MediaWatch: March 1996

Vol. Ten No. 3

Tendentious Tenure

The national news media continually call for increased funding of public education, but they rarely ask if teachers' unions could be the problem.

A February 16 20/20 report and the February 26 U.S. News & World Report both looked at the declining quality of public education, and came to the same conclusion: Teachers unions are at the heart of the problem. In a cover story entitled `Why Teachers Don't Teach,' U.S. News summed it up: "The nation's future lies in its classrooms. But teachers' unions are driving out good teachers, coddling bad ones and putting bureaucracy in the way of quality education."

Both reports allowed unionized teachers to explain how they believe tenure protects them from unfair firings, but reporter Lynn Sherr revealed: "It often takes so long, it's so expensive and usually so unsuccessful at getting rid of allegedly bad teachers, some boards of education have thrown up their hands at even trying." Sherr continued: "Most elementary and secondary school teachers in this country have tenure...they have lifetime employment. It is virtually impossible to get rid of them." Sherr recounted the story of a school board in Connecticut that had to spend $250,000 in taxpayer money to fire an inadequate teacher who was later reinstated even though she was found partially incompetent.

While the media constantly warn voters of the Republican Party's pandering to the NRA and the Christian Coalition, U.S. News pointed out the political power of the National Education Association: "But teachers unions have used their resources to fight reform -- and their resources are vast."

The union spent $52 million to renovate their Washington headquarters, which U.S. News called: "A testament to its power in national politics, where the NEA has wedded itself to the

Democratic Party. The union handed out $8.9 million to congressional candidates between 1989 and 1995, only a fraction of it to the Republicans."

Detecting Deception

CNN's Brooks Jackson was first out of the gate to critique the presidential candidates in their ads and speeches. On the April 1 Inside Politics he critiqued Republican charges that Clinton judges were soft on crime. But in a surprising turn Jackson has also slammed Clinton's newest set of ads. His April 4 "Spin Patrol" segment challenged each claim made in the Democratic National Committee ads.

CNN aired the ad: "The President proposes a balanced budget protecting Medicare, education, the environment. But Dole is voting no. The President cuts taxes for 40 million Americans. Dole votes no."

Jackson replied: "Dole voting no to a balanced budget and tax cuts? Let's see that again...True, Clinton's latest budget would balance in 7 years on paper, but experts are skeptical." Jackson used moderate-to-liberal Carol Cox Wait of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and Robert Reischauer of the Brookings Institution.

Jackson found the ad's claim "The President cuts taxes for 40 million Americans" was "Not the whole story." He pointed out that the Clinton administration arrived at the 40 million number through the 1993 budget bill's expansion of the earned income tax credit to "15 million low wage families, 40 million if you count their children." Jackson countered they also raised taxes on 1.5 million high-income families and 5 million Social Security recipients, not to mention higher gas taxes for everyone.

Another ad claimed Republicans cut school lunches. Jackson: "Not so. The Republican Congress appropriated more money for school lunches this year....And the Agriculture Department says it has increased the number of children served."

The same ad charged the GOP cut Head Start: "Money for the Head Start pre-school program has been cut four percent this year, temporarily. But Republican leaders have agreed to a one percent increase once a permanent appropriations bill is passed. Meanwhile not a single child has been affected. In fact Head Start enrollment is up this year."

And the DNC's claim that Republicans "cut child health care" did not go unchallenged. Jackson explained that Republicans only reduced the rate of Medicaid growth and that there is not much difference between the GOP and Clinton's proposal.