Joe and Mika trash pundit consensus!


Live and direct from The Realm of the Crazy Ridiculous:
Joe and Mika started right in trashing last evening's consensus.

You can watch them doing so in today's opening segment. (Scroll ahead to roughly 5:00.) The peculiar pair rebelled against last evening's pundit consensus, in which Trump was trashed for failing to pre-endorse the outcome of next month's election.

Does Trump seem weirdly loyal to Putin? That's how Joe and Mika often seem in relation to Candidate Trump!

That said, we ourselves weren't blown away by Trump's widely denounced comments. He said we'll have to wait to see if he will concede the legitimacy of his possible defeat next month.

"I'll keep you in suspense." Thus spake Candidate Trump.

Personally, we weren't blown away by that statement. Two of our reasons are fairly mundane. Our third reason relates to the revolutionary nature of this year's White House campaign.

Why weren't we shocked by Trump's remarks about next month's election? For one thing, his remarks were consistent with everything he's said for the past several weeks. Beyond that, it is a bit strange to ask a person to pre-validate future events.

What if the election turns out to be close, and there's evidence of serious misconduct or error in some state Trump loses? Should Trump pre-validate an outcome like that? We're not real sure why.

That said, Joe and Mika went on and on about how wrong the pundits were last night. As she read a staff-prepared text, Mika was especially dumb and deceptive.

On the whole, Morning Joe panelists seemed a bit flummoxed by this latest outburst from the peculiar pair. At least in today's first half hour, no one pushed back against their hosts in the most relevant way.

Alas! The key point isn't what Candidate Trump said last night. The key point involves the question he was asked, including the reason why he was asked in the first place.

Below, you see what Chris Wallace asked, minus one small deletion. Trump was savaged for his answer. But why was this question asked?
WALLACE (10/19/16): Mr. Trump, I want to ask you about one last question in this topic...Your running mate, Governor Pence, pledged on Sunday that he and you, his words, "will absolutely accept the result of this election." Today your daughter, Ivanka, said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight: Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely— Sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?
Let's be fair! In normal circumstances, it's slightly odd to ask a person to "absolutely accept the result" of some future event or process. What if it turns out that something goes crazily wrong with the process? Why should Trump, or anyone else, pre-endorse something like that?

In normal circumstances, Wallace's question to Trump would be slightly odd. That helps explain why questions like that were never asked in previous White House campaigns.

Morning Joe's panelists noted the fact that no previous nominee ever gave an answer like Trump's. They failed to note a more basic fact: No previous nominee has ever been asked that question!

The key point isn't what Trump said; the key point involves the reason why he was asked. The question was asked because Candidate Trump has been parading about the countryside, ominously saying that this year's election is "rigged." Here's the way Wallace's question began, with that deletion restored:

"Mr. Trump, I want to ask you about one last question in this topic. You have been warning at rallies recently that this election is rigged and that Hillary Clinton is in the process of trying to steal it from you..."

The question Wallace posed last night has never been asked in prior years. It was asked last night because of the crazy claims this candidate has been making.

In their latest rant, Joe and Mika seemingly failed to grasp this basic point. Perhaps understandably in the face of their wrath, their panelists failed to articulate it.

For ourselves, we weren't blown away by Trump's statement last night. In our view, his refusal to pre-endorse the election made a type of sense.

That said, his repeated claims that the election is rigged have made no sense at all. But then again, what else is new?

In effect, Trump was doubling down last night on a series of crazy claims—crazy claims in which he tells his supporters that the election is being stolen. Without offering any evidence, he keeps telling his supporters that the election will be stolen in Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis.

In several ways, this claim doesn't quite seem to make sense. (Does anyone think that Trump has a chance to win Illinois?) But Trump has said this so many times that Wallace posed that question last night—a question which was never asked in the past.

In his answers to Wallace, Candidate Trump doubled down on The Crazy. But we weren't blown away by that. This doubling-down was of a piece with the many crazy things Trump said in last evening's debate.

Alas! In this election, Candidate Trump has completed an unfortunate process. The culture of Crazy Ludicrous Statement has now become the reliable norm, so much so that mainstream pundits seem unable to spot its ascent.

In fairness, this political/journalistic culture has been growing for several decades. (The Clintons committed all those murders!) But Candidate Trump has made this culture the norm.

We were surprised by the focus on Trump's refusal to pre-endorse the election. Here are some of the other things he said:
Crazy/ridiculous/dimwitted/bogus/completely unfounded statements:
1) No one knows who committed those hacks.
2) Candidate Clinton's plan "is going to double your taxes."
3) "You're not going to find a quote from me" in which I favored the spread of nukes.
4) We could have 5-6 percent economic growth.
5) Clinton's campaign is responsible for the emergence of Trump's sex accusers.
6) Clinton should have (magically) changed the tax code when she was a senator.
7) The Clinton Foundation is "a criminal enterprise."
8) Because she herself is a criminal who lied to the FBI many times, Clinton shouldn't be allowed to run for president.
9) When she was a senator, Candidate Clinton "wanted the wall."
10) Russia's nukes are better than ours.
11) $6 billion was stolen from the State Department when Clinton was in charge.
12) Trump Foundation money wasn't used to satisfy that lawsuit.
How crazy has our discourse become? For the second straight debate, the person who had that conversation with Billy Bush said this: "No one has more respect for women than I do!"

Have you seen a single person say how stupid and crazy that is?

Also this! After saying that Clinton is a criminal; after saying that her foundation is a criminal enterprise, after saying that she is hated by the people of Haiti, Trump said this about Candidate Clinton:

"What a nasty woman!"

On CNN, the robotic Trump hacks continued to function in pairs. Sic semper CNN programming.

In fairness, The Culture of Crazy has been entrenching itself for the past twenty-five years. (Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!) But craziness has now become the defining trait of our discourse.

For that reason, we were surprised by the focus on what Trump said about next month's election. We don't see how that stood out from the rest of his bullshine last night.

Citizens, can we talk? From June 2015 right through last night, the press corps has failed to come to terms with Trump's undisguised lunacy / mendacity / apparent need for treatment. They averted their eyes from his birther campaign; the pattern spun downward from there.

(We're so old that we can remember when he did know Putin!)

Last night, Trump said a million things which made no earthly sense. We don't really know why the pundits selected that one remark for such special review. According to our mainstream pundits, Trump's birtherism wasn't crazy, but his failure to pre-endorse next month's election is!

In our view, the craziness doesn't lie in what Trump said last night. The craziness lies in what he's been telling supporters for the past several weeks, and for years before that.

This morning, Joe and Mika's behavior seemed odd, as it often does. Perhaps understandably, their hand-picked gang of enabler pundits didn't seem able to articulate what has been going on.

Predicting what Chris Wallace will ask!


Walking away unchallenged:
What will the hopefuls be asked tonight? Twenty minutes ago as we start to type, a pair of scribes at the Washington Post offered their speculations.

DelReal is Harvard 2013; Phillip is Harvard 2010. We'd say the bright young scribes have been quick to learn to defer to the greatest god, Narrative:
DELREAL AND PHILLIP (10/19/16): Six topics will be the focus of the night, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates: immigration, the Supreme Court, the economy, national debt and entitlements, turmoil abroad and fitness for the presidency. But several dominant news stories will almost certainly take central importance.

Since the second presidential debate 10 days ago in St. Louis, a growing list of women have come forward to accuse Trump of sexual harassment and assault.
Those revelations came after the release of a damaging 2005 “Access Hollywood” video in which Trump bragged about kissing and groping women against their will because of his celebrity status. Many of the women said that they were compelled to speak out after hearing Trump during the St. Louis debate deny that he had ever forced himself on women. He has denied the accusations.

Clinton is likely to face questions about a trove of hacked emails belonging to her campaign chairman, John Podesta, that were leaked by WikiLeaks. She will probably also face renewed questions about the FBI’s decision not to charge her with a crime for using a private email server during her tenure at the State Department.
"Clinton will face renewed questions about the FBI’s decision not to charge her with a crime?" By all that's holy about Matt Lauer, didn't they mean that she will face the same old asked-and-answered questions, the memorized questions which Moses brought down from the mountain, direct from Comey the God?

Please, dear Clinton! Please please please! Repeat the same answers again! The god Equivalence demands it!

In four cases, those six topics may seem to tilt toward the Trump playlist a bit. ("National debt and entitlements!") That said, it's highly unlikely that anything valuable could proceed from any questions Chris Wallace might ask tonight, given the lack of an ongoing discussion about any actual topic.

Personally, we know what we would have liked to see Trump asked. Our questions would have concerned his record-shattering dissembling, the world-class level of misstatement which our stumblebum mainstream "press corps" never quite dared to confront.

In the first two debates, moderators haven't asked Trump to explain his birtherism. No one asked the obvious question:

"Did you send investigators to Hawaii, or was that just a lie?"

So far, no one has asked! Not in the general election debates. Not in the GOP primary debates. Not in the million and one "cable news" interviews. Dearest darlings, use your heads! It simply isn't done!

Also this:

In the first two debates, moderators haven't asked Trump to explain his repeated claim that he opposed the war in Iraq. No one asked the obvious question:

"In an early Republican debate, you said you could produce two dozen news reports which showed your opposition to the war, presumably meaning before the war began. So far, you've produced no such reports, and no one has ever found one. Why did you make that statement in such a high-profile forum? Were you just making that up?"

In the first two debates, moderators haven't asked Trump to explain his repeated misstatements about basic policy matters. No one has asked this obvious question, one of many:

"You have repeatedly told your supporters that the United States is the most heavily taxed nation. Since that plainly isn't the case, why have you constantly said that?"

Four cycles ago, Candidate Gore made a single extemporaneous comment about the Internet, a comment which was slightly clumsy. (The comment was only slightly clumsy. Everyone always knew what he meant, and he quickly explained.)

In high-minded fashion, the press corps spent the next twenty months pretending to be deeply disturbed by this disturbing alleged misstatement. They built it into a mighty theme, inventing a raft of additional "lies" to help establish their point.

Starting in June 2015, a candidate came along who said very few things which weren't crazily inaccurate. He was riding the wave of an earlier, deeply stupid campaign in which he'd made himself the unrivaled king of the nation's birthers.

To this day, the mainstream "press corps" hasn't managed to come to terms with that reign of relentless misstatement. In the first two debates, this candidate hasn't been asked to explain this remarkable conduct.

We'll guess the circle won't be broken. Tonight, it's said that Candidate Clinton will "face renewed questions" again!

Kathleen Parker submits to the pressure!


It's time for the Post to go:
The Washington Post's Kathleen Parker may not be a fully skilled reader.

This judgment may seem surprising. Unlike her colleague, Matt Zapotosky, Parker isn't a fresh-faced kid eight years out of college.

Parker has been a professional journalist since 1977. She became a columnist ten years after that.

In 2010, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in the category of having-waited-her-turn-up-till-now. According to the leading authority, her columns appear in more than 400 media outlets.

Parker is much more experienced than Zapotosky. But in her column in today's Post, she displays a basic journalistic skill:

She seems to knows how to copy-and-paste from a younger colleague! She seems to do so in this paragraph, in which she seems to cut-and-paste from Zapotosky while misstating what he actually said on the front page of yesterday's Post:
PARKER (10/19/16): Just days before a debate that has people buying Purell by the gallon, The Post learned that a top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton’s emails. Although Clinton had left State by the time this happened, there can be little question that this was attempted to benefit the former secretary.
On line, Parker links to an updated news report by Zapotosky. Meanwhile, she misstates what yesterday's news report said, in precisely the way we warned about in this award-wining report.

Uh-oh! According to Parker, [Zapotosky] "learned that a top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton’s emails."

If true, that's a serious claim. When we read it, it almost seemed that Parker was working from the first paragraph of yesterday's front-page report. In fact, the chain of confusion/misstatement may be more complex, as we'll note below.

That said, let's return to yesterday's front-page report, where this jumble began:

As we noted yesterday, Zapotosky didn't report that a State Department official "tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton's emails." If you read all the way to the end of his meandering first paragraph, he merely reported that that was what a couple of people had said.

Yesterday, we noted that readers were likely to misunderstand that meandering first paragraph. Here it is in all its convolution, as it appeared atop the front page of yesterday's Washington Post:
ZAPOTOSKY (10/18/16): A top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI to change its determination that at least one of the emails on Hillary Clinton's private server contained classified content, prompting discussion of a possible trade to resolve the issue, two FBI employees told colleagues investigating Clinton's use of a private server last year.
Is it true? Did a top State Department official "try to pressure the FBI" regarding that Clinton email?

If you read to the end of that wandering sentence, you'll see that Zapotosky didn't state that as a fact. He merely claimed that that was what two FBI employees said.

Yesterday, we noted that Zapotosky's full report didn't even seem to establish that claim—didn't seem to establish the claim that two FBI employees had actually made that claim. But we warned you that Zapotosky's rambling initial sentence could easily be misread.

This morning, along came Parker! She seemed to prove our matchless point, though the actual chain of custody may not be that simple.

At any rate, no, Virginia! There is no evidence that the Washington Post "learned that a top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton’s emails."

That isn't what Zapotosky reported on yesterday's front page. But his rambling, convoluted sentence may have given Parker that impression.

That said, what was the actual source of Parker's statement today? We aren't sure, but at this point in our wandering tale, the Washington Post becomes a full-blown ball of confusion.

In her column, Parker links to Zapotosky's news report in today's hard-copy Post. The report appears on page A3 of this morning's hard-copy Post. Yesterday afternoon, it first appeared on-line.

Can we talk? In this, the report to which Parker links, Zapotosky doesn't claim that the State Department's Pat Kennedy tried to pressure the FBI. In his one discussion of possible pressure, he quotes Brian McCauley, the FBI employee to whom Sullivan spoke.

Here's what McCauley says. He says he wasn't pressured:
ZAPOTOSKY (10/19/16): McCauley said Kennedy never pressured him and that he was unaware of Kennedy’s conversations with others. McCauley said he worked with Kennedy fairly often when the bureau needed to move personnel overseas for investigations...
In this, his second news report, that's Zapotosky's only reference to the possibility that the FBI was pressured. In that one reference, the person with whom Sullivan spoke says he wasn't pressured.

Good lord! The actual FBI employee says he wasn't pressured! But so what? On-line, Zapotosky's second report is accompanied by a bit of video, and someone at the Washington Post has appended this caption:
CAPTION TO VIDEO: The Post’s Matt Zapotosky explains how a State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into changing the classification of an email from Hillary Clinton’s server. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Say what? In his actual report, Zapotosky doesn't say that Sullivan tried to pressure the FBI. But sure enough! In that brief appended video segment, Zapotosky is shown saying this:
ZAPOTOSKY ON VIDEO: The big revelation today was that a senior State Department employee, a guy named Patrick Kennedy, put pressure on the FBI to sort of declassify or un-classify an email that traversed Hillary Clinton's private email server.
That's what Zapotosky says on the videotape. On the tape, he never cites any evidence for this serious claim.

Readers, is that statement true? Did "a guy named Patrick Sullivan" pressure the FBI?

In yesterday's news report, Zapotosky reported this as a claim. In this morning's news report, he quotes the one person who would know saying it didn't happen.

But so what? When Zapotosky sat down to be interviewed, he reported the claim as a fact! So it goes in the low-skill sandbox known as the Washington Post.

Let's return to Parker. In today's column, she makes a very serious charge: "The Post learned that a top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton’s emails."

That's a serious charge. But is her statement accurate? For her source, Parker links to a news report in which the one FBI employee who would know says he wasn't pressured.

The news report presents no evidence suggesting that the FBI actually was pressured. But the report is accompanied by a videotape in which the Post's reporter says that "a guy named Kennedy" did pressure the FBI.

He goes on to explain why it's such a big scandal for you-know-who, Hillary Clinton.

Zapotosky is perhaps a bit of an underskilled kid. On a purely rational basis, he shouldn't be working for an influential entity like the Washington Post, certainly not atop the front page with a sensitive topic like this.

That said, the Washington Post seems to be a sandbox full of the slower kids. This gigantic ball of confusion is another fine case in point.

According to the Washington Post, did "a guy named Sullivan" try to pressure the FBI? According to Parker, the Post has learned that he did!

Parker's statement will appear in 400 media outlets. It constitutes a serious charge. But is her statement accurate?

Go ahead! Start with the rambling sentence which sat atop yesterday morning's front page. Start with that sentence, then move on from there. You try to figure it out!

It's like the old jibe about New England weather: If you don't like Zapotosky's statement, just wait a while!

What does the Clinton Foundation do?


You aren't encouraged to ask:
Coverage of the current campaign has put some traits of the mainstream press corps on vivid display:

Their enduring love of the latest new polls; their headlong flight from matters of substance; their endless desire to sustain the credibility of the Clinton sex accusers; their failure to come to terms with Candidate Trump's endless, repeated misstatements...

That said, we've also been struck by the press corps' approach to the Clinton Foundation. For all the flogging the foundation has received, it's amazing to see the way the corps avoids discussing what it actually does. For all the savaging it has received, it's amazing to see how little attempt has been made to report on its work.

In his latest column, Gene Lyons discusses the snarky treatment the foundation received in a recent book review. The book in question is Joe Conason's Man of the World, an account of Bill Clinton's life since leaving the White House. We discussed that same book review here.

For ourselves, we were intrigued by Lyons' analysis of the press corps' apparent resentment concerning the Clinton Foundation. According to Lyons' analysis, they may be angry because Bill Clinton cares about dying African children and they and their ilk do not:
LYONS (10/12/16): [R]eading a peevish, small-minded Washington Post review of Conason's book by one Carla Anne Robbins, I wondered if the journalistic phenomenon I call "The Clinton Rules" isn't mainly a defensive reaction.

See, if the former president of the United States, aged 70, can devote his time between heart surgeries to exhausting tours of remote African villages
checking on the Clinton Health Access Initiative' progress in saving millions of children from the ravages of HIV/AIDS, then what's your excuse?

Far better to maintain your moral superiority with sniffish references to Monica Lewinsky...
As happenstance would have it, we spoke with Lyons telephonically as he was writing his column. He voiced his reaction to one part of Conason's book—to the part which describes the annual summer trip of Clinton, an older man with a heart condition, to distant outposts in Africa.

Lyons was struck by the fact that an older man with a heart condition would put himself through such exertions. We offered a possible explanation: Maybe he actually cares about dying children in African villages.

For the record, we don't know why Clinton takes those trips. But if you read Conason's book, you can read his description of the trips in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

You can read about the real African children whose real lives were actually saved. In some cases, you can read about their repeat interactions with Clinton when they were a little bit older, after they'd come to understand that their lives had been saved.

By way of contrast, if you read the mainstream press, you'll typically read the one mandated sentence about the good work the Foundation does. After that, you'll read the latest attempt to discern scandalous conduct in its workings.

It's a bit like Reagan's pony. By the basic rules of the game, there must be a scandal in there!

Truthfully, no one cares about African children, certainly not in the press corps. Is it possible that Bill Clinton does?

Conason writes about the way some journalists covered those Clinton trips. He praises the New York Times' Celia Dugger for her lengthy, well-informed, challenging report about the 2006 trip. (Warning! Lengthy, well-informed, challenging news report!)

Without naming her name, he criticizes Anne Kornblut, then of the Washington Post, for her coverage of the trip in 2008. For Kornblut's initial report, click here. For a vintage example of press self-involvement, check this grumbling essay for the Style section about how inconvenient everything was on the endless, exhausting trip.

Let's be fair! We had a tiny interaction with Kornblut in 2004 as she bailed on a Boston comedy event in which she was scheduled to perform. With empathy which impressed even us, we skillfully let Kornblut slide.

In our view, Kornblut is a genuine flesh-and-blood person. That said, everyone who's part of the guild is diminished somewhat by its culture.

Does Bill Clinton care about African children? In our view, scribes don't like to consider that possibility. That said, it's a safe bet that pretty much no one else does!

Undisclosed personage speaks: Who said it? As quoted by Conason:

"I have never met anybody who spent all their time talking about everybody's motives who, at the end of their life, could talk about how many lives they had saved."

Who pressured whom RE the quid pro quo!


The press corps adores a good "scandal:"
Last Friday, in an insightful post, Charlie Pierce stated a basic, important point:

"Information doesn't become a bombshell just because you stole it."

Pierce was referring to the latest underwhelming material from WikiLeaks. His basic point was this:

Just because some piece of information has been "leaked," that doesn't mean that it's "scandalous."

We'll go Charlie one better on that: Just because some information was leaked, that doesn't even make it significant! That's also true of information drawn from a FOIA request.

In the course of his post, Pierce made a sad but accurate point about the modern press corps. If something has been leaked or released through a FOIA request, the small, weak minds of our mainstream press will interpret it as a bombshell:
PIERCE (10/14/16): The problem as I see it is that the provenance of the material is such that newspapers—to say nothing of partisans in and out of the media—cannot help but hype every new release as a Bombshell Secret Revelation (!). If stolen apples taste sweeter, then purloined documents carry a kind of editorial gravitas that very few reporters and editors can resist.
The press corps [HEART] bombshells. How bad can this sad silly syndrome become? When the New York Times published its 4400-word nothingburger about the "scary uranium deal," Chris Hayes actually called it a "bombshell report." Michelle Goldberg seemed to agree.

That report may have been the biggest journalistic nothingburger of the entire campaign. To Hayes, the way the turkey had been packaged told him that it was a bombshell.

This morning, the latest non-scandal apparent scandal involves that alleged quid pro quo. This exciting new bombshell didn't result from a leak, or even from a FOIA request.

It did result from the FBI's decision to release previously undisclosed material. For purposes of Pierce's analysis, that's close enough to qualify as a leak.

The FBI had released some unreleased material! As a result, the Washington Post made this its featured news report on its hard-copy front page. One of the paper's youngish reporters started his treatment like this:
ZAPOTOSKY (10/18/16): A top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI to change its determination that at least one of the emails on Hillary Clinton’s private server contained classified content, prompting discussion of a possible trade to resolve the issue, two FBI employees told colleagues investigating Clinton’s use of a private server last year.
Matt Zapotosky, a fresh-faced scribe, is eight years out of college. Somehow, he thought he knew that a top State Department official had "tried to pressure the FBI" concerning one of those damned Clinton emails.

The claim sat atop today's hard-copy Post, right at the start of its featured front-page news report.

Oh wait! If you made it all the way to the end of that rambling opening sentence, you saw that Zapotosky wasn't asserting that the FBI actually did get pressured. He was merely saying that that's what two FBI employees once said!

Did two FBI employees really say that? It's very hard to figure that out from reading Zapotosky's full report.

That said, as he continued, Zapotosky continued to jack up the aura of scandal. By paragraph 3, he was even able to cite an alleged "quid pro quo:"
ZAPOTOSKY (continuing directly): One FBI official conceded that he told the State Department employee he would “look into” changing the classification of a Clinton email if the official would lend his authority to an FBI request to increase its personnel in Iraq, according to documents released by the bureau Monday.

Another bureau official described the arrangement as a “quid pro quo” and said he believed that the State Department official, Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, was interested in “minimizing the classified nature of the Clinton emails in order to protect State interests and those of Clinton,” the documents say.

No tangible swap ever came to pass. The email was classified in accordance with the FBI’s original wishes, and the bureau was not given any additional personnel in Iraq. Both the FBI and the State Department denied that a quid pro quo ever existed.
By now, Sullivan had tried to pressure the FBI about a quid pro quo! Rather, two employees had said that Sullivan tried to pressure the FBI, perhaps about a quid pro quo.

Can we talk? As of paragraph 2, it sounded like the quid pro quo had actually come from the FBI. But nothing is clear in this hapless report except the aura of scandal.

Go ahead! As you read Zapotosky's report, see if you can find two (2) FBI employees making the alleged assertion. While you're at it, see if you can discern anything at all about what actually happened.

You will be able to discern the thrilling aura/aroma of scandal. As Pierce noted last Friday, "the provenance of the material is such that newspapers cannot help but hype [it] as a Bombshell Secret Revelation."

Zapotosky's report is clear as mud. It does serve the press corps' greatest god, the furious, jealous god Scandal.

WHERE THE TEST SCORES ARE: Two types of deserving (American) kids!


Final week postponed until Monday:
In this morning's New York Times, we read about two types of kids—two types of American public school students—who pretty much don't exist in Finland.

In David Brooks' column, we read about American kids who are struggling with poverty, with homelessness, perhaps with the absence of parents. Brooks is describing the children he's met at a weekly dinner held at the home of two righteous Gentiles—two people who minister to such kids in Washington, D.C.

"Absolute poverty" and "relative poverty" are quite uncommon in Finland. Children who struggle in the ways Brooks describes are much less common there:
BROOKS (10/18/16): The kids who show up at Kathy and David’s have endured the ordeals of modern poverty: homelessness, hunger, abuse, sexual assault. Almost all have seen death firsthand—to a sibling, friend or parent.

It’s anomalous for them to have a bed at home. One 21-year-old woman came to dinner last week and said this was the first time she’d been around a family table since she was 11.


The kids need what all adolescents need: bikes, laptops and a listening heart. “Thank you for seeing the light in me,” one young woman told Kathy after a cry on the couch...

Poverty up close is so much more intricate and unpredictable than the picture of poverty you get from the grand national debates. The kids can project total self-confidence one minute and then slide into utter lostness the next.

The college application process often seems like a shapeless fog to them; nobody’s taught them the concrete steps to move along the way. One young woman lied on her financial aid forms because she didn’t want to admit that her father was dead, her mother was on drugs—how messed up her home life actually was.
American history and social practice have created the social realities with which these public school students must struggle. To Finland's credit, its history and its social practices have been more enlightened than ours.

This means that Finland's schools don't encounter the educational challenges produced by this sort of social dysfunction. For that reason, you can't fly to Finland to find the best way for these challenges to be addressed.

We learn about a different set of challenges in this news report about bilingual education in California, "a state where immigrants now make up roughly 25 percent of the population," a state where "more than 200 languages are spoken."

This country gains a great deal from the courage and the ambition of its many immigrants. But along the way, the children of these immigrants may, on balance, present educational challenges of a type which are rare in Finland, a nation which, for better or worse, has allowed little immigration.

For the most part, you can't fly to Finland and learn how to deal with our nation's educational challenges. Many of our greatest educational challenges don't exist in that small, middle-class, unicultural nation.

Finland never created a brutalized "racial minority." It never spent centuries trying to eliminate literacy from any such group.

For better or worse, it hasn't permitted much immigration, including the types of immigration which may tend to lower test scores. Its children rarely struggle with poverty.

For these reasons, a journalist can't sensibly fly to Finland to learn how to deal with our nation's educational challenges. To illustrate this point, we'll once again show you the data we featured in yesterday's report. Today, though, we'll include a fuller set of American scores, scores which help us understand where, on balance, our challenges lie.

Again, this is the recent international subtest on which American students, in the aggregate, actually scored least well. According to Amanda Ripley, 39 points the PISA scale is regarded as the rough equivalent of one academic year:
Average scores, math literacy, 2012 PISA
Taiwan: 560
South Korea: 554
United States, Asian-American students: 549
Japan: 536
Finland: 519
Canada: 518
Poland: 518
Germany: 514
United States, white students: 506
Australia: 504
France: 495
United Kingdom: 494
Italy: 485
Spain: 484
Russia: 482
United States: 481
United States, Hispanic students: 455
United States, black students: 421

For a fuller set of scores, click here.

On this, our worst of eight subtests on the TIMSS and the PISA, white students in the U.S. seemed to score only 12 weeks behind the miracle kids of Finland. It's silly to regard that as some sort of powerful difference. (On the PISA reading test, the corresponding difference in average scores was only five points.)

Plenty of black and Hispanic kids scored well on the PISA math test. That includes some kids who are struggling with poverty, homelessness and the lack of parental guidance. A lot of kids from immigrant backgrounds scored well on that test, though many others did not.

That said, the horror of those disaggregated American scores shows us where our challenges lie, helps demonstrate the sheer absurdity of those plane rides to Finland. That absurdity will only grow when we show you how kids from two contiguous corners of the United States—Massachusetts and Connecticut—scored on the 2012 PISA as compared to their peers in miraculous Finland, a smaller corner of Europe.

That said, we've decided to postpone the last week of this award-winning series. A lot of journalism from the campaign has been recommending itself, and tomorrow evening will feature the last Clinton-Trump debate.

When our award-winning five-week series is done, we plan to link to all its reports from a single location. This will let readers access all the information they'll never get from our American press corps. We'd like to do our last set of reports as well as we can, without the distractions this week is sure to provide.

For that reason, we'll plan to start our final week of reports, Where the Challenges Are, next Monday. In the meantime, ponder that column by David Brooks, along with that news report from California.

Also, ponder those disaggregated PISA scores. As you do, ask yourself these questions:

Why do we still hear about the wonders of miraculous Finland? Why do journalists keep flying to Finland (and now to Estonia!) to learn how to address our educational challenges, the bulk of which don't exist in that small middle-class land?