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Daily Howler: Joe Scarborough knew who to blame for the bombings. Is he the world's 'biggest' phony?
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GO BACK TO ARUBA! Joe Scarborough knew who to blame for the bombings. Is he the world’s biggest phony? // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 8, 2005

GO BACK TO ARUBA: Last night, Joe Scarborough was plenty upset about those London bombings. Indeed, he offered a “special edition of Scarborough Country”—and quickly began to let us know who was at fault for this mess. For his first guest, he brought in “terror expert Steve Emerson.” And he began to lay out his great thesis:
SCARBOROUGH (7/7/05): Now let`s bring in terror expert Steve Emerson. Steve, you know what? You listen to Kelly [O’Donnell]`s report, you see what they`re, they`re concentrating on at the G8 conference—I understand anti-terrorism hardly made the list of the agenda of the eight most powerful leaders in the world. Have we taken our eyes off the ball again on terrorism and instead focusing on things that aren`t as important?
Have we “taken our eyes off the ball again?” Have we begun “focusing on things that aren`t as important?” These were superlative question for this host to ask. Sadly, here was his list of segments from the previous evening. On that program, he had started with: “Tonight`s top headline—outrage in Aruba, as protesters target Natalee Holloway`s mother!”
Full list of segments on Scarborough Country—July 6, 2005:
*Interview with NBC’s Ron Blome in Aruba.
*Bullying interview with John Merryweather, former Aruban diplomat.
*Interview with Linda Allison, aunt of Natalee Holloway.
*Interview with Paul Reynolds, uncle of Natalee Holloway. (The program was now half over.)
*Interview with Tim Miller, who is searching for Natalee Holloway in Aruba.
*Video clip of Steven Groene, speaking about his kidnapped daughter, Shasta Groene.
*Interview with “legal expert” Stacey Honowitz about the Shasta Groene matter.
*Interview with Bernie Goldberg about his latest liberal-bashing book.
*Live pictures of Hurricane Dennis.
That was it. More than half the program came from Aruba, where Scarborough has been rubbing his thighs every night since June 1. None of the program concerned hard news. But one night later, Scarborough closed his special edition by letting us know who’s been failing the country. Our question: Is there a way to be more phony? Has anyone ever achieved it?
SCARBOROUGH (7/7/05): And now my final thoughts on the attacks. You know, unfortunately, friends, too many of us are not serious about this war on terror. And how long must we sing this song? Americans and its allies are attacked. We promise dramatic measures to repulse the enemy. And, in the case of the Nazis or the Taliban, we do just that.

Then, contentment sets in. We stop listening to the warnings of the Churchills and the Bushes and, instead, we focus on speeches by rock stars and by Hollywood actors. When our world leaders get together, they focus on global warming and the causes of the moment, instead of fighting the war of our lifetime.

But while the rock stars preach, our enemies scheme. While movie stars practice politics, suicide bombers plan on how to kill the most innocent people with a single blast. You know, our leaders may ignore antiterrorism at G8 conferences these days, but, of course, that suddenly changes when the first reports of explosions come in. Then, suddenly, “that idiot Bush” starts looking a little bit better than the likes of the Chiracs and the Schroeders standing next to him. And Tony Blair, well, he suddenly seems to have a more realistic grasp on global realities than, say, Bob Geldof.

Now, I`m sure many Americans would like to believe that this attack will awaken world leaders. But I doubt it. We live in a silly age, the age of Hilton, the age of Teddy, the age of Chirac. We`re not a serious people. Some concern themselves more with terrorists` rights than civilization`s future. Reporters work overtime demeaning the very troops who protect our land. And rock stars replace grim Cassandras like Bush and Churchill as the prophets of pop culture. The results are almost always disastrous. And, today in London, they were deadly.

That`s all the time we have for tonight. I`ll see you tomorrow in Scarborough Country.

“How long must we sing this song?” Instantly, Scarborough made it sound like he has been pushing for greater awareness. In fact, Scarborough had spent the prior five weeks rubbing his thighs in the winds of Aruba. But we live in a silly age, he explained—and then he listed a bunch of liberals who were at fault. It was Bob Geldof’s fault, he explained. And it was those Hollywood actors! And let’s not forget those stupid world leaders, who wasted their time on global warming!

We really thought we’d seen it all. But in “this silly age”—the age of Joe Scarborough—the bottom-feeders keep swimming deeper. Has there ever been a bigger phony than the host of this “special edition?” If so, who would it be?

ETYMOLOGY: Go back to Aruba! It’s the perfect place for this fake cable host. Consider the etymology, friends. It has the word “rube” right in it!

Special report—Do urban kids matter?

PART 4—DEMISE OF A BRILLIANT IDEA: Everyone gains when those test scores go up—except, perhaps, for the children involved—but nobody gains quite as much as the mayors. Indeed, New York’s mayors have been solving the urban school problem for the past several decades—and they’ve been rushing off to take bows for their brilliance. Back in 1981, for example, Mayor Koch had solved the urban school problem (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/8/05). In the Times, Gene Maeroff reported:

MAEROFF (9/6/81): [I]t was one of the few times in recent years that a mayor of New York City made a public appearance at the school system's headquarters.

The occasion for Mayor Koch's visit was an announcement by school officials that more than half the pupils in the elementary and junior high schools were reading above the national average, a figure that exceeded anything the district had attained during the 1970's.

Now, as the city's public schools prepare to welcome back their almost one million students on Thursday, the elation has spread...

Mayor Koch had solved the problem! And this spring, twenty-four years later, Mayor Bloomberg solved the problem again! He rushed off to P.S. 33 to praise himself for his brilliance:
HERSZENHORN (5/19/05): The number of fourth graders reading and writing at grade level in New York State surged this year...Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg trumpeted the results as an election-year affirmation of his stewardship of the public schools.

Mr. Bloomberg, who has repeatedly urged voters to judge him on his ambitious effort to reinvent the nation's largest school system, made a triumphant visit to Public School 33 in the Bronx, where the number of fourth graders meeting state literacy standards more than doubled.

Back in 1981, Maeroff was reporting “elation.” This year, when the problem was solved all over again, the prevailing emotion was “ecstacy.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/5/05.

But were those much-ballyhooed score gains real? Were New York’s kids really beating the nation when Koch took his bow in 1981? And how about this year’s score gains? For example, were the steep gains real at P.S. 33, “where Mr. Bloomberg applauded” the school's 13-year principal? (According to Herszenhorn, “[s]cores there rose 46.7 percentage points, to 83.4 percent of students meeting state literacy standards.”) Our experience tells us to be suspicious when schools record eye-popping, overnight gains. But Bloomberg’s instincts said something else; they told the mayor to run very fast to bathe in P.S. 33's glory. And the New York Times never suggested—not once—that something might be a little bit strange when a traditionally low-scoring school records such startling score gains.

Our personal experience with such pleasing scores dates back to 1971-72 or 1972-73, our third or fourth year as a fifth grade teacher in the Baltimore schools. (Yesterday, we said 1970-71. Upon further thought, that was wrong.) By now, we knew it wasn’t all that easy to produce high scores in an urban school, even with the world’s greatest kids staring up each day from their inkwells. But uh-oh! Two friends were teaching at a Baltimore school which had found a quick route to success. (Each of these teachers was more experienced than we were.) This school was part of a new federal program to help selected urban schools—and simply put, the school was blatantly cheating in its standardized testing, and was being praised each year in the Baltimore Sun for its superlative test scores. What was really going on in the school? What was producing those superlative scores? Our friends described remarkable practices (practices a federal consultant had prescribed at a teachers’ meeting); the most amusing involved the principal’s attempt to pre-teach the words which appeared on the vocabulary portion of the ITBS reading test. (At the time, Baltimore administered the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills as its standardized program.) Every morning, the principal would come on the loudspeaker system and go over a few items from the upcoming test. At the time, the first item on the vocabulary test was the word “chat;” students had to pick a synonym. (Correct answer: a “little talk.”) So the principal came over the speaker one day and gave a little talk to the students. We can still see our friend, an experienced urban teacher, as she described the sheer foolishness:

BALTIMORE PRINCIPAL, THREE DECADES BACK: Good morning, boys and girls. Boys and girls, this morning we’re going to have a chat. Do you know what a “chat” is, boys and girls? That’s right! A “chat” is a “little talk”...
No, we’re not making this up. We can still see our friend rolling her eyes as she described this utter absurdity—and as she described systematic practices which were much more serious, practices which made an utter joke of the school’s “standardized” testing. But uh-oh—such practices clearly were working! Suitably armed against previous ignorance, this school’s students were racking up earth-shattering scores on the ITBS vocabulary test—scores so high that anyone who understood standardized testing would have known that they simply weren’t possible. (Frankly, we were impressed that a school could achieve such scores even with such massive cheating. No, we didn’t know at that time that principals sometimes erase wrong answers on answer sheets, systematically; the practice would be widely documented over the ensuing years.)

Anyone who examined this school’s bizarre scores would have known that something was wrong with its testing. But a columnist at the Baltimore Sun had a different idea; each year, he would praise this school for its high achievement, saying that its test scores showed what other schools could do if teachers and principals would get off their duffs and work on behalf of their children. Indeed, even when we explained what this school was doing, the columnist persisted in his thesis. In a subsequent column, he explained what we’d said—and he posed a question: If the kids were being tested on these vocabulary items, shouldn’t the items be taught to the students? Actually no, they shouldn’t be taught, since that destroys the test’s standardization. But the columnist, a humane person who cared about urban children, didn’t understand standardized testing—a general problem that persists to this day in the nation’s press.

Yes, some schools were cheating their keisters off as early as 1973. And everybody gained from that—except, of course, for the children. That principal got to hear many “little talks” about how devoted and brilliant she was. And as the cheating spread into other schools, it began to drive up systemwide averages, and mayors and superintendents got to “chat” about how they were fixing the schools. (“We’re headed in the right direction,” billboards proclaimed around Baltimore.) The federal dollars kept flowing into that school—the high scores proved the pilot program was “working”—and the federal consultant who taught them to cheat presumably went on to give his chats elsewhere. But uh-oh! Were the children in that school really achieving at those high levels? No, of course not—it was all a big hoax! Everyone gained but the children themselves! And so it would be when scandals and hoaxes were documented at public schools all over the country—and as the nation’s puppy-like press corps kept pretending not to know what was happening.

We’ve offered a capsule history of this matter; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/01. But as a general matter, anyone who puts blind faith in sudden score gains ought to have his head examined—and ought to get out of journalism altogether. Indeed, one observer had a brilliant idea about those recent New York City score gains. Let’s review that idea one more time, courtesy of Michael Winerip:

WINERIP (6/29/05): When [City Councilwoman Eva] Moskowitz countered that the city tests are hard to monitor since they're not made public, Dr. Mei deferred to representatives from Harcourt Assessment (which does the city English tests) and CTB/McGraw Hill (math), who testified that the city tests were scientifically scaled.

Mr. Tobias suggested that it would be useful for the city to appoint an independent panel to analyze test results, but city officials were not interested. “We have the testing companies, myself, everybody has said that these test scores are O.K.,'' said Dr. Mei.

Yep! Late last month, New York City’s former testing director “suggested that it would be useful for the city to appoint an independent panel to analyze test results.” There are no words with which to express what a great idea that is. “But city officials were not interested,” Winerip wrote; as Dr Mei so brilliantly noted, “everybody has said that these scores are OK!” (Everybody with something to gain has said this, she might well have added.) Meanwhile, as elite newspapers have done for three decades, the New York Times had already scoffed at the vile idea that something might be wrong with those test scores. On June 6, the editors had decided to pimp for the mayor. Here was the final paragraph of their editorial—a know-nothing piece which perfectly captured the scripts of the past thirty years:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (6/6/05): Skeptics, including Mr. Bloomberg's political opponents, of course rushed to challenge the results, suggesting that the test was too easy or that teachers spent too much time on test preparation. And it is indeed the case that city test scores rise and fall and rise again over time. But the latest results suggest that the schools are making progress—and that Mr. Bloomberg has every right to take a bow.
Oh, those silly “skeptics,” dear readers! “Of course,” the editorial said. There they were going again!

For more than thirty years, elite newspapers have taken this approach to these recurrent questions. A long string of hoaxes and scandals have been documented—but powdered elites, like the Times’ Gail Collins, keep electing to see no evil. In the year 2000, apparent problems with Texas testing even popped up in a White House campaign. Three years later, other such apparent scandals even affected a Secretary of Education. But the nation’s newspapers keep pretending that they don’t see a larger picture. Each ten years, they discover the problem. Then the problem gets dropped like a rock.

Are New York City’s schools “making progress?” We don’t have the slightest idea—and neither, of course, does Gail Collins. But when’s the last time that the Times’ perfumed editor put her fat ass in a city school—or raised her dainty, delicate hand to learn about the lives of its children? Everyone gains when those test scores go up—except, perhaps, for the actual children. But the history of the past thirty years is quite clear—the interests of urban kids always come last when it comes to matters like these. Powerful mayors get heaped with praise—and troubling skeptics get kicked to the curb. Simply put, the press corps’ former liberals don’t care—and have no intention of starting.

WINERIP GETS IT RIGHT: Let’s repeat the telling paragraph in Michael Winerip’s report:

WINERIP (6/29/05): Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was ecstatic—he'd promised to make the schools better and now he had Exhibit A. High test scores are good for the union, too. Within days, New York City teachers were rallying, citing the test scores as evidence that they deserved a hefty raise after two years without a contract. High test scores delight parents and children. High test scores are good for the testing companies that do the state and city tests; people don't complain about flawed tests when scores go up.
The mayor gains. The teachers gain. And yes, the testing companies gain. In fact, everyone gains—but the children themselves! But the history of the past thirty years is quite clear—urban kids’ interests come last.