Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE?

This is a rare guest post on Tuttle SVC, by Marc Dean Millot. Enjoy! --TEH

I am at turns, flattered, amused, confused and annoyed at Andrew Rotherham’s decision to call on a colleague at Scholastic and force This Week in Education's editor, Alexander Russo, to pull “Three Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning?"within hours of its posting. I’m flattered that Education Sector’s departing founding would give the effort that kind of priority. I’m amused that he would be sufficiently sensitive on behalf of his colleagues at the Department of Education to leap to their defense within moments of the slightest provocation, but remain completely silent when confronted with my direct accusation that he was complicit in academic fraud three months ago. I am confused by this articulate and well-read University of Virginia Ph.d candidate’s failure to distinguish between the plain meaning of my sentences and his own inferences. I am annoyed that someone who I know personally wouldn’t just contact me, or even my editor, before taking action, when he’s had satisfaction before.

I know what I did and have explained as best I can. I know what Russo did, what he told me, and I have provided a complete record of our communications.

Enough time has passed for Rotherham to deny what Russo told me, so don’t doubt that I know what he did. What I don’t know is why. All I can do is lay out all the circumstantial evidence at my disposal, and offer my best assessment. Readers can decide for themselves.

Rotherham might be just another disgruntled reader – who happens to know the publisher.

There are lots of readers of lots of publications who read something and get very upset. Most don’t know the author - let alone the editor or publisher, and most media don’t make pulling the story practicable. They write a letter to the editor and maybe cancel their subscription. In the blogosphere. they write a comment under the offensive post and/or write something in their own blog.

Rotherham knows me and Russo. In November, 2007 he contacted me to say I was wrong about some post. He was right. I corrected the post and credited him with the change. it No big deal. Had he called me in this instance, I would have clarified my point - admittedly out of an abundance of caution. Even more likely, had he contacted Russo, Russo would have asked for the same, and I’d have done it. There is simply nothing in my past relationship with either to suggest otherwise. It happens that Rotherham is the only person with his interpretation, but there would be no skin off my nose for humoring him.

So why he didn’t call? I see two plausible reasons:

The first, what lawyers call a “sudden impulse.” On reading my post, Rotherham was “provoked” or “overcome with emotion” and without “opportunity to reflect” picked up the phone or blasted off an email to his contact at Scholastic. A “crime of passion.”

The second theory is deliberate decision. For some reason Rotherham did not want to communicate with me or Russo. He did not want to give either of us a chance to respond or clarify. He wanted, or had to, talk with his publisher colleague.

The first theory needs a reason for Rotherham to get so upset. The column was not about him. He was not named. It’s possible, but odd, that he might be a die-hard fan of senior department officials, imagines “attacks” on them as attacks on himself and acts like someone under attack.

The second theory needs a reason for Rotherham not to call. Maybe he “forgot.” But that leads to the first theory. Maybe he lost our email addresses and/or phone numbers. Maybe he figured we’d tell him to take a hike. Or maybe he had reason NOT to communicate directly.

Some facts relevant to either theory: Both Russo and I have been engaged in debates with Rotherham for some years. There’s plenty of what Russo’s called “snark” directed at Rotherham on this This Week in Education. Rotherham and I have had several extended debates on and between his blog eduwonk and my edbizbuzz. My remarks were more formal and intellectual, but the tension of a contest is evident.

More important, in late November I started a series on This Week in Education accusing EdSector with academic fraud (starting here) - and Rotherham with complicity - regarding a report on CMOs drafted by Thomas Toch, but appropriated, edited and released by the think tank with vastly different findings and conclusions. To my direct charges the normally voluble Rotherham has remained silent – no reply, no explanation, no comment. Nada.

If Rotherham had contacted me or Russo, we would have asked why he had not responded to my TWIE series. Rotherham would be forced to give an explanation or be on the record of refusing to answer a direct question from his accusers. If he really wanted to get my post pulled, he had to call his colleague at Scholastic. Alternatively, given this history, Rotherham flew into rage and/or thought he “had us” and called his contact to deny us the opportunity to respond or edit the post.

Either way, it seems pausible that he wrote his post on Eduwonk to note his “victory” - at least to Russo and me, and “lock in” Scholastic’s decision. Unfortunately, the post was already circulating the web. Once again, amid the modest hubbub Rotherham is uncharacteristically silent on his role, and I expect no response to this.

I should also refer back to the "man with the eggshell thin temperament" in my first post on this topic. Rotherham has a particular loathing of arguments from anonymous sources, that falls somewhere between pet peeve and obsession. His response pattern tends to focus more energy questioning the source than addressing the substantive issues - the eduwonkette saga offers readers a start on that inquiry. Readers might consider the ironic juxtaposition of Rotherham's hostility towards anonymity on questions of substance with his willingness to go behind closed doors to squelch debate. Editors might as well.

Now, my view is that “every bully is a coward in disguise”. But that’s for readers to decide.

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