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Caveat lector

1 February 2001

Smile-a-while: The Dean made us do it!

Synopsis: We swore that we would never come back. But last Sunday, The Dean made us do it!

Joining Hands for School Reform
David Broder, The Washington Post, 1/28/01

Revenge of the Wannabes
William Raspberry, The Washington Post, 1/27/01

We swore that we would never come back. We were hard at work on other projects. But Sunday morning, The Dean made us do it! We were reading along in David Broder's column, with Broder saying how tough it will be for the federal government to reform public schooling. Like most pundits, Broder didn't have a lot to say about the educational policies he was limning. But on public ed issues, that's par for the course. We came out of our chairs over this one:

BRODER: The good news is that the new education secretary, Roderick Paige, has the right background and credentials to do the job. The former Houston school superintendent is, even on first meeting, a formidable presence. When I asked his wife about a description someone had given me of Paige—"not much on glad-handing but very focused and action-oriented"—she said: "That is exactly right."

Hay-yo! That was Broder's entire assessment! Did you follow the careful reasoning, friends? How do we know that Paige is Da Man? Because when Paige's wife was offered a pandering assessment of Paige, she said it was right on target!

We thought that we had seen it all, as the press kissed some major-league keister last week. (Andrea Mitchell was counting the towels as Clinton finally left Air Force I.) But after reading Broder's passage, we dashed off a note to The New Republic. During the recent Clinton years, the mag had amused with its "Clinton Suck-Up Watch"—a recurrent feature which flushed out scribes who had hopelessly pandered to Bill. After Broder's laughable paean to Paige, it's time to start the feature again. And it's time to resume the incomparable HOWLER, if on an occasional basis.

By the way, we salute TNR for a current offering. As a service to the new administration, the Post has now dumped the offending word "vouchers," TNR reports in its "Notebook" section (2/5/01). But that's not enough, dear friends. If scribes are planning to toss off comments like Broder's, it's surely time to restore the "Watch." As we write, the hopeless panders are filling the air—from those who just hate it when pols seem to pander. Until further notice, we'll be back—on occasion—when their work brings us up from our chairs.

One further note—banging and hammering is now under way for a new web site from the incomparable DAILY HOWLER. The site will focus on urban ed issues. One warning: The site will surely spend less time smooching and soothing than Broder did Sunday. For uninformed educational pandering, we'll suggest that you look somewhere else.


The occasional update (2/1/01)

The District's new lovable pander bears: The capital's most entertaining new bears aren't the ones at the National Zoo. We simply couldn't believe our eyes when we read William Raspberry's column last Saturday. And then, we penned a saucy missive. We think it went something like this:

Letters Editor
The Washington Post

RE: William Raspberry, "Revenge of the Wannabes," 1/27/01

To the editor:

William Raspberry's January 27 column on the Clinton transition is a study of a press corps in decline.

Raspberry writes about alleged acts of vandalism as the Clinton administration departed the White House. He writes, "Bush administration officials said on Thursday that they were cataloging numerous acts of vandalism, apparently committed by departing Clintonites." Raspberry's entire column concerns this alleged conduct. "Some of it is criminal," he writes.

There is only one problem with Raspberry's column; he repeatedly acknowledges that he doesn't know the facts which he is judging. "It hard to know how much [vandalism] was done," he writes midway through his column. Earlier, he refers to "graffiti in bathrooms, alleged in some reports" (my emphasis), and to "cut phone lines and overturned desks (also reported)" (my emphasis again). And why is it so hard to know what occurred? Raspberry explains: Because "the Bush people said they would catalog but not publicly disclose the extent of the damage."

A journalist who had spent three days on earth might be suspicious of that situation. Not Raspberry! He devotes his entire column to a good, solid scolding about the horrid conduct which he can't quite confirm. But like all good scribes, he knows who's at fault. "It's the Bush people who are displaying all the class," he writes near the end of his column.

Really? On the same day that Raspberry's column appeared, John Harris wrote a page-one report, noting that Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer had now changed his Thursday statement; no one was "cataloging" the alleged damage, Fleischer now had said. And Harris quoted a Clinton spokesman saying that Fleischer had only been able to cite two alleged acts of vandalism (two cut phone lines). Was there a wave of "vandalism" when the Clintonistas left town? Or had the Bushies simply ginned up some spin? Raspberry, clearly, has no idea. Why, then, do you publish a column in which he judges the good guys and the bad? In which he makes sweeping judgments about serious claims—while repeatedly acknowledging that he doesn't know the facts?

This column shows the modern press at its worst—devoted to trivia; servants to spin; always ready to push the day's favored line. Could this column possibly have taken more than ten minutes to compose? Take a good look at the way the press was behaving as the Clintons left town.

Yours truly, etc., and so forth—


Closing note: At least Raspberry didn't stoop to counting the towels. That's women's work—and Mitchell ran to do it. See Eric Boehlert, "The Clintons' Gift Rap," Salon, 2/1/01.