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IGNORANTS ABROAD! The press corps continued its “trivia tour” as Edwards tried to talk about poverty: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2007

THE POST IS NOW SHOCKED ABOUT RHEE: What a surprise! The Washington Post is already upset with new DC schools whiz kid Michelle Rhee! Today’s editorial is called “Educational Entitlement.” The opening paragraph is just so delish that we’ll reproduce it in full. Not that we saw such things coming!
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (7/17/07): In the debate about bringing change to the District's troubled schools, there's been much talk about putting the interests of students first. But self-interest seems to top the agenda as evidenced by the big money demands coming from both the incoming and outgoing school leadership.
Weird! Who could have guessed that “self-interest” might “top the agenda” when it came to the marvelous Rhee?

For the record, the Post is finally getting involved because money is at stake, not children. (When it comes to the interests of low-income kids, the Post seems willing to swallow down anything.) After briefly criticizing DC’s outgoing superintendent, the Post declares itself shocked, just shocked, to find Rhee awash in self-interest:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: Then comes a lesson on how not to begin a new administration from Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, with a big assist from Mr. Fenty. Her plan to pay two aides $200,000, exceeding a $152,686 District cap, has sparked a dust-up with the D.C. Council. She's also offering six-figure salaries to half a dozen other people on her staff. This comes after some concern over her own pay. Instead of the $250,000 first proposed, Ms. Rhee is being paid $275,000 plus a $41,250 signing bonus plus a possible performance bonus of $27,500. Keep in mind that Ms. Rhee makes more than her counterparts in Montgomery and Fairfax, who preside over far larger systems...

Given the magnitude of the task she faces, perhaps her salary is understandable. But what about the generous paychecks being proposed for her staff? Kaya Henderson, who worked with Ms. Rhee on the New Teacher Project, is being offered what amounts to a $70,000 raise to serve as deputy chancellor. Ms. Henderson lives locally, so there's not even the excuse of relocation costs. This proposed salary is larger than that of the police or fire chief and the same as Mr. Fenty's; we won't contrast it with what the average teacher makes. City officials say such salaries are the only way to get the best talent, that they are comparable to other cities, and that officials will be working long hours. The D.C. Council was right to balk until a more thoughtful examination of the executive pay structure can take place in September.
For ourselves, we wouldn’t care about pay-days like these if there were some indication that DC was actually “getting the best talent.” But such indications are quite hard to find. On paper, Henderson may be even less qualified for her new post than the similarly inexperienced Rhee. Who knows? Rhee may turn out to be a good “chancellor.” But the big pay-days are arriving before we get any objective indications.

But isn’t it just like the Washington Post to express its shock so belatedly? Much more troubling than Rhee’s big pay are the stories she told the mayor and the city council—and Washington’s parents—in the course of earning the right to these pay-days. Big-*ss self-interest? Rhee won her job on the strength of a stirring narrative—a tale of the way her “outstanding success” in the Baltimore schools “earned acclaim” from the national media. But to date, there is no indication that Rhee’s third-graders recorded the implausible test scores she has claimed; if they did record such scores (on the nationally-normed CTBS), there is no indication that they ever recorded similar scores on any other measure (like Maryland’s state-run MSPAP tests). And we can find no sign—none at all—that Rhee actually “earned acclaim” for her “outstanding success” from the Wall Street Journal or the Hartford Courant, or on Good Morning America. Might we be a bit indelicate? It seems that Rhee may have lied in the District’s face when she talked her way into this high-paying job. But the Post agreed to avert its gaze then. It only complains now, about money.

What are the facts behind Rhee’s stirring claims? We don’t know, and we don’t have the authority to make the new “chancellor” answer. (Who knows? Maybe “chancellors” cost more than “superintendents,” the moniker used until now.) Of course, the Washington Post does have that authority; for starters, the paper should insist that Rhee produce the media reports in which she allegedly earned that acclaim. But let’s be honest! To all appearances, the Post doesn’t give a flying fig about the interests of low-income children. If they did, they would have screamed about signs of inappropriate pursuit of “self-interest” long before now.

Rhee recited a tired, destructive old tale as she talked her way into office. Was the “chancellor” telling the truth? If the Post really cares about low-income schools, it will telephone Rhee and find out. If Rhee was “misstating”—about urban kids!—a hundred-buck pay-day’s too much.

IGNORANTS ABROAD: Good God! This morning, the press corps continues its “trivia tour” as Edwards tries to talk about poverty. On Monday, the Post’s Perry Bacon was in Marks, Mississippi. But, to judge from this morning’s report, trivia danced in his head:
BACON (7/17/07): Trailing his two main rivals, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in fundraising and in most polls, Edwards has been unable to make much headway in part because of a series of controversies that cast doubt on the image he has cultivated as a millionaire lawyer who as the son of a millworker understands the plight of those with less than he has.

First there was publicity about the 28,000-square-foot mansion in North Carolina he was building, then the disclosure that he had charged a pair of $400 haircuts to his campaign, then the further disclosure that the hedge fund he worked for after the 2004 election employed the kind of overseas tax shelters he has deplored on the campaign trail.
Those were paragraphs 5 and 6 of Bacon’s report. Before he could talk about what Edwards said, he had to recite these key trivia.

Let’s make sure we understand what Bacon says in that passage.

According to Bacon, the fact that Edwards lives in a big house “casts doubt on the image” that he “understands the plight of those with less.” Let’s take a guess: There was a time when no Washington reporter—not one—would have typed up such sad, childish piffle.

In 1968, for example, Robert Kennedy lived in a big house, in the Washington area. The house had a name, and journalists knew it—he lived at Hickory Hill. But when Kennedy toured Appalachia and the Mississippi delta, eager children didn’t run to say that the senator’s big, troubling house “cast doubt” on “the image” he was trying to “cultivate.” Silly scribes! They simply reported what Kennedy said, the agenda he was offering the nation.

Before that, of course, there was FDR, and he owned a couple of big cribs too. No, he didn’t unload the house at Hyde Park when he began to speak about the needs of the poor and the unemployed. And, when he saw the sun rise at Campobello, he wasn’t ensconced at the Motel 6. Somehow, sensible people of the era avoided the need to voice fatuous claims about the hypocrisy involved in such matters. Today, though, children seem to drive our discourse—and they seem to understand the outlines of their owners’ class interests.

Again, we’ll refer you to Foser’s work at Media Matters—work which has been so strong on these points. (For his current column, click here.) Strange, isn’t it? Today’s journalist is quick to spot contradictions when a fairly wealthy person expresses concern about the poor. But conflicts of interest aren’t robotically mentioned when wealthy Republicans make proposals which directly advance their own financial interests, and those of their wealthy supporters. When Candidate Bush proposed his tax cuts in 1999, for example, eager children didn’t clog their copy with speculations about his vile motives. Paragraph 5 did not reliably cluck about the way the gentleman’s upper-end tax-cutting plan cast doubt on the image he has cultivated as a new kind of compassionate conservative.

Today, this pattern continues, as Foser has noted. Candidate Romney is much richer than Edwards (though you might not guess it from reading newspapers); he owns at least one house that is much more expensive than Edwards’. (We refer to that big shack on Lake Winnipesaukee. It’s worth “more than $10 million,” the AP has reported.) But no one rushes to mention these things when Romney talks about taxes or health care. Fatuous scribes don’t feel the need to inject their vastly limited musings into their journalistic copy. Somehow, they manage to discuss big Republican hopefuls without suggesting, in paragraph 5, that they’re really self-dealing kleptos. And that’s good! That rumination shouldn’t clog paragraph 5. Nor should Bacon’s bullsh*t this morning.

Yesterday morning, the Times did better. Leslie Wayne previewed the Edwards poverty tour; she managed to avoid the suggestion that a contradiction obtains when a rich man worries about poor people. (In her last three grafs, she did get involved in a jumbled discussion—with one of them perfesser fellers—about motive and political advantage.) But Bacon couldn’t help himself today. He reminds us of the world we inhabit.

In what sort of world do we currently live? In today’s world, journalists get paid $30,000 for hour-long speeches—and as they “earn” their $500 per minute, they pretend to be shocked, just amazed and surprised, about $400 haircuts! In short, we do live in a world of big-buck hypocrites. But to our ear, it’s the journalists who are the big fakes here, not the Dem hopefuls they tarnish.

It’s fairly clear where this big-money press culture leads. In paragraph 4 of Bacon’s report, he quotes Edwards making a plea—a plea which would go unrequited:
BACON: After meeting with a group of poultry workers in Canton, Miss., on the way here, Edwards urged reporters to "please stay focused on the stories we heard" from the workers, rather than the candidate. But for Edwards, the trip represents an attempt to change the focus of Democratic primary voters.
Please stay focused on these people, Edwards said—but he might as well have talked to the poultry. One graf later, Bacon offered his childish thoughts about the big house Edwards inhabits. And in paragraph 7, the real nonsense appeared. We’ll start with paragraph 7 tomorrow as the trivia tour rumbles on.

FULL DISCLOSURE: We went to camp on the shores of Lake Winnispesaukee. But we didn’t like it, and we didn’t inhale.