Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dissapointing Coverage

Check this out:

The forum was the 47th since Briley and Dean entered the mayor’s race last fall, according to Evans Donnell, a Gentry spokesman. Clement, Dozier and Gentry participated in three forums before then, Donnell said. (The Tennessean, July 25, 2007)

Did you know that? How many did you see? How available have these candidates made themselves for inspection by citizens as well as the media? By now, we ought to have a very deep sense of where each of these guys stands, and we ought to be nearing a pretty sophisticated set of criteria for making our decisions about the best choice we can make in the Mayor's race.

So, why are the mainstream media endorsements so shallow?

The Scene endorsement is particularly hard to follow. Here is what they say about the guy they chose:

Meanwhile, Karl Dean, the former Metro law director and public defender, is simply an honest broker with a focused message. He’s not politically insecure, and thus doesn’t engage in the kind of cunning doublespeak that others have demonstrated a willingness to practice. His rhetoric is plain and clear, lacking platitudes and kowtowing. Dean has an almost Kennedy-esque persona, and is a sort of Nashville Mr. Smith, a character whose slightly dorky disposition is so genuine as to be endearing.

OK. They celebrate this candidate for avoiding political tricks like saying one thing but not being prepared to follow through. I get that, but look closely at the VERY NEXT LINE:

While we can’t say Dean has offered a blueprint for reducing high school dropout rates in Nashville—which has been the core of his campaign message—we believe he possesses the skills to make such an impact on public education.

WHY? HOW? Is anyone paying attention to this? They like his honesty and his straight talk, and the core of his campaign is based on something that this endorser is not prepared to say he has a plan to accomplish. Now, bear with me, because I actually think this assessment is so far off the mark that it is not really fair to Karl. This observation is about the quality of this endorsement. I am not impressed with the reasoning in this piece, and it does little to add to the reasonable dialogue about who should be mayor.

It gets worse. Here is what they say about the guy the reject:

He [David Briley] has what is probably the finest mind on the 40-member Metro Council—not to mention one of the sharpest in the city. We share his enthusiasm for embracing sustainability, and we appreciate his accessibility and work ethic.

OK. He's very smart. Sounds like a good candidate.
But Briley is also one of Nashville’s most politically calculating
personalities, so much so that he strategizes himself in circles.

Really? That sounds bad. Any evidence? They follow with one piece of "evidence."
Examples are his recently released policy paper on dealing with illegal immigrants in Nashville and a TV ad covering some of the same terrain. While the whole of the policy paper is benign, one section—dealing with punishing local employers who hire illegals—is not only disingenuous, but also outside Metro’s authority, which Briley well knows. We believe Briley’s exploration of the topic was intended to exploit an anti-immigrant sentiment for political advantage.

OK, you are entitled to believe what you want, and this paragraph makes no claim other than that the author believes it to be true. But, you see, that's where I am disappointed. Forty-seven to fifty times these candidates have gone out in public to discuss their views. If Briley is flip flopping and playing political games, the people who have witnessed the forums have not reported it. In fact, the Tennessean reported that at tonight's forum, Briley, Dean, and Gentry all gave essentially the same positions on immigration. Yet a sweeping claim about Briley's character is based on that position and used to wave away all the work he has done while failing to hold the endorsed candidate to the same standard.

And that's the point. These endorsements are not based on standards. They are based on personal opinions and gut feelings. I have suggested standards at this site that describe important characteristics of the mayor to me, and my "endorsement" is clearly linked to those. Whether you agree or disagree with how I applied them, you can at least see and understand where I am coming from. That approach, I hope, adds to discussion and deliberation. The gut feeling (he is politically calculating because he is) really doesn't add understanding or enlightenment.

And that's disappointing.


Anonymous said...

Alan - If you have such a desire to improve our public schools, then why do you teach at MBA?

Anonymous said...

Very well put, but what is silly is that you take the time to analyze an endorsement from a "newspaper" whose primary purpose is to list the week's music acts. Jeff (and by his endorsement, Liz), are not really "editors" in any sense not inclusive of a junior high school paper.

In short, why bother?

Alan Coverstone said...

The second question counsels me to avoid spending time on questions that frankly aren't worth the time, but I feel like I should address the first question anyway. I am for education...high quality education for every child in Nashville. One school, one teacher cannot do it alone. Questions like this one, and its ridiculous variants (How can Dean understand public education when his children went to private schools, how can public school teachers send their kids to private schools, and my favorite...How can private school teachers send their kids to public schools) are simply unhelpful, divisive, and demonstrate an unbelievable lack of understanding of what is at stake.

The education system, properly conceived, ought to include a variety of options to fit the variety of educational needs that children and families bring to it. Nashville's educational system has some good schools and some schools that are not as good. This is true among public schools, private schools, magnet schools, zoned schools, and so on. My goal is to see the widest possible variety of good school options available to all children in Nashville. That's why I am a supporter of public schools. That's why my children attend public schools.

OK, I will take that advice now. This question isn't worth the time I've taken to answer. You left it anonymously, but you know where I work. There are more ways to support quality education than simply teaching at a school. In particular, parents and community members have extremely important roles to play in making schools great. I work very hard for my students who are also part of Nashville's future. I wonder what anonymous does for a living. If it is anything but teaching in a public school, then he/she is open to the same implicit criticism embedded in the question to me.

Here's the simple answer:

I teach at a private school to offer the best education I can to students in my classes. I work with my children's public school to offer as much support for my children and their friends as I can. I advocate for public schools in the community because so many people are working so hard to ensure that EVERY child who lives in Nashville has the same right to the best possible education we can provide as a community. PERIOD.

I hope, anonymous, that you are equally committed to this most important cause. I will gladly join you and never seek to drive a silly wedge between us.

Alan Coverstone said...

Oh, and to answer the second question, I had felt like the Scene did better work. That's why I pointed it out. I would not agree with the broad swipe at Liz and Jeff. I think they do good work. I just did not think this endorsement was close to their usual standards. It smacks of a personal dislike for Briley rather than an honest assessment of his capabilities for leadership.