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THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE PUZZLING! We were puzzled when two top liberals failed to correct a bad script: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2006

ROUND UP THE USUAL EXPERTS: Really? Good lord! You’re kidding us! No! Sam Dillon startles the nation with his front-page, lead report in today’s New York Times. He describes the finding of “a half-dozen recent studies, including three issued last week.” People, this stuff is hot off the presses:
DILLON (11/20/06): The reports and their authors, in interviews, portrayed an educational landscape in which test-score gaps between black or Hispanic students and whites appear in kindergarten and worsen through 12 years of public education.
Let’s see if we have this right—black and Hispanic kids are doing worse than their white peers in reading and math? Yes, it’s true—and this finding comprises the Times’ number-one news story.

In fairness, Dillon has a minor hook; No Child Left Behind is up for renewal, and so far, it doesn’t quite seem to be working. (Although Bush keeps saying that it is, Dillon notes.) But then, you have to marvel every time a reporter retypes this with a straight face:
DILLON: The law requires states, districts and schools to report annual test results for all racial and ethnic groups, and to show annual improvements for each. It imposes sanctions on schools that do not meet the rising targets.
The law requires the schools to do better! If you hadn’t already noticed, this surely clinches it. Truly, we are a mad race.

Dillon rounds up the standard flap-doodle from all the usual educational “experts.” This time, Ross Weiner provides the requisite statement of outrage—and the claim that this achievement gap is the unexplained fault of the schools. But then, as happens surprisingly often, the Times provides graphics with intriguing data—data the report almost wholly ignores. According to this article’s graphics, black kids are doing much better today than in 1992, especially in math. You can review those charts yourself, and see the improvement they seem to indicate. (On-line, you have to click the phrase “A Persistent Gap,” under “Multimedia,” to see these graphics in full.) And uh-oh! You can read Dillon’s entire article without hearing that this improvement has occurred; without hearing any attempt to explain it; and without learning why this apparent improvement is larger in math than in reading. (White kids have also improved in this period, if these data can be trusted.)

Let’s summarize. A few years ago, the federal government required the nation’s schools to do better. A few years later, this approach hasn’t worked. This is today’s number-one news story. The number-two front-page news report? Readers, we really aren’t making this up: Sunnis and Shiites are killing each other, the U.S. Army now says!

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE PUZZLING: Sunday’s Post offered work in all three categories. The good? David Finkel’s painful but illustrative front-page report about a young man’s search for work in Washington. The missing word from this report is “despair;” that said, we thought it personalized the problem of unemployment among young black males in a way few such reports do. We’re sure some people were unhappy with this report. Yes, but it’s very important.

The bad? Astoundingly, a front-page report on the Democratic agenda was accompanied by the following statement. Yes, this did appear in the Post. No, we didn’t imagine it:

GOLDSTEIN/LAYTON (11/19/06): With the Social Security system forecast to start losing money in a decade—and to run out by 2040—Democrats are united in how they do not want to fix the problem: They reject President Bush's idea to divert some of the system's payroll taxes so that working adults could invest that money in private retirement accounts.
It’s amazing to think that any Post writer could actually type the ludicrous claim that Social Security is “forecast to run out of money by 2040.” In this case, though, the article’s by-line carried the names of two reporters—Amy Goldstein and Lyndsey Layton—and, presumably, the piece was reviewed by several massively talented editors. Wouldn’t every one of these journalists know that, under current projections, Social Security will not “run out of money by 2040?” Wouldn’t every one of them know that nothing even dimly like that is forecast to occur? It would be instructive if Deborah Howell asked the relevant editors to explain how this statement appeared in the Post. That statement makes the kind of claim which frauds like Sean Hannity like to feed voters. Question: How in the world did such a carefully-crafted script make its way into the Post?

For the puzzling part of the Sunday Post triad, we had planned to cite this fractured analysis of last week’s elections. But before we go there, let’s be puzzled by yesterday’s Washington Journal instead. David Corn and Franklin Foer appeared together—in effect, as the “Beltway Boys” of the left. And just like that, our pal Steve Scully cited that SS statement:
SCULLY (11/19/06): On domestic issues, the Washington Post has a summary of what they call “The Democrats’ To-Do List.” I want to just highlight a few of them. First of all, on the issue of minimum wage which we’ve been hearing a lot about, the Democrats want to raise it from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. On Social Security, [quoting now] “Democrats are far less certain how they want to fulfill their campaign promises to preserve Social Security,” but pointing out that the system will run out of money, at its current rate, by the year 2040...
Of course, the system will not “run out of money, at its current rate, by the year 2040.” Nothing dimly like that will happen. But neither Corn nor Foer noted this fact when asked to comment on this passage. Foer said the Dems would avoid this issue because it involves “tough choices.” Corn agreed, saying it “would take some pain all around.”

Social Security will run out of money by 2040! It’s right up there with Bill Clinton shut down LAX with his haircut! and Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Of course, our liberal leaders didn’t challenge those statements either, so why should things be different this time? But let’s say this: Liberal web sites, including this one, spent six months debunking that statement last year. One year later, the script is back—and our leaders gaze off into air.

Regarding that other piece, go ahead—be puzzled on your own (or not). One question, though, for directed study: In what way was the “American polity” “horrified” by Limbaugh’s comment about Michael Fox, yet “willing to took past” that Tennessee ad campaign? In our view, the logic of this piece is fractured from beginning to end—and its conclusions are therefore quite underwhelming. For some reason, that still puzzles us too.