An open letter to NPR about their coverage of the SOS march

This letter was sent today to Claudio Sanchez, the reporter and Edward Schumacher Matos, the NPR ombudsperson.  We will let you know if we receive a response.  If you’d like to send your own message, their emails are: csanchez@npr.org and eschumachermatos@npr.org

Dear Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Schumacher-Matos;

I was very disappointed in your coverage of the SOS march.  You severely underestimated of the size of the rally, reporting that there were only 2,000 to 3,000 teachers there, whereas most others, including the National Park Service, estimated the crowd at 5,000- 8,000.  You failed to mention that there were hundreds if not thousands of parents there as well – including at least two prominent speakers who represented Parents Across America – Karran Harper Royal from New Orleans and Rita Solnet from Florida.

But what most needs correction is how you gave the entire second half of your story to spokespersons from organizations that vehemently oppose the goals of the teachers and parents who participated – Democrats for Education Reform and the Fordham Institute – while making it seem as though this presentation was balanced, by calling one organization (DFER) “liberal” and one “conservative” (Fordham).

To describe Democrats for Education Reform as a “liberal” organization is highly inaccurate; it is funded exclusively by hedge-fund operators and other wealthy individuals whose primary purpose is to privatize public education through charter school expansion and to weaken the teacher unions by eliminating all seniority protections from the profession.

One of its principal founders, Whitney Tilson, recently admitted that the only reason they put “Democrats” in their name in the first place and focused on giving money to Democratic candidates was that the GOP had already adopted most of their positions.  The following is an excerpt from a film made by Tilson called “A Right Denied”:

“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…”

In fact, DFER’s positions are in total agreement in every respect with the Fordham Institute, which you accurately call “conservative”– with the possible exception of publicly funded vouchers.

Many teachers and parents have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the coverage of NPR on education issues, and  have given up hope for any improvement.  Some parents have even pointed to the funding NPR receives from the Gates and Broad Foundations, two of the most powerful funders of the corporate reform movement.

But I have not given up hope that your coverage in the future might more fairly represent the views of real stakeholders– parents and teachers who, from the ground up, realize how the current wave of education policies, focused on high-stakes testing, privatization, and undermining  the professionalism of the teaching force, is damaging our children’s education with potentially negative effects for years to come.

Please let me know if you intend to correct these errors, and provide a more honest and balanced view of the education debate in the future.

Thanks,

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters and Parents Across America

Posted on by admin Posted in Uncategorized

16 Responses to An open letter to NPR about their coverage of the SOS march

  1. Deb Mayer

    Hello Leonie,

    When I tried to post this on my Facebook page, this is the content that was supplied with the link.
    An open letter to NPR about their coverage of the SOS march « Parents Across America
    http://parentsacrossamerica.org/

    An outright lie. I have facts. You’re reprinting libel. Also, she’s donated $ all her life includg a great deal this yr. 27 minutes ago

    None of that language is in the article. What’s going on here?

    • Frank

      Leonie Haimson: You wrote “The National Park Service, estimated the crowd at 5,000- 8,000”. This is a false, misleading statement.

      The National Park Service long-standing policy is clear. They do not provide protest march crowd estimates. They did not provide an estimate for the SOS march.

      A brief history of the National Park Service and crowd estimates can be found here:

      http://blog.washingtonpost.com/story-lab/2010/08/how_big_will_the_crowd_be_at_t.html

      This crowd estimate prohibition is mandated by Congress. The National Park Service literally works “under the nose”of Congress. In 15 years (and after hundreds of protest marches) no official or unofficial estimates have been provided.

      From the Washington Post:
      “The U.S. Park Police in the past 14 years has provided crowd estimates only once — for the inauguration of Barack Obama last year. (National Park Service officials said they wanted to know whether it broke the previous record set by the 1965 swearing-in of Lyndon B. Johnson.) In 1996, Congress forced the Park Police to stop estimating crowd sizes after organizers of the Million Man March threatened to sue the agency for saying that 400,000 people had attended the 1995 event, a far smaller turnout than the organizers’ own million-plus claim.”

  2. IL parent

    Frank, it took me 4 seconds with Google to find the source of that statistic – published also by the Washington Post, interestingly enough. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/the-save-our-schools-march/2011/07/30/gIQAhf71jI_blog.html

  3. Frank

    IL PARENT: What does your source say? Does it say the Park Service provided a crowd estimate? Or does it clearly state that the Park Service does NOT provide crowd estimates.

    Do facts matter?

    Experienced reporters from Education Week (who attended the event) estimated the crowd at “about 3,000”. That is the reputable source I’ve seen broadly quoted.

  4. Frank

    IL PARENT: I would also point out that your “one and only source” for a higher crowd estimate is an opinion piece written by a strong advocate and promoter of the SOS march.

    SOS March organizers estimated the crowd at about 5,000. Using 3,000-5,000 figure would be more honest, and give you far more credibility.

  5. IL parent

    It’s just as published and just as reliable a “fact.” Education Week employee, park service employee. Personally, I’d go with the latter since they are more familiar with the space.

    The letter above should have said a park service employee, but to say the letter is “false and misleading” is, well, false and misleading.

  6. Frank

    IL PARENT : Did you read the history of the Park Service and crowd estimates? Are you saying a Park Service employee broke this Congressionally mandated policy for the SOS March? For the first time in 15 years? Now that would indeed be news!

    And just to clarify, the Education Week crowd estimate had names of real people (reporters) attached to it. No so for your opinion writing source. Big difference in credibility, right?

    Lastly, wouldn’t it clearly be “false and misleading” to take something you might say and then make it appear to have come from your employer?

  7. Kipp Dawson

    Let’s leave the less-important debate on numbers for the heart of the matter. The politics of NPR’s report need this response. I could not believe Claudio Sanchez, whose voice always pulls me to my radio, could say presumably with a straight face that Democrats for Education Reform represents the “liberal” side of the debate on public education. I do not believe he, or NPR, is that obtuse, which makes this kind of reporting dishonest. I could not stay by my radio to hear the rest of the report.

    Thank you, Leonie Haimson, for doing what I should have done — for responding with grace and strength to what needed to be said. I appreciate your giving them the benefit of the doubt for future NPR coverage. I wish I could be that optimistic. Good way to end your letter, though!

  8. Frank

    Of course, anyone can guess at how many people they thought attended.

    Education Week set a goal (prior to the event) of counting the number of SOS March participants, and then reporting an estimate. No one else, that I’m aware of, did this. That clearly sets their crowd estimate apart from the mere guesses.

    I have seen NO criticism of the Education Week methodology, or their result. The Education Week estimate (3,000) stands as the only impartial and reliable source for the number of SOS march participants.

  9. Frank

    KIPP DAWSON: I agree that the main criticism of NPR (the thrust of the letter) shows considerable merit. But it really doesn’t help in your call for “honest” reporting to start out with easily proven falsehoods and misrepresentations.

    Journalists at NPR (and others) will know you engage in pure propaganda, which obviously undermines your credibility and effectiveness.

  10. Diane Laison

    Thank you, Kipp Dawson, for cutting to the chase. NPR much too consistently reflects the views of its corporate friends.

  11. Betsy Marshall

    I heard the first of a three part series on my local PBS station on Friday. the series looks at the school system in Finland and compares what they do to what we are doing here in the United States. I was surprised because the piece was not the typical bash public schools and support corporate education reform that I have come to expect from NPR public radio. Perhaps this was produced by WAMC not NPR. The segment was aired on Friday. See (listen to program) link below.

    http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wamc/news.newsmain/article/660/0/1821173/The.Best.of.Our.Knowledge/The.Best.of.Our.Knowledge..1090

  12. leoniehaimson

    On his Facebook page, Mr. Schumacher-Matos says he is looking into this matter having received several letters on this issue. Please comment on his page if you’d like to urge him to respond, or have other observations to make about NPR of education coverage.

    http://www.facebook.com/Edward.SchumacherMatos

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