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Daily Howler: Will the press corps reject the Hillary slime? Yes, they will--if you force them
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YOU’LL HAVE TO USE FORCE! Will the press corps reject the Hillary slime? Yes, they will—if you force them: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 8, 2005

WHERE DO THEY FIND THEM: “There is nothing novel about blathering on,” Stacy Schiff writes. And then, the pundit proceeds to prove it. In her first replacement column for Maureen Dowd, Shiff manages to hit “invented the Internet,” “what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” and the troubling length of Bill Clinton’s book. She also works in a mention of Clinton’s sex life, and she can’t stop herself—she even cites Paris Hilton. Do you know anyone this inane? Where does our foppish press elite go to find these people?

YOU’LL HAVE TO USE FORCE: A thousand cheers to Media Matters for its quick responses to The Truth About Hillary, Edward Klein’s ironically-titled new book. As promised, Klein has published the latest slimy Hillary-trasher, and Matters has started pointing out the book’s factual and spiritual problems. And the site has asked an obvious question, a central question of our age: What kind of judgment will the press corps use in responding to this trash-can book? In 1996, Larry Sabato criticized the “terrible judgment” the press corps used in its handling of Gary Aldrich’s crackpot Clinton-trashing best-seller. “We'll soon see if the U.S. media exercises better judgment” with regard to Klein, Media Matters has said.

But liberals, Dems, progressives and centrists can’t wait to find out how the press corps responds; they have to demand “better judgment.” For the mainstream press corps, it’s time to decide; will they continue their cowardly conduct—the conduct that extended through the treatment of Clinton and Gore right up to the crackpot Swift Boat Vets? Or will they finally get up on their feet and reject the Ed Kleins of the world? Predictably, Klein is now playing the lesbian card, and every mainstream reporter in Washington knows that this is pure garbage. But will these gut-bucket cowards have the courage to stand up and actively challenge this garbage? Will they know find the strength to resist? They’ll only resist if they’re forced.

For the record, on last evening’s Special Report, we saw what these gut-bucket cowards are facing. Brit Hume’s descent to disgrace continued as he hyped a portion of the Klein book. We note that invented anonymous sources are suddenly back in vogue on this program:

HUME (6/7/05): Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late New York Democrat, who helped—in 2000, helped Hillary Clinton win the Senate seat he was vacating, actually disdained Clinton! That according to a new book by the journalist Edward Klein entitled, The Truth About Hillary Clinton. The book says that Moynihan’s wife Liz, who managed her husband’s campaigns, also felt this way and complained to a friend that Clinton was a quote “duplicitous and ruthless woman” who would quote “do and say anything that would further her ambition. She can look you straight in the eye and lie,” unquote. A Clinton spokesman calls the book quote “fiction” and Moynihan’s daughter says it’s quote “utterly and completely wrong.” Liz Moynihan could not be reached for comment.
As anyone can see, Klein’s alleged “source”—that anonymous “friend”—is amazingly good at channeling stock RNC attack-points. Just like Candidate Gore before her, Hillary is “willing to do and say anything.” And just like Candidate Gore before her, Hillary Clinton is a liar—and she’s “ruthless.” This, of course, is pure scripted cant, straight from an RNC fantasy shop. These statements came from “a Moynihan friend” the same way your cable guy wrote War and Peace. This is a script for the mooing talk-show right. And everyone in Washington knows it.

But will the cowards of the mainstream press corps dare to stand up and say so? They very much want to be rich and famous, with fancy homes among the swells of Nantucket. They want to get their mugs on TV, and they very much don’t want to be the target of Scaife-style attacks. (Translation: They don’t want to get Okrented.) And powerhouses like the slimy Chris Matthews are already out there sliming Clinton. Last night, Matthews was in standard form, saying that Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean have been playing “dueling banjos” of late. A month ago, he noted how much his press corps has always “hated” HRC.

Will the gut-bucket cowards of the mainstream press reject the muck and slime this time? Will they reject the Edward Kleins? Almost surely no, they will not—unless they’re actively forced. They know exactly what Edward Klein is, and they understand the gut-bucket slime involved in that thigh-rubbing lesbian stuff. But so what? They care about their bloated, “upper middle class” salaries—and about their fine dinner parties. If you want them to show “better judgment,” you will have to actively force them—and you’ll have to force the young “liberal spokesmen” who might pressure these people from below. Left on their own, these fiery young “liberals” won’t take on Matthews; they want to get rich and famous on Hardball. They’ve sold you out every step of the way, first with Clinton, then with Gore, then with the idiot Swift Boat attacks. And they’ll refuse to speak for you now—unless you force them to act.

You can’t sit back and see what occurs. Starting today, you have to insist that they create a new order in Washington. For more than a decade, this mainstream press has shown “terrible judgment” in the way it’s treated the Edward Kleins of the world. They know what Klein is—but they’re gut-bucket foppists. You’re going to have to force them to change. You’re going to have to yell at these people, and you’re going to have to start yelling now.

Once again, many thanks to Media Matters for taking the lead on this matter. But where are the rest of our fiery liberal heroes? When will we hear them name names?

Special report—Fools for non-scandal!

PART 2—THE ENDLESS SUMMER: Yes, we at THE HOWLER were pleased—and shocked—when the Times’ David Herszenhorn got it right in his report about New York’s rising test scores (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/05). After three or four decades of testing scandals, Herszenhorn reported what skeptics were saying in the wake of the most recent breakthrough in New York City’s public schools. Yes, city test scores had gone up, but Herszenhorn wasn’t leaving it there. “Skeptics were quick to raise many questions,” he wrote, “including whether this year's tests were easier and whether the schools spent too much time on exam preparation.” He even quoted a Democratic mayoral candidate who “asked whether the results might have been raised by excluding low-performing students from taking the test, or through other maneuvers.” We don’t have the slightest idea whether Manhattan’s kids are reading better this year, but after four decades of documented cheating through a wide range of such “maneuvers,” these are obvious questions to ask. We just never thought we’d see them in print. Amazingly, Herszenhorn got it right.

Because no, you never see these questions raised when some city or state has a testing breakthrough. And let's face it, there’s no dearth of such pleasing breakthroughs; they seem to go on all the time. Indeed, New York has been having such breakthroughs for decades. As part of Herszenhorn’s report, he provided a slightly jumbled but intriguing review of the past several decades:

HERSZENHORN (6/2/05): History indicates that [New York] city test results are something of a roller-coaster ride. In 1981, citywide reading scores exceeded the national average for the first time since testing began in 1969.

Scores soared in the early 1980's, only to drop in the latter part of the decade so that by 1990 fewer than half of students were on grade level. In 1991, scores rose again. By 1999, when New York State adopted tougher standards, less than a third of city students were proficient in reading or math.

There’s a bit of apples-and-oranges in that account, and Herszenhorn falls prey to a typical problem in Times education reporting—the treatment of minor year-to-year changes as if they were major events. But did you realize that New York City’s kids were actually beating the nation all the way back in 1981? Sure enough, that year’s good news was trumpeted in the Times. Gene Maeroff did the honors:
MAEROFF (5/29/81): The reading scores of public-school pupils in New York City have exceeded the national average for the first time in the 12 years that the citywide test has been given.

An unexpectedly strong improvement of more than seven percentage points was achieved on an examination identical to one administered three years ago.

Statistics from such cities as Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington and Detroit show that New York City's accomplishment makes it one of the few big-city school systems with an enrollment that consists predominantly of minority pupils to surpass the national average.

Preliminary results released yesterday for the test given in April showed that 50.7 percent of the elementary and junior high school pupils scored at or above grade level, compared with 46.7 percent last year and 43 percent in 1978. Scores rose in all 32 of the city's community school districts.

“Above grade level” isn’t quite the right phrase, but you get the general picture. And one year later, Maeroff was back, reporting even better news about New York’s junior Einsteins:
MAEROFF (6/16/82): For the first time in at least a decade, students in the New York City public schools exceeded the national averages in both reading and mathematics scores, according to preliminary figures released yesterday by the city's Board of Education.

Results of tests given in April show that 51 percent of the students tested in reading and 56.5 percent in mathematics were above the national norm. That norm is the point that half of the nation's youngsters are above and half below.

Last year, when the reading scores alone passed the national average for the first time, the figures were 50.8 percent in reading and 49.6 percent in mathematics.

In 1983, the progress continued, with Joyce Purnick doing the reporting. “Children in New York City's public schools are continuing to perform above national norms on reading and mathematics tests,” she bugled. “The preliminary results of the examinations, given last month, showed that 55.5 percent of the students tested in reading and 58.1 percent of those tested in mathematics had scored at or above grade level.” It would have been more accurate if Purnick had said “at or above the national norm,” but again, you get the Big Picture.

But readers, might we ask an obvious question about these reports from the early 1980s? Don’t you find it surprising to learn that New York’s kids were above the national norm more than twenty years ago? With all the despair about urban schools, aren’t you surprised to learn that this large urban system was actually out there ahead of the curve, as early as 1981? Indeed, because we worked for more than a decade in Baltimore’s elementary schools (1969 through 1982), we find this notion quite surprising. After all, what has all the wailing been about if urban kids were beating the nation all the way back in 1981? And by the way: Why wasn’t this amazing achievement treated as the Manhattan Miracle? Why weren’t researchers crawling all over Gotham, trying to see what the city was doing? Why weren’t foundations trying to bottle the magic, then trying to spread it all over the land?

Could it be that everyone knew this was a hoax—and everyone just agreed not to say so?

After all, what was happening around the nation by the early- to mid-1980s? Uh-oh! Increasingly, tremendous pressure was being brought to bear on public school systems’ testing programs. These programs were now a part of public “accountability,” and the nation’s educators knew how to respond; in a wide range of documented cases, they responded by cheating their keisters off, driving up public school test scores and making local newspapers proud. How absurd was the situation becoming when New York was reporting those pleasing test scores? Go back to 1987-88, when Dr. John Cannell, a West Virginia pediatrician and education activist, issued several remarkable reports about the nation’s testing programs. Cannell had discovered an amusing fact—as of 1987, all fifty states were officially reporting that their students were above the national norm! Cannell called the phenomenon "The Lake Wobegon Effect," after Garrison Keillor’s mythical village where "the children are all above average." And he suggested an unpleasant explanation for this implausible state of affairs—teachers and principals were cheating on tests, driving up everyone’s test scores. Cannell ran an ad in an education journal, soliciting first-hand accounts from teachers. According to Cannell, over 300 teachers wrote to tell him about outright cheating in their schools.

We first discussed this four years ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/01); in that report, we also reviewed the twin waves of “cheating scandal stories” that swept through the national press, first in the late 1980s (post-Cannell), then again in the year 2000. But understand—when New York was reporting those pleasing scores all the way back in the early 1980s, a bewildering wave of high test scores was sweeping all over the land. Was New York City above the national norm? So was every state in the union! And yet, your educational press corps slumbered and snored, persistently failing”to raise many questions” about this peculiar situation. For ourselves, we would be completely amazed if New York’s kids were above the national norm in the year 1982. But it made a pleasing story, and the New York Times typed it up. Mayor Koch took a couple of bows—and the selling-out of urban kids continued, just as it had gone on before.

And that’s why we were so surprised to read David Herszenhorn’s startling report. We never thought we’d see the day when a major reporter did what he did—when a major reporter noted that “skeptics were quick to raise many questions” about the latest pleasing test scores. Those questions should have been raised long ago. But the national press snored and slumbered.

Amazing, isn’t it? New York’s test scores have been going up ever since they exceeded the national norm, all the way back in 1981! Why aren’t researchers studying this? Could it be that no one believes it?

TOMORROW: Sorry, Matthew! “Liberals” walked away from urban kids roughly three decades ago.

ALL PRAISE TO PURNICK: Uh-oh! We just noticed this brief passage in Purnick’s 1983 report:

PURNICK (5/27/83): Many educators are skeptical about what these standardized tests really measure, in part because top school officials and elected officials have so emphasized their importance in recent years. As a result, students are prepared through classroom exercises.

''It's difficult to tell whether there is a real improvement, or whether kids are getting more test-wise,'' said Ernest R. House, a professor at the Center for Instructional Research and Curriculum Evaluation at the University of Illinois's College of Education.

''There is a practice effect in test-taking,'' said Professor House, who is part of a three-member panel that audits evaluations of the city school system's promotional programs for the Board of Education and the Koch administration. ''Maybe they're really doing a better job, but it does sound suspicious.''

In our view, Purnick’s skeptic wasn’t skeptical enough. In many schools, kids don’t get “test-wise” during those “practice sessions;” they get to memorize the actual test questions! We first learned about this, in great local detail, all the way back in 1971. Twelve years later, Purnick’s skeptic still didn’t seem to have heard.