Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Campbell Brown's Friends

Weekly Standard writer Mark Hemingway is in the December issue sticking up for Campbell Brown with the kind of PR fluff that usually costs big bucks. It's clear that Campbell Brown doesn't need friends. But it appears she's looking for something else.

In "Who's Afraid of Campbell Brown? (Teachers' unions, and for good reason)" Hemingway provides a dispatch from an alternate universe where teacher unions rule and Brown is a unjustly victimized humanitarian. It's not nearly as interesting as it could have been had Hemingway also checked out some of the recordings from the corruption trial of disgraced NY Senate Leader Dean Skelos, because those recordings give us a bit more information about Brown's friends. But we'll get back to that-- first, a look at Hemingway's piece.

He opens with a look at Brown's modest office arrangements, and as will be the case throughout the piece, uses a bit of misdirection to avoid including some details. For instance, after describing Brown's low-rent office, he writes "But don't let this modest arrangement fool you" but the next part of that sentence is not "Brown has been given a $4 million budget to run her website." Nor (spoiler alert) is he ever going to mention that Brown's site requires a reportorial commitment to never run anti-charter stories. Instead, he wants us to know that Brown is parked on the moral high road.

Brown has promised that the site won’t shy away from advocacy and opinion—which it labels “opinion”—but at the same time she insists that her mission is not political. “My whole point about school reform is it’s not partisan. It’s not,” she says. “It’s a moral issue.”

And who is standing in the way of her righteous crusade? Three guesses

The trouble is, the last thing America’s teachers’ unions want is real reform, and they certainly don’t want Campbell Brown leading the charge. Far from making education a moral issue, they’re counting on it remaining a partisan one.

Exactly what reform charge is Brown leading? So far it appears that mostly she is leading the charge to establish herself as an important player, and she's not doing well. Hemingway will offer his warmed-over claim that the union "got to" the Democratic candidates who skipped Brown's Education Summit in Iowa, but he doesn't address who "got to" the eight GOP candidates who skipped her similar session in New Hampshire (the six who showed up were Bush, Fiorina, Kasich, Christie, Jindal and Walker so she didn't squeeze much juice out of that group). Brown keeps trying to sell the "I'm so important the unions want to silence me" narrative, but it seems more likely that Brown just isn't that important. And her desire to inject education into the campaign would be admirable, if it were not so clearly attached to her privatization and teacher-busting agenda).

But in Hemingway's alternate universe, the unions' reach is long and strong.  In his universe, even Obama has "appeased" unions (by killing off DC's choice program). This is because "all meaningful education reforms hinge on greater accountability and erosion of the ironclad union protections that keep bad, even criminal, teachers in classrooms" and so unions are all about the status quo (except that the status quo these days is the reformster agenda of high-stakes testing and free-range charters). But again, our narrative brings us back to Campbell Brown, Education's Joan of Arc:

Given that teachers’ unions are used to making some of the most powerful politicians in the country dance on a string, they’re not happy about the emergence of Campbell Brown as a politically influential voice in education reform. She’s well-connected, independent, and has deep pockets. Perhaps most important, she’s a former A-list broadcast journalist, and her communication skills are superb. Consequently, union leaders don’t just disagree with Brown—they feel intense personal hatred.

This is the kind of writing that's hard to respond to because I don't even recognize the reality Hemingway speaks of. In my reality, there is not a single national-stage politician who clearly stands for public education, teachers or teachers unions. In my reality, rank and file teachers are repeatedly complaining about national union leaders who gladly tie themselves up so that they can dance to whatever tune the politicians pipe. Are there people who "intensely hate" Brown personally? I don't know. She tweeted at me once. It wasn't unpleasant. But mostly I don't think much about her. In the reformster landscape, she's one more well-funded pro-charter anti-teacher shill, probably a little less effective than many.

But Hemingway marshals a list of articles that were inspired by some mysterious teacher union memo. People keep asking who is funding her! People keep bringing up that her husband is a "Wall Street figure" and neocon who helped put positive spin on a war from which he allegedly profited. Hemingway lists all these unfun questions about Brown-- but he answers none of them. This is perhaps the most intellectually dishonest moment in a piece that is not exactly awash in rigor-- if Brown, who is pushing charters like crazy, is funded by people who stand to profit from charters, that matters. If it doesn't matter, then it also doesn't matter which politicians get teacher union money and support. Hemingway cannot have it both ways, but that's what he is demanding.

Then back to Brown's crusade against tenure, which is old news at this point (as is the lawsuit that was going to make her a player, but didn't). Hemingway also re-fries the old beans of a Diane Ravitch prettiness quote (calling her a union spokesperson, which is, again from some alternate universe).

Brown bemoans the lack of someone to engage with her, and again, this does not seem to be so much about the need to fix education as the need for Brown to find someone who will give her stature by treating her like she's a Big Deal. She wants someone from the opposition to debate her thoughtfully, and Hemingway neener-neeners that they're all afraid (she should take a page from the former failed chancellor of DC schools, who became a household ed reform name while steadfastly refusing to debate anybody). I believe there are many public education advocates who fit the bill of knowledgeable and interested in progress; I'm just not sure why they should feel the need to debate a self-appointed charter advocate, any more than I can think of a reason that the Secretary of Education should give me a call just because I'm a self-appointed education blogger.

Brown via Hemingway wades into other issues like testing and Common Core, but it's clear that's not her area of passion (or at least not one where it's clear which way the wind is blowing). But then she winds back around to choice, and heats up again.

Again, Hemingway lives in some alternate universe where Obama and the unions have fought school choice. In my universe, the Obama administration has thrown plenty of money and support at charters, and the unions have been exceptionally mild-mannered in doing anything that might resemble opposition of it. In fact, the problem with much of Hemingway's narrative is that it pictures the NEA and AFT as staunch defenders of traditional public schools at the same time that rank and file members have had to repeatedly try to force their unions to do things like call out Duncan (who was only implementing Obama policies, but the unions would never, ever say anything bad about an Obama policy). In other words, there are plenty of us who wish that the union had as much power and will to oppose ed reform as he imagines it does.

Hemingway lists some of the big failures in the ed reform biz, like Gates and Zuckerberg (and even, wierdly, Shyamalan), and asks how little old Campbell Brown can hope to succeed where they have failed.

Well, a little self-awareness goes a long way. Campbell Brown understands the roadblocks thrown in front of all of the wealthy dilettantes who came before her, and she intends to defy expectations. For one thing, far from trading on her celebrity, she’d already said goodbye to her high-flying career in broadcast journalism years before starting the Partnership for Educational Justice and the Seventy Four.

Not trading on her celebrity? I'm not faulting her for it-- she is who she is-- but pretending that her celebrity isn't a thing that factors into her new line of work is just silly. In fact, let's ask someone else to chime in on Campbell Brown's celebrity:

DEAN SKELOS"I'm going into the city, meeting with some billionaires ... on school tax credit stuff - "

ADAM SKELOS"Who are you meeting with?

DEAN SKELOS" Campbell Brown."



ADAM SKELOS:  "Any financial ... people?"

DEAN SKELOS"Yeah, you know the ... uhh ...the reporter, former reporter ...a whole bunch of them(i.e. billionaire charter promoters) and I'm having lunch with a bunch of them. Then I'm going to - "

ADAM SKELOS"Dad, you’ve gotta ...you've gotta take these names down for me.”

DEAN SKELOS"I got 'em all.  I got 'em."

ADAM SKELOS"All right."

That's a transcript from some of the government wiretaps collected for the corruption trial of Dean Skelos who, at the time of this conversation, was hunting for a job for his son (you can listen to the recordings at the link). And so he set up a meeting with Campbell Brown and some billionaire charter backers.

So Campbell Brown doesn't need any more friends. She has friends who give her $4 million a year to run a charter advocacy website and very rich friends who help her meet with influential New York politicians and friends with deep pockets and even friends who write hugely complimentary profiles for conservative magazines.

No, what Brown needs is some enemies. She needs someone to take her on in public debate, or attack her on some high-profile platform. She needs to fight the Obama administration, maybe, she thinks, except that they are for pretty much most of the things she's for. She needs the unions to really come at her (she took a weakish swipe at them this weekend, about which I'll write elsewhere) and really draw some public blood so that people can see her really fighting hard, but the national unions are kind of soft and flabby and haven't shown much inclination to really fight reformy programs and in fact have cozied up to the Clinton campaign which will probably usher in even more programs that Brown actually agrees with.

Brown has unwittingly underlined our problem. She needs somebody with Stature and Importance to be her enemy, but there are very few people with Stature and Importance who are standing up for public education and teachers, and those few people don't seem to have the time or inclination to waste energy on an ed reform bit player.

Maybe Brown can start by going toe to toe with some C-level bloggers. Or maybe the next time she's having a backroom meeting with her billionaire charter buddies, she can ask them to buy her a sparring partner.


  1. The idea that unions "hate" Campbell Brown brings to mind those spammy ads which announce things like "Insurance companies HATE this mom who discovered one simple trick to saving on auto premiums".

  2. Another great piece, Peter, but your link to the WEEKLY STANDARD's Campbell Brown puffery doesn't work.

    Here's a better one:


    You said this about her eagerness to debate:

    "She wants someone from the opposition to debate her thoughtfully, and Hemingway neener-neeners that they're all afraid (she should take a page from the former failed chancellor of DC schools, who became a household ed reform name while steadfastly refusing to debate anybody). I believe there are many public education advocates who fit the bill of knowledgeable and interested in progress; I'm just not sure why they should feel the need to debate a self-appointed charter advocate, any more than I can think of a reason that the Secretary of Education should give me a call just because I'm a self-appointed education blogger."

    The article goes further, stating that her opponents are too "afraid" of her to dare even attempt debate her.

    WEEKLY STANDARD: "Ultimately, the problem for union spokesmen such as Weingarten and Ravitch is not that they have to contend with refuting some telegenic idiot every time the Washington Post calls them for the union point of view. Brown is eager to publicly debate education reform, but they’re afraid of engaging her. Given the opportunity, she’s going to clean their clocks. And, yes, she’s going to look good doing it."

    Talk about alternate universe.

    With one notable and disastrous exception --- the Stephen Colbert show (the old one before he moved to CBS --- Brown has steadfastly refused to appear in any forum where she is not surrounded by corporate reformers and politicians who support and agree 100% with everything she says, and who she knows beforehand will not challenge or refute anything she says.

    The Colbert show was most likely the last time she'll venture into an environment where she will face anyone who'll counter what she says. The Mexican stand-off moment between Colbert and her over whether she'll reveal her funders, and if not, why not ... was truly a "Perry Mason" moment. She justified this on the grounds that if she did, those funders will be targeted by... well ... by the protestors outside Colbert's studio. It was a bunch of parents holding handmade, magic markered signs. Scary!

    If you’ve got nothing to hide, you hide nothing.

    Ms. Brown claims that both she and her anonymous funders should be immune from suspicion, criticism, or concern, as to

    — what their true motives and intentions are;

    — what their past actions towards unions are;

    — how they may benefit financially should Ms. Brown achieve their goals, etc.

    CAMPBELL BROWN: “Oh, hey, American people… you don’t need to know the individuals and groups funding our efforts to ‘reform’ education… Just trust on this—they’re all really super, wonderful noble, well-intentioned folks and organizations who really care about the educations of poor and middle class children. Again, just trust us. They’re donating millions to our gropu with no ulterior motive at all, and won’t stand to benefit from any of our reform efforts. That’s all you need to know, and that’s all we’re going to tell you. You don’t really need to know any of their actual names. Really… you don’t.”

    That’s patently absurd.

  3. There were more Perry Mason moments during the Colbert show.

    In the middle of the interview, Brown makes a quite damning contradiction. I call attention to her use of the pronouns “we” and “our”.

    Watch the interview again at, paying attention to the following:


    Pay attention to these two snippets:
    (NOTE: CAPITALS for “WE” in the first, and for “OUR” in the second clip, … are mine, JACK)
    00:55 – 01:05

    CAMPBELL BROWN: “First, let me just correct something you said. WE (Campbell & the other behind-the-scenes leaders of "Parents for Educational Justice") are not filing this lawsuit. Seven parents who have kids in public schools in New York state are bringing this lawsuit.”

    Now, here come Brown’s slip-up
    03:47 – 03:52

    CAMPBELL BROWN: “Can I just mention that some of OUR plaintiffs are out here tonight, too (she gestures to the audience). They’re very happy to be here.”

    Whoa, whoa, whoa… hold on here, Campbell. Three minutes ago, you said that “we”— your group “Parents for Educational Justice”— were not filing the lawsuit, as in that it’s not “our” lawsuit; it’s the plaintiff parents’ lawsuit, and that you’re just giving them a little help. Suddenly, you’re referring to those same plaintiff parents as “our plaintiffs.”


    Again, notice Brown doesn’t say “the” plaintiffs, as in “the plaintiffs to whom our group is lending support.” She says, “our.” If only Colbert had been quick enough to catch her on that.

    Campbell Brown was hoping for a heart-warming, Oprah-show-like cut-away to those minority children plaintiffs sitting in the audience.

    No such luck.

    However, her attempt to effect that cut-away backfired on Brown as she let loose with the slip-up just described.

    SOUTHBRONX TEACHER was also questioning why the parents are not allowed to speak to journalists:


    He offers the follow-up questions that Colbert could have asked Brown when she said it was the parents’ lawsuit, not her group’s lawsuit:


    “Are the parents being paid or reimbursed any expenses incurred while in the midst of this lawsuit?

    “Are food and hotels and travel being reimbursed by the law firm, Campbell Brown, or PEJ? These questions are important.

    “Did these parents seek out PEJ on their own, or were they sought out?

    “If they were sought out how many have volunteered and/or have been employed by Students First? We do know that the lead plaintiff, Keoni Wright was employed by Michelle Rhee's group STUDENTS FIRST at one time.

    “Campbell even shares that the law firm, Kirkland Ellis, is representing the parents pro bono, but how did these parents know to seek out this particular law firm?

    “But as I am watching this I am wondering to myself, why is Campbell the one being interviewed?

    “Why not the parents from Rochester who 'handled' themselves so well with Glen Beck? (NOTE: they didn’t come off very well… you can watch this here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJZDrpwi8TQ )

    “In fact how did two families from Rochester know to seek out the above NYC law firm?

    “(Union agitators) are trying to silence debate? How many people has Campbell blocked (#blockedbycampbellbrown )on Twitter? Blocked from multiple Facebook pages?

    “But if the parents should have a role in this debate, and no one is denying that, then why then is Campbell the face and voice of the parents?

    “Why not let the parents speak freely?”

    Again, here’s the link to South Bronx Teacher’s blog:


  4. This WEEKLY STANDARD article sets new standards
    in blatant distortion, selectivity, and bias. Reading this,
    I'm taken back to Oprah introducing Michelle Rhee
    as "the great warrior woman of our time," or to that
    masterpiece 'WATING FOR SUPERMAN.'

    In this article (BELOW) there's not a
    word about who's funding Brown, let alone
    the motives and intentions of those funders.

    (SEE FURTHER BELOW for audio that sheds
    some damning proof about Brown and her
    billionaire backers... but first ... )

    According to this article, Brown's just winging it by
    herself --- fighting the good fight against "the
    status quo" and corrupt unions... all because
    she just cares so much about kids and their education.

    The NEW YORK POST has got nothing on this.

    However, you have to appreciate the irony that
    the same day this puffery comes out, there's a release of
    a wiretap in the Senator Dean Skelos corruption case ...
    in which Campbell Brown's chicanery pops up ...
    chicanery that is, again, at odds with that godawful

    If you read the puff piece above, you'd never think that
    Campbell was in high-end meetings with billionaire
    privatizers, and that those billionaires are funding her,
    meeting about how to "use tax credits" to expand
    school privatization.

    However, the tapes show otherwise. (And you can
    easily listen to these relevant excerpts, as they're just
    22 seconds into an audio file that is embedded
    conveniently above the text of the story.)



    In many recordings, the corrupt-up-to-his-eyeballs
    Senator Skelos was using his various wealthy connections
    to score a high-paying, cushy job for his son Adam.

    Pursuant to that end, he tells his son that he's soon
    attending a meeting about education reform ...

    Who's going to be there?

    " ... a bunch of billionaires... and Campbell Brown."

    One of those attendees might offer Adam such a job, or
    act as a conduit for Adam to obtain such a job.

    Therefore, Adam wants their names.

    Adam eagerly implores his father, “Dad, you’ve got to take
    these names down for me.”

    “I got ‘em all. I got 'em,” Skelos assures his son.

    "All right," replies his satisfied son.

    So again, who are the attendees at this meeting?

    Campbell Brown and a bunch of billionaires
    pushing charter schools.

    What's one of the topics of the meeting?

    How Campbell and the billionaires can
    "use tax credits" to open or expand charter schools,
    and ultimately profit from such privatization.

    On the audio file embedded in the article:

    ( 00:21 - 00:51 )
    ( 00:21 - 00:51 )
    DEAN SKELOS: "I'm going into the city, meeting
    with some billionaires ... on school tax credit stuff - "

    ADAM SKELOS: "Who are you meeting with?

    DEAN SKELOS: " Campbell Brown."

    ADAM SKELOS: "Ohhh... "

    DEAN SKELOS: "Okay."

    ADAM SKELOS: "Any financial ... people?"

    DEAN SKELOS: "Yeah, you know the ... uhh ...
    the reporter, former reporter (Campbell Brown)
    ... a whole bunch of them (i.e. billionaire charter promoters)
    and I'm having lunch with a bunch of them.
    Then I'm going to - "

    ADAM SKELOS: "Dad, you’ve gotta ...
    you've gotta take these names down for me.”

    DEAN SKELOS: (laughin) "I got 'em all. I got 'em."

    ADAM SKELOS: "All right."

    Go here for the article and to listen to
    above tape excerpt:


  5. When, oh when, is self-aggrandizing amateur hour going to come to an end?

    Did Hemingway really call Gates and Zuckerberg "dilettantes"? That's hilarious.

  6. In my reality, rank and file teachers are repeatedly complaining about national union leaders who gladly tie themselves up so that they can dance to whatever tune the politicians pipe

    It's not the unions per se, but union leadership which is the biggest obstacle to reform. Even rank and file teachers have little good to say about about people like Randy Weingarten. What will it take for teachers to demand new and better leaders?

  7. Open invitation to Campbell. BustED Pencils: Fully Leaded Education Talk radio invites Campbell Brown to "discuss" education reform with the Tim and Jed. Now that's an offer from some A list "highly trained radio broadcast professionals." Even better than—and more arrogant— than Rush. http://bustedpencils.com/contact-us/