The Columbus Dispatch loves to act as judge and jury when it comes to reporting on the schools, but their lack of any semblance of expert witnesses leaves them convinced that the voices in their collective heads are telling the truth.

In their ongoing narrative about what is now being called a “cheating scandal” across the state, but most importantly for the Dispatch in central Ohio, the newspaper is once again relying on their skewed and shallow pool of educational knowledge to continue to hurl unfounded negative accusations at the schools.  Their inability to consider alternative explanations (as we have continually produced here at Plunderbund based on factual details publicly and easily available through the Ohio Department of Education) reveals their collective lack of journalistic objectivity.

Two articles published today, one in the education section and one from the lead editor, clearly expose their bias and propensity to interpret information that confuses them as having negative implications instead of taking some time to put down the kool-aid and do some actual research.

First, in an article purported to provide factual details of the ongoing investigation, the author instead relies on innuendo and half-truths to press her claims of wrongdoing by school officials.  Yet once again, the Dispatch neglects to provide the truth about the legitimacy of withdrawing students as is plainly documented in Ohio Law and Ohio Department of Education instruction manuals that are revised annually and provided to Ohio school districts.  We have reported this exact process here on Plunderbund, receiving unequivocal confirmation of the accuracy of our reporting from a Republican member of the Ohio House.

A friend of the blog has most accurately called the Dispatch’s reporting on the statewide attendance investigation a textbook example of yellow journalism.

One of the most significant libelous behaviors by the Dispatch is the classification of the modification of the attendance records as “cheating” while failing to provide a shred of evidence by any investigative agency that the behavior has any reason to be labeled as such.

“said her school district’s attendance-cheating scandal needs context”

Not a quote, but the Dispatch’s words and as mentioned before, they don’t begin to attempt to provide any context (contrasted to the Toledo Blade who is writing outstanding articles about this same investigation).

“suspended one employee and placed the other, said to have coached principals in how to cheat, in a new position”

Said by the Dispatch, of course, not by anyone else.  This negative language immediately spins the story in a negative way for the reader.  Again, the author’s lack of understanding of state laws surrounding truancy, withdrawals, or student enrollment, or even worse, her inability to step back from the newspaper’s desire to create a sensational story and consider any alternative explanations that align with ODE guidelines, have led her to assume the worst in people and create a story that meets those expectations.

Mission Accomplished.

With a mantra of guilty until proven innocent, it’s easy to see why the Dispatch continues to miss the most obvious solution to what they perceive to be a statewide “scandal” — common statewide practices published in manuals distributed to all school districts with enough latitude to provide for slightly different interpretations to allow for unique situations across the vastly diverse schools throughout Ohio.

Continuing the slant, the article promotes the situation as a “crisis” in order to align the stories to this fictional narrative that they have created in order to align all of their stories to their ongoing publications.  Without making a direct connection, the author quotes PR consultants:

Public-relations experts say there’s a cardinal rule for managing a crisis: Come clean quickly and deal with the issue head-on.

“I see it time and time again: The organizations that deal with their problem and say they’re sorry if there is something that they need to say sorry about are forgiven much more quickly,” [said Anthony Huey, owner of Reputation Management Associates in Columbus and an expert in crisis management].

Organizations dealing with a potential scandal need to deal with it quickly, said Ashley McCown, president of Solomon McCown & Co., a Boston-based public-relations firm specializing in crisis communication.

Notice the blatant assumption that there is some sort of problem or crisis?  Never once does the author ever ask these experts how businesses, schools or individuals should react in the face of libelous accusations causing irreparable harm that are published repeatedly by news outlets professing to provide objective reporting of “the facts.”

Elsewhere in the paper, Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison espouses his own brand of hypocrisy and creative writing.  Early on in his story, Marrison tries to sound like the innocent party and appease the reader.

No one knows the full story of this attendance-scrubbing scandal. We likely won’t until state Auditor David Yost’s team concludes its investigation into irregularities in Columbus and other districts across Ohio, where millions of records were changed.

That’s right.  YOU. DON’T. KNOW.  And yet in the same edition of the paper, and for the past tow months, Marrison has permitted blatant and careless condemnation of actions based on his reporters’ pure speculation and uneducated hypotheses intended merely to continue the string of attack reporting against schools that has become the signature of their education section.

Then, only two paragraphs later, Marrison has the gall to claim:

While we expect to eventually tell the entire story, our obligation to readers is to report what we know now accurately and fairly and, in doing so, shine a bright light on issues that demand public examination.

Accurately and fairly?  Seriously?  Dispatch editor Marrison hasn’t even been reading his own paper!

And then Marrison takes the same distorted perspective of his education reporters, that “yellow journalism” angle that seeks to mislead the reader into making negative connections that don’t actually exist.

Remember, the teachers didn’t do it. The kids didn’t do it. Based on records we have obtained and what we’ve learned from sources within the district, it’s apparent that some principals and administrators altered records …

Public education isn’t under attack.

Cheating is under attack.

Fraud is under attack.

And competence is being questioned.

Your honor, the editor is clearly leading the witness.

Not at question is who altered records.  In every district across the state, and by definition of the ODE, it is administrators who report attendance, and as we discussed already, alter records.  That is a normal work process by individuals in every district as students typically withdraw from schools after being absent for multiple days and so their withdrawal is subsequently done retroactively.  Not even the Ohio Department of Education disputes this fact as they have specific reporting codes to identify these students accurately.

But that’s what Marrison goes on to explain, is it?  No, he want’s you to connect that concept with cheating and fraud, those negative and subjective words carried over from the other article.  And the editor finishes with “competence is being questioned”, though he’s not referring to his writers, but implying that we should be wondering about school leaders across Ohio.  Instead of wondering whether the charges of “cheating” could actually be unfounded as the evidence suggests, Marrison believes that repeated denials of misconduct can’t be accurate only because he doesn’t particularly like the accused.  Apparently the Dispatch’s editor is of the opinion that if you keep beating the suspect, they will eventually confess.

In a final confirmation of Marrison’s affinity for that Dispatch flavored kool-aid, he tries to trumpet their horn, blindly using presumptuously antagonistic language to cement their opinion that the schools must be guilty.

We believe our job is to expose this for the public and public officials, so that those involved can be held accountable and systems can be changed to prevent abuses of public trust in the future.

Not a single mention that those who have been unjustly accused shall be exonerated or that their false accusers shall be held accountable for violations of the public trust.

No, that’s not the way their story reporting ends.