Ever so slowly our journalists turn!


Yglesias talks about narrative:
To answer the question we most frequently get:

Yes, we had a surge protector! As with the pocket protectors of old, it seems they don't always work.

Moving right along:

We've spent the past few weeks living in 1980 (or before). We still had a working radio and a daily hard-copy newspaper, but not a whole lot else.

In some ways, the experience could be seen as cleansing. This Monday night, we started watching cable news again. When we did, we were struck by its practiced foolishness even more than before.

That practiced foolishness isn't necessarily restricted to cable. As we start our labors again, we have a substantial list of topics we'd like to explore.

Let's start with a major policy area. That back-to-school piece in last Sunday's Washington Post was a (highly familiar) piece for the ages. For our previous post, click here.

As we've endlessly noted down through the years, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggest major achievement gains by all major parts of our student population. Black and Hispanic students have persistently recorded score gains. White students have been recording score gains too.

On Monday, we posted the score gains recorded by black and Hispanic fourth graders in math since the 2000 testing. These score gains seem to be large, but very few people have ever heard about them, or about the larger set of score gains (dating to the 1970s) of which they're just one part.

Based on their repeated performance, the New York Times and the Washington Post would rather shut down operations than tell the public about those persistent score gains. Instead, we're persistently told that nothing is working in our schools—that our schools are an ungodly mess.

Down through the years, we've developed a counter-intuitive term to describe this type of journalistic behavior. Brace yourselves, because here it comes:

"Not recognizably human."

Not recognizably human! How can it be that our major news orgs refuse to report these persistent score gains? Cynics could postulate theories, of course. But we'd have to say that the basic journalistic behavior is not recognizably human.

Understandably, some people are put off by that characterization. We think their reaction is understandable. But in its essence, we think their reaction is wrong.

Not recognizably human! That characterization enters our head when we see such basic information persistently disappeared. And please understand: Everyone agrees that the NAEP is "the gold standard" of domestic educational testing. Our big newspapers cite NAEP data quite routinely. But they only cite the achievement gaps; they refuse to cite the persistent gains which have been recorded by all major demographic groups.

(When all major groups record score gains, the so-called achievement gaps remain, though at a higher level. For the record, the gaps are smaller today than they were in the past.)

They report the gaps, disappear the gains! At some point, we'd have to say that this journalistic conduct is not recognizably human.

A cynic would tell you that our news orgs are adhering to a certain "narrative," or preferred elite story-line, when they pick and choose their basic facts in this otherwise puzzling way. For many years, we've told you this:

Our mainstream journalism tends to be narrative all the way down. That's true in the coverage of public schools. It's also true in the coverage of candidates.

From 1999 on, we've begged the rest of the liberal world to challenge the way the mainstream press constructs controlling story-lines about presidential candidates. A cynic would tell you that career liberal journalists have refused to do this because their career paths run through the major newspapers and broadcast news orgs which have engaged in this conduct.

Have journalists refused to heed our cry in service to their own careers? Such behavior would be human, all too human! At any rate, ever so slowly, it seems to us that a few liberal journos have started to turn. Tomorrow, we'll start with a new piece by Matt Yglesias, a piece which appears beneath this headline at Vox:

"Colin Powell’s foundation and Hillary Clinton’s are treated very differently by the media"

Yglesias' piece concerns the type of journalistic narrative we've been discussing since 1999. We were struck by the salience of the piece, and by the high levels of courtesy it extends toward the unnamed journalists whose work it samples and cites.

Ever so slowly, have we started to turn? On the merits, that Yglesias piece is very important. It also arrives very late in the game, and it's just one highly salient drop in a very deep sea.

Tomorrow: More on the Yglesias piece

Coming this afternoon: Chozick recalls Lewinsky


  1. I'm no expert in such matters, but as I understand it from something I was told many years ago, after the first "surge" those "protectors" become essentially extension cords. For true protection you need something more substantial,such as a "line stabilizer."

    1. Also, don't keep a surge protector in your shirt front pocket.
      Bob Gardner

    2. My guess is Bob thought he had a surge protector. In fact, he bought it on sale at Home Depot for $5.99.

    3. I think that was about the price Hillary paid for her surge protector.

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