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Daily Howler: Tierney praised Milwaukee's vouchers. We had some instant reactions
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ALLEGEDLY MILWAUKEE’S FINEST (PART 1)! Tierney praised Milwaukee’s vouchers. We had some instant reactions: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MARCH 21, 2006

CHUCKLING AT KEVIN: As we sat, lost amid our deep thoughts, we heard our analysts emit low, mordant chuckles. And uh-oh! In a Monday afternoon post, Kevin Drum had said this of Al Gore: “I probably like him more than any of the other obvious 2008 presidential candidates.” But omigod! Drum was linking to Ezra Klein’s cover story in the new Prospect. But here’s the passage which Drum, acknowledged lover of Gore, laughably decided to post:
DRUM’S QUOTE FROM KLEIN (3/20/06): “Since his loss, Gore has undergone a resurrection of sorts, shrugging off the consultants and the caution that hampered him during the campaign and—aided by new distribution technologies—evolving into perhaps the most articulate, animated, and forceful critic of the Bush administration. And now, with Democrats taking a fresh look at a man they thought they knew and speculation mounting around his ambitions in 2008, it seems that the man much mocked for inventing the Internet is in fact using the direct communication it enables to reinvent himself.
Drum had said he liked Gore the best. Then he showed us why Gore almost surely can’t run! Our analysts did what people must do at such times They threw their young heads back and roared, as Homer’s gods did on Olympus.

No, this isn’t Ezra Klein’s fault. Yes, Klein builds much of his new Prospect piece around the image of Gore as “the man much mocked for inventing the Internet.” And yes, we think that’s unwise—as we see from Drum’s laughable excerpt. But omigod! Writing in a major liberal journal, Klein reports an important story, one these journals have refused to tell until now. He isn’t direct enough for our tastes. But right there in his second paragraph, Klein reports the basic facts which have been forbidden in such journals until now. As he describes a Gore speech from last fall, he finally tells readers the unvarnished truth about Campaign 2000. Among the liberal media elite, telling the truth about that race has not been allowed—until now:

KLEIN (4/06; second paragraph): The address was the keynote for the We Media conference, held at the Associated Press headquarters in New York last October and attended by an audience that included both old media luminaries and new media innovators. In attendance were Tom Curley, president of the AP, Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, all leading lights of a media establishment that, five years earlier, had deputized itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator, ideological chameleon, and total, unforgivable bore.
For the record, Klein is wrong when he says “five years earlier;” the process he describes began (in full fury) in March 1999, the instant Gore first opened his mouth as a candidate for the 2000 Dem nomination. (The claim that Al Gore said he invented the Internet was the press corps’ reaction to Gore’s first interview as a declared candidate.) But yes: From March 99 through November 2000, the media establishment (not the conservative press corps) did in fact “deputize itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator.” In that executioner’s role, they invented a long string of tales about Gore, which they repeated again and again (for an example from today’s Post, see below). Let’s repeat, and this is important: Just as Klein writes, this was done by the “media establishment,” not by Rush Limbaugh, and not by Fox; it was done by the AP, by CBS News, and, most important, by the New York Times (and the Washington Post). These institutions spent twenty months serving as Gore’s “executioner” (Klein’s word). In the end, their twenty-month slander campaign sent the hapless George Bush to the White House.

To our taste, Klein isn’t direct enough in this piece. But right there, in his second paragraph, we finally see, in a liberal journal, a wholly accurate capsule statement of what occurred in Campaign 2000. And how does Drum respond to this? Our young analysts did what came naturally; they simply laughed at this empty suit when they read the ludicrous excerpt he posted. By the way: If you want to know why Gore almost surely can’t run, Drum’s chosen excerpt—so completely dim-witted—explains the matter fairly plainly.

PRAISING EZRA: Yes, our young analysts laughed till they cried—but let’s make sure we understand the important thing which has finally happened. For the first time, a major liberal journal, the American Prospect, has printed an accurate capsule statement of what occurred during Campaign 2000. We think Klein’s overall presentation is a tad soft; that capsule folds into his larger report in such a way that readers might not notice it. But liberal journals have simply refused to tell this important story before now. Klein has now stated it—accurately.

For the record, the Prospect ignored this history-changing War Against Gore while it was occurring. The “media establishment” was in full fury—and the liberal establishment politely kept quiet. This may be why your favorite liberals have refused to discuss this matter until now. They have told you the truth very slowly. Most of them won’t tell you even now.

ALL PRAISE TO THE PROSPECT: Here’s the link to the Prospect’s new issue. You might want to reward this journal for finally printing the truth.

THEY SIMPLY AREN’T HUMAN: Will Gore run in 2008? We don’t have the slightest idea; Klein’s piece analyzes the possibility. (Headline: “Reborn to run?”) But why would it be very hard for Gore to run? Good God! Right on cue, Ruth Marcus types the following drivel in this morning’s Post. The robotic scribe is discussing Harvey Mansfield’s semi-odd new book, Manliness:

MARCUS (3/21/06): The undisputed manliness of the Bush White House stands in contrast to its predecessors and wannabes. If Republicans are the Daddy Party and Democrats the Mommy Party, the Clinton White House often operated like Mansfield's vision of an estrogen-fueled kaffeeklatsch: indecisive and undisciplined. (Okay, there were some unfortunate, testosterone-filled moments, too.) Bill Clinton's would-be successor, Al Gore, was mocked for enlisting Naomi Wolf to help him emerge as an alpha male; after that, French-speaking John Kerry had to give up windsurfing and don hunting gear to prove he was a real man. And Bush's father, of course, had to battle the Wimp Factor. Mansfield recalls Thatcher's manly admonition to 41 on the eve of the Persian Gulf War: "Don't go wobbly on me, George.”
As we’ve long told you, they simply aren’t human! But in the course of that twenty-month war, they developed a long list of tale s about Gore, including the one which Marcus types here. And they can’t get these narratives out of their heads! No, they can’t stop typing them up—and they would return to reciting these tales en masse the instant Gore got in the race.

The major problem with Klein’s Prospect piece is his failure to confront this obvious problem. If Gore ever ran for prez, this sort of thing would start again instantly. We’d hear about inventing the Internet—and we’d hear about Naomi Wolf. In fact, we’d hear about them over and over. In May 1999, Republicans told the New York Times’ Allison Mitchell what they were trying to do with Candidate Gore. “In essence, they are trying to do to him what Democrats tried to do to former Vice President Dan Quayle,” Mitchell wrote—“make him the foil for comedians on late-night television.” Through the help of the establishment media, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. And such framings are hard to reverse.

By the way, did Candidate Gore “enlist Naomi Wolf to help him emerge as an alpha male?” As we’ve described in some detail, this was one of the thousand tales the “establishment media” (not the conservative press corps) managed to spin from thin air (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/5/03). One small irony in Marcus’ recitation: Over the weekend, we watched a fascinating episode of C-SPAN’s After Hours in which Wolf and Mansfield discussed the professor’s new book. Mansfield seems like a pleasant chap, but what an irony in Marcus’ column! After watching Wolf dismantle the pleasant professor, only a fool—or a misogynist—would be surprised by the fact that a national campaign hired her to be an adviser. (Wolf had also been an adviser to Dick Morris during the ’96 Clinton campaign. In his book, Inside the Oval Office, he praised her “remarkably prescient analyses.” Of course, that was before the press decided to pretend that Wolf was a clown.) But this morning, Marcus continues to pretend that Wolf is a clown, even as she cries and complains about Mansfield’s throwback views about women. Remember: These empty vessels simply aren’t human—they’re cyborg, invented to repeat scripted tales. Our advice? Throw back your heads and laugh at Marcus—when you’re done laughing at Kevin.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For a taste of the astonishing way the establishment media went after Wolf, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/03. (We strongly advise you to read this post; it’s the story that people like Drum just won’t tell you.) Meanwhile, to watch last weekend’s Wolf-Mansfield session, you know what to do—just click here.

Special report: Allegedly, Milwaukee’s finest!

PART 1—FIRST REACTIONS: “City Schools That Work,” read the headline. “Milwaukee, a model for the nation.” Hard at work was John Tierney, typing about Milwaukee’s extensive school voucher program—and claiming that the Brew City’s vouchers have created a low-income school paradise:

TIERNEY (3/7/06): At first glance, the near north side of Milwaukee can be a bleak place, now that it has lost the department stores, factories and other businesses that used to thrive there. But if you want to see inner-city children getting a good education, it's the most beautiful spot in America.
Milwaukee’s extensive experiment with vouchers began way back in 1990. According to Tierney, the long experiment has been an impressive success:
TIERNEY: “We've seen what school choice can do,'' said Gregory Stanford, an editorial writer and a columnist at the [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]. ''It's impressive to go around to the voucher schools and see kids learning. Their parents are much more satisfied with these schools. And the fears that the public schools would be hurt have turned out to be wrong.”
Is it true? Has Milwaukee’s voucher program transformed that city’s low-income schools? We’ll examine several aspects of that question over the course of the next two weeks. For today, we thought we’d start with two instant reactions—reactions we had when we first read this high-profile column by Tierney.

First, we were struck by the predictable cluelessness displayed in the following paragraph. In this passage, Tierney makes a glancing attempt to discuss the research on Milwaukee:

TIERNEY (continuing directly): In fact, the students in public schools have benefited from the competition [from schools receiving vouchers]. Two studies by Harvard researchers, one by Caroline Hoxby and another by Rajashri Chakrabarti, have shown that as the voucher program expanded in Milwaukee, there was a marked improvement in test scores at the public schools most threatened by the program (the ones with large numbers of low-income students eligible for the vouchers).
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at what some have said about the studies by Hoxby and Chakrabarti. But uh-oh! To our own trained ear, Tierney was making a slightly clueless claim; he was asserting that test scores had risen “markedly” at Milwaukee public schools which had large numbers of students eligible for vouchers. Have test scores risen at these schools? If so, by how much? We weren’t sure, but we did notice this—it didn’t seem to occur to Tierney that public schools sometimes gimmick their testing programs when they come under special kinds of pressure. Has any such gimmickry affected scores in Milwaukee? We don’t have the slightest idea. But we’ll guess that the possibility never entered Tierney’s head, and—given the caliber of our national experts—we’ll guess that the question has never affected any research on Milwaukee schools either. Given the history of the past forty years, we’re amazed when academic researchers accept school test scores at face value. But this seems to occur all the time.

Our second reaction was more wide-ranging. As he continued, Tierney quoted a voucher advocate, Joseph Viteritti of Hunter College.. And uh-oh! Vieritti made a somewhat nuanced claim about vouchers—a claim which seemed to fly in the face of some recent, high-profile research:

TIERNEY: [W]hile critics complain that there still isn't definitive evidence that voucher students are doing better over all in their new schools, the results so far in Milwaukee and other cities are more than enough to declare vouchers a success.

“All the good research, including the voucher opponents' work, shows that kids who accept vouchers are doing at least as well as their public school peers,”
says Joseph Viteritti of Hunter College. ''That's remarkable, considering how much less money is being spent on the voucher students.”
We were struck by several things in this passage. First, we were struck by Tierney’s low expectations; if voucher students only do as well as their peers, why would that be “more than enough to declare vouchers a success?” To borrow from the famous sports metaphor, Tierney seems to think it is exciting to kiss your sister. Second, we noted that Tierney was now discussing research “in Milwaukee and other cities;” as we’ll see, this is because there’s almost no research on Milwaukee’s vouchers themselves. (And the principal reason for that is outrageous.) But we were struck most by Viteritti’s claim that “all the good research” supports vouchers. We’re not experts on the research ourselves. But Tierney’s own paper, the New York Times, reported something somewhat different just this January; Diane Jean Schemo reported the results of a massive new study which “concluded that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/30/06). No, that study didn’t specifically deal with kids who use vouchers to attend private schools. But the types of schools at issue here are the types which take in voucher students. We’re not sure how Viteritti’s claim fits with that massive new study.

For ourselves, we’ve never had strong views about vouchers; we’d be inclined to give them a try if a city’s program was closely regulated. On the other hand, we’ve never thought that voucher or charters would hold the key to solving the problems of low-income ed. But here was Tierney, saying different—although his expert’s statements seemed to be somewhat nuanced. Is there really a body of work suggesting that vouchers help low-income kids? Tomorrow, we’ll see what one expert said in response to Tierney’s column.

TOMORROW—PART 2: Milwaukee’s public schools are “a mess”—just like their voucher school counterparts!

THURSDAY—PART 3: Why we’re unexcited by vouchers.