By John E. Carey
September 5, 2007
I became a believer in the “freedom of the press” and the great importance the media plays in good government and accountability during the last eleven years. It was eleven years ago this summer that I retired from the U.S. Navy, an organization with a sometimes jaundiced eye on the media. Just eleven years ago this summer I decided to become a journalist myself.
During this eleven year journey, I have seen the power of the free press “up close and personal,” as they say, here in the U.S.A. I have also witnessed the terrible and disgusting disregard for truth and free media in places like China and Vietnam. In those two countries and others, the lack of a free and open media allows government human rights abuses and downright malfeasance to thrive.
Here in the U.S. I am proud to say that I supported The Washington Post in its campaign to right the many wrongs of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and its lack of appropriate follow-up for soldiers under their care. We have also applauded many papers who stimulated the Congress to pay more attention to the equipment sent to support our soldiers during the current war.
Every now and again a journalist, even a fledgling like me, gets to see some small product of his or her work reflected in one of the great bastions of journalistic excellence.
Today I was reminded of something I wrote in 2003, which echoed across the pages of the Washington Post and New York Times just recently.
In the Washington Times on October 26, 2003 I was proud to see published my essay “District Leadership is a National Disgrace.” The piece pointed toward numerous leadership and management lapses on the part of the elected and appointed caretakers of the government of the District of Columbia. A part of that essay dealing with the D.C. schools read, “As the school year started in 2003, School superintendent Vance was shocked to learn that the entire school system’s budget would only pay his system’s staff until Sept. 30. The superintendent is also a ‘fat cat’ with an enormous salary. Meanwhile, the schools are in a decrepit state of repair. Last winter, several school days were lost at more than one school because the furnaces wouldn’t start. Cost of educating the elementary school students in the District? Among the highest in the nation. Grades and measures of effectiveness? Among the lowest.”
Fast forward to 2007. In Fact, take a peak at the New York Times editorial of September 4, 2007, under the headline “National Disgrace.” That editorial reads in part, “remaking the schools [of the District of Columbia] will inevitably mean dismantling a central bureaucracy that has shown a disturbing talent for subverting reform while failing the city and its children in every conceivable way.”
Bravo New York Times. And Bravo also to the Washington Post, which earlier this summer ran a multiple part series exposing the many problems of the D.C. school system. And Bravo finally to the Washington Times, which has been exposing the malfeasance foisted upon the people of the District of Columbia by elected and appointed highly paid “public servants” for years.
In today’s Washington Times, a page one headline reads, “D.C. textbook chief appealed firing.” You see, one Donald Winstead, the lone manager of the school system’s often-troubled textbook department, was fired by former schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman in 1998 after books were not delivered in a timely manner. The Times’ Gary Emerling wrote that, “Mr. Winstead was reinstated in his position Dec. 19, 2000, following a settlement reached a day earlier between Mr. Winstead and the school system through the D.C. Office of Employee Appeals.”
Needless to say, the textbook situation in D.C. schools is still a disaster. In an August 7, 2007 Washington Times article Mr. Gary Emerling wrote, “The new [D.C. school system] chancellor has faced several difficulties that have plagued the system for years, including news that at least half of the city’s 146 schools may not have textbooks by the time school starts and that others will not have air conditioning.”
So, to those who doubt that a free and open media is a good thing for our nation, our society and, in fact, all nations everywhere; we ask them to look no further than the capital of the United States of America. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Washington Times may just help bring change to a very troubled and corrupt school system.
We are proud of these newspapers and the journalists who serve the people.
This brings us to the case of Virginia Tech. Parents, in good faith, entrusted the University and the Commonwealth of Virginia leadership with the safety, care and education of their children. Last April, many of those children died unnecessarily.
Last April 16, at Virginia Tech, two students were found dead in a campus dorm room. This had never before occurred. Not on this campus. Not at Virginia Tech.
The police “assumed” a domestic dispute was the cause. The campus remained un-alerted.
During the last academic year, at Virginia Tech, an English teacher had a student exhibiting such unusual, some said evil, writing and actions that other students would not come to class if he attended. The teacher alerted the university and nothing happened.
The school sent the student for medical care — a mental evaluation in fact — and then never checked to verify his status or condition. He may have been diagnosed as a threat to the university population yet the school didn’t follow up.
The Virginia Tech study panel that reported to Virginia Governor Tim Kaine recommended no accountability from anybody following scores of deaths on the campus.
Kaine said the school’s officials had “suffered enough” without losing their jobs.
The parents of the dead have questions.
USA Today asked, in a September 4, 2007 editorial, “Why did so many keep Cho’s [the Virginia Tech killer] problems to themselves? Certainly they underestimated the threat. But more important, many incorrectly believed that privacy laws prevented sharing the information. Interpreting the law narrowly is the ‘least risky’ path for a university to take, the report concludes.”
We wonder why more news media members and commentators have not spoken out about the lack of accountability at Virginia Tech? Where is the uproar similar to the one that engulfed Senator Larry Craig and maybe will cost him his job? More than thirty innocent students and teachers are dead and nobody is accountable. Yet because of the media a Senator has offered his resignation.
The relatives of the Victims in the Virginia Tech massacre deserve to be heard. And they deserve more appropriate action from the Commonwealth of Virginia.
District Leadership is a National Disgrace
By John E. Carey
The Washington Times
October 26, 2003
Just after hurricane Isabel passed, there was some talk that the leadership of the District of Columbia had been less than cordial in its dealings with the federal government throughout the crisis. Metro, some said with city blessing, shut down on Thursday at 11 a.m. without very much consultation with the federal government. Consequently, the feds were compelled to cancel the workday entirely.
After the hurricane, city officials cited city ordinances in an effort to get more of the FEMA financial aid pie than their neighbors in Maryland or Virginia. FEMA and its parent, the Department of Homeland Security, rightly rebuffed District officials.
Here are a few tidbits of information we have learned about the District of Columbia during the last few years (much of it from The Washington Times).
–The police chief continues to collect perks and pay raises year after year. He was hired to reduce crime. In fact, crime is up. The crime rate in D.C. is about 50 percent greater than other cities with similar populations. What is down is the police department’s success rate in crime-solving (one of the lowest in the nation). The disgracefully inept execution of the Chandra Levy case reminds us of how badly the police department functions.
–Our fire chief a few years back, one Ronny Few, had apparently “padded” his resume to secure his job. When exposed by the newspaper, he blamed the mayor’s office. Finger-pointing in City Hall ensued but nobody took responsibility for the shoddy way candidates for city jobs are vetted. The chief had also hired several cronies. Their resumes, we discovered, were also inflated, falsified or otherwise inaccurate.Meanwhile, several fire stations were in a decrepit state, a house fire had to be doused by a nearby garden hose because the fire truck had so many problems, and someone actually died due to the inefficiency of the 911 operators.
–Recently, the District’s inspector general resigned. His resume was also inflated. Do we see a trend beginning to emerge? The incumbent mayor’s re-election committee forged many of the required signatures to get the mayor on the ballot. If he is such a great leader, how can he tolerate such conduct? And why was fraud preferred over obtaining legal signatures?
–The president of the University of the District of Columbia lives in a publicly owned mansion. The taxpayers recently paid for a “renovation” of this estate that cost more than $215,000. “Repairs” included the addition of Italian granite and marble countertops worth more than $9,000. The university president also has a handsome salary. Yet the University of the District of Columbia’s Law School is rated dead last among more than 230 law schools rated by the American Bar Association. The percentage of graduates that pass the bar the first time is 22 percent. Only two colleges have rates in the 30th percentile and two schools are in the 40th percentile. All other law schools can boast that at least half the graduates pass the bar on the first try. The cost of educating a law student at UDC? The highest in the nation.
–As the school year started in 2003, School superintendent Vance was shocked to learn that the entire school system’s budget would only pay his system’s staff until Sept. 30. The superintendent is also a “fat cat” with an enormous salary. Meanwhile, the schools are in a decrepit state of repair. Last winter, several school days were lost at more than one school because the furnaces wouldn’t start. Cost of educating the elementary school students in the District? Among the highest in the nation. Grades and measures of effectiveness? Among the lowest.
–The D.C. coroner recently resigned. The morgue is in such disastrous condition that opportunities for forensics resolution to many crimes is seriously doubted. Overall, working for the District of Columbia government provides the best pay, bonus and retirement structure of almost any city in the nation.
Finally, the District of Columbia would like to tax commuters who come to the city to work. This is one way the banana republic preys upon its neighbors. Traffic enforcement cameras, predatory parking enforcement, towing and other practices contribute to the city coffers and to the ill will the city engenders in the neighborhood.
So I ask the voters in the District of Columbia, “Do you have the best government money can buy? Are you satisfied and content? Are you proud of your city and your flag?”
Rhee raps D.C. schools ‘bureaucracy’
D.C. textbook chief appealed firing
Pentagon says it acts as quickly as it can to meet needs
The article above was written before the full implications of the sex scandal in D.C. fire houses was completely understood.