This Shouldn’t Be So Hard

Our Maggie Haberman is not the only reporter at the Grey Lady to use the framing of facts to create crap journalism. Kevin Carey writes on higher education from time to time at The New York Times, and in his latest he describes a new move to show which choices of majors are the most lucrative in order to deter students taking on debt for frivolities like…wait for it…social work.

Here is the lede, the nut graf and the first sentences of the body of the piece:

The Department of Education on Tuesday released detailed information showing the average amount of debt incurred by graduates of different academic programs at each college in America. This focus on programs, rather than institutions as a whole, is gaining favor among political leaders and could have far-reaching effects.

With anxiety about student debt soaring — the billionaire Robert F. Smith made headlines last weekend with his surprise promise to pay off the debts of Morehouse College’s 2019 graduating class — the program-level information has the potential to alter how colleges are funded, regulated and understood by consumers in the marketplace.

The new, more detailed debt information was created in response to an executive order issued in March by President Trump.

Other lawmakers have called for similar approaches. In February, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and a former university president, gave a speech outlining his plans to revise the federal Higher Education Act.

There’s a lot of fig leafs within that second paragraph. “Has the potential” does a lot of work, and “consumers in the marketplace” accepts a whole conception of higher ed., that is, to put it most kindly, in dispute.

But there’s more than merely a boatload of unexamined assumptions within the piece to raise concerns.  Here, Carey clearly lays out what he thinks the story is emerging from the facts (not in dispute) that people are collecting information about income and majors (not in fact a new thing) and are doing so in the context of a phenomenon, college debt, that has economic, social, and political implications.

Carey’s story is that more data will enable policymakers and would be students to tailor decisions about money in the most efficient manner; more information will lead to better approaches to what slices of higher education gets funded and by whom.

Carey does hint that there might be something else going on around the undisputed facts (this information is being gathered and politicians are making choices):

There are still many disagreements and details to resolve. The Trump approach relies on the idea that if students have better information, choices in the higher education market will be enough to ensure quality. But there is little evidence to support this view. Even with program data, students will still be vulnerable to the deceptive marketing and aggressive sales tactics that remain widespread in the for-profit college industry.

The measures matter, too. Mr. Alexander’s plan is to evaluate programs based on loan repayment rates. But it isn’t known whether those rates are a good measure of program quality. The Obama method of comparing debt levels to student earnings, by contrast, was so accurate that many colleges pre-emptively shut down their low-performing programs before the sanctions were even applied. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is now working to repeal those regulations.

Of note: these two paragraphs are numbers 17 and 18 of 20 in this piece.  Now go back up to the opening passage above: the two measures he cites as evidence for this new move to apply data to college major choice are those he here decries as likely to be ineffective, at best: Trump’s executive order, which relies on, inter alia, the market behavior of for-profit colleges, and Senator Alexander’s, which replaces a (Carey-attested) effective Obama policy with one that reeks of bullshit.

Again: I’m not arguing with Carey’s facts. I’m quite sure that if I re-reported this piece, it would check out.  But only children and John Chait (see the GoS link re Haberman above) believe that journalism is merely the accumulation of stacks of facts like pebbles in a cairn.  The order in which a reporter lays out those facts; the qualifiers and modifiers employed; and above all, the explicit choices made about which facts to emphasize (the lede!) and which to bury (paragraph 17) construct a never-neutral account of reality. Every story is shaped thusly, and it can be done well, clumsily, and, often maliciously — whether that malign outcome is intended or not.

And so it is here: it would seem to me that the story is the Trump and GOP allies are continuing to use bad or at best untested criteria to emphasize technical education at the expense of not just of the liberal arts’ ideal of students equipped for civic and moral reasoning — but of anything that bears on social life as well, all those low-paying jobs (social work!) that do not serve the machine.

More, this version of the story fits with another, larger story: the way the Trump administration and the GOP are pursuing a broad, government-and-society-wide attack on institutions and government policies that have a conception of society large than the nuclear family. The use of selectively acquired or deployed data to undermine, say, social work (hey–it’s his example, not mine!) is not a neutral assessment of the economic value of this program or that.

There’s a lot to be argued about the liberal arts, of course, and some academic disciplines and individual departments do indeed go off the rails on occasion — no argument there.  But the point I’m making here is that Carey had a choice about how to construct his story, and he decided to present it as another advance of a data-driven approach to life, and not at least highlight in his opening the gap between the rhetoric (data! economic efficiency!) and the actual measures being offered to address the alleged problem. A better edited newspaper might have caught some of this.

TL:DR Framing matters. And in this case, the choice of frame glosses a set of pre-existing beliefs never clearly stated or interrogated, while burying the actual news of more GOP taking advantage of a crisis (student debt) to achieve other goals (fucking higher ed)(..  It’s bad journalism, in other words, not because it’s wrong or even because it points to stuff I don’t like, but because it makes it harder, not easier, to understand what its facts actually mean on the ground.

Image: Gerbrand van der Eeckhout, Scholar with his Booksbefore 1674.








Repubs In Disarray!… Open Thread

No way Junior actually wrote this tweet — even he understands that “running for office as a business model” is why his old man is currently squatting in the Oval Office. But Young Don’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle is now a paid “senior political advisor” on Daddy’s reelection campaign, so I guess we can assume this is the real, if not the official, Trump administration stance on Roy Moore. Rooting for injuries!

Speaking of injuries…



Steve ‘Muck & Mucker’ Bannon is looking for a little earned media (free publicity) from Michael Wolff’s new book Siege: Trump Under Fire & Fury II:

“Siege” is ostensibly about Trump — portrayed here as a very unstable non-genius cracking under the pressure of being thrust into the highest office — but its guiding worldview looks remarkably like Bannon’s. It’s a mordant, readable tell-all designed to show how Trump, simply by being Trump, has made himself the perfect wrecking ball, blasting holes through an array of institutions…
Read more








Pulitzer Prizes Awarded Today

Easy to miss, given the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Here is the full list. Some highlights (my highlights, ymmv)

Public Service:  South Florida Sun Sentinel for exposing failings by school and law enforcement officials before and after the deadly shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Breaking News Reporting: Staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for immersive, compassionate coverage of the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that captured the anguish and resilience of a community thrust into grief.

Local Reporting: Staff of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., for a damning portrayal of the state’s discriminatory conviction system, including a Jim Crow-era law, that enabled Louisiana courts to send defendants to jail without jury consensus on the accused’s guilt.

Feature Writing: Hannah Dreier of ProPublica for a series of powerful, intimate narratives that followed Salvadoran immigrants on New York’s Long Island whose lives were shattered by a botched federal crackdown on the international criminal gang MS-13.

History: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, by David W. Blight (Simon & Schuster) A breathtaking history that demonstrates the scope of Frederick Douglass’ influence through deep research on his writings, his intellectual evolution and his relationships.

Special Awards and Citations: Aretha Franklin for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.








Late Night Comic Relief Open Thread: Trump Can’t Even Attract Quality Ratfvckers!

Nixon had guys like G. Gordon Liddy“a little nuts”, per ol’ Tricky, but at least he knew there were limits, even if he didn’t understand his own. The current Oval Office Occupant? He’s got these guys ‘defending’ him. Per Will Sommer at the Daily Beast:

A press conference intended to publicize sexual assault claims against special counsel Robert Mueller collapsed in spectacular fashion on Thursday, after the pro-Trump operatives behind the event failed to demonstrate a grasp of even basic details about their accuser or explain why they had repeatedly lied about their project.

Mueller has asked the FBI to investigate the effort from publicity-hungry Washington lobbyist Jack Burkman and pro-Trump Twitter personality Jacob Wohl, which has been dogged by accusations that they offered women money to accuse Mueller of sexual misconduct.

But the prospect of an FBI investigation was the least of Wohl and Burkman’s problems on Thursday.

Throughout their 45-minute press conference, the two men repeatedly contradicted themselves and each other, giving cryptic non-answers that convinced approximately zero people in attendance that their allegations were anywhere close to the truth…
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Foreign Mischief Open Thread: “Let’s Support Trump, Purely As Men”


 
Different country, same misogyny…

 
Anybody had a chance yet to read Jane Mayer’s latest?