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Neil Steinberg and Karen Lewis

Sun Times columnist Neil Steinberg engages in shoddy journalism in his attack on CTU president-elect Karen Lewis in today’s paper.

He takes a partial quotation from her Saturday remarks – “The only people who can improve our public schools are professional educators” – and makes up a classroom discussion in which a made-up student named Leonard calls her comment “kinda arrogant.”  Because it “negate[s] the crucial role of parents” and of students.

I didn’t see Steinberg at King High School on Saturday, and I seriously doubt whether he’s actually read Lewis’s comments.  Because his whole point hinges on ignoring what she actually said.

Here’s the context from Lewis’s remarks, which are posted at CORE’s website:

“Of course, just as our city’s social conditions must improve, many of our schools must improve too.  But we have hundreds of thriving schools filled with dedicated, loving, professional teachers and administrators who are wise enough to empower teachers to lead.

“So outside of the classroom we need society to recommit to bettering all communities.  We also need our parents to recommit to the education of their children with us.

“But inside the classroom, the only people who can improve our schools are professional educators.  Corporate heads and politicians do not have a clue about teaching and learning.  They have never sat one minute on this side of the teacher’s desk.

“But they’re the ones calling the shots, and we’re supposed to accept it as “reform.”

“As a union of 30,000 united educators we have a lot of work to do, and we know we cannot do it alone.”

Her remark about professional educators actually recognizes the role of parents and talks about teachers’ role specifically in contrast to the business leaders who are driving “reform.”

The unfortunate subtext is that Steinberg seems to be buying into the conventional wisdom that blames teachers for the problems of schools.  (We’ll let someone else unravel the conventional wisdom behind his take on the state budget.)

In any case, he owes Ms. Lewis an apology.

And a good rule of thumb: journalists should never accuse anyone of arrogance.

Nonprofit Nation: Haiti, journalism

This week’s Nation has two reports on nonprofit issues:  In Haiti, aid is still slow in getting to refugee camps, as large relief organizations have ignored community-based organizations.  But “a group of Haitian community leaders [is] determined to force the international aid agencies to listen to their demands.”  Meanwhile long-term planning by the UN and US and Haitian elites, backed by Bill Clinton, focuses on a neoliberal agenda of bolstering export industries and bypasses reviving the nation’s once-thriving agricultural sector.

And as newsrooms shrink, think tanks like the Center for a New American Security have moved to fill the void.  With funding from the MacArthur Foundation and other philanthropies – and also from an array military contractors, from Lockheed Martin to KBR – the center gives commentators a cover of “bipartisanship” while pushing for a military buildup in Afghanistan and opposing withdrawal from Iraq.

Also at the Nation, John Nichols has a sober appraisal of the shortcomings of the healthcare reform bill, as well as possible strategies for reforming the reform.

Newspapers past and future

Newsosaur posts a fascinating account of the Chicago Daily News (1874-1978) — pioneeer of foreign news coverage and the first paper “to articulate a vision of public community” — excerpted from a new history of American coverage of world affairs by John Maxwell Hamilton.

Michael Miner muses on the possibilities of a Sun-Times devoted to quality journalism, and Chicago journalist Bob Koehler asks “what kinds of newspapers can, and should, emerge from the wreckage of today’s collapsing empires?”  He spells out principles for a journalism that has “the courage to take a stand for ordinary people and against arrogant concentrations of power.”

A possible case in point:  While the mainstream media completely missed signs of crisis in credit and mortgage markets, independent journalists were “repeatedly ahead of the curve,” writes Alyssa Katz in CJR.  Why?  They reported in the real world, and unlike financial journalists, they looked for real-world impacts of business practices, not just the internal benefits to investors and bankers of economic activity, divorced from its social costs.

And they had the freedom to question basic business practices of large financial institutions.  “I know not every journalist can say that,” Katz writes.

Robert Novak

From far across the aisle, Alexander Cockburn has an appreciation of Sun-Times columnist Bob Novak (“the Hunter Thompson of the right”) at Counterpunch, and he includes a note from the New York Times reporter Novak is supposed to have punched out in 1974, who is somewhat less appreciative.

Local groups protest Honduran coup

Immigrant groups, human rights groups, community and religious groups will protest the military overthrow of the Honduran government today, July 1 at 5 p.m. at the Honduran consulate at 4439 W. Fullerton.

Calling the protest is La Voz de los de Abajo, an local organization of Hondurans and others which supports the campesino movement in Honduras. The country has the oldest campesino movement in Central America, dating to the early 1950s, said Victoria Cervantes of La Voz. 

The movement has supported land reform efforts by President Manuel Zelaya, who was arrested and sent into exile on Sunday. Cervantes said the coup reveals the “desperation” of Honduras’s right-wing landowners.

She welcomed the “strong position against the military overthrow of an elected government” taken by the United States, which contrasts historical support by the U.S. for military coups in the region.

In Honduras, mass protests against the coup have been attacked by the military, resulting in serious injuries [several deaths have been reported]. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, reporters have been detained, broadcasts have been blocked, and news outlets have been closed. 

One of La Voz’s ongoing projects is a community radio station operated by a campesino organization in La Paz, Honduras. For contact info see Newstips.  See NACLA for background.

For laid-off journalists

Lou Carlozo continues his Recession Diaries — post-Tribune layoff — with CMW’s Gordon Mayer offering ideas for laid-off journalists on opportunities in the nonprofit world.

I.F. Stone – spy?

Like Studs Terkel, I.F. Stone distinguished himself by standing up against the 1950s Red Scare when few had the guts to do so.  And like Studs, this has earned him the ongoing enmity of the thought police.

Eric Alterman does a fine job debunking charges in a forthcoming book (recently previewed in Commentary) that Stone was a Soviet spy.  But facts matter little in such cases, and it’s likely that a significant sector of the opinion-mongering class will henceforth accept the tale and dismiss Stone as a fraud.

This kind of thing requires a deliberate disregard of what Stone the journalist actually wrote, as I tried to demonstrate in a comment* on last year’s New York Times smear (apology: it’s missing a quotation mark).  The facts of the matter are welcome, but no one who’s read much of I.F. Stone will be surprised; they know the bedrock independence of his spirit, which like that of Studs, was utterly and completely free and fearless.


* Here’s the comment (punctuation corrected):

An “admirer of Stalin”? Biographer Robert C. Cottrell notes that on the Soviet show trials of 1934, Stone wrote that the Stalinist regime was adopting the tactics of “Fascist thugs and racketeers.” In 1935, in a piece called “Hobgoblins in Moscow,” he wrote: “No government, no matter what its principles, can shut off free speech and deny legal processes without suffering from it. The checks and balances of free discussion can alone keep government efficient and servant rather than the ruler of the people.” In 1939, at the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact, he wrote that of “a new Catholicism…growing up in Communism and directed from Moscow, with its own Pope and its own heretics, bitterly persecuted and pursued.” In 1948, “I can’t help cheering for Tito, and when socialism comes I’ll fight for the right to spit in the nearest bureaucrat’s eye….I know if the Communists came to power I’d soon find myself eating cold kasha in a concentration camp in Kansas gubernya.”

Citizen journalism

OurBlook interviews Community Media Workshop’s Thom Clark on prospects for citizen journalism.

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