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RUSSERT HAPPENS! A multi-millionaire can’t get over the cost of John Edwards’ vile haircuts: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2007

DEATH AT A FOURTH-GRADE AGE: Sam Dillon did an excellent job in yesterday’s Times, reporting the new test scores from the NAEP. As Dillon notes, the NAEP, which samples national student performance at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels, “is considered a more reliable indicator of performance” than the various state-devised tests adminstered by the various states. Nugget summary: In the two years since the NAEP was last given, math scores are up, but not by a lot. Reading scores have risen a bit on the fourth grade level, have dropped off a bit at the eighth.

Others will judge No Child Left Behind using these short-term data. We were most struck by a pair of statements which came late in Dillon’s report. Dillon reports an improvement in the black-white “achievement gap” on the fourth-grade reading test:
DILLON (9/26/07): The results showed minimal progress in narrowing achievement gaps between white and minority students. On this year's reading test, for instance, fourth-grade black students scored 27 points below whites on the assessment's 500-point scale, a slight improvement over 2003, when blacks scored 31 points lower than whites.

Federal officials said each point on the test equates to about a tenth of a school year's worth of learning. In eighth-grade math, the gaps between white and black and between white and Hispanic students were as intractably wide as in 1990.
Remarkable claims can sometimes pass without any notice or comment. On the fourth-grade reading test, the average score of black fourth-graders is 27 points below that of white kids. But then, Dillon drops a major bomb, without any comment. “Federal officials said each point on the test equates to about a tenth of a school year's worth of learning,” he writes, citing a commonly-used rule of thumb. But please note: If we take that statistical claim at face value, this means that the average black kid is (and has been) about three years behind the average white kid—when they’re still in fourth grade. That would be a stunning state of affairs—and it passes by here without comment.

Is it true? Is the average black fourth-grader three years behind the average white kid? Frankly, we find that hard to believe. Statistical measures sometimes fail as we get near the margins; we doubt that you’d find that large a gap on a test that was specifically devised to measure the “grade level” on which kids were reading. (Don’t ask.) But it’s striking when Dillon’s words imply so vast a gap without him noting, or offering comment. Again, we’ll say what we’ve said before: Scribes who write these stories, even at the highest levels, sometimes seem to have little real sense of what is involved in the facts they report.

We seriously doubt that the average black kid is three years behind the average white kid in the fourth grade. But without question, many gaps which do exist are astounding; education writers sometimes seem to have little idea of what is involved in the data they report. Deserving children suffer behind data like these—and we can think of no reason to believe that “merit pay” or “racial balance” will even begin to make these gaps go away. What might help young, struggling children? As Jonathan Kozol wrote, in The Shame of the Nation: “You have to sit down in the little chairs in first and second grade. I don’t think that there is any other way to find out what the lives that children lead in school are really like.” That’s true about fourth graders too.

What can we do to help the kids who are 27 points behind their peers? At THE HOWLER, we have some basic ideas—but then, we spent twelve years inside urban classrooms. Education writers have to go into schools and sit in those little chairs and suffer. After all, deserving children are suffering there; their pain is hiding in plain sight, right there in those overlooked numbers.

Special report: Russert happens!


PART 1—WELCH’S BEST PURCHASE: We lost a bet on Tim Russert last night. We predicted that Russert would, at last, conduct a debate without inserting his standard bull-roar about the perils of Social Security. In part, we thought this would happen because of the death of Bush’s privatization plans. And in part, we thought this would happen because of the way Alan Greenspan broke Tim’s heart on Sunday’s Meet the Press:
RUSSERT (9/23/07): Do you believe either political party has stepped up to the crisis we face with Social Security and Medicare in the coming years?

GREENSPAN: I do not.

RUSSERT: How big a crisis will that be?

GREENSPAN: Social Security is not a big crisis. We are approximately 2 percent points of payroll short over the very long run. It's a significant closing of the gap, but it's doable, and doable in any number of ways...
Owwwwwww! “Social Security is not a big crisis,” Greenspan told Jack Welch’s best boy. But nothing stop’s Jack Welch’s best boy from pushing his views about this vast crisis. We’re not sure we agree with every word Josh Marshall wrote in this exasperated post. (It was offered last night as Russert pushed his shopworn views on Social Security.) But Josh is in the right ball park here, though we’ll postpone this topic till tomorrow.

Why do we postpone the chance to enjoy Russert’s latest Social Security strivings? Sorry, but Russert really got the analysts’ goat when he did the thing he was purchased to do—when he went after fake/phony Candidate Edwards for (good God!) those over-priced haircuts! Let’s face it—you’re watching pro wrestling, not political journalism, when a store-bought multimillionaire plays it as stupid as this:
RUSSERT (9/26/07): Senator Edwards, you mentioned candor with the candidate—president with the American people. Your campaign has hit some obstacles with revelations about $400 haircuts, $500,000 for working for a hedge fund, $800,000 from Rupert Murdoch.

Do you wish you hadn’t taken money in all those cases or hadn’t made that kind of expenditure for a haircut?
Store-boughts like Russert just won’t stop fainting at the thought of Edwards’ vile haircuts. Once again, thanks to Welch’s Best Boy, all Americans could say it with pride: As a nation, we were all with Stupid at this point in last night’s contest.

Russert, of course, is a multimillionaire. Watching him poke at the price of those haircuts is a study in journalistic pro wrestling. Could be possibly offer such bilge in good faith? We don’t know, but just for a moment, let’s remember who Tim Russert is, and how Tim Russert got here:

In 1981, Jack Welch, a conservative Republican, became CEO of General Electric. Five years later, GE purchased NBC. To all appearances, Welch began assembling a news division made in his own wondrous image.

In Russert’s self-glorying book, Big Russ & Me, he describes the way Welch lured him to NBC, then smoothed his rapid rise up the ladder. During this same period, Welch began paying millions to other East Coast Irish-Catholic “Reagan Democrat” hires, including Chris Matthews and Brian Williams. The trio proceeded to kick the sh*t out of Bill Clinton all through the mid- to late 90s. And then, in 1999 and 2000, this trio of store-boughts went after Gore in a truly disgraceful manner.

No! If their IQs are even in double digits, they did not do this work in good faith.

So Welch’s “Lost Boys” made themselves rich by trashing Clinton-Gore for their boss-man. Russert and Matthews were even allowed to buy big homes on an island of swells; they’re sometimes allowed to hang out at the club, when former boss-man is present. And just how big a climber is Russert? Despite all his claims about Buffalo roots, Russert may be the world’s biggest climber. We don’t think we’ve ever posted the following passage from Peter Johnson’s profile of Russert—a profile which appeared in USA Today a few months after Russert’s outrageous session with Candidate Gore on Meet the Press. But we’ll offer this bit of advice: If you want to know why a man like Russert is still willing to play the dog for Welch, we’ll suggest you ponder the tragicomedy served in this part of that profile:
JOHNSON (11/1/00): As a child, "I always wondered what it was like in Washington and the world," says Russert, who since Labor Day has shed 20-plus pounds from his bulky frame. But he says he never would have dreamed, helping Sister Mary Lucille put out a mimeographed special edition on President Kennedy's death, that one day he would grill national leaders.

Colleagues and competitors see it differently. They say that Russert, a lawyer who served as a top aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, also a Democrat, before joining NBC in 1984, has always had an intuitive sense of how to get ahead and has worked hard to get there. He is, they say, a player.

"I've never seen anyone work this town the way they did," Washingtonian writer Chuck Conconi says of Russert and his wife, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, who live in Washington's tony Cleveland Park in a house that has a media pedigree: Previous owners include PBS' Charlie Rose, NBC's Tom Brokaw and New York Times columnist James Reston.

Conconi recalls a tale about Russert and Orth being spotted at a cheap hamburger joint in Georgetown after an exclusive party at Pamela Harriman's house after President Clinton's first election. "They are masters of the Washington social scene. They know you don't go to parties to eat or drink. You go there to work." The
anecdote may be apocryphal, Conconi says, "but I can't think of a story that rings more true."
After citing Russert’s standard shtick about what a humble fellow he is, Johnson turned to Chuck Conconi, who explained how Russert is viewed by his peers. Is that story actually true? Did Russert stuff his face in that Little Tavern because he couldn’t take time to eat while working the room at that tony affair? We don’t have the slightest idea. But Russert has gotten very rich while telling the world that he’s very humble. Along the way, he always seemed to keep pimping the outlook of his near-billionaire former boss. Before he presented that tale from the Tavern, Johnson recalled a few of the ways Russert had been banging on Dems—back in 2000, when the future of the world was hanging in the balance:
JOHNSON (11/1/00): Actually, the past few years have been pretty good for Russert, who took a leading role in questioning President Clinton's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

This fall, Russert has established himself as perhaps the nation's best-known political talking head. He almost usurped the presidential debates when George W. Bush initially said he would accept only Russert as moderator. That led to sniping at NBC that Russert is pro-Bush, which Russert, Democrat-turned-independent, calls "absurd."

Then, hosting the first debate here in September between Senate candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio, Russert's pointed question about the Lewinsky affair seemed to rattle Clinton and prompted her husband to defend her. Her supporters cried foul, but privately her staff said the incident may have won her sympathy.

All in all: not bad for a working-class kid from the south side whose dad, "Big Russ" Russert, worked two full-time jobs for 37 years—as a sanitation man and delivering The Buffalo News—to support his family.

"As my dad would say, 'What a country,' " says Russert, 50. "The sun, the moon and the stars have all aligned for me.”
“The stars have aligned for me,” Russert said. Then, Johnson related the Tavern tale, helping us imagine how this alignment may have really occurred. Actually, Johnson was kind to Russert this day; he underplayed the inappropriateness of Russert’s questions to Candidate Clinton; he omitted Russert’s outrageous conduct in his hour with Candidate Gore. But last night, one of Washington’s wealthiest men staged his cohort’s latest charade about the price of Edwards’ vile haircuts. Maybe Russert really is this dumb. Or maybe he just understands the deal under which he’s been paid all those dollars.

At any rate, we were all with Stupid again last night as Russert pimped his Social Security line. Even Greenspan’s gentle put-down couldn’t stop his proselytizing—though some of the Democratic hopefuls didn’t distinguish themselves in the chit-chat either. In his exasperated post, Josh referred to Russert’s “amazingly militant ignorance of the topic.” We’re not sure we completely agree, but we’ll offer an incomparable question: Is blowhard Russert really this dumb? Or when, as always, “Russert happens,” is the great man still runnin’ with Jack?

HE HAD A DREAM: On Saturday, December 13, 2003, Russert was partying hearty over at Don Rumsfeld’s place. The next day, he told a self-serving tale about a clairvoyant dream he’d had. You might say that Tim had been working the room, letting everyone know of his brilliance. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/19/04, with links to our real-time reporting. Scroll down to “VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES” and ponder the way a string of journalists party hearty with the people who dragged us all to Iraq.