Media Watch: New York Times, reporter Sam Dillon, gets 'Judith Miller Award' for being in the tank with charters, Duncan administratioin

New York Times reporter Sam Dillon had already earned himself the coveted " Judith Miller Award" for pushing ruling class propaganda as "news" even before he continued his push for the honor throughout the summer of 2009.

As SubstanceNews readers know, Sam Dillon's been in the tank for Arne Duncan since he wrote the first hagiographic "news" story (last December) about how Arne was going to Washington and would do a really cool guy job of saving America's public schools from the ruin everyone knows the public schools are in. After all, how can a Harvard graduate who plays basketball with the President-elect (at that point) not get it right? Once Dillon had done his initial work for the Obama and Duncan versions of "No Child Left Behind," the sources and the stories kept coming. But getting another Page One byline on July 27, 2009, for a story about charter school unionization, just adds to the portfolio that will some day have the guy walking down the red carpet on awards night.

This latest example of Dillon's propaganda is almost priceless. It turns out to be a story about how charter schools really don't need unions unless they are going to get company unions because everyone knows that unions undermine those key virtues — entrepreneurship and innovationism — that will be the only things that can possibly save America's "failing" public schools. (In case you didn't know that the public schools of the USA are "failing," just read the quotes from Dillon's "news" articles covering the speeches of Arne Duncan and his master, Barack Obama, on the subject). Chicago International Charter School chief Beth Purvis (above, speaking to the October 22, 2008 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education) has devoted her entire charter school executive career to "union avoidance" as completely as if she were working for Wal Mart. The corporate dollars that supplement public funds for Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) lead to something that is far from the "level playing field" Chicago charter school propagandists tout when they propose that Chicago's charters now become a national model for the massive charter school expansion that the Obama administration is trying to force on the rest of the USA through the strings tied to the second year of "Stimulus" and through "Race to the Top." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Most of the sources for the latest piece of propaganda are charter school touts (including Chicago's own Dr. Elizabeth "Beth" Purvis of Chicago International Charter Schools, which more than any other stands to profit wildly when the Chicago model does national thanks to Obama and Duncan) who don't like unions. For years, everyone who has followed Chicago charters closely knows that Beth Purvis and her colleagues are running the Wal Marts of public schools. Just to take one example, in his news story of July 27, Sam Dillon fails to report that Purvis's "Chicago International Charter School" (one school with at least a dozen campuses -- and growing -- as of now) has been fiercely anti-union (straight out of the Wal-Mart playbook from the beignning). The Chicago unionization story is much much more complex than America's "Newspaper of Record" would lead its readers to believe. Although the teachers at the Civitas (the sliver of CICS that won two votes -- not one -- to go union) schools vote by a huge majority to go union, Dillon (and his New York Times editors) quote the scab votes and the charter union busters (and then those strange quotes from Randi Weingarten, rather than the actual charter teacher organizers) instead of quoting the teachers who have gone charter in larger numbers. One of the earliest warnings that reporters used to get in the traditional days of journalistic apprenticeship was "quote source and context." When the context is Illinois and Chicago politics and the question is charter schools or anything else pertaining to public schools, part of the story is how former Chicago schools "Chief Executive Officer" Arne Duncan (above right) was fundamentally a loyal servant of Chicago and Illinois politicians. On May 23, 2006, for example, Duncan dutifully appeared and spoke at a publicity stunt hosted by (now former) Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (above left) at the Healy Elementary School on Chicago's South Side. The actual purpose of the media event was to announced that Illinois State Senator Rev. James Meeks (above at podium gesturing towards Blagojevich) would not be running for governor against Blagojevich. Why? According to Meeks, he was dropping his bid to unseat Blagojevich because Blagojevich and Meeks had agreed that the best way to save Illinois public schools was to "lease" the Illinois Lottery and use all the money from the so-called "public private partnership" for additional school funding. Meeks had been threatening to run against Blaogjevich unless some kind of salvation was provided to public schools. Prior to the event above, Meeks (like Blagojevich a Democrat) had been grumbling loudly that the schools were not funded properly. He said that he might run for governor against Blago if the school funding crisis in Illinois wasn't solved. Suddenly, on May 23, with Arne Duncan dutifully at his side, Blagojevich had the solution -- the privatization of the lucrative Illinois Lottery. Blagojevich's controversial privatization plan never went through. The plan to flip the lottery was almost laughed out of consideration from the moment it was proposed, but it was enough to end any real opposition — at least from the ubiquitous Meeks, who also runs one of the Mega churches in Chicago's black community — to Blagojevich's run for another term as governor. Through his seven-and-a-half years in office as CEO of CPS, Duncan was a dutiful servant of Chicago and Illinois politicians. During those years, so was Duncan's new boss, Barack Obama. When Obama was in politics in Illinois — both as a State Senator and later as one of the two U.S. Senators from Illinois — he supported every move by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to privatize public schooling, bash public school teachers (while praising teachers in charter schools), and undermine the unions representing those who work in the public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

And, naturally, the article is illustrated with two photographs of the Brave Little Teacher who Thought About Unions but then Voted Against.

Finally, there is the Duncanian timing of the thing, just right for Barack Obama's assault on the rest of the nation's public schools. Why would The New York Times be interested in a story about charter schools — centered in Chicago — in the middle of the summer? "Why not?" would really be the question, if The Times is understood as the voice of corporate "school reform" propaganda on the international level. Chicago Board of Education President Rufus Williams (above, center) praises Chicago International Charter School (CICS) after Beth Purvis delivered her remarks to the October 22, 2008 Board of Education meeting. At Williams's side are (far left) Board Vice President Clare Muñana and (far right) Board member Tarig Butt. All of the members of the Chicago Board of Education are neoliberal "free market" ideologues who have voted unanimously and without debate to approve the destruction of the city's public schools and the vast and unregulated expansion of the Chicago charter school "model." That model, based on the lies that were first developed in Chicago, is now being foisted on the public school districts across the USA under the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" stimulus package. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Part of the bullying Barack Obama and Arne Duncan will be doing to every school district in all 50 states (and the territories) will be to force everyone to do charters whether they like it or not as part of the "school reform" we'll all be paying for with that $5 billion in "Stimulus II" money Obama has put in Duncan's hands.

It's Chicago style politics all the way, masked behind the teacher bashing and union busting sanctimoniousness that has been perfected by Chicago's charter school propagandists, from the Mayor's Office to the White House. But there is an additional benefit. A "news" story in The New York Times bullies the opposition, and even some well meaning skeptics. With The New York Times providing the professors and pundits with Page One "news" to back it up, it's really in the Judith Miller league. We don't think anyone will be at the United Nations quoting it, but we bet it's already in the clip files of a thousand university professors who've never taken a second look at the real schools on Chicago's South Side or the underbelly of Chicago's fraudulent charters.

Although Dillon's reporting is not yet in the same league as some of the local Chicago tanksters in publishing worshipful corporate propaganda as "news," it's close. (He will, though, have to go a long way to top the Chicago Tribune, which managed to write a pro-charter story about North Lawndale College Prep Charter after the school's negligence murdered three of its students up at the Fox River last fall). There's nothing like a searing tale of how the death of three students traumatized a school -- after the death was caused by the school's negligent administration.

But back to Chicago, Dillon's Page One July 27 article deserves the Judith Miller award -- for now. The New York Times has been in the tank as a cheerleader for Chicago's perverted free market version of corporate "school reform" since the Vallas days. I remember how, when North Side opened, they did a huge story about "attracting the middle class back to Chicago's schools" (the Vallas and Daley line, unsupported by any facts) as a huge feature story. Straight propaganda.

Like this one on charter unionization.

Somehow, however, nobody at Substance should think Columbia Journalism Review and the mainstream mavens of media are going to call out Sam Dillon (or even give him a tiny "Dart") like they eventually caught up with Judith Millers (whose Weapons of Mass Destruction lies got us closer to the 2003 invasion of Iraq), but his "news" reporting is in the same league.

In order to get your touting and tanking noticed by your colleagues in the corporate propaganda departments, you have to have help from Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney, like Miller eventually did (although they didn't realize it at the time they were manipulating things, just as Dillon was being manipulated as voluntarily as Miller was). 

Final edited version of this article posted at July 30, 2009, 3:00 a.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


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