SHE SPIES! Bob Herbert typed an old novel. A writer of childrens books balked: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MARCH 5, 2010
Tomorrow: Tomorrow, a special cultural uplift edition, including the worlds greatest movies.
Down with Hatch/Or, you cant spell Orrin without it: Now that the week is over, its time to pop a basic question. Exactly how bad was that column by Orrin Hatch, the one in the Washington Post? (Just click here.)
The piece appeared in Tuesdays paper. Hatch argued that it would be wrong to use the process known as reconciliation in the case of our current proposed health reform. The headline on his piece said this: Reconciliation on health care would be an assault to the democratic process.
Just how bad was Hatchs piece? In yesterdays Post, E. J. Dionne rattled off the two most obvious problems. First, Hatchs piece suggested that reconciliation would be used to pass the health bill as a whole. In fact, the process will only be used to pass a series of amendments that fit comfortably under the reconciliation rules established to deal with money issues, Dionne wrote.
Second, Dionne noted the grossly misleading way Hatch quoted Senators Conrad and Byrd. Each solon has said that its OK to pass amendments through reconciliation. Misleadingly, Hatch quoted things they said last year, when each solon said that it would be wrong to pass the whole bill that way.
These were obvious problems with Hatchs column. Neither problem was mentioned Tuesday night, when Rachel Maddow attacked poor Orrin. Maddow was full of her usual complete total certainty and full righteous fervor. Also as usual, she missed the most obvious problems with Hatchs column. Substituting, she loudly churned some plainly illogical claims.
Thrills did run up liberal legs. But this process occurs on Fox every night. Is it really good enough for our side?
What was wrong with Maddows analysis? Before she started in on poor Orrin, she let poor Lamar Alexander have it. Sorry. This analysis made no earthly sense, despite the ladys sense of complete total absolute certainty:
For the record, Maddows factual statement about Alexander is accurateif by many, many times you actually mean four times. (Alexander entered the Senate in 2003. By now, this type of blatant overstatement has become Classic Maddow.) That said, Alexander hasnt said that every use of reconciliation represents a political kamikaze missionhe has predicted that this use would have that effect for Democrats in November, because opposition to the health reform bill is so strong. Maddows critique didnt make any sensethough it was stated with total assurance.
Maddow made the same logical error when she started in on poor Orrin. She didnt mention his bungled premise about passing the whole bill by reconciliation. She didnt mention the way he misquoted Senators Conrad and Byrd. (Professional courtesy?) Instead, she started with this. Sorry. This too makes no sense:
Sorry, that doesnt make sense. In the passage Maddow quotes, Hatch doesnt say that any use of reconciliation would be wrong; obviously, that would make no sense whatever. (Reconciliation was specifically created, in 1974, to be used in certain kinds of cases. It was invented to be used.) In a clumsily written sentence, Hatch says the procedure would wreak havoc in a case like the current casein a bill which is strongly opposed by the public, in a bill of this scope. (In his previous sentence, Hatch has described the health reform bill as a bill that would affect one-sixth of the American economy.) Personally, we dont find Hatch persuasive here, but Maddows logic is thoroughly AWOL. In this thundering passage, shes making the same type of error she made when she fact-checked poor Lamar.
As she continues, Maddow thunders with massive complete total certainty. Thrills ran up every liberal leg. But her analysis still didnt make sense:
Crikey. Maddow quotes Hatch saying that both parties have used reconciliationbut only when the bills in question stuck close to dealing the budget, or in cases in which other substantive legislation was included, where the legislation had significant bipartisan support. But alas! For her refutation of Hatchs claim, Maddow presents the 2003 Bush tax cuts, a bill whichdrum roll pleasestuck close to dealing the budget! By the way: Did those tax cuts explode the deficit? Wed call that a bit of a stretch. (The 2001 cuts were the really big ones.) But at no point did Maddow attempt to explain why that would even be relevant.
For the record, this was Maddows thundering finish. Her analysis only got worse:
But was that 2005 bill a big substantive bill? Was it major legislation, dealing with matters apart from the budget? According to Wikipedia, the bill in questionThe Deficit Reduction Act of 2005"saves nearly $40 billion over five years from mandatory spending programs through slowing the growth in spending for Medicare and Medicaid, changing student loan formulas, and other measures.
It saved nearly $40 billion over five years? Was that a big bill? And by the way: Big or not, wasnt that an obvious budget bill? It also seems to have been a bill which actually reduced the deficit, to adopt the framework Maddow introduced but didnt explain.
In her thundering screed about Hatch, Maddow did what she often does. She preached with absolute moral assurance, yelling lie and lying throughout. She did this even though she skipped past the most obvious problems with Hatchs piece, substituting a set of claims in which her logic was persistently AWOL.
This sort of thing happens on Fox every night. In fact, it lies at the heart of Fox. It defines the dumbness now sweeping our political culture. Is it good enough for our side?
Final question: Was Dionne right in his third, final complaint about Hatch? In this passage, Dionne makes an argument which is similar to Maddows wider, louder set of complaints:
Sorry. Even Dionne seems to be bungling what Hatch said, even though we agree with his general conclusion. (We know of no obvious argument against using reconciliation in the manner proposed, unless Alexander turns out to be right about the political backlash.) Hatch seemed to say that reconciliation could be used in two types of cases. He seemed to say it could be used when the bills in question stuck close to dealing with the budget. Or it could be used in another type of case, he seemed to say: In instances in which other substantive legislation is included, he said the process could be used if the legislation ha[s] significant bipartisan support.
No one has to accept this framework. But to refute it, Dionne cites the 2001 tax cutsa case in which the bill in question stuck close to dealing with the budget! People! Does it all depend on what the meaning of or is? You cant spell Orrin without it!
We dont think Hatch made a strong case. Beyond that, he made at least two glaring misstatements. In particular, he quoted Conrad and Byrd in a blatantly dishonest way. (For the record, Maddow tends to quote the other tribes people in this very same way. )
But good grief! We liberals are eager to shriek and wail. We especially love to yell lie and lying. Its hard to believe that we have to cut corner to manufacture complaints about GOP conduct. But were increasingly willing to do so to give ourselves that pleasure.
This is the nature of life on Fox. Increasingly, Maddows shtick drifts that way too. Its hard to believe that you have to cut corners to come up with complaints about GOP conduct. But certain people will persistently do that. It makes their followers dumb.
Thats the way life is lived on Fox. Is it really good enough for our side? In a badly devolving culture, does this constitute good citizenship?
In the long run, is this really good politics? This crap has worked well for the other side. Will it really work well for ours?
SHE SPIES: Lets start with a standard disclaimer: Until shown otherwise, we assume that Deborah Kenny is a superlative, admirable person. We assume the kids who go to her schools are getting an excellent deal.
Who the heck is Deborah Kenny? She founded, and runs, the Harlem Village Academies, a trio of charter schools in New York. Bob Herbert spilled with praise for her program in his February 22 column in the New York Times.
Until shown otherwise, we assume that Kennys schools are a great deal for the kids who attend them. But it actually matters if people like Herbert know how to evaluate schools of this kind. But alas! We thought his column maintained a decades-long tradition of unhelpful novelization about low-income schools.
Herbert visited Kennys middle school. He was impressed by what he saw. Indeed, city kids are getting a very good deal when they attend schools like this:
Kids are lucky when they go to such purposeful schools. But how did Kennys school get that way? More important, how easily can this atmosphere be replicated on a large scale? In our view, Herbert buys the pooch when he starts talking with Kenny. He recites her theories as if they were written in stone and hauled down from a mountain. Before long, hes offering this:
This is a very familiar novel. It has been typed by credulous scribes for more than four decades now. The kids entered fifth grade three to four years behind, Herbert somewhat improbably says. Within a very short time, they were headed for college. In 2008, as eighth graders, they achieved 100 percent proficiency in math and science.
Do you believe in miracles? This makes educational miracles sound rather easy. True-believing journalists have been typing this novel for lo, these many years.
When Herberts column appeared, we looked up the official state report about this school. Today, through the miracles of New Yorks state bureaucracy, the state report cards seem to be unavailable on-line. But this is what we found when we checkedalthough were forced to work from memory:
Yes, 100 percent of Kennys eighth-graders passed the 2008 math test. But only 30 kids were tested in eighth grade that year. (This school has a very small enrollment.) The year before, 41 kids had been tested in the schools seventh grade.
What happened to the eleven kids? Do some of this schools lower-achieving kids leave before they get to eighth grade? We have no idea, and again, were working from memory today when it comes to those numbers. But these are the kinds of questions a journalist should ask before he runs off to type that novel. Sorry! For decades, people like Herbert have done something different. Theyve spent a few hours walking through urban schools, then gone home to type what theyve been told. This is irresponsible journalism.
Can lessons be drawn from Kennys schools? We dont have the slightest idea, in part because Herbert doesnt have the first clue. But Kennys enrollment is very smalland all her kids, and all their parents, have all agreed to take part in her demanding program. (Good for them!) It isnt clear that this tells us much about the way the wider population of kids can be educated. Although were sure that the kids at this school are getting a very good deal.
A few days after Herberts column appeared, a letter appeared in the New York Times. Its writer asked some tough, direct questionsthe kinds of question a person should ask about a school like Kennys:
The letter came from Jean Marzollo, author of the I Spy series. For our money, the highlighted questions dont quite reach the heart of the situation. (Example: When kids volunteer for a demanding program like Kennys, they are cherry-picking themselves.) But that one naughty question (Was there test prep?) especially warmed our cockles.
Marzollo congratulates Kenny; we do too. We assume her kids are getting a very good deal. But were now in at least the fifth decade of know-nothing columns like the one Herbert offered. Its stunning to see how our journalism worksrather, this thing which resides in its place.
As we were saying/Central Falls edition: Hay-yo! Yesterday, the New York Times published an AP report about the mass firing at Central Falls High (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/10). The AP included more data about the schools passing rates. Look what the AP wrote:
Say what? Only 7 percent passed the math test, as everyone and his uncle has said by now. But 55 percent passed the reading test! This is a very unusual pattern. Normally, schools can bring up passing rates of low-income kids (especially second language kids) with more ease in math.
This suggests that the states math test is unusually hard. But again: None of these data tell us much about Central Falls until were told what the passing rates are for the state as a whole.
Those comparison data should be in every report. So far, weve never seen them.