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Education Truthiness: Media Spotlight


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    Media Matters and AlterNet Are Mostly Out to Lunch on Education Coverage

    By Susan Ohanian

    Media Matters billed it as The Worst Media Failures on Public Education in 2015 and AlterNet repeated it.

    They're wrong.

    Picking away at the likes of Campbell Brown and Fox News as the worst media failures does those who care about public education a disservice. It just serves as a distraction from the fact that we need to examine carefully how the so-called legitimate press covers education.

    I have to admit that I don't think of either Campbell Brown or Fox News when I think of "media," but, in any case, launching a general complaint about who gets hired by Campbell Brown looks like whining, not news analysis.

    Of 24,563 items on my site, Campbell is mentioned in 11, Fox News in 96.

    The Media Matters writer gets more detailed in accusations against the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post editorial boards--as well as some other editorial offerings from across the country. But I found it astounding that Editorial and OpEd columnists at New York Times are conspicuously absent from criticism. None could be more corporate in their school lens than this crew.

    Readers expect editorials to be opinionated. I get ticked off by New York Times editorials and get really really angry when they let Frank Bruni or Nicholas Kristof or Thomas Friedman spout off with their singular notions of what's wrong with schools. But I'm much more concerned about media bias in what travels as general news coverage. After all, that part of the paper is supposed to be measured and impartial. I call the New York Times to task fairly frequently, my latest criticism being Awarding Diplomas: Damned if You Don't.

    Citing Campbell Brown and Fox News as the worst media violations of education coverage is not just superficial and maybe even silly; it's dangerous. It lets news organizations commonly regarded as reputable off the hook. I mean, what do reasonable people expect from Campbell Brown and Fox News? And throwing darts certainly won't convert any of their fans.

    We expect better from The New York Times, and since their slant is more subtle, it needs more careful attention. This kind of attention requires a lot more work than taking a swipe at Campbell Brown or Fox News.

    Most astounding is the absence of Education Week from this list of media failures. Years ago, in One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards I started out Chapter 7 with this question: "Who Put Education Week in charge of the world?" I detailed the bias traveling as information as they published a report of corporate cronyism that set themselves up as the chief Standardistos in the land. Since then, the paper has grown increasingly dependent on moneys from foundations with a very specific axe to grind. A publication may occasionally nip at the fingers that feed them, but you can bet they won't bite down in investigative probes that matter. What they don't cover is as perhaps more revealing than what they do cover.

    Another Media Matters complaint--the fact that moderators ignored K-12 education issues throughout the 2015 presidential debate season--is very legitimate and troubling. And I thank the writer for her specificity here.

    A Media Matters search of all eight full debate transcripts found only nine mentions of any variation of the term "teach." In fact, according to this review, no candidate or moderator uttered the phrases "No Child Left Behind," "Race To The Top," or "Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)" throughout the 2015 debate season....

    The moderators just plain don't give a damn. And the candidates don't see anything to gain. So we get silence. I hope we don't let them get away with it. Nor can we remain silent about the media version of truthiness.

    NOTE: I try to avoid linking to a book on Amazon but since they still allow a reader to brows in my book, I offer a link, with apologies. If you put "male baboons" into the 'search' at Amazon, you'll get a laugh.

    And if you put "in charge of the world" into a search (be sure to put it in quotes), you can read my criticism of Education Week's, arrogant declarations about which teachers in the country are skilled enough to teach to higher standards. My criticism is amazingly/depressingly up-to-date.

    — Susan Ohanian
    January 06, 2016

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