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ANCHORS AWAY! Three anchors–Schieffer, BillO and KO–have been sound asleep in the woods: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010

How hard is that fourth-grade test: Last Sunday, the Washington Post printed some hard information about some basic public school tests. This information was buried on page C5 (“Local Opinions”). The information came from Kristen Amundson, of the Education Sector think tank.

Amundson presented some solid information, concerning passing rates in reading and math achieved by Virginia’s public school students. More precisely, she compared passing rates on Virginia’s own statewide tests (the SOLs) with passing rates by Virginia kids on the National Assessment of Education Progress (the NAEP). Because the passing rates differ so widely, we thought her data deserve a look:

AMUNDSON (7/11/10): Under the No Child Left Behind law, states are free to set their own passing scores on state assessments such as the SOLs. That makes it challenging to compare what fourth-graders in Virginia know against what fourth-graders in other states are expected to master. However, there is growing agreement that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides a common yardstick. Its "proficient" level is as close to a national performance standard as the United States has.

And when Virginia's students are measured against that standard, they don't do very well. While 89 percent of fourth-graders passed the Virginia reading test, just 38 percent met the NAEP proficient level. In math, 43 percent of fourth-graders were at the proficient level, compared with 86 percent who passed the SOL test.

On the eighth-grade reading test, Virginia students are nearly at the bottom using the NAEP standard. While 87 percent of eighth-graders passed the SOL reading test, 32 percent were at the NAEP proficient level. In math, 86 percent of eighth-graders passed the SOLs, but only 36 percent were at the NAEP proficient level.

Simple story: Passing rates were vastly higher on Virginia’s own tests (the SOLs) than on the NAEP.

Amundson assumes that the NAEP presents a reasonable standard. In fact, at least one expert (Gerald Bracey) has argued that the NAEP sets an artificially high standard for proficiency. But one thing is fairly clear: The Virginia tests seem to be substantially “easier” than the NAEP tests. This returns us to a problem we noted just last week.

Last week, the Washington Post told us how many kids at Sousa Middle School passed the DC reading/math tests (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/7/10). We noted a question that didn’t get asked: How much math does a child have to know to pass DC’s citywide tests? Does a child have to know traditional fifth grade math to pass the city’s fifth grade test? This is a basic, bone-simple question—but it never gets asked.

Our big newspapers keep reporting passing rates from the various states’ statewide tests. They never ask a basic question: How hard are these tests? How much math does a child have to know to pass a given state’s math test? How well does a child have to read to pass the state’s reading test?

The various states should answer without being asked, in technical manuals. But our big newspapers never ask, and the states pretty much never tell.

Passing rates don’t tell you much, unless you know how hard the tests are. How hard are the state of Virginia’s math tests? The question is amazingly basic. But it doesn’t get asked.

ANCHORS AWAY (permalink): Have major anchors been away from their desks, enjoying the summer a bit too much? So it has seemed in the past few days. Let’s start with Bob Schieffer of CBS News, bungling on Face the Nation.

On Sunday morning’s program, Schieffer interviewed attorney general Eric Holder. Speaking in his casual clothes from “the Benedict Music Tent at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen,” Schieffer eventually asked about Arizona’s new immigration law. But uh-oh! Schieffer’s account of that new law would soon have his [asp] in hot water:

SCHIEFFER (7/11/10): When the Arizona law was first passed, both you and the president expressed concerns that it would lead to racial profiling, because it allows the police, if they think someone might be in this country illegally, gives them a right to stop them and they have to produce papers to show that in fact they are citizens.

Yet your lawsuit does not talk at all about racial profiling. Or if it even mentions it, it`s just barely. It just talks about the federal government is being preempted from a duty that it has to perform. Why did you choose to go that route?

Say what? Whatever one thinks of Arizona’s new law, that’s a fairly shaky account of what it provides. Last night, Bill O’Reilly ranted and raved all night about Schieffer’s perfidious statement. This was the first presentation of a complaint which extended throughout this program:

O'REILLY (7/12/10): Maybe Mr. Schieffer’s jeans were too tight, but that's not true. The Arizona police can only ask about nationality, according to the new law, if a person is involved in another police matter. You can't just walk up to somebody and demand papers.

So here's the question: Does Mr. Schieffer not understand the law? Or was he serving up a softball to Mr. Holder?

Mr. O was plenty hot about Schieffer’s misleading statement! But wouldn’t you know it? Before long, Mr. O began discussing the flap about the New Black Panther Party (details below). When he did, he followed the reviled Schieffer’s lead, offering a misleading account of what had occurred:

O’REILLY (7/12/10): “Impact segment” tonight: As we have been reporting, the network news has been ignoring Attorney General Eric Holder not prosecuting three Black Panthers who allegedly intimidated voters in Philadelphia.

Now one of the men stood outside a Philadelphia polling place, as you've probably seen, holding a weapon. There's the weapon. But still, Attorney General Holder says he does not have enough evidence to bring the case to court. Former Justice Department lawyer has resigned over the situation, saying he was ordered not to go forward because of race considerations. Any way you slice it, this is a disturbing situation.

Maybe it all depends on what the meaning of “prosecute” is! In fact, it was the Justice Department under President Bush which decided not to “prosecute” this case—which decided to pursue a civil action, rather than a criminal charge. But then, here’s another problem with O’Reilly’s account: Under Holder, this civil action was dropped against two of the Panthers in question—but the civil action proceeded against the third. (Only two of the three had been present at the polling place.) But then, viewers of O’Reilly’s program have repeatedly been misled about this case, as Media Matters spelled out in some detail in this July 7 report. Beyond that, the fudging of the basic facts of this case has been rather widespread on Fox. (Media Matters has done a lot of work on this topic.)

Luckily, O’Reilly has his own private Javert in the person of Keith Olbermann. Even as O’Reilly was discussing this case, Olbermann was critiquing his work last night. But uh-oh! All through his own program last evening, Olbermann pimped a “startling” “new” revelation about the New Black Panther case—even though the “new” information in question has been clear for a long while.

Has Olbermann been asleep in the woods, dozing his summer days away? Below, we offer three of his “teases,” then a chunk of his full report:

OLBERMANN (7/12/10): The new iPhone does have an antenna problem, but they also say they have a way for you to fix yours, which is words you`ll never hear from FOX noise, even after news today that their phony New Black Panther party story is just that—a phony.


The remarkable fact that just disproved the big Black Panther conspiracy theory consuming Fox News that buffoon O`Reilly is talking about it as we speak—despite the startling revelation that the decision not to make a criminal case out of some election-time harassment was not made by the Obama administration. Ahead on Countdown.


Apple gets slapped around for antenna flaws in the new iPhone. Apple says, it`s not the antenna, it`s the signal strength indicator. Consumer Reports says, no, it`s the antenna, but we could help you fix yours at home. Would that there was a similar solution for Fox News. The new Black Panther party saga, seemingly like all sequels, bad acting, transparent fiction, and, we learn today, huge holes in the plot line.


OLBERMANN: No, this is not your water coming to a boil, it’s our nightly checkup on the something-for-nothing crowd. It’s “Tea Time.” If you’ve not noticed, they`ve been having one long continuous fake news gas, over there at Fox, drumming up paranoia among their more racist viewers, by covering 24/7 something they call the New Black Panthers case. The allegation being pushed like grease through the very willing Fox News-viewing geese is that a couple of New Black Panthers threatened voters at a polling station in Philadelphia on Election Day 2008, and that one of the guys was caught on video, and another time shouting inanities about killing, quote, “cracker babies,” but that voter intimidation charges were dropped by Attorney General Holder and President Obama and, thus, they are about to murder all of us in our beds.

Got it? New Black Panthers intimidating voters, killing cracker babies, Obama didn’t prosecute. There is, as it proves, one huge flaw in this latest Fox-driven conspiracy. The decision not to prosecute was not made by Obama or by the Obama administration, nor the attorney general, Mr. Holder. It was made during the administration of President Bush George W. Bush.

Adam Serwer of The American Prospect found the smoking gun in the testimony last May of the head of the Justice Department`s Civil Rights Division. Thomas Perez was talking about this new Black Panthers nonsense to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in May and he said this: "After reviewing the matter, the Civil Rights Division determined that the facts did not constitute a prosecutable violation of the criminal statutes. The department did, however, file a civil action on January 7th, 2009, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief under 11b against four defendants.”


So here`s the real story Fox and the other malefactors of mankind will not tell you, based not on rumor nor innuendo, but court and congressional records. New Black Panthers, intimidating voters, killing cracker babies, Bush didn`t prosecute.

Olbermann’s account was accurate—but we have no idea why he thought he was reporting “a startling revelation,” a “smoking gun,” something that had just been “learned today.” Presumably, Olbermann was referring to this blog post by Adam Serwer—a post which was perfectly accurate, but was reporting old news. (Note Serwer’s update.)

It’s true! The decision not to bring criminal charges was made under President Bush! But in fact, Media Matters has been reporting this “startling” fact for weeks—and a rather well-known newspaper reported this startling fact last Wednesday. Charlie Savage did the honors, in the New York Times. We’ll offer a fairly long excerpt:

SAVAGE (7/7/10): The testimony by Mr. Adams brought new attention to a case that has been used as political ammunition against the Obama administration by some conservative media outlets seeking to flip the script on portrayals of the Bush administration as having ''politicized'' the Justice Department.

The case arose after two members of the New Black Panther Party stood outside a polling place in a majority-black precinct in Philadelphia on Election Day in 2008. A video of the men, posted online, showed them dressed in paramilitary clothing, and one carried a billy club.

In January 2009, less than two weeks before the Bush administration left office, the civil rights division invoked a rarely used section of the Voting Rights Act to file a civil lawsuit alleging voter intimidation by both men, the party chairman and the party.

In April 2009, the division seemed to win the case by default because the New Black Panthers failed to show up in court. But the following month, a longtime Justice official, Loretta King—who was then the acting head of the division—decided to reduce the scope of the case.

The department dropped the charges against the party, its chairman and the man who was not carrying a club. It pressed forward with the lawsuit against the man with the club, obtaining an injunction that forbids him from carrying a weapon near an open polling place in Philadelphia through 2012.

The case became a cause celebre in the conservative media world, and the Civil Rights Commission opened an investigation.

Last Wednesday, the nation’s best-known newspaper reported that the civil lawsuit was filed under the Bush Admin. That said, we thought the Times worked fairly hard to avoid reporting that this fact has been widely misstatted (see below).

In reality, the decision to file a civil case was made before Obama took office. We have no idea why Olbermann thought that this “startling revelation” was “news today.” But even as he mocked O’Reilly, KO displayed his own lack-of-a-clue about this matter, which has enflamed the conservative world for the past several weeks.

Have leading anchors been away from their desks, enjoying their summer days in the woods? First, O’Reilly battered Schieffer for misleading the public about Arizona. Then, O’Reilly turned around and misled the public about the New Panthers. Then, Olbermann battered O’Reilly about the New Panthers—and displayed his own cluelessness about this ongoing matter.

All three men are paid millions of dollars. Ain’t life in the fast track grand?

In the larger sense: In the larger sense, we thought O’Reilly’s program last night was pure Grade A Crap from beginning to end. We thought Olbermann’s program was less awful, but was remarkably worthless.

Let’s not forget the Times: Over at the New York Times, Savage laid out the facts rather clearly. But good lord! How this paper loves to avoid naming the names of dissemblers!

Savage stated, at two separate points, that the New Black Panther case had become “a cause celebre in the conservative media world”—that the case was being “used as political ammunition against the Obama administration.” Beyond that, Savage knew—and reported—that the civil suit had been filed under Bush. Given those facts, he surely knew a third key fact—Fox viewers had repeatedly been misled about this basic matter.

Politely, Savage failed to include this fact in his report.

This may have been an editor’s decision. But once again, it’s news when millions of voters get misled about basic facts. Fox has been misleading the rubes about this case for weeks. But as with climate change, so with this: To this day, the New York Times doesn’t like to report such facts.

About that casual wardrobe: There was a time when Citizen Schieffer was appalled by casual dress on a Sunday news program. To recall a stunning bit of warfare, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/13/03.