Sunday, February 2, 2014

Half-Baked News: Big Government Crushes Little Girl's Cup-Cake Dreams

by Nomad

News Media PropagandaHow did a small human interest news story about a little girl's cupcake making business suddenly become an "unbelievable" story of government overreach and oppressive regulations? We examine how local media contribute to the right-wing propaganda machine.

How Not to Report the News

When it comes to the art of the spin, the way a simple news story can be manipulated is truly impressive. It is interesting to see how, instead of explaining the legitimate reasons- which can be a little tiresome and taxing on viewers- local news has become excellent at twisting a story to fit into a pre-decided mold.

Take the recent case of the little cupcake maker. When Belleville News-Democrat threw a spotlight on 11- year-old Chloe Stirling from Troy, Illinois and her cupcake making business, it was originally one of those quaintly positive human interest pieces that local news does ad nasueum. A dedicated self-starter, amazement to her mother, hard working (and photogenic) little girl with a vision. That sort of thing.

However, when the local health department watched the broadcast, they saw something very different. They saw a businessperson operating without any of the required health permits. Officials called the Stirling residence and promptly put Chloe out of business.

That's when the St. Louis Post Dispatch picked up the story. Suddenly it was not about cupcakes and girls with sparkles in her eyes. It was not about  an officious Big Bad government shoving their dirty regulations down people's throats. It was all about, breaking the tender heart of a little girl.
They called and said they were shutting us down,” Chloe’s mother, Heather Stirling, told the Post-Dispatch.
Furthermore, Heather Stirling said the officials told her that for Chloe to continue selling cupcakes, the family would have to “buy a bakery or build her a kitchen separate from the one we have.”
“Obviously, we can’t do that,” Heather Stirling said.
But the hysterical presentation didn't really begin until it hit the local TV news in St. Louis. The stations pick up the story calling it "unbelievable" and actually opened the show with that story- as if somebody had robbed Fort Knox. This was the biggest story of the day?

Naturally the conservative blogs- every Breitbart wanna-be- then picked up the same story to play in with the theme of a regulation-mad government.
It's Kenyan King Obama again, first our guns, then our cupcakes!

The Other Side of the Story 
The Madison County Health Department took a somewhat defensive stand from the beginning as if they had been caught doing something wrong. The spokesperson's calm explanation was no match for TV reporter's post-interview spin. The newspaper reporters just added this single line to cover the other side of the story.
When reporters approached Amy Yeager, a health department spokeswoman, about the county’s decision to shut down Chloe’s business, she said that she was doing it for the sake of the public.
But there is much more to it than that.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Up to 40% of the cases are generated in the home kitchen. 

As Arizona public health officer, Gary Barnes, points out that the public health laws and permits and guidelines have been established over the years to ensure safety and to guarantee  food purchased in a restaurant or grocery store has been handled and prepared to high standards. But food prepared in home kitchens escape oversight and those food makers may be unaware of these guidelines. Yet, he adds, many people continue to purchase food from individuals who are not inspected and licensed and who prepare food under less than ideal conditions.

In a time of budget cuts, cases of botulism, norovirus and salmonella are becoming more and more common. At present, according to Bloomberg, the FDA is allocated $1 billion a year for overseeing the bulk of the $1.2 trillion food industry. That’s enough to pay for about 1,100 inspectors, who manage to check only 6 percent of domestic food producers and 0.4 percent of importers each year.
So if inspecting legitimate food preparation businesses are difficult to inspect, then think of all of the unlicensed businesses, caterers and restaurants that are not inspected at all. 

The problem is not a theoretical one. It happens more often than you might think.  Ask the people of Mokena, Illinois. According to an NBC news report, In 2010, celebrations at DiNolfo's Banquet Inn and Catering Service were marred when 57 people later reported nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Four people were hospitalized, according to Vic Reato, a health department spokesman. And that's only one example of a growing problem.

A Question of Public Accountability

So the problem facing the Madison County Health Department was a genuine one and not a case of overreaching administrators spoiling a little girl's dreams. Had one of those admittedly delicious-looking little cakes accidentally led to a salmonella outbreak at your daughter's 13th birthday party, wouldn't you hold the health department responsible?

Certainly Chloe can't be held responsible, she is, after all, only 11. And another point to add, the health department official simply told Chloe and her mother to cease operations. It was perfectly within their rights to issues fines for non-compliance but the fact that they chose not to is another sign that this action was merely done for the public's safety.

In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch video, Chloe does appear all that  bothered by the closing as one would expect. Her heart wasn't broken at all. She seems more worried that she unknowingly broke the rules. She told the reporters:
"Well, the health department called and said I can't bake anymore because I don't have a license. .. I'm not really mad at him because it's like I kind of get that I needed one. I guess they're right that you need a permit to sell it to people.
I've learned that to run a business like this you have to follow all the rules and you have to get certain stuff so you can give them out or sell them.
Her mother too doesn't seem to harbor ill-will against the local officials. Chloe will do wonderfully, I think, when when she gets old enough to start her own business. Isn't this the right attitude we want from entrepreneurs?

Everybody seems to understand these basic rules, except the news media and those with a de-regulatory axe to grind. And the sheep who watch the local news without questioning things they watch.
So, here's the final incarnation of this story. It's really the full conservative blossoming of the story. By the way, be sure to check out the little twist at the end.

Because as we all know, little girls who are thwarted in their dreams naturally end up on welfare.

Chloe's Lesson
Actually, Chloe and her mother have learned a valuable lesson. Starting any kind of business is not all about making money. There are serious responsibilities involved. Health concerns have to be considered. If you don't, then the government will be forced to close your industry. They do so not because they have something against you personally. It's not because they enjoy stopping you from making money. It's because it is their job to protect everybody's health when possible. And if they fail to do that duty, then the public has every right to tar and feather them. 
It's nothing personal, wee Chloe.

When the news media feeds its sheep-chow about evil regulations destroying the dreams of hard-working prepubescent girls, it is, in effect supporting the very same ideology that gives every corporation the right to ignore regulations. That is the selfsame attitude that causes fertilizer plants to blow up in your back yard, raw crude oil to start percolating in your suburban yard or chemical storage sites to vomit deadly products into your water supplies.