Singer and actress Bette Midler received a round of boos on Twitter Inc TWTR after volunteering the idea that American women impacted by the ongoing baby formula shortage turn to breastfeeding.
What Happened: Midler responded to a tweet by MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, who observed, “The baby formula shortage reveals an amazing secret oligopoly: 3 American companies control over 90% of the mkt; hugely restrictive regulations (thanks to big $ lobbying) prohibit foreign formulas. Name another industry/sector/product like this.”
Midler responded to Ruhle’s comments by opining, “TRY BREASTFEEEDING! It’s free and available on demand” — and that comment quickly generated her worst audience response since her Razzie-nominated “Isn’t She Great,” with many prominent women voicing their anger.
Clara Jeffery, editor-in-chief of Mother Jones and president of the American Society of Magazine Editors, tweeted in response to Midler, “Extremely, profoundly even, disappointed that you're taking this line. Yes, the monopolies are real and @Nestle in particular has had evil practices. But that doesn't mean that breast-only (or even at all) is doable for many many women.”
Ilyse Hogue, president of the nonprofit Purpose and author of “The Lie that Binds,” tweeted, “Bette, respectfully, this is a very bad take. I had twins. I didn’t produce enough milk for both. Without formula, I would have had to have chosen which one got to eat. To say nothing of kids that get separated from the birth mothers very young.”
Emmy-winning producer and “Chalked Up” author Jennifer Sey tweeted, “This is profoundly insensitive. First, there are a million reasons why some women can't nurse at all, or can't nurse full time & supplement with formula. Second, women don't even need a 'reason'. She can decide not to just because she doesn't want to. Period. Third, if she hasn't up til now, she can't just start at any time. It's not like turning on a spigot. The 'breastfeeding wars' are just another example of the class divide. It's elite WFH class judging those who can't or don't breastfeed full time.”
And Midler found no favor with male Twitter users: Graham Allen, host of the “Dear America Podcast,” summarized the male response when he tweeted, “This is truly something a stupid/uneducated person would say….”
Midler responded to the criticism by doubling down on her remarks, tweeting, “People are piling on because of former tweet. No shame if you can’t breastfeed, but if you can & are somehow convinced that your own milk isn’t as good as a “scientifically researched product”, that’s something else again. The monopoly news is news to me, tho, no lie. #WETNURSES.”
Why It Happened: The “monopoly news” Midler referred to was predicated in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s action in March that expanded its recall of Abbott Nutrition’s baby food products after a child died following an infection traced to the company’s products. Abbott Nutrition, the food industry leader for this product, is a unit of Abbott Laboratories ABT.
With much of the Abbott Nutrition product line off the shelves, ongoing supply chain disruptions have impacted the availability of baby formula products from other manufacturers including Danone DANOY, Kraft Heinz Co KHC, Nestlé ADR NSRGY and Perrigo Company PLC PRGO.
As for Midler, she moved beyond the ruckus she stirred up with the baby formula shortage news and this morning offered a condemnation of her country by sharing a New York Times Co NYT headline of the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, while tweeting, “This country is a disgrace.”
Photo: Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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