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Daily Howler: Did Scooter give Plame's name to Judy? It doesn't really make any difference
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THE MILLER’S TALE! Did Scooter give Plame’s name to Judy? It doesn’t really make any difference: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2005

THE PLAGUE YEARS: Some have wondered, Why should we cheer? Why should we cheer when Jonathan Kozol explains how bad achievement rates are in low-income and minority schools? (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/14/05.) Before we answer that sensible question, here’s a passage from Kozol’s appearance in DC last night. (The session was broadcast live on C-SPAN.) At one point, Kozol was asked if No Child Left Behind is working for minority kids:
KOZOL (10/16/05): ...If Mr. Bush were right–he says it’s working–if he were right, it means something when they can push these fourth grade scores up a few points one year by ceaselessly drilling for exams. If he were right, we’d see the results in secondary school a few years later on. But we don’t...I meet these kids in eighth grade and they simply can’t write a sentence or read a substantive text. And by the time they’re in twelfth grade–I hate to tell you this because it’s an awful statistic, but it comes from The Education Trust, which is politically moderate, by the way–by the twelfth grade, the average black or Latino student in this country, in twelfth grade, reads at the same level as a white seventh grader. And I’m just going to end my point on this question by saying this: These aren’t just bad numbers. These are plague numbers. These are abominations. I call them theological abominations.
“I hate to tell you this,” Kozol said. But it’s important that he tell, because feel-good boosterism about “schools that work”–the emphasis on test score blips (see below)–disguises the abomination Kozol went on to describe. We can’t vouch for the perfect accuracy of those numbers from The Education Trust; it’s easy to measure a child’s height and weight, but harder to measure his or her “reading level.” But the endless focus on test score blips tells the comfortable middle class that they can stop worrying about minority schools. As Kozol said, it’s painful to cite those “awful statistics”–and therefore, almost no one ever does. We were thrilled when Kozol took a different tack in his new book, The Shame of the Nation.

THIS ON BLIPS: Just before the remarks we have quoted, Kozol said this:
KOZOL: The only time the race gap has narrowed in our recent history was during the three decades of the integration era...Since 1990, the race gap, the “achievement gap,” has widened–or, at best, in the past few years, remained flat. There are blips occasionally, and when they pop up, everyone celebrates...So one year you’ll see a headline suddenly, “Fourth grade scores up three points among minority children! The race gap is narrowing!” And its baloney, because one year or two years later we find the scores are down again, and it usually turns out it was because it was an easier test or something like that.
Again, we can’t vouch for claims about the narrowing of the racial gap in the years before 1990. (In his book, Kozol argues that we have to integrate our public schools to address the “achievement gap.”) But here at THE HOWLER, we have long abandoned our usual topics to address those ballyhooed test score blips. We plan to write much more on these subjects in the days ahead.

IT’S HARD WORK: Now available: The full transcript of Making Schools Work with Hedrick Smith, the recent, two-hour PBS documentary about low-income/minority schools which are allegedly “working.” According to its official web site, the program offers “a rare and often surprising look at success in unexpected places, with enormous implications for public schools nationwide.” But how successful are these schools–and how enormous are the implications? In the next week or two, we plan to take a closer look. In the meantime, the program’s site provides that transcript and a good deal of extra material.

THE MILLER’S TALE: We continue to be puzzled by the coverage of Judith Miller and the Plame outing case. Indeed, the inanity of this story helped convince us–it’s time to change our subject matter and the focus of this site.

Could this story be much ado about nothing? In our view, that turns on two basic questions–questions we haven’t yet seen resolved:
1) The security issue: Was Valerie Plame still really “under cover” at the time she was “outed?” Were real security interests compromised when her CIA status was revealed? We haven’t seen these matters settled. And no–the fact that the CIA filed a complaint doesn’t resolve these questions.

2) The issue of intent: If Plame should have remained under cover, did Libby and Rove know it? Did they know she was under cover, not just an analyst? Should they have known (or assumed) this fact? Here, we’d assume that the answer is yes–but the question has yet to be settled.
As we’ve often said, it may be that the naming of Plame compromised serious American interests. In that case, Plame’s outing may well count as a serious crime. On the other hand, her naming may have been a big nothing-burger–a blip on the screen. In that case, the outing of Plame by Libby and Rove was just the latest idiot story dreamed up by the Bush White House to distract attention from matters of substance. But then, our discourse has been driven by such idiot stories over the course of the past fifteen years. Yes, these stories have been idiotic. But idiocy hasn’t yet been a crime.

For some reason, though, the mainstream press–and the liberal web–is aflame with the pleasures of this tale. The latest excitement involves this question: Did Libby give Plame’s name to Miller? Obviously, this makes little difference; once he said that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, getting her name would be quite simple. But the liberal web is aflame with the question of where that “Valerie Flame” note came from. It doesn’t necessarily make any difference, but hapless reasoning–and wild speculation–have ruled this tale right from the start.

We think of ants, when their ant hills get kicked. They emerge and excitedly run all about, trying to deal with the blow to their patterns. Sometimes we humans marvel at their frenzies. Perhaps we should look in our mirrors.

WE WHO GOT THE HIGH TEST SCORES: Today, the Times’ David Johnson takes a rare tack. Breaking faith with the rest of the ranks, he actually gives an accurate account of Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger:
JOHNSTON (10/17/05): On July 6, 2003, Mr. Wilson, who had already stirred anger within the administration, wrote an Op-Ed article in The Times about his trip. He wrote that the C.I.A. had sent him to Africa after Mr. Cheney's office raised questions about possible uranium sales. Mr. Wilson concluded that it was ''highly doubtful'' that any purchases had taken place.
Hurrah! Johnston doesn’t pretend that Wilson was sent to find out if Iraq “sought” uranium from Niger. Instead, he offers some accurate statements! Wilson was sent to explore the claim that Iraq had actually completed a purchase. His judgment? Due to international supervision, it was “highly doubtful” that a sale could take place.

Of course, Bush never said that a sale took place; from Day One, this exciting story has turned on a howler. But try telling that to the troubled ants who race all around their downed hill.

What’s the irony in all this tomfoolery? We’re the ones who got the good test scores! Those low-income kids in those floundering schools can’t even work to our hopeless standards! Perhaps you can see why Jonathan Kozol is driven mad by these plague years.