Supplemental: Is Alexandra Petra a twit?


Potentially conformist minds don’t seem to want to know: Yesterday, we mentioned William Deresiewicz’s rumination about the Ivy League.

The former Yale professor’s piece appears in The New Republic.

By this morning, we were already regretting the fact that we were so snarky about the publication of the piece. Then, we read Alexandra Petri’s treatment of the piece in the Washington Post.

We have no way of judging Deresiewicz’s overall portrait of today’s Ivy League students. From our perspective, his portrait did make us think of the lazy, conformist work being produced by the many Ivy League 20-somethings being hired to replace the outgoing Sam-and-Cokies.

The Sam-and-Cokies (and the Chrisses, the Maureens and the Tims) have created a deeply horrible journalistic legacy. We can’t say we see a lot of pushback emerging from the new hires.

One such hire is Petri, Harvard 2010 (sic). Pretty much straight outta Harvard, she was hired by the Post to do a weekly semi-humorous column and a regular blog.

As always, we hate to be negative. But basically, at the tender age of perhaps 25, Petri is already Art Buchwald.

This morning, Petri discusses the Deresiewicz piece. As she starts, so does the snark, for better or worse.

This is the way the piece begins in the hard-copy Post. For the on-line version, click here:
PETRI (7/26/14): You need to stop sending your kids to Ivy League schools.

In brief, according to a piece in the most recent New Republic by William Deresiewicz, who taught at Yale for 10 years, the students who are sent there are conformist, over-privileged overachievers. They emerge from homogeneous backgrounds and grow up to be elitist little twits. (He also went to an Ivy League school, but he is different now.)


When they get in, they learn nothing because they are too terrified of failure to study things they do not already know. They develop the firm conviction that, if you march to the beat of a different drummer, you are doing something wrong. We are all listening to this drummer for a reason. Your drummer must be screwing up.

When they get out, they are obsessed with status and give society less than they might have. Or something. The point is that the education is not value-added. If anything, it is value-subtracted. It produces conformist, unimaginative people who are desperate for outside approval.
Was Deresiewicz once an elitist twit? Is it possible that he is different now?

As she starts, Petri seems to snark at these possibilities. Later, her use of the phrase “Or something” signals that she can’t make out what the former Yale prof is saying.

In truth, the former Yale prof is making a plea that tracks at least to Thoreau. But if you read Petri’s entire piece, you’ll see that she’s having a difficult time taking his premises seriously.

How accurate is Deresiewicz’s portrait of these (Ivy League) kids today? We have no way of knowing.

His portrait did make us think of the lazy, conformist work which is frequently being done by the press corps’ large collection of Ivy League 20-somethings. With that in mind, let’s speculate about Petri herself for a moment:

We have no doubt that Petri is a perfectly decent person. In our experience, most people are.

That said, she certainly comes from a “privileged” background. Before she went to Harvard, she prepped at Washington's National Cathedral School. She was growing up in D.C. because her father, Wisconsin congressman Tom Petri, has been serving in the House since 1979.

Obviously, there’s nothing “wrong” with any of that. But let’s put Deresiewicz’s portrait to the test:

Is it possible that Petri is perhaps a bit of a “conformist,” even perhaps a tiny bit of an “elitist twit?” Much more to the point, is it possible that she is currently “giving society less than she might have?”

To state the obvious, we’re all giving society less than we might have. This morning, though, Petri seems to be having a very hard time conceiving of the possibility that her elite upbringing may have channeled her in an “elitist/conformist” direction.

We went to Harvard too, in the street-fighting Class of 1969. In those days, of course, we kids were so busy stopping a war that we had no time to acquire the undesirable traits described by Deresiewicz.

It’s also true that, at that time, Harvard was experimenting (we’ve been told) with admission procedures which were more working-class friendly. Of our own nine-member roommate group, we only know for sure that two of the nine had parents who went to college.

(The number could be as high as six out of nine. If we had to guess, we would guess that the number was four or five.)

Plainly, we Ivy League kids were better then. That returns us to the travails of these Ivy League grads today.

Many news orgs are loading up on 20-something Ivy grads, preferably from Yale. In a mark of contempt for the lives and interests of low-income kids, they throw them right onto the public school beat, despite their lack of experience and their obvious lack of technical competence.

Are today’s Ivy League grads “conformist,” perhaps a smidge “elitist?” On the whole, we have no idea.

Within the upper-end press corps, though, we’d say that portrait tends to fit the work of these highly-credentialed, less than brilliant journalists. This morning, Petri seems to be having a difficult time coming to terms with such unlikely ideas.

Still writing for the Crimson: This May, Petri wrote a piece for the Harvard Crimson. In best tongue-in-cheek manner, she advised today’s Harvard kids on the best ways to deal with an impending problem:

In the future, how should they deal with the highly visible successes of other Harvard grads? This was the inevitable problem Petri chose to explore.

In such humble-bragging ways, grads like Petri, tongue in cheek, reinforce the very values Deresiewicz was critiquing.

Today, Petri can’t quite make out what Deresiewicz was saying! So it eternally tends to go as the world eternally turns.

Supplemental: Digby does Dealey Plaza!

FRIDAY, JULY 25, 2014

The work of the new Salon: Should progressive and liberal news orgs ape the conduct of Fox?

In our view, the answer is no. In our view, you can’t create a progressive politics by misleading progressive voters. Beyond that, we can’t imagine a good outcome from teaching liberals to hate.

More and more, though, the methods of Fox seem to pop up at Salon. That brings us to Digby’s new posts.

Doggone it! The analysts burst into tears when they read her post about Rick Perry. That’s because they had already read the news report to which Digby linked right at the start of her post.

Doggone it! In the highlighted passage, Digby is conning her readers:
DIGBY (7/22/14): Everyone has undoubtedly noticed that Texas Governor Rick Perry is suddenly sporting a pair of hipster glasses which his advisers clearly think make him look so much smarter than he was in 2012, when he could barely remember his name in the Republican primary debates. (In fairness, he has since admitted to being high on drugs at the time.) Much like his fellow Texan George W. Bush, Perry is a guy who does love to sport a costume. For instance, this fetching Halloween get-up in the character of Doug Neidermeyer from Animal House. (Again, in fairness, this was his actual uniform in the corps of cadets at Texas A&M.)

Now that he’s off drugs and wearing some sharp Warby Parkers, Perry is making another run at the presidency. And as the Texas governor (for what seems like the last century) he’s milking the refugee crisis at the border by remembering the Alamo and standing his ground against the hordes of “illegal” children and nursing mothers who are invading his state. He said yesterday that he “will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor.”

It looks like the geek specs haven’t improved his verbal clarity. One can’t be sure who it is he thinks is assaulting the American people but by process of elimination one can only assume it must be the little children.
Did Perry mean that “the little children” are the ones who are “assaulting America?”

As she quoted Governor Perry, Digby linked to this Washington Post news report. If you read its first five paragraphs, you can see that Digby was misrepresenting what Perry actually said.

(Note the reference in paragraph 2 to “preventing criminal activity by Mexican drug cartels on the Texas side of the border.” Also note this sentence: “Perry did not outline any role for them [the guardsmen] in dealing with the unaccompanied children at the border.”)

What Perry proposed may have been fairly dumb. For some reason, Digby seemed to feel the need to make it crazier, almost perverse.

Hannity has done this sort of thing ever since roughly forever. In fairness, Digby was giving us a wonderful way to hate Perry even more.

But can you build a progressive politics by misstating basic facts in such obvious ways? We’re going to say that you cannot, and that the “decent people” for whom Digby claims to speak wouldn’t want her to do so.

Yesterday, Digby took a different tack. In this overwrought post about overwrought people, she fell back on her fainting couch concerning the demons of Dealey Plaza.

Yesterday morning, this was the featured report at Salon. Let’s get clear on the situation which had Digby clutching her pearls.

She started with a rather detailed history of the killing of President Kennedy. Reading it, you’d have no idea that Kennedy was killed by a rather crazy person whose politics came from the left.

Conservatives often claim that liberals distort the history of Kennedy’s death this way. Until yesterday, we’d never seen anyone torture the story in precisely the way conservatives like to mock.

Digby’s history was rather strangely told. As she continued, she focused on a bunch of people who apparently conduct a monthly demonstration at Dealey Plaza.

We watched the tape Digby provided. By our lights, the people staging this demonstration express silly, overwrought views.

That said, there seemed to be maybe eight of these people—and while they seemed rather foolish to us, they weren’t threatening anyone.

We’re talking about a tiny handful of people. Still and all, these were Digby’s words as she fell back on her couch:
DIGBY (7/24/14) Unfortunately, the venom, the incoherent conspiracy-mongering, the visceral loathing still exist. In fact, in one of the most obliviously obtuse acts of sacrilege imaginable, Dealey Plaza is now the regular site of open-carry demonstrations. That’s right, a group of looney gun proliferation activists meet regularly on the site of one of the most notorious acts of gun violence in the nation’s history to spout right-wing conspiracy theories about the president while ostentatiously waving around deadly weapons.

Travelers from other nations who come to Dealey Plaza to pay their respects are undoubtedly startled to see yahoos carrying guns and passing out extremist literature very much like the literature that was distributed in Dallas in the fall of 1963. In most places in this world, such contempt for national hallowed ground would be frowned upon by decent people. But in America, armed men and women marching around spouting hatred for the president at the very spot where a former president was assassinated is business as usual. We are “free” here to carry guns in public and dare others to argue with us. But that doesn’t make it any less vulgar and profane to do it in a place of national grief—and what should be a monument to right-wing ignominy.

On the 50th anniversary of the assassination, historian Darwin Payne, who was a journalist in Dallas in 1963, said, “You could feel it in the air. When I hear some people express hatred for Obama, it feels the same. But I never have felt we are on the verge of anything like the events I witnessed back then.” Let’s hope he’s right. There are a whole lot of people with a political ax to grind who are wandering around our streets armed to the teeth. As Mrs. Doyle said in her letter, “These people are crazy, or crazed, and I’m sure that we must realize that their actions in the future are unpredictable.”

Here’s the video of the Dealey Plaza open carry event.
Go ahead—watch the tape. Virtually no one is there!

We think that handful of people hold rather silly views. We think Digby is possibly being sillier.

You might call it “the Pawnbroker syndrome.” A person can become so obsessed by the bad acts and vile thoughts of The Other that they can’t live without finding the latest example.

If the latest example involves eight people demonstrating once a month, that bad act will have to do. The offended party will shriek about the eight bad people, hoping to get everyone else in the tribe riled up.

We feel sorry for those eight people, who seem to be lost souls. They're showing bad judgment in our view, but they don’t seem especially dangerous.

We feel a bit less sorry for Digby, who is way too smart to be behaving these ways.

Last week,
it wasn’t true that “scores of people” were spitting at those kids. This week, that isn’t what Perry said—and that dream fugue history of JFK’s death comes straight from conservative fever dreams about what “The Liberals” do.

It was Dr. King’s explicit bottom line: You will not force me to hate you. Dr. King is remembered, revered throughout the world because of that bottom line.

At some point, tribal players start needing the hate. Has the hate started swallowing Digby?

People! No one was spitting at the buses. And that isn’t what Perry said!

NEW KIDS ON THE LAWN: Rachel Maddow’s dream!

FRIDAY, JULY 25, 2014

Part 4—A trio of self-appraisals: Is Bryce Covert being a bit disingenuous when she discusses the gender wage gap?

We don’t know how to answer that question. But the question helps us ponder the work of the highly credentialed young journalists now working for partisan news orgs.

An older generation of Sam-and-Cokies are shuffling off the stage. As this so-called “worst generation” exits, they are often being replaced by highly credentialed young journalists who went to the very best schools.

Covert, still 29, is Brown 2006. Her jumbled writing about the wage gap seems to reflect a discouraging trend, in which writers and broadcasters at liberal sites ape the journalistic conduct pioneered by Rush and Sean and the people at Fox.

In yesterday's post, we reviewed some recent work in which Covert had a lot of trouble with a very basic question: What percentage of the gender wage gap may be due to discriminatory behavior?

That is a very basic question about a major policy matter. Covert’s attempts to deal with that question were remarkably murky. Sadly, though, this has been a familiar pattern in recent years as bright young liberals seem to obscure the basic points surrounding this policy question.

In a two-day stretch in 2012, Rachel Maddow produced the most ridiculous example of this pattern, with a liberal policy expert helping her fling the gorilla dust around. That said, this pattern is very familiar. It allows liberals to continue suggesting that the entire 23-cents-on-the-dollar income gap is due to discrimination, a claim no specialist makes.

Covert seemed to be extending this confusion in her recent pieces. Is this “new kid on the lawn” creating this confusion on purpose, in the way Sean Hannity has done, for so many years, with so many tax issues? Was Maddow creating confusion on purpose when she staged her bender in 2012?

We can’t answer those questions! That said, it’s depressing to see the ways in which the new generation at liberal news orgs sometimes seem to be aping the practices of Fox.

We’re thinking of much of the work at Salon. We’re thinking of too much of the work we see on MSNBC, where good work is sometimes done.

In our view, a large amount of slipshod work is being done at our liberal orgs. Today, though, as our series ends, we thought we might consider the ways our new generation of journalists seem to see themselves.

They’re young, and they come from the finest schools. Around the press corps, they are replacing the stars of the so-called “worst generation.”

Their diplomas may seem impressive; their actual work is often quite poor. How do these young journalists view themselves? Let’s start at The New Republic, which has been publishing Covert’s murky work concerning the gender wage gap.

The New Republic has always featured the “new kids on the lawn.” Traditionally, such younger writers have marinated at TNR on their way to starring roles among the Sam-and-Cokies.

The current editor, Franklin Foer (Columbia 1996), first became editor in 2006, when he was 31. For whatever reason, Foer has been publishing Covert’s murky work about the wage gap.

In those pieces, a pair of Ivy League grads have joined forces to extend a ball of confusion. How do such well-credentialed scribes view themselves when they perform such crummy work?

In the current edition, Foer has published a brutal attack on his own kind by William Deresiewicz, a former professor at Yale.

Oof! The views which follow belong to Deresiewicz, not to us. As we see these views published by TNR, we almost want to step in and stop the self-loathing:
DERESIEWICZ (7/21/14): These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.

When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from them—the private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education.


It is true that today’s young people appear to be more socially engaged than kids have been for several decades and that they are more apt to harbor creative or entrepreneurial impulses. But it is also true, at least at the most selective schools, that even if those aspirations make it out of college—a big “if”—they tend to be played out within the same narrow conception of what constitutes a valid life: affluence, credentials, prestige.
For ourselves, we have no opinion about the wide range of students at places like Stanford and Yale. But as we review the shoddy, sometimes dishonest work being produced by the “new kids” within the upper-end press, we sometimes think we may be seeing a bit of the soulless climbing described in this TNR piece.

TNR has issued a cry for help. A different spirit obtained in a recent post at Slate.

In that post, a long list of writers shared their thoughts about David Plotz, who is stepping down after six years as editor. Plotz (Harvard 1992) is a bit long in the tooth to be described as a “new kid.” At any rate, his staffers had many good things to say about him.

As far as we know, Plotz is a thoroughly decent person. We know of no reason to think anything else. That said, Slate has been a very pedestrian news org.

We scan Slate's headlines every day, looking for items to read. We sometimes wonder if anyone ever reads any of its offerings.

Sometimes, decent work by decent writers is presented at Slate. But Slate is a general interest publication, and it’s owned by the Washington Post. It tends to color within the lines. Its young journalists aren't inclined to push back in serious ways against the horrible journalistic culture they are inheriting.

On the whole, Slate is the type of publication which exists to give the impression that debate and discussion are occurring. Can you name a single thing you know because Slate has existed for all these years?

We can think of nothing important which has emerged from Slate. That’s why we were struck by the tone which emerged from its writers’ recollections of Plotz.

Very few people talked about the journalism performed by Slate. Many people talked about the games that are played within Slate’s offices or on its various company outings.

There seems to be little self-loathing at Slate! Indeed, John Swansburg (Yale 2000) expressed a very different point of view about the brilliant stars who produce all that piddle at Slate.

Gack! Swansburg is describing the people around him. Presumably, though, he's also describing himself:
SWANSBURG (7/14/14): The Plotz moment I keep coming back to occurred at last year’s retreat upstate. Dinner had just concluded, and we had all retired from the dining room to the bar. I happened to walk into the room with Plotz. As we waited to catch the bartender’s eye, he surveyed the room, looking at the group of people he had brought together to put out this magazine. I’d seen David proud before—of a great piece we’d published, of a killer headline someone had written, of having won a contentious debate, of having invented a new string of curse words of Iannuccian complexity to lob at his beleaguered laptop. But I’d never seen him beam with this wattage. He turned to me and said, “This is the most talented group of people Slate has ever had.”

With all the pressures Plotz bore as editor—putting out a great magazine, pushing it to keep ahead of the curve and the competition, growing its audience, making it profitable—it was always Slate’s people who came first. Plotz liked to say he had a no assholes policy, but that was a misleading name for it: His policy wasn’t not to hire assholes. It was to affirmatively seek out smart, funny, creative, ambitious, industrious people with big hearts to match their big brains. Those are rare birds, but Plotz has an incredible knack for finding and nurturing them. It was astonishing to look around the room that night and see so many talented people so happy in one another’s company...
Swansburg didn’t identify any of the “great pieces” which had emerged from this “great magazine.” For ourselves, we can think of no breakthrough work which has emerged from all those “smart, funny, creative, ambitious, industrious people with big hearts to match their big brains.”

For ourselves, we’d have to say that Slate has been a highly self-satisfied plodder. That said, the young scribes working there seem to think that they’ve been doing great work.

What would great work actually look like? Let's consider the situation faced by younger journalists:

As younger journalists enter the fold, they confront a broken and broken-souled journalistic culture. The nightmares of ongoing mainstream press culture has been there for all to see.

Some of these nightmares involve the lazy or dishonest treatment of policy matters. Some involve the crazy ways in which the Sam-and-Cokies have felt free to burlesque our major public figures, often working as a group (link below).

The world has been full of journalistic atrocities for younger scribes to reject. Very little of that spirit has seemed to obtain at Slate.

This leads us to our third self-appraisal. It came to us last night through Rachel Maddow’s Dream.

We’re so old that we can recall when “Bob Dylan’s Dream” was new! Last night, Maddow described the dream that haunts her sleep. To share in the sharing, click here:
MADDOW (7/24/14): Ever have that anxiety dream? You’re back in school—

I have this anxiety dream like three times a week.

You’re back in school. It’s the last day of school. You have not done any of the coursework. You’ve not done any of the reading. You’ve not, in fact, attended any of the classes and you know nothing about the subject matter.

But finals are today! And now, naturally, you will fail and you will not graduate.

I have that dream three times a week. But that, in real life, is sort of happening right now in the U.S. Capitol. It’s finals week at the Capitol, and nobody has apparently done the work and the panic is starting and some of it happened on tape today, and that is next.
“You know nothing about the subject matter?” The analysts exchanged sly glances as Maddow described her torment.

We can’t say that we blame Maddow for having that dream! We were watching, two years ago, when she threw the gorilla dust all about the gender wage gap—when, to be perfectly honest, it seemed she really must be lying in some of her representations.

In the wider sense, we've watched the self-promoting, not-always-obsessively-honest work of the so-called “new kids on the lawn.” Sometimes, Maddow and others do good work. More often, we think we're seeing something else.

The Sam-and-Cokies are shuffling away, leaving a broken culture behind. Are you happy with their replacements?

On balance, we’re sorry—we aren’t. We were struck by the portrait which came from that former professor at Yale—and by the air of self-satisfaction found in the memoirs at Slate.

The culture they invented: To see Sam and Cokie at their worst, review the transcript you will find within this post.

The sounds of their laughing and chuckling haven’t been included. As they clowned around, a history-changing election was just two weeks away.

George Stephanopoulos gets some credit for pushing back against their clowning that day. But that appalling journalistic culture largely rules our world.

They were mocking Candidate Gore that day, a game which ended very badly. Last month, the Washington Post started in on the Clintons all over again.

Wherever those highly-credentialed new kids were found, silence pervaded the land. We're sorry to say it, but in our view, the kids are not all right.

Supplemental: Scholar addresses Baltimore club!


Baltimoreans unveil their concerns: We’ve returned from a chic luncheon address to the ladies of The Hamilton Street Club, one of Baltimore’s great institutions.

In the group’s former stable turned salon, Baltimoreans unveiled their concerns.

We were pleased to see that a number of ladies were willing to volunteer the thought that Maureen Dowd is perhaps just a bit overwrought.

Yesterday, the New York Times expressed that thought in a slightly different way. The paper announced, at the bottom of page A25, that Maureen Dowd is “off.”

We were even more struck by a conversation before the luncheon began. One of the Hamilton Street gang had read today’s earlier post. She had even clicked through to our post from last November about the substantial rise in test scores among the nation’s black, white and Hispanic students.

Why hasn’t the public heard about this? This person was puzzled by the fact that she has constantly heard a different narrative, in which our schools are stagnant and failing, in which nothing has worked.

It doesn’t take a lot of prompting to get us talking about this matter; we regard it as the greatest mystery of modern pseudo-journalism. That said, we were struck by this woman’s sense of surprise concerning the facts she hasn’t heard. She has constantly heard a different narrative, a gloomy narrative which flies in the face of those basic facts.

Again, we regard this as one of the greatest mysteries of post-journalistic culture. Why are people constantly told that nothing is working within our schools, when our most reliable test scores tell such a different story? Why is it that even liberals and progressives refuse to report this good news?

We were pleased to meet a person who was troubled by this state of affairs.

The so-called “new kids on the lawn” could correct the record, of course. What a shame! That these Ivy grads are too busy reciting the tales their owners seem to prefer!

To review the score gains by our American kids, go ahead: Just click here. Why aren't those score gains ever reported in our major newspapers?

NEW KIDS ON THE LAWN: Their technical work!


Part 3—What ever happened to standards: As the so-called “worst generation” of journalists exits the stage, they are often being replaced by eager young Ivy League kids.

These replacements come from the finest schools, though you wouldn’t necessarily discern this fact from their frequently horrible work.

In some settings, these bright young kids are simply accepting the broken norms of their establishment news orgs. At the Washington Post, Philip Rucker (Yale 2006) recently became head spear-chucker in his newspaper’s never-ending jihad against the Clintons. At the same newspaper, Catherine Rampell (Princeton 2007) found herself worried by Chelsea Clinton’s “lucrative speaking career”—a lucrative career from which Chelsea Clinton reportedly hasn’t kept a single red cent.

In such cases, the so-called “new kids on the lawn” seem to be getting themselves in line with their owners’ preferred story lines. Elsewhere, though, we’ve often been struck by the lousy technical work which ensues when major news orgs hand the reins to very young Ivy League kids.

Very quickly, let’s consider the way the so-called “new kids on the lawn” have discussed some basic public school issues.

Last November, we discussed some woeful education reporting in The Atlantic, a storied American publication. To review our critique, you can just click here, then click once or twice more.

For today, let’s consider who did the reporting in question, which we think was rather inept.

The report in question was written by Julia Ryan, Harvard 2013. That’s right! Ryan graduated from Harvard in June of last year. By November, she was bungling basic education reporting for a storied publication.

What made The Atlantic think that Ryan was qualified to interpret the basic statistics which come with the public schools beat? We don’t know, but Ryan’s editor was Eleanor Barkhorn, Princeton 2006.

This was her official bio:
THE ATLANTIC: Eleanor Barkhorn is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Education Channel. She previously edited the Sexes and Entertainment channels. Before coming to The Atlantic, she was a reporter at the Delta Democrat Times in Greenville, Mississippi. She graduated from Princeton University, where she majored in American literature and wrote her senior thesis about Oprah's Book Club. For her first two years out of college, she taught high school English with the Teach For America program.
Ryan was straight outta Harvard. Barkhorn was seven years outta Princeton, where she wrote her senior thesis on Oprah’s book club.

However gaudy their diplomas may have seemed, Ryan and Barkhorn didn’t seem ready to create an informed discussion of the nation’s most basic educational statistics. In fairness, this problem extends all through the mainstream press corps, which tends to stick to familiar themes of educational decline, even in the face of the most reliable statistical evidence.

People from the finest schools putter around on the public schools beat, failing to identify the groaning conflict between our rapidly rising NAEP scores and the gloomy, teacher-hating scripts which dominate elite discourse. Despite their gaudy Ivy degrees, these young journalists don’t seem able (or willing) to do the most basic reporting, which would undermine the elite press corps' most favored educational themes.

We’ve often torn our hair over the work of Motoko Rich, the New York Times’ education reporter. Rich, who can’t be called a “new kid,” is said to have been summa cum laude at Yale in the early 1990s.

Meanwhile, Dana Goldstein (Brown 2006) is a full-fledged education writer at various liberal publications. According to the leading authority, she’s a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation and a Puffin Fellow at The Nation Institute!

Impressive diplomas to the side, have you ever seen these new and slightly older kids challenge the prevailing theme about our floundering public schools? Have you ever seen them push back against this ubiquitous, billionaire-favored theme with the most elementary statistical work?

(Concerning Gail Collins’ embarrassing groaners about public schools, let’s not even go there today. In theory, Collins is one of the Sam-and-Cokies whose groaning work on public schools these “new kids” should be challenging.)

A fresh young face and an Ivy degree do not guarantee expertise, journalistic skill or even basic forthrightness. Consider the disappointing work of Bryce Covert, Brown 2006.

At present, Covert is Economic Policy Editor at Think Progress, a progressive org. Before that, she was a contributor at The Nation and at Forbes Woman, where she wrote weekly blog posts on economics, politics and women's issues.

We were disappointed by Covert’s recent piece on the gender wage gap at The New Republic. Right from her opening paragraph, we thought she did a lousy job establishing a basic distinction—the distinction between 1) the gap in earnings between men and women and 2) the amount of that gap which may result from discrimination.

This is a very basic distinction. If you can’t (or won’t) explain it clearly, you’re likely to do very fuzzy work about the actual problems which exist in this area.

We thought Covert’s recent piece for The New Republic was extremely fuzzy. Looking back, the analysts found this earlier piece on the same topic, also for TNR.

We’ll admit it! Covert’s work in that April 2014 piece made several of the analysts cry.

According to current research, how much of the gender wage gap can be attributed to possible discrimination?

Everyone knows that women who work full-time (35 hours or more) earn only 77 percent as much as men earn, on average. But after you adjust for basic factors like type of employment, degree of seniority and hours worked above 35 hours, how much of that missing 23 cents might stem from discrimination?

That is a grindingly basic distinction in this important policy area. How many readers understood the answer which Covert provided, or seemed to provide, or may perhaps have meant to provide, in the murky passage shown below, which appeared late in her piece?
COVERT (4/29/14): There’s also research that points to discrimination as a factor in that 23 percent difference between men’s and women’s earnings. When economists examine the gap and control for all measurable factors, there remains a residual portion they can’t explain. For the Government Accountability Office, that portion was 20 percent. For economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, it was 41 percent. It’s in this unexplainable portion where discrimination may be leaving its mark.
Do you understand what that passage says? We can’t swear that we do. But simply from reading that text in normal ways, we assume it means the following:
What Covert’s text seems to say:
According to Blau and Kahn, 41 percent of the 23 cents can’t be explained in standard ways. According to the GAO, 20 percent of the 23 cents can’t be explained in such ways.
If that is what that passage means, then Covert is saying this: The part of the wage gap which may result from discrimination is currently set at anywhere from 4.6 cents on the dollar (GAO) to 9.4 cents on the dollar (Blau and Kahn).

Is that what Covert is saying? If so, why didn’t she say it? Beyond that, why didn’t editors at The New Republic insist that she clarify that passage, which is extremely murky in highly familiar ways?

Covert has an Ivy degree. Until next month, she’s under 30. But her work is strikingly murky, and it’s being published by major orgs which are supposed to be progressive and/or smart.

Why in the world is The New Republic putting such murky work into print? Is it possible that its Ivy-credentialed editors are just a bunch of underwhelming “new kids on the lawn” too?

Tomorrow: When new kids are cast in partisan roles. Also, as the new kids see themselves (two examples)