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Meeting the Challenge of Education Reform

The Providence Journal editorial board is (let’s just say) very forceful on the subject of Rhode Island students’ test results:

The weak and timid reforms he and Gov. Gina Raimondo have advanced, while soothing to special interests, have been plainly insufficient. It is time for a shakeup at the Rhode Island Department of Education and the state Board of Education. Will anyone have the decency to resign for having failed our young people?

Robert Walsh of the National Education Association and Francis Flynn of the American Federation of Teachers have, similarly, served Rhode Island students abysmally. Union leaders in civic-minded Massachusetts understand that an education system is about more than providing salaries and benefits for adults. We know there are many teachers who yearn for a sound, long-term plan to improve standards.

It is a shame Rhode Island cannot simply shutter its Department of Education and hire Massachusetts to run the Ocean State’s public schools as a subset of its own. It at least knows how to do the job.

I saw editorial page editor Ed Achorn pushing back on Facebook against those who respond to these sentiments by pointing out that the Providence Journal endorsed Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo. Part of the editor’s response was that the paper has also implored her to improve her record on education, which I’m not sure quite meets the challenge.

Some of the entities that should be a check on government, like the state’s major newspaper, have this problem: They formulate their solutions as if we had a properly functioning state. Under such circumstances, a governor who had received the endorsement might change out of concern that she would lose it. In Rhode Island, she knows that she has nothing to fear.

Nobody who has secured a role of significance wants to throw down a gauntlet to make any bold changes to the way decisions are made in the state.

It isn’t sufficient to suggest, in passing, that somebody should resign over abysmal test scores. That outcome has to be important enough that advocates will ensure that insiders cannot achieve their other goals unless they address education.

That, incidentally, is win-win, because the insiders’ other goals are, on the whole, corrupt and oughtn’t be achieved, anyway. They need to be made to understand, however, that their only hope of keeping any of their ill-gotten gains is by making improvements in this area.

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Parsing “Advancing Political Interests” Versus “Crusading to Change the World”

Conservative writer Rod Dreher has an interesting post on the superficiality of news organizations’ obsession with “diversity,” but the most intriguing part might be something that he seems to miss entirely in these two paragraphs (emphasis in original):

To be fair, if news organizations made a concerted effort to recruit conservatives, they would have a hard time finding qualified candidates. That’s because journalism, for whatever reason, tends to disproportionately attract liberals. I wish that weren’t the case, but there it is. From what I’ve seen in nearly 30 years of working in professional journalism, conservatives who have an interest in the field are usually focused on opinion journalism. I’m generalizing here, and I haven’t been working in a newsroom in eight years, but I haven’t seen a lot of conservatives who are interested in journalism as journalism, journalism as a craft — this, as distinct from journalism as a vehicle for advancing their political interests.

Conservatives love to bitch about media bias, but they are much more reluctant to become journalists. You might say that that’s because they anticipate that the deck will be stacked against them in newsrooms, and there’s something to that. Mostly, though, I think that it’s because the craft of journalism, for whatever reason, tends not to attract conservatives, but it does tend to attract crusading liberals who want to change the world, and are willing to work in a profession where they won’t make much money in order to do it.

 

So conservatives aren’t interested in the craft of journalism, but in “advancing their political interests,” while liberals want to “crusade” and “change the world.”  What difference, I wonder, does Dreher see between advancing political interests and crusading to change the world?  Maybe what he meant to write is that liberals tend to be attracted to the craft of journalism, and some of them happen to be crusaders.  Even then, though, one might suggest that the distinction is only that liberals are more comfortable disguising their biases as they attempt to shape the world under the false pretense of objectivity.

Honestly, I’m not sure how one might estimate conservatives’ interest in journalism in a counterfactual reality in which they were able to present their own biases as objective truth through “the craft of journalism.”  But in our actual reality one might observe this tendency to assume their beliefs as fact among liberals in every industry.

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What If the Press Is Deserving of Mistrust?

A line in an op-ed by former Providence Journal columnist Edward Fitzpatrick has stuck in my head for the past few days:

There are near-daily additions to a dangerous “enemy-of-the-people” line of attack [against the mainstream media], which is chipping away at a cornerstone of our democracy.

“Chipping away at a cornerstone of our democracy.”  I wonder what Fitzpatrick thinks of the press’s role in demonizing President George W. Bush (including Dan Rather’s infamous Memogate), fawning over President Barack Obama, belittling the Tea Party, demonizing Republican Presidential Candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney (but only when they were running against Obama), and playing their part in the ongoing effort to delegitimize the current (legitimately elected) president.

Another line ought to have stuck in Fitzpatrick’s head, but he seems not even to have picked up on its true import (emphasis added):

Here in the home of the First Amendment, the last thing we should ever see is a U.S. president praising a politician who was convicted of assaulting a reporter. But that’s exactly what happened on Oct. 18, when Trump praised Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, for body-slamming a reporter in 2017. Trump said anyone who did such a thing was “my kind of guy.” Worse yet, the crowd cheered.

Now, Gianforte’s actions were wrong, and Trump’s lauding of them was callous, but:  “the crowd cheered.”  I’d suggest that the crowd was primed to cheer long before President Trump began using their attitude toward the media for his own advantage.  Those folks have long experience with the plain reality that, when it comes to any issue of importance to elite sensibilities or keeping liberal Democrats in power, the press is not above trying to use its cornerstone to shift democracy.

President Trump is too blunt and vehement in pushing back against the press, but a big contributor to his success has been the frustration of “the crowd” that nobody else would or could.  Perhaps rather than presenting that crowd as mindless drones manipulated by the president, Fitzpatrick and his peers should ask why the mainstream media lost their trust and what journalists and their employers could do to earn it back.

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What the Newspapers Emphasize

Just for fun, I’ll be keeping an eye on the Sakonnet Times’ coverage of the local election results.  Readers may recall that the paper decided that the first town budget fight that my friends and I lost after four straight victories was the only one worth reporting on the front page.  Moreover, the headline seemed to present me (like my most-aggressive opponents do) as some interloping enemy of the community:  “Voters favor Town vs. Katz.”

How will the paper cover our local electoral victory, which saw the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) gain control over the town council and the budget committee and led a rejection of ballot questions that would have limited voter control over the budget?  In Portsmouth, the Sakonnet Times‘ sister publication, the Portsmouth Times, proclaimed at the top:  “A big night for Democrats.”  Another East Bay RI paper, the Bristol Phoenix, went with, “Bristol voters choose new faces… and reward old favorites,” the majority of whom are Democrats.  In East Providence, Democrat Mayor-Elect Bob DaSilva got a triumphant photo under the headline, “Victory!”

The Sakonnet Times?  Well, nothing political.  To be fair, even though the Tiverton paper has the same publication date as the others, it apparently goes to press on Tuesday, before election results would be available.  Still, I haven’t heard from the paper, and neither has anybody else from TTA, to my knowledge.  An online article is mainly a short recitation of the numbers as they were earlier reported, although it does state that TTA “appears to have captured a majority.”

We’ll see what we see with next week’s edition.  Will the bold letters across the top of the paper read, “Tiverton Favors TTA”?  Maybe, “A big night for TTA.”  Or, “Taxpayers’ strong campaign pays off.”

I’d settle for “Victory!,” but I expect something much different.  Maybe the editors will go with the old standby of crediting “angry voters” for the results.  Or maybe the paper will decide that the election is already old news and bury the brief article somewhere beyond the front page, as it has done with the taxpayer budget victories.

Watchers of local news and politics can place their bets.

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A Journalism Panel at RIC Goes from Left to Lefter

A small note on a brief Providence Journal article about a panel discussion on journalism in the Trump Era, hosted by Rhode Island College.  Reporter Mark Reynolds conveys some of the comments from the panelists, but the key detail, for my money, is the list of panelists:

Jill Agostino is Deputy Editor, Special Sections of the New York Times.

Jennifer Bendery is a Senior Politics Reporter for HuffPost.

Josh Israel has been the Senior Investigative Reporter for ThinkProgress since 2012.

Ron Nixon is The New York Times’s Homeland Security Correspondent.

Ashley Parker is a White House reporter for the Washington Post and winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for her coverage of Russian Interference.

Paul Singer became Investigations Editor at WGBH in Boston and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting in March 2018.

In other words, the panel ran the gamut from… err… Left to Far Left.  Shouldn’t a college — especially a publicly funded college — make some effort to appear balanced?  I mean, apart from wanting to offer students a thorough education and a lesson in weighing different perspectives, that is.  A conservative journalist would have brought something completely different to the gathering, perhaps something surprising.

Some local color might have been helpful, too.  Local reporters across the spectrum might have had something to say about the increased difficulty of getting information from government agencies during the Raimondo Era.  When she came into office, the door closed quite a bit on our ability to get information directly from government employees without going through one of the many public relations specialists.

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Another Politically Convenient “Finding” That Might Not Be True

File this under “things you won’t hear proclaimed loudly in Rhode Island.”  It appears that the United States is not the world leader in mass shootings:

[Criminologist Adam] Lankford’s study reported that over the 47 years there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. Lankford hasn’t released his list of shootings or even the number of cases by country or year. We and others, both in academia and the media, have asked Lankford for his list, only to be declined. He has also declined to provide lists of the news sources and languages he used to compile his list of cases.

These omissions are important because Lankford’s entire conclusion would fall apart if he undercounted foreign cases due to lack of news coverage and language barriers.

When a researcher won’t provide the underlying data for his or her conclusions, that should be a major red flag.  The new Crime Prevention Research Center report puts the U.S. as having the 61st most mass shootings, not the first, behind (among others, obviously) Norway, Finland, Switzerland, and Russia.

But don’t expect reasonable doubts about Lankford’s assertions to gain much play.  His “findings” support a certain ideological position too cleanly.

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Does Regunberg Want Rhode Island to Confiscate the PawSox?

If anybody should not be skipping debates, it’s Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee.  Apart from his status as incumbent, he’s an experienced manager running against a far-left young guy who has just about no real-world experience.  He ought to seek out opportunities to illustrate the contrast.

The example that brought this advice to mind was the RIPR interview/debate that I mentioned the other day.  At one point, Regunberg responds to a question about the emigration of the PawSox to Worcester with this:

First of all, I just want to say that this is a really sad moment for our state.  It’s a sad moment for Pawtucket.  It’s a sad moment for families across Rhode Island to lose this icon from our state.  I think there’s blame to go around at the state level.  As you know, I supported the Senate proposal, which I think would have had a shot of keeping the team here, and the speaker did not.  What I get the most frustrated with, however, is this idea of a small group of millionaires and billionaires who are making that choice to take this treasure out of our state for their own profit maximization.  I don’t think that’s right.

Interviewers Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay didn’t follow up on this stunning statement, but McKee should have been there to do so.  Sure, progressives can declare that the decisions of people who act in their own interests with their own property are “not right,” but when those progressives are trying to win government offices, the matter cannot stop there.

What exactly would Regunberg propose to do about?  Effectively socialize the baseball team, with government taking it over?  Increase the corporate welfare that the state might have offered the team to stay… helping those “millionaires and billionaires” even more?

I contacted the candidate for a response to these questions, but he has not replied.  It’d be nice if journalists would pose such questions directly to young progressives while the microphone is already on, but in the absence of that, the duty falls to the opposing candidate.

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Avoiding the Social Media Soma

If you follow or read conservatives online, you’ve probably heard, over the past week, of strange goings on with Facebook.  Apparently, my friend and former Anchor Rising co-contributor Don Hawthorne was caught up in it:

Yesterday morning, Facebook took down all five of my posts, declaring each time that “We removed this post because it looks like spam and doesn’t follow our Community Standards.” …

Many Facebook friends have had the same experience yesterday, with no explanations.

Each time I got the message, I clicked on the “This Isn’t Spam” response option. Facebook replied, saying they needed to review the article to confirm it met Facebook Community Standards. They then came back and, each time, said it did meet standards and would be reposted.

After which, Facebook deleted several of my newly-reposted articles.

Don puts this in the context of the increasingly apparent online censorship of conservatives across platforms, noting:

There are escalating information asymmetries, enabled by technology companies.

Indeed, we have justification for worrying that the “personal social score” that China has begun applying to its people is something of a model.  However, while I agree with Don that “our  culture war is now fully out in the open,” crossing “the line from a voluntary civil society to a coercive political society,” I’m not so sure about this part:

The Left’s outsourcing of censorship to Silicon Valley technology companies leaves only one imperfect, time-sensitive solution—government-enforced deregulation—until there are more responsible leaders.

That “de” is probably not justifiably inserted in front of “regulation,” because regulation is what Don is after.  He’s not alone in thinking maybe the tech giants should face something resembling the breakup of a cartel, but I’m skeptical.  Ultimately, the solution is to get off of these platforms.  Put your genuine content somewhere else — on some conservative site or on your own site — and use social media only to draw people away from social media.

The tech giants are selling us an addiction to little fixes of attention and affirmation.  If we lower our doses just a little and use technology to build stronger, less manipulated relationships that require minimally more engagement with the actual world, we’ll find ourselves healthier for it, and freer.

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The Great News About Lost Welfare Benefits

Tom Mooney presents this with negative language, but it takes a bit of squinting to see the down side:

The state’s improving employment picture may cost more than 1,000 people their food assistance benefits later this year, says the state Department of Human Services.

Since 1996, federal rules have limited “able-bodied adults without dependents” to three months of food assistance within a three-year period. But those rules also exempted people living in communities whose unemployment rates were higher than the average national unemployment rate. …

Able-bodied adults without dependents who are working or enrolled in a work-training program may continue receiving benefits beyond three months, Pina said.

Let’s restate the facts.  “Able-bodied adults” — people who should be able to work — who do not have children and who do not have a job and refuse to enter work-training programs now can only receive food welfare for three months because the economy is doing well enough that jobs should be available.  Perhaps Mr. Mooney should explain to readers why such people should have an entitlement to unlimited benefits.

Of course, this is par for the course of all reporting on welfare.  The unstated presumption is that there is never any reason not to give people anything… presumably until they enter the upper middle class.

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Three Democrats, Only One Labeled

Maybe it’s a small thing… maybe a mere oversight in the rush to keep up with breaking news, but I find this Providence Journal staff article on fraud and tax evasion charges brought against former Pawtucket Senator James Doyle head-shaking.

Over the course of four paragraphs, the article tells readers about the charges and when he was elected, as well as his reference to issues with alcohol.  It also mentions that Doyle is “the son of a longtime Pawtucket mayor.”  The staff writer doesn’t tell us, however, that both the ex-senator and his father were Democrats.

What makes that weird is the final paragraph:

In April, Democrat Sandra C. Cano won a special election to fill Doyle’s former seat.

So why is the party of the woman who replaced the alleged malefactor noteworthy, but the party of the alleged malefactor himself is not?  Forgive my cynicism, but I can’t discount the possibility that the conscious or subconscious reason is to put the labeled Democrat, who is currently running for reelection against a Republican challenger, in contrast with the unlabeled Democrat.

Or maybe it’s just in the Projo’s style guide that misbehaving Democrats should only be labeled when it’s absolutely critical to the story, while Democrats running for office must always be labeled so voters know where to look for their names.

ADDENDUM (9:18 p.m. 8/16/18):

The Associated Press played “hide the party, too.”  Meanwhile, kudos to Rhode Island Public Radio’s Scott Mackay for not doing so.

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Reporting by OSC: Veteran Struck With Bike Lock By Antifa Rally Attendee

I want to share with you an outstanding piece of reporting done by our Ocean State Current on a violent politically-motivated assault of a veteran by an alleged member of Antifa last Saturday. The Current broke this important story, and brought Rhode Islanders the real message of what was happening.

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Dickinson Tries to Get the Projo’s Attention

A continual question for people who need to raise public awareness of their activities is whether what they’re doing is too insignificant to attract media attention or the media’s lack of attention makes their activities insignificant.  When my blogging first started to land me invitations to cover events, a Rhode Island media personality commented to me that if nobody covers it, it’s as if the event didn’t happen.

That principle has a limit.  If the media doesn’t cover events that actually are significant for a large number of people, entire undercurrents can weave through society and shoot up like geysers through the mainstream ignorance.  On the other hand, a geyser is easier to achieve if the media is digging.

Spencer Dickinson, a challenger to Governor Gina Raimondo in her Democrat primary, is trying to spur that sort of digging after a front-page Providence Journal story about business rankings over the weekend quoted only the other two candidates from his party.  From his press release:

Dickinson, who has a reputation as an innovative problem-solver, having designed and built the first solar panel and the first solar house in Rhode Island, will do more than comment on the national business rankings. He will present a brief framework of new approaches to economic development in response to Rhode Island’s national business rankings.

To make covering the full story easier for the Providence Journal reporters, the press conference will be held in front of the Journal offices at 75 Fountain Street in Providence.

A cynic might wonder whether the Providence Journal is trying to play the king-maker game, keeping Rhode Island’s First Female Governor™ in her aura of inevitability while leveraging Matt Brown to pull her to the Left.  It might be more fair, though, to observe that the Projo featured the two leading candidates from each party plus the only independent candidate who has any traction whatsoever.

Media attention and buzz feed into each other, so what will be most important for Dickinson is to find a way to leverage any coverage he can for greater gains in the public.  Trillo and Brown have buzz almost entirely because they might draw on newly prominent constituencies to disrupt their parties’ front runners, and Morgan has been campaigning strongly and prominently.  Dickinson and the rest of the Unquoteds need to build their undercurrents.

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Public Funding of the Press?

Here’s an interesting item, via former Providence Journal editorial page editor Robert Whitcomb:

In a very modest effort to help save local journalism, New Jersey is enacting a law that dedicates $5 million in state money to strengthen local media outlets. They’re very important as watchdogs in America’s decaying democracy. Political and other corruption rises as journalism fades.

I’m a bit skeptical about the premise.  So, we’ve got “very important… watchdogs” protecting us against “political and other corruption,” and the solution is to increase the extent to which they’re dependent upon government for funding?

The fact that the $5 million would be handed out by a consortium of universities is no comfort.  Even if they weren’t (at a minimum) dominated by public institutions, universities are overwhelmingly left-wing, which will color the news that they support.  Maybe fears about funding a government-news system could be somewhat abated if the consortium were a clever collection of balanced political and ideological interests, but the attempt isn’t even made.

In other words, a propaganda network doesn’t cease to be one simply because the funding passes through the hands of government’s reliable allies, who are also overwhelmingly allies of a particular political party.

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Memo to Brown Politics Experts: Distrust of Government Is Not New

Reading Kevin Andrade’s Providence Journal article on a poll just released by Brown University’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy, one might get the impression that Americans are newly distrustful of the federal government:

Democrats hold a nine-point lead heading into the midterm elections and one in five people distrust the federal government, a poll from Brown University found.

“I think so much is in play with the House race that it’s too soon to tell,” said Susan Moffitt, director of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy at Brown University, which conducted the poll.

“A lot could happen,” she said. “What’s more interesting to me is the distrust question. That’s going to be with us for a long time.”

Actually, the distrust has already been with us for a pretty long time.  According to Pew polls, one could accurately say that only one-in-five Americans has trusted the government consistently since 2009.  Taubman’s finding that trust in local government is much higher is also nothing new.

We’ll see where these numbers go over the next couple of years, but they seem to follow the economy to some degree, which suggests they might be on the upswing.  On the other hand, one could reasonably theorize that constant media attacks on Republican administrations have contributed to the two periods that trust has fallen this low — and everything we’re hearing about the FBI, lately, should suppress trust, too — so there will be downward pressure, as well.

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Whitewashing the Radicals to Make Them Representative

The headline to John Hill’s Providence Journal article alerts readers to the bias: “R.I. joins voices against separating families.”  In the view of the state’s major daily, these few hundred protesters represent the state.

With that as the underlying assumption, I suppose it isn’t surprising that Hill sanitizes the event so to make it palatable for those who aren’t as radical.  The only hint comes with this:

[Aarish Rojiani, of AMOR, the Alliance to Mobilize our Resistance,] added that it was no coincidence that the demonstration was held across the street from the ACI: Law-enforcement policies also separate families, he said.

For the real story, turn to comprehensive coverage from the progressive UpriseRI.  What Rojiani really meant when talking to the Providence Journal is that they want to end incarceration — that is, prisons.  Not only that, but these supposed representatives of Rhode Island want to get rid of borders and nations altogether.  That wasn’t just the view of fringe sign makers; a cheat sheet of chants that the organizers handed out puts “No borders, no nations! Stop attacking migration” as the very first one.  (Note that it’s not “immigration,” even though the rhythm begs for the extra syllable; they think our borders are illegitimate.)

And so it goes.  When conservatives rally, the mainstream narrative presents us as strange, extremist creatures.  When radicals rally, the mainstream narrative whitewashes their extremity to make them seem like the voice of goodness.

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A Local Hook for Restaurateur Discrimination

As local papers often do with national stories, the Providence Journal strove to provide local color to a growing trend in the area of Washington, D.C., of driving Trump Administration figures out of restaurants:

“I know hundreds of restaurant owners in R.I., and I can’t think of one that would turn someone away,” said Bob Bacon, owner of the Gregg’s restaurant and bakery chain and a past chairman of the R.I. Hospitality Association, an industry trade group.

“We are all thrilled to death to be given your business,” he said.

Presumably, reporter Gail Ciampa isn’t aware of Revival Brewing Company’s cancellation of an America’s Future Foundation event at the last minute for political reasons earlier this year, even though I wrote about it in her paper.

It’s very easy for restaurants to proclaim that they’d never turn people away, and it’s easy to find a group of them that would be telling the truth with that proclamation, but that doesn’t capture the reality.  AFF had a similar experience with a different establishment shortly after, but I didn’t have time to write about it, and nobody else in Rhode Island media seems to care.

“It could never happen here,” the saying goes… except when it does.  Then nobody will notice so that they can continue to believe their pleasant fiction.

Not long ago, Christian writer Rod Dreher coined the Law of Merited Impossibility, which observes a common insinuation from the American Left whenever these sorts of stories emerge:  “That will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.”  This is human nature, and conservatives should be prepared for things to get worse before they get better, but it’d be nice if professionals who believe themselves to be objective were able to acknowledge it.

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