On the day that the Louisiana Legislature takes up consideration of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature education reforms, from the coverage of it by the state’s leading print media outlets of the package over the past weeks and up until today, their record sadly has been one of disserving the Louisiana reading public.
It’s difficult to conclude otherwise given how they have covered the issue. For example, the Baton Rouge Advocate dutifully reports about how the East Baton Rouge and Baker school districts found it expedient to cancel classes since so many teachers notified administrators that they would be absent. It also includes comments from others indicating the negative impact that the dereliction of duty would have on students, particularly as they gear up to take standardized exams, and on private schools who depend upon the district’s busing of students, which closure of the system for a day prevents running. All of this is factual, even balanced.
But what the article did not go into was the absolute union-driven cheerleading that lay behind the decisions of the Vermillion and St. Martin school boards to declare a blanket professional development day for tomorrow, with directives issued by Vermillion from them on strategies to take leave without loss of pay (if one is out of such days) and admonishments to make sure the district itself was not seen as politically connected to the effort. This context is crucial to understand that these politicians simply do not care about education, but rather in keeping unions off their back and in maintaining their power and privilege at the expense of children’s education and state economic development.
On the editorial side, given a chance to express outrage at the attempt to intimidate policy-makers by endorsing widespread disruptions of education schedules, the Advocate whiffed. It chided the EBR system for the cancellation, but then said Jindal and his legislative allies were as much to blame, because they “scheduled committee hearings on his education legislation with little advance notice,” calling that a cynical ploy. To make such a statement demonstrates that these editorialists, even though based in the capital city, know next to nothing about the legislative process, or even what’s going on generally in the news.
Typically, unless legislative action has been deferred from a previous meeting, it’s usually only known 48-72 hours in advance what’s going to be on a committee agenda (which are published here). In fact, sometimes it’s mere hours, as items may be added or subtracted even then. But often word gets out much earlier; for example, the news media around the state knew this was coming at least a week ago – I was interviewed by a Shreveport television reporter, one who doesn’t normally cover politics, last week who had heard about this. Nobody who follows politics in the state closely, such as the media and union officials, did not know about this.
Nor has there been balanced overall coverage from the Advocate. Last month, it dedicated an entire piece to a half-baked opinion issued by the leftist Louisiana Budget Project criticizing the agenda. But, last week, a joint effort between Louisiana’s conservative Pelican Institute for Public Policy and Indiana’s Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, producing a much more rigorous and intellectually coherent report that found great merit in the agenda (reviewing real world results from similar programs), garnered nary a peep from the Advocate.
Yet there’s an even worse example of journalistic sloppiness, if not outright published partiality, than the Advocate’s offerings. In the New Orleans Times-Picayune appeared a story about an area public policy outfit, described as in the “middle” of the debate, that offered a report about the scholarship voucher of the Jindal agenda termed a “slap” at it.
In fact, that mischaracterized the effort by the Bureau of Governmental Research, which overall supported the basic elements of the plan but wanted modifications to it. Worse, the article’s narrative was to claim these “middle” groups were plan critics – and then lumped the liberal LBP into that category, calling it only a “nonprofit” organization (so is the BGR and another group mentioned, Citizens 1 of Greater New Orleans). And, of course, it ignored completely the Pelican Institute’s report, although that should not be so surprising since the T-P reflexively printed the LBP boilerplate of last month, but failed to mention the hometown Pelican Institute report from last week. (Nor did it appear that the Gannett New Service, which has its material run in the chain's newspapers across the state, mention this one after doing a story on the LBP one.)
Viewing the objective evidence by the two leading print media outlets in the state, one only may conclude either they practice poor journalism or are in the tank for agenda opponents. Either way, they disserve a reading public that they owe thoughtful and comprehensive information and analysis on this issue.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:05