NYT's Bellafante Plays Race Card, Smears Singer in Defense of Principal Who Tossed 'God Bless the U.S.A.'

In her "Big City" column Sunday, "Principal Is Trampled In a Rush to Vilify," New York Times reporter Ginia Bellafante (pictured) rushed to the defense of school principal Greta Hawkins, the subject of conservative criticism for cutting the patriotic song "God Bless the U.S.A." from her Coney Island kindergarten's graduation ceremony after months of childrens' rehearsals, saying it would "offend other cultures." The New York Post reported on June 9:

It was to be the rousing finale of their musical show at the June 20 commencement. The kids, dressed up for their big day, would wave tiny American flags -- which, as the lyrics proclaim, “still stand for freedom.” But Hawkins marched in on a recent rehearsal and ordered a CD playing the anthem to be shut off, staffers said. She told the teachers to drop the song from the program. “We don’t want to offend other cultures,” they quoted her as explaining.

Bellafante was only concerned about the principal who nixed the patriotic song, suggesting all criticism was invalid and personal:

Anyone who has ever considered a career in school administration, and paid attention to the recent experiences of Greta Hawkins, must surely be wondering whether tending a tollbooth on the George Washington Bridge would secure greater karmic rewards. Since September 2009, Ms. Hawkins, a former French teacher who worked in the New York City school system for 18 years, has served as the principal of Public School 90, an elementary school in Coney Island, Brooklyn, where attacks against her have had an eerie constancy.

The latest of these transpired this past week, as various news outlets deploying Tea Party memes brought Ms. Hawkins dubious national attention, portraying her as an invidious enemy of patriotism. The catalyst for this deluge was her decision to cut from a roster of songs to be performed at a coming end-of-year kindergarten ceremony the country singer Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Bellafante got snobby about the song, then highlighted an Education Department's spokesperson's excuse for excising the song (it "might unsettle 5-year-old-minds") that contradicts what Hawkins actually said, according to the Post: "We don’t want to offend other cultures." Speaking of the Post, Hawkins used an apparent reporting error by the Post to bash it, and also singled out the conservative Washington Times newspaper for an "ungrammatical" headline. (A good thing the Times never makes mistakes and always runs only crystal-clear headlines!)

From the pure perspective of critical appreciation, that might be a benefit. Lyrically prosaic, the song delivers the vague sense that it could be used as the soundtrack for a certain kind of exploitative car commercial. A grade-school principal might choose to nix the song because of grammar violations alone -- “ain’t” appears more than once, for instance. But Ms. Hawkins’s rationale for excising the song, Jessica Scaperotti, a spokeswoman for the Education Department said, had to do with the belief that its opening lines, in their suggestion of dramatic misfortune, might unsettle 5-year-old minds. In the same way you might not want a stage full of kindergartners to perform Merle Haggard’s ballads of loneliness, you might opt to have them skip a song that introduces visions of sudden and annihilating material adversity: “If tomorrow all the things were gone/I’d worked for all my life...”

She took a personal cheap shot at the singer himself for daring to comment.

At the same time, Mr. Greenwood, whose claim to moral supremacy might be challenged on the grounds that he has been married four times, took repeated opportunity to denounce the principal in the news media, saying that her decision offended him “as a Christian.”

Wednesday's followup from Bellafante was just as determined to portray the principal as a victim: "As Issue Divides School, Congressman Takes a Side."

Political opportunism, at its most benign, gives us bemusement and exasperation; at the more extreme end of things it inspires a wish for high-grade exfoliants to scrub away all the contact grease and grime.

It was toward this end of the scale that Representative Bob Turner, who is seeking the Republican nomination to oppose Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat, showed up at a public elementary school in Brooklyn on Monday to lead a group of flag-waving children in a defiant rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” a song for which the school’s principal had voiced by now well-known disapproval.

Bellafante played the race card like a good liberal.

On one level the congressman’s actions might seem anodyne enough, but P.S. 90 is an embattled place where partisan intrusion was bound to deepen conflicts. Its principal, Greta Hawkins, who is black and presides over a predominantly white staff, has been under siege, the recipient of racist hate mail from unknown sources, and the target of a group of parents and some teachers who find her management style antagonizing. The school is divided among those who are staunchly devoted to her and believe she is striving for excellence, and those who aren’t and don’t.

Representative Turner’s choral efforts were hardly welcomed by all or even by many. Coney Island is close to the congressman’s district but not actually in it.