24! Twenty-four years later, Strauss gets it right—but Fred Hiatt still hasnt heard: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2006
RUSSERT GETS IT RIGHT: Our analysts were thrilled when Tim Russert held up that Michael Steele bumper sticker. Steele is running for the Senate in Maryland—and has anyone ever been such a pure charlatan? Matthew Mosk excerpts the brief exchange in this mornings Post:
MOSK (10/30/06): "I've been outed," Steele said, laughing. "Okay, everybody, I'm a Republican."Yes, thats right. Michael Steele, former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, is running for the Senate in Maryland. And hes distributing bumper stickers which bear only two words:
STEELEThe intention is obvious from this slick, slippery candidate, who has engaged in such world-class scams in the past. Because the deception here is so comical, weve been surprised that this latest effort has been ignored by the national press. Pols like Steele really will do and say anything. But suddenly—Tim Russert excepted—big scribes just dont seem to care.
HOW TO DRIVE A FORD INTO A DITCH: Yesterday, George Stephanopoulos played part of that famous Tennessee ad during This Weeks roundtable segment. The excerpt included the part of the ad where an actor says this about Harold Ford:
So he took money from porn movie producers. I mean, who hasn't?But did Ford take money from porn producers? Stephanopoulos and his high-minded panel made no attempt to answer that question; their ensuing discussion only involved their high-minded thoughts about race. We especially noticed this omission because, just a few hours earlier, we were watching C-SPANs Washington Journal when an especially dim-witted Tennessee voter said this about that same ad:
CALLER (10/29/06): That ad had nothing to do with race...That ad told the truth about Harold Ford, when hes up in there preachin in churches on his political ad and hes accepting money from porn producers. Sorry—facts are facts.Clearly, facts are facts. But what are the facts about that porn movie claim? As weve noted, the Chattanooga Times has called it a lie, saying this about the charge: The fact is, Mr. Ford did receive, but immediately returned, a $3,600 contribution from a disreputable donor, much as many congressmen—and many Republicans recently—have returned contributions from unsavory lobbyists. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/26/06.)
What are the facts about that porn movie claim? In truth, its almost impossible to say. Even in Tennessee, newspapers have made almost no attempt to fact-check this exceptionally high-profile charge. Meanwhile, broadcast journalists keep playing the part of the now-famous ad in which the actor makes this charge—while failing to make any attempt to assess the truth of the claim. Voters keep hearing the claim being made—and inevitably, many come to believe it.
On balance, its hard to say who is dimmer—callers like the one from Tennessee, or journalists like those on that high-minded panel. But one thing is certain; the people who made that ad about Ford are laughing all the way to the Diebold machine. Ford gets driven into a ditch, while high-minded scribes share their high-minded views about the ascendancy of race. Viewers get to see how high-minded the journalists are. In the process, they also come to believe that Ford is taking money from porn kings.
If people werent willing to be this dumb on TV, it would be hard to dream it up. And yes—were talking about that high-minded panel, not about that Tennessee caller.
(To hear the callers full discussion, just click here, then fast-forward twelve minutes into the tape of Washington Journal Entire Program for Sunday, October 29.)
24: We never thought wed see it! In last Tuesdays Washington Post, Valerie Strauss wrote a pair of reports about various aspects of public school textbooks. (To read her principal report, just click here.) And omigod! Midway through her secondary report, Strauss described an actual problem which actually afflicts real urban schools! The headline: Assigned Books Often Are a Few Sizes Too Big. We never thought wed see the day when a journalist actually discussed this:
STRAUSS (10/24/06): Of particular concern are students in urban school systems, said Richard Allington, a leading researcher on reading instruction and a professor of reading education at the University of Tennessee.Oh. Our. God. We first wrote about this massive problem in the Baltimore Evening Sun—in 1982. And good news! It only took twenty-four years for the mainstream press to catch on!
For the record, Strauss report slightly understates the problem of inappropriately chosen books. According to Allington, the average fifth-grader in cities like Baltimore and Detroit is reading on third-grade level. And that child is being handed fifth-grade textbooks—textbooks he simply cant read. But if the average fifth-grader is on third-grade level, that means that many urban fifth-graders are reading below that level. For them, the problem posed by grade-level textbooks is only that much worse.
Trust us: Its shocking to see a major newspaper describe an actual urban school problem. For a more typical example—for an example of consummate know-nothing punditry—just read this op-ed piece by Fred Hiatt, which appeared in the Post one day before Strauss report.
For reasons only he can explain, Hiatt loves discussing the D.C. schools—although ,when he does, its always quite clear that he knows next to nothing about them. In last Mondays column, he asks himself what Adrian Fenty, the Districts next mayor, should do to reorganize Washingtons schools. Every sentence in the column advertises Hiatts lack of knowledge. Finally, deep in his piece, he screams it to the skies:
HIATT (10/23/06): In a recent conversation, [superintendent of schools Clifford Janey] argued that he has put the schools on the right track already.Perfect! According to Hiatt, Clifford Janey has ma[de] sure that textbooks are purchased, paid for and distributed on time. But can District school kids read these textbooks? The thought never enters Hiatts head. For what its worth, well take a wild guess—Janey hasnt pondered it, either.
Strauss discusses Allingtons point only briefly, as part of her supplementary article. But omigod! In that passage, she describes an actual urban school problem—a major but correctable problem, one which cripples the schooling of actual urban kids. We discussed it at length twenty-four years ago. Most high-minded Washington journalists still—alas—havent heard.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For a previous discussion of this topic, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/14/05. Meanwhile, heres an excerpt of our way-back piece in the Baltimore Evening Sun. It was based on a year of incomparable research—though we might as well have spent that year shouting down moss-covered wells:
SOMERBY (2/9/82): [I]n grade after grade, for topic after topic, [Baltimore teaching] guides recommend textbooks which are clearly too difficult for most city students to work from—books which are completely inappropriate for children who may be several years below traditional grade level in reading.We even offered the following point. But then, wed spent a good chunk of time inside real urban schoolrooms:
SOMERBY: The results of this situation are all too predictable. Baltimore teachers find it difficult—indeed, impossible—to find readable textbooks with which social studies and science can be taught to their numerous below-level readers. The result may be that such children are not taught social studies and science at all.Even then, this was how the poor got poorer. Twenty-four years later, Hiatt cheers the fact that these useless books are getting to Washingtons children more quickly. Borrowing from Allingtons language: They no longer have to wait so long to get their motivation crushed.