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Got Milk Controversy? CNN Does

A Texas family's milk consumption was featured in a news segment on inflation; backlash followed
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 5, 2021 12:09 PM CDT
Got Milk Controversy? CNN Does
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Sakkawokkie)

(Newser) – The US economy continues to be a hot topic, especially as we head toward another winter still wrangling with COVID, and a CNN report this week tried to get to the heart of "how badly inflation is hitting the middle class." The five-minute segment intro'd by commentator Brianna Keilar featured reporter Evan McMorris-Santoro as he shadowed the Stotler family from Kennedale, Texas, on a shopping trip, where the cost of milk was a sticking point. "A gallon of milk was $1.99," mom Krista Stotler says in the clip. "Now it's $2.79. When you buy 12 gallons a week times four weeks, that's a lot of money." The internet quickly lit up over #MilkGate, with questions arising over the actual price of milk, the overall accuracy of the segment's economics, and why in the world that family is buying up so much milk in the first place. More on this story:

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  • That's a lot of milk: The sheer volume of cow juice purchased by the family each week quickly spurred incredulity, and jump-started the jokes and eyebrow-raising online, per MarketWatch. "I'm sorry, 12 gallons of milk?" New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie tweeted. New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait riffed, "12 gallons of milk a week may sound like a lot, but they've actually had to cut out their milk baths on alternate days."
  • Some context: As it turns out, the Stotlers have a rather large family of 11, including two biological children, six adopted kids, and one foster child, which suddenly makes that 12-gallon-a-week figure look not quite as unreasonable.
  • Backlash to the backlash: Conservatives soon struck back at the initial round of snark, painting critics as "liberal elites" who don't know or care about how families in the heartland, like the Stotlers, live, per Slate. "Please, go ahead and doubt their sincerity and question the fact they go through a lot of milk," writer Mark Hemingway posted.
  • Fact-check I: The Stotlers' milk consumption aside, the numbers overall don't add up for Forbes, which highlights commenters who point out that milk prices have been exceeding $3 a gallon since at least 2018, and that they don't believe someone bought a gallon of milk for $1.99 anytime this year.
  • Fact-check II: Aaron Gordon gets even deeper into the weeds for Vice, noting he does think it's possible someone could've purchased a gallon for $1.99 in 2021, taking advantage of sales or coupons, perhaps. But he still thinks CNN gets it wrong by linking dairy prices to inflation. "Ironically, dairy is actually benefiting from among the lowest rates of inflation at the moment, with the (Bureau of Labor Statistics) reporting dairy prices have risen just .6 percent over the last 12 months."
  • If not inflation, what? While Gordon doesn't think inflation is the problem, he does point the finger at the Consumer Sentiment metric, which has taken a dive. Meaning, the Stotlers' and others' perception of the economy is affecting how much they spend, which then has tangible effects on the economy.
  • Reporter pushback: Both Keilar and McMorris-Santoro are taking heat for the segment, but they're standing firm on the reporting and lashing out at critics. "Truly remarkable number of a--holes on here attempting to dunk on a charming family who lays out how it feels to shop with price rises," McMorris-Santoro tweeted. "Very wise and cool tweets. Glad you're all weathering the economy so well!" Keilar retweeted his post.
  • Nuances: Writing for Insider, Dominick Reuter doesn't seem to think the reporters are totally off-base, saying it's important to remember that price spikes and dips can vary across the country, meaning the effects of inflation and supply-chain issues can similarly vary based on where you live. And there's also the "profound psychological aspect" that Gordon mentions: Reuter backs that theory up, noting, "Krista Stotler may have overestimated the current rate of inflation, but it's certainly believable that she and her family are feeling a very real squeeze."
(Read more milk stories.)

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