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WORST COMPLAINT IN THE WORLD! One time, Fox even fact-checked out statements! So said Dunn to Kurtz: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2009

The good, the bad and the expert: First, we’ll give you the good news.

After that, you’ll get the bad news. More specifically, we’ll give you the news as it has been limned by “educational experts.”

Here’s the good news: In the past thirteen years, minority students’ math scores have soared on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), a program which is widely described as the gold standard of American testing.

This fact is clear in Sam Dillon’s report in today’s New York Times—if you accept Dillon’s rule of thumb about interpreting NAEP scores. (The 2009 math scores have just been released. For Dillon’s report, just click here.) Here’s that rule of thumb, and it’s widely accepted, though we’ve always said it should be seen as a very rough rule: Ten points on the NAEP scoring scale roughly equals one academic year.

Dillon’s asserts that rule of thumb at one point in today’s report—when it helps him make a gloomy assessment. But if you accept that rule of thumb, then math scores of minority kids have soared in the past thirteen years. You can see the good news right in the tables Dillon includes with his report:

In fourth grade, black kids are scoring 2.4 years higher in math than they scored in 1996. Hispanic kids are scoring 2.0 years higher.

In eighth grade, math scores have shot up too. Black kids’ scores have gone up by 2.1 years, Hispanic kids by 1.5 years. (To see Dillon’s tables, click this.)

If true, those are remarkable gains. Back in 1996, the educational world would have sold its soul to be assured that achievement would jump that much. And remember: We’re simply applying Dillon’s rule of thumb to the data he presents in his tables. There’s nothing slick, complex or slippery about our interpretation.

From 1996 to 2009, math scores of minority kids have soared on the NAEP. But Dillon never notes this fact in today’s long report. And these are the remarks he presents from the nation’s educational experts:

DILLON (10/15/09):David P. Driscoll, chairman of National Assessment Governing Board, said at a news conference in Washington announcing the scores: “Mathematics achievement is not close to where it should be.”

“A major reason,” he said, “continues to be the lack of content knowledge and mathematics preparation of our teachers.”

William Schmidt, an education professor at Michigan State University, also called the results disappointing.

“We're just inching upwards, and we've only got about a third of our students proficient,” Professor Schmidt said.

We’re just inching upwards, one expert said. Meanwhile, American teachers are still dead-dog dumb, according to that other expert—despite the way those math scores have soared. But then, as Dillon’s second expert continues, he makes another slightly ham-handed statement. We’ll look at that one tomorrow.

Math scores by minority kids have soared. But it’s still all gloomy-and-doomy in the world of the experts, at least as recorded by the Times. Tomorrow, we’ll look at more of the issues involved in Dillon’s report. But it’s long been true in the world of the schools:

You have the good, the bad—and the experts. Today, they flounder again.

Special report: Pushing back liberally!

PART 3—WORST COMPLAINT IN THE WORLD: It was good to see Anita Dunn pushing back against the press (well—against Fox); it’s something Dems have rarely done. For example:

To this very day, voters haven’t been told about the press corps’ gruesome misconduct throughout the Clinton/Gore era. Endlessly, voters hear conservative claims about liberal bias—and liberals are careful not to tell them about the true facts on the ground.

The biggest names in the “career liberal” world have been complicit in this behavior. In Establishment Washington, their silence stamps them as Serious People. And it stifles questions about their own misconduct during the era in question.

On the other hand, in the real world, their silence keeps the public uninformed.

For that reason, it was good to see Dunn pushing back against Fox on Sunday’s Reliable Sources. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/14/09). But if Democrats plan to push back against press coverage, they ought to present some winning examples as they make their case. Does Fox “operate almost as the communications arm of the Republican Party?” Is it “more a wing of the Republican Party” than a true news organization? The analysts groaned when Dunn voiced this complaint, against Chris Wallace, in support of her assertions:

KURTZ (10/11/09): Take Major Garrett, he's the White House correspondent for Fox News. Do you think he's fair? Do you think he's masquerading as a newsman?

DUNN: I will say—and I've done this in my interviews. I've differentiated. No, I've not said—I've differentiated between Major Garrett, who we view as a very good correspondent, and his network, and Major knows this. Major came to me when we didn't include Chris—

KURTZ: Chris Wallace.

DUNN: —in the round of Sunday shows, Chris Wallace from the Sunday shows. And I told Major quite honestly that we had told Chris Wallace that, having fact-checked an administration guest on his show, something I've never seen a Sunday show do—and Howie, you can show me examples of where Sunday shows have fact-checked previous weeks' guests.

We asked Chris for example where he had done that to anybody besides somebody from the administration in the year 2009, and we're still waiting to hear from him. When they want to treat us like they treat everyone else—but let's be realistic here, Howie. They are—they're widely viewed as, you know, part of the Republican Party. Take their talking points and put them on the air. Take their opposition research and put them on the air, and that's fine. But let's not pretend they're a news network the way CNN is.

KURTZ: You are making a distinction, just before I move on, between the opinion guys—O'Reilly, Hannity, Glenn Beck—and people like Major Garrett.

DUNN: I'm not talking about people like Major Garrett. I'm talking about the overall programming.

Good God. Wallace was bumped from Obama’s recent interview blitz because he once fact-checked an administration guest? Presumably, Dunn was referring to Tammy Duckworth, whose fumbling appearance on the August 23 Fox News Sunday was fact-checked by Wallace on August 30.

We thought there was a lot to criticize in Wallace’s session with Duckworth—and in his subsequent fact-check. On the other hand, Duckworth repeatedly fumbled during her appearance—and we can think of few criticisms that are less compelling, on face, than the one Dunn offered here. She gave Kurtz two specific criticisms of the “overall programming” at Fox. And one of her complaints was this: Chris Wallace once fact-checked our statements!

Can we talk? Sunday morning news programs ought to fact-check their guests! The fact that they so rarely bother is one of their many shortcomings. Dunn was complaining about disparate treatment, saying Wallace never fact-checks anyone else. But could this really be the specific complaint the White House wants to lodge against Fox? We thought Wallace’s focus was obsessive in his Duckworth-related sessions. But if a guest has made misstatements, should these programs really ignore it?

Or should their viewers be told?

Let’s be fair: Democrats have criticized the press so rarely, they may not be up to speed on the practice. And Dunn did some very good things this day. For example, she introduced an important conceptual point, as we noted yesterday. In this passage, she criticized Fox for its story selection, not for making false statements:

DUNN: Howie, I think if we went back a year go to the fall of 2008, to the campaign, that it was a time when this country was in two wars, that we had a financial collapse probably more significant than any financial collapse since the Great Depression.

If you were a Fox News viewer in the fall election, what you would have seen would have been that the biggest stories and biggest threats facing America were a guy named Bill Ayers and something called ACORN.

The reality of it is that Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.

The country was falling apart, Dunn said—and Fox kept talking about Ayers and ACORN! This is such an important type of complaint that it deserves to be parsed.

In the past, there may have been a golden age—a time when voters could assume that news orgs would focus on major topics. But if such a golden age ever existed, it has long since become a thing of the past. Over the past twenty years, the problem with news coverage has increasingly involved topic selection. Simpering “journalists” waste the public’s time on utterly irrelevant topics. Why does Gore wear three-button suits? Did he grow up in a fancy hotel? Why did Kerry ask for Swiss on his cheese-steak?

Remember the time when Mitt Romney put Seamus on the roof of his car?

Increasingly, the problem with the mainstream press is its focus on mindless pseudo-topicspseudo-topics which can be used to drive attacks on disfavored politicians. Statements by the “journalist” may be true—but the topic is inane, irrelevant. Democrats should encourage voters to ask a basic question about news coverage: Why are we talking about this topic? Given the fatuous nature of our upper-class “press corps,” this basic question must be asked before we decide if a journalist’s statements are true.

In an earlier golden age, voters only had to decide if a journalist’s statements were accurate. Today, a screen must be applied first—the screen of basic relevance.

So we thought Dunn made some good points with Kurtz—and we thought she offered some weak complaints. But soon, Fox was pushing back against Dunn—and some of their rebuttals were exceptionally weak. Fox kept drawing a basic distinction—a distinction between its news programs and its opinions shows. But it’s just opinion, they have seemed to complain, defending the work of some major broadcasters. This distinction is very weak—but some major journalists seem willing to buy it.

In the long passage we’ve posted above, Kurtz even seems to be buying this dodge as he talks about Fox’s “opinion guys.” But it’s just opinion, Fox has been saying. This is a very silly dodge, much like a dodge which routinely gets offered by comedians—and by Rush Limbaugh.

But it’s just jokes, the comedians say. But I’m just an entertainer, Rush will complain. America’s discourse is full of hacks. They let us know who they are when they offer these dumb, bad-faith dodges.

Tomorrow—part 4: A nation of dodges