In describing the effectiveness of the right-wing noise machine in attacking the Obama administration’s agenda, columnist Greg Sargent wrote in 2011 for the Washington Post:
“Keep making noise, regardless of the facts, and hopefully with a big assist from major news orgs, until the other side caves from sheer exhaustion, in order to make the noise go away.”
It’s a tactic that is now being employed not only by Tea Party Republicans, but also by traditionalists who want to stop Teach For America and other groups attempting to make progress for our kids across this country.
There is a playbook, and here’s how it goes:
In stage 1, the most fervent demagogues attack based on misinformation and a limited set of anecdotes that support their world view. When there are no facts they make them up. When there is information that does not conform to their distorted world view they ignore it.
In stage 2, they submit these pieces to as many media sites as they can, and those with editorial boards supportive of their world view or agenda offer to print.
Stage 3: as these pieces accumulate (and climb the Google ladder), they luck in to more mainstream news organizations that report on the pieces that have already been published.
And finally, to complete the circle in stage 4, the same demagogues who originally authored the argument share out the reporting of the mainstream press site as a justification that their views are not as far outside the mainstream as a neutral observer would originally believe.
If you want to see this noise machine in action, consider the “work” of Jameson Brewer in recent weeks:
For those unaware, Jameson was a TFA corps member in Atlanta in 2012 and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Illinois Champaign. And like Julian Vasquez Heilig before him, Jameson has recognized the vitae-building opportunities, increased royalties, and the warmth and iFame offered by other traditionalists when you slam Teach For America.
Make no mistake: unlike his more moderate friend, Sarah Matsui, who has featured alongside him, Jameson is not vested in improving the organization through constructive feedback. His modus operandi is to challenge Teach For America’s right to exist, while raising his personal stature in his own networks – specifically, his membership in Badass Teacher’s Association, Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, and his reputation in the Ivy Tower of traditional schools of education. And to do so, he has devoted the vast majority of his “scholarly” research to examining Teach For America, including a “book” that he published earlier this fall.
Stage 1 commences. We’ve got our fervent demagogue with his limited set of anecdotes. Onward.
In an effort to drive the sales of his recent book, Jameson has contacted multiple media sites with regularity, attempting to build press coverage. And let’s be clear that his “book” is agenda-driven propaganda, presenting the stories of a dozen critical alumni of the organization, including two that quit and another who was dismissed from the corps, without recognition of the majority of the 50,000 alumni who feel positively about the organization—the ‘academic’ equivalent of character shaming by asking an ex-spouse how they feel about their former partner. While the mainstream media has largely seen through this and ignored him, he has been given opportunities at both Salon (whose primary education writer, Jeff Bryant, has ties to Ravitch’s Network for Public Education) and—last week—from socialist magazine Jacobin, which has an editorial board that staunchly opposes reform efforts. And thus, the noise machine shifts a gear and moves into Stage 2.
And what happens next, as we move to Stage 3, is fascinating. A relatively new spin-off site under the NPR umbrella, CodeSwitch, picks up the Jacobin piece. It’s published by NPR intern Leah Donnella, including no additional reporting and without reaction quotes or interviews from any additional corps members, alumni, or staff members as Teach For America. In a conversation with Massie Ritsch at Teach For America, he shared: “No one at NPR reached out to us before this piece was published” – which stands in stark contrast to NPR’s very own Ethics Handbook:
“At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.”
Oops – someone call the ombudsman.
But at this point, the gates have been opened and we’re charging towards Stage 4. Jameson and his friends take to social to promote the intern-authored story: “NPR on Teach For America,” they tweet; “Via NPR, check this out!” Their excitement over their capacity to peddle their narrative on the brand of NPR is palpable – an opportunity to push their agenda without the uncomfortable trappings of Jacobin or the Badass Teacher’s Association blog.
And then it’s back to the drawing board for Jameson, awaiting another opportunity to kick the Noise Machine back into being, with the hope that amidst the whirling and gnashing of gears, it will produce another line on the vitae and another hundred orders on Amazon.
I suppose self-promotion is its own sort of profession. If the Kardashians and Trump can do it so can Brewer, but at least they aren’t trying to stop talented individuals from getting to kids who need them the most; Brewer is. They’re not ignoring how diverse the corps has become; Brewer is. And they’re not trying to peg on TFA the entirety of the systemic failings regarding human capital in education, ones that result in the most experienced teachers rarely being found in the lowest-income neighborhood schools, when it’s really one of traditional bargaining and teacher assignment policies; Brewer is.
Oiling the machine and making a career on your questionable, agenda-driven research and narcissism and calling it “academic” is another thing entirely. It’s apparently the one thing Brewer is working to be good at.
This post was written by NYCAN Deputy Director, Ned Stanley. He writes from San Francisco.