Top three reasons why this morning's 8th CD Duckworth-Walsh Fox Chicago TV debate fails to deliver.

Fox Chicago's Mike Flannery or Anna Davlantes [if she woke up from her deep slumber] could have said, “Tammy, everybody knows Cong. Joe Walsh is right—at least, in the sense that the sticking point in the negotiations was that the teachers’ union didn’t want tenured teachers who were classified as ‘needing improvement,’ and didn’t improve, to get fired.  And, CPS caved, saying that the tenured non- performing teachers will be classified as ‘developing teachers,’ and they won’t be fired even if they don’t improve. Under the agreed upon provision of the contract, the tenured teachers can continue to teach, so long as they ‘don’t get worse.’ You think that is helpful to students?” You think extremism in the defense of bad teachers is no vice?

********************************************************************

Fox Chicago hosted an 8th CD debate Friday night between Republican incumbent Congressman Joe Walsh (McHenry) and his Democratic challenger, Tammy Duckworth (Hoffman Estates). The debate aired live from 9:30 pm to 10:30 pm and followed a truncated, half hour Fox Chicago newscast. The debate will air again this morning from 8:00 am to 9:00 am on Fox Chicago (Cable Ch.12 or Broadcast Ch. 32)

The debate is certainly worth watching if you missed it on Friday night. Duckworth and Walsh provide the voters of the 8th CD a “choice, not an echo.” The conventional wisdom in the mainstream media is that Walsh is an extremist on the right, and the strongest darling, in Illinois, of the Tea Party, a party built around the notion that good public policy would entail less federal spending, lower federal  taxes and less regulation of business, and stronger adherence to the wording of the Constitution and the intent of the framers and founders.  But, to be fair, if you take the view that Cong. Joe Walsh is an extremist on the right, then you should similarly view Duckworth as an extremist on the left, as she is the strongest recipient, in Illinois, of support from President Obama, Senator Durbin and Mayor Emanuel, a trio of Democrats not known for their centrist or moderate views, and known to favor, generally, expanded federal spending and taxes and more regulation of business.  Further, after striking a somewhat centrist tone and saying  she wants  to be in the middle, Tammy Duckworth's positions end up being pretty far left. For example, Duckworth opposes almost any restraint on abortion rights, opposing true parental notice to the  parents of their minor daughter's abortion and of any restraint on partial birth abortions, which the late Democratic U. S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan characterized as "almost infanticide."    

The debate could have delivered so much more if it had employed two strong, political journalists who knew their stuff, were more ideologically balanced in their questioning (not necessarily in their personal views)  and who did a better job of selecting topics on which to question the candidates.  But, other than that, like Mrs. Lincoln, I thought it was a good play.

  1. The wrong team was moderating the debate.  To make a debate like this meaningful, you need two good political journalists who know their stuff and will test and challenge the candidates. Mike Flannery, having done political reporting and commentary for more than three decades, passes that test. He can ask tough questions and follow-ups.  Anna Devlantes is a nice, smart, attractive young lady who has little in the way of political reporting experience and now makes her living doing light banter, “breaking down, weekly, the “Sunday Bears’ game and reading copy. How does that qualify her to come up with challenging political questions on the fly? It doesn’t, she can’t and she didn’t.  A team like Flannery-Devlantes, with news reporters putting together meaningless “packages,” and random questions from the “Public,” makes for bad public policy discussions, bad debates, bad TV and bad ratings. Anna and Mike didn’t do anything wrong here, but the person who came up with this format should be replaced by someone who understands TV, public policy and what viewers want.

2. The wrong questions were asked and the right questions were crowded out: It’s the economy, stupid.  Where were the questions about the $800 billion dollar Obama stimulus and the Bush-Bernanke-Obama bank bailout? The pro growth policies that promote work, savings, investment and jobs.  Did Duckworth support them? Walsh? Who supported the 2012 Obama jobs program? Why or why not? Is a program that involves the Feds giving money to the states to hire people into state government jobs a real “Jobs program?”  It is certainly not a Steve Jobs program. Who drives growth in the economy? Entrepreneurs or Government? Who built it? The Feds or business people. Does the Fed Chief’s recent move for an expansive monetary policy (QE3) to promote job growth make sense? Will it cure the housing slump? If so, why didn’t QE 1 and QE2 work? When government programs don’t work, should we simply expand them, arguing that things will always work, if we just give them more money?  Do the candidates’ answers make sense? We don’t know. They weren’t asked the right questions. Bad moderation makes for a dull, insipid, unimaginative, inconsequential debate.

3.  No ideological balance from the moderators. So, the intended to be hard questions were saved for Walsh and the intended to be easy ones were reserved for Duckworth.  For Joe, it was Flannery asking, “you voted for vouchers in the District of Columbia, you support voucherizing education so that the money would be taken from the public schools, so that you could take [the money] to a parochial school or anywhere a parent [wants to] to take the voucher,” as if there is something wrong with letting low income minority parents mimic the President and his wife, i.e. pull their kids out of failing public schools and send them to private schools (as the Obamas did  in Chicago when the kept their kids out of the CPS system, instead favoring the Lab School at the University of Chicago; and as the Obamas did in Washington, DC, pulling their kids out of the DC public school system, and sending them to Sidwell Friends for 30K per year each. A fairer team than Flannery Davlantes might have raised that bit of hypocrisy by Duckworth’s benefactors in the White House with Tammy, but you won’t see that topic raised this morning.

When Duckworth stated she was “deeply concerned that there are kids who are going to be left out of this, kids who don’t get the vouchers, kids who can’t get into those charter schools, there are charter schools that are allowed to set a standard  and kids who drop [below] those standards get kicked out of those charter schools, we can’t let that happen, we need to make sure that there is a standard so that a high school diploma anywhere in this nation guarantees certain things and if that involves some testing, then let’s do it, but let’s have input from parents, let’s have input from teachers, let’s make sure that the local community has a say, and I think if you look at the suburbs, we’ve done a really good job of compromising.” Sweet Jesus, is that even English?

Why couldn’t Devlantes have challenged Duckworth with,” Why don’t you urge your fellow Chicago Democrats to lift the caps on the number of charter schools, so all the kids in the CPS could leave failing traditional, CPS schools.” Why couldn’t Davlantes ask Duckworth if she agreed with Obama, Durbin and Emanuel when they argued and voted for the end of the $7500/ kid Washington, DC opportunity scholarship program, which had helped a number of DC minority students escape failing public schools

The reasons why Devlantes can’t jump in with that are two-fold: (1) She is left of center and doesn’t want to challenge anyone on the left and (2) She doesn’t know about the DC scholarship program because she is not a political reporter or correspondent. So, why is she moderating this debate? A pretty face?  To be a pretty potted plant?  To lower the quality of the debate and to pull ratings down?  Does local Fox really think people tune in this kind of show to see a pretty face? Perhaps. As W.C Field said, “nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people.”  I don’t know, WFLD might.

General assignment reporter Darlene Hill chimed in with the alleged disparity in spending on the schools in Illinois, saying the suburbs spend 17K per child per year and CPS spends 10K per child per year. But, Hill clearly had her facts wrong. Doesn’t she even watch the local Fox news shows that she appears on?

All week, we have heard on Fox and in the rest of the mainstream media that CPS has a 5.7 billion dollar budget and 405,000 students, meaning that CPS is spending 14K per child per year—do the math, Darlene (and in prior years, it was a CPS budget of 6 billion dollars, meaning that CPS was spending 15 K per child per year,, resulting in the grand disparity between Chicago and the suburbs of $2,000 per child per year., not the $7,000 per child, per year that Fox’s Ms. Hill suggests. Isn’t it time that reporters like Darlene were expected to do some thinking, and some basic math. Or, should they be essentially stenographers who report whatever the teachers’ unions say.

Mike Flannery also could have challenged Duckworth and asked her, “Don’t the traditional public schools ‘kick out,’ those who have discipline or other issues and send them to ‘alternative schools.’ What’s the difference between charter schools setting some standards for behavior and CPS setting some standards for behavior? The charter schools are more consistent and more effective in their standard setting?  For that, you criticize the charter schools?

It‘s called push back, Mike and Anna. And, it shouldn’t be reserved only for Republicans.

Instead, Flannery took the discussion in a bizarre direction, saying, “Mr. Walsh, the President asked for Congress to approve funding to prevent teacher layoffs, money that would go to local school districts, you voted against that, Congressman Walsh. Tammy, would you support that?” My God, it is like Flannery is now Duckworth’s advance person, on the set.

Duckworth responds, “You know, I’d have to take a look at it.”  [Flannery should have stopped Duckworth there and given her the Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn lecture—“I didn’t ask you whether you would ‘take a look it,’ I said, ‘would you support it.’”  Instead, Flannery kindly let Duckworth continue and she said:].  I certainly, absolutely would support anything that would keep people [from] having to lay off teachers, so that they can stay in the classroom and continue to teach our kids, but let’s set the standards high.”

Flannery could have challenged Duckworth again: “You would support ANYTHING that would keep people from having to lay off teachers/ Even if it meant returning bad teachers to the classroom/” Instead, Flannery, the time keeper, responds, “15 seconds, Joe.” {Note to whom Flannery gives only 15 seconds to respond—he never did that to Tammy.  Of course, not. She is the Democrat in the room, someone with whom the moderators can identify.

Walsh then sums up, “This strike wasn’t about money. [The teachers] are making more [about 70K per year for an 8 month job] than the average person in Chicago is making, this strike was because the unions don’t want teachers evaluated for the work they do. “Even Flannery can’t muster up the chutzpah to challenge Joe Walsh on that one.

But, Duckworth responds, “We can’t resolve this if we continue to demonize one another and I think what we need to do is do what they’ve done—which is—gone back to the negotiating table and come up with a framework.”  Flannery could have asked Duckworth if she really believes the teachers unions are not resisting tying their performance evaluation to student improvement.  But no, he lets Duckworth go unchallenged.

The debate might have been interesting if Mike had actually challenged anything Duckworth said. And, Mike Flannery is certainly capable of doing that and he knew how to challenge Cong. Walsh.  He just couldn’t bring himself to challenge Tammy.

Flannery or Davlantes [if she woke up from her deep slumber] could have said, “Tammy, everybody knows Walsh is right—at least, in the sense that the sticking point in the negotiations was that the teachers’ union didn’t want tenured teachers who were classified as ‘needing improvement,’ and didn’t improve, to get fired.  And, CPS caved, saying that the tenured non- performing teachers will be classified as ‘developing teachers,’ and they won’t be fired even if they don’t improve. Under the agreed upon provision of the contract, the tenured teachers can continue to teach, so long as they ‘don’t get worse.’ You think that is helpful to students?” You think extremism in the defense of bad teachers is no vice?

Instead,  Flannery responds, “We’ve have another hot issue…” and then Davlantes wakes up from her slumber, “We have quite a few more hot issues to get to and we’re going to try to get to all of them….”  Wow, Davlantes and Flannery, master debaters, huh. For that, local Fox pays them what, a total of 400K per year? More, you say?

I like Mike and I like Anna. They may not like me for what I say. If so, then challenge what I have said. I will print what they say. Live by the sword. Die by the sword. This is professional, not personal.

I’ve had Mike on my show a number of times and he is a great guest.  I have asked Anna to be on my show and I think she would have been a great guest too.  She could have done this kind of thing well, but she chose to be an anchor. Fine, that is her choice. Let her be. Just don’t team her up with Flannery as a debate moderator. And, Mike could do everything I suggested, and more. And, if he did, the public would be better served and local Fox [WFLD] would make more money. But, that won’t happen unless the people who decide what kind of debate Fox is doing and what kind of news format they will have are changed.   Indeed, the problem could be that Flannery and Devlantes are doing exactly what the people in charge tell them to do.  The problem is not the execution by the on air talent. The problem, apparently, is the direction set by the off air “talent.”

Isn’t it time for the WFLD owner to wake up from his deep slumber, make some real changes and try to improve the quality of his news programming and related political debates to make some money for the shareholders.  As Casey Stengel said about his Mets, doesn’t anybody here know how to play this game? Well, don’t they?

 

Comments

Leave a comment
  • fb_avatar

    Jeff, isn't FOX HATE NEWS geared toward low information voters? While I think is important to understand each candidates perspective on local issues, they are running for a FEDERAL OFFICE. Their primary responsibility is enacting and funding federal laws. It seems to me you missed the same opportunity in your review that moderators missed in their questioning. I want to know where each candidate stands on a woman's right to choosewhat sh does with her bod without minimal interference from the state. I want to know each would vote if OBAMACARE came up for repeal AGAIN in the House. I want to know eah candidates' position on the American Jobs Act and why. These are just some of the issues I would've liked the moderators to address. The reality is whoever wins will be voting on issues that will affect all of us no matter what state we live in.

  • fb_avatar

    Had to resubmit:
    Jeff, isn't FOX HATE NEWS geared toward low information voters? While I think it's important to understand each candidates' perspective on local issues, they are running for a FEDERAL OFFICE. Their primary responsibility is enacting and funding federal laws. It seems to me you missed the same opportunity in your review that the moderators missed in their questioning. I want to know where each candidate stands on a woman's right to choose what she does with her body with minimal interference from the state. I want to know how each would vote if OBAMACARE came up for repeal AGAIN in the House. I want to know each candidates' position on the American Jobs Act and why. These are just some of the issues I would've liked the moderators to address. The reality is whoever wins will be voting on issues that will affect all of us no matter which state we live in.

Leave a comment