In today’s Wisconsin State Journal, columnist Chris Rickert goes after two Madison writers for daring to give some political context for Madison Prep, a controversial charter school that the Madison school board voted down.
Rickert didn’t mention the writers by name, however.
One is Allen Ruff, a good friend of mine who got his Ph.D in history here at the University of Wisconsin and for many years worked at Rainbow Books and is the co-author of a book on the history of Dane County.
The other is Rebecca Kemble, who is The Progressive’s stringer at the state capitol.
Oh, Rickert didn’t mention The Progressive by name, either, choosing to refer to it as only as “a local liberal magazine.”
Why the coyness?
Hard to know. I would have thought that identifying the “who” in the story was basic journalism.
Rickert’s main point was that both Ruff and Kemble engaged in “guilt by association” by pointing out some of the allies of Kaleem Caire, the chief proponent of Madison Prep. Those allies include the Koch Brothers and the rightwing American Legislative Exchange Council.
Rickert quoted Kemble as saying that the people behind Madison Prep are interested in "obtaining a secure stream of public funding to attract more private investment in what are essentially private ventures outside of the scrutiny or accountability systems of democratically elected school boards."
And he dismissed that assertion with a snide, “Well, OK…”
Actually, Kemble’s point wasn’t that everyone who supported Madison Prep has that motivation. Rather, her point was that there is an “alliance of corporate executives, libertarian politicians and ‘educational entrepreneurs,’ as Caire describes himself, [that] is all about business.”
In any event, Rickert couldn’t dispute Kemble’s or Ruff’s facts. He confessed, “I'm not saying either author had the facts wrong.”
And he conceded that “certainly it’s important to consider what connections or interests motivate people in power.”
If that’s the case, he should be praising Kemble and Ruff, not slamming them.
And he, as well as the readers of the Wisconsin State Journal, should be wondering why that paper itself didn’t uncover some of the connections that Ruff and Kemble so diligently unearthed.
Instead, he sneered at citizen journalism: “In an online world with easy access to reams of information, the danger isn’t a little knowledge, but little perspective on knowledge.”
If that access was so easy, why didn’t we find out about it in the State Journal?
Ruff and Kemble have performed a great service to the Madison community by unearthing the connections behind Madison Prep.
And I’ll take their perspective on those connections over Rickert’s any day of the week.
You can see Allen Ruff’s work at his blogspot “Ruff Talk”.
And you can follow Rebecca Kemble’s reporting here: progressive.org/taxonomy/term/1048.
Kemble’s piece on Madison prep that Rickert referred to is here: progressive.org/madison_prep.html
Another one by her that he missed is here: progressive.org/madison_prep_controversy.html.
In it, she called the controversy a “tragic one that pits well-intentioned community members against one another in a battle for ever-diminishing public resources.”
An earlier, equally thoughtful piece by Kemble, which Rickert missed, can be found here: progressive.org/charter_school_madison_wi.html.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “After Florida, Romney Poses Threat to Obama."