Ledger Logic – Billionaire Boys Club Edition

Tom Moran over at the Star-Ledger has outdone himself this time: an opinion piece under his own byline combined with an editorial he presumably wrote make for a one-two punch that knock fairness and logic on their asses.

Let’s start with Moran’s long, wet kiss to David Tepper, hedge fund multi-billionaire. After the predictable Horatio Alger claptrap about Tepper’s hardscrabble young life in Pittsburgh, Moran sees fit to devote one small paragraph to how this man made his money:

His style is to take huge risks. His firm, Appaloosa Management, made a killing after the financial crash by investing billions in failed banks. After the government bailouts, the value of the shares skyrocketed and his firm made $7.5 billion.

That’s not the whole story, as we have reported here at Blue Jersey (h/t DS Wright). Tepper took a position on bank stocks knowing the government was going to pay more than market value for them. By his own admission, his wealth came from a direct transfer of money from the federal government to his firm involving little risk at all.

Legal? You bet. Unethical? Well, probably not according to today’s standards on Wall Street. Devoid of any social value? I’d say yes, absolutely. This is the sort of deal the Occupy Wall Street movement is all about. This is the hottest topic in our national discourse at the moment.

But did it occur to Moran to maybe ask his subject about all this? No… because Tom and David want to talk about education. Too bad neither have a clue about the subject:

Tepper is a Democrat, but his school agenda lines up neatly with Christie’s. He wants tenure reform first, but also supports merit pay, more charter schools and small pilot programs in failing districts that would let parents use public money for tuition at private schools.

Moran cheerleads this agenda in his editorial:

Take tenure reform. It is supported by roughly two-thirds of New Jersey voters and has been blocked until now, mainly by the political muscle of the NJEA.

The problem with that statement is that no one in the “reform” movement wants to specifically say what they mean by “tenure reform.” Take, for example, Tepper:

Tepper’s views 
at a glance

Tenure: This is his priority by far. “Most teachers are good teachers. But if 75 or 80 percent are good, that’s not enough.” He wants struggling teachers to get help and bad ones to get pink slips. His main concern: Tenure Light, a reform that only nibbles at the margins.

What the hell does that mean? Where did he get the 75% to 80% number? Even the most adamant corporate reformers talk about firing maybe the bottom 5%. Is Tepper aware of the debate around this issue? Has he educated himself about this? Where did he get his figure? Does Moran care?

And what about the reporting Moran’s own paper has done about corruption and cronyism in New Jersey school districts – conyism that would be far, far worse without tenure? How would Tepper address this serious issue? Sorry, SL readers: asking Tepper about this might take time away from folksy stories about his childhood.

“He wants struggling teachers to get help and bad ones to get pink slips.” Who doesn’t? The NJEA wants exactly the same thing: no one wants bad teachers in the classroom. Of course the majority of people polled support this.

The question any competent journalist would ask, however, is: “How would Tepper do this?” Through unreliable standardized tests, against the advice of the vast majority of experts who have studied the matter?

Who knows? Certainly not the readers of the Star-Ledger. Tepper worries about “Tenure Light,” while we’re served up “Journalism Light”: a frothy concoction devoid of facts or meaning. It’s a heady quaff for the masses, brewed to distract us from questioning how this state and this nation got themselves into our current mess. Heaven forbid we start looking at a system that allows the already wealthy – like Tepper – to become insanely wealthy off the backs of the American taxpayer.

But Moran won’t be having any of that; indeed, he’s quite happy to have the David Teppers of the world buy their way into public policy:

Yes, in a perfect democracy, rich people would have no more influence than others. We are all for strict limits on political donations and believe the final answer is public financing of campaigns.

But here on Earth, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, we are charging in the other direction.

Oh, huzzah! Thank goodness multi-billionaires are willing to spend gobs of money to strip protections against cronyism from public workers under the false guise of helping children. It may not be “perfect,” but it’s better than an evil union influencing the issue!

Which is really what this is all about: sticking it to public worker unions. If Moran really cared about education, he’d have insisted Tepper flesh out his positions and talk specifics. Instead, Moran focuses his ire at the NJEA:

But NJEA officials seem to realize they blew it by taking a hard line against Christie’s call for a pay freeze and benefit reforms. They can read the polls. And they promise a reform agenda of their own, including tenure.

First of all, the NJEA never took a hard line against a pay freeze: they said all pay issues should be decided at the local level. And the freeze wouldn’t have come close to making up for Christie’s school aid cuts, a fact Moran has failed to apprehend time and again.

That aside: why does Tom Moran have so little concern for the small percentage of income Tepper pays in taxes compared to New Jersey’s public workers? I did some back-of-the-envelop calculations a while ago on the relative income and taxation of David Tepper and a New Jersey teacher, and came up with this:

Does this bother Moran? No, he’s more concerned a cop might goes to the dentist without running up his credit card.

This dichotomy is probably the best explanation for why Moran has bothered writing these embarrassing pieces: Tepper is rich, and therefore a man to be listened to on any subject he pleases. Forget that he has no experience or training in education. Forget that the “dream team” he has assembled is led by a former nightlife editor named Derrell Bradford who himself has no experience in education policy or practice.

Tepper is rolling in dough, and, therefore, entitled to have his say about any subject at any time. And if he wants to blame the plight of New Jersey’s poor children on teacher unions instead of the massive inequality perpetuated by a system that has fabulously enriched him… well, that’s the sort of story Tom Moran can’t wait to run!

Understand this: the Star-Ledger has it’s good moments. Bob Braun is one of the best journalists in the state, and the under-utilized Kevin Manahan is always worth reading.

But Moran’s pieces today were a new low point. Lord help us if he continues to shape this debate in this way.

Comments (15)

  1. William Weber (WjcW)

    You’re upset that he made bank trades any one of us were free to make?

    Is it your position that others were about to make those trades but were ‘too ethical’?

  2. 12mileseastofTrenton

    on the incestuous relationship between the editorial boards of New Jersey newspapers, particularly the Ledger and the Trenton Times, and the school privateers and their anti-union, anti-techer jihad.  This has been going on for years but has only accelerated as folks like Tepper, who apparently became an expert in education by making billions in hedge funds, have gotten involved.

  3. David Hungerford

    . . .  is making money. That’s it. It should be against the law for someone with loads of money to use his wealth to toy with the lives of millions of people. Instead it seems to be getting more and more legal. The only answer is people power versus the plutocracy.

  4. tom moran

    Whoever you are, Jersey Jazzman, take a deep breath. No need for personal insults. We can have a friendly discussion. Few thoughts:

    One, Tepper’s big bet on bank securities was not risk free. If it were, lots of people would have done it.

    Two, the NJEA most definitely did oppose the pay freeze. Yes, they left it up locals, but they urged a no vote, and they argued against it many times, including to me in person.

    Three, the NJEA has never proosed meaningful tenure reform. Their president, Barbara Keshishian, said in our editorial board that she doesn’t even know what a bad teacher is. Look, she’s doing her job protecting her members. But parents and students are understanably more interested in getting rid of bad teachers.

    Finally, why are you anonymous? Seems a little wimpy to me. And it always leads to the kind of bitter personal tone you bring.


  5. Tamar Wyschogrod

    There are a number of disturbing elements in both Moran’s column and the editorial, but the statements that bother me most are these:

    “The charge that Tepper and Fournier are trying to make money is beyond ridiculous. They know how to make money. They have not suggested turning schools over to private investors. By fanning such a silly conspiracy theory, the NJEA is only confirming that it has no shame.”

    Just because these guys aren’t proposing (yet) to go into the education business themselves does NOT mean their interference is disinterested. When people who are richer than god devote great big wads of cash to promoting policies that divert attention from the problem of vast wealth inequity (and related social problems like the difficulty of educating children in poverty) to place blame on organized labor, alarm bells should start ringing. What’s in it for them? Well for one thing, it props up the politicians who propose to address education problems with “solutions” like tenure reform rather than solutions that might require increasing revenues by raising taxes on the wealthy. It perpetuates the false notion that what’s good for the ultra-rich is good for all of us. And it provides good PR for those guys as edu-philanthropists without actually doing anything to address the real problem – poverty.

    “Yes, in a perfect democracy, rich people would have no more influence than others. We are all for strict limits on political donations and believe the final answer is public financing of campaigns. But here on Earth, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. ”

    That’s just…I mean…really? Plutocracy is inevitable, so just shut up and eat cake? Be grateful these guys are spending their money on education and not, say, destroying the economy for personal gain? (Oh, wait, they can do that, too.) That’s just a staggering statement. Sorry, no. This is still a democracy, dammit, and by organizing we can defeat the power of money. We can create a system of taxation and regulation whereby those who have benefited most from American freedoms live up to their responsibilities, and everyone gets a say in what solutions are implemented.

    The problem people like Tepper face in using the public education system to further their blame-the-unions-and-ignore-poverty agenda is that most people actually have an awful lot of experience with the system because they and/or their kids came through it. We know how many dedicated, effective teachers are out there, and we know that our kids do not turn into total failures because of one bad teacher. We know that schools with more affluent populations are always more successful than those with impoverished populations. We know that the big problems are related to that, and not to the small number of inadequate teachers who benefit from the tenure system. We’ve seen school success stories that fall outside the narrow tenure-reform-merit-pay-charters-and-vouchers world of Tepper and Fournier – success stories that involve integration, early childhood education, affordable housing, jobs.

    Unlike Mr. Moran, we have not drunk the Kool Aid.

  6. William Weber (WjcW)

    is Tepper’s money any different than the NJEA’s?

    The 25 million the NJEA has spent in the past 2 years is somehow more ethical than whatever money Tepper has spent?

    Should it be illiegal for the NJEA to use money to influence policy?

  7. Jersey Jazzman (Post author)

    Mr. Moran, there is one comment I will take back, and you can see it in a post I will publish tomorrow:

    If Moran really cared about education, he’d have insisted Tepper flesh out his positions and talk specifics.”

    It is not fair to imply you don’t care about education, and I apologize.

    The rest of the post, however, still stands.

    Mr. Moran, the sentence above aside, are you prepared to say that I am any tougher on you than you are on the NJEA? Because I don’t think that I am. For example, you say (again, I assume this editorial was yours, but please correct me if I am wrong):

    By fanning such a silly conspiracy theory, the NJEA is only confirming that it has no shame. The union is making noises now about supporting tenure reform, but the danger is they will offer window-dressing as a substitute for real reform.

    That’s pretty rough, and I don’t think it’s any less rough than what I wrote about you. So let’s not break out the smelling salts yet, OK?

    I am a working teacher. What you have advocated over the past several months is VERY personal to me. Your casual embrace of the corporate reform movement will impact me and my colleagues directly. Maybe you can understand my passion and yes, my anger – especially when we have been accused of bringing down the entire state with our “greed.” Did you really think a NJ teacher-blogger isn’t going to be defensive?

    This casual embrace of the corporate reform agenda with hardly any serious questioning of whether it will work is extremely troubling to me. If that comes across as personal, I apologize, but I am not about to sit silently by while my union is slammed and ineffective policy prescriptions are sold in the name of reform.

    And if you don’t think my tone is fair, I’d ask you to consider whether it’s also fair to adorn the print edition of your piece with a cartoon of a gorilla in boxing gloves monogrammed with the letters “NJEA.” Sauce for the goose…

    As to your specific points:

    1) Watch the video here:


    Tepper makes quite clear that he felt this was a sure thing: “Sometimes, it’s just that easy.” Again, he was well within both his legal and ethical right to do this transaction, but there is a real question as to its societal worth. You, as a journalist, had an opportunity to pursue this line of questioning with him. You chose not to. I have a problem with that.

    2) The official position of the NJEA was to leave opening contracts up to the locals – you know this. I am further frustrated by the fact that the OLS specifically said the “freeze” would not even cover 1/4 of the Christie cuts, yet you continued to downplay this when discussing the issue in your editorials. If the NJEA has suffered politically from the proposed “freeze,” it’s largely because so much of the reporting and opining was not clear that a freeze would have minimal impact on school budgets.

    3) The NJEA has a tenure reform plan on the table – you and I can disagree as to whether it is meaningful (and I really don’t much care what Keshishian said in your offices, especially out of context – it’s not germane to whether the plan is effective). But what is Tepper’s plan? It’s not at all outlined in your piece. How can anyone possibly evaluate the plans, or his implication that NJEA’s is “Tenure Light,” unless and until you ask him for his plan’s details? If he is going to be presented in your paper as a major player on this issue, why isn’t he asked specific policy questions?

    Can you understand my frustration here? You are advocating for putting the job protections of hundreds of thousands of teachers at risk, and yet you don’t even spell out what the NJEA wants and what Tepper wants.

    This is not journalism that helps people make informed choices. Isn’t that your duty above all else?

    Finally: Again, I’m a teacher. Given your paper’s reporting on Elizabeth, that alone should be enough reason enough for me to remain anonymous. But it’s not the primary reason – see here:


    I am all for a friendly conversation, but I am going to call things as I see them. And the only reason David Tepper graced your pages this weekend in a slam of the NJEA is that he is very, very wealthy. I doubt I am alone in being more than a little disturbed by that.

  8. Nowlan

    if you want me to believe your man Tepper cares about my students. (I do not teach in Livingston.)

    Now what would you say about a teacher showing off brazen b—s?  You know, they way Tepper the gorilla fighter does?  

    Can someone sell that man some class?

    Why are we anonymous?  Here’s the short answer:  tenure “reform.”   Tepper might be my boss soon.  

  9. Bertin Lefkovic

    My name is Bertin Lefkovic.  I use this username, because the username that I first created when I joined here that is my name is currently inactive, not that it should matter what username someone uses.

    Why do you believe that tenure reform is going to improve public schools, which are already amongst the highest-performing in the country, dramatically?  The schools in NJ that are amongst those that are chronically failing are not doing so, because of an abundance of poor teachers.  Even the best schools have some bad teachers, who are protected by tenure and while this is a problem to some degree, tenure is not the disease and tenure reform is not the cure that people like Tepper would like to make them out to be.

    With some exceptions, the performance of New Jersey’s public schools (or lack thereof) is primarily due to socioeconomic factors that are neither mitigated sufficiently by the best teachers nor exacerbated drastically by the worst.  The problems inherent within public education are complex and comprehensive in nature and require complex and comprehensive solutions.

    I would be willing to support tenure reform if it was part of a broader reform of how both students and teachers are evaluated that includes, but is not limited to the elimination of standardized testing and the amount of money, time, and other resources that they strip away from the educative process, as well as a meaningful investment in observational evaluation methodologies.

    But even reforms like these do not address the socioeconomic factors that are the ultimate impact, positive and/or negative, the quality or lack thereof of public education.  On their own, they would probably be as impactful as the Abbott funding paradigm, which just as incorrectly believes that any amount of money can produce a “thorough and efficient education” when most of the students in Abbott schools live anything but thorough and efficient lives.

    It would probably be fair to argue that the NJEA could be a more constructive and productive partner in efforts to improve our public schools if the DINOs and Republicans who are conspiring to “reform” public education were actually interested in improving our schools, instead of just finding ways to spend less on them without doing the kind of damage to them that anybody will be able to blame them for in a future election cycle.

    Because in the end, that is the primary obstacle to the kinds of meaningful reforms that would truly improve public education.  Whether it be nonpartisan school board elections or partisan gubernatorial and legislative elections, anything that would meaningfully improve public education would cost far more than anybody who cares about winning or losing elections would ever be willing to propose, particularly since it would take longer than anyone’s term in office for an investment of this magnitude to produce quantifiable returns.

    So crucify the NJEA and deify the “reformers” if you want.  It is easy enough to do, especially considering the fact that very few of your readers and even fewer of the voters know enough about education to challenge your conclusions.  But I do, because I am a product of a very good public education (Cranford HS Class of ’89 with an Ed.M. from the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education) as well as an overpriced and overrated private education (B.A. in Political Science from New York University).

    By the way, Tom, how many education policy classes did you take while pursuing your Journalism degree?  How many continuing education classes does the Star-Ledger require you to take to ensure that you have a clue about what you are writing on a daily basis or is it sufficient to know just enough to be able to ask the kinds of questions that will get you the kinds of answers that will allow you to cobble together a coherent enough analysis for the consumption of your readers, who know just enough less about the subject matter than you do for your analysis to seem credible enough.

    Considering the degree to which the adult voters in a democracy such as ours are educated through their consumption of mass media, one would think that there should be just as much scrutiny of the people who are involved in the production of mass media as there are of the people who are involved in the education of our children.  Both are just different parts of the same continuum, yet nobody is proposing tenure reform for editorial page editors.  Why is that?

    Is it just because taxpayers do not pay your salaries?  There are other professionals in the private sector who are subject to some form of certification and continuing education protocols.  Why not journalists as well?

  10. 12mileseastofTrenton

    Unlike you Mr. Moran, it’s safe to say that most people on here do not get paid for what they write on the Internet or in the newspaper.  They may have employment-related reasons for not using their real name.

  11. Nowlan

    Or force myself to read the SL forums!  

  12. 12mileseastofTrenton

    “bad teachers,” however that is defined, and “failing students.”. Or are teachers with failing students ipso facto bad teachers?  My hunch is that there is none and that this is merely a matter of scapgoating.  Or a solution in search of a problem, if you will.

  13. Jersey Jazzman (Post author)

    for such a comprehensive answer. Well stated.

  14. Jersey Jazzman (Post author)

    It’s circular logic. This is the crux of the evaluation issue. More later this week.

  15. Bertin Lefkovic

    Maybe you can let Jay Lassiter know that I actually wrote something nice and constructive for once.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *