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MAKING THE PURCHASE! Life is much easier inside DC when you buy the key products you’re sold: // link // print // previous // next //

Winerip pounds at a plutocrat hero/Or, Rhee finally clams: Back-to-school fever is all around! In honor of same, let’s heap major praise today on the New York Times’ Michael Winerip.

At the nation’s biggest news organs, Paul Krugman has long been Most Valuable Player—although to our taste, he’s starting to get a wee bit partisanized. (We think that would be a bad thing for progressive interests.)

It’s hard to learn much from those biggest news organs. For our money, Winerip gives you your second best chance after Krugman. This morning, he pounds away at a plutocrat hero in an instructive manner.

The hero in question is Michelle Rhee, queen of “educational reform.” We’ll suggest you read Winerip’s piece for yourselves (just click here). It covers a bit of new ground about Rhee—and Winerip’s editor has even included a highly unflattering photo!

Winerip could have piled on harder. He doesn’t even mention the highly improbable claims Rhee has made, down through the years, about her own brilliant success as a wonderfully brilliant miraculous teacher. As always, we’d bet half the house that her claims don’t even come close to being true. But she never should have made such claims absent the actual data.

It’s hard to express sufficient contempt for people who build lucrative public careers on the backs of the low-income children whose interests they claim to serve. But here’s the point that popped in our heads as we read Winerip’s profile:

Rhee was enabled every step of the way by this society’s swells. The people paid to pose as “educational experts” never said that those self-serving claims were extremely unlikely. (Potemkin experts don’t do that!) The Gotham swells who pose as reformers were probably too dumb to realize.

When Rhee showed up in DC as the mayor’s nominee, the Washington Post averted its gaze from the problems that were emerging with her self-glorying claims. But then, after stamping its foot a bit, so did the DC Council.

In his piece, Winerip mentions the interview Rhee did with Tavis Smiley last spring. He doesn’t mention the way Smiley bowed, scraped, pandered and fawned to Rhee in his quest to lick the boots of celebrity, wealth, fame and power.

We think Winerip’s profile hits home, as his work quite often does. As back-to-school fever builds in your town, we’ll strongly suggest that you read it.

Special report: There’s no surviving the Times!

EPILOGUE—MAKING THE PURCHASE (permalink): In fairness, Ross Douthat gets a major point right in today’s credulous column.

Good lord! Douthat notes a basic fact about the Texas public schools! Avert your gaze as Arne Duncan arranges to bungle again:

DOUTHAT (8/22/11): On Friday, in a Bloomberg Television interview, Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried to open up another anti-Texan front, saying he feels “very, very badly for the children” in Texas’s supposedly underfinanced public schools. But here, too, the evidence doesn’t back up Duncan’s criticism. Texas does have higher high school dropout rates than the average American state. But then again, Texas isn’t an average state: it’s an enormous melting pot that shares a porous, 1,969-mile border with Mexico. Once you control for demographics and compare like with like, the Texan educational record looks much more impressive.

When a 2009 McKinsey study contrasted Perry’s home state to the similarly sized and situated California, it found that Texas students were “one to two years of learning ahead of California students of the same age, even though Texas has less income per capita and spends less per pupil than California.”

When it comes to minority achievement, Texas looks even better: On the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress math exam, black eighth graders in Texas outscored black eighth graders in every other state.

As we noted a few months ago, Texas kids outscore their national counterparts on the NAEP in every major demographic (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/28/11). Black kids, Hispanic kids, white kids, low-income kids: They all outscore the rest of nation on the universally-praised “gold standard of educational testing.” But leave it to Duncan to shed those big tears for the poor abused children of Texas! Presumably, he’s the guy who had Obama give major speeches, including the State of the Union, in which he lavished praise on high-profile schools which had horrendous test scores.

See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/13/11. Prepare to avert your gaze.

Why have Texas kids scored so well on the NAEP? We don’t know, and we’ll never find out! You see, your nation doesn’t traffic in facts or analysis—our culture simply isn’t like that—and the liberal world doesn’t give a fig about low-income kids. We’re surprised to see Douthat mention those facts—but those facts will never be scrutinized. Your nation simply isn’t like that. Instead, your nation is split into two warring tribes who hurl dumb insults around.

Douthat surprised us with that passage—but his column started poorly. Good lord, how these people like making the purchase! Our “journalists” love to buy the latest narrative—and the current model involves the economy of Texas. In paragraphs 3 through 5 of his column, Douthat says a “miracle” has occurred—and he offers some comical evidence:

DOUTHAT: After [Perry] launched his campaign with an extended brag about Texas job creation, there was a rush to cut Texas down to size—to dismiss the Lone Star economic miracle as a mirage conjured by population growth, petro-dollars and low-paying McJobs.

But the more the Internet’s hive mind worked through the data, the weaker this critique looked. Yes, Texas’s growing population has contributed to the job boom, but the boom has driven population growth as well. The influx of people has been too extraordinary to just be chalked up to, say, snowbirds seeking 105-degree retirements. More likely, thousands of Americans have responded to hard times in their home states by moving to Texas in search of work.

As the policy blogger Matthias Shapiro pointed out in an exhaustive analysis, the jobs they’re finding aren’t unusually low-paying: the state’s median hourly wage is close to the national average, and since the recession started, Texan wages have increased at the sixth-fastest pace in the country. Nor are the jobs confined to the oil and gas industries: “Take the energy sector completely out of the equation,” Shapiro noted, “and Texas is still growing faster than any other state.”

How do we know that an “economic miracle” has occurred in Texas? As part of his evidence, Douthat notes this fact: The state’s median hourly wage is close to the national average!

In this context, “close to” means “below.” Our question: If a state has a below-average hourly wage, is it enjoying a miracle?

We would say that the answer is no. But let’s get clear about the way these narratives feed on our feeble human minds.

At various times, new narratives appear. This tends to produce two reactions:

Supporters of the narrative’s source rush to affirm its accuracy. Everything seems to show that it’s true. If a state is only slightly sub-par, that means it’s enjoying a miracle.

Alas! Our weak human minds are inclined to imagine only one other reaction. If we don’t want to agree with the spanking new narrative, we tend to affirm its opposite. In the current case, we tend to cast all about, looking for evidence that an economic disaster has occurred in Texas.

We tend to think that we have those two choices: The proffered narrative is right on the mark—or it’s just grossly wrong.

In the current case, as in most cases, a third reaction is most accurate. No “miracle” has occurred in Texas—but here has been no disaster either. Texas is different from other states, in a wide array of ways. But so far, we’ve seen no sign that its economic performance has been amazingly good or amazingly bad.

The current narrative is wrong, in a tired old way. On balance, Texas is pretty much average. On balance, at the end of the day, there’s nothing to look at there.

But alas! Supporters of a hot new narrative will rush ahead to affirm it. In today’s column, Douthat refers to the Texas “miracle” and the Texas “job boom”—but he fails to tell readers that Texas has higher unemployment than any of its neighboring state. And good lord! He even says this:

DOUTHAT: To be sure, the Texas model doesn’t always impress. (Twenty-seven percent of Texans lack health insurance, for instance, compared with 21 percent of Californians.) But Perry can credibly claim that his state delivers on conservative governance’s two most important promises: a private sector that creates jobs at a remarkable clip, and a public sector that seems to get more for the taxpayers’ money than many more profligate state governments.

Really? Texas has “a private sector that creates jobs at a remarkable clip?” Yesterday, in the Washington Post, Michael Fletcher reported a set of facts that had already been noted elsewhere. Job growth in Texas has been concentrated in the public sector:

FLETCHER (8/21/11): With a young and fast-growing population, a large and expanding military presence and an influx of federal stimulus money, the number of government jobs in Texas has grown at more than double the rate of private-sector employment during Perry’s tenure.

The disparity has grown sharper since the national recession hit. Between December 2007 and last June, private-sector employment in Texas declined by 0.6 percent while public-sector jobs increased by 6.4 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Does Texas have “a private sector that creates jobs at a remarkable clip?” Between December 2007 and “last June,” private-sector employment in Texas declined by 0.6 percent—even as the state’s population continued to grow!

(By the way: Does “last June” mean June 2010 or June 2011? We have no idea—and it might make a very large difference. Based on a chart which accompanies his report, we’ll guess that Fletcher meant June 2011, but we don’t rightly know. Welcome to American journalism, top of the front page style!)

Does Texas have “a private sector that creates jobs at a remarkable clip?” As Chekhov’s hero “wanted to enjoy life so badly and it all seemed so simple and amusing,” it seems to us that Douthat badly wanted to make this purchase.

At any rate, Candidate Perry has come along offering a shiny new narrative. Around the press corps, some people have made the purchase—but others have agreed to advance it even though they aren’t buying. Consider Fletcher’s detailed piece, which sat atop the Post’s front page. Fletcher didn’t purchase the narrative. But the Post’s front-page headline did:

WASHINGTON POST HEADLINE (8/21/11): Going to the heart of ‘Texas miracle’

That headline sat atop the Post’s hard-copy front page. A boatload of people saw that headline—and it advanced the new narrative.

Should editors paste such bumper stickers into their front-page headlines? Actually, no—they should not. Such headlines advance the bumper-sticker; it worms its way into everyone’s head, even if the actual news report tends to contradict it. And the same thing happened inside the Post. A large headline said this, on page A8, as Fletcher’s piece continued:

WASHINGTON POST HEADLINE: Government jobs fueling Texas prosperity

But is Texas really experiencing “prosperity?” Perry wants that thought in your head. But in his actual news report, Fletcher only used the term “relative prosperity.” In our view, even that was a bit of a stretch. But his editor dumbed it down, advancing the Perry narrative.

Over and over, our “journalists” simply can’t help themselves when it comes to certain new narratives. Like Chekhov’s hero, they want to enjoy life so badly—and it’s so much easier to enjoy life in DC when you just go with the flow! Headlines start bearing the new bumper stickers; the new narrative gets driven along. Such “journalism” is very weak-minded. But that’s the country you live in.

Is Texas experiencing a miracle? Is it enjoying prosperity? If you read to Fletcher’s twelfth paragraph, you learned that the state’s unemployment rate just jumped to 8.4 percent. If you read all the way to paragraph 29, you learned that Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest percentage of workers being paid the minimum wage or below.

But in the headlines, the narrative ruled! The Potemkins paid to pose as journalists “want to enjoy life so badly!” And life is much easier inside DC when you buy the key products you’re sold.