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The difference between editorial and news

When I was a young reporter, editors would tell me that we shouldn't write about squabbles at the paper. Readers weren't interested in our internal disagreements. That may be so, but I think anyone who reads this blog and enjoys education reporting will be intrigued by a dispute among Post education writers just made public.

At the very least, this incident proves that the education team at the Post is not nearly as boring as the hot shots in the crime, politics and other allegedly more jazzy teams say we are. Go to my colleague Bill Turque's blog post and also read a post by Erik Wemple, the editor of the Washington Citypaper, which is NOT part of the Post's media empire and loves to expose our flaws.

I won't spoil their good work with a long summary, other than to say it has to do with an unusual event: news side education reporters, particularly D.C. schools reporter Turque, were scooped on an important story about D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee by the editorial writer who handles education issues, Jo-Ann Armao. Armao was boss of both me and Turque for several years as assistant managing editor for Metro news. She was one of the best editors I ever had.

My take on this: Both Turque and Armao acted professionally. There were no fisticuffs, unlike an incident over in the much wilder Style section a while back, which Wemple not only wrote about but produced a video reenactment for his Web site. My two friends and colleagues, Turque and Armao, had some difficulty negotiating the tricky firewall that is supposed to separate editorial board and newsroom activities, but I think it all came out fine.

Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt has agreed that if his people have news that we don't have, they should share it.

Wemple says we pulled down an earlier Turque account of what happened and substituted a different one, but they look pretty much the same to me. Both are in the posts above. Talmudic scholars can tell me what the differences are. I love just about everything Turque writes and agree with nearly all of Armao's editorials, which is boring so I will stop here.

Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.

Follow all the Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page, http://washingtonpost.com/education.

By Jay Mathews  | January 28, 2010; 12:14 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Bill Turque, Fred Hiatt, Jo-Ann Armao, Michelle A. Rhee, Post education writers, Post newsroom clash, Washington Post, fight at the Post  
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Comments

I thought that WaPo, by putting out different views on Michelle Rhee - was trying to show openness.

Posted by: resc | January 28, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I don't think the distiction is Talmudic between the final post and the following "Are Fenty and Rhee gaming the system by using the editorial page this way? Of course. Is this a healthy thing for readers of The Post?"

It is healthy that Post readers got to peek into the process where the word "adoring" was used and deleted in regard to the Post's editorial stance? And given the health benefits of laughter I'm glad we now get to read the crack about a paperless version of Larry King.

I'm curious about the issues that this debate raises. How much of the Post's editorial position on Rhee is due to the editor's reporting and how much is due to the Post's economic self-interst, i.e. staying on good terms with developers who support charter schools? Secondly, does a former reporter, now an editor who still does reporting still also seek both sides of the story? Does she have the time to actually read research and check facts?

The NY Times had a similar situation, which in the time of tight budgets wasn't unprofessional but which is still sad. The NY Times Magazine editor knew that the Harlem Children's Zone was making fundamental changes, backing off from its secondary school plans for awhile, but readers had to wait for the book. This was key because the HCZ, showing higher ethics than needed, had attempted to show that its reforms were replicable.

And that's why this is more than a dustup about a local school system. Rhee and her supporters, while denying it, have claimed to be a scalable model. When the Times doesn't report how much extra private money is given to the HCZ or other NYC charters, national readers are deprived of valuable inofrmation.

I think the Post editorial positions are awful. My best sources for hard information that informs my opinion, however, are the excellent reporters at the Post and at Ed Week.

Posted by: johnt4853 | January 28, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

I emailed you the differences between the two entries last night. I do not see how you can credibly argue "but they look pretty much the same to me."

Here are the major differences:

Original: "Jo-Ann, on the other hand, sits on an editorial board whose support for
the chancellor has been steadfast, protective and, at times, adoring."

Revised: "Jo-Ann, on the other hand, sits on an editorial board whose support for
the chancellor has been steadfast."

Second:

Original:
**********************'

"Where this gets complicated is that board's stance, and the chancellor's obvious
rapport with Jo-Ann, also means that DCPS has a guaranteed soft landing spot for
uncomfortable or inconvenient disclosures--kind of a print version of the Larry King
Show. This happened last September during the flap over the out-of-boundary
admission of Mayor Fenty's twin sons to Lafayette Elementary in Chevy Chase.

The chancellor repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether policies and
procedures had been followed to place the kids in the coveted school. A few days
after the dust settled, an editorial offered, without attribution, an "innocent
explanation": the Fentys neighborhood school, West Elementary, had only one fourth
grade class. Lafayette's multiple fourth-grade sections made it possible to separate
the twins, which studies show is developmentally desirable.

Are Fenty and Rhee gaming the system by using the editorial page this way? Of
course. Is this a healthy thing for readers of The Post? Probably not. Is it going
to keep me from doing my job effectively?

Nope.

*******************
Revised:

*****************
Where this gets complicated is that board's stance, and the chancellor's rapport
with Jo-Ann, means that DCPS may prefer to talk to her than me. This could be what
happened last September during the flap over the out-of-boundary admission of Mayor
Fenty's twin sons to Lafayette Elementary in Chevy Chase.

The chancellor avoided questions about whether policies and procedures had been
followed to place the kids in the coveted school. A few days after the dust settled,
an editorial offered an explanation: the Fenty's neighborhood school, West
Elementary, had only one fourth grade class. Lafayette's multiple fourth-grade
sections made it possible to separate the twins, which studies show is
developmentally desirable.

Is this kind of thing going to keep me from doing my job well?

Nope.

**********************


Posted by: Cal_Lanier | January 28, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Hi, Jay, you say, "I love just about everything Turque writes and agree with nearly all of Armao's editorials...."

Maybe you could give Michelle Rhee some lessons in the art of cooperation and conciliation.

Hi, John - be sure to check out Valerie Strauss' blog today on Rhee communication patterns. It suggests a record of inconsistencies beyond the recent, dramatic “sex with children” remark.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/dc-schools/rhee-in-her-own-words.html

Posted by: efavorite | January 28, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Cal. I hadn't yet caught up with your kind email. It has been a busy day.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 28, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

For efavorite, I read Valerie's blog quotes. I thought it was an interesting approach, but unfair, a very rare cheap shot from my fine colleague. I bet I could similar inconsistencies in the public statements of any public figure. I saw one TV network running lots of Barack Obama comments from the campaign saying he opposed a budget freeze, now he wants one.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 28, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

The shots exchanged by everyone when it comes to Michelle Rhee are unfortunate. Realistically, however, they do point out the vast disconnect and communication gap that has increased exponentially in the City among people since Michelle Rhee was forced upon us all and since Adrian Fenty was elected. The disconnect with editorials was made very obvious when Michelle Rhee was able to send an email to Ximena Hartsock assuring her she would receive a favorable review the next day. It couldn't have become clearer than at that moment.

The City is so thoroughly bifurcated by politics of race and elitism, sadly based on the schools leader Fenty chose at the midnight hour. I believe all parents want their children educated at an even higher level than they were without respect to race and economic status. That should be the bottom line of the matter but in the current regime, it's not. However, the disparities in resources at schools cannot be debated. Wards I, II and III and the affluent parts of Ward IV have infinitely rich resources, due largely to the fact parents are able to subsidize their child's school. What happens to the children in the less affluent parts of Ward IV and Wards V through VIII? Sadly, to no fault of the parents themselves, this problem yet exists. Even 'Magic Michelle' has not been able to fix it. The disparties have, however, increased on her watch. How is this what is best for children?

In order to move forward, we need new leadership from the Mayor's Office on down that is able to communicate honestly and directly, not editorials that are a contrived defense or stories that condemn. Just tell the truth and allow readers to make our own decisions. We are all intelligent enough to do so.

Posted by: southyrndiva | January 28, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Jay - I think it's a cheap shot to make that claim about Strauss, using Obama or anyone else, without the same level of evidence Strauss cited. People do change their minds from time to time, but that’s different from changing your story on a regular basis.

Actually, I think very few public figures publicly contradict themselves that frequently, partly because they know their positions on issues and partly because they know they’ll get called on it, then have to explain – like on Meet the Press. I wish Tim Russert were alive to interview Rhee.

Posted by: efavorite | January 28, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Jay, the following is what you quoted Michelle Rhee telling you about whether or not she made a decision about the Senior Writing Project at the School Without Walls:

"And I must also confess I have only my memory of what Rhee told me---but wait! I just checked my email and, amazingly, I kept hers, and remembered it correctly. She said:
"I am not involved in decisions like that. They are made at the school level. Do you want me to connect you with the principal?"

Now, please go to the following link for an article from the Washington Examiner reporting that Rhee made the decision (contradicting the school and principal's policy about the Senior Project being mandatory):

http://www.examiner.com/a-945118~Rhee_changes_graduation_terms_for_School_Without_Walls_seniors.html

If you are having trouble finding the article, please google the following terms "School Without Walls Senior Project Michelle Rhee", and you will find several articles. Check out the comments along with the articles too.

Now, Jay, will you please admit that Michelle Rhee flat out lied to you? Imagine how dishonest she is in general if she is willing to lie so completely about this issue. I have zero respect for the woman.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | January 28, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Here are a couple more articles about Michelle Rhee making this decision in 2007 for the School Without Walls:

http://www.dcedublog.com/2007/10/sww-seniors-do-not-need-senior-project.html

http://www.nsba.org/HPC/Features/AboutSBN/SbnArchive/2008/June2008/Schoolboardsconsiderbenefitsofassigningseniorprojects.aspx

Posted by: dccitizen1 | January 28, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

dccitizen1 – I’m not familiar with the situation at Walls and I haven't checked your links. But I do know something about human nature. When a person is so committed to something, it's hard to admit error.

It's not just a matter of admitting being deceived; it's giving up the vision and the promise that was offered. It’s a huge loss that takes time to absorb and accept.

Posted by: efavorite | January 28, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Jay Mathews: "I don't think the distiction is Talmudic "
Ombudsman Andrew Alexander: " And when the blog item reappeared several hours later, it had been noticeably altered."

I'm with Andrew on this point.
I also second efavorite's call regarding the "rare, cheapshot" by Valerie Strauss.

What's so cheap?
There are no misquotes.
And the context doesn't matter.

Valerie left out Mrs. Rhee's original resume statement that she received "acclaim" from GMA, Home Show, Hartford Courant and the WSJ.
Her rewrite merely had her being "featured" in said articles.

Posted by: edlharris | January 28, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

You're right, Efavorite. It's very hard to give up the "vision and the promise that was offered" and to admit error. What an eloquent way to describe this situation.

IMO, it was good to have hope in Michelle Rhee's "promises" in the beginning. Any new person deserves a fair chance and then some. However, in the face of all of Rhee's contradictions and terrible behavior, I just don't understand the unwillingness to face facts. And it almost seems as if her egregiously bad behavior is justifiable in Mr. Matthew's eyes, as long as no "harm" to the students can be proven. Demoralizing teachers, hiring too many young/inexperienced (read "inexpensive") teachers only to create a "budget crisis" and firing many good/dedicated/experiences (read "expensive") teachers after the school year begins, lying about results, driving away potentially great teachers, and painting the RIFed teachers as sex abusers/physical abusers and grossly derelict employees is okay?

Posted by: dccitizen1 | January 28, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Wow Jay, this comment just makes me furious.

"I thought it was an interesting approach, but unfair, a very rare cheap shot from my fine colleague. I bet I could similar inconsistencies in the public statements of any public figure. I saw one TV network running lots of Barack Obama comments from the campaign saying he opposed a budget freeze, now he wants one."

I, like many of your readers, work in an around politics and public figures. And many of us have worked for people who have been just roasted for similar types of statements that are viewed as inconsistent.

In fact, I would argue that the single easiest thing in politics to get a reporter to do a story on is a story where rhetoric of a public figure in inconsistent with either action or later statement. Hell, Tim Russert became who he was by doing that Sunday after Sunday.

So, to argue that doing it to Rhee is a cheap shot says more about what you think about Rhee than about what your colleague wrote.

It suggests to me that you are willing to let her get away with stuff.

Posted by: dyedwab1 | January 28, 2010 11:37 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I wonder if you would continue to agree with everything Jo-Ann Armao writes about DC schools if you had a child attending a DCPS school today or if you spent more time inside DC schools.

Posted by: Nemessis | January 29, 2010 4:41 AM | Report abuse

Many have already posted the differences between the blog posts, but seriously Jay the ending was so glaringly different that I feel compelled to point it out again.

Here is his original ending: "Are Fenty and Rhee gaming the system by using the editorial page this way? Of course. Is this a healthy thing for readers of The Post? Probably not. Is it going to keep me from doing my job effectively?

Nope."

How can you say it would take a Talumdic Scholar to tell you that that ending was quite different in the revised blog?

Seriously Jay, it makes me question almost every post you have written about research you have read and what you glean from that. If you can't comprehend the difference in the two written pieces, how are we as readers supposed to trust your interpretation of research that supports your views on all of your education stances (for example: AP for all students regardless of motivation or ability, Rhee, KIPP Schools, TFA, etc. etc.)
Often you have posted your views on research without posting the link for said research (and a couple of times I have found the research and then posted it) I can surmise now why you have neglected to post those links: perhaps others reading the research would come to differing conclusions. Maybe you feel those conclusions could only be drawn by Talmudic Scholars though...

Posted by: researcher2 | January 29, 2010 6:36 AM | Report abuse

Howard Kurtz's take:
Going public

Washington Post education reporter criticizes Washington Post editorial board -- and the City Paper has the story about how the blog post was taken down and an edited version later put back up. I saw absolutely nothing wrong with Bill Turque's original post.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2010/01/29/BL2010012901726_5.html?hpid=topnews

Posted by: edlharris | January 29, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Jay Matthews, willing to let Rhee "get away with stuff"?! SAY it isn't so!!

Posted by: ame_hr | January 29, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

What's scary to me is how there's a group of about 5 people posting the same things to themselves here and on teachers blogs, patting themselves on the back with self-referential posts, they've been able to convince a cub reporter to their weird thinking and he just about got fired for his outlandish and unprofessional behavior, and they can't believe that hardly anyone one else agrees with their pet conspiracy theories. I can absolutely guarantee anyone reading this that if or when Bill Turque gets fired they'd sooner believe it was a DC government conspiracy rather than his violation of journalistic ethics. I am absolutely convinced that they believe in a conspiracy between the Washington Post and DCPS. Don't deny it guys, the way you write, you believe there's a shadow conspiracy out there between Michelle Rhee and journalists, don't you? You have lists of "enemy journalists" who are "in cahoots" with DCPS, don't you? scary stuff.

I have PTA projects to run and if you all spent as much time volunteering in schools as you spend here, at WTOP, at the city paper, at DC Teacher Chic, there wouldn't be these articles about DCPS because it would have been functional in the 80s-90s.

Posted by: bbcrock | January 29, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock = bb Crock

Posted by: dccitizen1 | January 29, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

ll

Posted by: researcher2 | January 30, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

Sorry about the above post, clearly a mistake.

bbcrock, I am truly confused by your rant. No one is alleging a "conspiracy" merely that the blog was indeed changed. Yes, the editorial board on WAPO supports Rhee, despite what many believe are glaring problems. Is WAPO editorial support a conspiracy? No, it is simply misguided judgement. If Turque gets fired it would be very surprising, and I for one would be upset that we would no longer be able to read his articles.

Many of us volunteer in our kids' schools, and many posters also work in those schools. Those experiences, coupled with the ability to ascertain differences in blog postings and the knowledge of a variety of comments by Rhee, do indeed create strong and valid opinions.

And, by the way, many parents volunteered in the 80's and 90's.

Posted by: researcher2 | January 30, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

for dccitizen1. I think i have the answer to Wallsgate. We are both right, in a way. I talked to the principal and asked Rhee about her recollections, since the key event was more than two years ago. I plan to blog on this on Wednesday, after other blogs that take priority. You will see why we have to have this brief delay when you see the Post tomorrow and Monday.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 30, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Jay. I look forward to reading the blogs.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | January 31, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse

Is the article for (that you referenced for dccitizen1) posted yet?

Posted by: researcher2 | January 31, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

left out the word today.

Is the article for today posted yet?

Posted by: researcher2 | January 31, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

apparently not.....

Posted by: dccitizen1 | January 31, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Okay, I'll wait for Wednesday. Today's article about the poll results on Rhee are not exactly earth shattering. Perhaps it comes as a surprise to the Post's editorial board, but not to those with boots on the ground.

I hope tomorrow's article is one that announces Rhee's plans to move to Sacramento.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | February 1, 2010 6:15 AM | Report abuse

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