Ron Schiller and Dr. King: Should NPR have fired Ron Schiller? We have no real idea.
In a highly tribalized political culture, any publicly-funded news service will likely find itself under attack. Such news orgs will often respond in politicized ways. In this instance, the situation has been clouded by NPRs nuanced discussion of Schillers remarks. Execs have denounced the things Schiller said, without specifying which of his comments they mean.
Which remarks is NPR outraged about? Execs keep failing to say.
Beyond that, the picture has been clouded by the heavily edited nature of Schillers remarks. (We quote Lindsay Beyerstein; click here.) Schiller was taped by agents of James OKeefe, a deeply broken-souled fellow whose work is grossly unreliable. Did the excerpts posted by OKeefe fairly represent the various things Schiller actually said? Many liberals have cited an analysis by Glenn Becks web site, The Blaze, which criticized OKeefe for selective editing. Selectively editing themselves, these liberals have tended to ignore a second pointthe Beck site criticized aspects of OKeefes editing, but generally concluded that OKeefe really did make the statements with which hes been charged.
In her post, Beyerstein hammers mainstream journalists for posting OKeefes excerpts without first watching the whole two-hour tape. Beyerstein makes a very good pointeven as she picks and chooses what to discuss from the full tape, which she says she has watched.
We havent watched the two-hour tape, though we have watched the longer excerpts posted at Becks site. We tend to agree with that sites findingthe longer excerpts suggest that OKeefe did some funky editing, but they also suggest that Schiller really did, on balance, make the statements for which hes been criticized. But lets forget what Schiller actually said. Instead, lets discuss the way many liberals have reacted to two of his comments.
Schillers remarks about racism: At one point, Schiller dropped the R-bomb during his luncheon performance. Yesterday, Kevin Drum summarized the matter like this:
DRUM (3/14/11): I've already defended former NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller's right to tell a prospective donor that he thinks tea partiers are motivated by racism and xenophobia. Schiller isn't a reporter and, right or wrong, his view is a fairly widely held one. There's nothing beyond the pale about expressing it.
Obviously, Schiller has the right to make the statement in question. We were struck by the casual way Kevin defended Schillers remark, as he understood it. According to Kevin, Schiller told a prospective donor that he thinks tea partiers are motivated by racism. According to Kevin, this view is a fairly widely held one. There's nothing beyond the pale about expressing it.
Because Kevin is so bright and so precise, we were disappointed by his comment. Does Schiller think all tea partiers are so motivated? Is it most tea partiers? Is it only some? Were amazed that Kevin doesnt see the difference between these statementsthat he doesnt seem to see a problem with the failure to be more precise in making such a serious charge. Is there really nothing beyond the pale about such a sweeping remark? When even Kevin adopts this stance, we see the way the white liberal world has granted itself the right to denounce the whole wide world as a bunch of racistseveryone but us.
Other liberals have taken a different tack; they have cleaned up Schillers comment for him. In this post, Digby quotes from the Beck analysis, then ends up saying this:
DIGBY (3/11/11): I would have argued before this that Schiller's views about the Tea Party were no reason for firing him and that there is plenty of evidence to back up his impressions. There most certainly is a racist element in the Tea Party, just as there has always been a racist element in the far right. They are the same.
Of course, Schiller didnt say that there is a racist element in the Tea Party. In this way, Digby seems to downplay Schillers remarks for him.
Schiller didnt know he was being taped. We have no idea what he would have said in public. But white liberals love accusing The Others of being racists. This is amazingly bad politics, and when such sweeping claims are made, such claims are amazingly dumb.
Schillers remarks about the uneducated: Liberals have barely noted Schillers remarks about the uneducated, although these remarks have gotten great play among conservatives. In this post, NPRs ombudsman said that Schiller seemed to be saying that conservatives, by and large, are uneducated. Were not entirely sure thats accurate, but this is part of what Schiller said: "To me, this is representative of the thing that I guess I'm most disturbed by and disappointed by in this country which is that the educated, so-called elite in this country is too small a percentage of the population. So you have this very large uneducated part of the population that carries these ideas. It's much more about anti-intellectual than it is political."
Good God. Statements like that are amazingly stupid, but they do come naturally to many liberals. Perhaps for that reason, liberals have tended to ignore this chunk of Schillers remarks. Politically, liberals murder themselves when they indulge themselves in such thinking. By the way: Do you recall how Dr. King viewed the unwashed of the world?
DR. KING (2/4/68): Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve.
You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
That was the view of the greatest achiever of the last century.
Dr. King didnt spend a lot of time taking a census of who was uneducated. Schiller may be a very nice person; in our experience, most people are. But the general attitude he expressed is deadly to progressive interests. Many white liberals just dont seem to know that.
Can we talk? We the people rarely know what the heck were talking about. We fail every public information survey; for ourselves, we think progressives should find ways to point that fact out. But we liberals are extremely dumb too, especially when we fail to see why political people cant allow themselves to think in the way suggested by Schillers remarks.
We liberals! We love to say that The Others are racists. We love to say that The Others are dumb. In this way, we drive wedges between the great unwashedwe split the 99 percent in half
In the process, the oligarchs winthough we get to feel very special.
Special report: He was the son of a teacher, man!
PART 1IN PRAISE OF JON STEWARTS MOTHER (permalink): Jon Stewart was the son of a teacher, man!
The teacher in question is Jon Stewarts mother. On March 3, he praised her devotion to that profession on the Daily Show; he praised the devotion hed seen her display as he was growing up. He also discussed the state of the public school wars with Diane Ravitch, an education historian.
Ravitch is author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System. At present, shes a hero to many teachers. She became a hero when she flipped her position on No Child Left Behind, the program she had worked to promote as a Bush official.
(Not that there was necessarily anything wrong with that!)
On this occasion, Stewart did something we liberals rarely do. He conducted an intelligent discussion, however brief, about the state of the public schools! We liberals quit on such topics decades ago. Such topics are virtually never discussed on our One True Liberal Channel, to cite one current example.
We thought Stewart did a good job on this occasion. He asked some good, intelligent questions; he made some excellent observations. To watch the full segment, click here. But first, lets discuss why we tend to find Ravitchs work frustrating.
Stewart was breaking all the rules, discussing the state of the public schools. Why, he even asked about low-income schools, where so many black and Hispanic kids go! But despite her current hero status, we often find Ravitchs logic lacking, her facts just a bit cherry-picked. So it seemed on this occasion, when she quickly recited a standard story, praising the success of the Finns.
Its not as though schools in the 90s were great, Stewart suggested to his guest. So what would be the right way to fix our public schools, or is it just too complicated? This was one of Stewarts first questions. In reply, Ravitch said this:
RAVITCH (3/3/11): Well, we can look for instance at Finland. Finland is the number-one nation in the world on the international tests. In Finland, they never give standardized tests at all. They focus on having really terrific teachers, they prepare them well, they give them lots of support and then the teachers make up the tests and they use the tests to see which children need help.
Everybody points to Finland, Stewart correctly said. Ravitch continued to do so:
RAVITCH: But Finland is not privatizing its schools, its not opening charter schools, 100 percent teacher unionized. So Finland is an example ofheres a country that has been incredibly successful. The poverty rate there is less than 3 percent for children. In this country, its twenty percent and growing.
Doh! Ravitch had started in standard fashion, robotically praising Finlands success. Finland has been incredibly successful, she said. Finland is the number-one nation in the world on the international tests. But then, she dropped the poverty bomb, noting Finlands low poverty rate as compared to ours.
Doh! If Finland has such a low poverty rate, why should anyone be surprised if they get good results in their schools? Stewart instantly noticed this problem; he asked why our teachers have come under such fire, given the challenges caused by our high rate of poverty. And doh! Ravitch now seemed to reverse herself, in a way which also seemed perhaps a bit fact-challenged:
RAVITCH: Well Jon, Ive been traveling this past year since my book came out and Ive gone to about 80 or 90 different places all over the country and the one thing Ive learned is that teachers across America are demoralized. Theyre demoralized because weve had a public rhetoric for the last few years saying that if test scores are low its the teachers fault. And thats ridiculous, because in our low-poverty schools our scores are beyond Finlands. Our low-poverty schools do incredibly well and its only where we have intense poverty and racial isolation, in places like Detroit, Washington DC and Baltimoreand wherever you find poverty and racial isolation, youll find low test scores because kids are hungry, theyre homeless, theyre sick, not getting any medical care. Those things matter.
For the record, most low-income kids arent homeless or sick, but they still tend to do less well in school than their middle-class peers. Does it help when our educational heroes put their thumbs on the scale in such ways?
That question asked, lets return to Ravitchs thoughts about Finland:
First, Ravitch praised Finlands incredible success, suggesting that we can learn from the Finns. But then, in her very next comment, she said that our public schools outscore those in Finland, except where poverty intrudes. As far as we know, that claim is inaccuratebut it was Ravitchs semi-puzzling logic which grabbed us at this point. If our low-poverty schools outscore those in Finland, why should we look for instance at Finland for the keys to success? Why shouldnt they look at us?
We didnt think Ravitchs presentation made much sense, except as propaganda. (The Finns have teachers unions!) We also suspect that her factual claim was inaccurate. (Our middle-class schools outscore Finlands!) But so it tends to go on the rare occasions when public school issues get raised at allexcept as part of the drumbeat of propaganda designed to denigrate American teachers and their infernal unions.
Did Ravitch bungle? Wed be inclined to say yes, though she went on to make some good points. But youll never see such bungles on MSNBC. That liberal channel doesnt waste its time on public schools, or on the low-income kids who attend them. As far as our One True Channel is concerned, those low-income kids can go fly.
Later, Stewart offered a rumination youll rarely see in the career liberal world. That has been the thing that is the most mind-blowing for me, he told Ravitch, to see people blaming the avarice of teachers, or the idea that they only work nine months a year. God forbid you do the job of a teacher for a yearit will blow your mind! Stewart went on to praise his motherto note how hard hed seen her work during his formative years.
Jon Stewart raised some good points with Ravitchbut the conversation lasted seven minutes. But so it has gone in the past many years as the liberal world has walked away from the nations teachers, and from the deserving kids who go to our low-income schools. The One True Channel doesnt stoop to discuss such topics, even when the parent company is conducting a week-long assault on the nations teachers. This week, well look at some of the ways progressive interests get dissed and ignored in the process.
Jon Stewart praised teacherand he asked some good questions. But why does this task fall to him?
Tomorrow: Why does it fall to the New York Post?
Thursday: Ravitch takes on the billionaires
Fridaypart 4: Two more sons of teachers