Part 3—What ever happened to standards: As the so-called “worst generation” of journalists exits the stage, they are often being replaced by eager young Ivy League kids.
These replacements come from the finest schools, though you wouldn’t necessarily discern this fact from their frequently horrible work.
In some settings, these bright young kids are simply accepting the broken norms of their establishment news orgs. At the Washington Post, Philip Rucker (Yale 2006) recently became head spear-chucker in his newspaper’s never-ending jihad against the Clintons. At the same newspaper, Catherine Rampell (Princeton 2007) found herself worried by Chelsea Clinton’s “lucrative speaking career”—a lucrative career from which Chelsea Clinton reportedly hasn’t kept a single red cent.
In such cases, the so-called “new kids on the lawn” seem to be getting themselves in line with their owners’ preferred story lines. Elsewhere, though, we’ve often been struck by the lousy technical work which ensues when major news orgs hand the reins to very young Ivy League kids.
Very quickly, let’s consider the way the so-called “new kids on the lawn” have discussed some basic public school issues.
Last November, we discussed some woeful education reporting in The Atlantic, a storied American publication. To review our critique, you can just click here, then click once or twice more.
For today, let’s consider who did the reporting in question, which we think was rather inept.
The report in question was written by Julia Ryan, Harvard 2013. That’s right! Ryan graduated from Harvard in June of last year. By November, she was bungling basic education reporting for a storied publication.
What made The Atlantic think that Ryan was qualified to interpret the basic statistics which come with the public schools beat? We don’t know, but Ryan’s editor was Eleanor Barkhorn, Princeton 2006.
This was her official bio:
THE ATLANTIC: Eleanor Barkhorn is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Education Channel. She previously edited the Sexes and Entertainment channels. Before coming to The Atlantic, she was a reporter at the Delta Democrat Times in Greenville, Mississippi. She graduated from Princeton University, where she majored in American literature and wrote her senior thesis about Oprah's Book Club. For her first two years out of college, she taught high school English with the Teach For America program.Ryan was straight outta Harvard. Barkhorn was seven years outta Princeton, where she wrote her senior thesis on Oprah’s book club.
However gaudy their diplomas may have seemed, Ryan and Barkhorn didn’t seem ready to create an informed discussion of the nation’s most basic educational statistics. In fairness, this problem extends all through the mainstream press corps, which tends to stick to familiar themes of educational decline, even in the face of the most reliable statistical evidence.
People from the finest schools putter around on the public schools beat, failing to identify the groaning conflict between our rapidly rising NAEP scores and the gloomy, teacher-hating scripts which dominate elite discourse. Despite their gaudy Ivy degrees, these young journalists don’t seem able (or willing) to do the most basic reporting, which would undermine the elite press corps' most favored educational themes.
We’ve often torn our hair over the work of Motoko Rich, the New York Times’ education reporter. Rich, who can’t be called a “new kid,” is said to have been summa cum laude at Yale in the early 1990s.
Meanwhile, Dana Goldstein (Brown 2006) is a full-fledged education writer at various liberal publications. According to the leading authority, she’s a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation and a Puffin Fellow at The Nation Institute!
Impressive diplomas to the side, have you ever seen these new and slightly older kids challenge the prevailing theme about our floundering public schools? Have you ever seen them push back against this ubiquitous, billionaire-favored theme with the most elementary statistical work?
(Concerning Gail Collins’ embarrassing groaners about public schools, let’s not even go there today. In theory, Collins is one of the Sam-and-Cokies whose groaning work on public schools these “new kids” should be challenging.)
A fresh young face and an Ivy degree do not guarantee expertise, journalistic skill or even basic forthrightness. Consider the disappointing work of Bryce Covert, Brown 2006.
At present, Covert is Economic Policy Editor at Think Progress, a progressive org. Before that, she was a contributor at The Nation and at Forbes Woman, where she wrote weekly blog posts on economics, politics and women's issues.
We were disappointed by Covert’s recent piece on the gender wage gap at The New Republic. Right from her opening paragraph, we thought she did a lousy job establishing a basic distinction—the distinction between 1) the gap in earnings between men and women and 2) the amount of that gap which may result from discrimination.
This is a very basic distinction. If you can’t (or won’t) explain it clearly, you’re likely to do very fuzzy work about the actual problems which exist in this area.
We thought Covert’s recent piece for The New Republic was extremely fuzzy. Looking back, the analysts found this earlier piece on the same topic, also for TNR.
We’ll admit it! Covert’s work in that April 2014 piece made several of the analysts cry.
According to current research, how much of the gender wage gap can be attributed to possible discrimination?
Everyone knows that women who work full-time (35 hours or more) earn only 77 percent as much as men earn, on average. But after you adjust for basic factors like type of employment, degree of seniority and hours worked above 35 hours, how much of that missing 23 cents might stem from discrimination?
That is a grindingly basic distinction in this important policy area. How many readers understood the answer which Covert provided, or seemed to provide, or may perhaps have meant to provide, in the murky passage shown below, which appeared late in her piece?
COVERT (4/29/14): There’s also research that points to discrimination as a factor in that 23 percent difference between men’s and women’s earnings. When economists examine the gap and control for all measurable factors, there remains a residual portion they can’t explain. For the Government Accountability Office, that portion was 20 percent. For economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, it was 41 percent. It’s in this unexplainable portion where discrimination may be leaving its mark.Do you understand what that passage says? We can’t swear that we do. But simply from reading that text in normal ways, we assume it means the following:
What Covert’s text seems to say:If that is what that passage means, then Covert is saying this: The part of the wage gap which may result from discrimination is currently set at anywhere from 4.6 cents on the dollar (GAO) to 9.4 cents on the dollar (Blau and Kahn).
According to Blau and Kahn, 41 percent of the 23 cents can’t be explained in standard ways. According to the GAO, 20 percent of the 23 cents can’t be explained in such ways.
Is that what Covert is saying? If so, why didn’t she say it? Beyond that, why didn’t editors at The New Republic insist that she clarify that passage, which is extremely murky in highly familiar ways?
Covert has an Ivy degree. Until next month, she’s under 30. But her work is strikingly murky, and it’s being published by major orgs which are supposed to be progressive and/or smart.
Why in the world is The New Republic putting such murky work into print? Is it possible that its Ivy-credentialed editors are just a bunch of underwhelming “new kids on the lawn” too?
Tomorrow: When new kids are cast in partisan roles. Also, as the new kids see themselves (two examples)