WHEN PUNDITS PRODUCE WIDER CONTEXT! David Gregory tried to analyze Sotomayors now-famous statement: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 1, 2009
Every man a king: Everyones an expert when it comes to the public schools! We thought of that foundational precept when we read this op-ed piece from Saturdays Washington Post.
10 Steps to World-Class Schools, said the confident headline. This was the authors fourth step:
Yeah! Thatll show them! If faculties dont simply erase our historical problems, well simply void their contracts! Well simply take over their schools! Unfortunately, in Steps 7 and 10, the authors go on to say this:
By the end of fourth grade, some low-income kids are so far behind they can never catch up. (How many low-income kids are in this fix? The authors never quite say.) And not only that! In the struggling schools these children attend, faculties don't know how to improve things. But so what? If you teach these kids in eighth grade and they dont succeed, we are going to void your contract! (Even though theyre so far behind that we know theyll never catch up.) We will then take over your school and well dowhat, exactly?
Technically, these steps dont quite self-contradict. By real world standards, they do. By the way: What kind of technical training would the authors provide to faculties where the kids are failing? Funny, aint it? In all the space they gobble up, the giants never quite say.
This is perfect garbage work, of a type found all over the upper-end press. The authors pretend that we have a known cure. What is it? They never quite say.
Part 1When pundits provide wider context: To his modest credit, David Gregory tried.
During her seventeen years on the bench, Sonia Sotomayor once made a statement which may not have parsed all that perfectly. Plucked from a 17-year career, those 32 words have become the focus of complaints about her nomination to the Supreme Court.
To his credit, David Gregory has heard that statements like that deserve to be put in context. Result? At the start of yesterdays Meet the Press, he endeavored to do just that. We present his text, with its marked deletions, as it appears in his programs official transcript. In this presentation, Gregory sought to put Sotomayors famous 32 words in wider context:
Nothing is exactly wrong with this attempt to present fuller context. And yet, the analysts marveled at the way our multimillionaire pundits perform at moments like this.
Without question, Gregory did present wider context for Sotomayors famous remark. He presented comments which surround the remark, in the very lecture from which its been plucked. He even included a bit of context that may be relevant to the complaint about Sotomayorthe charge that she may not be willing to set aside [her] personal and political and biases of any kind and give an objective ruling on the law and on the facts. (Were quoting language from Senator Sessions reply to Gregory.)
Is Sotomayor willing to set aside her personal biases? Is she willing to rule on the basis of law, not on the basis of personal preference? All last week, that question was raisedand one part of Gregorys wider context might even speak to that question, if only vaguely. (My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar.) But good grief! If Gregory had read to the end of Sotomayors lecture, he would have found her speaking directly to the question which has been widely raised. (For the full text of the lecture, click here.) He would have found her saying this about the way she judgesabout what she thinks every day:
That statement also exists in a larger context within that lecture. But it comes closer to addressing last weeks central question than any bits of wider context Gregory managed to find.
Gregory tried to put Sotomayors 32 words into wider context. In our view, he did a rather poor job. But at the top levels of American discourse, pundits rarely use their analytical skills when faced with the latest Scripted Group Narrative; they tend to bat the complaints around, then head for the nearest watering hole. In the process, their analytical skills tend to wither and die. When they try to use such skills, the rust will often show.
Gregory tried to produce wider context; in our view, he did a poor job. Is Sotomayor willing to reign in her assumptions/presumptionsher biases? Is she willing to rule on the basis of law? In that very same lecture in 2001, she specifically said that shes willing to do sothat she is reminded of that obligation every single day! But weve seen no pundit cite that statement as they try to put Sotomayors famous comment in context. And sadly, many big stars gong straight ahead, the way Bob Schieffer robotically did at the start of Face the Nation:
No attempt at wider context here! Schieffer wanted to get right to it! So he simply repeated the 32 words, omitting one word in the process (wise). It was left to Kyl, a Republican senator, to raise the issue of wider context. He said this: Bob, Im sure she will argue that you have to look at the entire context of her speech. Kyl added: And I think thats a fair point.
Schieffer didnt try to provide wider context. Gregory triedbut did so poorly. But then, it has been a very long time since your national press corps really tried to analyze questions like this. More typically, they take a script; pretend to discuss it; then head off to somebodys brunch.
For decades, a small and unenlightened mafia has been in charge of your national discourse. They intermarry and reproduce; increasingly, their children inherit their posts. But their technical skills are remarkably weak, as is often the case when small mafias rule. This unfortunate fact was remarkably clear in last weeks hapless discussions.
TOMORROWPART 2: Facts are stubborn things! Unless youre watching This Week.