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MEDIA WATCH: And the Judith Miller award for bad reporting goes to... Cowards on both sides of Orr High School dispute remind us why sources have to stand up and speak in their own names, not hide behind 'anonymous'

I'm nominating Orr High School's teachers and staff, along with the "Occupy Chicago Tribune," for this week's "Judith Miller Award" for silly and self-serving reporting. (They are now in the running, this awards season, for the Academy Award in this category, the "Janet Cooke Award"). Dear and gentle reader, if you don't know why Judith Miller and Janet Cooke are notorious, you don't have to rely on my poor memory, because Wikipedia will help in a mouse click).

The sign above was in the main hallway at Orr High School, then a group of four "small schools," on November 2, 2006, Principal for a Day day. Richard M. Daley was one of five people who were there to be "Principal for a Day." Two years later, Daley announced that the "small schools" were no longer on the corporate agenda, Orr became a single school again, run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, most of the staff from 2006 was fired, and the era of "turnaround" had begun. Although asked by Substance whether he was going to apologize to the Orr "small schools" staff when he had them destroyed at the advent of "turnaround," Daley remained silent. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Even with the intense public business this week, some of us at Substance have followed the cowardly and unprofessional antics of the "Occupy Chicago Tribune" and its Orr High School story with some interest. With so much on the line, we owe it to what's at stake to stop encouraging cowards and the silly conventions of the Blogosphers. It's time to stand up and be counted, not hide...

At Substance, we have a couple of rules on attribution that we try to follow, not always perfectly, to retain our credibility.

First, we are strict about COMMENTS. For "comments" we demand that someone trying to post a comment on our website give our readers his or her first name and last name, real names from the real world. While that reduces considerably our comments, it also keeps them credible. Not a day passes when we don't have to write to someone asking for a real first name and last name. If that request goes to a phony email address, then the comment goes down or is already down. It means that our "Comment" section has much less traffic than most, but at least our readers don't have to wander around in some anonymous and pseudonymous muck.

The main event on November 2, 2006 consisted of Daley and CPS officials receiving a check for $27 million from the Bush administration's U.S. Department of Education so that Chicago could launch a thing called the TIF ("Teacher Incentive ...") program to provide merit pay incentives to teachers at a handful of schools. The photo above shows, among others, then CPS CEO Arne Duncan (tallest person behind the check), then "Chief Education Officer" Barbara Eason Watkins, Daley, and then Board of Education President Rufus Williams. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Second, we try to follow careful rules about sourcing. Generally, there is no reason for a credible news story to be filled with "off the record" sourcing of quotes, especially if those quotes are attacking others who are named (or can be easily identified, as was in the "Occupy Chicago Tribune..." piece, where the principal and AUSL are easy to ID). Any time we allow someone to be "off the record" or "on background" we demand that our editor and the reporter have a real world and real time manny of contacting that person. None of that silly "All The President's Men" stuff (where Bob Woodward was able to keep the identify of Deep Throat from even Ben Bradlee, his editor). For our credibility we have to know who the person is, then tell our readers why that source if "off the record." As a result, our sourcing is usually on the record, and when it is off we try to be as clear as possible.

Reporting will always be an imperfect art. But the slippery slope of "anonymous" is a good way to undermine it completely. And that is that the Occupy Chicago Tribune story has done with Orr High School in the face of the current problems and scandals at AUSL and in CPS.

We know this from experience. Every week, someone or some group of teachers comes with us with a "Big Story... a REALLY BIG STORY!!!" if only we would run it with all of the sources off the record. We usually meet with the source (or sources) and explain to them why that won't happen. Two of us once spent three hours and the price of a good breakfast meeting with three charter school teachers who had a BIG STORY — provided we didn't identify any of them. They even had some documentary sources about the corruption at that particular charter schools (sounds like the accusations at Orr; teachers are always blamed for "bad classroom management" when school discipline collapses in the fact of outside pressures and usually drug gangs). We didn't run one word of that story about that charter school, despite more than a dozen hours of editors' and reporters' time with those "sources" because those young people (three of them; all young teachers who had just had their real world West Side wakeup call) refused to go on the record. And we're glad we didn't run that story (or dozens of others than came "over the transom" like it).

For years, we've reminded our readers about this. A couple of times a decade we post a story or editorial with the headline WHAT IF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE WERE SIGNED NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST?

Sorry....

Cowards don't change the world, and almost all the time, those who hide behind anonymous and off the record are cowards. As the song said: "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything..." A variation on that them was spoken by former Chicago Teachers Union President Jackie Vaughn: "It's time to stand up and be counted or roll over and be mounted."

We've devoted some space (and time) to reproducing the entire thread of this Orr High School kerfuffle. But we won't be posting any more stuff on or about Orr until sources are on the record. We have long been aware of the massive problems facing Orr — in all of its iterations, both before and after Orr became the poster child for the hypocrisy and collapse of corporate "school reform." Anyone who wants to feel the problems of Orr High School should spend 24 hours, just one complete news cycle, walking the streets within a four-block radius around Orr. That's the world the children live in, and it's not going to be solved by a bunch of corporate Shake-And-Bake miracle workers. A public high school can solve some of these problems, but until Chicago takes care of the other ones, it's shameful to even be facing these questions.

Within the next few months, Substance will be assembling a reporting team to put a challenge to AUSL and the expensive hypocrites who operate it from the top. We'll put a team of reporters into each AUSL school for a week at a time on the simple condition that before we go in, we get all the information about the school, and that while we are in there we have access to everything and every space.

Four or five years ago, back in the days when Orr was doing the last iteration of the Miracle Plan ("Small Schools") I covered Orr on a "Principal for a Day" day. That day, Mayor Daley spent time wandering the school to carefully selected events, most of which I was excluded from. The culmination of the day was a big Dog And Pony Show (depicted in the photograph here) in the Orr lobby, where the U.S. Department of Education announced that big merit pay grant to Chicago. All of the reporters line up facing that mayor's podium and that brick wall, then sat dutifully waiting for the scripted words they would report as "news."

Just after the media event began, Orr hit.

There was a huge outcry down the hall, from the direction of the lunchroom. Some kind of gang fight had broken out. It spilled briefly into the hall, then was shoveled back behind that door leading to the lunchroom.

I went towards that story and tried to take pictures, but was blocked by Lafayette Ford and his green jacket "security" squad (I think that's the "Safe Passage" crowd this year; then they were called something else). Best I could do was take some blurry photographs through that mussy door (does Orr still have those non glass "windows"?), but was blocked from going further.

Had even one of my brothers and sisters from the corporate media followed me towards where that real time real life Orr (and West Side) story was unfolding, maybe we could have gotten through that door and seen (as I did) clearly enough to photograph a couple of the green jackets tackling a kid. And maybe also gotten the story, either from the kids or the police, what was behind the "violence." Because those of us who know the inner city (and I taught there 28 years before being fired and blacklisted by corporate school reform) know that "violence" is not the problem, any more than "guns" is. (That's deliberate). Those who wander around talking about abstractions like "violence" and "guns" are deliberately ignoring Chicago's drug gangs.

Reporters lined up dutifully in the usual array to take notes while U.S. Department of Education officials announced the $27 million merit pay grant from the Bush administration at Chicago's Orr High School on November 2, 2006, during Richard M. Daley's fifth stint as Orr's "Principal for a Day." When a major fight broke out down the hall (rear in the photograph) during the media event, only one reporter left the press pack to see what was outbursting at Orr. The rest remained while security blocked the door in the rear from photographers and were seen tackling students involved in a significant outbreak of gang violence. Orr's "small schools" didn't stop the gang violence, nor did the current "turnaround" fad. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. That day at Orr I turned back, and every other reporter there was still facing that brick wall, notebook in hand, waiting to take dictation from Chicago's mayor. That day, it was Richard M. Daley. Since, it has become Rahm Emanuel.

But the story was more complex, and it wasn't at that podium. Then, and since, the story of Orr was missed.

But it hasn't been told this week either.

While the Orr High School anonymous "teachers" were complaining anonymously in the anonymous "Occupy Chicago Tribune," more than 20 teachers got up at a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education and testified in front of the seven people who were about to destroy their lives and careers, testified in their own names. Proudly and courageously.

So before someone goes away from this story sadly because I called out both them and "Occupy Chicago Tribune..." let's at least list some of the teachers who spoke at the Chicago Board of Education meeting on February 22, 2012, in their own name and with courage in front of the world. Their eloquence was not only in their words, but in the fact that while others were hiding behind "anonymous," they were standing up.

And as Karen Lewis, who has also been standing up, said when the public testimony began that day, you have to stand up. Not hide.

Barbara Schwartz (teacher, Herzel).

Marcy Hardaloupas (teacher, Marquette)

Sharon Bryer (teacher, Marquette)

Randy Aguilar (teacher, Marquette)

Robert Schubreth (teacher, Marquette)

Raymond Wohl (teacher, Thurgood Marshall Middle School).

Edward Hershey (teacher, Lindblom High School).

Patricia Breckinridge (displaced CPS teacher).

Sharon Schmidt (Steinmetz High School; Chicago Teachers Union).

There may have been other teachers who took personal business days that day and spoke against the Board's turnaround atrocities. There were hundreds who spoke at the community hearings on January 6 and January 20 and at the CPS headquarters hearings during the last week of January and the first week of February. All spoke in their own names. Hundreds of us.

That's how change is made, not hiding.



Comments:

February 25, 2012 at 9:35 PM

By: John Kugler

I was told to hide Daley son’s role

Sewer company boss: I was told to hide Daley son’s role

By TIM NOVAK

Last Modified: Feb 25, 2012 05:18PM

http://www.suntimes.com/10857467-417/sewer-company-boss-i-was-told-to-hide-daley-sons-role.html

The owner of a sewer-inspection and cleaning business admitted Friday that he lied to federal agents when they asked him why he failed to tell City Hall that his company’s investors included the son and a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

At first, when he spoke with investigators on March 10, 2008, Tony Duffy blamed his own “carelessness and negligence” for omitting the names of Patrick R. Daley and Robert G. Vanecko from the ownership documents that Municipal Sewer Services was required to file with City Hall to get millions of dollars worth of city business.

But that was a lie, according to Duffy. He now says he didn’t know at first about Daley and Vanecko’s involvement. He says that, when he found out, he went to Joseph M. McInerney, a principal in Cardinal Growth, a Chicago venture capital firm that also invested in the sewer company, and that McInerney “directed” him not to change the ownership-disclosure filing, to “keep it the same,” according to court records and sources familiar with the case.

McInerney is a friend of Patrick Daley.

Duffy changed his story as part of his plea agreement with federal prosecutors. He did so in hopes of avoiding deportation to his native Scotland, according to his attorney, John Meyer.

Duffy, 47, is a lawful permanent resident of the United States. He and his wife live in Bartlett.

Duffy, who could not be reached for comment, pleaded guilty to lying to a federal agent.

He initially was charged last year with three counts of mail fraud, accused of participating in a fraudulent minority-contracting scheme with Jesse Brunt, the owner of Brunt Bros. Transfer Inc., to obtain city contracts to inspect and clean Chicago sewers.

Brunt — whose company also had gotten city work through the now-disbanded Hired Truck Program — is also expected to plead guilty in the case.

Brunt’s company had been certified by City Hall as a minority-owned and operated business. That helped him land millions of dollars in city business set aside for minority-owned companies. But Brunt’s company didn’t do most of the sewer work, according to prosecutors.

Patrick Daley and his cousin — neither who could be reached for comment — haven’t been charged with any crime.

The federal investigation of the sewer deal began after the Chicago Sun-Times reported in December 2007 that Patrick Daley and Vanecko had secretly held an ownership stake in the sewer company. MSS was given more than $4 million in no-bid contract extensions from Mayor Daley’s administration during the time the mayor’s son and nephew had a stake in the company, the Sun-Times reported.

The then-mayor said he didn’t know his son and nephew were involved until the Sun-Times revealed that.

Duffy says the sewer company might have faced “greater scrutiny” if he’d disclosed that his partners included the mayor’s son and nephew, according to his plea agreement, entered before Senior U.S. District Court Milton Shadur.

Duffy was the president of Municipal Sewer Services, which he founded in 2003 with investments from Cardinal Growth, whose principals were McInerney and Robert Bobb Jr., a friend of Mayor Daley. The mayor’s son and nephew invested $65,000.

Municipal Sewer Services took over two city contracts that previously were held by Duffy’s former employer, Kenny Industrial Services, which had gone bankrupt. MSS also took over Kenny’s role as a subcontractor to Brunt, responsible for inspecting and cleaning city sewers south of 63rd Street.

Patrick Daley and Vanecko cashed out their stake in MSS at the end of 2004, as the heat was on at City Hall, with federal investigators interviewing the operators of all companies involved in the Hired Truck Program, including Brunt Brothers.

Patrick Daley subsequently enlisted in the Army, though he kept his venture capital business and his vehicle registered at McInerney’s Cardinal Growth offices at 311 S. Wacker.

Cardinal Growth had invested in Concourse Communications, a company the city of Chicago hired in September 2005 to install Wi-Fi Internet service at O’Hare and Midway airports. After the system was installed, Concourse Communications was sold — a deal that made $708,999 for Patrick Daley, who had helped find investors for the company.

The U.S. Small Business Administration took control of Cardinal Growth last summer, saying the venture capital firm owed taxpayers $21.4 million. Bobb and McInerney were ousted from Cardinal Growth, which had borrowed more than $50 million from the SBA over a decade — money they used to invest in companies including Municipal Sewer Services, which went out of business four years ago amid the investigation by the FBI and the city inspector general’s office.

February 26, 2012 at 2:51 PM

By: Anthony Phillips

To blow a whistle

We may applaud whistleblowers who risk job, livelihood, mortgage, the support of their children in order to openly right wrongs. But if you point out injustice furtively are you necessarily a coward? While not so heroic, there have been people who contribute useful perspective and information to the discussion of trouble and rot, even if they don't put their heads on the block. Remember "Deep Throat"?

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