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THEIR COHORT, THEMSELVES! The narrative of the miracle cure lives on in DC’s city council: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 3, 2007

NO HOWLER TOMORROW: Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, as can be learned from most major calendars.

JOE WILSON’S GOOD SOUND ADVICE: Judged by the standards of American pols, we’ve never thought that Bill Clinton is especially “Clintonesque.” This morning, though, it seems that David Brooks perhaps is. And again, he’s highly dyspeptic.

The dyspepsia has become Brooks’ style. A few weeks back, he wrote a highly insulting column about Al Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/31/07), and today the insults are flowing again—insults aimed at Joseph Wilson and at various unnamed liberal types. But it was his slick, slippery way that caught our eye, concerning a key word—undercover.

Last month, Patrick Fitzgerald said, in a court filing, that Valerie Plame was a covert agent under terms of the relevant statute when her identify was revealed in July 2003. Once again, here’s what Fitzgerald said. As you may know, he’s quite familiar with the facts of the case:
FITZGERALD (5/25/07): [I]t was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute (Title 50, United States Code, Section 421) as a covert agent whose identity had been disclosed by public officials, including Mr. Libby, to the press.
It was clear from the start, Fitzgerald said. Until then, this point had been in substantial dispute. And for most people, this point remains unclear, because the nation’s news orgs failed to report the key thing Fitzgerald said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/26/07). Fitzgerald said she was covert—and the press corps failed to report it.

Enter Brooks, dyspeptic again. As journos do when they want to imply something they actually know to be false, he presents some oddly murky prose about this long-disputed matter. First, we’re offered this:
BROOKS (7/3/07): Act Two [of the drama surrounding Plame] opened with a cast of thousands crowding the stage, filling the air with fevered vapors and gleeful rage. Perhaps you can remember those days, when the Plame story pretended to be about the outing of an undercover C.I.A. agent. Perhaps you can remember the howls of outrage from our liberal friends, about the threat to national security, the secret White House plot to discredit its enemies.
The Plame story pretended to be about the outing of an undercover agent? Fitzgerald said, just last month, that it was about the outing of such an agent! Brooks’ construct is murky; the confusion it creates may be accidental. But whatever its motive, it lets conservatives retain the idea that Plame was never covert. But then, Brooks seems to play the same “slick” trick in this later passage:
BROOKS: By the start of Act Three, nobody cared about the outing of a C.I.A. agent. That part of the scandal disappeared. And all that was left of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame were the creepy photos in Vanity Fair.

Act Three was the perjury act, and attention shifted to the unlikely figure of Scooter Libby. As Joe Wilson was an absurd man with a plain name, Scooter Libby was a plain man with an absurd name. And the odder thing was that Libby was the only normal person in the asylum.
Dyspeptic name-calling drives that passage—but so does Brooks’ murky prose. “That part of the scandal disappeared?” (The part about “the outing of a C.I.A. agent?”) Again, many readers have never heard about Fitzgerald’s statement last month. Whatever its intent, this murky language helps conservative readers continue to think that Plame was not covert.

Was Brooks deliberately “Clintonesque?” We don’t have the slightest idea. But the press corps’ failure to report Fitzgerald’s statement remains a remarkable failure. Last night, Joe Wilson gave Anderson Cooper some good sound advice on that subject:
COOPER (7/2/07): There are many people who look at this and say, there was no original crime committed in terms of the revealing of an intelligence officer's name. Your wife, clearly, her name was put out there. She was outed as a CIA operative. But the critics of this—of this entire investigation will say, well, look, if that was really a crime, if a crime was committed, there are laws that people who outed her could be prosecuted under it, and they were not.

WILSON: Yes. And Mr. Fitzgerald addressed that at the time of the indictment. Go back and read and report on what Mr. Fitzgerald himself said.
Cooper’s question was typically imprecise—but Wilson gave some good advice. Fitzgerald’s statement helped clarify a central part of this long-debated story. But the press corps, hapless, failed to report it, and scribes like Brooks are keeping things murky. As a result, most Americans haven’t heard about the judgment Fitzgerald rendered. “Go back and report it,” Wilson said. We think that was good sound advice.

FITZGERALD SI, THE CIA NOT SO MUCH: Some readers have said that Fitzgerald’s statement didn’t make any difference, since the CIA had already said that Plame was covert. Come on, people! The CIA was an interested party, and it isn’t a legal authority. Beyond that, its statements on Plame’s legal status were often murky, to the point of seeming suspicious. (It now seems that this was ineptitude rather than intent.) By contrast, Fitzgerald is a legal authority; he entered the case as a disinterested party; and his statement about Plame’s legal status was absolutely clear. It clarified a key part of this case—a point that had been debated for years. But the press corps failed to report what he said, and we liberals failed to insist that they do so. Even most people who follow this case have never heard about Fitzgerald’s statement. Wilson gave good advice last night. Cooper won’t take it. Libs should.

THEIR COHORT, THEMSELVES: It looks like The Narrative of the Miracle Cure will live to bamboozle a new generation. Did Michelle Rhee—Mayor Fenty’s choice to head the DC public schools—really produce that miracle cure at Harlem Park Elementary School, back in the mid-1990s? (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/07.) Based on yesterday’s city council meeting, it seems we may never find out. (More on that at the end of the week.) But so what? According to the Post’s Nikita Stewart, the council got to hear about another of Rhee’s endless inspiring cures:
STEWART (7/3/07): Former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who personally called nearly all 13 council members last week, flew from California to tell council members yesterday that Rhee is a hands-on executive who works round-the-clock. He credited her with helping to turn around Sacramento High School, where he said 80 percent of the first graduating class under the nonprofit group's control was accepted into four-year colleges. Four years earlier, the rate was 20 percent, Johnson said.
Rhee “helped” turn around Sacramento High, Johnson said. For ourselves, we admire Johnson for the work he has done at his formerly floundering alma mater; it was considered one of the worst high schools in California when he took it charter in the fall of 2003. But as the Sacramento Bee explained last year, Sac High’s academic improvement “is unquestionably attributable to a number of factors, including shifting enrollment as the school, amid much controversy, went to a charter foundation” (our emphasis). Indeed, the state of California ranks Sacramento High slightly below average among California high schools “with similar demographic profiles.” (Click here; scroll down to “API results.” This is the school’s ranking for 2005-2006, based on that year’s test scores.) So far, that doesn’t seem to make this school a miracle. But the city council pretty much heard that it was—and that Rhee had “helped” produce it.

But then, the nation’s journos—like other elites—simply adore this narrative. It has driven coverage of urban schools at least since the mid-1960s, when we ourselves read about miracle cures in the feel-good urban educational literature of that hopeful era. Such “miracle cures” are typically myths; for example, Rhee’s test score claims are most likely fake, and her resume includes claims about the “acclaim” she won from the nation’s media that are flatly bogus. But so what? The nation’s elites are in love with this harmful narrative—and city councils aren’t willing to fight it.

Indeed, our press corps will publish tales of miracle cures no matter how bogus they may really be. In this manner, the Washington Post published a feel-good, top-of-the-front-page report about a local school with a miracle cure—a school which also had the second-lowest reading scores in the whole state of Virginia! (It happened last year, on the Post’s front page.) We explained the whole thing, in endless detail—and we even learned that the state of Virginia had been publishing bogus test scores for every school in the state! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/20/06, with links to earlier reports.) But so what? The nation’s educational elites, based here in DC, didn’t say a word about these remarkable stories, even after we did their work for them. This week, these same hail fellows have kept their mouths shut about Rhee’s unlikely resume claims. They bow low to others inside the elite. But then, it’s the nature of modern elites. They work for their cohort, themselves.

These elites exist to spread pretty tales. Those low-income kids can go hang. (We know. You refuse to believe this.)

After tomorrow’s day of rest, we’ll continue this theme for two more days. After all, the press corps’ know-nothing work is never done when it comes to the nation’s low-income schools. Yesterday, the Post’s Fred Hiatt presented two columns about No Child Left Behind—posts which showcased the know-nothing style which has driven mainstream coverage of low-income schools for the past forty years. (Richard Cohen makes a better—though imperfect—effort today.) And the tale of Rhee’s cures isn’t done.

But the narrative of the miracle cure seems to be surviving this week. For reasons we will explain, we doubt that Rhee produced the test scores she has bruited about—the test scores which helped her gain a crucial job, for which she may or may not be prepared. But so what! They make the nation’s elites feel good. And they help our nation’s darlings land jobs, big jobs with exciting new salaries.

LETTING IT SLIDE: What ever became of those miracle test scores? It looks like everyone’s letting them slide:
STEWART: Council members had few questions about claims on Rhee's résumé that she dramatically improved test scores of students at Harlem Park Elementary School in Baltimore, for which she has no documentation. Former principal Linda Carter, who recalled significant gains, testified that she had discarded paperwork long ago and that it was not available through the Baltimore school district.

Yesterday's only other controversy surrounded the way Rhee was selected.
Huh! The paperwork is “not available!” It looks like council—and the Post—are letting it slide. Amazingly, the Washington Times doesn’t seem to have reported the council meeting at all.

The proles were in search of the truth last week. By Monday, they had come to their senses. By Monday, they were letting it slide.

UPDATE: The Washington Times did report the council meeting (it was posted late). You know what to do--just click here.