Archives for category: Media

John Merrow is exasperated by the media narrative that it’s only the teachers’ unions that are blocking the reopening of schools.

Of course, students should be in real school, but schools must be safe for adults and students alike.

He writes that teachers should be vaccinated. And communities must prioritize what matters most in school, which is NOT testing.

He writes:

The giant lumbering beast known as the US Economy–akin to a conveyor belt with countless moving parts–wants public schools to reopen.  The beast needs workers, but right now too many adults are at home, supervising their children’s ‘remote learning.’  Open the schools, and the adults can go to work: it’s that simple….

But of course it isn’t simple.  Putting kids back in schools will allow adults to work, and that’s important, but it is what happens inside schools that matters more.  

A quick history lesson: We’ve always sent our children to school for three reasons: 1) Acquisition of knowledge, 2) Socialization, and 3) Custodial care.  The internet has turned that upside down because it puts infinite information at everyone’s fingertips wherever they happen to be and because thousands of apps allow for ‘socialization’ with anyone and everyone.  That left only custodial care as a vital school function, until the pandemic made even that impossible. 

However, students swimming in a sea of infinite information need guidance, because ‘information’ is not knowledge.  It takes a certain skill set to distinguish between wheat and chaff, and a certain value system to choose the wheat over the chaff.  Skilled teachers make that happen.

Socializing via apps, though convenient, is fraught with peril, because that person you believe to be your age and your gender might be an adult with evil intentions. Skilled teachers help students learn to discern. And skilled teachers see that students use this all-powerful technology for useful purposes.

But perhaps the major lesson of remote learning is that young people want and need to be with their peers.  Apps don’t cut it…and the kids are not alright.

The mental health consequences of prolonged isolation are becoming clearer by the day.  “Students are struggling across the board,” said Jennifer Rothman, senior manager for youth and young adult services at the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness, to The Washington Post in January.  “It’s the social isolation, the loneliness, the changes in their routines.  Students who might never have had a symptom of a mental health condition before the pandemic now have symptoms.” 

If you read my blog last week, you were shocked by one reader’s response:  “John, I’m wondering if we could have a conversation sometime. I am passionate about this subject. Our 13-year old grandchild just committed suicide after return one single morning to virtual schooling. It was Monday, Jan. 4, first day back, after the holidays. They broke for lunch, Donovan wrote a note…. went outside, and shot himself.”

So when schools reopen, attention must be paid, not to catching up with the curriculum but to the needs of young people.

Now to the present: President Joe Biden has pledged to reopen schools by the end of his first 100 days, a monumental challenge.  Reopening schools is a complex issue, but–sadly and predictably–opportunistic politicians and some in the media are framing the issue as a conflict between the needs of students and the selfish wishes of teachers and, naturally, their unions.  

This false narrative hurts both groups...

What have school boards been doing?  Not much. The San Francisco School Board has spent months arguing whether to rename schools for people more admirable than Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, instead of preparing for reopening or pushing to make sure teachers would be vaccinated.  While that’s pathetically politically correct, the behavior of some school boards was borderline criminal, in at least one case allowing their family members to jump the vaccination line ahead of teachers!

And so, today, not even half of states have prioritized the vaccination of teachers and others who work with children in schools.  That’s an absolute disgrace.  As one teacher noted on Twitter, “…for us it’s been about the lack of care and preparedness of the school district, how they’ve treated the teachers and staff, the lack of communication, and the moving goalposts for how and when to reopen…”

So, yes, schools should reopen as fast as possible–but only after teachers have been vaccinated, classrooms have been provided with adequate ventilation and PPE, and schools have developed safety protocols. In some instances, this will require immediate attention to the physical condition of buildings, because there are public schools in America without hot running water!  

Experts have voiced concerns about what they call ‘Learning Loss,” which they tend to measure in months and sometimes years.  I hope that others find it offensive to define learning in terms of quantity rather than quality, but let’s save that for another day.  That said, it’s absolutely essential that adults stop obsessing about ‘learning loss.’  Cancel the damn standardized tests.  Meet the children where they are.  

Our giant lumbering economy wants schools reopened for another reason: It needs what our schools produce: high school graduates.  After all, America’s education system has been a reliable conveyor belt, moving students along for 12 years before dumping them out into society.  Higher education has come to depend on a fresh supply of close to 2 million freshmen each fall.  Branches of the military need recruits, and so on.

COVID has stopped the conveyor belt entirely in some places, and slowed it down considerably elsewhere, but I believe that many who are demanding that the conveyor belt be restarted are not thinking about either students or teachers. They want to get back to ‘normal.’

That ain’t happening, and we must embrace that reality.  This school year is unlike any other. For those students who have been able to stay on track, congratulations and Godspeed.  But for those whose lives have been turned upside down, you have not failed!  You shouldn’t have to go to summer school, have your ‘learning loss’ measured and published, or be held back.  

You should get a mulligan, a blame-free, no fault do-over.   

And finally, the interests of teachers and students are aligned. They may not sync up with the interests of higher education, restaurants, bars et cetera, but students and teachers are in this together.

John Merrowformer Education Correspondent, PBS NewsHour, and founding  President, Learning Matters, Inc.

The New York Daily News published messages released by Amazon to defend its decision to boot the right-wing Parler off its site.

Amazon sought to justify its shutdown of Parler on Thursday by sharing with a federal judge several deranged posts from the anti-social network.

Amazon attorney Ambika Doran said during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Seattle that the tech giant had no choice but to stop hosting Parler on company servers after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“The content at issue … encourages rape, murder and torture,” Doran said. The lawyer filed examples of inflammatory, disturbing Parler posts in court, which she called “the tip of the iceberg.”

The posts showed Parler users discussing mass murder of liberals, extreme homophobia and transphobia, racism, and attacks on Amazon itself.

“On January 20 we need to start systematically assassinating #liberal leaders, liberal activists, #blm leaders and supporters, members of the #nba #nfl #mlb #nhl #mainstreammedia anchors and correspondents and #antifa. I already have news worthy events planned,” read one bloodthirsty post.

Parler is demanding that Amazon restore its services.

This is a clever farewell to @realDonald Trump, banished for life from Twitter, at last!

As someone said on Twitter in response, how will people know that they have been fired if they can’t read it on Trump’s Twitter feed?

Major newspaper editorial boards love standardized testing. They write from a position of complete ignorance of how useless these tests are and how little information of value they produce. Recently the New York Times came out in favor of resuming the spring tests–even though the scores won’t be returned for several months–and now the Washington Post has endorsed the annual testing.

Peter Greene explains why they are wrong. If parents want to know how their children are doing, they should ask their children’s teachers. They know far more than a standardized test will show and can answer without waiting for six months.

At the end of a shameful day, in which Trump claimed falsely (again) that he had won in a landslide, Twitter announced that it was suspending him—but for only 12 hours. Twitter warned Trump that his account might be permanently blocked.

Twitter locks Trump’s account for 12 hours and warns he could get kicked off permanently

President Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to call for calm mere hours after he sought to rally his supporters outside the U.S. Capitol, sending mixed messages that incited real-world violence and forced congressional lawmakers into a lockdown.

Since he can’t tweet without lying, his account should be permanently suspended.

The Washington Post reported that FOX Business News commentator, Lou Dobbs, a big fan of Trump’s, was compelled to air a segment retracting his statements about a voting machine vendor, under threat of a lawsuit.

In addition, Newsmax apologized fully for its slanders against the two major voting machine companies, stating that they were not part of any conspiracy to rig the election. Please watch this. It’s unintentionally hilarious and makes mincemeat of the Sidney Powell-Rudy Guiliani conspiracy theories. Amazing what the threat of a lawsuit can accomplish, especially when the defendant has knowingly lied.

Here is the Lou Dobbs story:

Something surprising happened Friday night on Lou Dobbs’s top-rated show on the Fox Business Network.

Dobbs, an opinion host and conservative ally of President Trump who has consistently raged over the past month that the president was robbed of a second term by a rigged election, introduced a segment that calmly debunked several accusations of fraud that Rudolph W. Giuliani and other Trump supporters have lobbed against the election technology company Smartmatic.

“There are lots of opinions about the integrity of the election, the irregularities of mail-in voting, of election voting machines and voting software,” Dobbs told his viewers before introducing Edward Perez, an expert with the nonprofit Open Source Election Technology Institute, to give “his assessment of Smartmatic and recent claims about the company.”

Perez then appeared in an apparently pretaped segment, where he shot down various conspiracy theories in response to questions from an off-camera, unidentified voice — not Dobbs’s.

The segment, it turns out, was in response to a 20-page legal demand letter that was sent this month by Smartmatic to Fox News Media. Similar letters went to Fox’s smaller competitors on the right, Newsmax and One America News. The letters demanded “a full and complete retraction of all false and defamatory statements and reports” aired by the network in its coverage of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Specifically, the company charged: “Fox News has engaged in a concerted disinformation campaign against Smartmatic. Fox News told its millions of viewers and readers that Smartmatic was founded by [the late Venezuelan President] Hugo Chávez, that its software was designed to fix elections, and that Smartmatic conspired with others to defraud the American people and fix the 2020 U.S. election by changing, inflating, and deleting votes.”

Not only are these claims false, the company said, it played only a relatively minor role in this year’s presidential election, as a contractor for the election process in Los Angeles County, Calif.

In the legal letter, Smartmatic included segments from Dobbs’s prime-time show as examples of “false and defamatory statements/implications,” with some comments coming from Dobbs himself — Dobbs said on Nov. 18 that the company consists of “left-wing radicals” — and others from guests such as Giuliani and onetime Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell.

Fox News confirmed to The Washington Post on Saturday that the fact-checking segment seen on Dobbs’s show Friday night will also air on “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” hosted on Saturday night by Jeanine Pirro and “Sunday Morning Futures,” hosted on Sunday morning by Maria Bartiromo, the shows mentioned in the demand letter. (Smartmatic had demanded that the corrections “must be published on multiple occasions” and must be made during prime-time shows, so as to “match the attention and audience targeted with the original defamatory publications….”)

In the segment, Perez clarified that Smartmatic is, “for all intents and purposes,” a completely separate company from Dominion Voting Systems, another voting technology company that has faced unsubstantiated charges of wrongdoing. In a Nov. 12 appearance on Dobbs’s show, Giuliani claimed that Dominion is owned by Smartmatic; on Nov. 16, Dobbs said that “Dominion has connections” to Smartmatic, while also claiming the since-debunked theory that Smartmatic “had ties to” Venezuela’s Chavez.

During Friday night’s fact-checking segment, the questioner asked Perez: “Have you seen any evidence of Smartmatic sending U.S. votes to be tabulated in foreign countries?”

This appeared to be a reference to Giuliani’s Nov. 12 claim on the show that with Smartmatic software, “the votes actually go to Barcelona, Spain.” Perez responded, “No, I’m not aware of any evidence that Smartmatic is sending U.S. votes to be tabulated in foreign countries.”

It is unclear whether the fact-checking segment fulfilled Smartmatic’s demand for a retraction. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment Saturday. In the legal demand letter, Smartmatic said that the comments made on Fox will cost the company “hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars” in value.

Thus far, Fox appears to be the only network that has publicly made amends in response to Smartmatic’s complaint. Newsmax, which began referring to Joe Biden as “president-elect” only on Monday, released a statement responding to Smartmatic’s demand letter by placing the burden of blame on the guests who expressed those views on air.

This is what accountability looks like.

The organization Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting writes that the New York Times has become a “cheerleader” for reopening the schools as the COVID surges to new heights.

it is strange indeed because there is evidence to support reopening and equally impressive evidence against reopening schools. Yet the New York Times consistently lands on one side: reopen the schools.

Ari Paul of FAIR writes:

We’re still dealing with a pandemic of biblical proportions, and the scientific community is still conflicted about how schools reopening fits into the crisis. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts, favors school reopening (Business Insider11/29/20)—as does the American Academy of Pediatrics, though it notes that “the current widespread circulation of the virus will not permit in-person learning to be safely accomplished in many jurisdictions.”

But the idea that children are not vectors, or are merely low-risk vectors, for spread of the coronavirus is in dispute (Healthline9/24/20AP9/22/20). The Journal of the American Medical Association (7/29/20) reported “a temporal association between statewide school closure and lower Covid-19 incidence and mortality,” saying that school closures between March 9 and May 7 were associated with a 62% relative decline in Covid incidence per week and a 58% decline in deaths per week.

Nature (11/16/20) cited JAMA’s finding to bolster its comprehensive statistical review of governmental “non-pharmaceutical interventions” against Covid, which found that school closures were one of “the most effective NPIs” in curbing the spread of the disease. A report in US News and World Report (12/2/20) based on data compiled by the Covid Monitorproject on the coronavirus in K–12 schools  concluded that “the data suggests schools are NOT safe and DO contribute to the spread of the virus—both within schools and within their surrounding communities.”

And that’s partially why parents and teachers are so worried about de Blasio’s plan. Individual schools in the city have to deal with budget shortfallsdeteriorating buildings and lack of supplies in the best of times, and now they suddenly must rapidly and safely implement in-person teaching. And as many New York schools advocates, like one-time gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, have argued, reopening schools tends to benefit whiter communities, as whiter, more affluent schools tend to have more resources to adapt to the current environment.

Paul identifies Times’ reporter Eliza Shapiro as purveyor of a consistent anti-union, anti-teacher perspective, who consistently supports reopening and ignores the voices of teachers who complain about the lack of funding for protective measures for both students and teachers.

Paul concludes that the New York Times, the newspaper of record, “should be playing a much more balanced and compassionate role.”

Sam Wineburg and Nadav Ziv, professor and student at Stanford University, maintain that it is crucial to teach students how to recognize misinformation, a point that the recent election made clear. The Republican Party repeatedly called Democratic candidates “radical socialists” and smeared any proposal to improve the lives of people as “socialism.”

They wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

The 2020 election has once again demonstrated how easy it is to spread misinformation online. And universities across the U.S. are failing in teaching students how to identify it. Many colleges offer students guides to evaluate the trustworthiness of websites. But too many of them base their advice on a report from 1998. That’s nine years before the first iPhone, and 18 years before Russian interference sparked an urgent discussion on how we interpret information online.

There’s something deeply wrong with using advice on the internet of 20 years ago to teach students how they should interact with the internet of today. That demands 21st century skills. 

In a report released last month that we co-authored for the Stanford History Education Group, we saw what happens when educators provide students with outdated advice. Most of the 263 college students we tested floundered when trying to discern fact from fiction online.

Students viewed a post of a “news story” from the Seattle Tribune, a satirical site whose masthead proudly proclaimed that “any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.” Two-thirds failed to identify the story as satirical.

On another task, students examined a site offering “nonpartisan” research that argued against raising the minimum wage. The site is actually run by a PR firm that also represents the restaurant industry. Nine in 10 students never made that connection.

Why are intelligent students falling for misinformation they could easily identify with a quick search? It’s not that they lacked strategies. It’s that the strategies deployed were forged during the internet’s Paleolithic era. To students’ detriment, many of these strategies remain prominent on colleges’ and universities’ guides for web credibility.

Students displayed an almost religious faith in the meaning of domains — particularly dot-orgs. “Reliable sources have .org at the end of the URL,” said one sophomore. Numerous college internet guides suggest that dot-orgs are credible because they are restricted to nonprofits. That’s just plain wrong. Anyone can purchase or acquire a dot-org, including for-profit companies such as Craigslist and hate groups such as Stormfront.

Students similarly turned to a site’s “About” page to determine credibility. One prominent university says an About page can “help determine a mission, point of view, or agenda.” A media outlet tells readers to be skeptical if the About page’s language is “melodramatic and seems overblown.” But dispassionate language is just as dangerous when it confers legitimacy on a shady site. Students should be told that, like Instagram profiles, About pages present curated portraits of how people and organizations want to be perceived.

One of the most common tools for teaching web credibility is called the CRAAP test (standing for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose), popularized by a librarian at Cal State Chico. Versions of it are used by universities across the United States, including at other schools in the Cal State and University of Californiasystems.

The CRAAP test assumes that websites are like print texts — the best way to evaluate them is to read them carefully. Except skilled web searchers do the opposite. When professional fact-checkers land on an unfamiliar site, their first move is to leave it by opening new tabs and checking other sources.

There’s good news too. Our study shows that students who followed the same method as professional fact-checkers upped their chances for success. They learned that the Seattle Tribune was fake news and discovered that the “nonpartisan” Employment Policies Institute was managed by a PR firm that also represents the restaurant industry and opposes raising the minimum wage.

Some institutions, including Rowan University and the University of Louisville, are creating materials based on what fact-checkers do. Their lesson plans equip students with strategies to be intelligent digital consumers. And even modest interventions — in one case just 150 minutes in two college classes — can lead to marked improvements.

We’re in the midst of an infodemic that imperils our students’ ability to make informed decisions. Changing course will require multiple tactics. First and foremost, we need to cut the CRAAP and stop teaching ineffective strategies. We need to create a menu of regularly updated courses that teach students how to recognize misinformation, empowering them to be engaged and thoughtful citizens.

Additionally, we need to work together across departments and specializations rather than mainly putting this challenge on the shoulders of college librarians. Overhauling a 20th century curriculum for a digital 21st century requires a group effort.

Doctors who develop a patient’s treatment plan without considering medical advances are negligent. And universities are derelict when they teach or provide source evaluation strategies without considering how today’s internet functions.

Because when anti-vaccine content goes mainstream, when Holocaust deniers peddle digital pseudo-histories, and when issues such as gerrymandering and police brutality are litigated online, no one can afford to shelter in place.

Sam Wineburg is a professor of education at Stanford University. His latest book is “Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone.)” Nadav Ziv is a junior majoring in international relations at Stanford.


Bill Moyers is one of our most respected commentators on current affairs. I had the good fortune to be interviewed by him some years ago, and I have never forgotten how warm, thoughtful, and insightful he was.

In this article, he recommends 14 documentaries that he thinks you should see before the election. You probably don’t have time to see them all, but perhaps you can catch a few.

Alex Shephard writes in the latest issue of The New Republic that something odd has happened to Newsweek. It has become an outlet for rightwing advocacy. The Newsweek story has been covered by many media outlets over the past several years, but I had not seen those stories and had no idea about what happened to this once iconic magazine.

For half a century, Newsweek was owned by the Washington Post and was a well-respected voice in American journalism. In 2010, the Post sold Newsweek to 91-year-old businessman Sidney Harman; Harman bought it for $1 and assumption of its liabilities. Ownership turned over a few more times, from Harman to Barry Diller. Diller regretted his purchase and sold Newsweek in 2014 to a group called International Business Times Media. IBTM changed its name to Newsweek Media Group. Its owners were tied to a small Christian college (Olivet University) led by a charismatic Korean pastor, David Jang. Jang also was founder of a cult called “The Community,” according to this report in Mother Jones.

In 2018, the offices of Newsweek were raided by federal agents investigating a money-laundering operation between the publication, the cult, and the college. A few weeks later, the Washington Post reported that the editorial staff at Newsweek had descended into “chaos” when two of its top editors and a journalist were abruptly fired: they were writing an investigative report about ties between Newsweek and its owners. Despite the firings, a group of staff journalists continued reporting on the company’s finances. Late Tuesday night, their exposé was published, revealing a deep financial relationship between the parent company and a small Christian school, Olivet University.

Alex Shephard summarizes the bizarre fate of what was once a highly respected publication.

Writing in The Columbia Journalism Review last year, Daniel Tovrov depicted Newsweek, once one of America’s most distinguished magazines, as a shell of its former self. All that was left was clickbait, op-eds from the likes of Nigel Farage and Newt Gingrich, and a general sense of drift. “Nobody I spoke to for this article had a sense of why Newsweek exists,” Tovrov wrote. “While the name Newsweek still carries a certain authority—remnants of its status as a legacy outlet—and the magazine can still bag an impressive interview now and then, it serves an opaque purpose in the media landscape.” 

Last week, Newsweek suggested one possible purpose: The legitimization of narratives straight out of the right-wing fever swamps. An op-edwritten by John Eastman, a conservative lawyer and founding director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, coyly suggested that Kamala Harris, who was born in California, may not be eligible to serve as vice president because her parents were immigrants. It was, as many pointed out, a racist attack with no constitutional merit, on par with the birther conspiracy theory that claimed Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Within a few hours, Eastman’s op-ed was being brandished by President Trump, who told reporters he had “heard”Harris may not be eligible to serve. 

Three days after the op-ed was published, Newsweek apologized, sort of. In an editor’s note signed by global Editor-in-Chief Nancy Cooper and opinion editor Josh Hammer, the magazine acknowledged, “We entirely failed to anticipate the ways in which the essay would be interpreted, distorted, and weaponized…. This op-ed is being used by some as a tool to perpetuate racism and xenophobia. We apologize.” Still, the magazine refused to recognize what was obvious—that the op-ed was intended to spark questions about the eligibility of a Black woman running for high office. Newsweek’s editors merely feigned horror that the op-ed was taken in the only possible way it could have been taken. 

The publication of Eastman’s op-ed says a great deal about the state of Newsweek’s opinion section, which has become a clearinghouse for right-wing nonsense. But it also points to a larger crisis in journalism itself: The rise of the zombie publication, whose former legitimacy is used to launder extreme and conspiratorial ideas. 

Even by the volatile standards of journalism in the twenty-first century, Newsweek’s recent problems are extraordinary. There are the usual issues: a sharp decline in print subscribers, Google and Facebook, the difficulty of running a mass-market general interest news magazine in an age of hyperpartisanship. But Newsweek has also been raided by the Manhattan district attorney’s office (a former owner and chief executive pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering charges in February) and has been accused of deep ties to a shadowy Christian cult, amid many other scandals

This is one of the strangest media stories I have read. The New Republic calls Newsweek “a zombie magazine.” Sad.