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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 01/28/2011

Film critic Ebert rescinds positive ‘Superman’ review

By Valerie Strauss

More bad news for “Waiting for Superman.”

First this week the movie failed to win a nomination for an Academy Award in the documentary feature category, even though it was considered to be a shoo-in.

Now veteran film critic Roger Ebert has rescinded his positive review of the film. Teacher Fred Klonsky wrote on his blog that Ebert originally gave a “thumbs up” to Superman when it came out.

But here’s what he tweeted this week: “Why maybe ‘Waiting for Superman’ wasn’t all that it seemed. If I’d known, my review would have been different.”

What changed his mind? In that tweet, Ebert links to an article I wrote this week that lays out distortions and other problems with the movie, including a staged scene that seems inappropriate for a documentary.

As Klonsky wrote: “Good going, Roger.”

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 28, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  academy award, davis guggenheim, oscar, oscar snubs, roger ebert, waiting for superman, why oscar snubbed superman  
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Comments

The propaganda machine is running out of energy. News and print media will begin to notice as the deformers and hedge-fund insiders tire of their charter school crusade. The superman hype shows how Gates, Rhee, Duncan, Guggenheim, Bloomberg, Booker, Klein, Canada and others are working together to undermine public education with scare tactics, movies and cooked-up test scores. Attacking teachers and blaming unions to reap the profits just won’t sell.

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | January 28, 2011 7:05 AM | Report abuse

That's good and keep up the good work getting the word out on the "reformers".

The remaining problem with Ebert's assessment is that on the surface the movie appealed to his sense of what is wrong and that charters are the cure (may be speaking out of other end here, don't recall reading his review).

The damage has been done, I'll take the rescinding.

Posted by: zebra22 | January 28, 2011 7:40 AM | Report abuse

Good going Valerie!

Huzza Huzza

How wonderful to see the power of the (electronic) pen at work

Posted by: efavorite | January 28, 2011 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Valerie - Being instrumental in Ebert changing his mind is a major, major big deal.

Now how about you get Guggenheim to comment on the veracity of his documentary in your column?

He is/was a credible documentary writer. My feeling is that people fell so easily for “Superman” because he established his credibility with “Inconvenient Truth.”

I think he has a huge responsibility to set the record straight. His reputation is as a truth teller, not a story teller - He is the one who should be recanting, not just Ebert.

People can't just go around lying. It’s nice that Ebert "recanted" - but his change of heart, while based on facts, is separate from the facts. He's just another credible celebrity. He'll get people to notice, but the facts stand on their own.

You, Ravitch and others have done a great job in getting out the facts. Now let’s hear from Guggenheim.

Posted by: efavorite | January 28, 2011 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Good work, but don't hold your breath for the truth to overcome the propaganda.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ushered in an economic policy that has all but destroyed the American middle class and the American economy, but most Americans still accept its premises even when proven wrong over and over. In the 1970's Criminologist Robert Martinson authored a series of studies claiming "nothing works" in terms of criminal rehabilitation, thus providing the rationale for the current "lock-em- up" policies and the elimination of parole. Within 3 years Martinson himself, along with the vast majority of criminologists, had repudiated his earlier studies as erroneous, but the policy it created survives and grows. In 1953 the US Supreme Court created the "State Secrets" privilege when the widows of civilian contactors were killed in the crash of a B-29. The Air Force claimed the report of the crash investigation contained information that would threaten national security. When the report was declassified in 2000, it contained nothing that would have threatened national security, but merely proved that the crash was the result of an engine fire caused by negligent maintenance (in violation of specific technical orders) and three separate pilot and crew errors in response to the engine fire. In short, the State Secrets Privilege was created base on a lie by the Air force to avoid civil liability, but the Privilege is still part of the law and continues to be abused today. You can also look at more recent examples like "weapons of mass destruction" and "voter fraud" as falsehoods that have been successful and uncorrected.

The truth seldom wins in the end because by the time the truth comes out, no one is paying attention any more.

Posted by: mcstowy | January 28, 2011 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Good work, but don't hold your breath for the truth to overcome the propaganda.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ushered in an economic policy that has all but destroyed the American middle class and the American economy, but most Americans still accept its premises even when proven wrong over and over. In the 1970's Criminologist Robert Martinson authored a series of studies claiming "nothing works" in terms of criminal rehabilitation, thus providing the rationale for the current "lock-em- up" policies and the elimination of parole. Within 3 years Martinson himself, along with the vast majority of criminologists, had repudiated his earlier studies as erroneous, but the policy it created survives and grows. In 1953 the US Supreme Court created the "State Secrets" privilege when the widows of civilian contactors who were killed in the crash of a B-29, sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Air Force claimed the report of the crash investigation contained information that would threaten national security. When the report was declassified in 2000, it contained nothing that would have threatened national security, but merely proved that the crash was the result of an engine fire caused by negligent maintenance (in violation of specific technical orders) and three separate pilot and crew errors in response to the engine fire. In short, the State Secrets Privilege was created based on a lie by the Air force to avoid civil liability, but the Privilege is still part of the law and continues to be abused today. You can also look at more recent examples like "weapons of mass destruction" and "voter fraud" as falsehoods that have been successful and uncorrected.

The truth seldom wins in the end because by the time the truth comes out, no one is paying attention any more.

Posted by: mcstowy | January 28, 2011 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Mcstowy - you have good reason to be cynical, but please, don't discourage Valerie and other seekers of the truth.

Sometimes the truth does come out.

The lies of Superman aren't hidden in classified government documents -- many people personally witness public education through their own experiences and that of family and friends who have first-hand experience in the schools.

Take Heart!

Posted by: efavorite | January 28, 2011 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I just found this great comment about Superman on Huffpo:

"it would be a great movie to show in a civics class while studying propaganda­.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/davis-guggenheim/teachers-tell-me-what-you_b_783712.html

Posted by: efavorite | January 28, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I heartily endorse Efavorite's call for Guggenheim to come forward very publicly and tell us what was behind his putting forth what he did.
And do it soon - the public's memory is so d--- short.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | January 28, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

What about Ann Hornaday and Jo-Ann Armao? Don't they read your blog?

Posted by: frankb1 | January 28, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

What about Ann Hornaday and Jo-Ann Armao? Don't they read your blog?

Posted by: frankb1 | January 28, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Over at "Eduwonk" a man named Sandy Kress expressed strong support for NCLB. I googled him and found that he is a lobbyist for the testing companies!!!

Valerie, teachers have known for years that we are in the midst of a huge education fraud in our country but it's only recently that journalists like you have caught on to it. Yes, the pen is mighty and soon (hopefully) the public will catch on and our public schools will not be further weakened or destroyed. The flow of school tax money to private pockets will stop. And most important of all, our poorest children will get the education to which they are entitled as this money properly will be redirected toward their care and instruction. Any teacher can tell you that at the present time, federal and philanthropic money is not reaching the classroom, except in the form of invalid testing.

Thanks, Valerie, for representing the best in American journalism.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | January 28, 2011 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Actually it was Michael O'Sullivan, not Ann Hornaday, who loved it so much he gave it 3 1/2 stars.

Posted by: frankb1 | January 28, 2011 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Once again, Strauss, your blog post is meaningless mumble jumble. If you have something interesting to write about the documentary, please do so. Otherwise, don't bother putting pen to paper. Contrary to Linda/Retired Teacher's comment above, you represent the worst in American journalism and the best in tabloid journalism.

Public education in the US is abysmal. The fact that you support public education and unions that keep so many worthless public school teachers in classrooms is disgusting. Tenure for widget makers, may be a good idea Tenure for teachers who can't teach and in many cases make kids' lives miserable in school is awful. They should be run out of the schoolhouse, not protected by unions.

The charter school movement has a long way to go, but at least it has a chance of getting to where it needs to go. Traditional public schools have been in business for many decades and continue to get worse. Public schools and unions should be abolished in the interest of children and education.

Posted by: pensaed | January 28, 2011 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Just stopping by to cast my thumbs up for my favorite comment from above, by efavorite.

"I think he has a huge responsibility to set the record straight. His reputation is as a truth teller, not a story teller - He is the one who should be recanting, not just Ebert."

Darn right!

Some time ago in a comment on Huffington Post, I called on Guggenheim to publicly set the record straight. My comment (moderated out) was in response to his post asking teachers "what they thought". Boy did they!

How clueless IS Guggenheim, anyway?

Unfortunately, in the celebrity and media worlds he is in vast company when it comes to public education.

He should be (and probably is) embarrassed, as should many in the elite, drive-by ed reform class. The arrogance behind their confident pronouncements of failure is astonishing.

Guggenheim could have saved himself a lot of humiliation had he chosen to stop by for a good while and be with those terrible teachers in those terrible schools. And be with those impoverished children who don't have a parent at home advocating for them, if indeed they have a home at all.

In short, he should have done his homework.

Instead, he chose to drive by and uncritically accept the destructive, incomplete, and inaccurate national narrative about our public schools and teachers.

Anyway, thank you thank you thank you Valerie Strauss for your reporting. It is a vast departure from the weary, status-quo narrative that has wastefully and unnecessarily brought public education to its knees.

Billions of dollars wasted on PR, hype, privatization, testing, test prep, the standardization of learning. Should have been used to address the condition of childhood in this country. Should have been used to strengthen and improve public education rather than demonizing and undermining it.

Posted by: taunar | January 28, 2011 9:35 PM | Report abuse

I just hope that MSM takes notice--especially the Oprahs, Charlie Roses and all the editorial writers. This film painted a horrible picture of public education and now that it is coming out in DVD, Rhee and company are making the talk show rounds. Maybe now these shows will book Diane Ravitch because she was brave enough to stand up against this movie. So glad it didn't get an Oscar nod. Misrepresentation should never be rewarded.

Posted by: Schoolgal | January 28, 2011 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Taunar, 1bnthrdntht, et.al.,

Let's hope Guggenheim comes forth.

Maybe he could make another bundle doing a "mea culpa" documentary.

And to pensaed -- I figure that at some level you must know that Strauss and the readers here can see right through you.

Posted by: efavorite | January 29, 2011 12:26 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone have a link to Ebert's rescinding his earlier review of, "Waiting for Superman"? I would like to read it but cannot find it.

Posted by: teachermd | January 29, 2011 12:35 AM | Report abuse

Teachermd – Ebert’s comment was just a tweet:

“Why maybe "Waiting for Superman" wasn't all that it seemed. If I'd known, my review would have been different. http://wapo.st/dJJnv4 3:24 PM Jan 26th via SocialOomph Retweeted by 100+ people ebertchicago Roger Ebert”

http://twitter.com/ebertchicago/status/30405728359419904

It would be good for him to write a full blown column about his change of heart, based on checking the facts in Strauss’ column.

Posted by: efavorite | January 29, 2011 6:44 AM | Report abuse

Linda:
Sandy Kress, one of the architects of NCLB and the Reading First fiasco is also a lobbyist for Pearson, Wireless Generation, Teach for America, Texas Charter Association, and other groups seeking to profit on PK-12. Now he’s working with his friend Beth Ann Bryan, another lobbyist and NCLB insider at the GWB center in Dallas to reform “leadership” in public schools.

http://www.georgewbushcenter.com/the-Institute/education-reform

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | January 29, 2011 8:44 AM | Report abuse

"I heartily endorse Efavorite's call for Guggenheim to come forward very publicly and tell us what was behind his putting forth what he did."

Easy answer to that: money. He was a hired hack, no more, no less. Documentary filmmakers also have bills to pay, especially when their kids are in private school.

Too bad for DG... His credibility has been deeply diminished, and in the eyes of none other than his own peers, whose standards he failed to meet. How ironic.

Posted by: Incidentally | January 29, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I am happy to read that Ebert has integrity.

There will always be disagreements about how to reform schools. What is criminal is the spreading of lies as if it were the truth.

Posted by: ubblybubbly | January 30, 2011 10:55 AM | Report abuse

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