Newsweek's Evan Thomas Takes on Mark Shields, Nina Totenberg and the New York Times

For the fourth time in the last five weeks Evan Thomas has taken a political position quite contrary to the other liberal panelists on PBS's "Inside Washington."

In Friday's installment, Newsweek's assistant managing editor not only took on regulars Mark Shields and Nina Totenberg but also ridiculed the New York Times (video follows with transcript and commentary):

GORDON PETERSON, HOST: There is a page one story in the New York Times about a 30-year-old high school teacher, science teacher in Madison, Wisconsin. Name is Erin Parker. She makes $36,000 a year. She owes $26,000 in student loans. She doesn’t have a car, she can’t afford one. She wants to keep teaching so she’s going to leave Wisconsin, move to Colorado, move in with her parents. Is Erin Parker the problem?

EVAN THOMAS, NEWSWEEK: This is a fascinating case - the liberal New York Times strikes back. I’ve been waiting for this, because we’ve been dumping on, I’ve been dumping on the teachers' unions for a long time. There’s been all this momentum, all the teachers’ unions are terrible. And at the Times, which is after all a liberal newspaper, they found the perfect test case to fight back. This, appealing, she is nice looking, she takes care of little kids, she’s got big student loans, and she has to leave the state.

NINA TOTENBERG, NPR: And she is not that atypical.

THOMAS: The empire strikes back. It was just such an interesting PR.

PETERSON: But, but, but, but what about her? And what about the kids she teaches?

TOTENBERG: Listen…

THOMAS: Well, it’s a phony exercise because the teachers’ union…

TOTENBERG: It is not a phony exercise.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: She’s doing it for the kids. Give me a break.

TOTENBERG: It is not a phony exercise.

KRAUTHAMMER: How naïve can you be?

THOMAS: Whoa, whoa, whoa. The statistics do not lie. In every state or city you go to, you ask what percentage of teachers are let go for cause. It is always point, zero or 0.01 percent. It’s impossible to get fired under these union contracts. That’s what’s got to change. That’s the real issue here.

PETERSON: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: As perhaps one of the few members of this panel who is a graduate of public schools, I challenge anybody to say what teacher most inspired them in their entire educational career. And almost invariably it was a teacher who taught for 20 years. It was a long serving teacher…

TOTENBERG: Right.

SHIELDS…who had a very special connection…

TOTENBERG: Right.

SHIELDS: … and very special gift.

THOMAS: That’s really sweet, but all the data show there’s no linkage between seniority.

SHIELDS: Is it somehow better than Evan’s hierarchy of values that these people would become investment bankers, hedge fund managers? That’s the way to pay off your student loans. They ought to be forgiven their student loans for teaching. That’s what they ought to do.

TOTENBERG: Can I just say something?

THOMAS: I agree with that, but this idea that if they’re an older teacher…

TOTENBERG: Hello?

THOMAS: …they’re better is just not statistically proven.

SHIELDS: Then older teachers are bad?

THOMAS: No, not that, but there’s no, there’s no, there is absolutely no equation correlation between seniority and quality teaching. None.

For those that missed it, this was the Times article they were talking about:

The jabs Erin Parker has heard about her job have stunned her. Oh you pathetic teachers, read the online comments and placards of counterdemonstrators. You are glorified baby sitters who leave work at 3 p.m. You deserve minimum wage.

“You feel punched in the stomach,” said Ms. Parker, a high school science teacher in Madison, Wis., where public employees’ two-week occupation of the State Capitol has stalled but not deterred the governor’s plan to try to strip them of bargaining rights.

Ms. Parker, a second-year teacher making $36,000, fears that under the proposed legislation class sizes would rise and higher contributions to her benefits would knock her out of the middle class.

“I love teaching, but I have $26,000 of student debt,” she said. “I’m 30 years old, and I can’t save up enough for a down payment” for a house. Nor does she own a car. She is making plans to move to Colorado, where she could afford to keep teaching by living with her parents.

Around the country, many teachers see demands to cut their income, benefits and say in how schools are run through collective bargaining as attacks not just on their livelihoods, but on their value to society.

As Thomas amazingly noted, this was a predictable tug at the heartstrings by the Times to depict teachers as suddenly being the unjustified scapegoats of all the rage against public employee unions.

Missing in the discussion was what Politifact has uncovered concerning Wisconsin's teachers, namely that across the state, their average total compensation when benefits are included is almost $75,000 per year. In Milwaukee, that figure is over $100,000.

Not bad for less than nine months work. And, the benefits these folks get are almost second to none.

My mother was a public school teacher. She retired after only 25 years at the age of 58.

In what private sector job can you accomplish that today?

The point is that what the Times, Shields, Totenberg, and their ilk don't get is that with the state of the current economy and most people upside down in their mortgages, the vast majority of Americans are feeling that their tax dollars are supporting a public employee sector with far better total compensation than they have.

The baby boomers right now are wondering if they'll ever be able to retire. Yet, government workers from state to state not only don't have that concern, but also have far better job security.

And, as Thomas accurately noted, as it pertains to teachers, they get to keep their jobs and their fabulous benefits packages regardless of how they perform.

I'm not sure which is more surprising - that Thomas gets this or that Shields and Totenberg never will.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.