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Daily Howler: Truman's show turned out to be fake. How about Katie Couric's?
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THE COURIC SHOW (PART 1)! Truman’s show turned out to be fake. How about Katie Couric’s? // link // print // previous // next //

PUBLIC SCHOOLS RULE, OTHER SCHOOLS DROOL: Do kids learn more in private (and charter) schools? This has been an article of faith among some conservatives—and test scores have sometimes seemed to suggest that it’s true. in Saturday’s New York Times, for example, Diane Jean Schemo noted a long-standing fact about the performance of private school kids on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress):
SCHEMO: [P]rivate school students have long scored higher on the national assessment, commonly referred to as “the nation's report card.”
Those data include all private school students—kids from fancy-pants prep schools as well as those from Catholic schools. But over the years, test scores have often been used to suggest that even kids in Catholic schools learn more than their public school peers. Catholic schools rule! And public schools drool! You’ve heard it, perhaps more than once.

But readers, hold the phone! Schemo reports a major, government-financed new study which suggests that, “when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools.” The key phrase there is “comparable students;” according to Schemo, “the new study used advanced statistical techniques to adjust for the effects of income, school and home circumstances.” One result? When “adjustments were made for student backgrounds,” public school kids outscored their Catholic school counterparts in math, the only subject analyzed:

SCHEMO (1/28/06): The study, by Christopher Lubianski [sic] and Sarah Theule Lubianski [sic], of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, compared fourth- and eighth-grade math scores of more than 340,000 students in 13,000 regular public, charter and private schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress...

The study found that while the raw scores of fourth graders in Roman Catholic schools, for example, were 14.3 points higher than those in public schools, when adjustments were made for student backgrounds, those in Catholic schools scored 3.4 points lower than those in public schools.

“The study also found that charter schools, privately operated and publicly financed, did significantly worse than public schools in the fourth grade, once student populations were taken into account,” Schemo writes. Here’s a highlighted passage from the study’s “Major Findings”—a passage quoted by Schemo:
LUBIENKSI AND LUBIENSKI: Over all, demographic differences between students in public and private schools more than account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools. Indeed, after controlling for these differences, the presumably advantageous private school effect disappears, and even reverses in most cases.
Hay-yo! After adjusting for family income and other factors, public school kids did somewhat better. Aside from family income, what sorts of factors did the study adjust for? You can read the authors’ explanation starting on page 21 of the report.

In this (large) study, public school kids came out better, after adjusting for income and family literacy indicators. This clearly doesn’t end the debate about the value of charters or private school vouchers. But yes—when we compare test scores from various schools, we have to make some sort of effort to “adjust” for student demographics. Routinely, journalists fail to do so. This makes a sad joke of our public discussion. More on this topic tomorrow.

MUST-READ NYT: Mr. Sulzberger, tear down that wall! Today, Bob Herbert offers a must-read piece about the schooling of minority kids. We’ll discuss his piece later on in the week. We hope you have a way to peruse it.

Special report: The Couric Show!

PART 1—AS THE MILLIONAIRES FLOUNDER: How dumb is American political discourse? On Thursday morning’s Today show, Katie Couric—paid millions a year—was clueless on the basic facts of a widely-discussed political matter. The facts in question had been flogged for weeks. They had been the center of a two-week flap involving Post ombudsman Deborah Howell, for example. But you know how those millionaire “journalists” tend to be! Couric—paid millions—seemed utterly clueless when she spoke with irate Howard Dean:

DEAN (1/26/06): The other thing is the corruption scandals in Congress. Tom DeLay; all these folks involved in getting money—all of whom are Republicans—from Jack Abramoff. We need to, an overhaul of Congress in the worst way.

COURIC: Hey, wait a second! Democrats took money—Democrats took money from Jack Abramoff, too, Mr. Dean!

DEAN: That is absolutely false! That did not happen! Not one dime of money from Jack Abramoff went to any Repub—Democrat at any time.

At this point, any reporter with an ounce of smarts would have known what Dean was talking about. (We’ll criticize Dean later on in our series.) But Couric—paid millions—did not seem to know. Here’s how she proceeded:
COURIC (continuing directly): According—let me just tell you. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Abramoff and his associates gave $3 million to Republican and one—Republicans—and $1.5 million to Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. So this—
Duh! Couric showed no sign of understanding the distinction involved in this matter. In reciting those CRP numbers, Couric was explaining how much money Abramoff’s clients (“Abramoff and his associates”) had given to various Rep-and-Dem pols. Dean had referred to Abramoff himself. In a slightly more rational world, any reporter would have grasped this distinction. But Couric—paid millions—did not seem to do so. She ended with this hapless pledge:
COURIC: Well, we'll obviously have to look into that and clarify that for our viewers at a later date. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Dean, Governor Dean, thanks for talking with us.

DEAN: Thanks very much.

COURIC: It's 7:17. Once again here's Matt.

Did Couric know the time of day? Don’t go there! Quite plainly, she did.

Couric’s performance was utterly hapless—as would be the “clarification” presented to viewers the very next day. In a well-known recent movie, a fellow named Truman was deeply involved in an utterly fake TV show. In her hapless performance last week, was Katie just staging The Couric Show? Is her famous show real—or fake? We’ll ponder that question all week.

TOMORROW—PART 2: The next day, The Couric Show still floundered.

MUST-READ NYT: Mr. Sulzberger, tear down that wall! Today, Paul Krugman offers a must-read piece about this very matter. We’ll discuss it later on in the week. We hope you have a way to peruse it.

BUMILLER DELIVERS: Mr. Sulzberger, put up that wall! But this time, put Elisabeth Bumiller behind it! This morning, Bumiller performs her latest caddy journalism. Remember, her weekly “letter” mainly exists to transcribe the official White House self-portrait. With that basic thought in mind, here is today’s first paragraph:

BUMILLER (1/30/06): President Bush's State of the Union address was well into its 20th draft on Saturday morning when William McGurn, the director of White House speechwriting, sat down in his windowless West Wing bat cave—his description—to talk about last-minute ''cram-ins'' and the pressures of writing a speech that is supposed to help Mr. Bush pivot from a bad 2005 to a better 2006.
“His description?” You’re darn right it is! In this latest pseudo-journalistic transaction, McGurn offered a humanizing description of his office, and Bumiller rushed to type it on up. (She repeats it later in her column.) But then, today’s “White House Letter,” like so many others, keeps churning the White House’s view of their man. As McGurn continues, he keeps presenting the familiar image of George W. Bush, our Bold and Wise Leader. Throughout today’s letter, Bush is seen wisely directing his hapless staff as they assemble his State of the Union Address. In a glance, Wise Leader can see how stupid they are—and after the merest word from his humble mouth, they scurry off to correct their mistakes. We won’t bother citing examples. You can read through and enjoy them yourself.

Bumiller’s “letter” is one of the oddest newspaper artifacts of our age. By the way, who wrote the equivalent weekly feature during the eight-year Clinton presidency? Who had the assignment, during those years, of typing the weekly White House self-portrait? Duh! No one had the job in those days. As far as we have been able to tell, clowning on this ludicrous scale had not yet been invented.

DEAN BLUNDERS: Yes, it really can be frustrating, watching Howard Dean put his foot in his mouth. Yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, he hauled off and did it again:

CHRIS WALLACE (1/29/06): So if we find—and I just want to—we have to wrap this up. But if we find that there were some Democrats who wrote letters on behalf of some of the Indian tribes that Abramoff represented, then what do you say, sir?

DEAN: That's a big problem, and those Democrats are in trouble, and they should be in trouble. And our party—if the American people will put us back in power in '06, we will have on the president's desk things that outlaw all those kinds of behaviors. Right now it's a Republican scandal. Maybe they'll find that some Democrats did something wrong, too. That hasn't been the case yet. But our reforms in the Democratic Party are going to be aimed at both Democrats and Republicans. We want to clean up Congress, and we will within 100 days of the new Congress in 2007.

WALLACE: Chairman Dean, we're going to follow up on that. Thank you. Thanks so much for joining us.

Dean’s highlighted statement is endlessly foolish. (Fuller transcript below. A minute earlier, Dean had been forced to deny another dumb thing he’d just finished saying.) And sure enough, Wallace did “follow up,” twenty minutes later, as is semi-appropriate:
WALLACE: For those of you who were watching earlier on when we were talking to Governor Dean, he said that no Democrats ever did anything in response to the money that they got from Abramoff or Abramoff clients like the Indian tribes, and if they did, they were in trouble: Well, the Washington Post reports, and we have it right here, that in—they reported in November that Senator Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, wrote a letter to the interior secretary back in March 5th of 2002 opposing a casino that one of those Indian tribes opposed. In other words, he was taking the position of one of Abramoff's clients.

On March 6th, the next day, Abramoff's client, the tribal client, wrote a $5,000 check to Mr. Reid's Searchlight Leadership Fund. Mr. Reid's spokesman says there is absolutely no connection between the letter and the fund-raising, but it's worth noting that Mr. Reid's Abramoff-related total was $66,000 between 2001 and 2004. He says he's not returning any of the money because he's done nothing wrong.

Do you want to talk about that, Brit, or do you want to talk about John Kerry?

Brit preferred to talk about Kerry. But all Dems and liberals ought to be asking why the Dems can’t do better than this. Is this party trying at all? Often, their framing of issues is so inept that it seems they just can’t be.

FULLER TRANSCRIPT: First, Dean makes a foolish statement about what Abramoff “directed”—and just like that, he’s forced to pretend that he said something else. Then, he moves on to his unwise, hazy claims about Democrats “delivering anything” or “wr[iting] letters on behalf of some of the Indian tribes that Abramoff represented.” People who play the game this poorly ought to be assigned somewhere else:

WALLACE: I just want to ask you about this question of the Democratic involvement. I want to put up something from the non- partisan Center for Responsive Politics. This comes directly from their Web page, and it says, "Here is a detailed look at Abramoff's lobbying and political contributions from Abramoff, the tribes that hired him, and Sun Cruise Casinos, which is a company that Abramoff owned since 1999."

It lists recipients by the amount of money they received. Well, the top two are the Republican campaign committees. The third and fourth biggest recipients were Democratic campaign committees. And if you go down the list, Democrats received more than $1 million from Abramoff-related interests.

DEAN: There's two points to this. First of all, actually, we—the DNC actually got $100,000-some odd. Now, I can assure you Jack Abramoff never directed that money. It is possible that some of Jack Abramoff's clients may have decided on their own to give Democrats money. The key is—

WALLACE: I'm sorry, did you say—I'm sorry. Did you say that you're sure that Abramoff didn't direct them to give that money?

DEAN: No, what I said was that it is possible that some Democrats got money from some of the—yeah. No, what I'm saying is that Abramoff may not have directed some of this money toward the Democrats.

WALLACE: In fact, he did, sir. We've got evidence of that.

DEAN: But the point is that not one Democrat either knew it or acted on it. Nobody got anything out of the Democrats from Jack Abramoff. No Democrat delivered anything, and there's no accusation and no investigation that any Democrat ever delivered anything to Jack Abramoff. And that's not true of the Republicans.

WALLACE: So if we find—and I just want to—we have to wrap this up. But if we find that there were some Democrats who wrote letters on behalf of some of the Indian tribes that Abramoff represented, then what do you say, sir?

DEAN: That's a big problem, and those Democrats are in trouble, and they should be in trouble. And our party—if the American people will put us back in power in '06, we will have on the president's desk things that outlaw all those kinds of behaviors. Right now it's a Republican scandal. Maybe they'll find that some Democrats did something wrong, too. That hasn't been the case yet. But our reforms in the Democratic Party are going to be aimed at both Democrats and Republicans. We want to clean up Congress, and we will within 100 days of the new Congress in 2007.

WALLACE: Chairman Dean, we're going to follow up on that. Thank you. Thanks so much for joining us.

Many liberals love Howard Dean. But he’s utterly hapless at this task, and he shouldn’t be sent out to do it.

WHERE THEY START: Digby! Digby! Dig-ster! Mr. Digg! This is the type of self-pitying piffle that can make a mass movement seem silly:

DIGBY: What I learned on Press the Meat this morning:

The Republicans' numbers are in the dirt but they are going to win decisively on the optimistic issues of endless war and endless debt. The Democrats' numbers are substantially better but they will never win anything because they are icky.

The NSA illegal spying scandal is good for Republicans because there is no evidence that the president has ever used it for political purposes.

No word on the federal case against two close presidential advisors who are accused of exposing a clandestine CIA agent for political purposes.

That summary—mainly of the roundtable segment—is too silly for words. Clearly, people who say that we Dems aren’t religious haven’t watched as we preach to the choir.

For ourselves, we’ll lodge a specific complaint about a fairly innocuous panel. At one point, Russert and Broder recited a new and familiar group tale:

RUSSERT (1/29/06): Let me turn to the race for the White House. You heard Senator Frist suggest that he’s considering running for president. The Gallup poll went out this week about Hillary Clinton—and drew a lot of comment around the country—“Would you vote for Hillary Clinton for president? Definitely, 16 percent. Maybe, 32 percent. Definitely not, 51 percent.” Does that tell us anything at this point of the race, David?

BRODER: Well, it tells us she carries a lot of baggage if she decides to run for president. She has become a very adept politician, as you know, and so I don’t discount her potential. But she doesn’t start at the same place as everybody else does. People have an opinion about her and about her husband that they will bring into the race with her.

Poor Hillary! She doesn’t start at the same place as everyone else! Indeed, just moments later, Russert and Kelly O’Donnell found themselves sharing a typical Darling Condi Moment:
RUSSERT: The president said the other day that this is a wide open race, the most wide open he’s ever seen. Does he have any kind of wink, or nudge towards any Republicans?

O’DONNELL: Well, he was very careful because he knows that anything he says will influence the process. I think if he could get Condoleezza Rice to run he’d be happy about that, but we know where she stands on it.

RUSSERT: Whoa, that’s going to set the blogs a-running there, Kelly! Kelly O’Donnell, David Broder, Roger Simon, Byron York. We’ll be right back.

Why did O’Donnell get this site a-runnin’? Because we know that Rice was also polled when Hillary cranked those baggage-like numbers. In fact, Gallup polled just these two women—and their numbers were very similar! You can barely find this fact in the press, and Gallup has now moved the poll behind its subscribers-only wall. But in the poll, 46 percent of voters said that they would definitely not vote for Condi! Yes, the difference is within the margin of error. But the consummate hacks who make up your “press corps” keep reciting the Hillary number—and they’ve deep-sixed the number for Rice. Meanwhile, they just keep saying how great it would be if Condi would run for the White House.

Here is the single paragraph Gallup still gives us for free. David Moore does the honors:

MOORE: A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds the two women who are most frequently mentioned as potential presidential candidates for their respective parties are each opposed by about half the electorate. Registered voters are about evenly divided as to whether they might vote for New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton or definitely vote against her. Registered voters are also evenly divided in their views of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, though Rice fares slightly better.
We’ll go ahead and restate those numbers. 51 percent say they won’t vote for Hill—and 46 percent say they won’t vote for Condi. But so what? One of the numbers has been pimped to the skies—while the other number has been sent to the dumpster. Indeed, so it went yesterday as a panel of scribes staged the famous, real-or-fake Russert Show.

WHAT CLOWNS WE MORTALS BE: According to Nexis, only one newspaper has printed the number for Rice. And just to enjoy a good, hearty laugh, check the way Michael McAuliff (New York Daily News) stressed the startling “contrast” between Hillary and Darling Condi:

MCAULIFF (1/25/06): There's one giant roadblock standing between Sen. Hillary Clinton and any hopes she may have of moving back to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 2008.

A new poll out yesterday says more than half the country's voters definitely wouldn't vote for the New York Democrat to become President.

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll says 51% of registered voters "would definitely not vote" for Clinton, while just 16% said they definitely would, and 32% said they would consider it.

That contrasted with 46% who said they would oppose Secretary of State Rice if she ran for President—a step Rice has repeatedly said she won't take.

Can human beings get any dumber? If humanly possible, surely our “journalists” will yodel from that mountaintop first.
LET US SAY THIS ABOUT THAT: On one point (and only one), Kevin Drum has been over-thinking. Is TV’s President Charles Logan a Republican? Kevin has now asked the question two times. But Logan isn’t just any Republican—it’s fairly clear which one he is. David Zurawik, in the Baltimore Sun:
ZURAWIK (1/15/06): Gregory Itzin's depiction of President Charles Logan as a shifty political creature representing many of the culture's worst characteristics also has great resonance. From the angry glares under furrowed brows to the herky-jerky arm movements of a martinet, Itzin has the late President Richard Nixon down cold.
A half-dozen TV critics have noticed—and they’ve also noticed that Logan’s wife seems to be very much like Martha Mitchell. For our money, Itzin’s opening-weekend impression was so heavy-handed that it damaged the program.

For himself, Itzin is offering a limited hang-out. Recently, he shook his jowls for Alex Strachan of the Ottawa Citizen:

STRACHAN (1/21/06): In real life, 24's President Charles Logan, a.k.a. President Scaredy-Cat, has a wife and two children, three dogs and four cats, and golfs with an 11 handicap.

San Francisco stage actor Gregory Itzin also bears an uncanny physical resemblance to former United States president Richard Nixon, himself no slouch on the golf course during his retirement years.

"The Nixon thing is just genetics," Itzin says. "The receding hairline sort of plays into it”...

Itzin has not looked to any real Washington, D.C., figures for inspiration, he says.

"I'm not modeling myself after anyone. When I was first approached, they said they weren't sure where the character was going. I gave them choices from semi-strong leader of men to abject coward, and they always kept writing for the coward.

"I suppose it's a luxury to think about parallels to leaders of the past. I know that when I do something (like) this"—he holds up his arms—"it's sort of reminiscent of this"—he holds up his arms and forms the "V" sign with his fingers—but that's not really intentional. That's just genetics again."

“I’m not doing Nixon,” Itzin says—reminding us of the former Republican president who said we weren’t bombing Cambodia.