Monday, September 07, 2009

A Little Help for New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman

Pulitzer Prize winning author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman generally has a good eye for trends. However, his recent commentary on Meet the Press berating parents' concern over the potential politicalization of the President's speech to school students was, to use his own word, stupid:
...But David, you know, you said, it's a firestorm. And we live in the age of firestorms. You know, today, or this week, it's the president speaking in school. What it needs is for people to stand up and say that's flat out stupid, OK? That's flat out stupid what you're talking about. The president of the United States, addressing schoolchildren in this country to study hard, work hard because that's the way you advance in today's global economy. And instead of that, we kind of dance around it, you know. It's flat out stupid...
Two recent reports in the New York Times are worth reflecting on when considering Mr. Friedman's punditry.

The electronic ink is barely dry on the August 17, 2009 report entitled 'White House Cans Its ‘Fishy’ E-Mail Box' which detailed a reversal on a Kafkaesque policy:
The White House has apparently shut down the e-mail address it was using to track what it called “fishy” information about its efforts to overhaul the health care system.
E-mails sent to now bounce back, with the reply reading, “The e-mail address you just sent a message to is no longer in service. We are now accepting your feedback about health insurance reform via:”

Macon Phillips, director of new media at the White House, had rolled out the e-mail address in an Aug. 4 blog post, writing, “There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end-of-life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain e-mails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an e-mail or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to”

The White House maintained that it was not collecting the names of those criticizing its reform push.

But the effort got almost immediate pushback from Republican and conservative critics, many of them citing privacy concerns. Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, charged that the administration was creating an enemies list, writing in a letter to President Obama, “I am not aware of any precedent for a president asking American citizens to report their fellow citizens to the White House for pure political speech that is deemed ‘fishy’ or otherwise inimical to the White House’s political interests.”...
On the heels of this debacle, the Department of Education deemed it appropriate to suggest a lesson plan as an accompaniment to the President's speech. As reported in the New York Times, the plan would have students "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president":

...The Department of Education sent out a list of suggested classroom activities that teachers could use to accompany the speech. One among dozens suggested that teachers could have students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.”

Some conservatives focused on the letter-writing activity as an effort by the administration to use classrooms to build political support for the president. Department officials on Wednesday replaced that initial suggested activity with one in which students would “write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term educational goals.”

The original activity, [Secretary of Education] Mr. Duncan said Sunday, “wasn’t worded quite correctly.”...
Mr. Friedman would benefit from directing his über-trend-spotting-acumen on these two reports in his own paper of record before discounting the parents' concerns.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you blame the administration for trying to challenge all of the misinformation that targets the healthcare bill? I don't see anything wrong with that.

September 9, 2009 at 11:35 AM  

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