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Print view: The mainstream press corps has learned a few things. We liberals, perhaps not so much
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LATEST SEX ALLEGATION! The mainstream press corps has learned a few things. We liberals, perhaps not so much: // link // print // previous // next //

D-minus data dump: In yesterday’s Washington Post, Stephanie McCrummen authored a long, front-page report about a struggling public school whose test scores rose last year. (This year’s scores haven’t been released yet.)

How did the kids at Sousa Middle School do this year? The test scores still aren’t available. But in the following passage, McCrummen describes their progress in the school year which ended in 2009—progress which followed the appointment of a new principal, 37-year-old Dwan Jordon:

MCCRUMMEN (7/6/10): In the world of education reform, middle schools are a vexing problem. They are the limbo where the basic skills of fragile adolescents are lost or developed, the last chance to catch troubled students before the wilderness of high school. And in that regard, Sousa has for years exemplified failure.

Privately, one faculty member at another school called [Sousa] a "dumping ground" for burned-out teachers, a place toxic with low expectations, where students roamed the halls and fought. Eighty percent of the Southeast school's students are from low-income families, 99 percent are African American, and most come from neighborhoods where violence, drugs and other uncertainties invade childhoods. When D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee appointed Jordon to take over the freshly renovated school two years ago, only 23 percent of its students were proficient in reading, 17 percent in math.

Described by a former colleague as "very, very, very, very, I-can't-say-enough-verys competitive," Jordon fired most of the staff and pushed through other changes his first year. The union fought him. Some parents asked for his dismissal. Then the test results came in: Reading proficiency rose to 39 percent, math to 42 percent. Although those lag behind some D.C. public charter schools', Sousa's gains were the biggest of any public middle school in the city last year, and they have drawn attention.

McCrummen describes a big jump in passing rates. In the spring of 2008, only 17 percent of Sousa’s students passed the city’s math tests. One year later, in the spring of 2009, 42 percent passed.

That jump in passing rates is large. We’ll guess that Jordon, an energetic person, has done a good job at Sousa—along with the help of his teachers. But in a news report which praises Jordon’s use of data, here are a few things you never learn:

What were the city-wide passing rates in 2008?
What were the city-wide passing rates in 2009?

How good is Sousa Middle School doing, compared to other schools in DC? Can we be the only readers who wondered about that?

McCrummen’s piece runs more than 2300 words, including a graphic we can’t find on-line. But readers are never told how well this school is performing compared to the rest of the city, or when compared to other schools with similar demographics.

Beyond that, readers are also never told how much a student has to know to pass the city’s tests. If you pass DC’s eighth-grade math test, do you have to know traditional eighth-grade math? At what level are you performing? McCrummen doesn’t ask.

What is the overall passing rate? How much math do you have to know? These are basic, bone-simple questions. In a report which praises Jordon’s use of data, the Post continues the D-minus technical work which has characterized education reporting down through these many long years.

One final point: For various reasons, it can be limiting to report the passing rate, and no other measure, from tests like this. The New York Times has begun to report passing rate plus average score. This strikes us as an advance.

Not even there: We went to the web site of the DC Public Schools (click here). Maybe we’re completely clueless, but we couldn’t even find the overall passing rates there.

Jordon is very skilled with data. Others? Perhaps not so much.

LATEST SEX ALLEGATION (permalink): Some readers suspect we’re working with Maureen Dowd, so quickly does The Dim One rush to reinforce our representations. This morning, Dowd hurries back to her favorite sexy-time topics, suggesting that you spend your summer reading up on the sexy-time conduct of John and Elizabeth Edwards.

Classic Dowd! She even finds a way to work Tiger Woods’ wife into her opening paragraph!

Not only is Dowd’s subject matter dumb, so are her fitful attempts at “reasoning.” In the following passage, she hisses and spits at something Elizabeth Edwards said on Larry King Live last week. Good God, but this prize-winner’s dumb:

DOWD (7/7/10): Indicating that she found Rielle Hunter’s half-naked pictures in GQ distasteful, Elizabeth cast her as Lady Voldemort, barring King from mentioning the name of her husband’s girlfriend. She said she would have accepted John’s daughter with Rielle and been her stepmother if John and she had stayed together, but “now there’s no reason really for me to.”

Well, there is that little matter of 2-year-old Frances Quinn Hunter being the half-sister of Elizabeth’s kids.

Dowd is skilled at dressing up dreck with references to high literature—in this case, to Harry Potter. (Voldemort is one of her favorite cites.) That said, if you can’t see how dumb Dowd’s pensee about Stepmother Edwards is, we won’t try to help you.

A culture which can’t reject Dowd as too dumb is a culture that’s destined to fail. In today’s earliest comments, commenters 2, 5, 11 and 14 were able to reject Dowd’s simpering subject matter. (Commenter 14: “Another column of rewarmed gossip that we have heard too many times and with no purpose in mind.”) It’s simply stunning that “liberal journals” still haven’t offered this critique of this fatuous trend-setter.

For columnists of a certain age, summer is the time of reruns. In today’s column, Dowd’s returns to a favorite old topic; indeed, Elizabeth Edwards was on King’s program pushing her paperback book. That said, a new sex allegation is out—and the mainstream press corps, by and large, has reacted quite responsibly. No one can know what the truth really is. Most people, even including Dowd, have chosen not to speculate.

(Is the lady under editorial restraint? Inquiring minds want to know!)

The new sex allegation is aimed at Al Gore. Aspects of the accusation are odd, though there’s no obvious way to know if the general accusation is true—or false. On cable, Joy Behar has played the role of the smut-sucking hog, clowning and joking and then explaining that she always goes for the laugh. (This isn’t true, of course.) In the world of pseudo-conservative claptrap, Byron York got a bit overheated, declaring this latest sex allegation to be “highly credible.” Smutties at a few of the tabloids have chosen to play the fool.

But the mainstream press corps has come a long way, generally being quite careful about the allegation. This accusation could of course be totally bogus, as the accused has said. (More on that tomorrow.)

Has the mainstream press corps perhaps grown wiser since the Clinton salad days, the wild west days of sex accusation? Possibly. We only wish that Salon’s Alex Pareene had shown a similar learning curve.

Pareene discussed the new sex allegation in this July 3 piece. (“I'm glad the Gore sex case has been reopened,” the headline said.) In his piece, Pareene voiced a set of standard liberal views, of a type which have, on balance, badly harmed the nation. Also in standard fashion, he didn’t seem to have worked especially hard keeping up with some facts of the case:

PAREENE (7/3/10): There are details that make the 54-year-old massage therapist's story seem like a ridiculous smear, ripped from the fantasies of Matt Drudge. Gore put on the Pink song about Bush? His "second chakra"? (Assuming that all liberals follow hippie mysticism New Age BS is a familiar right-wing trope. But, you know, maybe!) She saved pants with his DNA on them! (What, he didn't have time to give her a copy of "Leaves of Grass"?)


On the other hand, there's a long, disgusting history of powerful men committing and getting away with sex crimes against women. The “defenses” voiced by many liberals are grossly misogynist. It's responses like these that, you know, cause women to not report rape in the first place.

Pareene focused on “the people leaving misogynist comments,” calling them “the scum of the Internet.” To show us what kinds of comments he meant, he linked to this post at Slate—a post which includes five Internet comments, at least one of which strikes us as being perfectly fair.

Pareene is correct to criticize those who post misogynist comments. (Though commenters are less important than columnists and broadcasters.) Beyond that, he offers a word of caution to liberals: “I would hesitate to assume that Gore is innocent based solely on the fact that you admire his public service.” Pareene is right in that caution too; obviously, an assumption like that would make little sense. Duh! People who engage in admirable service can also do things which are wrong.

But what a classic pseudo-liberal this oracle proved to be! Pareene managed to find some commenters who were trying to slime the accuser. But sure enough! He failed to find the creeps and clowns who were trying to slime the accused! (Behar went unmentioned, along with York.) Meanwhile, he didn’t seem to have kept real current with some basic facts of the case, murky though they may be. When he cited that “pants with his DNA on them” claim, should he have mentioned the fact that the accuser had already said, in the Enquirer, that the DNA has already been tested—and that the tests had proven inconclusive? (In the current context, we’re not even sure what that could mean.) Should he have mentioned the money aspects of the case—a matter on which the Washington Post had already reported, with typical high incoherence? (Details tomorrow.)

The mainstream press corps may have learned a few things since the salad days of tabloid sex accusation. The key thing we all should have learned is this: When such an accusation is made, you can’t possibly know if it’s true. If you want to be a decent person, you won’t assume that the claim is false—but you also won’t assume that it’s true. And if you want to be a real journalist, you will try to remind your readers that you can’t possibly know what is true.

That said, accusations involving big money and big fame do raise some obvious questions. In the days of the Clinton sex chase, your liberal leaders worked rather hard to keep you from understanding such facts. Tomorrow, we will review what we should have learned from a few of those gruesome old cases—should have learned, but quite possibly didn’t.

Over at Salon, meanwhile, the pseudo-liberal imagination has put itself on full display. Pareene spotted some people who were being unfair to the accuser. (This is good!) But wouldn’t you know it? In best Frank Rich-ian fashion, he failed to spot any people who was being unfair to the accused! (This is bad!) Expressing high greatness in classic fashion, he warned against one form of prejudgment—but failed to issue equal-but-opposite warnings against a second type.

Do you remember the Bad Old Days when all good liberals played it this way? When liberals vouched for accusers whose words turned out to be—ahem!—not true? Quite possibly, you don’t remember those episodes. As part of their long and disgraceful wars, the “liberal” world and the mainstream press corps worked to keep you clueless.

Tomorrow: As we always used to say: The press corps heart graphic accusers!