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What's Campbell Brown Doing Smearing Teachers All Over the Media?

Brown, a former CNN and NBC reporter, is arguing against teachers' unions--but doesn't want to disclose that her husband is on the board of Michelle Rhee's anti-union organization.

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Zachary Pleat at Media Matters pointed out, additionally, that one of the two teachers Brown quotes in her piece has blogged for StudentsFirst, making the connection a bit more explicit.

Of course Brown has the right to her opinions and to report on stories that are inspired by her personal beliefs—it's what we in the independent media have been doing for a long time. But she should disclose if she has a financial or familial stake in the points she's making—and it's not sexist to note one's spouse's connections to a group might make one more favorably disposed towards that group's policies.

In the wake of the Penn State scandal, the charge of covering up child abuse has special weight. And in the wake of that scandal we've heard a lot of discussion about why people cover up for sexual predators, and the tendency of institutions to protect their own power. It's understandable to be concerned that job security for teachers might allow children to be exposed to abuse.

But “if it were just easier to fire the bad teachers!” is the ongoing refrain of a movement that has less concern for students than for how its donors can privatize and profit off of education. It's an argument designed to destroy solidarity and pit teacher against teacher – and parent against teacher -- and make everyone suspicious of one another. It serves to demonize the public schools so that parents who can afford to will send their kids to expensive private schools and those who can't will vote for cuts to schools that come out of teachers' pay.

Trying to blame unions for sexual misconduct, in this case, has a special irony because, as blogger Karoli at Crooks & Liars pointed out, Students First president Michelle Rhee herself intervened in a sexual abuse investigation involving her now-husband, Kevin Johnson.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2009:

“When Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star who is now mayor of Sacramento, was under investigation last year for alleged financial misdeeds and inappropriate behavior with female students, he had an important ally behind the scenes. Michelle Rhee, the nationally known education reformer who is now head of the Washington, D.C., public schools, had several conversations with a federal inspector general in which she made the case for Johnson and the school he ran in Sacramento, according to the inspector general. Rhee, who had served on the board of the school and is now engaged to marry Johnson, said he was 'a good guy.'”

The inspector general made a criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney, but the Sacramento police and federal attorneys, according to the Times, declined to press charges, and the inspector general was later fired by the Obama administration. (Republicans, the Times noted, claimed that the inspector general's firing was politically motivated because of Johnson's connections to Obama.)

This, of course, has nothing to do with Campbell Brown, though it does perhaps say something about Michelle Rhee's purported commitment to “students first.” As Karoli notes, “If I were to apply Campbell Brown's logic, I would smear every single charter school in the country because Kevin Johnson misused nearly a million dollars of taxpayer money and may have engaged in sexual misconduct, too. But I won't, because it's flawed, agenda-laden, political skullduggery.”

The fact is that using scare tactics about child molestation is cheap, politically-driven fearmongering that doesn't get to the heart of the real problem. However horrifying the thought of a predatory teacher might be, the problems with American and New York schools aren't created by packs of wild child molesters. To mislead people about what due process for tenured teachers means by implying that it exists to protect criminals is just another union-busting tactic of the type that has worked all too well in recent years, leading to the kind of attacks on public workers that we've seen erupting from the Right (and occasionally from Democrats, too) all too frequently.