Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All the news that fits, they print

There's an interesting development in the news media's coverage of the controversial career diploma program approved by the legislature earlier this year. Facts are being deliberately distorted to give the public a false impression of how school districts are reacting to the program.

With few exceptions (including the Monroe News-Star), the media opposed the career diploma option. In the worst cases, it was derided as a dummy diploma with hints of lingering racism.

So nothing made the editorial poohbahs happier than seeing a significant number of school systems apply for waivers at last week's meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

As Lake Charles American Press columnist Jim Beam put it, "Opponents of the new diploma picked up more support for their arguments last week when nearly one-third of the state’s 70 public school districts asked to be exempted from the new law’s provisions."

Or as the New Orleans Times-Picayune explained it, "These school systems, thank goodness, seem to be more concerned about academic standards than the Jindal administration or the Legislature, which created the dumbed-down diploma this year. "

Even in the non-editorial pages, supposedly dedicated to delivering straight news, spin has trumped substance.

Like in this Advocate article by reporter Will Sentell. Noting that nearly half of the state's school systems are opting out of the program, Sentell wrote, "The latest batch of districts that do not want to offer the 'career diploma' curriculum this year include East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Lafayette parishes."

To the casual reader skimming the news, it would seem that local school systems oppose the new diploma option and do not want it in their schools. Not until much farther down in Sentell's story does East Baton Rouge Parish School Board spokesman Chris Trahan explain
that the board simply wants to delay the career option for a year "because of logistical problems, not philosophical opposition to the law."

Said Trahan, “It was purely an issue of timing. We just want to ensure that we have enough time to implement a strong program.”

Beam made a similar admission, again near the bottom of his column, when he wrote, "Some districts are opting out because they don’t have enough time to get the new program off and running..."

But in both cases, that inconvenient fact was ignored until after the impression had already been created that local districts oppose the career diploma option. And it seems very deliberate.

Otherwise, the lede in stories about the issue would have been, "Concerned that tight time lines make it difficult to get a new program in place before school opens, several school systems are asking for waivers..."

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