, a lonely prediction. And though he hid it well, he had more than enough ego to take satisfaction from being right when others were too timid or just wrong.

Interesting. We clicked Kaiser’s link from 1994 and came to this news report by Broder. But in his report, Broder plainly didn’t predict that the GOP would take over the House.

If you read the first four grafs, you will see that’s true.

We don’t mean to denigrate Broder here; we’ll review parts of his lengthy career next week. But Kaiser is a very big cheese—can he read even four paragraphs? In the opening sentence of his piece, he calls Broder “the best political reporter of his time.” It’s odd to praise the man that way, then misreport what he said.

Does this “matter?” No, it doesn’t. But three hundred million souls live in this nation. Over and over, we find ourselves asking: Can this be the best we can do?