Sunday, December 25, 2011

Paper pursues a political agenda as it accuses teacher of pursuing a political agenda

By Laurie H. Rogers

It’s dangerous to be away. I briefly left the country a few weeks ago, and while I was gone, the district superintendent announced her retirement and The Spokesman-Review (SR) launched what I see as a media “lynching” of a local high school teacher.

Did you read about the attack on Jennifer Walther, an Advanced Placement English teacher at Ferris High School in Spokane, WA? Are you shocked by the newspaper’s biased coverage? I’m not shocked. Nowadays, the SR doesn’t bear much resemblance to the newspapers I’ve enjoyed reading. Smaller, thinner and nastier, it contains less content, less local news and more ads. Often biased, incomplete or hypocritical, the paper tolerates questionable material that fits an editorial agenda.

I'm an avid newspaper reader, but I canceled the SR in 2008 when it kept quoting unsubstantiated rumors from the ex-boyfriend of the daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Things have not improved since then.

Now, the SR is using its bully pulpit to accuse Walther of doing something the SR appears to do nearly every day of the week – pursue a biased political agenda. Evidence suggests that, rather than stand up for this teacher, the school district and teachers union initiated or are assisting with the pile-on.

At no point has anyone proved that Walther’s political views led to a biased debate at Ferris High School. Keep that in mind. The SR is accusing Walther of deliberately favoring conservative candidates during the October “Face-Off at Ferris.” This accusation is not supported. View the questions for the school board candidates. They’re good questions. What does a progressive question even look like? Are only conservatives concerned with accountability, transparency, student outcomes, union clout and misspent finances? What a silly notion.

For my Oct. 18 article on the Ferris forum, I painstakingly transcribed the questions from a recording I made. Compare the way I wrote them with the way the SR published them - unattributed - on Dec. 16. The hyphenation, punctuation, parentheses, wording and spelling are the same. Not similar; they are the same. (I didn’t stay for the mayoral debate, so I don’t have the questions for the mayoral candidates. Interestingly, the SR doesn't appear to have published those questions either.)

The SR has refused to discuss or investigate real education issues and refused to report on community complaints or views. Education reporter Jody Lawrence-Turner has provided little real coverage of the district’s failure to provide sufficient instruction in math or grammar; of the district’s parsed data; or of alleged district violations of law, district policy and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. She has failed to adequately report on the decades of complaints nationally about the math curricula that are still used in Spokane; about local college remedial rates in math; the students’ lack of academic skills; the real reasons for the high rates of youth unemployment; the wasted taxpayer dollars in Spokane Public Schools; the burgeoning district budget; or the fears harbored by many teachers.

Instead, the SR complains mildly about district salaries. It suggests that “math is hard,” that everything is good, that more money is required, and that struggling kids probably have dyscalculia.

During the 2011 school board campaign, the SR could have stepped up its game. Instead, while refusing to engage in the slightest bit of reflection, criticism or investigation of the school district, the SR editorial board joined the teachers union in endorsing Deana Brower, co-chair of bond and levy advocacy organization Citizens for Spokane Schools. In its articles and editorials, the SR continually gave Brower glowing coverage while portraying candidate Sally Fullmer in a false and unfavorable light. The SR made unsupported insinuations about Fullmer without giving her the opportunity to defend herself.

On Oct. 28 (online) and Oct. 30 (in print and online), the SR published and republished a Letter to the Editor that made an unsupported accusation against Fullmer, using language that should have been rejected as potentially libelous. “That one got by us,” editor Bert Caldwell later told an audience when I asked about it. Fullmer, who was sitting next to me that day, received no apology from Caldwell, nor barely a glance. Caldwell rejected any idea of a retraction or clarification.

As of Dec. 26, the letter still sits on the SR Web site, still “getting by them.”

Meanwhile, the SR also has refused to properly inform the public about the Public Disclosure Commission’s decision to formally investigate the school district regarding election activity in 2009 and 2011. At issue in my PDC complaint is activity involving Superintendent Nancy Stowell, certain district administrators and board directors, Citizens for Spokane Schools, and (then board candidate) Deana Brower.

Note from Laurie Rogers: This is Part 1 of a series of articles on local education coverage. The next article in this series will discuss the PDC complaint and the superintendent’s recently announced retirement. This series articulates part of the reason Spokane needs a new print news source. –
Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (December 2011). "Paper pursues a political agenda as it accuses teacher of pursuing a political agenda." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

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