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Daily Howler: How long will the press corps put up with this clowning? Massah Brit plans to find out
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BRIT HUME CONQUERS THE RUBES! How long will the press corps put up with this clowning? Massah Brit plans to find out: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JUNE 9, 2005

THE DAY AFTER: Finally! David Kirkpatrick was really smokin’ in his New York Times profile of Janice Rogers Brown. “[S]ome Senate Democrats have even singled her out as the most objectionable of President Bush's more than 200 judicial nominees,” the Times tough-talker said. Nor did he shrink from explaining Dem fury; Dems had been “citing [Brown’s] criticism of affirmative action and abortion rights but most of all her sweeping denunciations of New Deal legal precedents that enabled many federal regulations and social programs—developments she has called ‘the triumph of our socialist revolution.’” Indeed, at the very start of his piece, he laid out the justice’s oddball views. The headline in our hard-copy edition: “Seeing slavery in liberalism:”
KIRKPATRICK (pgh 1): Janice Rogers Brown, the African-American daughter of Alabama sharecroppers...often invokes slavery in describing what she sees as the perils of liberalism.

(2) ''In the heyday of liberal democracy, all roads lead to slavery,'' she has warned in speeches. Society and the courts have turned away from the founders' emphasis on personal responsibility, she has argued, toward a culture of government regulation and dependency that threatens fundamental freedoms.

(3) ''We no longer find slavery abhorrent,'' she told the conservative Federalist Society a few years ago. ''We embrace it.'' She explained in another speech, ''If we can invoke no ultimate limits on the power of government, a democracy is inevitably transformed into a kleptocracy—a license to steal, a warrant for oppression.''

(4) To her critics, such remarks are evidence of extremism.

Indeed, it was wild and wacky stuff—and Kirkpatrick was fearlessly laying it out, right on page one of the Times! Why, he even took an extremely cursory look at some of Brown’s judicial decisions!

But there’s one slight problem with Kirkpatrick’s report; it appears in this morning’s Times, the day after Brown’s confirmation! Much like its cowardly buddy (the Washington Post), the Times refused to profile Brown in the weeks before her Senate vote, when a tough-talking front-page profile like this might have sparked some real debate. But then, this is exactly what the fearless Times did in the case of another disputed judge, Priscilla Owen. Kirkpatrick did a front-page profile of Owen last Thursday—also on the morning after the Senate voted to confirm.

With these day-after profiles, the Times announces a fact; the paper has officially stood down from traditional journalistic duties. The paper will hide from the day’s leading issues; it will only lay out a few facts after the issue is settled. Did readers deserve to read about Brown before the Senate took its vote? To all appearances, that obvious course would be too risky for the greatest of all Gotham papers. Instead, its editors took the sensible view—the rubes could read about Owen and Brown after George Bush got his druthers.

We’ve noted this pattern for the past several months. At the Post, you had to read the editorials if you wanted to learn basic facts about Brown (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/05). At the Times, you got a taste of Brown’s oddball outlook—the morning after the vote. Repeatedly, our greatest papers are showing their High Foppist Values as they refuse to report and challenge. But then, when you get your crumbs from inane millionaires, your bread will be stale—a day late.

WE SEE DUMB PEOPLE: Does Brown “see slavery in liberalism?” Increasingly, we see inanity in our elites. Try to believe—just try to believe—the vapidity conveyed in this passage:

KIRKPATRICK (6/9/05): Her friends and supporters say her views of slavery underpin her judicial philosophy. It was her study of that history, they say, combined with her evangelical Christian faith and her self-propelled rise from poverty that led her to abandon the liberal views she learned from her family.

''We discuss things like, 'How did slavery happen?''' said her friend and mentor Steve Merksamer, a lawyer in Sacramento, Calif. ''It comes down to the fact that she believes, as I do, that some things are, in fact, right and some things are, in fact, wrong. Segregation—even though the courts had sustained it for a hundred years—was morally indefensible and legally indefensible and yet it was the law of the land,'' he said. ''She brings that philosophy to her legal work.''

As Arsenio Hall used to say: “Things that make you go hmmm.”

Can you believe the vapidity of that passage? Like her blathering “mentor,” Brown believes “that some things are, in fact, right and some things are, in fact, wrong.” And not only that: Segregation was indefensible, and yet it was the law of the land! And Brown doesn’t just kick these matters around in high-toned bull sessions. No, it’s even better than that. She even ''brings that philosophy to her legal work.'' No wonder the liberals were running scared in the face of the sharecropper’s daughter!

Should readers have been told about Brown’s legal views? How about this more relevant question: Should readers have been told that she’s dumb as a rock? The Times has an answer to both questions: No. But then, the New York Times has officially stood down. Readers get their news the day after.

THE TIMES JUST LOVES A GOOD MYSTERY: Meanwhile, for another look at the Times’ High Foppist Values, just drink in its coverage today of Los Alamos whistle-blower Tommy Ray Hook. Who authored the savage beating Hook endured last Saturday night? Her at THE HOWLER, we simply don’t know—but at the Times, it’s just the latest good mystery. The headline is straight from a Hardy Boys tale: “The Case of the Battered Whistle-Blower.” In her text, Sandra Blakesley settles in for some good solid fun:

BLAKESLEY (6/9/05): Los Alamos National Laboratory, which unlocked the secrets of the nuclear age, is pondering a new mystery: Who beat up the whistle-blower?

Early Sunday morning, Tommy Ray Hook, an auditor who has accused the laboratory's management of accounting irregularities, was severely beaten in the parking lot of Santa Fe's only topless dance club.

Mr. Hook, 52, is not sure how many men attacked him but he told CBS News they delivered a message: He should keep his mouth shut.

Mr. Hook suffered a fractured jaw, concussion, herniated disk and other injuries, including boot marks on his face. He was released from the hospital Tuesday night.

As in any good mystery, multiple versions of what happened are playing out as the local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, private investigators, reporters and people from a variety of organizations interested in nuclear issues vie to uncover the truth.

For Blakesley, Hook’s savage beating is the latest “good mystery.” The High Foppist Values of a millionaire press corps are put on display in the tone of this piece. But then, remember what Margaret Carlson told Imus (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/05): “As sport, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us...Bush’s [misstatements] should matter more but they don’t...it’s really easy, and it’s fun, to disprove Gore.” Carlson revealed the code that day, showing a foppist press corps’ real values—their work is now entertainment and sport. And so it was when the Times reported on “the case of” the whistle-blower’s shattered jaw. It was just the latest “good mystery.” Can’t you hear what these foppists are saying? At the Times, it’s all amusement. As with Carlson’s foppist cohort, they can no longer be bothered pretending that they actually care.

BRIT HUME CONQUERS THE RUBES: Mainstream journalists face a choice in the next several years. Do they want to keep playing dumb in the face of the invented anecdotes and slimy gay-bashing—the kind of work Edward Klein has to offer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/8/05)? And do they really want to go along with the idiotic rube-running? Clearly, Brit Hume plans to find out. How stupid has our “political news” now become? On Tuesday night’s Special Report, Hume even stooped to reporting the ludicrous “Accent War” from Virginia’s gubernatorial race. We first cited ths “issue” a few weeks ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/12/05); on Tuesday night, Hume stooped to cover. We offer the full transcript of Fox’s report. We agree—the claim involved is so inane that it’s rather hard to follow this transcript. But go ahead—give it a shot! Read through this entire report. And try to believe that this utter inanity was actually broadcast this week:

HUME (6/7/05): The race for governor of Virginia this year, there are many issues up for debate, from taxes to traffic and beyond. But as Fox News correspondent Brian Wilson reports, one of the hottest issues in the contest at the moment is not what candidates say, but how one of them says it.

WILSON (videotape): If you were running for statewide office in Virginia, you have to sell yourself to two kinds of voters, those in the major population centers and the rural voters. You must mount a campaign that will resonate from the gleaming towers in the northern part of the state to the back hollers of southwestern Virginia where life moves a little slower and the accents are a little thicker.

The accents of southwestern Virginia have actually become something of a campaign issue in this state's governor's race. Gate City, a town so deep in southwestern Virginia that it's almost in Tennessee. Ask for directions, and you'll hear an accent as thick as molasses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right turn right up there at the bank.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And make you a left when you go. You're going to (unintelligible) through there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You take (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just take the four-lane on down through there.

WILSON: Jerry Kilgore, the state's former attorney general and the leading GOP candidate for Virginia, was born and raised in Gate City and speaks with a bit of southwestern Virginia twang.

KILGORE: But it doesn't matter how you talk, it matters how you lead. And that's what we're going to be about.

WILSON: Still, Kilgore was miffed when the state's leading Democratic candidate, Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine, responded to a Kilgore attack ad with a radio commercial of his own that asked:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is Jerry Kilgore afraid of? And why won't he speak for himself?

KAINE: Look, where I come from, if you have got something to say, you say it yourself. And particularly if are you going to challenge somebody, don't hide behind a radio announcer. You know, don't let somebody else do your dirty work. And he has turned that into, you know, a supposed flap about accent.

WILSON: Kilgore does indeed believe the ad was part of a coordinated campaign to subtly and indirectly make fun of the way talks.

KILGORE: He gets a web campaign going to throw my voice up on the Web site, to challenge me to debates, when we already agreed to debates, and coordinates that with his web team to continue to disparage our accents here.

WILSON: Kaine vehemently insists he's not making fun of anyone's accent, but we found one Kaine supporter in Gate City who admitted it might become an issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you start messing with that heritage and that accent, you're going to make people in southwest Virginia mad.

WILSON: That is, if voters are paying attention.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like I said, I ain't followed it, so I don't listen to the news.

WILSON: In the commonwealth of Virginia, Brian Wilson, FOX News.

Let us translate that inanity for you—inanity straight from Wilson’s mouth. Kaine ran an ad in which he said, “Why won’t Kilgore speak for himself?” Because of that, Kilgore “does indeed believe the ad was part of a coordinated campaign to...make fun of the way talks.” Readers, let’s lay it right on the line. If you believe that Kilgore thinks that, we’ve got a purty holler in central Utah that we’re willing to sell you. But so what? The credulous Wilson asserted this nonsense—just as the Kilgore camp said.

Meanwhile, note the key statement in this report. “Kaine insists he's not making fun of anyone's accent, but we found one Kaine supporter in Gate City who admitted it might become an issue.” And that, of course, is exactly the point. Kilgore wants the rubes in southwest Virginia to think their accents are being mocked. And guess who else wants the rubes thinking that? Two names: Brian Wilson, Brit Hume! According to Hume, this absolute nonsense is “one of the hottest issues in the contest at the moment.” Hume believes that the same way he thinks Hank Williams came from rural Cambodia.

For the record, this inane report didn’t stand alone on Tuesday evening’s Special Report; it directly followed Hume’s credulous account of Edward Klein’s unsourced Hillary-bashing (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/8/05). At some point, the mainstream press corp has to decide if it’s really willing to put up with this nonsense. How cowardly, how foppish, are these grand millionaires? How much are they willing to pretend they don’t notice? Don’t worry—the Humes, Kleins and Kilgores plan to keep pushing until we all get to find out.

Final note: The “unintelligibles” appear in the Nexis transcript. Watching the report, it’s clear that Wilson simply asked directions of local people, then broadcast the thickest accents he could find. Tells us again—who exactly is having big fun with these laughable red-state speech patterns? Wilson and Hume were just runnin’ the rubes—and the mainstream press knows not to notice.

Special report—Fools for non-scandal!

PART 3—WHEN THE SUN LET IT RIP: Were New York’s kids really beating the nation all the way back in 1981? At the time, we were still teaching in the Baltimore schools—had been there since 1969—and every time we heard the claim, we emitted those low, mordant chuckles (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/8/05). But up in Gotham, public officials were hailing the brilliance they had displayed in getting those pleasing test scores up. In September, kids were returning for more of the same. In the Times, Gene Maeroff described spreading “elation:”

MAEROFF (9/6/81): When Edward I. Koch went to the Board of Education building in downtown Brooklyn one sunny morning in May to participate in a news conference, it was one of the few times in recent years that a mayor of New York City made a public appearance at the school system's headquarters.

The occasion for Mayor Koch's visit was an announcement by school officials that more than half the pupils in the elementary and juniorhigh schools were reading above the national average, a figure that exceeded anything the district had attained during the 1970's.

Now, as the city's public schools prepare to welcome back their almost one million students on Thursday, the elation has spread and in many of the system's 32 local districts the higher reading scores have become a symbol of an upswing. Attitudes have shifted considerably from the nadir of a few years ago, when a mayor or any other politician would have considered it a liability to associate himself with the school system.

“[T]he higher reading scores have become a symbol of an upswing,” Maeroff wrote. But uh-oh! Even then, Maeroff quoted a skeptic or two, just as our newest hero, David Herszenhorn, did in the Times last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/05). “[T]he skeptics are not persuaded by the statistics and find it difficult to believe that the vaunted improvements of New York City's long-troubled school system are not illusory,” Maeroff clumsily wrote. “They suspect that widespread coaching on the test and manipulation of the procedures accounted for at least some of the gains.” Omigod! Maeroff was chose to a flame. But then, he quoted some of those skeptics—and their statement made no earthly sense:
MAEROFF (9/6/81): ''Too much is done to achieve good results on the testing, so much so in fact that at times these efforts generate overreactions of another sort, having to do with the security of the testing,'' the Huron Institute, an independent research organization in Cambridge, Mass., said this year after studying the New York City school system's reading proficiency testing program.
Say what? No, we don’t really know what the skeptics meant by that puzzling statement, the only one Maeroff quoted (it may have been translated from the original Huron). What exactly did the Huron gang mean about “overreactions having to do with the security of the testing?” We can pretty much guess, but we don’t really know. But then, neither did any New Yorker who read this report in real time.

But then, so it goes when big newspapers write about urban education. Somehow, the kids who attend our urban schools don’t seem to merit the gift of coherence. When reporters write about pleasing test scores—New York City kids beat the nation! Mayor Koch arrives to take bow!—skeptics will sometimes appear in their pieces. But often, these “skeptics” turn out to be rather un-skeptical (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/05), or their statements don’t seem to be rendered in English. It’s never clear if the scribe involved is playing it dumb, or if he simply lacks technical savvy, but big newspapers often seem to skip past the heart of such skeptical claims. In this piece, for example, Maeroff finally came to a tangy matter—a matter those skeptical Huron warriors probably had in mind:

MAEROFF (9/6/81): Conversations with teachers and principals indicate that a likely factor in the improvement was the emphasis on test-taking skills. Teachers in the last few years have drilled the students repeatedly in the mechanics—training them to follow instructions, make the best guess on a multiple-choice question, not be anxious and allocatetheir time. This may not be reading per se, but it does add up to higher scores .

Such savvy has always been part of the test-taking repertoire of youngsters from more academically sophisticated backgrounds, yet critics have rarely if ever complained that their scores were artificially inflated.

In this passage, Maeroff flirted close to a flame—a flame he blew out in that second paragraph. But here at THE DAILY HOWLER’s sprawling campus, we emitted low, mordant chuckles when we read about those repeated drills in “test-taking skills” this week. After all, what sometimes occurs in drills of that type? We had first learned the answer, second-hand, all the way back in 1971, when friends told us about the outright cheating that was going on in their high-scoring Baltimore school; we had first written about this obvious problem in the Baltimore Sun in 1979. Indeed, in February 1981—seven months before Maeroff’s piece—we had published a detailed piece in the Evening Sun about scoring patterns in a range of Baltimore schools that strongly suggested outright cheating—the kind of outright, unvarnished cheating we had first heard described ten years earlier. By this time, plenty of people understood the obvious—that growing pressure on testing programs was leading to this sort of cheating, in which teachers and principals and system administrators pretty much broke every rule in the book to render those pleasing test scores. In 1981, the Sun was prepared to publish a challenging article about this apparent problem—but it looks like the mighty Times was not. Almost surely, this is what the Huron folk meant when they talked about “the security of the testing”—almost surely, they meant that teachers and principals who had year-round access to the specific test items were systematically teaching those items to their kids, in contravention of the way a standardized test must be administered. Here’s the way our own article started—seven months before the jumbled report which ran in Gotham’s great Times:
SOMERBY (2/5/81): Standardized test scores have risen substantially in the [Baltimore] city schools over the past few years, in some cases to levels that are the highest in a decade.

Local response has been understandably enthusiastic.

But interpretation of those rising test scores is nowhere near as simple as many local observers may believe. Analysis of school-by-school test results in Baltimore over the past several years reveals a disturbing number of individual elementary schools whose achievement patterns are highly irregular—whose sudden, unprecedented score gains are almost impossibly extreme.

And the city school system has instituted a number of highly questionable techniques by which students are now prepared for these tests—techniques which should, in and of themselves, raise serious questions as to the validity of the systemwide gains they may be producing.

Consider the sixth graders who graduated from the school I will call City School A in the spring of 1979...

We’ll spare you the detailed nuts and bolts—the type of data which hurt Ted Koppel’s head. Suffice to say that systemwide scores gains were concentrated in a number of schools—schools whose volatile scoring patterns made no earthly sense. Analysis was helped by the fact that the system had switched from the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to the California Achievement Tests in 1978, a switch which produced astounding anomalies in a wide range of “high-achieving” schools—schools which were suddenly taking a test their students hadn’t been “prepped” for. Uh-oh! When kids can’t be “prepped” for specific test items, let’s watch those pleasing scores fall!

Our point is simple. By 1981, many cities, like New York, were recording “best-ever” test scores—and many of these cities had been offering “repeated drills on test-taking skills,” drills which were plainly irregular on their face, and were often leading to outright cheating. Many people understood the obvious—that this was a significant part of the pleasing scores that mayors like Koch were out pimping. As usual, black kids were being treated like pawns—the realities of their lives blotted out by fakery, cheating, and open deception, deception designed to make mayors look good. The Baltimore Sun was prepared to discuss it—but many of our greatest newspapers were not. This led to our unvarnished pleasure last week when our new hero, “Hersz,” spoke up boldly.

TOMORROW—PART 4: What’s missing from today’s pleasing report in the Post? (“Prince George’s [County] Cheers Gains in Test Scores.”) Pleasing hint for fiery liberals—the omission leads back to George Bush!