July 31, 2001
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If two former presidents of the United States came out in favor of a blatantly unconstitutional plan to restrict the press, would it be big news? Not, apparently, in the judgment of the New York Times, which reports in its national section today on the recommendations of a commission on election reform that was headed by Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. "A summary of the report made available tonight to news organizations recommends legislation, if necessary, to bar them from projecting winners in the presidential contest until the polls have closed in the 48 contiguous states."
It's hard to imagine how such a "bar" on news organizations could be imposed through "legislation" without contravening the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
Moreover, while the Carter-Ford proposal seems to be an attempt to solve an equal protection problem -- under the current system, some late-voting people on the West Coast might not go to the polls until after the press projects a winner -- it in fact would have the effect of worsening that problem. Under the current system, the election projections are not an act of government. By enshrining into law this "contiguous states" rule, however, Congress would be essentially imposing a system under which residents of Alaska and Hawaii have different protections than everyone else.
The Times doesn't bother to get any critical comment, or any comment at all, in today's article from representatives of the press or from representatives of Alaska or Hawaii. That, no doubt, is exactly what Mr. Carter and Mr. Ford were hoping for when they decided to release a summary of the report the night before. But just because Mr. Carter and Mr. Ford are wise at the spin game doesn't mean that the Times has to fall for it.
Not a Loner: A front-page article in today's New York Times on President George W. Bush's foreign policy reports, "It should be noted, however, that President Bush is criticized for rejecting two agreements that even Mr. Clinton did not wholeheartedly advocate: the international ban on land mines and an accord establishing a permanent International Criminal Court."
In fact, there are at least three such agreements. Mr. Clinton was never a wholehearted advocate of the Kyoto Accord, either. He signed it but immediately announced that he would seek to have it modified, and he declared he had no intent to submit it for ratification.
Unreformed on Welfare: As part of its continuing series of attacks on welfare reform, the New York Times today reports in its national section on a study purporting to show that the adolescent children of families in welfare-to-work programs "have lower academic achievement and more behavioral problems than the children of other welfare households." The Times article quotes an author of the study declaring "there were no positive findings," and, just in case you missed the point, quotes the same author again declaring, "there were no positive impacts." For good measure, the Times prints a chart showing that adolescent children of those in welfare-to-work families, compared with traditional welfare families, had higher incidences of being arrested for a crimes, suspended from high school, experiencing below-average academic achievement or being in special education classes.
One interesting aspect here is that being in "special education" is listed in the Times graphic as part of the evidence that welfare-to-work children "fared poorly." This is more a commentary on the Times' view of special education that it is on welfare reform; for students with genuine learning disabilities, special education, where classes tend to be smaller and teachers have additional training, may be the best place. A child who genuinely belongs in special education may have "fared poorly" if instead of getting the help he needs he is ignored and left to fail in mainstream classes.
Beyond that, however, what of the claim -- repeated twice in the Times article and left entirely unchallenged -- that there are "no positive impacts" of the welfare-to-work programs on the adolescent children of those enrolled? Buried in the middle of the Times article is the news that "Adolescents whose parents were in the Canadian program were performing household chores, among them caring for their siblings, slightly more frequently than those whose parents were not in the program. They were also more likely to be working 20 hours a week or more, a level of employment that previous studies have found to decrease school achievement and increase problem behavior like drinking. In Florida, too, parental participation in the program increased the likelihood that the adolescent children were caring for younger brothers and sisters."
Isn't it just possible that, rather than being early indicators of alcoholism, helping with household chores, taking care of siblings, and working outside the home are "positive impacts"? And isn't it possible that, between the work outside the home of the parents and the adolescents, the welfare-to-work families have more money now than they did when they were on welfare? Might some interpret that as a "positive impact"? The Times' unwillingness to consider these issues -- or even to quote a single person in the story about the study other than the study's author -- reveals much about the newspaper's attitude toward work.
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