Andrew Malcolm has a particularly nasty piece in the Los Angeles Times about a visit Michelle Obama made to Miriam’s Kitchen, a food pantry and soup kitchen near the White House.
When I first saw the headline, “Michelle Obama Serves Food to D.C. Poor and Homeless, But…” I assumed that this was going to be some kind of hit piece on the First Lady, with the “But…” referring to something she said that the press could seize on as a gaffe, or to something she might have worn, like maybe a sleeveless dress.
But that was not it at all. Malcolm had no critical words whatsoever for Mrs. Obama. It was the impoverished recipients of the food aid that he attacked. And in a singularly vicious way. He sets the reader up with a straightforward recounting of Michelle Obama’s visit, bringing food from the White House, serving it up to the men and women there, her comments about the importance of doing this kind of volunteer work, etc., etc. — and then, after this very mild, innocuous lead-in, Malcolm saves these three short paragraphs for the end:
It doesn’t detract from the first lady’s generous gesture or the real needs she seeks to highlight to ask two bothersome journalistic questions about these news photos:
If this unidentified meal recipient is too poor to buy his own food, how does he afford a cellphone?
And if he is homeless, where do they send the cellphone bills?
Can it really, actually be that Andrew Malcolm, “[a] veteran foreign and national correspondent [who] served on the Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004,” who has written 10 nonfiction books and raised four children, and who looks to be quite of the age one would have to be to have accomplished all of those things, has never heard of pay-as-you-go phones?
I have a Go Phone. The phone cost $15. There is no contract or monthly payment plan. There are no bills. You load the phone with a $15 or $25 card and pay only for the minutes you use. When the money is used up, you can reload the phone, or not, as you choose. You only need to pay $25 every 90 days to keep the phone activated. And if you can’t, and the phone is deactivated, no problem: six months or a year later, or whenever, if you get through the hard times, you can buy another prepaid phone for $15. You don’t get second and third notices to pay your bill, you don’t get thrown into collections, you don’t get into debt. If you have the money you can use the phone; if you don’t, you don’t have to, with no repercussions.
Now, it does not (or should not) take an Einstein to figure out that housing and food cost much much more than a $15 prepaid cellphone. And anyone who thinks that having a prepaid $15 phone with $15 or $20 worth of minutes on it means that you have the ability to pay $800 or $1,000 or more for a rental apartment or a mortgage, and pay hundreds of dollars a month for groceries, is out of their minds. Or, to put it in a slightly different way, anyone who thinks that a $15 prepaid cellphone is the reason a homeless or poor person cannot afford to buy food on a regular basis or pay the rent on an apartment is both insane and hopelessly stupid.
Also posted at Liberty Street.