Breaking: We have received definitive word!


Outscoring Finland postponed: We have received definitive word from our Holiday Schedule Analysis Desk. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving!

Accordingly, we’re headed to Durham to get the scoop on life in today’s second grade.

Our award-winning series, Outscoring Finland, will resume upon our return. We don’t expect to post again until Sunday.

As a courtesy, we’re leaving one post behind. You’ll find it directly below.

Howler-strewn interview at the Atlantic!


In our view, another fine mess: We’re headed to Durham to get the scoop on life in today’s second grade.

We had planned to leave a short post concerning some aspects of our Kennedy viewing last weekend. Instead, we’ll note one point which kept occurring to us as we watched the many discussion programs on C-Span 3.

As we watched, we kept thinking this: In truth, the American giant of that decade wasn’t President Kennedy.

We were surprised by things several people said concerning President Kennedy’s recklessness with regard to crowd security issues. We don’t think we had ever heard that before. We don’t know if those statements are true.

But visions of Camelot to the side, President Kennedy simply wasn’t that era’s giant. This thought occurred to us time and again as we watched the weekend’s programs.

We had a bit more to offer from our weekend viewing, especially concerning the culture of conspiracy theory. Didn’t our modern culture of say-and-believe-whatever-you-please get a large jump start there?

Then we got hit by the latest education report at the Atlantic.

Yesterday, the piece in question was being featured at the Atlantic’s site. Its headline is a quotation from an interview with a former teacher: “It Feels Like Education Malpractice.”

That interview in the Atlantic felt like malpractice too.

When did journalism completely cease to exist in our floundering nation? The howlers which litter that interview piece are really something to see.

In the course of the interview, all the claims shown below are offered by the former teacher. They were typed and published, without comment or further questioning, by the Atlantic writer:

“There hasn’t been money invested in eradicating poverty since the ’60s, with President Johnson’s Great Society.”

“Almost one out of two kids in public school now is in poverty.”

“In America, the wealthiest school is going to get ten times more funding than the lowest one.”

“For every dollar my [New York City public] school was getting, one in the suburbs was getting ten dollars.”

Those statements are all bizarre, absurd or false. Except at the Atlantic!

Needless to say, the interview included the standard paeans to miraculous Finland, with the mandatory cherry-picked praise for those practices with which the interview subject is inclined to agree. Beyond that, there were several ridiculous claims about various types of educational practice.

(Whatever one thinks of various testing practices, the former teacher didn’t seem to understand the nature of “value-added” evaluation. This is amazingly common.)

Then too, there were the bungled attempts to describe some research-based studies. “Those kids are doing great,” the interview subject exclaims at one point, talking up a favored educational practice.

Predictably: when we checked the proffered link, we found no such assessment.

At another point, a link was offered to an earlier Atlantic piece. When we clicked, we found ourselves reading this puzzling passage about the rising achievement gap between low-income and high-income kids:
GARLAND (8/28/13): [In 1963], black children lagged behind their white peers in school by more than three years. For poor children, the picture was somewhat more encouraging: Those in the 10th percentile of income fell behind the children in the upper echelon of wealth by about a year or so. Poverty was a major obstacle, but not so large that it couldn't be scaled by the brightest and most ambitious.

Fifty years later, social class has become the main gateway—and barrier—to opportunity in America.

The country is far from fulfilling King's dream that race no longer limit children's opportunities, but how much income their parents earn is more and more influential. According to a 2011 research study by Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon, the test-score gap between the children of the poor (in the 10th percentile of income) and the children of the wealthy (in the 90th percentile) has expanded by as much as 40 percent and is now more than 50 percent larger than the black-white achievement gap—a reversal of the trend 50 years ago. Underprivileged children now languish at achievement levels that are close to four years behind their wealthy peers.
In that piece from August, Sarah Garland said these things:

In 1963, low-income kids trailed high-income kids by about a year. (At what point in their school careers? Don’t ask!) Two paragraphs later, we are told that this test-score gap has expanded by as much as 40 percent, and that low-income kids are now four years behind their high-income peers.

Mathematically, those claims don’t jibe. At the Atlantic, no one has noticed.

The new interview in the Atlantic is a stunning collection of howlers. In our post-journalistic, upper-class world, such work is par for the course.

Goldie Taylor wants to help!


Bloom explains the buzz: Who broke Samantha Scheibe’s coffee table? The question has been in the news.

Should this question have been in the news? Like President Johnson before us, we can argue it flat or round.

That said, Howard Kurtz seems to think the constellation of topics surrounding George Zimmerman has been in the news too much. Last Sunday, on his new Fox News Channel show, he asked Lisa Bloom why that is.

To watch the full segment, click here:
KURTZ (11/24/13): The Trayvon Martin murder trial was a racially divisive clash and a giant media spectacle. But since George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of the teenager, he keeps popping up on the media radar, especially this week.


Lisa, Zimmerman gets into another altercation, this one with a new girlfriend. Why the enormous coverage of this guy?
Last week, Zimmerman was charged with domestic aggravated assault, domestic battery and criminal mischief in connection with an altercation with Scheibe. The aggravated assault charge is a felony.

Unfortunately, such matters are common in our courts. Why is this case being covered and discussed so widely?

This was Bloom’s first attempt at an answer:
BLOOM (continuing directly): Well, he's a fascinating guy. And you're right. The trial absolutely divided America. It's amazing to me that George Zimmerman finds himself right in the middle of searing, hot-button issues in America. First it was race, racial profiling, "Stand Your Ground" and guns. And now, domestic violence.
“He’s a fascinating guy!” That may be the accurate answer—somewhat cleaned up, of course.

That said, Kurtz wanted more. Of all the people who get charged with such crimes, why the attention on Zimmerman?
KURTZ (continuing directly): But who cares? He's obviously a loser. The Trayvon case is over. Why did all three cable news networks, for instance, carry his—the hearing of his arrest live?

BLOOM: Well, I think it is a fascinating story, Howie. And I think this is very different from some of the other high-profile cases that frankly were not as newsworthy, like Jodi Arias or Casey Anthony...
It’s a fascinating story. It’s more newsworthy than the Casey Anthony case.

Should this case be generating so much continued discussion? For our money, Bloom never quite made the case for yes. That said, the case does involve a lot of societal issues, several of which Bloom named.

She omitted one other such issue. This case involves the ongoing conduct of the post-journalistic press corps.

Consider two discussions we watched last week. On the November 19 Chris Hayes program, Goldie Taylor adopted a somewhat unusual stance.

“I think I might be the only person who ever says this on television,” Taylor said. “I think that we failed George Zimmerman by not getting him the help that he needs.”

By the end of the program, Hayes was praising Taylor for her “compassion.”

We generally agree with what Taylor said. Still, we couldn’t help noting what she withheld. This is the way we would have rewritten her comment:
TAYLOR REWRITTEN: I think I might be the only person who ever says this on television. I think that we failed George Zimmerman by not getting him the help that he needs. And Chris, we pundits spread a large assortment of inaccurate claims about Zimmerman’s conduct that night. We did that for over a year. Based on current reporting, it sounds like we helped create a very difficult situation, in which he may badly need help.

We especially spread those inaccurate claims right here, on this very network.
As a general matter, we agree. To us, it sounds like Zimmerman does need some help. Similarly, Cheryl Mangum needed and deserved some help, and it looks like she never got it.

In this case, people like Taylor spent over a year creating a highly fraught situation. We couldn’t help thinking of all those deceptions as she took her high-minded new stance.

What situation did these “journalists” help create? In the New York Times, Alan Blinder reported the recent court hearing:
BLINDER (11/20/13): Prosecutors asked Judge Schott to order bail at $50,000 with an array of restrictions for Mr. Zimmerman, who was wearing a jail-issued jumpsuit and handcuffs during his brief court appearance. Judge Schott refused and set bail at $9,000, higher than the $4,900 that Mr. Zimmerman's public defenders had sought. Mr. Zimmerman posted bail about 4:30 and was released.

Ms. Scheibe, who has denied Mr. Zimmerman's assertion that she is pregnant with his child, also told the authorities that Mr. Zimmerman had recently shown signs of suicidal behavior.

The prosecutor, discussing Ms. Scheibe's account in open court, said that Mr. Zimmerman had believed ''he had nothing to lose.''
According to other reports, Zimmerman has no money. Does he have a place to live? Any chance of employment? Cable pundits are unlikely to ask.

On Anderson Cooper, Zimmerman’s former lawyer said he is worried about Zimmerman’s current behavior. This was the first full exchange:
COOPER (11/21/13): It's obviously been a difficult week for George Zimmerman, first arrested on domestic violence charges after his girlfriend called 911. He spent Monday night in jail and while sitting in a cell, he was served with divorce papers. Shellie Zimmerman gave her take. Here is what she told Katie Couric on her talk show, "Katie."

SHELLIE ZIMMERMAN (videotape): I don't know who George is anymore. I would like to think I married a person who was a good person and, going through the past year and a half, I don't know how that changes a person or how a person's spirit breaks, but it certainly seems like that's what happened to him. I found out that he was lying about a lot of things, and he became like a pacing lion, very unpredictable. Every single day it was like adrenaline going through my body, constantly not knowing what it was going to be like from day to day.

COOPER: Shellie Zimmerman of course stood by her husband during his murder trial. Couric asked her if she had any regrets about that. She said part of her does. She said she doesn't think George Zimmerman is racist.

For the first time since Zimmerman's latest legal troubles, his former attorney is speaking out. Mark O'Mara helped get Zimmerman acquitted on murder back in July. He joins me now.

Good to have you here. Obviously, you did not know George Zimmerman before Trayvon Martin was killed. She said she saw a change in him during the course of the trial. Did you see that?

O'MARA: Well, I think she's right. I think that the George Zimmerman that existed before February 2012 was a kind and gentle person and one that she described and his friends described. When the FBI did their investigation to see if he was racist, they talked to 40 people and not one said he was or violent or dangerous or anything, but peaceful and mellow. So that's who he seemed to have been before the event that happened on the—I'm sorry, February of 2012.

So, now if you look forward, to see what happened to George Zimmerman, and I know every time I say that, people say, “Well, what about Trayvon Martin?” and we understand he passed away that night and with all respect for what he went through, we know that George Zimmerman went through a trauma, both that night, the trauma of getting beat up, which it happens isn’t all that traumatic. But police officers who have to shoot somebody in justified self-defense, they go through an enormous amount of counseling. They are treated very carefully.

So that wasn't done with George. Rather, he was turned into one of, as was labeled, one of the most hated men in America for having to defend his life. So I'm not sure what happens to a 28-year-old and put him in hiding for 16 or 18 months, but maybe this is fallout.
Like you, we don’t know what happened that night in Sanford. But in fact, Zimmerman was routinely described as the most hated man in America over that next year.

A large amount of that hatred was generated by a year of misstatements by people like Taylor. The behavior on MSNBC was egregious. That said, our “journalists” never discuss the things they have done in the past.

Bloom is certainly right on one point. A lot of major societal issues are involved in the ongoing Zimmerman incidents. But one such issue involves the gross dishonesty and misconduct of the people we still call the “press corps.”

We humans have always treasured our hatred of The Other. So it is in the hatred of Zimmerman. Cheryl Mangum deserved some help; it looks like she never got it. If Taylor wants to start helping Zimmerman, as we think she should, she could start by telling the truth about the misstatements and lies of the past.

Brother Hayes, a good team man, praised Taylor for her compassion. We thought she left something out.

Lawrence extends the schadenfreude!


The Post recalls John Wilkes Booth: If it’s good solid clowning you enjoy, you have to hand it to Lawrence.

Last night, he found a way to keep the tale of the family feud alive. Maybe the Cheney sisters are faking their hair-pulling family feud!

So Lawrence thoughtfully mused.

He teased the notion early and often. Finally, at the end of the program, he made poor Jason Zengerle sit through a short segment about this improbable premise.

Politely, Zengerle refrained from telling Lawrence that he’s visibly nuts.

On Sunday, the Washington Post really pimped the feud. On page one, the paper ran a full news report on the topic, live and direct from Cheyenne.

But it was in the Outlook section where the great paper jumped the shark.

Outlook is a high-profile Sunday section. Page B3 was almost completely consumed by the photo-festooned report about sibling warfare down through the various centuries.

“Brothers and sisters in arms,” the headline screamed. “The Post’s Lisa Bonos on sibling rivalries through the ages.”

Sure enough! Liz and Mary Cheney’s feud had set Bonos’ mind a-whirring. She offered four examples of sibling feuds, dating to the 15th century. At the top of the page, her piece ran beneath a photo of Edwin and John Wilkes Booth!

Was Liz Cheney on the grassy knoll? Everything is possible!

As that commenter wrote in the New York Times, “Schadenfreude is a dish best served en masse.” Last night, Lawrence found an inventive way to keep schadenfreude alive.

Concerning that news report: On page one, the Post had two reporters working the Dawson-inspired beat. We congratulate the pair for flipping the standard narrative:
SULLIVAN AND TUMULTY (11/24/13): Along with the autumn snow flurries, there is a certain touchiness in the Wyoming air among the state’s Republican establishment.

“It’s bruising people,” former senator Alan K. Simpson says of the topic of pretty much everyone’s conversations these days. “When you get a call from Dick or Lynne, and you love them, you don’t want to say no. It’s got Wyoming in a turmoil.

Dick and Lynne, of course, are the Cheneys, the former vice president and his wife, who are political royalty in Wyoming. And the “it” in question is their daughter Liz’s audacious Republican primary challenge of incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi—which took a painful turn in recent days when Liz’s lesbian sibling, Mary, ramped up her public criticism of her older sister’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
Say what? In standard format, you’re supposed to say that Liz Cheney did something extremely strange, thus precipitating the family feud.

Sullivan and Tumulty broke from that format. Can major reporters do that?

OUTSCORING FINLAND: Six out of nine!


Part 2—Please come to Boston: How good are Finland’s miraculous schools?

In all such matters, it’s hard to say. It doesn’t help when our “educational experts” and our education reporters often seem to have so little sense of the way public schools really work.

(Case in point: The upbeat headlines on the upbeat report by Dana Goldstein in yesterday’s Slate. See below.)

It doesn’t help when our education journalists love the simple-minded “adventure stories” which give us so much narrative pleasure. Current example:

Miraculous Finland “rocketed from the bottom of the world to the top, without pausing for breath.” So Amanda Ripley says at the start of her widely-praised book, The Smartest Kids in the World.

Plainly, Finland didn’t do that. At this point, it isn’t even entirely clear that Finland is at the top of the world in the miraculous way we’ve all heard described over the past dozen years.

Case in point: the 2011 TIMSS. That’s the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a major international test battery in which most developed nations have taken part at some point in the past two decades.

In 2000, Finland scored at the top of the world on the brand new PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment), a test of “critical thinking.” At that point, Finland stopped participating in the more conventional TIMSS.

Until 2011.

In 2011, Finland returned to the TIMSS. That same year, nine different American states participated in the TIMSS at the Grade 8 level as if they were independent entities.

(Only two states participated in that manner at the Grade 4 level.)

For that reason, the 2011 TIMSS produced average scores for Finland and the United States at the Grade 8 level. But it also produced statistically valid average scores for those nine American states.

No single test or test session should be regarded as definitive. But here are the average scores which resulted in Grade 8 math:
Average scores, 2011 TIMSS
Grade 8 math, all students

Massachusetts 561
Minnesota 545
North Carolina 537
Indiana 522
Colorado 518
Connecticut 518
[Finland 514]
Florida 513
[United States 509]
California 493
Alabama 466
On that particular test, six of the nine American states outscored miraculous Finland. Unless we want to be statistically silly, Florida tied the Finns.

(On the TIMSS scale, 500 is set at the international average, with a standard deviation of 100.)

Some of those score differences don’t amount to much. Colorado and Connecticut racked up four-point wins over Finland. Four points on the TIMSS scale isn’t a very big deal.

But when you look at those scores from the TIMSS, a question might pop into your head. Why are people flying to Finland to figure out how to run public schools? Why aren’t they taking Amtrak to Massachusetts instead?

Why aren’t they flying to Massachusetts? The question is strengthened by the Grade 8 science scores, on which Finland outscored the U.S. by a wider margin:
Average scores, 2011 TIMSS
Grade 8 science, all students

Massachusetts 567
Minnesota 553
[Finland, 552]
Colorado 542
Indiana 533
Connecticut 532
North Carolina 532
Florida 530
[United States 525]
California 499
Alabama 485
As the poet so memorably pleaded, “Please come to Boston!” Why aren’t we hearing that song?

Please note these key disclaimers:

We aren’t saying that Finland has crummy schools, since it surely doesn’t. We aren’t saying that Massachusetts has better schools.

We aren’t saying that you can sensibly reach sound judgments on the basis of any one test or test session. We aren’t saying the TIMSS is better than the PISA, on which Finland has tended to score better as compared to the United States.

We are saying this:

Data like these are part of the story, unless we’re just telling adventure stories or trying to reinforce the narratives preferred by our funders and sponsors. We’re also saying this:

These TIMSS scores were released on December 11, 2012. When her book appeared in August 2013, Ripley didn’t breathe a word about these scores. She simply continued churning the tale about the miracles worked in Finland.

On page 2 of her book, she grossly misdescribed her own chart about those alleged miracles, thus committing the largest misstatement in the history of books. As far as we know, no reviewer said a word about this ridiculous point.

Let’s be clear. Massachusetts didn’t score at the level of the Asian tigers. These are the scores of the top-scoring nations and entities on that TIMSS math test:
Average scores, 2011 TIMSS
Grade 8 math, all students

South Korea 613
Singapore 611
Taiwan 609
Hong Kong 586
Japan 570
[Massachusetts 561]
[Minnesota 545]
Russia 539
Massachusetts hasn’t rocketed to the top of the world. But it strongly outscored Finland in math, unless you read Ripley’s ballyhooed book and/or our post-journalistic “press corps,” which basically serves to keep repeating the scripts it receives from elites.

In our view, there is more to learn, or to wonder about, within those 2011 TIMSS scores. We may get to that topic tomorrow, or we may have to wait until after Thanksgiving, which occurs on Thursday of this week.

This second aspect to those scores concerns our brutal American history. Finland is a middle-class, unicultural nation.

Our own striving nation is not.

Coming next: Disaggregation

Concerning Goldstein's report: At Slate, Dana Goldstein has presented an upbeat report about an upbeat educational study.

Here's our question:

At any point, in any way, did Goldstein consider the possibility that the teachers who produced the higher test scores in question might have accomplished that outcome by cheating? Did the experts who conducted the study protect against that possibility?

We first approached the Baltimore Sun about cheating on standardized tests in 1971. We did our first stand-alone column on that topic for the Sun in 1982.

Years later, we called our shot concerning Michelle Rhee’s absurd claims about her own greatness as a teacher. A few years later, additional evidence surfaced.

Earlier, we were skeptical about that feel-good story at the top of the Washington Post’s front page about the little low-income school with the wonderful test scores. As a result, we uncovered a statewide scam in the state of Virginia.

The Washington Post wouldn’t report that statewide scam even after the chairman of the state board acknowledged to us, to his great credit, that it had actually happened.

In recent years, cheating scandals have gotten so big that our major newspapers have sometimes reported them. But so what? The experts and the education reporters can’t get these basic facts of life into their office-bound heads.

Go ahead. Check that report! Did it even occur to Goldstein that some of those teachers might have been cheating?

We have no idea if that happened. But the question did enter our heads.

Rick Perlstein starts to get it right!


The analysts start to cheer: We did a little snarking last week about Rick Perlstein’s “name-calling” in a recent piece.

Having snarked, let us offer half a cheer. That’s what the analysts started to do in response to one part of Perlstein’s report about the treatment of “Camelot” by the 60s-era press corps.

Perlstein smacks the legendary Theodore White for his serial sycophancy, first toward President Kennedy, then toward President Nixon. At one point, he brought the analysts right out of their chairs.

Is Rick Perlstein allowed to say this? Plainly, no one else does:
PERLSTEIN (11/22/13): The whole thing is a great object lesson in the horrors of access journalism—and access history…If you hate the kind of writing Bob Woodward does now; if you hate Politico or, going back further, if you hate the kind of things Sally Quinn wrote on Monicagate (“ ‘He came in here and he trashed the place,’ says Washington Post columnist David Broder, ‘and it’s not his place.’ ”), or the childish abuse and systematic distortions meted out to Al Gore in 2000 because he didn’t fit into the Washington insiders’ village, blame Camelot—or “Camelot.”
Say what? Candidate Gore was subjected to “childish abuse and systematic distortions because he didn’t fit into the Washington insiders’ village?”

If that is true, why hasn’t this been widely discussed by the emerging liberal world? Why haven’t names been named? Some of them very big names?

Perlstein’s statement is true, of course, though he understates what happened by half. This is what he should have written:
PERLSTEIN REWRITTEN: Or the childish abuse and systematic distortions meted out to Al Gore in 1999 and 2000 because he didn’t fit into the Washington insiders’ village.
As history clearly records, the abuse and distortions began in March 1999. If Candidate Gore had just been trashed “in 2000,” we very much doubt that Candidate Bush would ever have reached the White House.

Only we liberals and progressives do this! Perlstein is one of the only people we’ve ever seen describing the press corps’ grotesque misconduct in Campaign 2000. And when he does so, he understates their misconduct by half!

Might we state another pet peeve? This involves Perlstein’s complaint against Sally Quinn.

People have made this complaint before. Because Perlstein is an historian, we’re amazed to see him make it.

Should you “hate the kind of things Sally Quinn wrote on Monicagate?” Perlstein quotes from Quinn’s lengthy report in the Washington Post on November 2, 1998.

We regard that report as one of the great contributions to the history of the era. Here’s why:

Look what Perlstein presents in that passage. In that passage, Quinn is quoting someone. She is quoting David Broder, a very important figure in the Clinton-era press.

Manifestly, she isn’t stating her own view about President Clinton.

In that 3700-word report, Quinn recorded such statements by a wide array of very major Beltway insiders. In the process, she established a very important historical fact—as of November 1998, President Clinton was widely loathed by a wide array of major D.C. insiders.

Rather plainly, that loathing was transferred to Candidate Gore starting in March 1999. The historical record is strongly established by Quinn’s lengthy report, in which she didn’t express her own view. (She even stated, several times, that the general public didn’t share the anti-Clinton attitudes of these D.C. insiders.)

We’re amazed to see Perlstein complain about that invaluable report. Absent Quinn’s report, an historian of the era would have to work extremely hard to establish the fact that these major figures held those views toward Clinton. This is especially true because of the familiar scripting which holds that the establishment press, with its liberal bias, simply loves people like Clinton.

We’ve spent years recording the “childish abuse and systematic distortions” meted out to Candidate Gore starting in March 1999. Indeed:

After posting Chapter 6 at our companion site, to complete and total disinterest, we finally couldn’t take it any more! Even for us, it had become too hard to keep devoting years of our time to building the record of this historical episode, even as the pay-for-play children refused to even offer a post about a new part of the story.

(We’re still trying to make ourselves finish Chapter 7, which involves several other remarkable episodes, including the widely-advanced claim that it was really Gore who gave us Willie Horton. Within the guild still described as a press corps, everyone and his “research assistant” made that ridiculous claim at some point in late 1999. It was a long-standing bit of RNC cant; in late 1999, it was uniformly adopted by the “mainstream press.” This, of course, is only one part of that remarkable, long-delayed chapter, which we can’t make ourselves type. Within this broken culture, what could possibly be the point of recording historical fact?)

Perlstein has done an amazing thing in the passage we’ve posted. He refers to stunning journalistic misconduct—an episode which went on for twenty straight months, starting in March 1999.

Given the narrow way Campaign 2000 was decided, it’s obvious that this act of group malfeasance sent George Bush to the White House. It would take a fool to deny that fact—a fool, or a gang of store-bought “career liberals” who have simply refused to tell the public the truth.

Darlings, it just isn’t done! Do you have any idea what that does to a person’s career?

Incredibly, Perlstein notes the fact that a war was waged against Candidate Gore in Campaign 2000. In the process, he understates the length of that war by half—and he complains about the person who most clearly established the historical record about where that war came from.

We live in very peculiar times. Most strikingly, our society’s “manufactured consent” is almost total. The liberal world has refused to squeal about what the press corps did to Clinton, then Gore.

In that passage, Perlstein actually refers to the truth! Is Perlstein allowed to do that?

More about Teddy White’s conduct: Perlstein describes the sycophancy of Teddy White—first toward President Kennedy, then later toward President Nixon.

Let’s return to something we wrote long ago:

In The Making of the President 1960, White describes the sycophancy of the reporters on the Kennedy plane during the 1960 campaign. He described grotesque misconduct on the part of the press, but he couldn’t quite make himself say so.

(He describes reporters singing satirical songs about Nixon with Kennedy staffer as they fly around the country on the Kennedy plane. He says that “all” their coverage was “colored” by the ass-kissing directed at them by Candidate Kennedy himself.)

White’s descriptions are remarkable, as is his refusal to speak frankly about his colleagues’ misconduct. Sad! We had planned to treat this remarkable material at some length in Chapter 9, as it becomes especially relevant to the press corps’ misconduct during Campaign 2000—the gross misconduct your heroes won’t tell you about.

White’s account is astounding, as is his deference to his colleagues’ misbehavior. For a briefer description from ten years back, go ahead—just click this.

Why are some incidents widely discussed?


The tragedy of Cheryl Mangum: As you may have noticed, some topics and incidents get widely discussed by our press and pundit corps.

Other topics and incidents may not get widely discussed. On Saturday, the New York Times gave 83 words to a very unfortunate incident involving a person who long ago seemed to need help.

The Times ran copy from the AP. This was all the Times published, headline included:
NEW YORK TIMES (11/23/13): North Carolina: Woman in Duke Case Guilty in Killing

The woman who falsely accused three Duke University lacrosse players of rape seven years ago has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2011 stabbing death of her boyfriend, Reginald Daye, 46. The woman, Crystal Mangum, 34, was sentenced to 14 to 18 years in prison. In 2006, Ms. Mangum claimed Duke lacrosse players gang-raped her at a team party where she was hired as a stripper. After a disastrous local prosecution that led to the downfall of the district attorney, the state attorney general’s office concluded there was no credible evidence an attack had occurred.
We’ll be honest. We hadn’t even heard that Mangum had been charged in this matter.

The so-called “Duke lacrosse case” got massive attention starting in March 2006. By the time the case was resolved in April 2007, it was fairly clear that Mangum seemed to be troubled—that she could probably use some help.

In the recent trial in North Carolina, Mangum claimed that she acted in self-defense. We can’t judge the legal merits of that claim. (It seems she didn’t start the fight which led to the death.) According to the Charlotte Observer, Mangum faces trial on another incident involving an alleged attack on another boyfriend.

The Times gave this matter 83 words. Some major newspapers haven’t mentioned it at all.

Did this incident deserve more coverage? On balance, we don’t necessarily think so. But when we saw this limited coverage, we thought about the massive ongoing discussion of domestic violence accusations involving George Zimmerman.

On balance, we don’t think those incidents rate massive coverage either. But those incidents, which involve accusations, are being widely discussed.

Why are incidents involving Zimmerman producing so much discussion? Yesterday, Howard Kurtz posed that question to Lisa Bloom as part of his new Fox News Channel weekly program, Media Buzz. Tomorrow, we’ll look at what Kurtz and Bloom said about the ongoing Zimmerman coverage.

Kurtz didn’t mention the Mangum case. We were struck by the disparate coverage accorded two sets of events which are somewhat similar.

The Duke lacrosse case was very high-profile. So was the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

Granted, the Zimmerman matter is more current. But we were struck by the very large difference in coverage.

Why was Mangum’s conviction barely covered while accusations against Zimmerman are producing massive discussion? We’ll discuss that question tomorrow. In the meanwhile, notice this:

The New York Times rewrote some of the AP’s reporting. The Times shortened a 209-word report, as is completely appropriate. But as a long-time reader noted, it also changed some of the AP reporting.

What happened in the Duke lacrosse case? According to the New York Times, “the state attorney general’s office concluded there was no credible evidence an attack had occurred.”

Technically, that’s accurate. But this is what the AP report actually said:
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (11/23/13): The three players arrested were eventually declared innocent by North Carolina's attorney general after Mangum's story crumbled and her mental stability was questioned. The Durham prosecutor, Mike Nifong, who championed Mangum's case, was later disbarred.
Accurately, the AP report said the players were “declared innocent.” The New York Times softened that statement. It also fuzzed the accurate statement about Nifong being “disbarred.”

There may be reasons why the Times changed the text in those ways. But here’s a question, the very question Kurtz raised with Bloom:

Why is so much attention being devoted to the fear that Zimmerman might kill someone? Sadly, Mangum has done that very thing.

No one seems to care.

Tomorrow: Kurtz and Bloom



Part 1—When the gong show started: It all began in December 2001.

Early that month, the OECD released the first test scores from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the brainchild it had devised to measure “critical thinking.”

On that somewhat unconventional measure, Finland scored at the top of the world, producing mild consternation. From that day to this, journalists from various countries have taken the free trip to Finland to attempt to figure out how the Finns do it.

(Or perhaps just to pretend to try to figure it out.)

Upon their return to their native lands, they type the standard conventional memorized scripts, generally displaying near-total cluelessness about the culture of literacy in the process. They marvel at Finland’s miraculous scores, then repeat a set of conventional claims about the way the miraculous Finns have achieved their miraculous levels of achievement.

As is often the case in these matters, a familiar pattern sometimes seems to prevail. If everyone is going to say all the same things, the only way a scribe can stand out if by overstating the standard narrative in some dramatic fashion.

(Example: In the fall of 1999, every pundit was warning the world about Al Gore’s troubling three-button suits, which were extremely disturbing. So Arianna Huffington went on TV and shrieked about his non-existent four-button suits.)

Back to miraculous Finland:

When everyone agrees to say the same things for twelve solid years, there may be a tendency to start overstating a tad. That may explain the way Amanda Ripley misstated the facts at the start of her ballyhooed book, The Smartest Kids in the World.

In the following passage, Ripley pretends to explain why she wrote her widely-praised book, for which she was funded by ruling elites. In the process, Ripley makes the biggest misstatement in the history of books:
RIPLEY (page 2): Then one day I saw this chart and it blew my mind.

The United States might have remained basically flat over time, but that was the exception, it turned out. Look at Finland! It had rocketed from the bottom of the world to the top, without pausing for breath. And what was going on in Norway, right next door, which seemed to be slip sliding into the abyss, despite having virtually no child poverty? And there was Canada, coming up from mediocrity to the heights of Japan. If education was a function of culture, could culture change that dramatically—that fast?

...Compared to most countries, the United States was typical, not much better nor much worse. But in a small number of countries, really just a handful of eclectic nations, something incredible was happening.
In that passage, Ripley is describing a chart which is shown on page 3 of her book. In the process, she makes the biggest misstatement in the history of books.

Did that chart really blow Ripley’s mind when she saw it for the first time? Beyond that, has something incredible happened in Finland over the fifty-year period portrayed on that chart?

In each case, we would be inclined to say no, though we don’t mean that as a criticism of Finland, a small, unicultural, middle-class nation which probably has a lot of very good schools.

In our judgment, nothing incredible has happened in Finland, although the country tends to score well on international tests. But that’s a matter of judgment. This isn’t:

Manifestly, Finland didn’t “rocket from the bottom of the world to the top, without pausing for breath,” on the international tests recorded on Ripley’s mind-blowing chart. (Are Ripley’s funders funding her acid?) On Ripley’s chart, Finland was already scoring higher, in the mid-1960s, than most of the nations portrayed on the the chart are scoring even today.

Finland was always a high-scoring nation, according to Ripley’s comically misdescribed chart. On page 2 of her book, Ripley came up with a ludicrous claim, although, in fairness, her ludicrous claim did make the miracle greater.

Go ahead! Try to find a single reviewer who cited this ludicrous error! In our post-journalistic culture, career “reporters” agree to extend the Official Approved Standard Tales.

Back to that more recent history:

In December 2001, Finland was unveiled as the top-scoring nation on the inaugural PISA. The junkets to Helsinki began—and the Finns stopped taking part in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), a more conventional set of international tests which measure mastery of math and science curriculum rather than “critical thinking.”

In 2011, Finland finally returned to the TIMSS, which is given to students in Grades 4 and 8. This is the way the United States and Finland scored in math that year:
Average scores, 2011 TIMSS, math
Grade 4:
Finland 545
United States 541

Grade 8:
Finland 514
United States 509
On the TIMSS scale, 500 is set as the international average, with a standard deviation of 100. Finland did outscore the United States, but at each grade, the two countries’ scores were regarded as statistically indistinguishable.

In science, Finland outscored the U.S. by somewhat wider amounts, though no miracles are apparent (see below). In the next few days, we’re going to look at these scores in more detail, through several available lenses.

On the one hand, we’re going to look at the way nine individual states scored at the Grade 8 level. In 2011, nine individual states took the TIMSS at Grade 8 as if they were independent entities. As such, the scores achieved by those nine states can be directly compared to Finland’s.

We’re also going to look at these scores through the lens of so-called race.

As noted, Finland is a largely unicultural nation; the United States is not. In the course of our brutal American history, our benighted ancestors spent several centuries trying to eliminate literacy in one segment of the American population. The backwash of this brutal history still affects American schools.

It’s also true that the United States has a fairly large immigrant population. Finland has a very small number of (delightful, deserving) immigrant kids in its schools.

The TIMSS, like the PISA, is a major international test battery. What can we learn when we look at scores from Finland and the United States through these particular lenses?

Tomorrow, we’re going to look at the nine different states which took the Grade 8 TIMSS as independent entities. We’re going to see something the Ripleys never report or discuss, apparently because they’re in thrall to standard preferred elite narratives:

Ballyhooed miracles to the side, we’re going to see a bunch of states outscoring Finland. We’re going to ask when the people who pose as “reporters” plan to report educational miracles of this type.

Tomorrow: Nine states tackle Finland

TIMSS scores in science: The TIMSS is test of science and math. These are the scores from 2011 in science:
Average scores, 2011 TIMSS, science
Grade 4:

Finland 570
United States 544

Grade 8:
Finland 552
United States 525
In each case, the difference between the scores is regarded as statistically significant. That said, the differences are hardly the stuff of miracles.

Tomorrow, we’ll see a couple of states outscoring miraculous Finland in science. We’ll see six states (out of nine) outscoring Finland in math.

Salon’s latest way to hate en masse!


Young analyst tackles the boomers: In highly tribalized times, hating en masse can be quite au courant. Examples:

You might hate everyone who votes the wrong way. Plainly, they’re all racists.

You might hate everyone from some city. Dallas, the city of hate!

Sweeping over-generalization is the gateway to this pleasing act. And as Salon helped show us this weekend, you can hate whole generations too! You don’t even have to know what you’re talking about!

Last Friday, Daniel D’Addario decided to tackle the always unpleasant boomers. We refer to his stirring report about the way some journalists have covered the Kennedy anniversary.

D’Addario’s fiery piece appeared last Friday at noon. Two days later, it still sits beneath these headlines:
Baby boomers in media make the Kennedy assassination all about them
Tom Brokaw wants you to know where he was on 11/22/63
Darn those self-involved baby boomers! There they go again!

We tend to agree with D’Addario on one point. In our view, the Brokaw/ Lehrer/ Scheiffer crowd has tended to be a bit self-involved in their reminiscences about the assassination.

We’ve sniffed the scent of narcissism in their relentless musings too. In this part of his hard-hitting piece, D’Addario goes after Tom Brokaw:
D’ADDARIO (11/22/13): Take, for instance, Tom Brokaw’s brief memoir on NBC News’ Web page, noting that Brokaw, then a local news reporter in Omaha, “raced to get it on the air, stunned, confused and wondering ‘What now?’”

“I was just 23,” Brokaw wrote, “and the wholly unexpected tragedy helped prepare me for a lifetime of covering world altering events.” So, in a sense, thank heavens for the Kennedy assassination, for without it, we would not have had NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, whose career has included a TV special and tie-in book called “Where Were You,” about Kennedy’s assassination!
We tend to agree with D’Addario’s snark. We too have heard an air of solipsistic self-congrats as some anchors have recalled the way they covered this event, an event which manifestly wasn’t all about them.

Self-involvement has been a characteristic of anchors at least since the days of Ted Baxter, who was fictional. Unfortunately, D’Addario’s critique goes crazily wrong in two ways as he proceeds:
D’ADDARIO (continuing directly): Brokaw is and has long been the very face of boomer nostalgia for a simpler time, and explicitly views a national crisis as an opportunity for career advancement. “For you, that was the beginning of a CBS career, in a way,” he told Dan Rather in a recent interview on “Morning Joe”; Rather replied, in part, “I don’t like to speak of it in those terms.” The former NBC anchor, in all of his books, tends to view history as anecdotal and incidental—for people like former Nixon aide Frank Gannon, another of Brokaw’s “Morning Joe” guests, an incoherent story about planning to play the piano for Kennedy sheds light on the assassination. For Brokaw, it’s about media’s power to speak to the nation.
In this account, Brokaw and Gannon see the anniversary as being All About Them. (Rather doesn’t.) Brokaw is the very face of boomer nostalgia!

As he closes, D’Addario spanks this self-involved generation again. As the following passage starts, he’s talking about a bit of self-love involving Bob Scheiffer:
D’ADDARIO: Fifty years later, and CBS is still hung up on its scoop. It’s remarkable, by contrast, how quickly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, news organizations recognized that what had been unique about the day was not their coverage of it. “Morning Joe” will rebroadcast the “Today” coverage of the towers falling each year, but that’s as far as news networks trumpeting their own centrality to the day goes.

Perhaps that’s because the anchors most active in news coverage in 2001 were accustomed to a landscape in which the news, not the newsman, had come to be the most important thing. When Tom Brokaw memorializes Kennedy, he’s memorializing an unsustainable environment, one in which he and men like him were the arbiters of information. Now, perfectly in line with the boomer generation, the only information he can exclusively give us is about himself.
Those boomers, D’Addario says as he closes. To them, it’s all about them!

This would be an excellent analysis except for two basic facts:

First, it’s a bad idea to make sweeping generalizations about whole generations. Are all the boomers really as bad as Brokaw, their heinous figurehead?

Probably not! In part, that stems from a second fact: Brokaw and Schieffer aren’t boomers!

Uh-oh! Brokaw was born in 1940, Schieffer in 1937. By normal reckoning, the baby boomers are the people born in the post-war baby boom, between 1946 and 1964.

Brokaw and Schieffer aren’t baby boomers! As Rick Perry might have said, “Oops.”

(Perry, born in 1950, actually is a baby boomer, if you really feel the need to parse the world that way.)

D’Addario comes by his fire naturally. He graduated from Columbia in 2010, filled with anger at the generations which condemned him to such a hard fate.

That said, hating en masse is a bad idea. But if you do decide to slime an entire generation, you might want to figure out when it starts and ends.

D’Addario’s degree is in American studies. What are they teaching these kids today if not when the baby boom started?

Speaking of righteous self-involvement: Everybody makes mistakes. That said:

D’Addario’s piece appeared at noon on Friday. Instantly, commenters noted the problem with the premise which blares from its headlines.

Tom Brokaw isn’t a boomer! But at Salon, the editors don’t seem to care. Two days later, the fiery piece sits unchanged, under the very same headlines.

Our view? If you think Brokaw’s a mess, go try the new Salon!

Even the wonks don’t want to be bothered!


We’d love to hear Wonkblog roar: For years, we have been chronicling the liberal world’s apparent disinterest in public school issues.

Put that another way—the liberal world’s apparent detachment from the interests of black kids. Hispanic kids too!

Because no one cares about public school issues, the nation’s elites determine the way such issues get reported. For example, a set of familiar standard scripts determines the way reading and math scores get reported.

All over the mainstream press corps, reporters stress the achievement gaps and disappear the achievement gains. It’s perfectly clear that no one cares about this rolling deception, or about the retrograde political themes which get advanced this way.

No one seems to care about this. And by that, we do mean no one.

Case in point: Consider the way Wonkblog reacted to the recent release of the 2013 NAEP scores.

As you can tell from its name, Wonkblog is the official “crib” for the nation’s brainiest wonks. Ezra Klein started the site, which does a lot of work on a wide array on topics. Klein now manages a roster of wonkish sidekicks.

The new NAEP scores were released on November 7. Aside from the standard interest in national scores, there was special interest regarding score gains in the Washington, D.C. public schools.

Wonkblog is based in D.C.!

All kinds of wonkish technical issues are involved in test score reporting. You’d think this general topic would be right up Wonkblog’s alley.

You might think that, but go ahead—scroll back through the Wonbkblog listings. You’ll find treatments of every conceivable policy issue. But you won’t find a single report on the new NAEP scores.

Wonkblog didn’t go there!

Back in July, we reported the same darn thing when the NAEP released the new scores in its “Long Term Trend” study. It’s an older, companion study to the “Main NAEP,” whose scores were released this month.

What happened when the “Long Term Trend” scores got released? Not a peep at Wonkblog!

In fairness to the Wonkblog staff, they may be deferring to their owners, the Washington Post. No one promotes the establishment line on public education quite the way the Post does. Maybe Wonkblog feels it isn’t supposed to go there.

Alternate explanation: The Post publishes two education blogs—one by long-time education reporter Jay Mathews, the other by Valerie Strauss. Perhaps Wonkblog is leaving the field to them.

We’ve reported; you can decide. In our view, test scores simply scream for analysis by uncompromised gaggles of wonks. The bullshit is heavy; the data are rich.

They’re Wonkblog. Let’s hear them roar!

Tomorrow: Disaggregated TIMSS scores, 2011

The New York Times goes to Dallas again!


Fascinating logic: Once again, the New York Times has taken a trip back to Dallas.

This morning, the portrait is painted by long-time Timesman Sam Tanenhaus. During a nine-year reign which ended in April, Tanenhaus edited the Sunday Book Review section.

As so often occurs at the Times, we found ourselves struggling with Tanenhaus’ logic, from his fifth paragraph on. The Times may even have noticed this problem. A piece which may have been written for page one occupies A18.

Treat it as a reading assignment. How well can you articulate the overall point of this piece? How many of its various passages seem to make clear sense?

We found ourselves struggling throughout. We’ll cite two passages only.

This passage strikes us as astounding:
TANENHAUS (11/22/13): Kennedy hatred was deepest, perhaps, in the South, where civil rights battles had grown increasingly tense. “White violence was sort of considered the status quo,” Diane McWhorter, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and is the author of “Carry Me Home,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the racial unrest of 1963, said recently.

“There had been so many bombings that people had accepted it,” Ms. McWhorter said. But in May, the city’s blacks struck back, attacking the police and firefighters and setting several businesses on fire. In September, only two months before Dallas, white supremacists in Birmingham planted a bomb in a black church, killing four young girls.

Kennedy himself was a reluctant supporter of civil rights legislation, but when at last he called for it, many Southern whites were enraged.
In that passage, Tanenhaus describes the southern civil rights movement in this way: “Birmingham’s blacks struck back, attacking the police and firefighters and setting several businesses on fire.”

Yes, that’s what he wrote! If you go looking for something more, you aren’t going to find it.

That's how Tanenhaus describes a movement which is revered throughout the world for its brilliant devotion to non-violence. As we’ve often noted, the New York Times, an upper-class club, can be extremely strange.

This passage, which instantly follows, strikes us as rather odd too:
TANENHAUS: Protest and rage advanced on other fronts, too. Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” published in 1961, lampooned the bureaucratization of the modern warfare state. Thomas Pynchon’s “V,” published in 1963, hinted of conspiratorial webs spun in “a howling Dark Age of ignorance and barbarity.” James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” a best seller in November 1963, explored the world of Elijah Muhammad, whose message to whites, Mr. Baldwin reported, was that “the sword they have used so long against others can now, without mercy, be used against them.”

Stephen Harrigan, a novelist and journalist who lives in Austin, Tex., was a teenager in Corpus Christi, Tex., when Kennedy was assassinated. Dallas “was somewhere else,” a world away, Mr. Harrigan said. But when he moved to Austin, in September 1966, the city was recovering from its own catastrophic spasm of gun violence committed a month before when Charles Whitman, like Lee Harvey Oswald a former Marine, killed 17 people and wounded 32 others in a shooting spree from the clock tower at the University of Texas.

“There was a palpable sense that something had been let loose,” Mr. Harrigan said recently. “The Kennedy assassination had opened up this box of horrors.” But what had been let loose were forces already there. After Oswald and Whitman would come the macabre gallery of angry loners who gained celebrity from the famous people they killed or tried to (George C. Wallace, John Lennon, Ronald Reagan) or who went on mass rampages (at Virginia Tech; in Aurora, Colo.; in Newtown, Conn.).
Were Catch 22 and V leading examples of the era’s pre-existing “protest and rage?” If so, we’d have to say there wasn’t a lot of rage in the air.

Even stranger, Tanenhaus makes a peculiar flip in this passage, moving from types of social dislocation which preceded the Kennedy killing to those which came later. By the end of that passage, the Newtown killings are somehow offered as an example of “the forces that were already there” before the killing of Kennedy.

Do you really understand the logic of that passage? We’ll admit that we basically don’t.

The New York Times has had fifty years to get this week’s ruminations together. In this case, we struggled with Tanenhaus’ logic from his fifth paragraph on.

The basic premise he keeps mangling seems simple enough—sources of dislocation were present in the American bloodstream before the killing of Kennedy. That said, we frequently struggled with his logic, starting with paragraph 5.

“Birmingham’s blacks struck back!” Only in the Times!

We mentioned paragraph 5: For us, the sense of confusion starts in paragraph 5, where Tanenhaus quotes Dwight Macdonald from December 1963.

In context, MacDonald’s reasoning is crystal clear. For us, the logic became hard to find after a Tanenhaus edit.

TRIBE AND RACE: Yet this is us!


Part 5—Soaked in tribal certainty: To what extent is Obama disrespected on the basis of race?

It’s an interesting question, although, of course, it can’t be answered in anything resembling a precise way.

Charles Blow discussed this question last weekend, responding to what Oprah Winfrey had said. Early in his column, he offered a potentially helpful framework:
BLOW (11/16/13): To what extent does this president’s race animate those loyal to him and those opposed? Is race a primary motivator or a subordinate, more elusive one, tainting motivations but not driving them?

To some degree, the answers lie with the questioners. There are different perceptions of racial realities. What some see as slights, others see as innocent opposition. But there are some objective truths here. Racism is a virus that is growing clever at avoiding detection. Race consciousness is real. Racial assumptions and prejudices are real. And racism is real. But these realities can operate without articulation and beneath awareness. For those reasons, some can see racism where it is absent, and others can willfully ignore any possibility that it could ever be present.
Much of that passage is hard to parse. But at the end of that passage, Blow offers a framework which could have been useful, especially to his many “liberal” readers.

People can err in different ways, Blow says in that passage. Regarding racism, some people can ignore the possibility that racism even exists. But uh-oh:

Other people can see racism where it is (or may be) absent!

That formulation could have served as a useful warning to Blow’s liberal readers. It could have warned us that we can err in our perceptions too.

But Blow went on to offer two examples of alleged misperception concerning race. In his first example, he savaged Rush Limbaugh for a comment which wasn’t especially stupid. And each example catered to prevailing “liberal” preferences.

Wouldn’t you know it? Blow failed to provide an example of someone “seeing racism where it is absent!” As a result, we’d have to say he got the comments he bargained for.

In the very first comment, a regular commenter dreamed of the day when “those people” will all be dead. Out of Blow’s 598 comments, that comment received the third highest number of recommendations from Blow’s readers.

Let’s consider the two comments which were enjoyed even more.

By far, the following comment was recommended by the most readers. (To see rankings, click on READER PICKS.) It offered a basic answer to the basic question Blow posed:
COMMENTER FROM SOBE: No President of the United States has EVER had to put up with what President Obama has had to endure. From "you lie" to congressmen who are birthers, every effort has been made to delegitimize the Obama presidency.

Meanwhile Congress is bent on being destructive. First they were obsessed with denying the President a second term. Now they want to deny the President a legacy. They don't care if the country falls apart as long as Obama gets the blame. The deliberate message to the electorate is obvious. "Don't ever elect one again."

This is not a "poor Obama;" It is a "poor us." Because of obvious racial resentment, our country has been in a stalemate for five years and we, the good citizens, have permitted the lunatic fringe to control the House of Representatives.

I am hoping that Hillary gets elected. She has the skills to wear out these miscreants.
Earlier that week, name-calling historian Rick Perlstein had said that Presidents Kennedy and Clinton received the same amount of vituperation as that now aimed at Obama. In this, the day’s most recommended comment, Blow’s reader rejected that view.

No one has ever been attacked like Obama, this commenter said. And it’s all because of “racial resentment”—obvious racial resentment.

That was the most recommended comment. In this, the second highest-rated comment, a reader offered a sweeping assessment of what Those People think and feel:
COMMENTER FROM RHODE ISLAND: While George W. Bush was president, I reflexively pushed the mute button if he turned up on TV; couldn't stand the man and everything he stood for, and this distaste extended to his voice. It was visceral. I felt the same way about Ronald Reagan. I still make a noise of disgust when I see a photo of him. So I understand how political views can become very personal and intense. Reagan and Bush, to me, symbolized the ascendency of the plutocracy, the end of the middle class, the end of democracy as we understood it. I was angry and frightened by that. Barack Obama's opposition is no less angry and frightened about their world changing, and he is the embodiment of their fear: that people who aren't like them are achieving some political power, and it will be at their expense. I felt Bush and Reagan governed only for the rich; they feel Obama governs only for blacks. Barack Obama, despite his consistent, maddening tendency to favor Wall Street, is first and foremost a black man to those who hate him most. I don't for a minute believe that his opposition is not motivated by race, since they vilify him for things that he hasn't actually done, like make life appreciably better for blacks and the poor. It's not about "spending”—presidents always spend, Republicans even more than Democrats; it's on whose behalf the spending is done that gets people so upset–if it's a black man doing the spending, it must be for blacks. Even if it's not remotely true.
This reader “still makes a noise of disgust” when she sees a photo of Reagan. Because she was “angry and frightened,” she knows that everyone is.

Given 598 comments to choose from, we liberals liked this second best.

The key word is that comment is “they.” Without a hint of self-consciousness, this reader assumes that everyone who opposes Obama does so for the same reason, with the same consciousness:

“Barack Obama is first and foremost a black man to those who hate him most. I don't for a minute believe that his opposition is not motivated by race.”


In this sweeping assessment, is it possible that this reader is “seeing racism where it is absent?” If Blow had offered an example of this type of error, this reader might have taken useful instruction. But alas! As it stands, Blow’s denunciations of Rush Limbaugh and Richard Cohen fueled the familiar fury which animates the modern, poorly-instructed pseudo-liberal world.

No president has ever been so disrespected! The disrespect is motivated by race! These sweeping assessments reflect the modern pseudo-liberal consensus.

This meal sells well on MSNBC and over at Salon.

The suits can make a lot of money throwing this feed to the herd. We cattle run along the wagons, waiting for our latest feeding. And make no mistake:

This gruel is the stuff of divide and conquer, the world the plutocrats love. The 99 percent has always been easy to beat when it makes war on itself.

We humans have always been easy to play; the plutocrats have always known this. It’s easy to pander to the tribes, “to children ardent for some desperate glory.”

For ourselves, we’d recommend the cool, clear reason of the seasoned charioteers, like noble Nestor of old. In Homer’s account, “He always gave the best advice.” For one example, see below.

In the current instance, who has given good sound advice? Consider the way Kevin Drum reacted to Perlstein’s piece about the various vituperations.

“It’s crucial to realize that the vituperation directed at Obama is little different from that aimed at John F. Kennedy, who was so hated by the right that his assassination was initially assumed by most observers to have been done by a conservative; or Bill Clinton,” Perlstein wrote.

Below, you see a chunk of Drum’s reaction, with which we don’t fully agree:
DRUM (11/13/13): I don't doubt for a second that the racial component of the latest right-wing fluorescence is stronger because Obama is black. But it's only modestly stronger, and you hardly need to go back to JFK to see this. It's easy to think of Bill Clinton today as a cuddly, beloved elder statesman, but anyone over the age of 40 knows that Clinton lived through an eruption of right-wing rage that was every bit as bad as what Obama has gone through. Even the specific obsessions of the wingers weren't even very different. Health care socialism? Check. Economy-killing taxes? Check. Gay rights destroying America as we know it? Check. Supposed juvenile drug use? Check. Endless faux scandals and corruption? Check. Government shutdown? Check. Deficit hysteria? Check. Ball-busting wife? Check. The similarities, frankly, are pretty stunning.

The differences are on the margin. There were no birthers in the 90s, but there were all the black babies Clinton supposedly fathered. There was no Benghazi, but there was Black Hawk Down. There was no Solyndra or Fast & Furious, but there was Mena airfield and Monica's blue dress. You work with what you have, so the details are always going to be different. But the melody is pretty much the same.

Tea partiers don't hate Obama because he's black, they hate him because he's a Democrat, and Democrats are forever taking away their money and giving it to the indolent. And while being black probably hurts Obama a bit with this crowd in a way that Clinton avoided, being a philanderer hurt Clinton in a way that Obama has avoided. In the end, I suspect it's mostly a wash. Perlstein is right: Obama was destined to be hated by the reactionary right no matter what.
“The similarities, frankly, are pretty stunning. The differences are on the margin.”

We’d be inclined to agree with that. And by the way, however moronic some assaults on Obama have been, the assaults on Clinton were also amazingly stupid—unless you believe that he and his wife were involved in a succession of murders, even as he was running drugs through the Mena Airport.

(As late as August 1999, Chris Matthews let Gennifer Flowers lounge about for a full half-hour recalling the Clintons’ various murders. Back then, he was being paid millions to do that. Today, Matthews is paid to shovel the shit which pleases those in our tribe. Astoundingly, embarrassingly, we in the “liberal” world happily tolerate this.)

Serial murders, in the mist of drug-running! If those claims were made about Obama, the hustlers would say that such things would only be said about a black man. They would shout this truth from the rooftops, stuffing money into their pants as they so proclaimed.

Drum downplayed one part of Perlstein’s assessment—the part in which Perlstein seemed to say that the assaults on Kennedy and Clinton were “racism-soaked,” just like the assault on Obama. In that way, Perlstein—whose brilliant name-calling suffused his piece—continued to let us enjoy the claim that Those People are defined by their racism.

That said, Drum advanced a rather obvious point—the vituperation aimed at Obama is amazingly similar to that which was aimed at Bill Clinton. But Blow’s top commenter quickly said that no president has ever been treated like this, and liberal readers stampeded in pleasure.

We made that comment our number-one pick, out of some 600 choices. In this way, we show how little we know. We show how little we paid attention during the 1990s.

We show how little we actually cared, back when the previous bullshit transpired. We show how little we care to remember or learn.

We show how happily we will stampede as the hustlers earn their clicks and achieve their ratings.

To our taste, even Drum offers an overly sweeping assessment of the motives of the tea party, a poorly-defined collection of tens of millions of people who happen to be fellow citizens. (Do no tea partiers “hate Obama because he's black?”) But as our nation is driven apart by the hustlers on the two cable channels, we liberals have established a point which we ourselves find surprising:

We are just dumb as They are! We love to soak ourselves in our tribal purity too!

Those top three comments just weren’t very sharp. Let’s be more frank—they tilted toward dumb.

The comments we love aren’t all that sharp. And yet, to borrow from the poet:
No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,
Nothing that's quite [our] own.
Yet this is [Us.]
Nestor gives good sound advice: In Book 9 of The Iliad, headstrong Diomedes stands in council and hotly opposes Agamemnon.

“You lie,” he more or less says. Plainly, a racial statement.

Instantly, Nestor rose to speak. Homer records his advice:
And all the Achaeans shouted their assent,
stirred by the stallion-breaking Diomedes’ challenge.
But Nestor the old driver rose and spoke at once:
"Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,
and in council you excel all men your age.
So no one could make light of your proposals,
not the whole army—who could contradict you?
But you don't press on and reach a useful end.
How young you are—why, you could be my son,
my youngest-born at that, though you urge our kings
with cool clear sense: what you've said is right.
But it's my turn now, Diomedes.
I think I can claim to have some years on you.
So I must speak up and drive the matter home.
And no one will heap contempt on what I say,
not even mighty Agamemnon. Lost to the clan,
Lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
who lusts for all the horrors of war with his own people.

But now, I say, let us give way to the dark night,
set out the evening meal...
“Come, gather us all and we will heed that man who gives the best advice,” Nestor says, moments later. “That’s what they need, I tell you—all the Achaeans—good sound advice...”

What did Nestor mean when he warned against “all the horrors of war with his own people?” You’re asking a very good question!

Oprah Winfrey has often been judged to give her followers good sound advice. Could it be time for her to make The Iliad one of her books?

The New York Times still doesn’t [HEART] Texas!


The latest pathetic example: The New York Times doesn’t care for Texas.

Last year, its former editorial page editor toured the country making absurd, deeply clueless remarks about the Lone Star state’s public schools. It was easily one of the dumbest such outings in post-journalistic history.

Last Sunday, the nation’s dumbest newspaper managed to strike again.

It found a very silly boy to write a silly profile of Dallas, the famous “city of hate” which simply will not reform. It ran his piddle in the Sunday Review. This is the way the deeply pitiful James McAuley started:
MCAULEY (11/17/13): For 50 years, Dallas has done its best to avoid coming to terms with the one event that made it famous: the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. That’s because, for the self-styled “Big D,” grappling with the assassination means reckoning with its own legacy as the “city of hate,” the city that willed the death of the president.

It will miss yet another opportunity this year. On Nov. 22 the city, anticipating an international spotlight, will host an official commemoration ceremony. Dallas being Dallas, it will be quite the show: a jet flyover, a performance from the Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club and remarks from the historian David McCullough on Kennedy’s legacy.

But once again, spectacle is likely to trump substance: not one word will be said at this event about what exactly the city was in 1963, when the president arrived in what he called, just moments before his death, “nut country.”
Somehow, McAuley already had the word count from tomorrow’s ceremony. In the nut country known as the New York Times, none of this writing seemed odd.

Two days after McAuley’s profile appeared, the Times published a pair of letters disputing its central contentions. This is how some of McAuley’s contentions struck one Dallas resident:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (11/19/13): As Dallas prepares for the 50th anniversary of that horrific day, Mr. McAuley writes that “pretending to forget has helped Dallas achieve some remarkable accomplishments” in the years since the assassination. “Pretending to forget”? It’s been front-page news for months.

The Sixth Floor Museum and John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza (designed by Philip Johnson) have been considered landmarks here for decades, and popular tourist attractions. Local theaters and talk shows are putting on all kinds of productions on the theme. A symposium on Dallas’s reputation as “the city of hate” was held this month.

Of all this, Mr. McAuley acknowledges only the symposium, but in passing, sniffing that it was held “quietly.” Please. It was well advertised, drew 500 people, including the journalists Jim Lehrer and Hugh Aynesworth, and was prominently covered by the media.
It’s true. Near the end of his childish profile, McAuley wrote this about that Lehrer-fueled symposium:

“This year Dallas has a chance to grapple with the painful legacy of 1963 in public and out loud. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen, although the city did quietly host a symposium on whether it really deserved to be labeled ‘the city of hate’ earlier this month.” Our emphasis.

Parsing McAuley, Dallas has been refusing to discuss its reputation as the one-time “city of hate” by holding a symposium on whether it deserved to be called “the city of hate.” The problem is, they did it quietly!

This is how children tell stories.

No one but the New York Times would ever publish such piddle. Frankly puzzled, we decided to find out who this “McAuley” was.

Sad! In this instance, the Times commissioned the judging of fifty years in the history of a large city to the self-absorbed musings of a 22-year-old child who seems to be trying to work out his feelings about his Grandma and Pop-pop.

That said, the lad in question graduated from Harvard last year, which is all it takes at the Times. You can read his profile of Dallas to marvel at his vast self-absorption. Beyond his oddball family portraits, here’s an example of the reasoning abilities of today’s Harvard man:
MCAULEY: For the last 50 years, a collective culpability has quietly propelled the city to outshine its troubled past without ever actually engaging with it. To be fair, pretending to forget has helped Dallas achieve some remarkable accomplishments in those years, like the completion of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the development of the astonishingly successful Cowboys franchise and the creation of what remains one of the country’s most electric local economies.

But those are transient triumphs in the face of what has always been left unsaid, what the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald once called the “dark night of the soul,” on which the bright Texas sun has yet to rise. The far right of 1963 and the radicalism of my grandparents’ generation may have faded in recent years, they remain very much alive in Dallas. Look no further than the troop of gun-rights activists who appeared just days ago, armed and silent, outside a meeting of local mothers concerned about gun violence. If this is what counts as responsible civic dialogue, then Dallas has a long way still to go.
Ignore the problem with sentence structure in that highlighted passage. Instead, consider the logic:

A handful of people staged a dumb public vigil in Dallas last week. To this pitiful child, this means that “Dallas” did it.

McAuley’s profile is deeply childish. When we googled the lad, we discovered his last known assault on the MSM.

We refer to his gruesome tribute to himself, the one which appeared in the Washington Post on the occasion of Nora Ephron’s death. Pretending to wrote a remembrance of Ephron—he’d been pestering her since he was 12—McAuley composed a humblebrag tribute to the greatness of himself.

The humblebrag headline announced this fact: “Nora Ephron changed my life. Really.”

Be sure to have a gag bag handy! Thus prepared, you can click here.

Yesterday, the Times commissioned an actual grown-up to do an actual news report about the ways Dallas has changed in the past fifty years. That report stands in intriguing contrast to McAuley’s profile.

One example:

In the news report, you can consider the thoughts of Ron Kirk, Dallas’ first black mayor (1995-2002), later a Senate candidate. In the profile by our young lad, you can read this sad account posted below of the way the current mayor recently had his time wasted.

We’ll read between the lines for you:
MCAULEY: [W]hen the national cameras start rolling on Nov. 22, Dealey Plaza, the abandoned, almost spectral site of the assassination and now of the commemoration, will have been retouched in a fresh coat of literal and figurative white paint. Cosmetics seem to be all we can expect.

“This is not a group psychology lesson,” Mike Rawlings, the mayor, told me over lunch recently. “We can do what we can do. I guess I could bring up all the relatives of the people that said bad things. But why would you do that?”

To which, of course, there is nothing to say.
You have to feel sorry for Rawlings! He agreed to have lunch with the New York Times scribe. He then discovered his time was being wasted by a silly colt.

Needless to say, there’s a lot to criticize about Texas political culture. That said, we’ll suggest that you read McAuley’s piece as a profile of the New York Times itself.

There’s nothing so dumb that the Times won’t run it if it comes from a recent Harvard grad, or if it dumps big piddle on Texas. Our conclusions, and they are two:

The Times remains our dumbest newspaper. Also:

A certain self-involved young climber will be tormenting the nation’s interests over the next fifty years.

The New York Times checks in with State Farm!


How to improve public schools: In this morning’s New York Times, Motoko Rich discusses a plan to lure top college grads into teaching careers.

There’s nothing wrong with that idea. We do get a little bit nervous when we read it hyped in the way we highlight below.

This is how Rich begins her report, hard-copy headline included:
RICH (11/21/13): Campaign Seeks to Recruit Top Students to Become Teachers

If you can’t do, teach. The three best things about teaching? June, July and August.

With so much teacher bashing, who in the world would want to teach?

Seeking to combat such sentiments, the Department of Education—in partnership with the Advertising Council, Microsoft, State Farm Insurance, Teach for America, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions and several other educational groups—is unveiling a public service campaign this week aimed at recruiting a new generation of classroom educators.
Is it just us, or does that highlighted passage seem strange? The Department of Education is unveiling this plan in partnership with Microsoft, State Farm Insurance and the Advertising Council?

Everyone knows that Microsoft now rules the world of education. That said, what in the world does State Farm Insurance have to do with public school issues?

Would you turn to “the good hands people” to figure out the best way to run schools? (We know, we know—that's Allstate.) The notion doesn’t seem to faze Rich, whose work has begun to strike us as a possible parody of some kind:
RICH: “The challenge is to change the conversation around teaching so that it becomes the career that you want your child to go into,” said Kathy Payne, senior director of education leadership at State Farm, “rather than the career that you counsel children out of.”


Many teachers have complained that what they see as an overemphasis on testing has stymied teacher creativity. But Cliff Skeete, group creative director at McGarryBowen, an advertising agency that donated its time to develop the video and radio ads, said testing and creativity are not mutually exclusive.

“If you find different ways to communicate with and teach kids, where it’s not just that same old thing, using a video game or projecting the solar system in the classroom,” Mr. Skeete said, “that’s what’s going to get those test scores raised.”
Question: Why does State Farm, an insurance company, have a “senior director of education leadership?” If you read the New York Times, you aren’t supposed to ask.

Within the context of this report, it’s odd enough to be quoting someone who serves in the post of “senior director of education leadership at State Farm.” But why would anyone quote the creative director at McGarryBowen, an ad agency, about the best way to understand the current profusion of testing?

Is Rich a satirist of some kind? If so, we apologize for our previous complaints about her peculiar reporting.

We offer one other note about this new campaign. In this passage, Arne Duncan makes it fairly clear where the idea comes from:
RICH: Taylor Mali, a poet and a former teacher, provides the inspirational voice-over that evokes some military recruitment ads. “Teachers today are breaking down obstacles,” he says, “finding innovative ways to instill old lessons, proving that greatness can be found in everyday places.”

The retirement of baby boomers creates an “amazing chance to make a difference for decades to come,” said Arne Duncan, secretary of education, in a telephone interview.

In addition to recruiting more candidates with science and math backgrounds, Mr. Duncan said, the nation’s public schools need to attract more Hispanics and blacks, particularly men, to teaching. Citing the model of several countries where students regularly score high on standardized tests, Mr. Duncan said that they pull their teaching corps from the top tenth to top third of college graduates. He said he wanted to persuade “very, very high caliber college graduates to come and work in our nation’s schools.”
If teaching is such a wondrous profession, why is the inspirational Mali a former teacher?

Levity to the side, Duncan is plainly evoking miraculous Finland, which famously draws its teachers from the top third of its college graduates.

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with seeking to copy this practice. We’ll assume it would be a good thing to attract stronger students into teaching, especially at the high school level.

That said, a lot of our biggest problems are found in elementary schools which serve low-income kids from low-literacy backgrounds. Would our problems in those schools be solved by attracting teachers with stronger academic records?

We wouldn’t feel real sure about that. And you can’t answer such questions in Finland, which has very little poverty and never created an educational “underclass” in the way our country did, down through the several centuries.

Finland is said to recruit its teachers from the top third of its college class. We assume the Finns have lots of outstanding teachers and lots of outstanding schools.

On the other hand, is it possible that Finland’s educational success has been somewhat overrated? Tomorrow, in a special “Ripples” report, we’ll show you how the 2011 TIMSS scores look after “disaggregation.”

How might we improve the schools which serve our low-income, low-literacy kids? We have some basic ideas about that.

But has anybody checked with State Farm? How about other ad agencies?

Tomorrow: Finland, the U.S. and TIMSS

TRIBE AND RACE: Blow and tribe!


Part 4—What Rush Limbaugh said: “In some cases,” is disrespect aimed at Barack Obama because he’s African-American?

Oprah Winfrey made that claim to the BBC last week. She even said this racial disrespect may obtain “in many cases.”

Commenting on what Winfrey said, Bill O’Reilly used stronger language: “We all know that some Americans do despise Barack Obama because of his skin color.”

After calling such people “bigots,” O’Reilly said this: “The lunatic fringe will hate, no matter what.”

Presumably, race explains “some” of the disrespect aimed at Obama. The problem starts when you tried to say how much of the opposition stems from this source.

In a recent piece in The Nation, Rick Perlstein almost seemed to apply the brakes to the popular liberal claim that Obama is being attacked because he’s black. Presidents Kennedy and Clinton were treated the same darn way, he said:
PERLSTEIN (11/25/13): This time, liberals are also making a new mistake. Call it “racial defeatism.” Folks throw their hands up and say, “Of course reactionary rage is going to flow like mighty waters against an African-American president! What can we possibly do about that?” But it’s crucial to realize that the vituperation directed at Obama is little different from that aimed at John F. Kennedy, who was so hated by the right that his assassination was initially assumed by most observers to have been done by a conservative; or Bill Clinton, who was warned by Helms in 1994 that if he visited a military base in North Carolina, he’d “better have a bodyguard.”
According to Perlstein, the vituperation aimed at Obama “is little different from that aimed at” Kennedy and Clinton. But hold on! As he continues, Perlstein seems to say that the vituperation aimed at those earlier presidents was “soaked in racism.”

To Perlstein, today’s vituperation is no different because all of this vituperation has been based on race. See our earlier post.

Can we talk? We liberals are in love with the claim that Obama is being reviled due to race. Presumably, that’s true in some cases, and maybe even in many cases, just as Winfrey said.

But “many” is a highly imprecise term. Meanwhile, our modern pseudo-liberal R-bombing tends to be sweeping and indiscriminate. When we pseudo-liberals bomb, we tend to employ carpet bombing.

With that in mind, let’s see where Charles Blow went when he discussed Winfrey’s statement.

In Saturday’s column, Blow quoted the heart of what Winfrey had said. As he continued, he asked a very basic question, then began to muse:
BLOW (11/16/13): With that remark, Winfrey touched on an issue that many Americans have wrestled with: To what extent does this president’s race animate those loyal to him and those opposed? Is race a primary motivator or a subordinate, more elusive one, tainting motivations but not driving them?

To some degree, the answers lie with the questioners. There are different perceptions of racial realities. What some see as slights, others see as innocent opposition. But there are some objective truths here. Racism is a virus that is growing clever at avoiding detection. Race consciousness is real. Racial assumptions and prejudices are real. And racism is real. But these realities can operate without articulation and beneath awareness. For those reasons, some can see racism where it is absent, and others can willfully ignore any possibility that it could ever be present.
Perhaps Blow didn’t mean to do so. But as he framed his question, he seemed to assume that opposition to Obama has to be motivated by race, in every instance.

For Blow, the question is this: is race a primary motivator? Or is its influence subordinate—does it merely “taint” the motivations of those who oppose Obama?

That formulation leaves nobody out. According to Blow, the motives of people opposed to Obama have at best been “tainted” by race.

Perhaps that isn’t what Blow meant. Beyond that, his distinction is rather fuzzy. Based on reactions in comments, very few readers noticed the fact that Blow seemed to say that people “loyal to” Obama must be motivated by race too, in every instance.

Perhaps that isn’t what he meant. But that is what he said

Whatever! As Blow proceeds in the passage we have quoted, he lists a set of “objective truths” which sometimes fall short of that designation. But as he closes the passage, he adopts a constructive stance:

Once again, he casts himself in the role of honest broker. Quite correctly, he says that some people “can see racism where it is absent.” (In our view, liberal thought leader should state this fact more often.) He then makes a slightly stronger claim: Some people “can willfully ignore any possibility that [racism] could ever be present.”

To this point, Blow is playing the honest broker; he’s noting the fact that people can err in equal but opposite ways. And then, if we might borrow from Dylan, he throws it all away.

Blow has been playing honest broker—but now, he is swallowed by tribe. As he continues, this is the sole example with which he illustrates his even-handed, two-sided statement about the ways people can err:
BLOW (continuing directly): To wit, Rush Limbaugh responded to Winfrey’s comments in his usual acerbic way, lacking all nuance:

“If black people in this country are so mistreated and so disrespected, how in the name of Sam Hill did you happen? Would somebody explain that to me? If there’s a level of disrespect simply because he’s black, then how, Oprah, have you managed to become the—at one time—most popular and certainly wealthiest television personality? How does that happen?”

No one has ever accused Limbaugh of being a complex thinker, but the intellectual deficiency required to achieve that level of arrogance and ignorance is staggering.

Anyone with even a child’s grasp of race understands that for many minorities success isn’t synonymous with the absence of obstacles, but often requires the overcoming of obstacles. Furthermore, being willing to be entertained by someone isn’t the same as being willing to be led by them.
Blow offers no example of someone “seeing racism where it is absent.” Instead, he offers that statement by Limbaugh as an example of someone “willfully ignoring any possibility that it could ever be present.”

As he does, he directs a very high level of vituperation at Limbaugh. This vituperation inspired the large number of comments which insisted that Those People in The Other Tribe are a pack of stone racists—that the world won’t be safe for democracy until Those People have died.

Tribe overpowered race when Blow gave that sole example. In our view, tribe also swallowed race in Blow’s assessment of Limbaugh’s remarks. Those aren’t the remarks we would have made concerning Winfrey’s statement. But a perfectly sensible point is being advanced in Limbaugh’s comment.

As Bill O’Reilly would later do, Limbaugh assumed that Winfrey was suggesting that there is a high degree of racial reaction in the opposition to Obama. This isn’t a crazy way of interpreting Winfrey’s remarks.

If Limbaugh’s quoted remarks are read literally, he says there is no “level of disrespect” aimed at Obama “simply because he’s black.” Taken literally, that’s what Limbaugh said.

On its face, that claim would seem highly unlikely. It would justify Blow’s assertion that some people “can willfully ignore any possibility that racism could ever be present.”

On the other hand, if we take Blow’s words literally, he has said that any person who is loyal to Obama has motives which are “tainted” by race.

Taken literally, that’s what Blow said. And if we take Winfrey’s words literally, she has said virtually nothing at all. How much is “maybe many?”

When sensible people respond to speech, they don’t always take every statement literally. They may note the literal meaning of what has been said. But they will also listen for the apparent sense of what has been said.

On that basis, Limbaugh is observing a fact about American life that is worth observing: Oprah Winfrey is widely regarded as a good and decent, smart, wise person by a very wide range of white Americans.

That is a very good thing about the drift of American life. Before we start to “see racism where it is absent”—before we possibly start to overstate the amount of race hate aimed at Obama—it isn’t a terrible idea to remember that fact too.

Despite his honest broker framework, Blow doesn’t want to do that. He presents himself as honest broker, then quickly surrenders to tribe.

As he does, he is even willing to bust Winfrey back to the status of “entertainer.” Only a racist would do such a thing! Or so it can seem when demands of the tribe make us overheat.

Dr. Strangelove couldn’t keep his arm from shooting up from his side. In this particular column, Blow couldn’t resist the call of the tribe.

He started out playing it even, noting two ways people can err. But then, he then gave only one example. He forgot about those who see racism when it doesn’t exist. It felt so good and seemed so right to start name-calling Rush.

In this way, demands of the tribe defeat the attempt to stage a full discussion of race. And sure enough! In the very first comment to Blow’s column, he got a pure tribal reaction:

What a wonderful world it will be when “those people” have finally died! Meanwhile, don’t get that commenter wrong: We liberals are stone racists too!

Does this commenter possibly represent the example Blow failed to give? We would be inclined to say so. Meanwhile, variants of her tribal cry litter Blow’s 600 comments.

Her fiery death wish has been recommended by 425 readers. Only two comments have been recommended more.

Tomorrow, we’ll start with them.

Tomorrow: The joy of hate