Jun
01
2006

Stossel's 'Stupid' Schools

A beginner’s course in deceptive reporting

If there were a John Stossel School of Journalism, reporters-intraining would be taught a simple template for any story: Free markets are good. Unions are bad. When consumers get to “choose,” everyone wins; if governments try to regulate, everyone loses. No matter what the assignment, a Stossel-trained reporter would be instructed to merely plug in a few relevant factoids to back up the propositions and—perhaps more importantly—to exclude any that undermine the predetermined conclusion. As subtle as its title, Stossel’s January 13 report on public schools, “Stupid in America,” hewed completely to that template. The one-hour special served up everything […]

Nov
01
2000

Raving Junk

Few outlets dissent from the latest teen-drug hysterias

1980: The Washington Post's front-page profile (9/28/80) of "Jimmy," a black eight-year-old junkie, ignited pandemonium. Mayor Marion Barry ordered police and teachers to inspect children's arms for needle holes. Despite a $10,000 reward and intensive searches, neither Jimmy nor any other child addict was found. "Jimmy" did not exist, Post reporter Janet Cooke later confessed. 1996: Trainspotting panic erupted. In a story that would shame the National Enquirer, USA Today (7/19/96) declared "smoking or snorting smack is as commonplace as beer for the younger generation." Rolling Stone (5/30/96) branded Seattle "junkie town." Citing anecdotes, the article blamed Seattle's tripling in […]

Jan
01
1999

Drive-By Journalism

Rolling Stone's glam-crime reports misrepresent young people--and America's violence problem

Other than ultra-quotable crime experts such as Princeton's John ("adolescent superpredator") DiIulio and Northeastern University's James Alan ("teenage crime storm") Fox, few individuals have contributed more to the inflammatory and systematic misportrayal of teenage crime in American than Rolling Stone magazine's contributing editor Randall Sullivan. Sullivan's fact-lite, anecdote-laden style specialized in blowing up extremely rare, bizarre murders by a few upscale kids into an unwarranted image of modern teenagers as "the most damaged and disturbed generation the country has ever produced" (Rolling Stone, 10/1/98). His language was panicked ("how truly and terribly lost we are"--9/17/98), his evidence lacking, his perspective […]

Jan
01
1998

Superscapegoating

Teen 'superpredators' hype set stage for draconian legislation

Criminalization of youth of color by the media is not a new problem. But lurid press reports of teen "superpredators" have recently spawned federal legislation that may soon extinguish the rehabilitative intent of the juvenile justice system. Proposed laws have passed the House and are now pending in the Senate that would try 13- and 14-year-olds as adults and route people as young as 13 into adult prisons. Princeton professor John DiIulio invented the myth of the "juvenile superpredator" in the early 1990s, forecasting that 270,000 of these menaces to society will be out on the streets by 2010 (City […]

Mar
01
1996

Wild in Deceit

Why "Teen Violence" is Poverty Violence in Disguise

In previous decades, American politicians and social scientists predicted waves of violence stemming from "impulsive" blacks, volatile Eastern European immigrants, "hot-blooded" Latin Americans, and other groups "scientifically" judged to harbor innately aggressive traits. In each case, the news media joined in vilifying whatever temporarily unpopular minority that politicians and pseudo-science had flocked to blame. And in each case, the branding of disfavored population groups as inherently violent has been disproven. (See Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man for examples.) In each case, violence has been found to be a straightforward function of poverty, income disparity. Here we go again. […]

Nov
01
1995

Invasion of the Magazine Snatchers

The Sassy/'Teen Merger:

Amid teenage girl magazines' standard fare of earnest advice about boyfriends, self-esteem and cosmetics purchases, Sassy was always a stand-out. Take how Sassy dealt with the issue of flirting. The cover of the September 1994 issue might not have stood out on the newsstand—"How to Flirt Like an Animal" was the main story. But rather than recycle the same age-old drivel about how flirting requires a pleasant laugh, an ability to make small talk, a dose of self-confidence and a modicum of restraint, Sassy gave an extensive description of various types of mating behavior practiced by animals, then detailed their […]

Mar
01
1994

Bashing Youth

Media Myths About Teenagers

"Unplanned pregnancies. HIV infection and AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases. Cigarettes, alcohol and drug abuse. Eating disorders. Violence. Suicide. Car crashes." The 21-word lead-in to a Washington Post (12/22/92) report sums up today's media image of the teenager: 30 million 12- through 19-year-olds toward whom any sort of moralizing and punishment can be safely directed, by liberals and conservatives alike. Today's media portrayals of teens employ the same stereotypes once openly applied to unpopular racial and ethnic groups: violent, reckless, hypersexed, welfare-draining, obnoxious, ignorant. And like traditional stereotypes, the modern media teenager is a distorted image, derived from the dire […]

Mar
01
1994

Teaching Censorship

High School Journalism in the Post-Hazelwood Era

In civics classes, high school students are taught that the First Amendment is the foundation upon which political freedom stands. But in their journalism classes, they are frequently taught the opposite lesson, as Hazelwood, a late '80s Supreme Court ruling that gives principals the power to review and censor high school newspapers, continues to have chilling effects on high school journalism. Issues of free speech in high schools were first considered by the Supreme Court in Tinker vs. Des Moines. The 1969 decision, which concerned students who were suspended for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, ruled that […]