What’s the matter with (the term) “rape culture?”

MONDAY, MARCH 31, 2014

Valenti opines in the Post: Jessica Valenti is often featured in the Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section.

Yesterday, she extended a fascinating recent discussion about either 1) the term “rape culture” or 2) the concepts behind the term “rape culture.” The fact that no one seems to know what is actually being discussed shows us something less than great about our emerging “progressive” culture.

The current discussion (or non-discussion) started with a cryptic remark by RAINN, which describes itself as “the country’s largest anti-sexual-violence organization.” Midway through a five-page letter to a White House task force, two RAINN officials said this:
RAINN (2/28/14): In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.
The letter goes on at some length. That short remark has produced a lot of pushback, part of a very confused and confusing discussion.

What exactly did the RAINN officials mean by that remark? Constructively, Valenti asked them! This is part of her piece in the Post:
VALENTI (3/30/14): RAINN President Scott Berkowitz told me that the memo to the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault wasn’t meant as a thorough critique of sexual violence in America. He agreed there are systemic issues: from untested rape kits to justice system treatment of survivors. But he stood by the passage about rape culture, arguing that the term “muddies” the conversation about how to help survivors and risks alienating allies. “Many people interpret it—men in particular—as accusatory,” he said. “We need to encourage their good instincts rather than pointing a finger.”

Yet Tracey Vitchers of Students Active for Ending Rape says talking about rape culture has been instrumental to her work. “The concept of rape culture provides students with the language to contextualize what is happening and how they can talk to administrators and peers,” Vitchers says. “Rape culture speaks to the larger systemic problem of why bystanders don’t intervene, why victims don’t feel safe going to campus police and why you see such levels of PTSD among college survivors.”
Do men interpret the term “rape culture” as accusatory? We don’t know, but we’ll guess that it does “muddy” some conservations, as is true whenever a group starts adopting a private language that the wider population finds unfamiliar and perhaps a bit strange-sounding.

Yesterday, we looked through the comments to Valenti’s piece and to this earlier piece by Amanda Marcotte at Slate. We were struck by the total confusion—the sense that nobody seemed to agree on what was being debated.

Private language can defeat efforts at wider persuasion. That is especially true of private language which may sound jargonized, with perhaps a whiff of the academy attached to it.

More powerfully, unfamiliar locutions may tend to drive people away if they seem to carry a not-too-secret animus against the people being approached. As in the street-fighting 1960s, so too now: we will guess that many people may see an animus against “Amerikan culture” in some of the banners under which the emerging progressive world may be choosing to march.

It’s hard to approach the wider population, all 315 million strong, if you sound like you may not like them much, or if you sound like you have an animus against their “culture.” Progressives are allowed to have such an animus, of course. It's just that some such animus may make it hard to win approval for progressive causes from the wider public, even where the overall goals should be widely held.

Based on Valenti’s report, Berkowitz seemed to say that many people find the term “rape culture” off-putting in some way or other. If that problem actually exists, one solution would be obvious—people could look for a way to present the ideas in question in a more persuasive way.

That said, progressives and liberals sometimes seem to have a cultural preference for the name-calling of The Others. The examples are endless; we'll offer one below.

With that is mind, we’ll make one final point, and we’ll flirt with being a tiny bit snarky. Valenti quotes Kitchens saying this:

“The concept of rape culture provides students with the language to contextualize what is happening and how they can talk to administrators and peers.”

We don’t know how people react to the term “rape culture.” But if you want to approach the public and win them over to a cause, we’ll even suggest that you stay away from terms like “contextualize.”

People won’t know what you’re talking about. They may find themselves strangely inclined to turn away from your cause.

What’s the matter with Iowa farmers: In what ways do liberals sometimes signal that they may not fully respect average people?

Sadly, hopelessly, let Candidate Braley show you!

Why have people heard so many bogus Obamacare horror stories?

MONDAY, MARCH 31, 2014

We look at what Hiltzik left out: We just looked in on MSNBC. What we saw was sad.

On this deadline day for health care, the warring cable tribes are fighting about the numbers. One tribe is ratcheting the claim of 6 million enrollees up. The other tribe is working hard to whittle the number down.

Our “progressive” cable tribunes would rather die than present the larger picture about our health care. Let’s say sixteen million sign up. Data like these will remain:
Health care spending, per person, 2011:
United States: $8508
Canada: $4522
Germany: $4495
France: $4118
Australia: $3800
United Kingdom: $3405
Finland: $3374
Japan: $3213
Spain: $3072
Italy: $3012
In those other developed nations, everyone is covered; overall health care outcomes are at least as good as ours. And yet, those nations spend half as much per person, or less, than we spend in this country.

That vast per person over-spending represents various forms of corporate and professional looting. For a family of four, go ahead:

Multiply the difference between France and the U.S. by four.

We have never seen those data presented or discussed on The One True Liberal Channel. The children also never tell you about your nation’s actual test scores, which have been rising for decades, despite the zombie ideas you’re constantly handed about our ratty public school teachers and our pathetic kids.

Today, our cable clans are arguing about a little bit more than six million people versus somewhat less than six million. Why do you think those overpaid stooges are like that?

Today, let’s review another question, the question Kevin Drum asked last week. Why have the American people heard so many horror stories about Obamacare? So many bogus horror stories?

For our post from last Wednesday, click here.

Brother Drum asked a fairly good question: Why do we hear so many horror stories which are actually bogus? He linked to this 1500-word piece by Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times.

In our view, Hiltzik’s report partially answers that question. We don’t mean that as a compliment.

As we showed you last week, Hiltzik offered a news report about a woman named Rita Rizzo, who had finally gotten decent insurance for herself and her husband. He compared that good-news story to an Obamacare horror story, a bogus story Hiltzik himself helped debunk last year:
HILTZIK (3/23/14): In December, Rizzo signed up for Obamacare. She now has a policy that covers her and Vincent together, including all his meds and lab work, for $379 a month, with a $2,000 family deductible.

"I feel like I died and went to insurance heaven," she says.

But you haven't heard Rizzo's story unless you tuned in to NBC Nightly News on New Year's Day or scanned a piece by Politico about a week later. In the meantime, the airwaves and news columns have been filled to overflowing with horrific tales from consumers blaming Obamacare for huge premium increases, lost access to doctors and technical frustrations—many of these concerns false or the product of misunderstanding or unfamiliarity with the law.

While Rizzo was working her way to thousands of dollars in annual savings, for example, Southern California Realtor Deborah Cavallaro was making the rounds of NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CBS, Fox and public radio's Marketplace program, talking about how her premium was about to rise some 65% because of the "Unaffordable" Care Act. What her viewers and listeners didn't learn was that she hadn't checked the rates on California's insurance exchange, where (as we determined for her) she would have found a replacement policy for less than she'd been paying.
Last week, we asked if you saw something missing there. This is what we meant:

Quite correctly, Hiltzik named a list of major news orgs which broadcast Cavallaro’s bogus story. But do you see the name of a single journalist anywhere in his report?

Who broadcast the bogus story at NBC News? Do you see that person’s name in Hiltzik’s 1500-word piece? Do you see any sign that Hiltzik called that person and asked him how he got tooken?

Who fed the bogus Obamacare story to that NBC News reporter? Why didn't he check it out before it went on the air??

Sorry, kids! It’s the first law of the guild—you don’t embarrass guild members. You do not name their actual names. You don’t tell the public, in any detail, about the way their favorite stars went out and misinformed them.

Last October, Hiltzik debunked Cavallaro’s report. Ever so briefly, ever so gently, he actually named one major broadcaster, though he did so very much in passing.

No one got named in Hiltzik’s more recent report. It simply isn’t done!


Why did NBC White House correspondent Peter Alexander go on the Today Show last year and peddle Cavallaro’s story? Why didn’t he fact-check it first?

We’d like to see that question asked of Alexander, and of the various overpaid stars who broadcast the story elsewhere.

To his credit, Hiltzik corrected the bogus tale; he didn’t name the various stars who catered the public bull roast. For that matter, we thought Drum was fairly soft in his overall approach to this topic, asking a question instead of opining—and his commenters got terminally distracted by the very first troll they met.

Drum's question went unanswered, undiscussed. The commenters burned the bulk of the thread calling each other names.

Why does the public get served so many false tales? We’d like to see the Alexanders asked that obvious question.

That said, the naming of names simply isn’t done, unless the name is O’Reilly! To all appearances, our corporate stars on liberal cable aren’t planning to break this Hard Pundit Law. Nor will they mention the health care looting which will continue even if sixteen million sign up.

Rising test scores? Who cares about that? Our cable stars aren’t going to go there. People! Good jobs at good pay!

WORLD WITHOUT FACTS, AMEN: Guess who isn’t shown weeping at all?

MONDAY, MARCH 31, 2014

Part 1—Zernike’s zombie idea: In this morning’s New York Times, Paul Krugman describes the process by which we get fed our “zombie ideas.”

Krugman discusses the bogus claim that there is a serious “skills gap” afflicting our economy. He notes that there are quite a few other influential bogus facts out there.

He calls these bogus facts “zombie ideas.”

According to Krugman—and we strongly agree—we may get fed these bogus facts as an assertion of “tribal identity.” This is Krugman, speaking accurately:

“The point is that influential people move in circles in which repeating the skills-gap story—or, better yet, writing about skill gaps in media outlets like Politico—is a badge of seriousness, an assertion of tribal identity. And the zombie shambles on.”

Indeed. In many instances, people’s heads get stuffed full of bogus facts. The recitation of these bogus facts can be an assertion of tribal identity.

Then too, the accumulation of bogus facts may create a sense of tribal identity. Let’s not leave that problem out, since it can happen to us!

In today’s column, Krugman discusses zombie ideas which come from the right and/or the plutocracy. That said, other influential groups feed us different zombie ideas.

This brings us to today’s story. A new set of zombie ideas is being peddled as we type. In last Friday’s New York Times, Kate Zernike played a role in the creation and spread of these new bogus facts.

Zernike is easily one of the worst reporters we’ve ever covered. Here’s the way her treatment of the Mastro report began:
ZERNIKE (3/28/14): She “seemed emotional.” She was “habitually concerned about how she was perceived by the governor.” A boyfriend had ended a relationship.

Bridget Anne Kelly has been the center of blame in the George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal since early January, when it was revealed that she sent an email calling for “some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Gov. Chris Christie, seeking to stanch the damage the scandal had caused to his political fortunes, fired her as his deputy chief of staff after that, calling her “stupid.” But the report commissioned by Mr. Christie and released Thursday doubles down on a strategy of portraying Ms. Kelly as duplicitous, weeping frequently and dependent on men for approval and stability.
Did Christie call Bridget Kelly “stupid?” On balance, we’d say he did not—and we’d say that this has already become a bit of a zombie fact.

Has Kelly been “the center of blame in the lane closing scandal” since early January? It seems to us that a fellow named Wildstein has also been a “center of blame.”

Zernike will rarely make an accurate statement where a less accurate statement will do. But Kelly as the center of blame is a very minor problem with last Friday’s report.

Elsewhere in Zernike’s report, she offers facts which are grossly misleading, even flatly false. And uh-oh! As of this morning, we can see the inevitable process in which her bogus claims are becoming zombie ideas.

Can we talk? Bridget Kelly is never shown “weeping” in the Mastro report, let alone “weeping frequently.” Beyond that, the word “emotional” is applied to her one time only.

By way of contrast, the world “emotional” is applied to Governor Christie at five different points in the report. At two points in the Mastro report, Christie is shown in tears.

(For a searchable version of the report, you can just click here.)

What can explain Zernike’s claim that Kelly is “portrayed as weeping frequently?” Had Zernike even read the Mastro report when she produced her instant report?

We can’t answer those questions. But Zernike’s claim may have sounded good to Mike Kelly (no relation to Bridget Kelly), whose zombie-fueled column appears today in the Bergen Record.

Has Mike Kelly read the Mastro report? We can’t answer that either. That said, the Record is the paper of record (no pun intended) in the Fort Lee affair—and this is the way Mike Kelly’s column starts:
KELLY (3/31/14): It’s a dilemma faced by historians, corporate managers, journalists, even lawyers representing couples in divorce court. When is it appropriate to reveal details about someone’s personal life?

That question is the focal point of a debate swirling around the report released last week by a team of lawyers hired by Governor Christie that exonerated him from any blame in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal.

At the center of the controversy is a conclusion that seems fitting for a novel, not a report on traffic jams that were alleged to be political payback: Bridget Anne Kelly, the former gubernatorial aide whose email suggested “some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” had been distraught, weeping frequently and behaving erratically after a romantic breakup.
Has Kelly read the Mastro report? This morning, he repeats a false claim—the claim that the Mastro report portrays Bridget Kelly “weeping frequently and behaving erratically after a romantic breakup.”

Let us say it again: Bridget Kelly is never shown weeping, or even crying, in the Mastro report. The claim that she is shown “weeping frequently” is just flatly false.

That statement is false, but it’s on its way to becoming a “zombie idea.” Almost surely, many people will repeat that claim as part of their tribal identity.

To his credit, Mike Kelly doesn’t put the word “erratically” inside quotation marks in the passage we’ve posted. He doesn’t claim that the Mastro report actually uses that word to describe Bridget Kelly’s behavior.

As such, Mike Kelly rejects the flat misstatement which drove Joan Walsh’s piece last Friday—a flat misstatement which was spanning the globe by the start of the weekend. (He retains the loaded characterization while dropping the claim that Mastro used the quoted word.)

That said, what about Mike Kelly’s other claim—the claim that Mastro’s report shows Bridget Kelly “weeping frequently?”

We’re sorry, but that isn’t true. Bridget Kelly is never shown weeping, or even crying, in the Mastro report. Below, you see the only passage which is in any way relevant.

It is now December 13, 2013—three months after the lane closings, at least four months after the alleged “romantic breakup” (Mike Kelly’s term) which Mike Kelly says is used to explain the frequent weeping.

In an “emotional and, at times, agitated manner,” Christie holds a meeting in which he “ordered his staff,” including Bridget Kelly, “to come forward with any information about the lane realignment.”

No one speaks up! Christie then holds a press conference, saying that none of his staff knew diddly-squat about the lane closings.

After the press conference, the following scene occurs. In his press conference, Christie has named Deborah Gramiccioni as Bill Baroni’s replacement at the Port Authority:
MASTRO REPORT (page 102): Shortly after the press conference, Gramiccioni passed by Kelly’s office and noticed that Kelly was seated alone and looked as if she had been crying. Gramiccioni entered Kelly’s office and asked her what was wrong. Kelly said she had spent the morning going through her emails for O’Dowd, was unable to find any emails discussing the lane realignment, and did not remember whether she had any emails relevant to the lane realignment issue. Gramiccioni asked Kelly how she could not remember whether she had any such emails, to which Kelly responded that her practice was to delete her emails to prevent her children from reading any communications she had with her ex-husband. Gramiccioni recalled thinking that this was an odd, non-responsive answer. Gramiccioni then advised Kelly that if she had anything else to share, she needed to talk to O’Dowd again or else she would be in serious trouble. Gramiccioni told O’Dowd about her conversation with Kelly, noting that Kelly had looked upset and had continued to deny having any emails reflecting her knowledge of the lane realignment.
Did those events really happen? Did they happen as described? Without consulting the flight of birds, we can’t answer those questions.

But this is the only place in the Mastro report where there is any reference to Bridget Kelly weeping, crying, being in tears, or looking as if she has been in tears. In 340 pages, that is the only such reference, claim or portrait.

Chronologically, there is no claim or suggestion that this has anything to do with the alleged breakup. As such, Mike Kelly’s chronological claim about the report is bogus and zombie too.

In Zernike’s opening paragraphs, this lone event somehow gave birth to the claim that Bridget Kelly is shown “weeping frequently” in the Mastro report. Zernike’s statement was flatly false, but Mike Kelly makes the same statement this morning.

The word “erratic” no longer appears inside quotes. In its place, we get this latest false assertion, which will likely become a zombie idea and a marker of tribal identity.

There’s a lot to criticize about the Mastro report. Even seen as a statement by the (Christie) defense, it’s very weak in several major respects. (On the other hand, it seems to include some new information.)

That said, Mastro’s report doesn’t come from the press corps. At this site, we talk about the work of our nation’s “journalists,” not about the work of our political hacks.

Last Friday, Joan Walsh composed an orange-shoed review of the Mastro report. Her ludicrous logic was the main problem. But she started with a flatly false quotation, which was soon spanning the globe.

In that morning’s New York Times, Zernike had advanced a different false fact. Three days later, Mike Kelly has made the same false statement in the paper of record for the Fort Lee affair.

Our “journalists” have been working this way for decades. They have invented many false facts and false quotations. Some of their many inventions have led to deaths in this country and, in very large numbers, all around the world.

The career liberal world has routinely accepted the conduct to which we refer. Career liberals will continue to accept, or engage in, this newest misconduct.

Krugman describes the process today, but let’s be very clear. The plutocrats will feed you false claims, but so will fallen corporate players from within our own pitiful tribe.

Only you can decide how you feel about those bogus facts, the false and misleading claims which become your own tribe’s source of identity. Will you decide to repeat those false facts? Or are you prepared to reject your tribe’s zombie ideas?

For decades, the American public has lived in a world of zombie ideas and bogus quotations. In many respects, our “journalistic” world has been a world without facts, amen.

Krugman describes the process today. These would be our questions for you:

Do you like some of these zombie ideas? Does your sense of identity make you accept your own tribe’s bogus facts?

Tomorrow: More from Zernike’s reports

Yet to come: Hayes [HEART] Stefano

Report inspires horrible work!


We’ll start with Walsh’s reaction: Randy Mastro’s report about Fort Lee has its strong points and its weak points.

(For today, we aren’t considering the part of the report which concerns events in Hoboken.)

On the positive side, the report includes apparent new information about the events which preceded Fort Lee.

On the down side, the report never really confronts the possibility that Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein may have received a go-ahead for the lane closings from some higher source within the Christie administration.

Other criticisms have been aimed at the report. As a general matter, we’d say the report has obvious flaws and shortcomings, though we’d also say it isn’t as bad as some partisans have said.

For today, we aren’t going to focus on Mastro’s report, which isn’t a press corps production. We’re going to look at some journalism about the Mastro report.

As we do, we'll test this assumption:

However bad the report may be, we all want quality journalism about the Mastro report.

Fellow citizens, is that really what we the people want? We’ll consider various forms of that question all next week. For today, let’s start with a post by Salon’s Joan Walsh, a ranking member of the rapidly emerging “liberal/progressive” press corps.

In the text of her actual post, Walsh focused on the alleged “sexism” in the Mastro report. This being Salon, her claim got ratcheted up in a pair of high-decibel headlines:
Christie’s creepy misogyny: Behold his despicable “blame Bridget” strategy
If you believe an “emotional” and “stupid” jilted woman caused Bridgegate, I’ve got a bridge to sell you
Walsh didn’t use the term “misogyny.” Salon’s headline writer did.

Several words appear inside quotes in Salon’s high-decibel headlines. As Walsh’s actual text begins, that’s where her journalistic problems start.

If you want to let tribunes invent facts and quotes, you should stop reading now. Remember—we’re trying to evaluate Walsh’s work, not the report itself:
WALSH (3/28/14): Gov. Chris Christie’s million-dollar taxpayer-funded self-exoneration in the Bridgegate scandal certainly found a bad guy—and it’s a gal.

Randy Mastro’s report put the blame squarely on two fired staffers, David Wildstein and deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly. But its treatment of Kelly was mind-blowingly mean, describing her as “emotional,” “erratic” and as a liar; confirming Trenton gossip that she was “personally involved” with chief of staff Bill Stepien, and that Stepien apparently dumped her; alleging that she asked an aide to delete an incriminating email when the investigation began, thus implicating her not only in the plot’s execution but its coverup.
As an example of journalism, that passage is ludicrous in several ways. Let’s start with a simple mistake:

As many people have noted, the Mastro report is more than 300 pages long. For a searchable version of its text and its endless footnotes, you can just click here.

According to Walsh, the Mastro report was “mind-blowingly mean” when it called Kelly “erratic.” But go ahead—search the text!

You won’t find the word “erratic,” a word Walsh placed inside quotes.

Where did Walsh get the idea that the Mastro report called Kelly “erratic?” Possibly from Taylor Marsh, to whose post she links.

Marsh starts with a transcript from Morning Joe in which Mark Halperin says that Mastro’s report describes Kelly as erratic. Marsh put the word “erratic” in quotes, apparently thinking that Halperin was quoting the Mastro report.

Whatever you think of Halperin’s characterization, he wasn’t quoting the report. In this age of the easy electronic search, Marsh apparently didn’t check.

Neither did Walsh. By now, the claim that Mastro’s report calls Kelly “erratic” has gone spanning the globe, with the word “erratic” inside quotes.

The Guardian didn't bother to check. Neither did the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri. Please stop reading if you don’t care when your journalists do this.

That was an obvious error by Walsh. That said, we all make mistakes. Other parts of the passage we’ve quoted are considerably worse.

Even Walsh doesn’t put the word “liar” inside quotes. She doesn’t claim that Mastro used the word “liar” in describing Kelly.

That said, she says the Mastro report is “mind-blowingly mean” in some related way. According to Walsh, “its treatment of Kelly was mind-blowingly mean, describing her...as a liar.”

Incredibly, here’s what she seems to mean:

The Mastro report asserts that Kelly lied to superiors within the Christie administration when she was asked if she had prior knowledge about the lane closings.

Even Walsh doesn’t claim that Mastro used the word “liar.” But her text says that Mastro was “mind-blowingly mean” when he made this assertion.

Did Kelly lie about this matter? Like Walsh, we have no direct way of knowing.

That said, it’s easy to see where Walsh’s logic leads us. If an investigator finds that Person A told a lie about Topic X, Walsh says it’s “mind-blowingly mean” for him to report that fact!

Welcome to Lower Nutsylvania, the land we all inhabit now.

In that passage, Walsh also says it’s “mind-blowingly mean” when Mastro says that Kelly “asked an aide [Christina Renna] to delete an incriminating email when the investigation began.”

Question: What is Mastro supposed to say if he finds that Kelly did that? According to Walsh, it’s “mind-blowingly mean” when an investigator says someone did something wrong!


How did we ever reach the point when a major “journalist” could even dream of composing a passage like that?

In our view, that’s a long story. In our view, it coincides with the rise of the gong-show, pseudo-liberal journalism which increasingly seems to be trying to match the pre-existing, gong-show journalism of the pseudo-right.

That said, Walsh’s opening passage is absurd on its face—and her piece takes off from there. In her next paragraph, Walsh excitingly says that “Mastro stopped just short of suggesting the state torch Kelly’s office and salt the earth it once stood on.” By paragraph 5, she is saying that “blaming the woman goes back to Eve,” even as she describes a report which blames both Kelly and Wildstein.

Walsh didn’t bother to search on “erratic.” More remarkably, she was too much the modern to retreat from the claim that it’s “mind-blowingly mean” to report apparent facts.

Please note: Walsh doesn’t deny the claim that Kelly lied to superiors. She simply says it’s mean to say that she did.

Walsh doesn’t challenge the claim that Kelly asked an aide to delete an incriminating email. Instead, she name-calls Mastro for reporting that Kelly did that.

How did we ever reach the point where our “journalists” functions this way? Have we always been like this?

We’ll ponder those questions all next week. At some point, we’ll even ponder this report by the New York Times’ Kate Zernike.


This morning, we’re asking you about our journalists, not about our writers of reports. Read that ludicrous passage by Walsh, then consider this obvious question:

Whatever you think of Mastro’s report, how did upper-end corporate journalism ever reach this point?

For the top group only: Did Governor Christie call Kelly “stupid” during his January 9 press conference?

If so, did he call Wildstein “stupid” too, or did he just name-call Kelly?

Zernike and Walsh both say that Christie called Kelly “stupid.” Each scribe puts “stupid” inside quotes. Each scribe seems to say that this alleged conduct was sexist.

Luckily, that transcript is searchable too. Click here, then consider both questions.

Christie report is an oversold dud!

FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 2014

Pundit reaction is worse: On the one hand, the Christie report turned out to be a bit of an oversold dud.

On Wednesday night, Governor Christie was asked how the report could be any good, since several important figures had refused to be interviewed.

In reply, Christie said this:
CHRISTIE (3/26/14): You don’t just come to conclusions from interviews. There’s lots and lots of documents that involve all those people which have been part of the public record and will be becoming a part of the public record going forward. And you can discern a lot from that.

Some of those, at least three of them, have asserted their constitutional right not to speak. If they continue to do that, no one will ever speak to them.

RADIO HOST: So there may be questions surrounding this which you concede, that we may simply never know the answers to.

CHRISTIE: Right, but I don’t think the important questions. I think all the important questions will be answered.
Christie’s first point was certainly right. We don’t get all our facts from interviews. One example:

No one has interviewed Bridget Kelly at all. But every pundit has declared that Kelly ordered the closings.

That judgment has been based on an email. No one has felt the need to wait for her interview.

How about Christie’s second point: “I think all the important questions will be answered?”

In retrospect, maybe Christie didn’t mean that every question would be answered in this report. If he meant his report would answer all questions, his report is an oversold dud.

Plainly, the report doesn’t answer all questions. On the other hand, the report is straightforward about the fact that it can’t explain the motivation for the lane closings. And in some ways, the report is better than the punditry it has inspired.

We’re still reading the report, but it seems to include some new information about the Fort Lee matter. On the other hand, a lot of pundit reaction has been just very bad.

At the TPM Editor’s Blog, the snarky premise driving this post is extremely dumb. That said, many pundits have run with the faux conundrum driving that silly post.

Other pundits continue to wonder: How you can produce a report if you don’t interview the principals? Work like that is sad. But that’s the general state of play in this heavily tribalized era.

In our next post, we’ll look at Kate Zernike’s critique of the Christie report. But cable last night was an ongoing tribute to our low-IQ, partisan age.

On CNN, the tulip craze continued apace. Not since The Summer of Condit (2001) have so many pundits been so daft in such a synchronized way for such an extended time.

On MSNBC, poor Ari Melber was caught in the backwash of Chris Hayes’ ridiculous segment from Wednesday night. (Melber guest-hosted for Hayes.)

At Salon and at TPM, we liberals have been encouraged to view that segment in the Preferred Tribal Manner. We had a different reaction to the segment, a point we expect to explain in the coming days.

Has “cable news” ever been this dumb so completely across the board? Truly, cable pundits have come close to achieving a fully pre-rational state.

On the web, things are little better. Most disturbingly, liberals are being urged to swallow The Dumb everywhere we turn.

You can’t run a modern nation this way. On cable, the various groupings of corporate hires look like they’re planning to try.

TEACH THE JOURNALISTS WELL: Real teachers and children inside our real schools!

FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 2014

Part 4—Unknown to our ed reporters: How well do our education reporters understand our American schools?

To us, it often seems that they don’t understand our schools well.

We see this when they fly to Finland to repeat standard stories about Finland’s greatness, failing to see the way that nation’s challenges fail to mirror our own.

We see this when they recite the standard story about our alleged decline—when they refuse to report the way our NAEP scores have been rising.

We see this when the Washington Post doesn’t seem to know how to access the District’s NAEP scores. We see this when the Post profiles and praises a local school whose reading scores turn out to be second worst in the state of Virginia.

We saw this when our education reporters (and our “educational experts”) were caught by surprise all through the last decade’s cheating scandals. We see this when reporters fall back on paradigms from the civil rights era, avoiding inquiry into the needs and the experiences of actual low-income kids.

This Wednesday, we thought the New York Times’ Motoko Rich did one of the finest education reports we’ve ever seen in that newspaper. Sadly, the report stood out because so much work in the New York Times is technically incompetent and deeply uninformed.

We feel sorry for the nation’s black kids when we see the ways their lives get ignored and discarded by education reporters. Today, let’s recall a report we thought was quite uninformed.

As we do, let’s consider a question: How the heck is the Common Core really supposed to work?

We start with a workmanlike news report by the New York Times’ Vivian Yee, a bright young reporter with little background in education reporting.

Yee’s 1600-word report appeared on the Times’ front page. It concerned so-called “ability grouping.”

We were surprised by Yee’s report. It was largely based on a new analysis by Tom Loveless, one of the nation’s legitimate educational experts.

According to Yee, “ability grouping” is making a comeback in our public schools. We were surprised to learn that the practice had ever gone away.

This was Yee’s nugget:
YEE (6/10/13): [A]bility grouping has re-emerged in classrooms all over the country...

A new analysis of data collected by the government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that of the fourth-grade teachers surveyed, 71 percent said they had grouped students by reading ability in 2009, up from 28 percent in 1998. The analysis, by Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that in math, 61 percent of fourth-grade teachers reported ability grouping in 2011, up from 40 percent in 1996.

“These practices were essentially stigmatized,” said Mr. Loveless, who first noted the returning trend in a March report, and who has studied the grouping debate. “It’s kind of gone underground, it’s become less controversial.”
Why does “ability grouping” occur in public school classrooms? In the following passage, Yee quotes a New Hampshire public school teacher.

The teacher explains why she splits her fourth-grade class into groups:
YEE: Teachers and principals who use grouping say that the practice has become indispensable, helping them cope with widely varying levels of ability and achievement.

When Jill Sears began teaching elementary school in New Hampshire 17 years ago, the second graders in her class showed up on the first day with a bewildering mix of strengths and weaknesses. Some children coasted through math worksheets in a few minutes, she said; others struggled to finish half a page. The swifter students, bored, would make mischief, while the slowest would become frustrated, give up and act out.

“My instruction aimed at the middle of my class, and was leaving out approximately two-thirds of my learners,” said Ms. Sears, a fourth-grade teacher at Woodman Park Elementary in Dover, N.H. “I didn’t like those odds.”

So she completely reorganized her classroom. About a decade ago, instead of teaching all her students as one group, she began ability grouping, teaching all groups the same material but tailoring activities and assignments to each group.

“I just knew that for me to have any sanity at the end of the day, I could just make these changes,” she said.
In our view, these kids were being grouped by achievement, not necessarily by ability. That said, we’ll use the term of art, “ability grouping,” from this moment on.

Sears was describing a fact of life—fourth-graders aren’t all alike! To cite one specific manifestation, fourth-graders aren’t all working on traditional “fourth-grade level.”

That is especially true in this country. Unless you’re determined to be obtuse and cruel, this is the reason why:

As compared to unicultural nations like Finland and Korea, we have an unusually diverse student population.

We have a lot of immigrant kids who may not speak English and may come from low-literacy backgrounds. (Rich described one such child in Wednesday’s superb report.)

We have much more child poverty than a nation like Finland. This involves children in all our demographic groups.

We have a lot of black kids who are caught in the backwash of our nation’s brutal racial history, in which our benighted ancestors spent hundreds of years trying to eliminate literacy from the black world.

In that benighted task, they failed. But literacy rates are still substantially lower among black adults, and therefore among black kids. (As everyone knows, the culture of literacy is largely passed on in the home.)

For all these reasons, we have an unusually diverse student population. As a result, American students display a much wider range of scores on major international tests than students in Finland or Korea.

The bottom quarter of our student population scores far below the top quarter, much more so than in those unicultural countries. This produces challenges for our public school teachers—the kind of challenge Sears described in the passage above.

What is a teacher supposed to do when some of her kids are working on fourth grade level and others are several years “behind?” When some of her fourth-grade students may be ready to work ahead of traditional fourth-grade level?

If anything, Sears describes a class which lacks a full range of achievement levels. We say that because she says she’s able to “teach all groups the same material,” simply “tailoring activities and assignments to each group.”

In some schools or classrooms, the range of achievement levels will be so wide that this can’t sensibly be done. Everyone understands that such ranges exist on the high school level, where some students may be doing calculus, with others working at sixth-grade level in math. But wide ranges of achievement exist in the elementary grades too.

Very wide ranges of achievement exist all through our American schools. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen an education reporter who understood that basic fact.

Yee wasn’t, and isn’t, an education specialist. Despite that fact, the Times assigned her the task of exploring this topic for the paper’s front page.

Yee did a perfectly workmanlike job despite her lack of experience. That afternoon, Dana Goldstein, who is an education reporter, discussed Yee's report for Slate. Her headline said this:

“Grouping by Ability in Classrooms Is Back in Fashion. Is This Good For Kids?”

Goldstein is a full-fledged education reporter. She’s bright and “well-educated.” (Goldstein went to Brown, Yee to Yale.)

Goldstein is a decent person who is thoroughly well-intentioned. That said, how well does she understand our American schools?

Back in the day, she took the trip to Finland. When she returned, she expressed the more liberal version of the scripts, making some perfectly sensible points about what she’d seen Over There.

That said, Goldstein failed to note the sheer absurdity of comparing Finland’s public schools to those in the United States. Does she understand the challenges found in American schools?

Does Goldstein understand our schools? In her piece about ability grouping, we were struck by the picture she drew of the American classroom:
GOLDSTEIN (6/10/13): Grouping fell out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was stigmatized because of its relationship to high school-level “tracking”...[G]rouping remains controversial, in part because it pits two of the education world’s favorite buzzwords against one another: “differentiation” versus “high expectations.”

“Differentiation” calls for a teacher to adjust the delivery and assessment of lessons for each student in her class. All students might hear the same introductory lecture on fractions, for example, but in small groups later on, some students would be expected to complete four numeric problems, while others would tackle those same four problems, plus an additional two word problems. The teacher would move around the room, providing one-on-one help and instruction geared toward each student’s ability level.

“High expectations,” on the other hand, refers to the idea that many children will rise to meet the standards set for them by teachers and parents. This rhetoric dates back to the civil rights era...
On what planet does that example of “differentiation” begin to capture the challenges faced by American teachers? Goldstein pictures a classroom where the different achievement levels come to this:

Everyone is taught the same math skill. The more advanced kids are then asked to solve six problems. The rest of the class solves four!

Dana Goldstein is a bright, decent person. If anything, she may be too “well educated,” like a lot of the people who get hired by our major news orgs.

Dana Goldstein is bright and decent. That said, we’ve never seen an education reporter who seemed to understand the true state of American children or American schools.

(In fairness, many of our “educational experts” seem to live on the same clouds.)

Who will teach the journalists well? Even on the most basic matters, they have steadfastly resisted learning over the past many years.

Finland rocks! And American test scores are in decline! These are the stories our journos have sold you for the past boatload of years.

This Wednesday, in a wonderful move, Motoko Rich seemed to take a rocket ship to the actual world.

She described a real American child and the challenges faced by her loving parents. If only she had added this passage:

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, minority kids have scored much better, in reading and math, over the past few decades.

Our American children have been on the move. Too Small to Fail is a program designed to continue those decades of progress.

For the Bluebirds only: In our view, the Common Core isn’t being reported especially well.

That said, please riddle us this: Given the wide range of achievement levels found across our American schools, how is any set of grade-level “standards” actually supposed to work?

Based upon our fifth-grade teaching experience, we've been puzzled by that question for decades. We’ve never seen an education reporter address this obvious problem.

Robins, please do your four math problems. Buzzards? Heads on desks!

Remembering Raspberry’s Baby Steps!


While heaping more praise on Rich: We want to heap a bit more praise on the New York Times’ Motoko Rich.

As a general rule, the New York Times does terrible education reporting. Yesterday, Rich did one of the finest education reports we’ve ever seen in the Times.

Rich discussed an important fact—in many cases, loving parents from low-literacy backgrounds don’t know that they should be talking and reading to their infants and toddlers. In our view, this is one of the finest examples of education reporting ever seen in the Times:
RICH (3/26/14): Educators say that many parents, especially among the poor and immigrants, do not know that talking, as well as reading, singing and playing with their young children, is important. “I’ve had young moms say, ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to talk to my baby until they could say words and talk to me,’ ” said Susan Landry, which has developed a home visiting program similar to the one here in Providence.

“In the same way that we say you should feed your child, brush their teeth, you should be stimulating their brain by talking, singing and reading to them,” said Ann O’Leary, the director of Too Small to Fail...
Too Small to Fail is a program is “an initiative aimed at closing the word gap across the country,” Rich reports. As we once again praise Rich for this very helpful report, it might be time to think again about the late William Raspberry.

Raspberry was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at the Washington Post. When he retired from the Post in 2005, he returned to his home town—Okolona, Mississippi!—to run a program called Baby Steps.

We first wrote about Baby Steps that very month. In part, the program was designed to help low-income parents learn that they should talk and read to their children, as with Too Small to Fail.

Raspberry had discussed Baby Steps in a column the month before. He started by describing a young mother who was thrilled by the progress she saw her baby making as she learned to “chatter” to him.

He then described the fuller sweep of the program:
RASPBERRY (11/7/05): Chattering isn't all that Baby Steps does, of course. The program, just over two years old, begins with the notion that much of what we describe as school failure is in fact the result of inadequate foundations laid at home. But it also assumes that parents love their children, want them to succeed and would do the things that promote school success, if they knew what those things were. We aim to teach them, well before the children enter school, and to have fun doing it. The program serves parents of children from birth to age 5.

So far (though there's no pre- or post-testing to prove it), parents in the program really do seem to be picking up the habits—talking and reading to their children, praising more and criticizing less, finding teaching opportunities in everything from a handed-down family story to a packet of flower seeds—that many middle-class parents take for granted. And they seem to take delight in each new step toward increased parental competence.

That doesn't surprise me. What does is the easy willingness of other people in my home town—parents, professionals, friends, family, ministers, merchants, educators and just plain folk—to join in the enterprise. Only a tiny handful are paid (and not very much); a few have their travel expenses reimbursed. But most are happy just to be involved with something positive for the town's children.
We mentioned Baby Steps in two other posts, wondering how the program was doing. But we never saw it mentioned again in the Post, or anywhere else, except in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Mississippi).

Those deserving kids just keep on coming. It’s a very rare day when a major newspaper goes to the heart of the education struggles they and their parents may face.

Our big newspapers don’t bother with that. They spend their time disinforming the public with their Standard Bogus Stories about the way American test scores are a mess. (In fact, test scores have never been as high as they are.)

Raspberry died in 2012; Baby Steps is still up and running. How much better Rich’s report would have been if she had added this point about Too Small to Fail:

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, black and Hispanic kids have shown large score gains in recent decades in both reading and math. Too Small to Fail is a national effort to keep that progress rolling.

Low-income kids have recorded large gains. But when will the public ever be told? When will people be allowed to take pride in the ongoing progress? To learn that their country’s improving?

Why won’t liberals talk about the large score gains those kids have recorded? The silence of the liberal world is one of the great disgraces—and an unflattering tell.

Christie’s report gets released today!


The tulip craze moves in reverse: On CNN, the tulip craze was still underway last night.

The various pundits still sat around, basically guessing and dreaming. By way of contrast, on The Last Word, an equal-but-opposite craze seemed to run in reverse.

To watch the whole segment, click here.

Lawrence discussed Chris Christie’s impending report about the Fort Lee lane closings. The report will be released today. We were surprised by the attitude expressed by one major New Jersey journalist.

First, a bit of background:

Last night, on a radio show, Christie made a major claim about the contents of his impending report. Lawrence played the videotape:

“I think all the important questions will be answered,” Christie said, building up his report.

That was a major claim. Of course, until we see the report, the claim can’t be evaluated. That claim could be total bunk.

That said, we were puzzled by the first Q-and-A between Lawrence and Alfred Doblin, editorial page editor for the Bergen Record. We thought Doblin’s comments were strange, perhaps a bit unsettling:
O’DONNELL (3/26/14): Joining me now, Alfred P. Doblin, editorial page editor for the Bergen Record. According to your editorial newspaper, you have your doubts about all the important questions being answered by this report.

DOBLIN: Yes. I mean, I think—you know, maybe it depends on how we define “important.” You know, the governor, from what we heard him say and what his office put out, is saying this is an exhaustive, comprehensive report produced by people he hired, people who have ties to him.

I mean, they’re smart attorneys. We’re not commenting that what we might read in the report is false. But it seems hard to understand how the key players, who are not interviewed, without those people being involved, how this will be comprehensive and exhaustive.

I mean, we may find out a little bit more of who ordered what at what time. But will we find out why this happened? Will we find out who actually engineered it? And the governor hasn’t said whether we will understand completely whether he knew anything about it after it was plotted and executed.

There’s a lot of time between September and January 8th, when my paper first wrote this story. So I don’t see how all questions are going to be answered.
Doblin went on in that vein. We thought his remarks were odd.

He started by noting the fact that several major players weren’t interviewed for the report. But Lawrence had just played videotape of Christie saying this:
CHRISTIE (3/26/14): You don’t just come to conclusions from interviews. There’s lots and lots of documents that involve all those people which have been part of the public record and will be becoming a part of the public record going forward. And you can discern a lot from that. Some of those, at least three of them, have asserted their constitutional right not to speak. If they continue to do that, no one will ever speak to them.
Duh. As we noted yesterday, it may be that no one will ever interview Kelly, Wildstein or Stepien.

That doesn’t mean you can’t solve a case. In many instances, documents allow you to solve a case. And Christie said against last night that new documents will be coming forward as part of this report.

Everyone knows that this report could turn out to be a dud. But it’s also possible that new emails and texts may shed light on what happened.

No one will know till they see the report! But as she spoke with Lawrence, Doblin seem flummoxed about the basic way information works.

Once again, we felt concerned about the basic coherence of our nation’s journalists.

On CNN, the nonsense about the missing plane continued apace last night. The various pundits still sat around speculating and guessing.

In an equal but opposite process, Doblin didn’t seem able to imagine a basic process—the basic process by which we gain information. The process in which we examine relevant documents and learn how and why something happened.

Will Christie’s report really show us who did what for what reason? Quoting Doblin’s questions, “Will we find out why this happened? Will we find out who actually engineered it?”

We don’t have the slightest idea. We haven’t seen it yet.

That said, we can imagine finding out who engineered the lane closings. For example, we can imagine seeing more emails from Bridget Kelly which make this transaction clear.

It all depends on what kind of documents Christie has. It all depends on what the documents say.

The report could answer those basic questions—unless you’re Alfred Doblin. Last night, Doblin couldn’t even seem to imagine the process of learning a fact.

On CNN, on further reflection, it worked in a somewhat similar way:

The experts sat around guessing and dreaming about what might have occurred. They also seemed strangely unfamiliar with the process of learning real facts.

TEACH THE JOURNALISTS WELL: Motoko Rich gets it very right!


Interlude—The editors get it quite wrong: Yesterday morning, Motoko Rich authored one of the best education reports we’ve ever seen in the New York Times.

This morning, the editors offer an editorial which is tired, enormously lazy, wrong. Let’s start with Rich’s report, which could of course have been better.

Let’s say it again—Rich’s piece is one of the best education reports we’ve ever seen in the Times. We’ll grant you, there isn’t a very high bar. But Rich’s piece starts to show what education reporting could be like.

Rich penned the featured news report in yesterday’s National section. Early on, she described one of the ways low-income kids fall behind in their earliest years:
RICH (3/26/14): Amid a political push for government-funded preschool for 4-year-olds, a growing number of experts fear that such programs actually start too late for the children most at risk. That is why Deisy Ixcuna-González, the 16-month-old daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, is wearing a tiny recorder that captures every word she hears and utters inside her family’s cramped apartment one day a week.

Recent research shows that brain development is buoyed by continuous interaction with parents and caregivers from birth, and that even before age 2, the children of the wealthy know more words than do those of the poor. So the recorder acts as a tool for instructing Deisy’s parents on how to turn even a visit to the kitchen into a language lesson. It is part of an ambitious campaign, known as Providence Talks, that is aimed at the city’s poorest residents and intended to reduce the knowledge gap long before school starts.
We’re not sure how “recent” that research is. The problem Rich describes has been understood for some time.

As Rich notes, research shows that low-income kids may be far “behind” their middle-class peers by the time they’re two or three. They’re already “behind” when they go to preschool, or when they start kindergarten.

These children’s loving parents may not understood the dynamic which creates this condition. As she continued, Rich reported that very important fact:
RICH: Educators say that many parents, especially among the poor and immigrants, do not know that talking, as well as reading, singing and playing with their young children, is important. “I’ve had young moms say, ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to talk to my baby until they could say words and talk to me,’ ” said Susan Landry, director of the Children’s Learning Institute at the University of Texas in Houston, which has developed a home visiting program similar to the one here in Providence.

“In the same way that we say you should feed your child, brush their teeth, you should be stimulating their brain by talking, singing and reading to them,” said Ann O’Leary, the director of Too Small to Fail, an initiative aimed at closing the word gap across the country. “We want to move the needle from this being an optional activity to a must-do activity.”
Low-income parents may not know that they should talk to their babies and toddlers. In such ways, the “achievement gaps” which plague our public schools start taking shape in the first years of life.

That highlighted passage is one of the best bits of education reporting we’ve ever seen in the Times. Later, another passage helped illustrate where our achievement gaps come from:
RICH: On a chilly afternoon this month, Ms. Taveras...sat down with Deisy’s parents. María González, who has a third-grade education and spoke her native K’iche’ when she emigrated from Guatemala seven years ago, reviewed a bar chart that showed how many words she and her husband, Rafael Ixcuna, who packs fruit at a factory in the city, had spoken to Deisy on a day the previous week.
Unlike middle-class countries like Finland, about whom the New York Times foolishly fawns, the United States has a vibrant, deeply varied student demographic. That said, this varied demographic includes many immigrant kids who come from low-literacy backgrounds.

It also includes low-income black kids, children caught in the backwash of our brutal racial history.

Our benighted ancestors spent several centuries trying to eliminate literacy in the black community. They didn’t succeed, but many black kids come from low-literacy backgrounds too. Their parents may not understand the best ways to stimulate the developing brains of their babies and toddlers. Ditto for loving parents in white poverty areas.

In this report, Rich starts explaining where our “achievement gaps” come from. She starts describing nationwide efforts to address the situation.

How much better her report would be if she included something like this:

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s black and Hispanic kids have been performing much better in reading and math over the past several decades. Programs like Too Small to Fail are looking for ways to accelerate this progress.

How much better Rich’s report would have been had she drawn that obvious connection! But alas! In one of its many refusals to serve, the New York Times has never told readers about the growth in the nation’s NAEP scores.

Instead, the paper keeps repeating the bogus claim about the “embarrassing decline in K-12 schools” which defines the elite consensus. For fuller text, see below.

Yesterday, Motoko Rich offered a winning report. This morning, the editors massively fail, in standard slacker fashion.

We refer to this high-outrage, low-IQ editorial, “Giving Up on 4-Year-Olds.” We’re not sure which is worse about this piece—its lazy indifference to information, or its tired, self-glorying pose.

The editors thunder about Rich’s prior report, a report about disparate outcomes in school. Inevitably, they focus on the dumbest part of that report—its treatment of suspensions from pre-K programs.

As usual, the editors mount their chargers, posing as racial heroes. In our view, it’s their sloth, and their lazy indifference, which shine through their piece from the start:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (3/27/14): Giving Up on 4-Year-Olds

A new report released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, examining the disciplinary practices of the country’s 97,000 public schools, shows that excessively punitive policies are being used at every level of the public school system—even against 4-year-olds in preschool. This should shame the nation and force it to re-evaluate the destructive measures that schools are using against their most vulnerable children.
Does the report in question “show that excessively punitive policies are being used against 4-year-olds in preschool?”

We’d have to say it does not, although that claim could be true. The editors thunder further, exploring some racial dimensions of the new data:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: [T]he new data show that disparate treatment of minority children begins early—in preschool. For example, black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but nearly half of all children who receive more than one out-of-school suspension.

The fact that minority children at age 4 are already being disproportionately suspended or expelled is an outrage. The pattern of exclusion suggests that schools are giving up on these children when they are barely out of diapers.
Under Andrew Rosenthal, this editorial board never fails to posture concerning race. Indeed, we would say that they're the ones who are “giving up on (black) children” here.

The editors exhibit their exquisite outrage without making any apparent attempt to investigate or understand this part of that new report:

How many kids get suspended from preschool? The editors don’t seem to know.

Why do kids get suspended from preschool? Why do black kids get suspended more often? As they continue, they show no sign of having inquired, even of the expert they cite:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: Federal civil rights officials do not explain why minority preschool students are being disproportionately singled out for suspension.

Regardless of the causes, there are ways to combat this crisis. Walter Gilliam of Yale University, who has studied the expulsion problem extensively, has suggested several ways to minimize it...The goal should be to do everything possible to bring them into the mainstream.
As always, the editors let us see that they're deeply caring. But how odd! In the six days since Rich’s report appeared, they don’t seem to have posed their question to anyone, Gilliam included:

Why are minority kids “being disproportionately singled out for suspension,” if they’re being “singled out” at all? Why do more black kids get suspended from preschool?

The editors don't seem to have asked anyone. Let us offer one possible guess:

Is it possible that some kids from certain low-income backgrounds are less prepared for preschool than other kids may be? We would assume that the answer is yes; if so, it’s important to know that.

But the editors at the New York Times don’t give a fig about low-income kids. They love to posture about their feeling of outrage, letting us see how noble they are. But as they proceed in their know-nothing way, they throw deserving low-income kids under their upper-class bus.

The editors voice their exquisite rage. At that point, their labors are done.

Yesterday, Rich penned a fantastic report. It’s shocking to see such excellent work about education in the New York Times.

Much more familiar is today’s know-nothing roar. The editors memorized their stance long ago. As they hurry off to the Hamptons, they display their familiar old trick.

Tomorrow: How much do our journalists actually know about public schools?

Please don’t bite your neighbor: Nine years ago, the New York Times (and other newspapers) reported a study by Gilliam.

The Los Angeles Times reported a full range of basic findings:
RIVERA (5/17/05): In a report scheduled for release today, the Yale Child Study Center found that nearly seven preschool children per 1,000 are being expelled—for behavioral problems—from state-funded programs, compared with 2.1 per 1,000 elementary, middle and high school students.

In addition, 4-year-olds are expelled more often than 3-year-olds, and boys are expelled at 4.5 times the rate of girls. African American children are twice as likely to be expelled as Latinos or whites and five times as likely as Asian American children.
For the record, that study was based on data from 2003 and 2004. Just so we’ll know, that highlighted passage meant that whites and Latinos were being expelled at 2.5 times the rate of Asian-Americans.

Was that “an outrage” too? Is everything an outrage?

What were the reasons for those expulsions? According to those news reports, the reasons went on and on.

That said, the editors know only one thing when it comes to such matters. They know that they must voice their old-school racial outrage. They must assume that discrimination explains the numbers they say they don’t like.

(Discrimination may explain those numbers to some extent, of course. There is no sign that the editors actually asked anyone about that.)

In our view, if the editors actually cared about black kids, they would get off their keisters and do some real journalism. Instead, consider Bill Keller.

Here was Keller, last August, spreading the standard bullroar around:

“The Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable.”

During those “decades of embarrassing decline,” black kids’ NAEP scores have gone way up, in both reading and math.

People who cared about black kids would know that fact. They’d want to report it to others. They’d want to take that hopeful sign and use it to drive more efforts.

Here’s the problem:

The New York Times lives in the past—and in the Hamptons, of course. They have their tired old, mid-60s frameworks. They have their tired old bogus facts.

By the way, why do kids get suspended from preschool?

Biting seems to be one cause. There seem to be quite a few others.

How big is the actual gender wage gap?


Salon gets wonderfully thorough: At the start of the week, we were puzzled by some of the work we found at Salon.

Our most significant puzzlement concerned a piece by Katie McDonough. McDonough started this-a-way concerning the gender wage gap:
MCDONOUGH (3/23/14): There is something bizarre about celebrating the “top five states for women’s salaries” when women who live in these five states are still making, on average, 90 percent or less of what their male colleagues earn. It’s not wrong, it’s just … strange.

Women in the District of Columbia came out on top, according to an analysis of government and other data from personal finance site NerdWallet, but that means that they make 90.1 percent of what their male colleagues bring home for similar work. Women in Maryland came in second, making 85.3 percent; women in New York rounded out the top five with earnings around 83.9 percent of their male peers.

The gender wage gap is still a real thing in 2014. Women, on average, make 77 cents on the dollar. That gap is bigger and more financially devastating for black and Latina women; trans women are incredibly vulnerable to pay discrimination, as well as other forms of job discrimination.
“The gender wage gap is still a real thing,” McDonough wrote, making a perfectly accurate statement. “Women, on average, make 77 cents on the dollar.”

You may note that she didn’t say “for the same work.” But she said “for similar work” in the preceding paragraph.

We’ll guess that this topic may get lots of play in the coming year. Ideally, that will give us a chance to get more clear on the way the wage gap works.

In those, her first three paragraphs, McDonough was repeating familiar claims. In these, her next two paragraphs, the Salonster began to fight:
MCDONOUGH (continuing directly): And since I am so incredibly tired of hearing that the gender wage gap has been “debunked,” let’s direct everyone’s attention to a report from the Government Accountability Office on how the pay gap persists even after one takes into account part-time work and women working fewer hours or taking time off to raise children or care for family members. (All lifestyle “choices,” by the way, that are deeply informed by cultural norms that shoulder women with a majority of caregiving responsibilities, but I digress or whatever!)

After doing a quantitative analysis of a nationally representative longitudinal data set, the GAO found that while many factors influence wage disparities, when you remove all of these differences, women still earn around 80 percent of men’s wages.
“Even after accounting for key factors that affect earnings,” the report notes, “our model could not explain all of the difference in earnings between men and women.” (For more on this, Bryce Covert has a wonderfully thorough piece over at the Nation.)
McDonough says she’s incredibly tired of hearing the gender wage gap debunked. In the interest of debunking that debunking, she cites a GAO study (from 2003) which said the gender wage gap is 80 percent (or was in the year 2000).

She recommended Covert’s “wonderfully thorough piece,” which, in its wonderfully thorough way, restricted itself to that one study when it came to the size of the gap.

We’re not experts on this topic. We’d like to understand it better. For that reason, McDonough’s piece sent us clicking around.

We’re still not experts on the gap. That said, in the next few days, we’ll post some of what we’ve found.

Two guesses: This topic may get large play this year. If it does, the new Salon may plow some old or new ground.

Obamacare: Kevin Drum asks a sensible question!


Concerning those horror tales: On Monday, Kevin Drum asked a fairly good question:

Why have we heard so many stories about people getting screwed by Obamacare? More precisely, why have we heard so many bogus stories of this type?

Drum’s question was inspired by a 1500-word piece in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.

In that piece, Michael Hiltzik wrote about Rita Rizzo, age 60, who owns a management consulting firm for nonprofit groups with her husband, Lou Vincent, 64.

Vincent suffers from several medical conditions. For that reason, he hadn’t been able to get insurance for the last ten years.

Through Obamacare, Rizzo and Vincent got a policy. In this passage, Hiltzik compares their good news story, which hasn’t been publicized, with one of the bogus bad news stories which got big play last year:
HILTZIK (3/23/14): In December, Rizzo signed up for Obamacare. She now has a policy that covers her and Vincent together, including all his meds and lab work, for $379 a month, with a $2,000 family deductible.

"I feel like I died and went to insurance heaven," she says.

But you haven't heard Rizzo's story unless you tuned in to NBC Nightly News on New Year's Day or scanned a piece by Politico about a week later. In the meantime, the airwaves and news columns have been filled to overflowing with horrific tales from consumers blaming Obamacare for huge premium increases, lost access to doctors and technical frustrations—many of these concerns false or the product of misunderstanding or unfamiliarity with the law.

While Rizzo was working her way to thousands of dollars in annual savings, for example, Southern California Realtor Deborah Cavallaro was making the rounds of NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CBS, Fox and public radio's Marketplace program, talking about how her premium was about to rise some 65% because of the "Unaffordable" Care Act. What her viewers and listeners didn't learn was that she hadn't checked the rates on California's insurance exchange, where (as we determined for her) she would have found a replacement policy for less than she'd been paying.
Cavallaro’s horror story was bogus, but it good a lot of play. Good news stories—stories like Rizzo’s—have been widely ignored.

Hiltzik lays this out in some detail in last Sunday’s piece. On Monday, Drum posed this perfectly sensible question to his readers:
DRUM (3/24/14): So why do we hear so much about folks like Cavallero, and Bette from Spokane, and the infamous Julie Boonstra? Good question. More to the point, with Obamacare's website problems largely solved, and with the initial signup period coming to a close with a relatively high participation rate, will we start hearing these [good news] stories soon? Especially in swing states where the horror stories are getting so much play? Click the link [to Hiltzik’s report] for some speculation.
Why have we heard so many of those bogus horror stories? For today, we’ll only say this:

We think part of the answer can be found in Hiltzik’s report—right in the passage we’ve posted. Beyond that, we think part of the answer can be found in Drum’s perfectly sensible post.

In part, we’ll even blame the problem on the reactions of Drum’s readers. Read their comments to see the way they responded to his post.

Why have we heard so many of those bogus horror stories? Tomorrow, we’ll tell you what was we thought was missing from Hiltzik’s lengthy report.



Part 3—Cue the familiar old tripe: We were struck by a familiar pattern in Motoko Rich’s report.

Rich was reporting new data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Given the source, her headline was unsurprising:

“School Data Finds Pattern of Inequality Along Racial Lines”

Needless to say, there are many “patterns of inequality along racial lines” found in our public schools. In most cases, the difficulty begins when you try to explain them.

Early in her report, Rich presented her first three examples of inequality. Or at least, she attempted to do so:
RICH (3/23/14): In the first analysis in nearly 15 years of information from all of the country’s 97,000 public schools, the Education Department found a pattern of inequality on a number of fronts, with race as the dividing factor.

Black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students. A quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer any Algebra II courses, while a third of those schools do not have any chemistry classes. Black students are more than four times as likely as white students—and Latino students are twice as likely—to attend schools where one out of every five teachers does not meet all state teaching requirements.

“Here we are, 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the data altogether still show a picture of gross inequity in educational opportunity,” said Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California at Los Angeles’s Civil Rights Project.
In a familiar journalistic pattern, Rich turned to the famous Brown decision, thereby framing her report as a study in classic discrimination.

In another familiar pattern, Rich was bungling her statistics right out of the box.

In the second paragraph we have posted, Rich presented her first three examples of the “pattern of inequality” found by the Department of Ed.

Her first example, concerning suspensions, did involve a striking difference in suspension rates, with black kids getting suspended and expelled much more often.

Her third example also seems striking, although we’re now in somewhat murky statistical and conceptual waters. But uh-oh!

In Rich’s second example, she doesn’t present a “pattern of inequality” at all! As we’ve often noted, the Times isn’t real good with statistics:

“A quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer any Algebra II courses, while a third of those schools do not have any chemistry classes.”

In that example, Rich’s basic statistic is extremely murky. (How many high schools are we talking about? How many kids attend them?)

More strikingly, no racial disparity is displayed in this, her second example. How many high schools with lots of white kids don’t offer Algebra II or chemistry classes? In paragraph 3 of her report, Rich (and her unnamed editor) failed to include this information. It’s startling to see how poorly the Times functions with basic stats.

Whatever! By now, Times readers were immersed in a very familiar type of story, a story built on a very familiar “discrimination” framework.

In effect, readers had already sunk into “easy listening” mode. We’ll guess that few readers noticed the problem with Rich’s second example, or noticed the conceptual problem which occurred later on, when she fleshed out that bungled statistic.

This was an easy listening piece. At the Times, readers know how to put it on cruise control, listening to familiar tales about racial discrimination, of which they of course disapprove.

Midway through her report, Rich devoted four paragraphs to suspensions rates in preschool. Familiar outrage was expressed by a person who acknowledged that she didn’t know what the heck she was talking about. (For our previous report, just click here.)

That outrage maintained the easy listenin’. After that manifest waste of time, Rich returned to the topic she’d bungled earlier.

How many kids attend high schools which don’t offer a full range of courses? This time, Rich managed to report the contrasts between different groups of kids:
RICH: In high school, the study found that while more than 70 percent of white students attend schools that offer a full range of math and science courses—including algebra, biology, calculus, chemistry, geometry and physics—just over half of all black students have access to those courses. Just over two-thirds of Latinos attend schools with the full range of math and science courses, and less than half of American Indian and Native Alaskan students are able to enroll in as many high-level math and science courses as their white peers.
Let’s use some actual numbers. According to Rich, (something like) 50 percent of black kids attend high schools “that offer a full range of math and science courses.” Meanwhile, (something like) 70 percent of white kids attend such schools.

To us, those numbers seem unfortunate, though perhaps not in the intended way.

Why do fewer black kids attend schools which offer those courses? We’ll assume there are several reasons.

Meanwhile, we note that thirty percent of white kids attend schools which lack the full range of courses. These were our reactions:

Given the framework of the report, we were plainly supposed to get angry at the difference between the 50 percent and the 70 percent. We weren’t invited to wonder why so many kids in all demographic groups attend high schools which don’t provide all those courses.

We also weren’t encouraged to ask an obvious question: Given the different achievement patterns which still obtain between white and black kids, is it really super-surprising to see those different rates?

According to our most reliable data, black kids are doing much better in school. We regard that as glorious, encouraging news—and the New York Times simply refuses to report it.

What will it take to make newspapers convey this very good news to the public? What will it take to make the fiery liberals on MSNBC stoop to the task of reporting such news?

News like that might get the public off the backs of public school teachers. It might encourage the public to see that our “government schools” seem to be making real progress.

How much do you have to hate black kids to keep this news a secret? Whatever the answer to that might be, it’s clear that mainstream newspapers and millionaire career liberals don’t care enough about black kids to share this very good news.

According to our most reliable data, black kids are doing much better in school. But alas! According to those same data, white kids are doing better too! Large “achievement gaps” remain, although the gaps are now smaller.

This brings us back to our reaction to the point Rich initially bungled. Let’s look at that point once again:

“In high school, the study found that while more than 70 percent of white students attend schools that offer a full range of math and science courses...just over half of all black students have access to those courses.”

Manifestly, we were supposed to get upset and think about Brown versus Board. For ourselves, we feel sorry for black kids when we encounter this tired old pattern.

Among other things, we were struck by the large number of white kids who don’t attend such schools. We didn’t think the difference in those rates was especially large, given what we know about the achievement gaps which still pervade our schools.

What if they offered Calculus III and nobody came? We’ll take an uneducated guess: Many schools may not offer those courses because few students would qualify or sign up to take them.

Is that why schools don’t offer those courses? We found ourselves asking that question as we read that part of Rich’s report.

We also found ourselves asking questions like these:

What happens in the earlier grades to create a world where 30 percent of white kids don’t have, and may not need, access to those types of courses?

What happens in the earlier grades to establish those different achievement rates between our black kids and our white kids? What happens before they even go to school? What happens in the first few years of life?

We didn’t think much of Rich’s report, which followed a lazy, familiar pattern. We didn’t think much of the manifest crap she shoveled about pre-K suspensions.

We didn’t think much of the reaction from that NAACP official, who ran directly to tired old script in reaction to a topic she didn’t understand. We didn’t think much of the way the New York Times bungled the second statistic it tried to present

We’re tired of tired old slackers like Rich churning easy listening pieces designed to tickle the fancy of New York Times readers. We’re tired of the tired old crap in which we’re instantly herded into a familiar, feel-good Brown v. Board framework.

We want to hear about black kids’ improving NAEP scores—the story the New York Times won’t report. With that encouraging song in our ears, we want to hear about why so many kids, in all major groups, may not be ready for those advanced courses in high school.

Can we talk? On its face, there’s nothing shocking about the pattern described below. There is no blatantly obvious way in which this pattern says “discrimination:”

“In high school, the study found that while more than 70 percent of white students attend schools that offer a full range of math and science courses...just over half of all black students have access to those courses.”

Can we talk? Based on current achievement patterns, that difference may be pretty much what you’d expect in our schools. Rather than explore such facts, Rich burned a hole in our brains as a clueless but scripted person sounded off about the treatment being dished to an unknown number of our “babies” in pre-K.

Rich told a very familiar story. We feel sorry for black kids when we see journalists pushing these patterns.

Rich’s story is sixty years old. In many ways, its sell-by date is gone. When will the New York Times get off its self-satisfied, know-nothing keister and talk about the actual problems shaping today’s world?

Rich came out of Yale summa cum laude. Assuming she had the best courses in high school, what pattern explains her work?

Tomorrow: Completely and utterly clueless

Your Daily Howler keeps getting results: Rich makes a rare trip to the real world today. We’ll praise her more fully for this piece before the week is done.

The New York Times and the livin’ is easy!


Public editor Margaret Sullivan runs off with Mr. Peanut: We’re constantly puzzled by work we encounter in the New York Times.

Case in point: This morning, on the front page, a news report about Flight 370 started off like this:
FULLER AND BUCKLEY (3/15/14): A British satellite company has solved one crucial aspect of the mystery surrounding the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared on March 8, using a complex mathematical process to determine that it ended its journey in the middle of the southern Indian Ocean.

Guided by a principle of physics called the Doppler effect, the company, Inmarsat, analyzed tiny shifts in the frequency of the plane’s signals to infer the plane’s flight path and likely final location. The method had never before been used to investigate an air disaster, officials said.

The first definitive news of the fate of the Boeing 777 jet brought heartbreak to the families of those on board as Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, announced on Monday that no one is believed to have survived the flight.

“This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” a somber Mr. Najib said. “It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”
We found that puzzling. If this method has never been used in this way before, why is the Times so sure that Immarsat is right?

We’re not saying the company’s wrong. How do they know it’s right?

What makes Fuller and Buckley so sure? The fact that the prime minister said it?

At no point did Fuller and Buckley feel the need to explain their definitive judgment. We’re simply supposed to take their word, and that of prime minister Razak, whose government has gotten about ten thousand other things wrong by now.

That reporting struck us as strange. But so it goes at the Times on a regular basis.

Still and all, the livin’ seems to easy at the Times. Public editor Margaret Sullivan made that clear this weekend.

Sullivan writes two columns per month for the Sunday Review. We’re not sure why she bothers.

Given the column she penned this week, it’s obvious that nothing of substance is wrong or imperfect at the Times. Wonderfully comical headline included, this is the way she started:
SULLIVAN (3/23/14): Trend-Spotting, With Wink at Mr. Peanut

If only I were gifted at satire, or even its goofy little brother, parody. Those skills would sometimes make commenting on The Times's journalism so much more fun.

I could take on those Timesian headlines, front-loaded with prepositions, that the paper seems to love so well. (One from a few days ago: ''Amid Mayoral Missteps, Irish Eyes Are Rolling in New York City.'')

I could dream up elaborate new reasons to grant sources anonymity. (On that subject, one of concern to many readers, I recently started a new feature on my blog, ''AnonyWatch,'' to keep track of regrettable anonymous quotes in The Times.)

But most of all, I could write the definitive sendup of the classic New York Times trend piece. Maybe I could write something almost as good as the monocle story.
Poor Sullivan! It would be more fun to do her job were she better at satire! Possibly, she could write something as good as the “classic trend piece” she chose to discuss this week.

That’s right! With only two columns per month to dispense, Sullivan used this column to praise a piece about the monocle’s comeback. She quoted from the amusing piece, then discussed the playful commentary it occasioned.

Mr. Peanut made the headline! Here’s how her column ended:
SULLIVAN: With its large staff, great variety of sections and considerable resources, The Times has room on its diverse menu not only for coverage of world crises and global economic trends, but for lighter fare: book and restaurant reviews, theater coverage and, apparently, a full consideration of ironic eyewear.

While The Times's declarations of trends can sometimes seem self-serious, overblown and out-of-touch, they also can—at their best—provoke moments of recognition and lively conversation. And because they occasionally provide a full day's worth of hilarity, let's pray that they never go away.

By the way, I'm just back from biking to Bushwick. And I'm wondering: Has anyone noticed how many women are using lorgnette-handled opera glasses lately?
We agree—there was nothing wrong with the monocle story. But then, based on Sullivan’s topic selection, there’s nothing to worry about anywhere else in this famous newspaper.

For what it’s worth: Journalists like Jack Shafer have long criticized the Times for its “classic trend stories.” But they have tended to focus on front-page trend stories which dream up non-existent trends, not on silly pointless fare inside the paper’s Style section.

We find the New York Times puzzling each day. Sullivan’s handling of Mr. Peanut is a small case in point.