Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009

Journal Sentinel Omits and Distorts MPS Takeover Facts

By Lisa Kaiser
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The Journal Sentinel’s coverage of the MPS mayoral takeover is atrocious.

The paper has editorialized in favor of the takeover. Why not? The MMAC is behind this, so the JS of course is not going to offend the business community in the midst of recession that’s hitting the newspaper industry—and the Journal Sentinel—so hard. Besides, the JS has long advocated for MMAC-supported education reforms, such as vouchers schools and the Neighborhood School Initiatives, so the takeover support is nothing new.

But that’s the editorial page.

The news reporting has consistently omitted some highly relevant facts about the takeover attempt—specifically, Congresswoman Gwen Moore’s consistent opposition to the plan.

I guess the paper doesn’t care that Moore represents the entire city of Milwaukee and has far more credibility on this issue than the suburbanites who are calling the shots on the city’s schools.

Let’s start with Moore’s official statement in opposition to the plan. The Journal Sentinel failed to mention it.

How about Moore’s letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, which set the record straight on whether mayoral control is a criterion for Race to the Top funds? (It isn’t but the mayor and his allies claim it is.)

The Journal Sentinel has failed to mention that letter.

Then there’s the press conference Moore held on Tuesday, where she politely but firmly again opposed the plan. Her aides even handed out copies of the letter she sent to Duncan, confirming the Race to the Top criteria, so it’s not like Moore was hiding anything.

The Journal Sentinel mentioned Moore in the lede of the resulting story, but nowhere else, and dismissed the opposition as a partisan, Democratic thing.

The reporter gave more ink to the musings of state Rep. Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa, who does not represent Milwaukee, and who’s a member of the minority party and is unlikely to play a major role in the Legislature’s actions on the plan.

But she’s suburban and a conservative Republican so apparently her opinions matter.

Here’s how the Business Journal covered the press conference—fair and honest.

I could go on and on but I’ll only point out one more example of the JS’s twisted take on the MPS takeover.

A recent editorial blasted the MPS board for setting aside $250,000 in case it must hire lawyers to fight the attempt. “That money is better spent in the classroom,” the editors declared.

Huh?

That money cannot be used for classroom purposes. It comes from a contingency account that cannot be shifted to the classroom. It is a complete fabrication to say, as the JS editorial board does, that “the potential legal battle hurts students because that money could be spent in the classroom.”

A complete fabrication.

“It’s not intended for the classroom,” MPS board member Peter Blewett explained to me about the contingency fund. “It’s money the board always sets aside for unforeseen kinds of things. It does not take money out of the classroom.”

Blewett said he hoped the district wouldn't have to spend that money on a legal battle.

I looked for a correction or a letter to the editor but couldn’t find one online or in the paper. I hope the JS sets its readers straight on this one.

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