The Oklahoman

The Oklahoman Obama Obsession

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In less than a week, the editorial board of the state’s largest newspaper has published three asinine commentaries criticizing President Barack Obama while offering not a shred of rebuttal or an extensive differing viewpoint.

The three editorials by The Oklahoman, simply signed with the innocuous byline “The Oklahoman Editorial Board,” show not only how the monopoly newspaper is one of the most biased corporate publications in the world but also how sophomoric, reductionist and anachronistic its editorial page remains in the twenty-first century.

The newspaper is legitimately and obviously obsessed with its hatred of the first African American president in American history. Why? He’s a lame-duck president with two years remaining in office. Republicans now have majorities in the House and Senate. Surely, the newspaper should begin its Hillary-hate at this point, right? What’s the point of rousing the low-information villagers who actually subscribe to this awful newspaper and believe in its one-sided hateful views against Obama right now? With its documented past of hate and bias against minorities under the late publisher Edward L. Gaylord, it’s not difficult to see it as the lingering vestiges of racism. What else could it be?

On Nov. 14, the newspaper published an editorial, “The president’s misplaced priorities, outdated solutions,” that argues the president support for “net neutrality,” which essentially would prevent large, corporate Internet providers from ripping off people by charging them more, perhaps even doubling or tripling prices, is somehow a non-issue and shouldn’t be Obama’s concern. As the headline argues, it’s “misplaced.” The editorial goes on to argue that people just don’t care about it. While it might be true that not many people are paying attention to the issue right now, as the editorial argues, they sure would care about it when their Internet bill went up in price in a major way. What makes this an especially dumb editorial is that the issue has the potential in the future of hurting, the newspaper’s website, if Internet providers jacked up prices to view videos.

But, then, The Oklahoman has one business model: Use its monopoly to shut down competition and progressive political dissent until newspapers its size and caliber close down. Does anyone here really think its current owner, billionaire energy mogul Philip Anschutz, really cares about people here in Oklahoma or even if the newspaper even flourishes commercially? Isn’t this simply a hobby for the reclusive, right-wing member of the 1 percent.

On Nov. 17, the newspaper published an editorial, “Legacy-building phase underway for Obama presidency,” which produced this rhetorically bizarre gem:

Obama’s visit to China and the wearing of that weird Star Trek costume (or whatever it was) produced a pen-and-phone style agreement for the United States to cut carbon dioxide emissions. This is an exercise in legacy-building. Obama will spend much of his last two years in office beating the drum for global warming remediation.

Note the sarcasm over the Chinese-styled shirt that many leaders of the summit wore one time as a gesture of unity and graciousness for the host country. The newspaper’s criticism of this minor act is a blatant case of xenophobia and, yes, I will say it over and over, just downright racism. People do wear different styles of clothing in different parts of the world or have traditional clothing. How does one even begin to teach students about the world in this place when the state’s largest newspaper makes fun of the way people dress in other countries? Why doesn’t the newspaper just publish an editorial urging Oklahoma children to make fun of kids in other countries that don’t dress like them? It’s called ignorance and bullying.

The point of the editorial is that it's wrong for Obama to try to build the historical legacy of his presidency through making progress on global warming by reducing manmade carbon emissions. The Oklahoman editorial board is a longtime supporter of Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who calls global warming a hoax and a left-wing scientist conspiracy, so why not just leave it at that? We know The Oklahoman editorial board doesn’t privilege science. So what’s the point of the entire “legacy-building” thing and the xenophobia and racism unless that’s the real point? It’s all just about bashing Obama with racist undertones.

On Nov. 19, the newspaper published an editorial, “Opposition to Obamacare not likely to subside,” which argues, against growing evidence, that the Affordable Care Act is an “albatross for Democrats.” Note the newspaper’s use of the word “Obamacare,” which Republicans have made part of the American lexicon. Here’s the key paragraph for the point I’m making:

So long as Obama is president, Jacobs is correct to predict no fundamental Obamacare changes will become law. And GOP infighting could stymie even modest amendments. That won’t mean Obamacare is increasingly popular. The law has been an electoral albatross for Democrats since its passage. There’s little reason to think this dynamic will change any time soon.

Yes, folks, isn’t it terrible Obama won’t deny health care to the millions upon millions of people who now have insurance and regular medical care? The editorial is preposterous. Its only point is to denigrate the president in any way whatsoever without allowing an appropriate, sustained rebuttal. Obama, Obama, Obama. Bad, bad, bad. WE GET IT ALREADY.

Here’s how the newspaper describes its editorial board:

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord Everest, member at large; J.E. McReynolds, Opinion editor; Owen Canfield III. chief editorial writer; and Ray Carter, editorial writer.

Let’s be clear: The Oklahoman editorial page is shameful and craven. Its continued obsession with Obama is truly borderline psychotic and can obviously been seen as racist. Those who perpetuate it by creating or approving its nonsensical content do a grave disservice to the residents in this state and to the quality of life here. In addition, the newspaper’s decision to NOT allow consistent dissenting views to its one-sided arguments is a classic reason why we need better journalistic standards in this country.

The Rhetoric of Bananas

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The Oklahoman published an editorial Friday that’s so goofy and uses such tortuous, overwrought “logic" that it deserves comment if only to expose it as a terrible example of argumentation and rhetoric.

It’s sometimes truly difficult to believe that a metropolitan daily newspaper would publish such nonsense. It’s mind boggling, really, and actually sort of depressing if one thinks about it too much.

The editorial, titled “For administration, paramount fear today is ... climate change,” (Oct. 31, 2014), tries to make the case that President Barack Obama and his administration are myopically focused on climate change to the detriment of, well, all of Western civilization, which faces serious threats from the Ebola outbreak, ISIS and North Korea. This is serious, folks.

The glaring problem with the commentary that even most English high school students could discern is that it never shows us through convincing evidence that Obama and his administration are overly concerned with climate change. It only mentions one speech by Secretary of State John Kerry last February in which he supposedly compared climate change to a “weapon of mass destruction.” Again, that’s last February, and the information is given to us at the end of a rambling piece of mush that includes scattered-brain references to Ebola, The Global Village, the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. No, I’m not making this up.

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence, no matter what their view on climate change, would obviously know that the editorial simply doesn’t support its claim that Obama and his administration engage in fear mongering when it comes to climate change. One sentence from one speech several months ago, and it’s not even from Obama, hardly makes the case. In fact, it’s laughably weak evidence. Someone might think this is the case with the Obama administration, but an editorial writer at a metropolitan newspaper should be required to actually provide evidence.

Undoubtedly, the reason for the lack of evidence is that there is no real evidence or pattern, but it’s conceivable that someone could cherry pick through some Obama speeches and piece together some semblance of evidence to back the claim that the administration is at least concerned about climate change on some level, as it should be. Yet the editorial doesn’t even provide one statement from Obama himself. It’s really remarkable that such unsupported drivel can get by an editor even at such a low-quality newspaper like The Oklahoman.

The editorial’s claim that Obama is personally measured and calm when it comes to an issue such as Ebola, but uses fear mongering when it comes to climate change is not only entirely unsupported in the editorial but really begs these questions: What difference does it make? Should Obama use fear mongering when it comes to Ebola, too? And doesn’t the editorial itself engage in fear mongering when it implies Obama’s response to the Ebola outbreak is somehow weak or ineffectual, which is utterly false?

Here’s a truthful universal statement: A person can be concerned about more than one issue.

Like global-warming denier U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who The Oklahoman is supporting for reelection, the newspaper’s editorial board in its commentaries has consistently tried to discredit the science and evidence that show manmade carbon emissions are contributing to global warming or even that the planet is getting warmer. Here’s one editorial. Here’s another one.

The three editorials cited in this post, along with the newspaper’s support for Inhofe, show a pattern and provide evidence. The Oklahoman editorial board has taken a dissenting and extremist view of the science underpinning arguments that global warming poses a threat to our planet. I would speculate the newspaper editorials have to rely on fallacious red-herring arguments because they can’t directly refute the growing evidence of global warming, such as the recent pattern of planetary record high temperatures or the melting of the arctic ice cap. It could also be the case the editorial writers lack basic intelligence and/or pander to low-information readers as part of a business strategy because of the dearth of college educated people here.

It’s an insult to even halfway intelligent people here that Friday’s editorial is what passes for privileged editorial commentary in this place. It can make this a suffocating place to live for people who believe in evidence-based argumentation, people who want to engage and debate.

Italicized Shaming

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The Oklahoman recently published a fatuous editorial about the state’s strict third-grade reading test law, arguing with heavy handed italicized emphasis that it and the ensuing fallout has shown thousands of state students can’t read.

Leave aside the editorial's overall sweeping generalization about “thousands” of students, which is hyperbolic. The editorial presents a red-herring argument that minimalizes and distorts the arguments of those people that oppose the law while effectively shaming elementary school students who struggle with reading for a variety of reasons, many of which are not related to instruction.

The law mandates that third-grade students be held back if they can’t pass a high-stakes test showing they read at a first-grade or higher level. State law allows some exemptions and alternative tests, but those other tests or the fallout from the law, according to the editorial, also show too many students can’t read.

Here are the two italicized sentences in the editorial that supposedly make the big point that so many of us have just been too stupid so far to understand: “Those students really can’t read! Thousands of Oklahoma students simply haven’t learned how to read.

Note the exclamation point after the first italicized sentence. It’s as if the editorial writer is reveling in the reading struggles of a group of third-grade students, some of whom undoubtedly have learning disabilities or problematic home lives. Some children live in poverty and go hungry on a regular basis!

The editorial also doesn’t fairly address those who oppose the law. I’m one of them. I definitely oppose the third-grade reading test and other high-stake tests in public schools. I know that some students struggle with reading. I know how important reading is as a foundational lifelong learning tool. I know that some students get to the third grade in Oklahoma and other states and can’t read well. But I also know the educational system—not newspaper editorial writers and politicians—should address the reading issue with individual students and parents, and educators do address the issue, which is a holistic one that involves more than just sitting down with a child and sounding out words and reading sentences aloud.

The third-grade reading law is really just a political weapon intentionally designed to show the failure of schools and to justify the push for the privatization of public education. The law is designed so editorial writers at conservative newspapers can gleefully write, “Thousands of Oklahoma students simply haven’t learned how to read.” Pop open the champagne. Why not also write, “Millions of elementary school students in the country live in poverty and dysfunctional homes!” Then open another bottle.

There’s no argument that some at-risk students struggle at school. Why would The Oklahoman and conservative politicians even need to make this point unless it wasn’t politically motivated? The issue is whether we nurture and help develop the students’ capabilities or if we shame them with italicized language and consequently help label and stigmatize them. The second approach, which The Oklahoman apparently endorses, is abusive and only creates more learning blocks for students.

As I’ve argued over and over, the conservative school “reform” movement is deliberately designed to show failure. First and foremost, the school reformers here starve public education of needed funding. Oklahoma, for example, has cut education by 23.6 percent since the 2008 recession, which is more than any other state in the nation.

The reformers then implement high-stakes testing and individual school evaluations that focus on punishment for individual students and educators. Public shaming of students that get held back and educators at schools with meaningless F grades are a major part of the process. This is followed by criticism of teachers’ unions and a push for charter schools and further privatization of our educational system. It’s a long-term effort to dismantle public education in this country, which, if it happened, would essentially lead to the dismantling of our democracy.

Let’s help the kids that can’t read. No one can argue against that. Give them more teachers, the best textbooks and encouragement. But, as a society, we also need to work to eliminate child poverty and provide kids with adequate health care. The problem of poor school performance of individual students is more often than not a holistic one and multi-layered. Tests and punishments only serve to further a conservative political agenda. It has nothing to do with helping students to read.

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