Valerie Strauss is the Lou Dobbs of Education

I don’t know if any of you remember Lou Dobbs from the 1990s.  He was a pretty bland business reporter who hosted CNN’s Moneyline show.  It would have been virtually impossible to guess Dobbs’ political leanings during those years.  The show was relatively uncontroversial and Dobbs was its uncontroversial host.

But then Dobbs left CNN for a dot com venture that pretty soon went belly-up.  And CNN was losing viewers in droves to O’Reilly’s show on Fox News.  So CNN brought Dobbs back but he was completely transformed.  No longer the bland, uncontroversial business reporter, Dobbs became CNN’s version of a blue-collar blow-hard to compete with O’Reilly’s version on Fox.  His demeanor and language completely changed as he became very outspoken in his views.  He railed against illegal immigrants, international trade, and became the champion of trade-union views on protecting manufacturing jobs.

The creepy thing about Lou Dobbs’ transformation was that it was never clear who the real Lou Dobbs was.  Was he really the straight-laced business reporter circa 1998 or the raving nativist circa 2008?  Both could not have been genuine.  Either he was pretending to be the bland host of a business show in his earlier incarnation or he was pretending to be the blow-hard blue-collar champion in his later incarnation.  Maybe neither were real and Lou Dobbs was just a guy who played various roles for money as the situation required.

This all comes to mind when thinking about the transformation of the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss from bland education reporter into the outspoken channeler of Diane Ravitch and Alfie Kohn.  Just a few years ago, Strauss was writing conventional education stories from which it would have been hard to detect her preferences.  To the extent that her views were present, they seemed to reflect common ideas about the importance of having effective teachers.  Take for example, this reporting from a 2007 article on how we need to improve teacher quality:

Educators say that teaching teachers how to teach well has never been more critical, a sentiment that persuaded Michelle Pierre-Farid to bring the center into Tyler Elementary School in Southeast Washington three years ago. That’s when she became principal at the school, which was then considered the lowest-performing in the city, with a badly demoralized staff.

“Most studies show that teachers are the ones that make change in schools,” she said. “Not parents, not administrators. It’s the teachers. They are on the front lines, and you have to put a lot of time and money into teachers.”

But the attention garnered by Eduwonkette and Daine Ravitch may have convinced Strauss and the Washington Post that they needed their own champion of the unionized teacher.  Just as CNN needed a reinvented Dobbs to capture some of the audience attracted to O’Reilly at Fox, maybe WaPo needed a reinvented Strauss to capture some of the readers attracted to Ravitch and Eduwonkette.

The new Strauss approaches the issue of improving teacher quality very differently than she used to.  Here is a taste of the new Valerie Strauss:

Authentic reform must include addressing the very real health and emotional and social issues that kids bring with them to school every day, often getting in the way of their ability to focus on geometry, read and analyze a novel or take a standardized test….

This is not an argument that teachers aren’t important. Of course they are. And of course bad teachers shouldn’t be in the classroom. Nobody knows this better than good teachers. But our obsession with teacher quality doesn’t leave room for other discussions…

I have no idea which one is the real Valerie Strauss, the conventional education reporter or the blow-hard blogger, but I do know that both cannot be genuine.  I also suspect that the Washington Post will tire of the blow-hard incarnation just as CNN tired of the new Lou Dobbs.  In the end, the Washington Post is a very respectable newspaper whose credibility will be hurt by Valerie Strauss playing the role (or truly being) the high-priestess in the Diane Ravitch Cult.

WaPo is not like the New York Times, that makes its living by telling stories to reaffirm the world-views of its readers.  WaPo readers, unlike those at NYT, don’t pay to be lied to.  WaPo readers need the straight news because they have to run campaigns, write legislation, and have real business concerns that depend on an accurate description of reality even if it does not conform to their preferences. Columns with titles like “What is Joel Klein talking about?” may sooth the pitch-fork crowd at the UFT but don’t serve the practical political crowd that is the heart of WaPo’s readership.

If Strauss can’t fit with that role of her newspaper, perhaps she will find herself banished to the world of talk-radio, like Lou Dobbs, to confirm the fever-dreams of her followers.  Or perhaps she’ll join Diane Ravitch on the very lucrative school system/teacher union lecture circuit where she can tell teachers that she is being persecuted by  reformers, just like they are.  But I can’t imagine WaPo tarnishing itself like this for too much longer.

27 Responses to Valerie Strauss is the Lou Dobbs of Education

  1. Brian says:

    With all the media coverage I saw of the Kelly-Williams Bolar case (the Ohio mother jailed for lying about her address in order to get her children into a better school) Strauss’ article on the matter was the only one I saw that actually came out AGAINST Bolar. Unbelieveable.

  2. Rod says:

    It’s truly shameless that the Post calls her a “reporter.” They should know better. She is clearly a heavily opinionated person with an agenda.

    Strauss “interviewed” Ravitch for C-SPAN, under the guise of being a “Washington Post reporter.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    I disagree that the pre- and post- transformation personas (for either Dobbs or Strauss) “can’t both be genuine.”

    1) People with extremely strong political views who work in (non-opinion) journalism usually aspire to keep their strong opinions out of their reporting. We are accustomed to laughing at how badly these efforts fail – but sometimes they do succeed. When I was a teenager, the news reporter for the radio morning show I listened to was “outed” on the air as a hard-core right winger. I was shocked – it hadn’t come through in his reporting at all. So who’s to say Dobbs or Strauss haven’t always thought this way?

    2) People do sometimes sincerely undergo dramatic transformations. This can be the case even if the transformations are unconsciously motivated by exogenous incentives. Suppose we stipulate (something we can’t actually know) that Dobbs’s transformation was “really” motivated by the opportunity to build a career as a blowhard. It does not follow that Dobbs consciously faked the transformation; he may think he’s just responding to the needs of the nation. So who’s to say Dobbs or Strauss haven’t undergone a change of heart that’s real, or that at least feels real to them?

    • Patrick says:

      Journalists can have split personalities depending on the medium they report from – and at the same time!

      Here in Nevada we have a reporter named Jon Ralston – he’s middle of the road reporter, a deep thinker, and asks tough questions of any person regardless of party on TV…he’s even eviscerated Democrats for their payroll tax idea (we now have 13 percent unemployment). But when it comes to his writing for the Las Vegas Sun, he’s a doltish left-wing hack demanding more spending for public education and higher taxes (always higher taxes). He even praised the Democrats for their desire to reform teacher tenure which amounted to making it even harder to fire bad teachers (he didn’t read the fine print or didn’t care).

  4. Your are right, Greg. (Control G!) People can change their minds.

    But to do so, they need to make a serious effort to explain why they used to think something and now think something else. Lou Dobbs left CNN for a dot com as a normal, bland business reporter and suddenly came back as a blow-hard nativist. He never explained or justified the transformation.

    The same is true of Valerie Strauss. One day she’s a normal, bland reporter and the next she’s a blogger attacking Waiting for Superman, blaming poverty as the main explanation for educational failure, and championing Diane Ravitch and Alfie Kohn.

    And yes, people can hide their views as reporters, but once you go very public with them, it is hard to be accepted as a straight reporter again. But Strauss continues to write news articles for the Post and appeared on CSPAN interviewing Ravitch as a “reporter” who is obviously a cheer-leader. So, you can’t go back and forth.

    Lastly, you can change your mind about the interpretation of facts or change your mind because you’ve incorporated new facts, but you can’t simply change your mind about facts.

  5. sasnnm says:

    Strauss is to Dobbs as Ravitch is to Limbaugh

  6. kari_upstate212 says:

    “The practical political crowd” Bahahahahahahah! They “depend on an accurate description of reality even if it does not conform to their preferences.” Even funnier!

  7. maddenr2 says:

    “depend on an accurate description of reality” Granted, I don’t read her blog/articles every day, but I have yet to find anything in her writing recently that doesn’t resemble reality as I know it in schools.

    • I’m sure Lou Dobbs’ fans believed that his rants also resembled reality. My point here is not to address the merits of Strauss’ newly expressed strong convictions. I’ve addressed many of those issues in just about every other post on this blog. My point here is to note the apparently calculated transformation of a respectable reporter into an opinionated blow-hard. I find that weird and I’m sure it is bad for respectable news outlets, like WaPo.

      • Sandra says:

        Few non-educators read education blogs. What is bad for respectable news outlets is a failure to report on current reform initiatives from all points of view.

      • Peter says:

        So, I’m sensing that anybody who you disagree with is an “opinionated blowhard”? Could we not simply say that her blog expresses a set of beliefs and that Jay Mathews expresses a set of beliefs and that these two are in contrast? Or is Mathews a blowhard, as well? I think the Post is aware that they have two education writers/bloggers who’s positions differ.


  8. GGW says:

    Control G. Love it.

  9. […] Has Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss become the Lou Dobbs of education? Jay P. Greene […]

  10. Politics as Usual says:

    This is actually pretty sad but typical. You don’t agree with what she has to say so you attack her credibility in attempt to have her point of view shut out. What ever happened to the America that could agree to disagree, without attacks lobbied at individuals?

  11. Jeff Miller says:

    For a blogger, you seem not to understand the concept of blogging. Blogging IS opinion writing. Reporting is just reporting. If you’re reporting, you’re not supposed to let your opinions show. Bloggers are encouraged to share their opinions. As Greg Forster says, no transformation or dishonesty is required for someone to go from reporter to blogger and back again.

    As for your comment about the New York Times lying to its readers, I wonder if you can provide any evidence of this? The lead-up to the Iraq war was one example (and the WaPo participated in that) but I assume you’re talking about the NYT’s everyday reporting.

  12. MC BURNS says:

    Compare Ms Strauss to her counterpart Mr Matthews.

    Mr Matthews engages with those who disagree with him and then will follow up with new\more\corrected information. Ms Strauss does nothing of the sort. She typically just posts the writings of others (without comment) or when she does her own writing, she never (that I have seen) engages with those who disagree with her writings and Ms Strauss never (again, that I have seen) corrects or follows up on anything.

  13. Paul Hoss says:

    Excellent story, Jay. Ole Val is the second coming of Diane Ravitch in her campaign to buttress teachers’ rights and feelings. As a champion of teachers, they have an emormous, albeit often misinformed, built in constituency. And the Alfie Kohn groupies that visit her blog are really too much to take; so out of touch and so convoluted. It gets nauseating, real fast. She invites others of the same ilk but seldom anyone from the other side of the ed reform dialogue.

  14. John says:

    Today the Washington Post has Valerie Strauss listed as a “blogger” when you click on her name.

    But in the articles she authors, Valerie is just listed as “Valerie Strauss”.

    Valerie should be listed in articles she authors as, “Valerie Strauss, blogger”.

    She is without question pro-union.

  15. I was bland and impartial in all professional settings when I was a working mainstream media journalist too, and wasn’t involved in advocacy in my private life due to the expectations for working journalists. I became an outspoken advocate later when I was free to do so. The problem with that would be….?

  16. Sandra says:

    Ah Mr. Greene, you disappoint once again. Comparing Valerie Strauss to Lou Dobbs is what I’d call a leap of logic; but your blog, your opinion. There is so little mainstream reporting of any kind on the complexities of current Ed reform initiatives, the persistent narrative on Ravitch and unions, as if nothing else mattered, perpetuates a disservice to the public. There are growing numbers of non-educator bloggers doing the work of informing, looking for facts, and asking significant questions.

  17. Frank Higginbotham says:

    Yea I agree Politics as Usual, who said that you don’t agree with what she has to say so you attack her credibility in attempt to have her point of view shut out. I have just found out about her and did some back reading.. I like what I see! I am not surprised to learn just how intricate and ridiculous this ( No Child Left Behind ) law is!! It’s flawed, and makes no sense and by requiring every single school to have every single child proficient in math and language arts by 2014 is about as unrealistic a goal as I have ever seen. Why are teachers expected to have all students attain the same grades, test scores? When a large number of these students are not English language learners? But are expected to have the same grades as students who are way more developed in their English skills? These students are being set up to fail and who are people blaming for this? The teachers.

    • Ted says:

      Frank, I just want to point out that, as a teacher, all of my English Language Learners were proficient on the state test in California with high standards and high cut scores. I am tired of (my own) teacher unions saying it can’t be done. It can be done, it has been done, it is being done.

  18. […] Has Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss become the Lou Dobbs of education? Jay P. Greene […]

  19. […] the entire charter school movement. Responding to the Clearwater revelation last year, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post argued that the use of Applied Scholastics “underscores continuing […]

  20. fredricwilliams says:

    The Washington Post, contrary to the author’s claim (“WaPo is not like the New York Times, that makes its living by telling stories to reaffirm the world-views of its readers. WaPo readers, unlike those at NYT, don’t pay to be lied to. WaPo readers need the straight news. . . “) is the newspaper that serves the Federal Government — politicians and bureaucrats and lobbyists and hangers-on. It makes its living by reaffirming the view that more government is the solution to all problems. Facts are arranged to support the bias. To think otherwise is naive.

    Valerie came from an activist family, so I would guess that her views are naturally aligned with those of WaPo and government. After all, “activism” means the firm believe we should fight with all our might to put everything in the hands of government so that it might order our lives perfectly. Totalitarian Socialism is the best term, in my view, for this approach.

    Valerie should have a long career as a government shill.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: