I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, December 21, 2012

Campbell Brown: Queen of the Pearl Clutchers

The Reformy Ladies Sewing Circle and Pearl Clutching Society is apparently auditioning new members. Who better to join than the queen of teachers union bashers, Campbell Brown?
For example, the unions’ newest patron saint, education writer Diane Ravitch, wrote a post titled “The Hero Teachers of Newtown.” Just three days after the shooting, Ravitch described the teachers’ bravery not in individual terms, but by linking it to their union membership. The implication was clear: nonunion teachers would not have acted the same way. And if that weren’t enough, she used the dead to rant against teacher evaluations, tenure, and student testing. She also criticized Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy for supporting charter schools, saying, “Let us hope Governor Malloy learned something these past few days about the role of public schools in their communities. Newtown does not need a charter school. What it needs now is healing.” What a creative way to champion healing: divisive and ugly rhetoric. [emphasis mine]
First of all: does Campbell Brown know how to read? Ravitch's post describes, in great detail, the individual bravery of each of the teachers killed. Does Brown think her readers don't know how to follow a link? Or does she assume they have as little regard for the truth as she has?

Second: nowhere does Ravitch ever state, imply, or remotely suggest that nonunion teachers would have acted differently. What she did say - quite clearly, at least for those who understand basic English - was that these brave educators were career teachers and union members. Ravitch isn't saying nonunion teachers are bad people; she's saying unionized teachers are good people.

Now, why would Ravitch feel that she needed to point this out? Why would she think she had to make the point that these heroic educators were members of a union?

Maybe because of the rhetoric of people like Campbell Brown:
Under the headline “Campbell Brown: Teachers Unions Go to Bat for Sexual Predators,” the former NBC and CNN reporter writes a tale in The Wall Street Journal about teachers unions that are so darn awful, she says, that they protect members who are sexual predators.
The teachers unions, according to Brown, are “resisting almost any change aimed at improving our public schools.” And, she says, that “perhaps most damaging to the unions' credibility is their position on sexual misconduct involving teachers and students in New York schools.”
Unfortunately for Brown — and also for those being defamed by this nonsense — she’s wrong about the union position.
Much is being made by Brown critics that in her piece she did not disclose piece that her husband, Dan Senor, is on the board of Michelle Rhee’s anti-teachers union organization StudentsFirst. She should have, and it is not sexist to say so. But this is the least of the problems with this mess.
Without any evidence, she claims that teachers unions have allowed sexual predators to stay or return to the classrooms, and that the unions somehow control arbitrators who are chosen to deal with such cases. They don’t and they don’t.
She should have read the union contract, signed by the union and the city Department of Education, which makes clear that the union couldn’t protect a predator if it wanted to — which it wouldn’t. Besides, arbitrators are hired and approved by both the union and the department, and either side can move to get one fired. [emphasis mine]
That's Valerie Strauss, who goes on to cite a piece by Sarah Jaffe, who notes: "school districts not only have the authority to terminate teachers who commit sexual misconduct—they are required to."

And Jaffe, like Strauss, notes that Brown forgot all the rules of journalistic ethics when filing her piece:
There's no reason for a professional reporter not to know this. This contract was agreed to by Joel Klein, the former New York schools chancellor, and the teachers' union. Klein is now the chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's “fledgling education division” and is a board member ofStudentsFirst, the infamous anti-union organization led byscandal-plagued former Washington, DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Also on the board of StudentsFirst? Dan Senor, Campbell Brown's husband.
Though Brown denied that StudentsFirst had anything to do with her Op-Ed and her TV appearance, StudentsFirst sent an angry email to supporters when Brown's connection to their organization (whose talking points she's parroting) was pointed out by, among others, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. StudentsFirst claimed that questioning Brown's connection to their organization was “sexism.”
Gee, think Campbell Brown might hold a grudge against teachers unions?
It is sexist, apparently, to ask where one's household gains its income, and whether that should have been disclosed in Brown's Op-Ed or in her television appearance. Yet male reporters from theWashington Post's education columnistto the Nation's Christopher Hayes have felt the need to disclose possible conflicts of interest to their audiences.Brown herself has disclosed in other appearances that Senor is, for instance, anadviser to Mitt Romney, but there's no mention of her connection to an organization that makes its living bashing teachers' unions—indeed, her credentials as a journalist are the only qualifications she has for her to pose as an expert on sexual misconduct in schools.
Zachary Pleat at Media Matters pointed out, additionally, that one of the two teachers Brown quotes in her piece has blogged for StudentsFirst, making the connection a bit more explicit. [emphasis mine]
Lovely. And you know who else took Brown to task for her shoddy reporting and shoddy ethics? Diane Ravitch, who linked approvingly to a great piece on Brown's hypocrisy by a friend of this blog, rlratto. Again: you think Brown might be holding a grudge here?

I'll say about Brown what I said about the other reformy types who got the vapors because Ravitch made an obvious connection:

I'd take your complaints about how "reprehensible" Ravitch is a lot more seriously if you weren't part of a culture of teacher- and union-bashing yourself.

Only the willingly blind would attempt to make the case that teacher- and union-bashing hasn't reached epidemic proportions. So when the best of us make the ultimate sacrifice, no one should be shocked when we "claim them for our own."

Campbell Brown was happy to go on a media tour when it came time to make wild, unsubstantiated claims about teachers unions. For her to clutch at her pearls now - when Ravitch and Lewis are saying that Newtown proves hatred of teachers unions is unwarranted - is simply absurd.



ADDING: Peter Hart at FAIR puts it well:
In Brown's mind, Ravitch was obsessed with their union membership: "The implication was clear: Nonunion teachers would not have acted the same way." In reality, the mention of the teachers' union comes after her tribute to the teachers' heroism:
Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union.
And why did she bring this up at all? Because in our public debate over public schools, teachers' unions have been singled out as the obstacle to success and "reform," because they "don't care about kids."  Ravitch reminds readers that the governor of Connecticut had recently derided the tenure system, which he said awards teachers just for showing up.
To Campbell Brown, Ravitch is just like Huckabee and Dobson, "so dogmatic, so tendentious, and so drawn to bitter and contentious debates that they cannot help but use dead children as weapons in their culture wars." It's an absurd and disgusting comparison.  Brown has bashed teachers' unions before; ironically, in a piece criticizing others for trying to score political points during a tragedy, she does exactly the same thing.