Class Warfare Becomes Legal Warfare?

Diane Ravitch and Simon & Schuster are lawyered-up and in some back and forth about the new Steven Brill book “Class Warfare.”  What seems to be in dispute is not whether Ravitch took speaking fees from various stakeholders in the education debate but how much exactly and whether Brill’s calculations are flawed.

But from where I sit the key questions seem to have more to do with transparency and obligations to disclose than speaking fees per se as well as how the media should balance highly informed and connected commentary with disclosure and conflicts of interest.  Those are not questions with simple answers.  Read the letters yourself:

Ravitch attorney to Simon & Schuster (pdf).

Simon & Schuster respond (pdf).

Will all this spark a thoughtful conversation about transparency in the education debate?  Or will it devolve into the usual food fight?  You’ll never go broke betting on the latter!

For the record, I disclose paid speaking fees just like any other consulting income when writing about groups/issues where it’s germane.

8 Replies to “Class Warfare Becomes Legal Warfare?”

  1. Everybody gets paid. Nobody is a disinterested observer.

    That’s how this works – and most people know that.

    One must wonder why Steven Brill makes a note of these speaking fees?

    Surely, he’s get paid to write books and talk with groups about Ed Reform. Michelle Rhee gets paid. You, Andy Rotherham get paid.

    For me, it seems like a direct attempt to discredit Ms. Ravitch. How could it be anything different? She’s not the only getting paid here, so why is she the only one who has to reveal exactly how much and how many times?

    My hunch here is that folks on the Ed Reform side of the aisle are making more on these debates…I am open to seeing evidence proving me wrong – but the big money (Wall Street and Corporate American) seem to be on their side, so how could the payments not be there?

  2. Steve F. is wrong: As a journalist, of course, i do NOT get paid to speak to education reform groups or to talk with any “groups about education reform” (or for that matter any groups whose interests i have written about or might write about. And if i did, which, again i don’t, i would at least disclose it in my author’s id when writing Op-Ed pieces so that my readers would have their opportunity to make their own judgments. That’s different from getting paid “to write books.” In that situation, it’s the readers who are paying me, not those i am writing about.

    Steve Brill

  3. Hi Steven,

    Thanks for your response.

    Obviously, I am interested in this matter, as it seems the lines may sometimes become blurred between what is journalism and what can be paid policy/advocacy work.

    I take you at your word that when speaking as journalist – you have not received payment.

    That said, in an effort to be transparent and provide readers the opportunity to make their own judgement – might you have a list of the groups you have spoken to as a journalist in the past year or link me to someplace on the web where it is posted.


  4. Of course this is an attempt to discredit Diane, not least because it comes from a card-carrying member of what she refers to as the billionaire boys club. She is a research professor and author; I think most observers would call Steve Brill a lot of names before coming to journalist. Maybe “exec in the online journalism industry.” Having skimmed the new book, its clearly written by a corporate hack who just wants to make a buck…though, as a millionaire many times over, it isn’t like Brill needs the money. Diane bases her work on research and the experiences of teachers. What is Class Warfare based on? A predetermined agenda. Hey Steve, do you own any stock in Pearson? News Corp? Let’s be really transparent, if that’s the direction we’re going.

  5. Brill’s book just said that it should be disclosed that Ravitch is often paid substantial sums of money by one side of the issues on which she comments as a supposedly disinterested historian, not that she changed her mind because of money.

    If she had a dispute about the amount of money she was being paid, she could have been less coy about it with Brill. To threaten a lawsuit now, at the last minute, and to do so by lying about what Brill said is sleazy. But it fits in with what Alexander Russo has noted about Ravitch’s extreme thin-skinnedness.

  6. Hi Anon,

    Where does this “disinterested” or “unbiased” idea as a good thing come from?

    It’s total nonsense – there is no such thing as a “disinterested” historian. It’s impossible, a literal fantasy.

    When you choose to write a story or a history, you choose certain facts and highlight them as being more important above others, that what a historian does. And it is their professionalism experience, interest, and bias that we pay for and respect – because we like the story or feel it captures the reality for us better than another’s version of the same story.

    That’s life. And that’s what an education is for – to allow one to become an “interested” and “opinionated” re-teller of one’s reality.

  7. To answer Steve F’s question: I have not received any speaking fees as a journalist in the last year, nor, in fact, have I spoken even for free to any groups (except my Yale Class). I have spoken to publishing industry trade groups in my capacity as CEO of Press+, but never for a fee. Of course, I expect now to speak to many education-related groups about my book, but not for any fees.

    That said, in fairness to Dr. Ravitch, as a general matter I suspect that journalists have a brighter line and greater sensitivity to these issues (or at least should have) than do professors or other experts. More important, I want to stress again that I do not imply in the book, and did not mean to imply, that Dr. Ravitch’s views changed in any way because of these speaking fees – which in any event happened after she wrote her book. I respect her and think her views are sincere, if sometimes sincerely incorrect.

  8. “To answer Steve F’s question: I have not received any speaking fees as a journalist in the last year, nor, in fact, have I spoken even for free to any groups (except my Yale Class). “

    As for the unbiased journalist (or historian):

    [Patrick Cockburn] goes on to revive some of [his father] Claud [Cockburn]’s maxims about journalism, and to update them against his own experience.

    Claud proclaimed that facts and rumours were of equal significance, and warned against what he called ‘the factual heresy’ – the claim, dear to journalists with a saint-like idea of their own mission, that lumps of truth lie about like gold nuggets waiting to be picked up.

    [Claud Cockburn] did not think journalism was either saintly or fact-bound. ‘All stories are written backwards,’ he once observed. ‘They are supposed to begin with the facts and develop from there, but in reality they begin with a journalist’s point of view from which the facts are subsequently organised.’

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