MARY MYLES answered the phone in the editorial department last Friday (March 10) and heard, "Stop lying about the school lunch program!"
The caller hung up without waiting for a response. Then, rapidly, six more callers did the same thing.
Meanwhile, Ed Hewitt, The Sun's reader representative, was getting 15 such calls in "a short period of time," and there were similar calls to the switchboard, the national desk and the city desk.
What was going on? Here's what:
Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk jockey, had urged his audience to make such calls. He had been on a weeklong tirade against "liberal" journalists he accused of falsely claiming the school lunch program was being cut.
If these callers were typical of Rush Limbaugh's listeners, then their self-identification of "ditto heads" is accurate. They are people who believe and repeat, mindlessly, whatever he says.
Here are the facts, ma'am.
In a Feb. 27 news story about the school lunch legislation Limbaugh says we lied about, Jean Thompson of The Sun, reported, "Creators of the bill. . . have proposed a five-year plan starting in 1996 at the 1995 funding level, with a fixed annual increase of 4.5 percent. . . "
Associated Press story appearing in The Sun Feb. 28: "On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers criticized the school lunch proposal yesterday as unfair to the nation's children. The lawmakers said the changes in school lunch and other nutrition programs would reduce spending for school-age and preschool children by $7.3 billion over the next five years. Republicans said they would be giving more money to the nutrition programs, not less."
A Sun editorial March 2 criticized the Republican legislation, not on the grounds that funding was to be cut, but because it seemed "a proposal that may sound good initially but is likely to be far more inefficient than the current programs."
John O'Donnell reported from the Washington bureau of The Sun on March 4 that the House Ways & Means Committee had approved "changes in the food stamp and the school lunch programs that have drawn sharp Democratic criticism." Note that he said "changes" not "cuts," and identified the critics of the legislation as partisans.
Laura Lippman reported in The Sun's Today section March 6: "No one today is questioning that good nutrition and educational achievement are linked or proposing cutbacks in the $5.8 billion that the Agriculture Department gave schools in 1994. In fact, Republicans say they want to spend more money on the program, by sending funds directly to the states."
And in the morning paper of March 10, the day of the phone calls, The Sun's Carl Cannon reported from Washington what President Clinton said ("cuts") and what a Republican congressional leader said ("no cuts").
I always said Rush and his ditto heads were out to lunch.