The New York Times cites a pro-charter school group without disclosing its ties

The New York Times, in a story on President-elect Joe Biden’s education priorities, quotes Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, as saying she’s “worried that the Biden administration might stack the government with people who are ‘interested in fortifying the status quo that has been failing so many of our kids.’” Rodrigues continues:

This is the biggest table right now, and I don’t see parent groups, family groups, community groups present…. It seems we’re back to the same old, “We’re going to do things to you, not with you.”

So what is the National Parents Union? All the Times has to say is that it “represents low-income parents and parents of color.” But here’s what UMass Boston Professor Maurice Cunningham reported when the organization was getting off the ground in April 2019:

Keri Rodrigues of Massachusetts Parents United, the highly subsidized-by-the-Walton-family front in the education privatization business, is pitching a new organization called the National Parents Union. It’s got elements that should appeal to the WalMart heirs — hidden money, infiltration of the Democratic Party, pro-charters, privatization of public goods, and virulently anti-union.

In 2016 Rodrigues was the head of a group called Families for Excellent Schools, which pushed a ballot question that would have greatly expanded the number of charter schools in the state, thus inflicting further damage on the vast majority of kids who’d be left behind. Fortunately, that measure was defeated decisively.

The Times needs to do a better job of vetting — and describing — its sources. (Disclosure: My wife is teaches in a public school and is a proud union member.)

Correction: This item originally misidentified the organization behind the 2016 ballot question.

Comments are open. Please include your full name, first and last, and speak with a civil tongue.

With the outcome out of our hands, this would be a good time to relax — if you can

Photo (cc) 2020 by Adam Schultz/Biden for President

Twenty-eight years ago today, also a Sunday, I got up in the pre-dawn hours in order to drive a neighbor to the airport. Before returning home, I stopped at my favorite diner, ordered breakfast and spread out that day’s New York Times. The coverage pointed to a victory by Bill Clinton over President George H.W. Bush and Texas businessman Ross Perot. Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

The news in today’s Times foretells a similar outcome. The latest Times/Sienna College poll of likely voters shows Joe Biden with a lead over President Trump in four key battleground states — Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Only Florida seems close enough that it could slip away. With the FiveThirtyEight model giving Biden a 90% chance of winning and The Economist up to 95%, there is plenty of reason to be hopeful that we can finally put Trump in the rear-view mirror.

And yes, we all know what happened four years ago. Shocking as it was, though, Biden has held a larger, more durable lead over Trump than Hillary Clinton ever did. James Comey wasn’t around to deliver a late, devastating hit only to say “never mind.” The media have been smarter and more responsible about Trumpist disinformation, such as Tara Reade’s unsupportable allegations and the laptop that may or may not have belonged to Hunter Biden. Last week, NBC News even reported that documents circulating in the fever swamps of the right were not only fake, but had been produced by a fake company headed by a fake person whose fake face had been created using artificial intelligence.

In these final hours before the polls close on Tuesday, we are hearing lots of anxiety-inducing stories about voters being turned away, ballots getting lost and thugs in Texas threatening a Biden campaign bus, resulting in the cancellation of several Biden rallies. As disturbing as this is, I think we’d all be better off if we relaxed as best we can until it’s over. Have you voted? Will you vote? Good. For most of us, that’s all we can do.

Fortunately, Biden seems likely to win by a large enough margin to withstand whatever assault on the vote’s legitimacy Trump tries to mount. It’s not over till it’s over, of course. Right now, though, it looks like we can soon look forward to a victory by Biden and Kamala Harris — and to our country returning to some semblance of normal.

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No surprise: ‘Anonymous’ turns out to be one of Kelly’s former aides

Click here to watch video.

I had thought from the beginning that “Anonymous,” the Trump administration official who torched President Trump in a New York Times op-ed piece in 2018, was someone close to John Kelly. And so it is: Miles Taylor, the 33-year-old former chief of staff of the Department of Home Security, Kelly’s first stop before becoming Trump’s chief of staff.

Why a Kelly aide? “Anonymous” came across as enthusiastic about Trump’s vicious right-wing policies, calling to mind Josh Marshall’s description of Kelly as an example of “Total Quality Trumpism.” In other words, Kelly and his allies were mainly appalled by Trump’s behavior and indiscipline, not by his record. As “Anonymous” wrote at the time:

To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous….

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.

As for whether Taylor qualifies as a “senior official in the Trump administration,” as the Times described him when it published his op-ed, well, I’d say more no than yes. Chief of staff of a Cabinet department is not nothing, but I don’t think it’s what people imagine when they hear the phrase “senior official.”

I’d chalk it up as yet another in a pile of misjudgments by former editorial-page editor James Bennet.

Also: Chris Cuomo doesn’t seem to like Taylor too much. Click here or in the caption above to watch.

Correction. Kelly’s first name now fixed.

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Making endorsements relevant in the digital age

The Boston Globe and The New York Times today endorse Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president. No surprise, of course. But the two editorials — especially the Globe’s — are indications of how newspapers are trying to keep the hoary old tradition of endorsements relevant in the 21st century.

First, it’s early. Traditionally, newspapers endorse as close to Election Day as possible, partly for maximum impact, partly to reduce the number of days that their news reporters have to labor under the burden of reporting fairly on candidates whom their paper’s opinion pages had spurned.

No more. These days, Election Day is merely the last day that you can vote. Early voting and mail-in balloting are already under way. If endorsements are going to have any influence at all, they need to be published before the majority of people have voted. And that’s now.

Second, digital media often obliterate the distinction between news and opinion. At large papers like the Times and the Globe, the editorial and news operations are separate. And sure enough, the front pages of today’s print editions don’t even mention that their editorial pages are endorsing — not even in the teases at the bottom of the page.

Yet the Times home page notes that the editorial section is endorsing Biden, a function of the Times’ opinion highlights in the right-hand rail. And the Globe actually leads the home page with its endorsement (see above). Savvy news consumers, especially those who came of age during the print era, won’t be confused. But not everyone is a savvy news consumer.

Third, though the Times endorsement is pretty old-fashioned and straightforward, the Globe’s is innovative — an attempt, no doubt, to get beyond the reality that everyone knew the Globe was going to endorse Biden. They’ve given the editorial a vibrant digital treatment. More interesting still, they’ve got 12 separate mini-editorials addressing different types of voters — the “business voter,” the “disenchanted Trump voter,” the “religious voter” and the like.

I’ve always doubted that newspaper endorsements can sway voters in presidential races; they are more influential in less visible contests in which readers don’t necessarily know much about the candidates. But Globe editorial-page editor Bina Venkataraman and her crew deserve credit for breaking out of the box of the old-fashioned endorsement.

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Nestor Ramos, recently promoted at the Globe, leaves for The New York Times

Nestor Ramos (via The New York Times)

Nestor Ramos, only recently promoted to the masthead at The Boston Globe, is leaving to become an assistant editor on The New York Times’ metro desk. He’ll begin next month, according to a press release from the Times.

In late August, Ramos was named the Globe’s senior assistant managing editor for local news. Although his job — city editor — remained essentially the same, the enhanced title made him the first Latino to be named to the news-side masthead. Editor Brian McGrory referred to the promotion as “a straight-up acknowledgement of his enormous impact on the room and our coverage.”

On Friday, in an email to the staff sent along by a trusted source, McGrory sounded unhappy over the steady stream of Globe reporters and editors who’ve been lured to the Times. While congratulating Ramos and calling his departure a “sizable loss,” McGrory went on to note that “the pattern of the Times grabbing our journalists is getting old, something I just pointed out to the good people of the Times. I choose to take it as a compliment and hope you do as well.”

It’s worth noting that Carolyn Ryan, herself a former Globe metro editor, is in charge of recruitment at the Times.

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Wall St. Journal’s newsroom calls out opinion section over Pence’s COVID falsehoods

The Wall Street Journal’s excellent newsroom is calling out its often-nutty opinion section. The Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus reports that an op-ed by Vice President Mike Pence earlier this week in which he praised the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 had some, uh, problems:

Mr. Pence wrote that as of June 12, Project Airbridge had delivered more than 143 million N95 masks, 598 million surgical and procedural masks, 20 million eye and face shields, 265 million gowns and coveralls and 14 billion gloves.

According to FEMA data, through June 18 the program had delivered 1.5 million N95 masks, 113.4 million surgical masks, 2.5 million face shields, 50.9 million gowns, 1.4 million coveralls and 937 million gloves. The total number of those supplies is about 7% — or one-thirteenth — of the numbers cited in Mr. Pence’s article.

We talked about the Journal’s decision to publish Pence’s dubious propaganda Friday on “Beat the Press” (above). At the time, I thought the problem was more a matter of absurdly optimistic spin in the face of rising infection rates in many states rather than factual inaccuracies. I may be been giving Pence too much credit.

I still think Sen. Tom Cotton’s recently op-ed in The New York Times was worse, since he falsely claimed antifa involvement in Black Lives Matter protests in order to justify military attacks on Americans.

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Bennet’s out as newsrooms come to terms (or not) with Black Lives Matter

Photo (cc) 2010 by samchills.

At least at the moment, I have little to add to the story of James Bennet’s departure as editorial-page editor of The New York Times beyond what Ben Smith of the Times, Tom Jones of the Poynter Institute and Jon Allsop of the Columbia Journalism Review have written, and what I wrote last week.

As Smith, Jones and Allsop point out, Bennet’s misguided decision to run Sen. Tom Cotton’s ugly commentary advocating violence against protesters should be seen as part of a larger story that encompasses Wesley Lowery’s unfortunate experience at The Washington Post, the resignation of Philadelphia Inquirer executive editor Stan Wischnowski over his paper’s horrendous “Buildings Matter, Too” headline, and the right-wing Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s meltdown over Alexis Johnson, a Black reporter whom they claimed couldn’t be trusted to cover Black Lives Matter protests because of an innocuous tweet she had posted.

Because of the Times’ central place in our media culture, Bennet’s departure is the big story. As the coverage makes clear, Bennet lurched from one misstep to another during his time as editorial-page editor, so it would be a mistake to attribute his departure solely to the Cotton op-ed. I don’t think he ever fully recovered from his mishandling of a Bret Stephens column in which Stephens came very close to endorsing a genetic basis for intelligence.

Bennet will be replaced through the election on an interim basis by deputy editorial-page editor Katie Kingsbury, who won a Pulitzer when she was at The Boston Globe. Kingsbury is terrific, and I hope she’s given a chance to earn the job.

Finally, a semi-related incident involving the Globe. You may have seen this on the front of Sunday’s print edition:

There’s no question that the cover, which you can see here, would have been considered entirely inoffensive before a police officer killed George Floyd. Even now I’m not sure how many readers would have been outraged. Still, I think the Globe made the right call. An abundance of caution and sensitivity is what’s needed at the moment.

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No, The New York Times shouldn’t have published Tom Cotton’s ugly little screed

Sen. Tom Cotton. Photo (cc) 2013 by Gage Skidmore.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The New York Times may be rethinking its decision to publish Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s terrible, offensive op-ed piece endorsing the use of military force to crush the violent protests that have broken out around the country following the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Though Cotton’s essay was posted online Wednesday, it doesn’t appear in today’s print edition. And, at least at the moment, you have to scroll to the bottom of the digital opinion section in order to find it.

Should it have run? On the face of it, an op-ed by an influential Republican senator deserves consideration no matter how awful it might be. By tradition, newspaper opinion pages in the United States are ideologically diverse. Though the Times’ editorial pages are liberal, they also feature conservative columnists and, on occasion, provocative right-wing outside contributors like Cotton. Not every piece can or should cater to the views of the Times’ mostly liberal readership.

Editorial-page editor James Bennet defended his decision to run the piece. “Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy,” he tweeted. “We understand that many readers find Senator Cotton’s argument painful, even dangerous. We believe that is one reason it requires public scrutiny and debate.”

But not every opinion deserves to be aired. Presumably the Times would not run an op-ed by a white supremacist calling for a return to Jim Crow laws, or a communist who wants to send billionaires to forced-labor camps.

Cotton’s piece isn’t quite that bad. But here are three reasons that it shouldn’t have run.

First, by calling for government-sanctioned violence against protesters, Cotton may be endangering lives. A number of Times employees took to Twitter to blast the piece. The Washington Post reports: “Several tweeted the same message — ‘Running this puts Black @nytimes staffers in danger’ — with a screen shot of the editorial’s headline, ‘Tom Cotton: Send In The Troops.'”

Second, just two days earlier Cotton took to Twitter and demanded, “No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.” As The Bulwark notes, “The phrase ‘no quarter’ means killing enemy combatants rather than taking any prisoners.” Cotton, a retired Army captain, presumably knows that’s a war crime. Bennet should have told Cotton he had disqualified himself when the senator came peddling his op-ed.

Third, Cotton makes a dangerous, unsubstantiated claim in his op-ed — that “cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa [are] infiltrating protest marches to exploit Floyd’s death for their own anarchic purposes.” That echoes rhetoric from President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr, but there is no evidence of it, according to The Associated Press. Again, where were Bennet and the other editors? As the oft-cited Daniel Patrick Moynihan rule would have it, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

I thought Bina Venkataraman, The Boston Globe’s editorial-page editor and herself a Times alum, put it well in a thread Wednesday night, writing that “there is a distinction btw a ‘provocative’ opinion that ought to be aired & a dangerous point of view like Cotton’s that already had the largest megaphone in the country: the bully pulpit occupied by the president of the United States.”

She added: “The Cotton oped neither enriches understanding nor offers new ideas — nor does it even break news; everyone paying attention already knew the senator fell in line with the president.”

 

So no, Cotton’s piece shouldn’t have been published — not because Times readers shouldn’t be exposed to views with which they disagree, but because it was an ugly little screed that failed to meet basic ethical and journalistic standards.

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Lies, damn lies and statistics

A front-page story in today’s New York Times suggests that Sweden hasn’t paid much of a price for its blasé attitude toward COVID-19. Here is the key paragraph supporting that premise:

Sweden’s death rate of 22 per 100,000 people is the same as that of Ireland, which has earned accolades for its handling of the pandemic, and far better than in Britain or France.

Yet Times columnist Thomas Friedman tells a completely different story:

As USA Today noted: “Sweden has a population of 10 million people, about twice as large as its nearest Scandinavian neighbors. As of April 28, the country’s Covid-19 death toll reached 2,274, about five times higher than in Denmark and 11 times higher than in Norway.” Nursing home residents account for more than a third of all deaths.

And get this: Friedman supports the Swedish approach, arguing that it’s the only way we’re going to build herd immunity. Yet the World Health Organization recently reported that we don’t know whether people who’ve recovered from COVID can get it again. Needless to say, if there’s no immunity, there will be no herd immunity.

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Do newspaper endorsements matter? Why a hoary tradition may be near its end

My Northeastern colleague Meg Heckman has written an important thread about political endorsements by news organizations. Her starting point is the Concord Monitor’s unusual decision not to endorse in the New Hampshire primary. (Heckman is a former editor at the Monitor.) Please read it and come back.

The Monitor’s non-endorsement is not the only break with the past that we’ve seen in recent weeks.

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