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MEDIA WATCH: 'If your mother says she loves you, be anonymous...' A sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek, but serious response to District 299's slander mill

At first I told my editor I was not going to add anything to the "Dewey Defeats Truman" discussion that's been going on here and on District299.com, the anonymous blogging machine that tries to be the "inside scoop" on everything CPS. But then I re-read Alexander Russo's comment to Substance (thanks, Alexander, for using your own name... as we require), thought about it, and decided to give everyone the opportunity to review this whole thing.

Probably my biggest criticism of what Russo is doing is that he is giving cowards the privilege of hiding behind anonymous fig leaves and taking cheap shots at others. That was clearly the case with the buildup to Noemi Donoso's departure. I don't care whether she was a bitch or not, what we decided when people began trying to scam those slanders into our work was to demand, as we always do, that our sources either identify themselves or find another place to take their cheap shots. No character assassination by proxy here, and for very very very good reasons.

In this country, we believe in a free press — and that people should be accountable for their words and deeds. We've certainly proved that over time at Substance that accountability should have its price. In the most melodramatic (but costly) example in our history, the CASE case, it cost us more than $300,000 to mount our legal defense and my job as a CPS teacher. In the CASE case we were sued for $1.4 million by CPS ‚ viz Paul Vallas, Gery Chico, and Richard M. Daley — and I was fired from my teaching job for publishing in Substance — the January 1999 edition — six of the stupidest tests every forced on public school children in the history of the public schools of the USA. We decided to publish the entire one of each of the six tests we had received (along with all the others of the 22 used that month on more than 90,000 CPS high school students) because to simply publish the dumbest questions would not have done the job. The point was that the tests as a whole — each of them — were dumb, an incredible waste of taxpayer money and student and teacher time. CPS and the mayor went nuts, sued us in federal court for, of all things, "copyright infringement", and got about a tenth of what they wanted.

As I said, they proudly fired me (by a vote of the Board of Education at its August 2000 meeting) and also put me on a blacklist that went across Chicago and into the suburbs in all directions. At that Board meeting, Paul Vallas made a speech about how the Board members (and presumably him, in his Patton fantasies) had to show "courage" by standing up to me. Then the Board members (except one) voted to fire me. Chico stood firmly on Vallas's side, and never broke from his career as a toady to power.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the finish line. We didn't cave in, and continued to demand that CPS stand before a jury trial, since they were seeking damages from me, and prove that the tests I had "infringed" were worth the $1.4 million that Phil Hansen had sworn in court they were worth. Slowly, over three years, then came down, from $1.4 million to $700,000. Then to $7,000. Finally, on the eve of trial on their claim of "copyright infringement" damages, Magistrate Judge Bobrick asked me why I wouldn't just pay them the $700 they had dropped down to and end it.

We had a brief discussion about the meaning of freedom in this country, and about my rights under the Seventh Amendment to a jury trial in any civil case where I might be held liable for damages in excess of $50. The Seventh Amendment is not one of the more notorious parts of the Bill of Rights, but I love each of those ten.

What happened than? Basically, the judge didn't want to take up his courtroom for several days while we proved that the CASE tests were not only not worth the $1.4 million they had sued me for, but were in fact (like most so-called "standardized" tests) a negative out of the taxpayer dollars. How? They were a waste of time, and stupid. But since thousands of teachers and tens of thousands of kids had to waste educational time on them in early January 1999, the calculation of the damages was going to go the other way once we proved that the CASE tests were nonsense in open court.

Basically, the Board of Education decided to drop its damages claim against me and therefore there was no "day in court" to prove how ridiculous and expensive that particular nonsense out of the Vallas years was. And later, despite an eloquent appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (backed by briefs in amicus curiae from the Chicago Teachers Union, PURE, Fair Test, and others) my appeal on First Amendment grounds was denied, and the ludicrous decision written by Judge Richard Posner for the Seventh Circuit remains the final word on that issue (and my right to teach in Chicago).

At no time were we going to deny accountability for publishing CASE. CPS and Daley thought they could wear us down with lawyers after lawyers after more lawyers. In addition to the lawyers CPS deployed against me form the Law Department, they spent a half million dollars on some of the best "copyright" lawyers in Chicago from outside CPS, including the late Patricia Felch.

But all that squeeze couldn't make the CASE less dumb, or the issue less important.

Or the need for accountability less a matter of public interest.

I learned a lot in those years about a lot of things. It turned out, for example, that the best media coverage of that event came from The Wall Street Journal, which put a very good reporter on getting the whole story over more than a month. (Their report finally appeared on Page One of The Wall Street Journal on May 25, 2001). The most important thing we all learned was that accuracy requires real sourcing, not these cowardly blog bogs.

That still stands.

There was a motto I used to teach my journalism students back before I was fired and blacklisted by Chicago that was attributed to A. A. Dornfeld, night city editor at the City News Bureau.

"If your mother says she loves you, check it out!"

Some people may feel that blogging and similar anonymous "social media" are a great thing for the First Amendment and freedom.

At Substance, we don't. As this example shows, they are simply a forum for cowards to take cheap shots from ambush against people and their reputations. Sure, people wanted to "share" their "Noemi" stories with us at Substance. And we would have published them had those heroes been willing to go on the record or share something specific with us that came out in writing. So, every week we received (not from the Chief Education Officer) the "Bulletin" issued by the CEdO and read it carefully. From time to time we made a comment on it (as when we learned that another "Chief of Staff" had been put into place at CPS; at a six figure salary...).

Not a day will go by in Chicago when someone won't try to manipulate media by floating a story against an enemy. People are always trying to sail the "news" in "over the transom." When that comes in an we verify it (as we did with the CASE tests in January 1999), we might decide to publish.

But usually, this stuff comes in from people who want someone else to do their dirty work for them. And when that happens, we're almost tempted to call the victim and ask for a reaction quote with a question that indicates who is doing the slandering. That might be fun.

For our readers, here is the scorecard on the "Dewey Defeats Truman" report at District 299.com.

Of the 142 comments as of noon today, 119 of them were anonymous or pseudononymous.

Nine came from Alexander Russo.

And 15 came from real people who identified themselves, two of whom, Rod Estvan and Xian Barrett, wrote most of them.



Comments:

May 1, 2012 at 8:32 PM

By: Valerie F. Leonard

CASE

Thanks for providing history on the CASE case. Somehow, I slept through the Revolution, and missed what proves to be a very critical piece of Chicago Public School history. I want to pause and say thank you, George, and Substance News crew, for standing in the gap, when no one else will, or even is aware of what you're doing. But for the grace of God, you and Substance, a lot of the developments at CPS would never see the light of day. You have shown that "freedom ain't free", and I thank you and Substance News for paying the price that have helped keep the remnants of democracy alive. May God bless you and yours. If ever there was a time to remember Rev. Niemoller, the time is now.

May 2, 2012 at 7:36 AM

By: Bob Busch

Dist 299 and dust on the boots

Reply to a post at Dist 299

For about a year I used the name 10.4 to blog both here and at substance.com. Then two of my students got murdered in a week so I thought Fuck it and began using my real name. It doesn’t hurt one bit.

I have never met George but you are confused about a couple of facts. Substance was published long before he got fired. Both this blog and Substance are important sources of information about education. But each is also different in their own way. Watching kids die right before your eyes has a sobering effect on a person. It creates a rage unlike anything else and when that rage is transferred into a passion we have people like George, and me who are on a mission.

People like you are just dust on a boot very easy to brush off.

May 2, 2012 at 8:38 PM

By: Kati Gilson

Comments can't be a place to hide

For the record, when I post comments or publish reports on Substance I use my own name. Also, my opinions and comments are strictly my own. Anonymous is a place to hide. If you really beleive in what you are saying, use your name!

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