Arizona Republic: Wet Streets Cause Rain

Image result for wet streets

The Republic’s crack team of reporters have determined that the above streets caused a major rainstorm.

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Brother Matt’s takedown of the Arizona Republic’s absurdly erroneous and biased reporting reminds me of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, a concept identified by author Michael Crichton:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

The Republic had its own “wet streets cause rain” moment recently when it claimed that Arizona copied its education savings account (ESA) legislation from model legislation at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In fact, as Ladner points out, the reverse is true: ALEC’s model legislation was based on Arizona’s law.

Indeed, as Ladner details, the Republic’s “reporting” on “copycat legislation” suffered from several other flaws, including but not limited to the following:

  • The Republic portrayed the use of model legislation as unusual and nefarious when actually it’s commonplace and banal, a tool used across the political spectrum since the late 1800s.
  • The Republic portrayed the use of model legislation as a particularly right-wing plot but excluded all the model legislation from the older and larger left-of-center National Conference of State Legislatures.
  • The Republic hid the fact that only 1% of the bills they analyzed were based on model legislation.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Republic’s “reporting” is that it wasn’t really reporting. Had they any real interest in ascertaining the truth, there are any number of individuals and organizations in Arizona that could have provided them with accurate information had they asked. But they didn’t.

Indeed, their “Gaggle” podcast did not interview anyone from the pro-school choice side. They repeatedly used inferences to determine their “real” motives instead of just, well, asking.

Sadly, this is a part of a longstanding pattern. When the Goldwater Institute’s Matt Beienburg detected some serious flaws in the Republic’s award-winning “reporting” on charter schools, he brought it to their attention but they ignored him. He then wrote about it publicly and one of their most vociferous anti-choice advocates, Craig Harris, personally attacked him rather than engage in any substantive defense of their advocacy piece “reporting”:

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As I noted to Harris, if you add two green apples plus two red apples plus two oranges and get six apples, the math is right but the answer is wrong. Beienburg wanted to know if the Republic had inappropriately included certain schools in its data set when calculating graduation rates (e.g., a school that only serves students through grade 9, or another school that had been closed for two years), but Harris merely insulted him, claimed his math was wrong (without offering any proof) and then stonewalled any public debate.

For weeks afterward, Harris simply ignored any public questions about their reporting — though I know that privately, his team has admitted that they had done exactly what Beienburg had suspected. However, they have still refused to publicly correct their error, demonstrating a complete lack of intellectual honesty or journalistic integrity.

The Republic’s Gaggle podcasters also let their journalistic mask slip with numerous biased statements posing as neutral facts. For example, they claimed that Arizona lawmakers filed at least three ESA “expansions” that all “clearly went against the will of the voters” who rejected Prop 305. First, only one of those bills (making ESAs available to victims of bullying or abuse) was a clear expansion. The others were mere clarifications of existing eligibility categories that would have had a tiny effect on ESA enrollment. For example, students with disabilities are eligible for an ESA if they are entering kindergarten, but the Arizona Department of Education denied children who were age 6 (reading the law the allow only 5 year olds) so the legislation clarified that incoming kindergarteners could also be age 6. To call that an “expansion” is ludicrous, but the anti-ESA group Save Our Schools declared it such and advocates posing at journalists at the Arizona Republic and elsewhere took their side.

Moreover, it’s not at all clear what the “will of the voters” was. They rejected Prop 305, which expanded ESA eligibility to all students but also imposed a cap of about 30,000 ESA students. Some pro-school choice groups that support ESAs, like the American Federation for Children, opposed Prop 305 because it would effectively set the 30,000-student cap in legislative stone (requiring a supermajority to change it due to the Voter Protection Act). Is it the “will of the voters” that they want a universal ESA without a cap? And even if the majority of “No” votes opposed universal expansion, that does not at all imply that the majority of voters oppose, say, expanding ESAs to victims of bullying. To pretend that we can know the true “will of the voters” is sophistry at best. To make such claims as a supposedly neutral journalist is laughably absurd.

It’s time to stop treating the Republic as a neutral journalistic institution. They are openly advocating for one side, and they aren’t even letting the truth get in the way of their agenda. Let’s not let media amnesia make us forget it.

7 Responses to Arizona Republic: Wet Streets Cause Rain

  1. Agenda-driven advocacy has consumed almost all of journalism. Will the last actual journalist please turn the lights off on the way out.

  2. Mitchel Kotula III says:

    Reminds me of James Taranto’s old column in WSJ that coined the term “Butterfield Effect”, after the NYT reporter Fox Butterfield. He was perplexed that with crime rates so low in the 90’s, why were the prisons still adding inmates???

  3. Michael F. Shaughnessy says:

    Excellent article. It seems that in journalism, and often in politics- there is an attempt to get a quick easy answer to an intricate, complex problem, and this often ignores the unintended consequences and the long term and long range ramifications and repercussions. And of course, money and or taxes are often ignored.

  4. Michael J Norton says:

    So I buy in to the concept that wet streets don’t cause rain – at least for now.

    So help me understand this. If Asian students represent 12% of the combined enrollment of all schools in North Scottsdale, then how do Asians get so lucky at the BASIS lottery? Even if 100% of the Asians in the area applied for the lottery (which I think we would all doubt), they still succeed at 4.5 times the expected rate.

    Then answer these questions?

    Do Asian Students make BASIS succeed?
    Or does BASIS make Asian students succeed?

    Again – honest question and hopefully you have a sincere answer.

    • matthewladner says:

      So you are off topic Mike but charter schools draw on students from a very wide geographic area. Basis obviously has a strong appeal to many Asian families, and people often travel long distances to get a good fit school. Highly motivated families wait listed at one Basis school will apply to another when one opens even if it is far from where they live. The second thing is that 12% of combined enrollment across multiple schools could easily make up a much larger % of lottery winners at a single school if the school has a special appeal to a particular community.

      • Michael J Norton says:

        While each step of your discussion has merit, the conclusion does not. Rather than assume that perhaps Asian families from all over the valley flock to 128th St and Shea, I look at the actual change in enrollment in SUSD’s surrounding schools and migration to BASIS Shea.

        I first looked at that phenomenon the year BASIS opened. I watched from Site Council and talked with my kids about who had chosen to leave Cheyenne, a great school by all standards, to go to a new campus.

        Their answer as confirmed by enrollment data at the Site Council meeting was “All the Asian Boys left our class and a lot of the Asian girls.” Me being me, I assumed “All” didn’t mean all but instead meant many or most, but “All” is almost always not a true statement.

        Foolish me. My girls are a lot like me. When they say “All” they seriously mean “All”.

        Now truly intrigued I dug in to data for all the schools surrounding BASIS Shea campus – boom – same thing. A serious exodus of Asian kids from SUSD schools coupled with a direct and almost 1 for 1 increase in Asian students at BASIS.

        While not all the Asian kids who left SUSD that year went to BASIS Shea, and I will never gain access to the records of each kid who left, it’s hard to argue with me when I say BASIS’ Asian student growth when the new campus opened was primarily sourced from SUSD.

        Back to the original point. How did all those Asian kids’ families get so lucky when they entered the lottery? Why were Asian families accepted to BASIS at a rate 4.5 to 9.0 times expectations unless one of two things is going on:

        Either BASIS makes Asian families lucky (Wet Streets Cause Rain)

        Or White kids, Hispanics, Native Americans and Blacks, in that order, want to have little or nothing to do with BASIS. And SPED kids of all races, ethnicity and gender also eschew BASIS.

        How did BASIS create such a happy place for Asians, while the other segments of the market place were not nearly as happy?

        And was that intentional? I believe so. What better way to stack your scores to look like the greatest school in North America than to find a way to cut from your little league team the kid with coke bottle glasses, who can’t hold the bat up without struggling, let alone take a strong swing. I switched metaphors mid-sentence. I know that. I do it alot. I like doing it. Hope you hung in with me.

      • Matthew Ladner says:

        Mike- the word on the street working class hero zoned for Tavan circles that you well-to-do North Scottsdale folks would rather bribe your way into USC than to go through the Basis grinder. In any case at this point I don’t have any reason to believe that the percentage of Asian kids getting into Basis is much different than the percentage applying to Basis.

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