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March 12, 2008

Journalistic Ethics

Dear Ethical Advisors:

Correction: The Washington City Paper’s current Loose Lips, Mike DeBonis, wrote to say that the administration had not stalled in replying to his Freedom of Information Request for E-mails, as I wrote in a comment in the last issue of themail. “Actually, there was no stalling whatsoever; the mayor’s office delivered the E-mails within the fifteen-business-day window set out in the FOI statute, and a fee waiver was even granted.” For that information, I relied on Post reporter David Nakamura, who told Dorothy that the FOIA had been filed several months ago. Obviously, that was my error.

Gary Imhoff


Favoring Charter Schools
Gina Arlotto,

In the Post’s relentless attack on true DC Public Schools, they’ve gone to bat for our ill-performing and money-sucking charter schools yet again. This time, the Post is whining, along with the charter schools, about athletics. No one has ever said that charters can’t join the DCIAA. The problem is the charters don’t want to. If they did join the city’s public school athletic league, then they would be unable to engage in practices that they like too much, like recruiting athletes from other schools and allowing age- and grade-ineligible players playing time. Look, rules are rules, and charters don’t like having to follow any. They would much rather been seen as the poor stepchild instead of the equity busting entities that they are. Fair play doesn’t exist in charter schools. Rules are seen by charters as just another “bureaucracy” that they don’t want.

In the article ( that preceded the editorial on Tuesday (, the director of the charter schools’ athletic league notes that he charges the charter schools fees so he can secure practice and game space, sometimes outside the city. He wants DCPS to let charters in on the gym and field space that we have. It’s just not that simple when he says, “When the Wilson boys aren’t playing, let us in.” Well, when the Wilson boys aren’t using their basketball court, the Wilson girls have games scheduled. And when they’re not playing other Wilson teams are using the space. Every high school gym in the city is seriously overused and over-scheduled. New high schools should probably have two gyms to accommodate all the teams that need the practice space. And if gym space were so important to the charters, why aren’t the charters that are already in former DCPS schools, (Friendship’s four campuses, Maya Angelou, Community Academy’s multiple campuses, to name a few) being asked to cough up their space? Oh, that’s right, because DCPS is the stepchild in this “system” and we’re the ones who are expected to take the hit, time and time again.


I Love My Neighborhood
Peter Orvetti,

It has been a week since I was mugged at gunpoint on the escalator entering the Columbia Heights Metro station at 5:00 in the afternoon. Since that time, several people have asked me if I was now considering leaving the city. (From friends living in DC, the question was mostly a joke; from those outside the city, it was not.) My answer is a loud and forceful “no.”

I loved my adopted neighborhood and city before the incident and I love it now. The fact that I had one scary incident will not change that. If anything, the support I and my family have received from friends, listserv members, and the police has made me love Columbia Heights even more. The police officers and detectives I have dealt with have been exceptional in their commitment to catch the perpetrators and to address all of our concerns.

My wife and I intentionally moved into the District from Northern Virginia when it came time to buy a house because we wanted to find a changing, vibrant, multiethnic community in which to start our family. While I am a migrant, my sons are Columbia Heights natives and I am proud of that. They ride their tricycles around the neighborhood and know the faces at Columbia Heights Coffee. We spend many mornings in the museums and galleries on the National Mall — and take the Metro to get there. None of this will change. When we bought our house in 2002, some of our non-city relations thought we were making a mistake. We knew we were not, and we have never questioned our decision. We’re here to stay, and one bad afternoon will not change that. Besides, we’re about to get our own neighborhood Five Guys.


Independents Should Vote in Party Primaries
Adam Clampitt,

Democracy in the District should not be a question. Sadly, it still is. Though DC has been denied full and appropriate representation in the federal government for 218 years, the District has enjoyed increasing degrees of local democracy for thirty-five years. Yet, remnants of a broken system remain denying 17 percent of District residents the right to vote in primary elections. This is because DC law forbids independents from participating in primary elections and forbids parties from determining who can vote in their primary elections. This unconstitutional measure must be overturned and that is why I applaud the efforts of Councilmember Catania (At-Large) for his introduction of the Open Primary Act of 2008.

Without question, it is the prerogative of the parties to determine how their District residents will select their respective nominees, but DC government must not make this choice for them. I believe open primaries provide the best method for allowing all District residents to select the competing candidates for the general election. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, we can all agree that this year’s presidential candidates are among the most impressive in years, and many analysts agree that independents have been a key factor in producing such an excellent selection.


Fisher on Journalism
Dorothy Brizill,

In his Washington Post blog today, Marc Fisher writes ( what appears to be the Post’s response to last week’s City Paper article on Metro reporter David Nakamura and “The Washington Post’s Cozy Year with the Fenty Administration” ( In his article, titled “Making Sausage: A Reporter’s E-mails,” Fisher is dismissive of the concerns that Post readers have raised about Nakamura’s tactics. He quotes Tom Kunkel, dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland, who equates the work of a reporter with the making of sausage, and notes it “it is not always pretty.” He goes on to praise Nakamura as an “aggressive and competitive beat reporter doing his job” who did nothing unethical or improper. In response to Fisher’s article, I posted the following comment:

“Marc, I'm not buying your rationalization and approval of the partnership between the Fenty administration and the Post, in which the administration gets favorable coverage and the ability to dictate how the Post will cover the story and whom it will interview, in return for giving the Post advance notice of its decisions and appointments. You may consider that a fair exchange, and it may be for the newspaper and the administration, but it isn't for the readers, because it deprives readers of fair, full, and critical reporting on their government. If you were reporting on any corporation other than the Post, you would call it insider trading, and you would condemn it.

“As Quibillus Maximus and secuitat have pointed out in their comments on your article, you're wrong when you say the Post could come back the next day and give a fuller and more complete version of an event, fairly quoting the administration's critics. It could publish those follow-up stories, but it doesn't, because that would jeopardize its cozy relationship with the administration. Your newspaper has many good reporters in Metro who do maintain their independence and their ties to communities, and who report on stories that would cast a shadow over the glowing self-portrait of the Fenty administration that we find in the Post. But they find their stories spiked by their editors or, at best, buried on page B8.

“And, on a personal matter, I take offense that you share David Nakamura's contempt for ‘regular citizens’ such as myself, when you write about the ‘picky questions civic gadfly Dorothy Brizill poses at mayoral news conferences.’ I ask picky questions like, ‘Isn't this supposedly new initiative just a new name for the same initiative that went into effect a few years ago?’ ‘How much is this going to cost?’ ‘How are you going to pay for it, since it isn't in the budget?’ ‘This seems to violate District code; why do you think it is legal?’ ‘What qualifies the nominee for this position?’ Picky questions that, because they may prove embarrassing for the administration, the Post doesn't ask. In summary, getting a day's jump on your competitors isn't worth the price of putting the paper in the tank for the administration.”


Jacqueline Young,

I have sat by and listened to folk crying about the mass firings. Have you ever had to deal with DC Public Schools at 825? I am confident that if they fired 95 percent of the staff, they would not be making a mistake. The government should not be a substitute for welfare or education. As a parents and taxpayer, I deserve better. Luckily, I had the skills over the years to fight them with lawsuits and win. Please, no more bleeding heart liberal for incompetence. The cesspool at DCPS downtown had to be eliminated.


Brute Force and DCPS Firings
Rachel Thompson,

With regard to the DCPS firings, I want to comment only on the specific way that they were conducted, with people being escorted from the building immediately after being let go (per the Post account). Unfortunately from what I’ve seen and read it’s absolutely standard when companies do layoffs to handle it this way too — all at the advice of the lawyers. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have it happen to me, but it’s happened where I’ve been working. You get called to a meeting and everyone in the room is fired. You sign the piece of paper, you’re escorted from the room, someone stands there while you empty your desk, you give them your keys and everything/anything else, and they show you the door. No goodbyes, no idea who else has gotten the same treatment unless you happen to see them too stumbling out in shock. I think it’s horrible for the people who have to do it as well, which may be why the police got stuck with the job in this case. So much for respect in the workplace in general.


DCPS Mass Firings
Carolyn Steptoe,

If the goal of the police escorted mass firings was to clean up DCPS, please explain what has been accomplished, besides possibly engendering system-wide fear and humiliation? If the goal of the mass school closings is to save District taxpayers twenty-three million dollars, why must we first pay one hundred ten million dollars in order to be ready to be receiving schools by September 2008? Let us recall what school finance expert Mary Levy, director for Public Education Report Project for the Washington Lawyers Committee, has repeatedly stated in print and in various testimony before the city council: these mass school closings “will not save us a lot of money, and it’s not going to allow us to do exciting new enrichment programs. Levy put the savings at about $14 million, based on her own analysis. Because finance officials have projected a deficit in the nearly $1 billion school budget, Levy said any savings would probably first be put toward closing that gap. Unless the council comes up with some other funding source, there’s not just going to be the money there, for anything, Levy said. . . .”

Further, if the goal is to implement DCPS change, then this Administration’s use of former Superintendent Janey’s school modernization plan — a verbatim extraction — and the “extrapolation” from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg handbook is not at all in keeping with “change” or “progress,” other than providing a different signature at the bottom of someone else’s page. But it is “in keeping. . . .“ And shall we dismiss the lack of definitive line-item educational strategies and academic specificity, which does not appear to exist, let alone any new or innovative functioning within an old DCPS structure? What is apparent is this Administration’s decision to contribute to further academic decay by eliminating foreign languages. The old DCPS main eliminated PE, arts, music, and librarians, so why shouldn’t the “new change agents” continue and eliminate foreign language? It’s a new decision, so presumably that qualifies as progressive change.

Unfortunately, while many are chanting “change,” “progress,” and “elimination of the dysfunctional status quo,” this administration is right on course as it continues down an historically broken, dysfunctional, and inept path. In spite of the vehement mantra, there is absolutely no demonstratively new, innovative, or intelligently thoughtful and well-plan strategy emanating from this administration for DCPS and our children’s academic success — just extrapolations and extractions for previous DCPS educators and locales — and of course the promotion of untested charter schools and the financial benefactors aligned with privatization. So, as discomforting as the facts are, and while many wish to articulate wistful hope because there are new public faces streaming vague new approaches, read and listen a bit more intently and one will indeed acknowledge it’s the same old approaches in a new, energetic package.

Chanting “change” and “progress” are stratospheres away from meticulous line item strategic planning to implement academic success, for which we taxpayers are paying. Justifying mass school closures under the guise of saving twenty-three million dollars, and then requiring one hundred ten million dollars (minimally) from taxpayers, is, well — let’s agree the media duping, primarily from the Washington Post ( is successful. The facts speak for themselves, regardless of the media propaganda and carefully crafted “change/progress” message. The only progressive, innovative change we taxpayers are experiencing is emptying more of our tax dollars into an ever growing smokescreen from which the majority of District residents (and DCPS children) reap little benefit.



Michelle Rhee at Cleveland Park Library, March 13
George Idelson,

Michelle Rhee, Chancellor, DC Public Schools, will be the featured speaker at the meeting of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association on Thursday, March 13, 6:30 p.m. at the Cleveland Park Library. Also, Jeff Smith and Erika Landberg, executive director and program director, respectively, of DC VOICE, will present their latest findings on school readiness.

Because of the critical role education plays in the future of our city, this meeting should be interest to all. It will be of particular importance to parents and prospective parents of school age children. All welcome. We urge you to arrive on time.


Ward One Democrats Election of Officers, March 15
David Meadows,

The Ward One Democrats will hold an election that is open to all registered Democrats who reside in Ward 1 on Saturday, March 15, at the DCPR Colombia Heights Recreation Center, 15th and Girard Streets, NW. Voting will be from 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Officers will be elected for the following positions: chair, vice chair, treasurer, corresponding secretary, and recording secretary.


For the Greener Good, March 18
Jazmine Zick,

Tuesday, March 18, 6:30-8:00 p.m. For the Greener Good: Whose Carbon Is It Anyway? As the construction and maintenance of buildings creates more than 40 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere every year, who is going to take the lead in finding solutions? $12 members; free students; $20 public. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


Education Town Hall Meeting, March 26
Candi Peterson,

The Coalition to Save Our Neighborhood Schools invites students, parents, teachers, and the community to an educational town hall meeting on Wednesday, March 26, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at Shaw Junior High School, 925 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, one block from the Shaw/Howard Metro station. This teach-in will comprehensively education our community about issues surrounding the school closure crisis and offer alternatives to the plan that abruptly closes twenty-one schools and restructures twenty-seven school programs. It will cover the history of DCPS school closures; where your children will attend school in August 2008; what the impact is on teachers, other employees, and students; what empty buildings will do to your neighborhood; the DCPS budget analysis; the impact of privatization on public schools; and options for school reform and student progress.

Public schools belong to the people, and the people have the power. For more details, go to or call 607-7632.


Martin Luther, King, Jr., Parade, April 5
Dorinda White,

Save the date! Please join us for the twenty-ninth annual Martin Luther King, Jr., parade to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King, Jr. The parade will kick off on Saturday, April 5, at 12:00 p.m., at Ballou Senior High School, located at 3401 4th Street, SE, and end at the corner of Good Hope Road and MLK, Jr., Avenue, SE. We hope to see you there!

We are accepting groups/organizations to march in the parade! If your group or organization wishes to march in the parade, please call 698-1666 for more information.


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