The inability to explain anything: How inept is the basic journalism on our cable news programs? We were struck by the way three or four shows explained an event last night.
At issue was a peculiar plane ride observed from lower Manhattan. Why in the world did Air Force 1 buzz the city yesterday morning, producing understandable panic? On CNN, Anderson Cooper let his sidekick explain:
ERICA HILL (4/27/09): Anderson, swine flu fear hitting Wall Street...
And in New York and New Jersey, a photo op causing a panic. A backup of Air Force One and two F-16s flew over Lower Manhattan and Jersey City this morning. The catch here: No warning to residents. Even the mayor says he didn't know.
The White House says it was a photo op and insists that city officials were notified.
The mayor actually said he was furious, Anderson. And if the reasoning behind any of this was to keep it classified, he thinks it is ridiculous and very poor planning. A lot of New Yorkers would probably agree.
COOPER: Yes. It's unbelievable that this thing happenedthat somebody thought that was a good idea.
HILL: And the mayor says if he would have known, he would have said, "Don't do it, especially not in Lower Manhattan."
COOPER: Yes. Seriously. Erica, thanks.
Cooper was thankful for Hills explanation. But what exactly was her explanation? Twice, she said the event was a photo op. But in what way had it been a photo op? Who was taking photos? Of what? What sort of photo was this strange event intended to produce?
It didnt occur to Hill to say. But then, Our Own Rhodes Scholar didnt explain when she announced that the flight in question was apparently just a government photo-op.On Countdown, Olbermann played the thundering fool, insisting on a resignation. Our reaction? Maybe the big lug should resign too! Like the others, he failed to explain what he meant when he called the event a military flight over New York to take photos, a photo op.
Who was taking photos? Of what? You couldnt learn such things on cable, where the journalistic skills are slight. These people are good at chasing the demo, weak at everything else.
Mordantly sighing, we told the analysts: Youll have to wait for the morning newspapers. And sure enough! Their questions were answered in paragraph 3 of the Washington Posts news report.
Daniel de Vise gets it right: Daniel de Vise did a nice piece of work on the front page of Mondays Washington Post. Poor Neighborhoods, Untested Teachers, the headline said. In his opening paragraph, de Vise described a basic problem in Washington-area schools:
DE VISE (4/27/09): Students in the region's poorest neighborhoods are nearly twice as likely to have a new or second-year teacher as those in the wealthiest, a Washington Post analysis has found. The pattern means some of the neediest students attend schools that double as teacher training grounds.
In the Washington area, kids who live in the poorest neighborhoods are about twice as likely to have beginning teachers, according to de Vises findings. In the hard-copy Post, de Vises report was accompanied by two graphics, which make this pattern more clear. With numbing predictability, the Post seems to have dropped these graphics from its on-line presentation. But heres the simple story:
In the Washington areas poorest schools (schools in the top quartile by incidence of poverty), 22 percent of teachers are in their first or second years. In the areas most affluent schools (in the bottom quartile by incidence of poverty), the figure is 12-13 percent. Kids in poor schools are almost twice as likely to be taught by beginning teachers.
(To his credit, de Vise included additional data in which the contrast is less stark. A 1999-2000 Education Department survey pointed to an inequity in the teaching force, he writes. It found that 20 percent of teachers in low-income communities had three or fewer years of experience, compared with 15 percent in more-affluent areas.)
At any rate, poor kids are more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers. At several points, de Vise explains why that probably aint a terrific thing. And by the way: Along with his highly relevant reporting, he displayed impressive diplomatic skills in this early, requisite pander:
DE VISE: Experts say an effective teacher is key to raising academic achievement. Yet some disadvantaged students can spend years in classrooms led by untested recruits.
A teacher need not be experienced to be effective, and there are plenty of ineffective veterans. Maverick programs including Teach for America, which steer graduates from elite colleges into urban classrooms, have glamorized the first-year teacher by showing that youthful enthusiasm and smarts occasionally trump experience.
But studies show that inexperienced teachers tend to be less effective, especially in their first two years.
We mustnt anger Wendy Kopp! How powerful are the laws of the clan? In his fourth paragraph, poor de Vise had to find a way to kiss Lady Kopps massively over-kissed keister! Teach for Americas first-year teachers occasionally come through, the scribe said.
(To recall Charlie Roses keister-kissing session with Kopp, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/08, with links to our five-part report. It may have been the worst interview ever. But Rose bowed to the laws of the clan.)
Its painful to read de Vises descriptions of the travails of several first-year teachers. That said, we were struck by the small class sizes involved in this report. At one point, de Vise describes Nick Fiorelli teaching a lesson to 16 sixth-graders. At another point, he describes Lisa Johnson teaching her 18 first-graders.
How has the world of the low-income school changed in the past forty years? In our own second year in the Baltimore schools (1970-71), we had 41 (forty-one) fifth-graders on roll at the start of the year (XLI). We dont think we ever saw all those kids. But were fairly sure that our working class size was 38 or 39 during most of that year.
Below, a photo from the last day of that school year. The chairs are up; the bulletin boards are down. The youngsters have no way to knowbut theyre less happy than we are.
Note: When your class is 38 strong, you cant get them all in a picture:
The beat of her own demos drummer: Rachel Maddow, stalking the demo, introduced a well-known drummer. (She was broadcasting live from San Fran.) I didn`t know whether or not I should like go total fan girl, she self-effacingly said to her guest, Metallicas Lars Ulrich.
Dont worry, we mordantly told the analysts. If Ulrich were an insider scribe, thats exactly what she would have done!
At any rate, no one expects a major rock star to know the secrets of the clan. Soon, Ulrich was copping to the sorts of attitudes youre supposed to disguise on cable. For the record, were from the Bay Area too (eighth grade through the end of high school):
MADDOW (4/27/09): Talking to you in the studio today, right after talking to Gavin Newsom, mayor, whos running for governor, just makes me think aboutI mean, Im from the Bay Area and it makes me think about what San Francisco means.
And nationally, theres this denigration of San Francisco values that, something about the Bay Area, that we need to protect the rest of the country from what its like here. I wonder what you think
ULRICH: dont mind that.
MADDOW: Yeah. Yeah, we dont mind being a threat?
ULRICH: No. No. I mean, itswhat we love about San Franciscoand we fly the flag all over the world, obviously, for San Franciscois that its a very small community in a sense that everybody knows each otherthe artists, the politicians, the musicians, the actors. Everybody thats here all feel a kinship to each other, not just through what we do, but also because we share a love of San Francisco and the Bay Area.
And we are not Los Angeles and we`re not New York and we`re not Washington and we sort of like that. And we all know each other and certainly we know the mayor and his wonderful wife. And we see each other a lot in both social situations and private situations and it`s just a great place to Im European, grew up in Denmark, a very liberal social democratic country, as you know. And being in San Francisco is the only place that I would be in the United States.
If I was tarred and feathered and mercilessly thrown out of here, I would probably go back to Denmark. So most Europeans and certainly everybody from Denmark and the people I have kinship to in the world of culture and social issues and so on, we all just love San Francisco and its the only place in America we would be.
Oof. Speaking for those in the world of culture and social issues, Ulrich said that San Francisco was the only place in the country heand theywould live. Uber-comically, that produced this reaction from Maddow:
MADDOW (continuing directly): I love the idea that it`s tolerance that is so threatening. San Francisco is tolerant of everything! How terrifying! Um
ULRICH: They just don`t know.
MADDOW: No, I think they know! I think they know!
Ulrich had just finished saying that his social set wouldnt be willing to live anywhere else in the country. To Maddow, this triggered thoughts of this social sets overpowering tolerance. As Ulrich continued, he offered a few semi-condescending thoughts about the people in this great countrythe great country he just got through saying he wouldnt be willing to live in:
ULRICH (continuing directly): But, you know, the thing is that, you know, when youve had the opportunity to travel everywhere in this great country and spend so much time away from New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles and so on, its what you meet a lot in the middle of the country are obviously a lot of people that are very, very endearing to what you bring to them and so on, but you certainly feel that there is aI dont know if it`s intolerance, but certainly an ignorance to what we do out here on the coasts.
And so when I say that they dont know is, they dont know that were actually, you know, somewhat normal people out here that get up at 6:45 and make lunch boxes for our kids and take them to school just like they do in all the red states, you know.
We dont mean this as a criticism of Ulrich, who seemed like a very nice person. (To watch this interview, click here.) But its a very short way from these remarks to Janeane Garofalos recent discussion of all the redneck racists with the limbic brain problems who were found at those Tax Day events. (This is racism straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of tea-bagging red-necks. And there is no way around that. And, you know, you can tell these type of right-wingers anything and theyll believe it, except the truth. You tell them the truth and they becomeits like showing Frankensteins monster fire. They become confused, angry, highly volatile.) Theres a term for Garofalos lecture: Hate speech. But within the demo, it may be heard as an expression of tolerance.
Beyond that, these remarks help explain the insulting conduct Maddow aimed at those Tax Day participants for more than a weekwhile inventing excuses, night after night, for why such a lovely person would behave in such an ugly manner. (Shes just a jerk, a giggling host, she explained. She just couldnt help herself. And of course, she found her own conduct very embarrassing.) This also explains why you see the issue of torture explored on these shows (thats good), but never see that degree of attention directed at other large issues (thats bad). Why dont cables pseudo-liberals spend time on low-income schools, or on tax or income equity, or on the complex problems of health care? Just a guess: When you look down on the unwashed so thoroughly, you arent likely to spend your time worrying about their problems. Given their obvious limbic brain issues, can this group really be helped?
In 1999, the mainstream press didnt give a fig about health care. To all appearances, neither do our current cable progressives. Well extend a previous guess: Mary McGrory had health care. Keith and Rachel do too.
Maddows recent conduct was a disgrace (Olbermann too)but it gave us an unvarnished look at a type of upper-class pseudo-progressive. They have kinship to [those] in the world of culture and social issues; they tend to sneer and look down their noses when it comes to everyone else. And by the way: In previous eras, these attitudes have always undermined progressive interests. If the GOP ever returns to life, that may well happen again.
Last night, one such progressive marched to the beat of her own demos drummer. Our analysis? Hes a rock star, not a corporate confection. He didnt know which attitudes you mustnt cop to on cable.