Embedding Dannel Malloy in the Courant

The Bridgeport School Fight To Come?

The Supreme Court spoke yesterday, finally, and declared six-to-one that the soul of the Bridgeport public schools is not for sale. New elections were ordered to replace those board members who were ousted by the state last summer. All but one justice declared the state’s action lawless. This momentary victory for the voters of Bridgeport was a cause for some relief and even celebration in some quarters.

But it was also a time for the sharpening of long knives in the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The governor’s men want the Legislature to pass a law that would retroactively make moot the Supreme Court’s decision. The propagandists worked late into the night to take the sting out of the loss they suffered.

Coverage of the decision in The Hartford Courant reflects the success of the governor’s men. Early in the day, on-line versions of the story reported the relief of the plaintiffs in this case that the popular vote had been respected in this decision. Later in the evening, the governor’s men pushed aside some of these comments. As the day gave way to evening and then to late night, the Courant began to read more and more like a press release for the Malloy administration. What happened?

The story quotes a board member who just lost his job, a defendant in the suit. It then quotes another defendant, this one a member of the state board of education, who worries that the Supreme Court decision will undermine progress in the troubled school district. It then notes that Malloy’s legislative sleight of hand to “fix” the problem consists of two sentenced buried in the midst of a 163 education reform bill. It quotes Andrew McDonald, one of the governor’s legal advisors, who expressed disappointment. It quotes Bridgeport’s mayor, who conspired with state board members to engineer the bloodless coup. It quotes the sole dissenter on the Supreme Court, Justice Richard Palmer. Reading the  story, one would think that the Supreme Court had just ordered the banning of the teaching of reading in the schools.

It took a lot of work for the Malloy administration to get the right spin on the story. We’re promised a fight. Dannel’s going to tour the state on education reform. The administration looks like it is going to try to ram a measure through the legislature to “cure” the problem the Supreme Court based its decision upon: state law requires that a school board be given training before the state moves in to kill the vote. Because the state failed even nominally to comply with this requirement, the larger, constitutional issues, raised on appeal were not addressed.

You would have had to read the CT Mirror, an online publication, to see the reaction of legislative leaders to the Supreme Court decision. That publication reported that lawmakers were unlikely to slap the Supreme Court in the face with a prompt resort to gamesmanship. Those comments did not make it into the Courant. Why is that?

But left on the cutting room floor as the day progressed was an interview his colleague, education reporter Kathleen Megan, did with me. An earlier version of the story reported that the winners here were prepared to go to federal court if the General Assembly decided to try to take the vote away once again. No spokesman for the deposed plaintiffs appeared in the final cut: only supporters for the governor, over and over and over again. The Courant read like a press release for Dannel Malloy’s team.

Reading the Courant this morning, we know what to expect. Lawmakers will try to undo the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision. The governor wants it. The state board of education wants it. The appointed board, the one serving in the place of those elected by the people of Bridgeport, want it. Bridgeport’s Mayor Finch wants it. 

Screw the people of Bridgeport. They are too stupid to know what is good for them. And screw the Supreme Court, too. That body of theoreticians is just hung up on “technicalities”. That’s the governor’s view. And the Courant’s, too. Why if everyone would just sit back and let the governor and those private interests who stand to gain by appointed boards call the shots, things would be better.

But better for whom? The Courant has shown no interest in the machinations that led to last summer’s bloodless coup in the Park City. There has been no reporting on the pedigree of the appointed board members, and the corporate cash that backs them. Instead we get hortatory nonsense about how a more efficient board, a board composed of experts, not lay people, will transform the schools.

Is anyone stupid enough to believe that a top-down bureaucratic approach will cure the problems incident to urban poverty, the break-up of families, and the myriad social ills befalling Bridgeport? The governor is. But then there is the secondary gain to be had of increased power and control if he can take over one school district at a time. Mayor Finch is. But he’s got his eyes on the corporate money that will flow into the city once private donors have a school board they can trust, and control, in place. State bureaucrats are. But what desk jockey doesn’t lust over a bigger budget? 

Embedding reporters in those who hold guns and power is dangerous. Sometimes the reporting ends up being politics by means of printer’s ink. Yesterday’s Courant is a perfect example of how an independent press gets co-opted. I hope someone take a look at how this story evolved over the course of a day. It looks like the Courant is for sale to the most powerful bidder.




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