Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Chronicles of the Chronicle: Part II

    On May 8th, I wrote about the firing of blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley from the Brainstorm blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Rather than conducting an examination of Riley's work, I focused on another brainstorm blogger Laurie Essig to see if her writing "conform[ed] to the journalistic standards and civil tone" that Liz McMillen had cited in her reasons for firing Riley.  My investigation showed that a post Essig had written the same week as the Riley controversy raged was not merely uncivil, but smeared the voters of North Carolina and a state senator's wife with a quote from a Huffington Post story that was later partly retracted.  Ms. Essig's post was even time-stamped after the HuffPo piece was updated, yet it did not take the new information into account.  Indeed, as of today, her original screed remains posted and uncorrected at Brainstorm.
    It was with anticipation then that I read Ms. Essig's latest post, Count Romney and the Reign of Bain Capital.  While this post is clearly less vitriolic than the earlier one, the scholarship is once again found wanting.  Ms. Essig has no problem with the Obama campaign using the "vampire" metaphor for private equity firms; rather, she seems to feel it doesn't go far enough and that the Obama team could be making more of it:
The Obama campaign’s vampire metaphor is hardly anti-capitalist propaganda. It is, in fact, a fairly accurate description of what happens when neoliberal economic policies lead to almost zero regulation of the market. Bain Capital did in fact bankrupt the company featured in the ad, Kansas City’s GST Steel. According to The Week,
In 2001, shortly after Romney left Bain, GST went bankrupt, 750 employees lost their livelihoods and pensions, and Bain walked away with a $12-million profit.
Alas, what Obama and the Dems are offering is not a larger critique of the no-holds-barred capitalism of the past three decades, but rather a plan to mitigate the effects of rising income inequality with government programs.
    However, if one follows the link to The Week, it turns out The Week is not saying what Ms. Essig implies, that "Bain Capital did in fact bankrupt the company featured in the ad."  They are simply restating what the Obama ad implied.  In fact, immediately after the description of the ad comes this: "Democratic donor and financier Steve Rattner, who oversaw the auto bailout ... called the attack 'unfair,' arguing that it was not Bain's responsibility to create or preserve jobs, but to make profits for its investors."  The passage that contained the quote Ms. Essig cited did more to cast doubt on the claim than it did to confirm it.
    In addition to this distortion, Ms. Essig is trafficking in the classic logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc:  Bain Capital owned GST Steel.  GST Steel went bankrupt.  Therefore, Bain bankrupted GST Steel.  This amounts to:  I own a dog.  My dog died.  Therefore, I killed my dog.  The assertion is vacuous.
    The real story of Bain and GST Steel is actually quite different from the one Essig and the Obama campaign have spun, as Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out.  The Obama campaign at least provides some further detail they believe backs up their contention, but Ms. Essig cites nothing at all, dealing another blow to Brainstorm's aspirations of "scholarship."
    Although I did not explicitly state this in my May 8th post, I have no desire to see Ms. Essig lose per position at Brainstorm.  I simply would like to see her editor, Liz McMillen, own up to the blatant double standard that prompted her to fire Naomi Riley.  She and the Chronicle certainly have every right to hire whomever they wish to blog on Brainstorm, as well as the right to fire them, even for their ideology (as long as it's in keeping with their contract.)  But as a prominent voice in the ostensibly open-minded community of academia, the Chronicle should at least have the integrity to acknowledge its biases.

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