Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Fenty's Communication's Strategy: "Just Don't Pick Up the Phone."

Here at D.C. Wire we endeavor to clear up the record when clarity is called for. Such is the call for State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist, whom we unfairly kicked in the shin for evading our requests for an interview in September.

The backstory: Her agency is developing a new advanced teaching credential that would require D.C. public school instructors to demonstrate their effectiveness in order to keep their jobs. The measure is a part of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's so-called "Plan B" to bypass the Washington Teachers' Union and weed out underperforming teachers.

Asked to comment for a Post story on "Plan B," Gist said she would have to "check with Carrie," meaning Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's chief of staff, Carrie Brooks. Under the terms of the 2007 mayoral takeover of the school system, Gist reports to Fenty through deputy mayor for education Victor Reinoso.

Gist was not heard from again, so we assumed that Brooks had nixed the request. But Brooks denied any role in muzzling Gist, so we then concluded that Gist must have wimped out on her own.

Silly us. It turns out that Gist was willing to talk but was shut down by Fenty and Rhee, who apparently believe in responsive, transparent government except when it doesn't dovetail with their stategic communications plans.

According to e-mails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Gist contacted Reinoso and Rhee on the evening of Sept. 3 asking whether she should talk to Post reporter Bill Turque.

Rhee said she wanted to roll out Plan B all at once at a time of her choosing. Talking about teacher certification will "make things very messy, in my opinion," said Rhee.

Gist pushed back: "I think it would be a mistake not to use this opportunity to make sure he [Turque] understands the teacher certification regulations....Given that he is writing for tomorrow, are you directing me to not talk with him for the story and having him write without the benefit of our direct input?"

Fenty settled the issue early the next morning: "Yes. Don't speak with him (and please don't tell him something like. 'the mayor has told me not to speak with you'). Just don't pick up the phone. Mafara [Hobson, Fenty's press secretary] will handle all communications on this story."

Bill Turque

By Marcia Davis  |  November 11, 2008; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Education , Mayor Fenty  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Council Approves $46 Million Budget Freeze
Next: Norton Remembers DC Soldier on Veteran's Day


Isn't FOIA a wonderful thing?!

Posted by: mccxxiii | November 11, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

WOW!!! Now that is interesting maybe they will stop using those stupid blackberries and just pick up the telephone no FOIA there? LOL

Posted by: | November 11, 2008 2:23 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: kalico11 | November 11, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Fenty the pseudo-populist's autocratic style is so NOT an improvement in the way we'd become accustomed to DC government doing business.

Posted by: logosdesigns | November 11, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Bill Turque -- Thank you for staying on top of this.

Posted by: shepDC | November 11, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

But can you FOIA those pin-to-pin messages sent to and fro Blackberries?

Posted by: dcdog12 | November 11, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Nice job on digging further into the story. And it highlights one of the philosophies of the Fenty Administration: agency heads can only talk to the press when they have permission. In fact, cabinet members have been lectured during their monthly meetings on a regular basis by City Administrator Tangherlini about the necessity to check in with the Mayor's Office before talking to the press. If agency heads don't abide be that rule, they will be well on their way to being fired.

Posted by: heatherhopeindc | November 11, 2008 5:57 PM | Report abuse

This just reveals the contempt that Fenty and Rhee have for anyone who questions their authority or dares to ask questions.

It also is a glimpse into the "King Fenty" mentality that he has displayed since getting elected. He doesn't have to answer to anyone--not the Washington Post, not the City Council, not even the residents of DC--unless of course it serves his interests.

Please continue doing more investigative journalism. Obviously, there more truth to be revealed when it comes to DCPS and Mayor Fenty.

Posted by: StudentAdvocate | November 11, 2008 9:12 PM | Report abuse

dcdog12 - that is a great question. Can the PIN messages be FOIAed? That is how the Administration truly communicates when they don't want something to be uncovered by the press. Somebody should do that and they would find a goldmine...but do it fast because the BlackBerry only saves them for 30 days...

Posted by: heatherhopeindc | November 11, 2008 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Does this surprise anyone? Fenty has a muzzle on everyon and Rhee follows suit, as she wants to keep her job.Today she is Fenty's "favorite" cabinet member. When she does fall on her sword, or starts getting lots of bad PR Fenty will fire her as he has others.Please stay on top of stories like this,the public has every right to know just how Fenty's Gov't deals with tough seems to me that their policy is not to answer the phone as you clearly stated.

Posted by: DCWatcher3 | November 12, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Who cares? So they want to control their message. Big deal. What political office doesn't? Employees talking off-message to the media or without permission is perfect grounds for firing.

Posted by: billjones21 | November 12, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I don't care. Someone is FINALLY serious about fixing DC schools and that means taking on the Teacher's Union and all the entrenched interests. The thing about all the "shared responsibility" of the school board is that shared responsibility means diluted responsibility and no ACCOUNTABILITY. Meanwhile, year after year, DC schools fail to educate kids. DCPS has been a jobs program for too long.

Fortunately, Fenty/Rhee learned the valuable lesson from the Congressional takeover of DC from Mayor-for-Life Barry: it takes a single point of accountability and unwavering support to fix a DC-sized bureaucratic mess.

Posted by: pfish | November 12, 2008 8:33 PM | Report abuse

It's very strange as well as insulting to the residents of the district of columbia that Silence is the order of the government. However, talking in groups, on panels, and at conferences seems to be just fine when Rhee goes around the country with the same rhetoric of how abyssmal(her words) DC's schools are. She does this everywere she goes but it is never followed with a concrete plan to make things better. DC is a stage to promote her personal agenda for national recognition. It's exploiting our children to further her means. If anybody bothers to check out what really happend at St. Hope in Sacramento, you will find that there were no sustainable results for student achievement. It was the same high teacher turn-over rate and teachers quitting due to the bullying tactics with her friend Kevin Johnson, CEO St Hope. By the way: He's been under Federal investigation for misappropriation of funds. It seems that the funds were used for personal reasons and his use of the funds have been suspended. One more thing: When Hart was in the paper, Rhee was in Sacramento helping her friend KJ. He was just elected mayor. Which mayor is paying her this week?

Posted by: candycane1 | November 13, 2008 7:44 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company