WHOLE LOTTA CHEATIN GOIN ON! Atlanta cheated its keister off. But so have the Post and the Times: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 18, 2011
Teddy White voiced his regrets/Who is Natalie Jennings: Our political press corps has many flaws. Among them, the corps abiding love for the fatuous has to rank quite high.
Your press corps loves to base character judgments on pieces of consummate trivia. Where did this instinct get its start? In yesterdays Washington Post Outlook section, Joyce Hoffmann tracked it to an iconic textto Teddy Whites famous best-seller, The Making of the President 1960.
Way back in 1960, White went behind the scenes in the fight between Kennedy and Nixon. He did a type of reporting which had never been done in a White House campaign. But according to Hoffman, the type of campaign reporting he helped create came to dismay him. By the time of Nixon-McGovern, White was expressing regrets:
In fairness, White didnt make the silly character judgments; he just started the type of detailed insider reporting which would make them possible.
Who cares if McGovern had milk and Total? By 1972, the answer was clearthe boys and girls on the campaign bus cared about such Total nonsense. A bit later in her Outlook piece, Hoffman lists some of the silly trivia upon which the press corps has based its judgments in subsequent White House campaigns. No one could list all such episodes, of course; they are now a standard part of our fractured pseudo-journalism. But uh-oh! Among the many episodes Hoffman skips, we recall at least five genuine milk-and-Total momentssilly flaps which revolved around something some candidate ate or drank on the campaign trail.
Who cares about milk and Total? Lets recall these flaps:
What kind of cheese did Candidate Kerry order with his cheesesteak? And did it show he was an elitist? This was a journalistic point of concern during Campaign 2004.
Why did Candidate Obama drink orange juice instead of beer when he visited a Pennsylvania bar? And did it show he was an elitist? This was a point of concern during Campaign 2008.
Why did Candidate Bush the elder (reportedly) ask for a splash of coffee at a New Hampshire truck stop in 1988? Did this show he was an elitist?
Why did Candidate Gore ask for a Perrier in 1988? Did it show he was an elitist?
Why did vice-presidential candidate Sargent Shriver order a Courvoisier in a Pittsburgh bar during Campaign 1972? Did it showwell, you know the rest.
(To read a bit more about the Perrier/Courvoisier flaps, see THE DAILY HOWLER 1/29/10. This isnt exactly milk and Total. But its the next dumbest thing.)
A journalist has to be very silly to build judgments about a candidates character out of such massive trivia. But the press corps has done so again and again, in a long string of White House campaigns. Who cares if Kerry had cheese on his steak? At least when it comes to certain candidates, the answer has long been clear.
This raises a painful question: Who is Natalie Jennings?
Last week, Jennings authored what seems to be her first blog post as a Washington Post political reporter. Her post concerned a troubling fact: Michele Obama had gone to a Washington fast food joint and ordered a burger, with fries and a shake and a Diet Coke!
The fact that it was a Diet Coke brought an old stock joke to life. But this was the start of Jennings post. What sane person would write such crap? Who is Natalie Jennings?
The first ladys office did not comment on the subject? Why would a first ladys office comment on something like that?
Anyone who has followed the political journalism of the past twenty years will of course understand the gravamen of this dispatch. Jennings was exploring a typically foolish ideathe idea that Obama was being a hypocrite by ordering a high-calorie meal, given the fact that she has made a cause out of child nutrition. The sheer stupidity of this notion should be apparent to almost anyone. But ABC News gulped down the bait, posting this follow-up report. Needless to say, so did Fox.
If you read Jennings full post as it now exists, you will see that the experts ABC consulted explained how dumb her notion was. But so what? Jennings went ahead and posted, basing her work on the observations of a Washington Post journalist on the scene. Before long, the standard moronic discussions were flying around in talk-radio land.
You cant run a modern nation this way. But our political journalists have functioned this way for a very long time. As long ago as 1972, Teddy White apologized for his starring role in creating this vacuous culture.
At any rate, who is Natalie Jennings? Its instructively hard to find out. It seems that a profile of Jennings does exist on a secondary Post web site, but you have to go through several layers of registration before youre allowed to read itand it seems you have to be a government employee to get the Posts OK. (To give it a try, start here. Then click on Jennings name.) Using Nexis and Google, we can find no indication that Jennings had ever published anything anywhere before her milk-and-Total-style post. (We also searched on Natalie Grantham.) Were forced to offer three quick guesses about who Jennings is:
Well guess that Jennings is young, and still perhaps a tiny bit foolish. But if so, well guess that she learned to be foolish from watching the journalism that has defined her tender years.
Jennings post was very foolishbut its part of our milk-and-Total press culture. That said, The Dumb is plainly the deliberate norm at our biggest news orgs. More on this culture tomorrow.
Most pathetic correction ever: Working like an actual journalist, Jennings penned the most pathetic correction ever. Yes, this really appeared at the Posts political web site:
You cant run a modern nation this way. If you doubt that, just look around.
PART 4WHOLE LOTTA CHEATIN GOIN ON (permalink): In Atlanta, the public schools were cheating their keisters off. As everybody now agrees, the cheating went on for years.
On July 5, the state of Georgia released its official report on the matter, the fruit of a long state probe.
To read the New York Times July 6 news report, just click here. But this morning, Michael Winerip reviews the probe in his weekly On Education columnand he gives a gripping account of what happened. As he starts, he gives the basic background to this horrible story:
Was this the biggest cheating scandal ever? Well consider that claim below. But a bit later, Winerip gives the skinny on a state probe which found cheating at nearly half the Atlanta schools.
The probe had begun at Venetian Hills Elementary School:
Apparently Dr. Hall applied that same rigor to fabricated test data, Winerip writes, enabling her to collect $600,000 in performance bonuses over 10 years to supplement her $400,000 annual salary.
Should those national organizations have suspected something was wrong in Atlanta? Should Arne Duncan have suspected? In this particular case, we dont know, but our educational expertsand our biggest news orgshave repeatedly failed us, down through the years, in pursuing matters of this type. Here at THE HOWLER, we first spoke to a major Baltimore Sun columnist about overt cheating in public school testing in 1972; we wrote several columns about such topics in the Sun in the late 1970s.
It was sometime around 1980 when we were first told that teachers and principals sometimes erase incorrect answers after their students testing is done, replacing them with correct answers. (We were told this by the editor-in-chief of one of the nations biggest test batteries. He also told us that the big test publishers would scan a school districts answer sheets for unusual erasure patterns.) At this site, we first described this remarkable practice in 1999 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/99).
Sorry, but everyone has known about this general problem for decadesunless they worked to avoid such knowledge, as our big news orgs endlessly did and still do.
Back to Winerips painful description of the events in Atlanta. We were struck by the symbolism found in this passage, which describes the way the state probe started at Venetian Hills:
This is horrible stuff. But just as this principal tried to avoid leaving her fingerprints on this story, the nations big news orgs will never tell you how hard they have worked to keep similar problems from coming to light. Our big newspapers have worked very hard to wipe away all kinds of prints.
Consider the way the Washington Post and the New York Times have dealt with this particular cheating scandal, and with several others:
The New York Times and Atlanta: Early in 2010, the New York Times did some decent reporting about the apparent problem in Atlanta. But in August 2010, the paper did a peculiar news report which massively downplayed what was known, then published a foolish, fawning profile of Superintendent Halla profile which played a set of very familiar cards regarding race and education. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/10. Black kids are not helped by this type of journalistic conduct, though it makes the Times seem high-minded.) Two weeks later, Georgias governor announced the statewide probe which eventually cracked the case. The Times devoted one paragraph to that fateful announcement.
Grade: G for gruesome.
The Washington Post and Atlanta: The Times at least did basic reporting about the situation in Atlanta. Incredibly, the Washington Post has essentially never reported this situation at all. Even now, with the Georgia probe completed, the Post has never done a stand-alone report about the problem in Atlantanor have the editors offered an editorial. On July 8, education reporter Bill Turque described the findings of the Georgia reportin a brief, two-paragraph passage halfway through a news report about the DC schools. Incredibly, that represents the Posts full treatment of this major scandal. (This is not a criticism of Turque.)
If you read the Washington Post, it is very unlikely that you have ever heard about this situation. But then, this follows this papers unmistakable editorial line concerning education reform and testing. We strongly favor annual testing ourselvesbut the Post has long run a scam on its readers about this subject, which is tied to the companys bottom line. Regarding Atlanta, the Post has essentially run a total news black-out on this major national story.
Grade: C for corrupt.
The New York Times and the state of New York: Does Atlanta represent the biggest cheating scandal ever in a public school district, as Winerip said? If you add the word known to that description, Winerips description is probably accurate. But just last year, the state of New York renounced years of statewide test scores, saying that its statewide tests had become easier down through the years. This is a much bigger abuse of the public trust than the Atlanta situation; it invalidated years of scores from every public school district in the whole state of New York! But so what? The New York Times has refused to treat this as a scandal, thus following its long-standing line of fawning to New York Citys billionaire mayor, who kept bragging about his rising test scores long after he should have known that this problem existed. Needless to say, the Washington Post has never reported this matter at all.
Grade: F, for (journalistic) fraud
The Washington Post and Washington/the Washington Post and the state of Virginia: Indications of widespread, Atlanta-style cheating have been found in the DC schools. The DC school district has run its own apparently phony probe, just as the Atlanta school district initially did; it remains to be seen if a serious probe will be conducted by some other agency. But just last week, the editors of the Washington Post wrote an amazingly bogus account of this ongoing situation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/11/11). When it comes to matters like this, the Washington Post can truly be called Pravda-by-the-Potomac.
Also this: As in the state of New York, so in the state of Virginia! In 2006, the chairman of the state school board acknowledged that the state had been publishing bogus test scores (passing rates) for virtually every school in the state. But as in New York, so in Virginia (except a bit more so): The Washington Post never even reported the fact that this problem had occurredthat the chairman had made this admission. For several years, the state had published fraudulent test scores. Virginia is part of the Posts local beatbut the Posts readers werent told.
Grade: B, for business as usual
Winerips piece today is quite striking. In Atlanta, one principal had been so worried about leaving fingerprints while doctoring answering sheets that she wore gloves when she changed all those answers.
For ourselves, we thought of the Post and the Times when we read that sad description. The fingerprints of Bloomberg and former DC Chancellor Rhee are all over other testing scandals. But fawning newspapers have worked very hard to keep those prints from view.
Weve been on this beat since 1972. Only now, thanks to a massive state probe, have our biggest newspapers been forced to go thereand theyre hiding other cases of massive fraud which occurred right under their noses.
This is what Chomsky called manufactured consent. And please understand: In large part, the hiding of the larger story continues because the modern career liberal world doesnt give a fig about black kidswont report on matters like this, simply doesnt care. Question: Have you seen the Atlanta story discussed at your favorite site?
All that said, one final point should be noted about the Atlanta mess. Well note a point from Sundays editorial in the New York Times:
Even as Atlanta was cheating its keister off on the Georgia statewide tests, its test scores rose on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, where there is little apparent incentive or opportunity to cheat. Remember: A school system can cheat and improve its work at the same time. Atlanta does seem to have made some real progress, although that question, like all other questions, will not be examined in serious ways by your biggest national papers or by the liberal world.
(Our question: Was Dr. Hall able to affect the sample of Atlanta students tested by the NAEP? If you include a disproportionate number of more capable students, you will of course push up your test scores. Was her office in a position to do this?)
Final note to readers: At present, you dont live in a world where such questions get examined. Weve been discussing these topics for 39 years. During that period, the experts and journalists have stared into space and pandered to the various people running the various scams.
The Georgia state probe was too much to ignoreexcept at the Washington Post, which continues to earn a grade of D by disappearing the story. (And a straight A for amazing, with a G for gall.) In fairness, though, wed give the same grade to the career liberal world. Have you seen this story discussed at your favorite, most fiery sites?
Really? You havent seen it discussed? One last question: