On Friday morning, Stephanie Simon posted a story on Politico‘s website, Name-calling turns nasty in education world. If it were on any site other than Politico, it would be just another faux-trends story that focuses more on insider gossip than serious analysis. And there might even have been some positive value, if only as a break from the typical story in the second half of last week, What Tuesday’s Election Means for the Universe, Asgard’s Rulers, and Teacher-Evaluation Policy.
But I see a different aspect of the story: it was on Politico, the site Tim Carmody has aptly tagged as the power-sensitive new-media news site halfway between Glenn Greenwald and Gawker, the site with such deep analyses of political dynamics as Next for GOP Leaders: Stopping Sarah Palin (from 2010), Clintonworld vs. Weiner (from August of this year), and Bad Blood: Four Feuding Leaders (October), the last one on the amazing breaking news that Congressional leaders aren’t best buddies these days. In other words, Simon’s story rolled easily in Politico’s tabloid rut.
And here I thought Politico’s hiring of some really good reporters meant that they were going to get serious about news. And their education team is full of some very good reporters, including Simon. Maybe PoliticoPro isn’t picking up paid subscribers quickly enough, and the education group now has to follow the famous 2011 “what we publish” internal memo at Politico. But that’s just a half-baked idea based on isolated anecdotes, without any hard work in trying to dig up details and connect more than a half-dozen dots. I know better than to pretend it’s more than a toss-off bit of speculation.
Does name-calling matter in a niche area of politics (or the politics of a policy area)? Where it sheds light on broader dynamics, sure. But that would require a little more than isolated anecdotes, without any hard work in trying to dig up details and connect more than a half-dozen dots…. and there you get my beef with Simon’s story. It’s tabloid journalism that fits all too well with Politico’s worst habits. There’s no attempt to put that name-calling in context with, oh, I don’t know, older examples like Rod Paige’s NEA=terrorism remark, or interviews with more distant observers of policy brawls such as Jeff Henig, Paul Manna, and Elizabeth DeBray. C’mon, Ms. Simon, I’m not even asking you to interview any historians of education. But you can do much better than Friday’s piece, because most of your work is.