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Daily Howler: Did Michael Steele get pelted with cookies? We add to what A-blog has said
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NATTERING NABOBS OF NABISCO! Did Michael Steele get pelted with cookies? We add to what A-blog has said: // link // print // previous // next //

GUSH, GUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE: Tomorrow, we’ll continue our review of Making Schools Work, looking at the way the program presented the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) school district. As always, we’ll start with the hype (about a decent school system)—although we’ll end up with curriculum.

“I knew from Day One [in 1995] that all the kids could do the same level of work,” Charlotte’s superintendent, Eric Smith, told PBS’ Hedrick Smith. “They could accomplish it in the same time frame.Amazing! All the kids could do the same work, even in the same time span! This does make for a pleasing story. But what has actually happened in Charlotte? And why does Hedrick Smith stare into space when handed such unrealized tales?

A CULTURE OF BROMIDES: Some may think we were too tough on the young teachers from Teach for America (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/14/05). Fair enough—that’s probably true. Let’s draw some basic distinctions.

First: When young teachers (even trainees) are asked their views, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t state them. These young teachers were asked to take part in a survey. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t have complied.

Second: We’re a bit less impressed with Teach for America, for having conducted and promoted this survey. Let’s assume that it’s a good thing to steer idealistic college graduates into short-term careers in low-income schools. (Many such schools can’t attract full staffs of “qualified,” experienced teachers.) That said, it isn’t clear why the nation should be interested in the views of these relatively inexperienced teachers (or of trainees, who are totally inexperienced). For us, this survey has the feel of a vanity project—especially when its statements on page 2 seem to jibe so poorly with what is said on page 6. By page 6, the survey was voicing familiar bromides—while ignoring the implications of what was said on page 2. We don’t think this adds much to the discourse.

But the great fault lies with the Washington Post, for printing the absurd editorial we critiqued in yesterday’s HOWLER. It has now been almost forty years since the start of the current discussion about low-income/minority schools. And egad! Forty years later, the Post is still typing editorials built around pleasing, feel-good bromides issued by inexperienced young teachers—people assumed to be savants because they attended good colleges. This is lazy, unchallenging work by the Post. This is how people discuss a topic when they don’t really care what is true.

In the editorial’s penultimate paragraph, the editors stirringly tell us what these inexperienced young teachers believe: “Higher expectations, Teach for America argues, can actually lead to higher test scores.” Everyone gets to feel good after that. And forty years after this discussion began, nobody gets any wiser.

NATTERING NABOBS OF NABISCO: Yesterday, on Americablog, John Aravosis discussed the 2006 Maryland senate race. Since Republicans could easily pick up this seat, we want to add to the facts he presented.

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, an African-American, will almost surely be the Republican nominee for this seat. (The seat is open due to the retirement of long-time Dem senator Paul Sarbanes.) Steele is personable and quite able, but he’s currently running a campaign in which he mainly boo-hoos and blubbers about his sad race victimhood. How idiotic can pseudo-con politics get? Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich keeps insisting that Steele was pelted with Oreo cookies before a debate in September 2002. Yes, this allegedly happened three years ago—but it’s all the Maryland GOP wants to discuss. For the record, Steve Gilliard’s recent on-line post of Steele-as-Sambo has provided big fuel for this bonfire.

There’s only one problem with Ehrlich’s story; fairly clearly, it never occurred. Aravosis made this point in yesterday’s post. But here is more background information.

Allegedly, Steele was “pelted with Oreos” before the 9/26/02 gubernatorial debate between Ehrlich and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. The debate was held at Morgan State University and, by all accounts, the audience was raucous and pro-Dem. (At one point, moderator Kweisi Mfume stopped the debate to tell the crowd to shut up.) But did anyone pelt poor Steele with cookies? "It was raining Oreos," Ehrlich’s spokesman, Paul Schurick, now insists. "They were thick in the air like locusts. I was there. It was very real. It wasn't subtle.” But uh-oh! Strangely, no one reported this alleged event in real time. Indeed, there is no sign that Ehrlich or his spokesman even claimed such a thing until three weeks post-debate.

Real time: Baltimore and Washington newspapers reported the free-wheeling debate on September 27, 2002. But no one reported that it had been “raining Oreos,” although the raucousness of the event was discussed in all dispatches. The Baltimore Sun reported no such event. Neither did the Washington Post, or the Associated Press. And uh-oh! The Washington Times filed a full report. (Headline: “Angry exchange in Maryland debate; Ehrlich booed, Townsend cheered by raucous campus audience.”) But sorry—even the pro-Ehrlich Washington Times didn’t mention the alleged hail of Oreos. In short, there is no sign that anyone reported this alleged event in real time. Somehow, the cookies were thick in the air like locusts—and the Washington Times didn’t say so.

As far as we can tell, the first reported claim of an Oreo incident appeared in the Baltimore Sun on October 1—five days after the debate. The Sun’s David Nitkin reported what Schurick was saying. And at the time, according to Nitkin, Schurick was saying something different from what he is saying today:

NITKIN (10/1/02): Ehrlich spokesman Paul Schurick said Democrats in the audience went over the top.

They booed Ehrlich's wife and parents, he said, and distributed Oreo cookies in the audience—a racial insult apparently aimed at GOP lieutenant governor nominee Michael S. Steele, who is black. Schurick also said he thinks they vandalized the cars of several Ehrlich supporters, scratching paint with keys.

Hmm. According to Nitkin, Schurick wasn’t claiming a plague of locusts. He was only claiming that unnamed people had “distributed Oreo cookies in the audience.” But victimhood is the modern pseudo-con’s friend. Three weeks later, Sarah Koenig reported Candidate Ehrlich’s speech to a Baltimore-area Jewish group:
KOENIG (10/21/02): The audience who gathered at a Jewish school yesterday in Pikesville gasped when Ehrlich told them that Townsend supporters at the debate threw Oreo cookies at his running mate, Michael S. Steele—a slur symbolizing an African-American considered "white on the inside.”
According to the Nexis archives, this is the first reported claim that Oreo cookies were thrown at poor Steele. At this point, the Washington Times—which covers Maryland politics—still had not so much as mentioned any Oreo incident.

Today, Ehrlich’s claims have been “improved” to the point where a hail of cookies greeted poor Steele on that night three years back. As Aravosis notes, the Baltimore Sun reported on Ehrlich’s evolving claim this week, quoting two Morgan State officials who insisted that the Oreo-hurl never actually happened. "It didn't happen here," said the manager of the building where the debate occurred. "I was in on the cleanup, and we found no cookies or anything else abnormal. There were no Oreo cookies thrown." But so what? As the Sun reports this week, Ehrlich is now claiming that his own father was hit on the head by a cookie! The troubling story gets better and better with age, like all vintage pseudo-con whines. And by the way, so does Michael Steele’s polling.

Could Steele win this senate race? Without any question, we think he could. And it isn’t just us; a few weeks ago, we spoke with a high-profile Maryland media person who is much better connected in the state than we are—a person who comes from a very “left” background—and he too said he thought Steele could win. At present, Steele is behind in the polls by single digits. But the blubbering and boo-hooing on local talk radio has only just begun.

How will Dems and liberals handle this matter? Again, Ehrlich—a consummate phony, and we rarely dislike pols—seems to be playing the public for complete, total fools. For years, we have made a simple suggestion; we have suggested that Dems and liberals tell the public that the pseudo-con empire does this routinely. But Dems and libs have tended to gambol and play while pseudo-cons work—work on their completely inane but highly effective stories.

How will Dems and libs handle this? If we don’t start telling the public that they’re being played for fools, the next time Steele gets pelted with cookies, it may occur in the United States Senate. And oh yes—one more thing. The Maryland GOP partied all week when Gilliard ran that Sambo photo. Nothing—nothing—could have pleased them more. Sic semper excited pseudo-liberals.

POSTSCRIPT: How idiotic will our politics be until we find a way to correct it? This alleged event is said to have happened three years ago. Even the claim involves no known person or Democratic official. But so what? It’s all that Ehrlich and Steele want to discuss—and yes, it’s producing big discussion. Can our politics possibly get any dumber? Yes it can—and yes it will—until we learn how to react.

Meanwhile, how idiotic has our politics become? The term “Oreo skeptics” appears in this week’s Sun headline. Go ahead—emit rueful chuckles as you ponder what fools we now be.