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.