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THIS JUST IN FROM THE SWELLS! Bill Clinton praised someone who rented a house—and the Village press swung into action: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2008

Should Michelle Rhee give a crap: In today’s Post, our old pal Bill Turque pens this report about Michelle Rhee’s high national profile. (He focuses on Time’s cover story about the DC schools chief.) Within DC, some major players are upset by Rhee’s abrasive—sorry, “outspoken”—statements. Quoting from the Time report, Turque offers this latest example:

TURQUE (12/8/08): Describing Rhee's unusual outspokenness for a school leader, Time reporter Amanda Ripley writes:

Then she raises her chin and does what I come to recognize as her standard imitation of people she doesn't respect. Sometimes she uses this voice to imitate teachers; other times, politicians or parents. Never students. "People say, 'Well, you know, test scores don't take into account creativity and the love of learning,' " [Rhee] says with a drippy, grating voice, lowering her eyelids halfway. Then she snaps back to herself. "I'm like, 'You know what? I don't give a crap.' Don't get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don't know how to read, I don't care how creative you are. You're not doing your job."

[A Rhee spokesperson] said the passage was inaccurate, but she would not elaborate. Ripley said the statements were recorded and that she knows of no inaccuracies.

For the record, we plan to e-mail Ripley today, to ask if Rhee really has changed her long-standing story about the vast success her students achieved when she herself was a teacher (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/5/08). It seems that Ripley recorded the interview, so the answer to that should be clear.

Meanwhile, should Rhee “give a crap” about creativity? On that, we hold a mixed view. But again, we’ll suggest that you ask a basic question as you read Turque’s report: Do you see Rhee, or anyone else, making any specific suggestions whatever about possible improvements in classroom instruction? Do you see Rhee suggesting anything specific teachers could do to improve the results from their classrooms?

Does Rhee have specific ideas?

On balance, we’re glad Rhee tilts to the head-banging side; we think you probably ought to err on that side if you’re running a big urban system. But we’ve never seen any sign that Rhee has any specific ideas about classroom instruction—about the place where the actual rubber touches the actual road. Turque goes on at some length today, reporting the battles between Rhee and her critics. We’ll suggest once again: Whenever you look at stories like this, always read to see if anyone has any specific ideas about what goes inside the rooms where Jonathan Kozol describes those “little desks.”

For ourselves, we’d be inclined to ask these questions about DC’s schools:

  1. Do students in elementary schools have lots of readable textbooks? (The key word there is “readable.” Then “lots.”)
  2. Do students in elementary schools have lots of readable library books? (Same key words.)
  3. Are instructional programs in elementary grades geared to students who may be functioning years below traditional “grade level?” Do teachers have published textbooks and programs specifically aimed at such students?
  4. What happens on the first day of kindergarten? Does DC have a kindergarten/Grade 1 instructional program which adjusts for the academic deficits children may bring with them on their very first day in the schools?

We’ve never seen Rhee say a word about specific instructional practices. No, we’re not hugely surprised by that. We’ll let you know what Ripley says about that other matter.

This just in from the swells: It would be hard to top the sheer inanity of the New York Times’ performance this weekend. Just consider the newspaper’s focus on Saturday alone.

Good lord! On the first page of the “National” section, Michael Luo offered the latest “news report” about the deeply disturbing cost of Candidate Palin’s makeup and clothes. Indeed, the gentleman stayed up late Friday night, typing some 33 paragraphs on the topic. (Almost 1300 words. Two photos.) Times readers were given such crucial details as the crucial details which follow:

LUO (12/6/08): Ms. Palin’s traveling hair stylist, Angela Lew, was paid $42,615, which works out to about $750 a day over two months. John Barrett, who owns a hair salon in New York that bears his name, said his day rate to work with a star or a V.I.P. was $5,000, a figure that was consistent with other top hairdressers’.

“For someone like Nicole Kidman or Jennifer Lopez, that’s reasonable,” Mr. Barrett said of the fee.

A man who identified himself as Ms. Lew’s father, Ron Lew, said his daughter traveled with Ms. Palin and worked round the clock. He said her earnings were roughly the equivalent of what she would have made at the Hair Grove in Westlake Village, Calif., where she normally works and which he characterized as a high-end salon.

He said Ms. Lew, who is 24, came to the attention of campaign officials through Cindy McCain, who had used a hairdresser at the same salon.

“She thoroughly enjoyed it,” Mr. Lew said of his daughter’s campaign experience.

But while studios may be willing to pay thousands of dollars a day for the preferred hairdressers of stars like Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspooon, Mr. Barrett, the New York salon owner, said salons and agencies could offer a range of rates for grooming services.

Some stylists questioned why Ms. Palin needed separate hair and makeup people when there were people who could do both.

It would be hard to overstate the sheer inanity of Luo’s report. But good news! Don Van Natta was trying to top it with his latest groaner about the vile rouster, Bill Clinton.

When last we reviewed the work of Van Natta, we recalled the time the hapless obsessive wrote an entire “Week in Review” piece about the way Clinton cheats at golf. (In 1999. 1254 words. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/07.) In Saturday’s report, Van Natta was pretending that something was wrong, or at least semi-wrong, with a speech Clinton gave in Malaysia. You see, Clinton had said nice things about Vinod Sekhar, the Malaysian businessman who had invited (and paid) him to give the speech. But uh-oh! Van Natta had located “several angry investors in Britain and Malaysia” who “say they disagree with the former president’s glowing assessment of Mr. Sekhar, whose company has suffered a rough few weeks.” In fact, the “several” investors turned out to be “two,” judging from Van Natta’s report. But Van Natta dragged his piece out to 1200 words (plus one large photo) by including such perfect nonsense as this:

VAN NATTA (12/6/08): Barrie Clapham, a British investor who says he put $300,000 into Mr. Sekhar's company in 2003 and lent him an additional $170,000, now says he blames himself for failing to recognize that Mr. Sekhar is ''a man of straw.''

''He's very flamboyant,'' Mr. Clapham said. ''People think this guy is a real mover and shaker, and he keeps lending credibility to himself through association with the right people.''

Despite what Mr. Clapham called Mr. Sekhar's veneer of wealth, he said, ''I learned later that the house he lived in was rented.''

''Everything was rented,'' Mr. Clapham added.

If we’re reading that passage correctly, Vinod Sekhar once rented a house! In this absurd and destructive way, the Times pretended to report on Clinton’s speech—the final speech the “mulligan mogul” will make without prior vetting by the Obama Administration.

But then, Gail Collins’ column was almost as foolish. On Thursday, the “doyenne of droll” had devoted her entire column to an offhand comment by troubling Ed Rendell (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/5/08). In Saturday’s column, she seemed to be informing the public that the Democrats won’t have 60 votes in the incoming Senate. Of course, everyone has heard that by now—a million times. So Collins padded with this:

COLLINS (12/6/08): Olympia Snowe, the senior senator [from Maine], is widely regarded as one of Congress's quality acts. In fact, some people might have wondered why John McCain, if he was so desperate for a woman on his ticket, ignored a well-traveled, independent-minded experienced legislator who does her homework in favor of an out-to-lunch moose-murderer who cannot seem to put together a coherent sentence.

''Well, you know, John made the decision he did,'' said Snowe vaguely.

“Some” “might” have wondered! Go ahead—laugh out loud! In fact, everyone knows why McCain didn’t pick Snowe to run for VP; the well-traveled lady from Maine is pro-choice, and her Republican Party isn’t. But so what! Collins was only being fair! Having wasted your time with Rendell, she now wasted time with Snowe.

(For the record: Collins, like Van Natta, seems a bit golf-obsessed. She twice killed time with pointless asides about the exploits of Saxby Chambliss, whose “greatest achievement [as a senator] was getting ranked the 33rd best golfer in Washington by Golf Digest.”)

It would be hard to imagine a major newspaper whose scribes have more trivia cluttering their heads. Readers, were you wondering how much you could charge to manage the tresses of Lopez or Kidman? If so, the Times was the paper for you this weekend! But then, the Washington Post was semi-obsessing about which Obama advisers had managed to go to which “elite schools” (don’t miss the graphic). And it presented the latest front-page piece about the great kids at Teach for America, who go to the finest schools too.

Because our big journalists are major authority figures, it’s hard for many people to see the sheer fatuity of their culture. This weekend, the fatuity was on display all around. Our review of this Village trivia will likely continue tomorrow. Darlings! You’ll want to know what Tim the Guest Columnist thinks of a plumber’s new book!