FRIDAY, APRIL 11, 2003
GENERAL SPINNING: Heres a question wed rather not have to ask: What explains Morton Kondrackes slide into his current rank demagogy? Here he was on Wednesdays Special Report, trashing the New York Times Johnny Apple:
KONDRACKE (4/9/03): Poor Johnny Apple has been so wrong about this because he has a Vietnam quagmire image of what happens when America goes to war. I mean he was Vietnam War correspondent and he cant get that defeat out of his head.Poor Johnny Apple, the scribe sadly said, taking part in a bit of group dissembling. In fact, Apple had declared Iraq a military success in that days New York Times; there was no quagmire in his view of events (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/10/03). But Brit Hume and the gang were pretending otherwise, furthering the rank propaganda campaign they now routinely perform on Report. And Kondracke, of course, knew enough to say quagmire. Its a standard spin-point for those who would say that the liberal press is being defeatist. Poor Johnny Apple had actually said that the war in Iraq had now been won. But on Reportwith Morton doing the honorsApple was still stuck in the mire. Fox viewers? They were being misled.
But Apple wasnt the only guy getting slimed on Wednesdays Report; retired general Barry McCaffrey was taking some incoming too. After Kondracke warned Dems to avoid Wesley Clarkhes been a doomsayer about this from the beginninghe also strafed McCaffrey. McCaffrey has changed his tune from time to time, Kondracke saidand he and Brit then shared some mots about how fickle the feckless general had been. He switched when we started to getting into trouble because he doesnt like Don Rumsfeld, Mort said.
But then, McCaffrey is now a nightly target for the gunners on Special Report. The problem began on April 1. On that day, General Myers complained about armchair generals who were critiquing the Pentagon war plan. At Special Report, the vaunted all-stars quickly adopted the Official Approved White House Spin-Points. McCaffrey was soon getting spun:
KONDRACKE (4/1/03): Well, actually, I talked to General Barry McCaffrey after that Myers appearance and he was not backing down. He still thinks that the forces were too light that went inThis time, it was poor old McCaffrey taking the grief. And, as pundits on Special Report now often do when they want to slime a prime target, Hume implied that McCaffrey was mentally ill. Is this man OK? the brave pundit asked. (For another example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/3/02. This time, Gore was mentally ill, with Charles Krauthammer providing diagnosis.)
But Humechallenging a retired generals mental fitnesshad been up to his old tricks again. According to Hume, McCaffrey had written, in the Journal, that this is all going so swimmingly and that were winning and this is great and all that. But once again, Hume was baldly misleading his viewers. Heres some of what McCaffrey had said his Journal piece:
MCCAFFREY: The rolling start concept of the attack dictated by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has put us in a temporarily risky position.We will succeed in this battle because of the bravery and skill of our soldiers, McCaffrey concluded. But Humes presentation completely miscast what the general had actually said. But Special Report is now pure propagandaand McCaffrey had challenged the Fox Networks patrons. When you do that, youll soon take some rounds. Were surprised to see Morton so occupied.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In January 2000, when no one else would, Kondracke stood up to Approved Press Corps Cant. What ever happened to that Morton K? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02.
STILL SPINNING: On Special Report, the potshots at McCaffrey continue apace. Last night, Fred Barnes did the honors, offering up this stupid comment about the state of affairs in Iraq:
BARNES: Donald Rumsfeld said, as he did up on the Hill just a few minutes ago that it may be Mosul [falling to Coalition forces] tomorrow. A city a day. Thats pretty good. I guess there are enough troops. These cities seem to be falling. And I sure hopeThe Beltway boy was feeling good, and he got in the requisite lick at McCaffrey. Of course, looting transpires all over Iraq, and humanitarian problems spread. Anyone think we could use a few troops to help pit a lid on the mayhem? Meanwhile, what was up with Morts April 9 trashing of Clark? Is it true? Has Clark been a doomsayer? Heres what he said on April 1, when other generals were knocking the war plan:
CLARK (4/1/03): I think the troops and all the people over there, the commanders, have done an absolutely superb job, a sensational job. And I think the results speak for themselves.I think the troops have done a sensational job, Clark said. I think the results speak for themselves. On Report, of course, this makes him a doomsayer, with all-stars sounding grave warnings:
KONDRACKE (4/9/03): Wesley Clark, who wants to be vice president of the United Statesthe Democratic Party should think very carefully about taking advice from Wesley Clark, who has been a doomsayer about this from the beginning.But then, Special Report is now pure propaganda. Johnny Apple has been duly strafed, and McCaffrey and Clarkpresumed to be Demsmust be filled full of lead too.
The Daily update
THE FORGOTTEN VILLAGE: Weve received varied reactions to Marc Fishers portrait of a troubled D.C. elementary school. Our point in this is fairly simple. We cant draw sweeping conclusions from one report about one school. But we were surprised by Fishers piece, because newspapers shy away from such efforts, which take us inside our dysfunctional urban schools and help us see the miserable deal urban children are actually getting.
Generally, newspapers prefer upbeat reports about urban schools that [allegedly] work. They will go to schools where test scores have risen and try to guess why that has happened. But only feel-good speculation need apply; reporters never try to learn if the testing programs have been gimmicked in some way, although test fraud has been routinely documented all across the country (links below). Nor did Fisher try to limn achievement levels at the school he studied. On that point, well repeat what we said on Tuesday; wed bet the house that teacher Josh Kaplowitzs fifth-grade kids werent reading as well as he thought (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/8/03).
Our urban schools have long been forgotten, abandoned by a crusading press which used to clamor for their improvement. In the fall of 1969, we ourselves began a twelve-year career in Baltimores city schools. And we had an experience with our first group of fifth graders that we have never forgotten.
Late in the year, we showed a filma drama called The Forgotten Village The screenplay had been written by John Steinbeck; the setting was a dusty, rural, Mexican village, where the children were dying of a mysterious illness. The one village teacher had heard of germs, and he suspected that water from the village well was causing the terrible illness. But the village shaman began a propaganda campaign, and the parents turned against the teacher. Before he was forced to leave the village, the teacher gave a bit of advice to his brightest student (the student could sense that the teacher was right and that the elders were probably wrong). Youll have to go away to the city and study hard before you can help your village, he said. The student would have to gain many skills before he could return and stop children from dying.
The children in our fifth-grade class were enraged by what they saw. They couldnt believe that a group of parents would let their children die so foolishly. In our subsequent years in the Baltimore schools, we never saw a group of kids respond so strongly to any event. And years later, when we understood urban schools a bit better, an odd thought finally entered our mind. We began to wonder if those children had seen themselves in that filmif they had somehow known that they too were living in a forgotten village, with their life prospects draining away as their community didnt step in to help them.
Newspapers almost never do what Fisher did in this report. In our view, theres little we can learn from this piece about whats fixably wrong in our urban schools (some things are). But our modern press corps rarely bothers with topics like this. To visit another forgotten village, spend some time with this tragic report.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Cheating on standardized tests has been rampant for years, although the press almost always pretends not to know it. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/01. For other reports on related topics, enter Cannell, NAEP, KIPP or Rand into one of our plupotent engines.