AND YOU DONT MESS AROUND WITH TIM! Clinton tugged on Supermans cape—and the Raccoons swung into action: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2007
HERBERTS COLUMN—AND MEDINAS STRAIGHT FACE: Why isnt Bob Herbert more influential? A few weeks ago, T. A. Frank wrote an interesting piece in the Washington Monthly trying to define the problem, and trying to answer the question. (For Kevin Drums summary, just click here.) In part, Herbert is simply too boring, Frank suggests. Some of Bob Herberts work is quite good—though it seems to us that, in his best work, he is often covering events the Times should be reporting as news. But for a good example of the boring problem, see Herberts column this Tuesday morning about low-income schools.
Herbert must have spent ten minutes on this amazingly scripted piece. Indeed, any centrist or liberal pundit could have typed this up while sleeping. Our Schools Must Do Better, the headline declared. And if that wasnt soporific enough, heres the text of the boxed sub-headline:
Lets identify the good teachers and find our what works.Let's find out what works! Meanwhile, the column itself was perfect pabulum. Herberts two suggestions for improving the schools are so familiar that they virtually squeak. Meanwhile, he keeps suggesting that these two unexciting reforms could work a startling transformation of our schools. This is cruel and heartless nonsense. (Note the way Herbert overstates what the one expert he quotes really said.) Herbert shows no sign of knowing a thing about the state of low-income schools—aside from what anyone could have learned from a thousand other columns just like this.
Lets find out what works! Youd think it would be hard to top the vapidity of that call to arms. But the very next day, this news report by Jennifer Medina pretty much did it.
The problem doesnt start with Medina, though she can be faulted for reporting this news with straight face. According to Medina, a group of academics has formed a team to study New York Citys schools—almost literally, to find out what works. Here we see the breathless way Medina announces the venture:
MEDINA (10/3/07): For years, education experts have dreamed of a group that would gather reams of data on New York City's public schools, analyzing the numbers to figure out what works, and what does not, in schools.Quite literally, this dream team plans to gather data and analyze numbers, trying to figure out what works. But what kinds of data will the super-group gather? Forgive us if were less than impressed by the types of data Medina mentions; its hard to believe that much will be gained by track[ing] things like how students perform over time, how long teachers stay in the system and how schools spend their money. Forgive us, but it almost seems that these top academics want to do the kind of research that can be done inside air-conditioned quarters, without setting foot inside low-income schools. In our view, this is not a promising way to discover the types of things that might help struggling children.
But the sheer inanity of this report only becomes fully clear at the end, when Medina describes a similar group which has long been active in Chicago. Indeed, this Chicago super-group seems to have inspired the brainiacs up in Gotham. Try to believe that a major reporter could write this with a straight face:
MEDINA: As researchers did in Chicago, the New York group plans to collect data across the city to track things like how students perform over time, how long teachers stay in the system and how schools spend their money.According to Medina, this Chicago group has been active since 1990. It has produced dozens of reports in the nearly two decades since, becoming an important and respected source of education research. But what sorts of things has this super-group found? In some of the groups most useful work, the brainiacs found that [student] performance in ninth grade was a strong indicator of whether students would drop out. That might appear obvious, one top genius said. But it sent ripples through the school system.
In seventeen years, thats the best theyve produced—and of course, its just breath-taking blather. (That might appear obvious? There are no words to say.) But the lack of results is hardly surprising if you look at the super-groups methods. Sorry, but nothing much is likely to come from rummaging through the tedious data this group of detached, useless scholars explores. But here you see the sheer inanity which drives so much work on the problems of low-income schools. From the journalistic standpoint, the real shame here is the fact that Medina could report this joke with a straight face.
Sorry, but you wont likely find out what might help struggling kids by reviewing the types of data described here. You have to go inside real schools; you have to see what sorts of things are frustrating actual children. (And you have to start on the first day of kindergarten. Check that—the first day of pre-school.) But many education experts seem to live their lives inside pleasant offices. And uh-oh! Working from their deathless insights, people like Herbert type ten-minutes wonders, talking about transformation.
Medina describes a sick, stale joke—a sick joke which has persisted for decades. Meanwhile, right next to Medinas piece was this truly fascinating report, written by a professor, Susan Engel, who has clearly gone inside real schools, learning things about real children. The insights she reports wont produce transformation. But theres a chance they will help.
Special report: Russert happens!
BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: When NBC News fronts a White House debate, its inevitable: Russert happens! Be sure to read each thrilling installment:
PART 1: A millionaire couldnt get over the cost of John Edwards troubling haircuts. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/27/07.Today, we close our report with the One Great Thing all current Raccoons deeply know.
PART 5—AND YOU DONT MESS AROUND WITH TIM: Do we have concerns about Hillary Clinton? As a matter of fact, yes—we do. Wed like to see her questioned about Iraq by someone competent. (Ditto for all the Major Dem hopefuls.) For various reasons, we regard that vote in October 02 as the worst in congressional history. (Kerry, Edwards, Dodd and Biden all cast the same vote, of course.) And were sad to see that no Big Dem can craft a health care debate in which the relevant, revenue-draining corporate interests havent already won. If the primary election were held today, we still dont know who wed vote for.
But Clinton didnt start getting clobbered last week due to some reasonable set of concerns. Right after last Wednesdays Democratic debate, Matthews, Fineman and Russert joined to headline an hour of typical blather—and for the first time in a very long while, we thought we heard the deeply cracked tone of Campaign 2000 in the air. The little guys seemed angry and hurt—and they voiced absurd complaints about Clinton, with a real tone of shared grievance. And sure enough! By the weekend, all the Raccoons were on the prowl, knocking over garbage cans and agreeing to voice the same scripted nonsense. Hillary Clinton cackles too much! And: She refuses to answer Tim Russerts great questions! And even this complaint, with straight faces: She wont choose between the Cubs and the Yankees! This last offense made her seem Nixonian, one Raccoon was willing to say; it meant she was triangulating again, Broder said. Even Gail Collins agreed to type this ludicrous nonsense in Saturdays column. Lets face it: When you can get people to echo that crap, the Grand Raccoons are very angry. And we think we can probably tell you when their new fury began.
What made the Grand Raccoons so mad? Just a guess: It began when Russert tried to play gotcha, and Clinton—refusing to play along—got the audience at the debate to laugh in his fat and garbage-fed face. Heres the place where the problem began. The key word appears twice: Laughter:
RUSSERT (9/26/07): The guest who laid out this scenario for me with that proposed solution was William Jefferson Clinton last year. So he disagrees with you.Russert tried one of his standard gotchas—and Clintons reply brought laughter, applause. (Those words come straight from the Nexis transcript. It was a big applause break.) Then, when the Head Raccoon tried to save himself, Clinton got girly-girl in reply—and the audience laughed in his fat face again. You could pretty much see that the Head Raccoon wasnt amused by all the big laughter—and just like that, in the next hour, he and his boy toys were whining quite hard. To our ear, it sounded like Campaign 2000 again as the three presented inane complaints, voiced in a tone of high grievance. It had been a longtime since we heard that tone. And there it was again, Wednesday night.
And sure enough! By the weekend, the Raccoons were active. They agreed to complain about Cubs versus Yanks. Even Smiley wouldnt say it was dumb.
But this is the way the world now works when Democrats mess around with Raccoons. By now, our major pundits are much more Republican; theyre corporate-selected, and theyre multimillionaires. They dont give a fig about what affects you, and they hate the Clintons, and Gore and Edwards; theyve plainly hated them for a long time, and theres no sign theyre planning to stop.
But lets face it—when a middle-class nation has millionaire pundits, that nation gets scribes who are out of their minds. When Chris Matthews sat with Jon Stewart Wednesday night, the very first thing Matthews had to say concerned the way Bill Clinton supposedly got women to sleep with him in college. This man just cant stop discussing that penis. Meanwhile, his partner in lunacy, Maureen Dowd, offered this in Sundays column:
DOWD (9/30/07): Without nepotism, Hillary would be running for the president of Vassar.Hiss! Hiss-spit! Hiss-spit! Meee-ow! By the way, do you have any idea why Dowd thinks she knows this? We seem to recall seeing Hillary Rodham on the cover of Life at age 21—and no, Bill Clinton was nowhere around. Dowd has no idea where shed be without Bill. But she does know her cohorts sick obsessions.
We have a deeply sick pundit corps, driven by a deeply sick pundit culture. Most likely, it will ever be thus when middle-class nations are saddled with a multimillionaire press corps. Russert and Gregory are both multimillionaires—although theyre careful not to discuss it—and they agreed, on Sunday morning, to feign concern about Cubs versus Yanks. From that ludicrous moment on, why would anyone ever believe a single word these Lost Boys ever said?
Digby is repeatedly calling them The Village. (Thats good!) Weve been calling them Raccoons, stressing the remarkable way they behave like a fraternal order. But theres one thing these crackpots all know in that Village. You dont pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger. And you dont mess around with Tim.