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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Paper pursues a political agenda as it accuses teacher of pursuing a political agenda

By Laurie H. Rogers

It’s dangerous to be away. I briefly left the country a few weeks ago, and while I was gone, the district superintendent announced her retirement and The Spokesman-Review (SR) launched what I see as a media “lynching” of a local high school teacher.

Did you read about the attack on Jennifer Walther, an Advanced Placement English teacher at Ferris High School in Spokane, WA? Are you shocked by the newspaper’s biased coverage? I’m not shocked. Nowadays, the SR doesn’t bear much resemblance to the newspapers I’ve enjoyed reading. Smaller, thinner and nastier, it contains less content, less local news and more ads. Often biased, incomplete or hypocritical, the paper tolerates questionable material that fits an editorial agenda.

I'm an avid newspaper reader, but I canceled the SR in 2008 when it kept quoting unsubstantiated rumors from the ex-boyfriend of the daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Things have not improved since then.

Now, the SR is using its bully pulpit to accuse Walther of doing something the SR appears to do nearly every day of the week – pursue a biased political agenda. Evidence suggests that, rather than stand up for this teacher, the school district and teachers union initiated or are assisting with the pile-on.

At no point has anyone proved that Walther’s political views led to a biased debate at Ferris High School. Keep that in mind. The SR is accusing Walther of deliberately favoring conservative candidates during the October “Face-Off at Ferris.” This accusation is not supported. View the questions for the school board candidates. They’re good questions. What does a progressive question even look like? Are only conservatives concerned with accountability, transparency, student outcomes, union clout and misspent finances? What a silly notion.

For my Oct. 18 article on the Ferris forum, I painstakingly transcribed the questions from a recording I made. Compare the way I wrote them with the way the SR published them - unattributed - on Dec. 16. The hyphenation, punctuation, parentheses, wording and spelling are the same. Not similar; they are the same. (I didn’t stay for the mayoral debate, so I don’t have the questions for the mayoral candidates. Interestingly, the SR doesn't appear to have published those questions either.)

The SR has refused to discuss or investigate real education issues and refused to report on community complaints or views. Education reporter Jody Lawrence-Turner has provided little real coverage of the district’s failure to provide sufficient instruction in math or grammar; of the district’s parsed data; or of alleged district violations of law, district policy and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. She has failed to adequately report on the decades of complaints nationally about the math curricula that are still used in Spokane; about local college remedial rates in math; the students’ lack of academic skills; the real reasons for the high rates of youth unemployment; the wasted taxpayer dollars in Spokane Public Schools; the burgeoning district budget; or the fears harbored by many teachers.

Instead, the SR complains mildly about district salaries. It suggests that “math is hard,” that everything is good, that more money is required, and that struggling kids probably have dyscalculia.

During the 2011 school board campaign, the SR could have stepped up its game. Instead, while refusing to engage in the slightest bit of reflection, criticism or investigation of the school district, the SR editorial board joined the teachers union in endorsing Deana Brower, co-chair of bond and levy advocacy organization Citizens for Spokane Schools. In its articles and editorials, the SR continually gave Brower glowing coverage while portraying candidate Sally Fullmer in a false and unfavorable light. The SR made unsupported insinuations about Fullmer without giving her the opportunity to defend herself.

On Oct. 28 (online) and Oct. 30 (in print and online), the SR published and republished a Letter to the Editor that made an unsupported accusation against Fullmer, using language that should have been rejected as potentially libelous. “That one got by us,” editor Bert Caldwell later told an audience when I asked about it. Fullmer, who was sitting next to me that day, received no apology from Caldwell, nor barely a glance. Caldwell rejected any idea of a retraction or clarification.

As of Dec. 26, the letter still sits on the SR Web site, still “getting by them.”

Meanwhile, the SR also has refused to properly inform the public about the Public Disclosure Commission’s decision to formally investigate the school district regarding election activity in 2009 and 2011. At issue in my PDC complaint is activity involving Superintendent Nancy Stowell, certain district administrators and board directors, Citizens for Spokane Schools, and (then board candidate) Deana Brower.

Note from Laurie Rogers: This is Part 1 of a series of articles on local education coverage. The next article in this series will discuss the PDC complaint and the superintendent’s recently announced retirement. This series articulates part of the reason Spokane needs a new print news source. –
Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (December 2011). "Paper pursues a political agenda as it accuses teacher of pursuing a political agenda." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:


Anonymous said...

And your long, sad descent into becoming a complete joke is now at an end.

Walther was wrong. Objectively, she was wrong. Bias is bias is bias, whether it's liberal or conservative, and all your bloviating about bias doesn't change the fact that Walther was wrong.

You used to be better than this.

Anonymous said...

I'm a democrat but vote all over the board (just depends on the candidate and the issue). I thought the questions were great.

It was mentioned in the article that the students did not fact check the questions and I wonder which question's facts are in question. I would hope that the teacher used the questions to inform the students about the issues (if they weren't already aware of them) and looking at the "facts" would have helped highlight the issues.

I also wonder how a question can be slanted politically--especially for school board candidates. The school issues are common to everyone (at least as far and I'm concerned). Maybe being anti-union is more of a republican issue but even democrats, such as myself, question the power of the teachers' unions. I know in my district, Olympia, our teachers are compensated for everything. Being a salaried state employee, I work a lot of uncompensated hours and don't feel that I shouldn't be expected to work extra hours. I also don't feel that I shouldn't be fired if I'm not performing my job and I've run into two teachers in the Olympia district who should have been fired. One retired (yippee) but one is still having students transfer out of his class because he's an ineffective teacher.

If I were a school board candidate I could answer all the questions except the one about the Tacoma School District because I'm not aware of an agenda by the WEA nor the documents the question referred to. I would be able to state that I thought it was ridiculous that they went on strike and that it lost them the support of my sister and brother-in-law who have kids in the Tacoma School District.

I also question the role of the "news"paper in questioning a teacher's political leanings. If they were so concerned about being unbiased they would do everyone a favor and not endorse candidates.

Laurie H. Rogers said...

In an argumentation class I took several years ago, a classmate said that ad hominem attacks are the "last refuge of scoundrels." Another person noted wryly that ad hominem attacks often are the first refuge of scoundrels.

Both people have a point. When arguments fail, many people lash out. And those with lesser communication skills might lash out immediately. But who is to say who is a scoundrel? I think that, frequently, ad hominem attacks are made by people who are worried.

To Anonymous (at 12:18 p.m.):

I'm curious to know your support for your comments about Jennifer Walther and me ("complete joke," and "wrong" and "bias" and "used to be better"). Surely you have support for this strong language. Please share.

Anonymous said...

"I'm curious to know your support for your comments about Jennifer Walther and me"

Again, Laurie, you used to be better than this. You're the joke, not Jennifer, and trying to make it a team effort is nonsensical. I maintain that she was wrong in how she handled putting together the questions for her debate, and this enormous blind spot that you have to that truth--which I'm guessing is born of a sense of flattery for even having been asked to provide questions--is troubling.

In the used to department, you used to write really, really well about issues around math curriculum, and then you shifted rather expertly into the Common Core. I miss that content. It was good, and I hope you'll get back to it again. Your last 11 posts have been about the PDC or Fullmer v. Brower. It's time to move on.

Vain Saints said...

Anonymous 1.

Let's assume for the sake of argument, that Laurie is on what is popularly misunderstood for the political right. Hell, just to make the point, let's assume that she is an avid watcher of FOX News.

Does it make her efforts in this field less valid? Does it make her position on this issue less legitimate?

You might say that her politics might render her judgment suspect. I'll even give you this much Anonymous 1; lets assume for the sake of argument that watching FOX News and being on the popular right is ipso facto proof of lacking judgment in national political affairs.

It doesn't matter. Laurie Rogers isn't asking anybody to trust her judgment (and I beg her pardon because I know she can defend herself). She lays the facts on the table. All Anonymous 1 does (in addition to not providing a name) is call Ms. Rodgers names. What you are doing does not even rise to the level of ad hominem. You are not even specifying the nature of the personal attack!

Furthermore, a perceived lack of good judgment on one topic does not imply a lack of good judgment on others. If it did, you would have to agree with someone on everything before even beginning to pay attention to them, a state of affairs that would probably suit Anonymous 1 just fine.

This is why it's generally better to engage people's ideas when disputing with them. At no point did Anonymous 1 even mention the basis for her disagreement with Ms. Rodgers. I have no idea on what grounds Anonymous 1 (who can't even give a pseudonym?) is defending Walther or attacking Rodgers.

If I can venture a guess, it would be that Anonymous 1 doesn't like the fact that Rodgers has decided to take up more effective means of action than trying to play by the school system's rules i.e. she is directly challenging the criminality, negligence, and gross selfishness of the public school establishment through publicity and legal action. Anonymous 1 would have remained happy if Rodgers had been content to plead ineffectually for the public school establishment to play nice and in so doing make glacial gains that are immediately wiped away. What Laurie is doing now has a chance of rocking the boat and unfeathering a few nests, such as (I'm positive) that of Anonymous 1.

Anonymous said...

With regard to the Face Off at Ferris and the questions that were asked, they seemed fair to me. As a life-long Democrat, I fail to se how these questions were politically motivated or were biased. Obviously, there is a lot more going on that meets the eye. Perhaps one day the whole story will come out. (But clearly not in the Spokesman Review.)

And, to the person who wrote, "And your long, sad descent into becoming a complete joke is now at an end," just what does that mean? You remind me of a third grader who can't express himself or herself.

To the person who wrote "Walther was wrong. Objectively she was wrong," ect., ect., ect., you clearly represent those who say, "Don't bother me with the facts--I've already made up my mind."

Apparently, the only news you (the people who posted the two comments above)get is from the Spokesman Review and you accept it as gospel. Of course, the S-R has never been wrong and they don't have any hidden agendas. (And if you believe that, there's a brige in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.)

Mrs. Rogers, keep up the good work and I hope you will ignore the small-minded, spiteful people who post uninformed comments on your blog. And as a parent of a student who graduated from a local public high school, I can tell you that my child learned bowling, tennis, camping, but not much else. We need to return to teaching reading, writing and math. No wonder Bill Gates says he has to import engineers from India and China to work for him.

Rob Chase said...

The S/R castigated the Walther Forum by insinuating all the questions had been written by Republicans. I don't know if that is true or not, but I think the televised Channel 5 Forums by LWV have all their questions written by Democrats. At least Walther let the students submit the questions.

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