Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Follow-up from Brill on paid union spokesperson Diane Ravitch

Shortly after sending out my last email, which focused on paid union spokesperson Diane Ravitch, I received some pushback from Fordham's Mike Petrilli and my favorite debate partner, Gary Rubenstein.  Mike wrote:


The Brill stuff about Diane is untrue. She's done the vast majority of these speeches pro bono. Furthermore, the unions only flocked to her after she published her book, because they liked her message. She's in agreement with the unions, not bought by them. (Anyway, she doesn't need the money.)


Here is Steve Brill's reply:


Dear Mr. Petrilli,


Though I don't know you I have admired your work. Nice to meet you.


I hope you read what I said about Dr. Ravitch carefully. (In fact, I hope you read the whole book carefully; I'd love to get your reaction.)


My point, which I think was expressed clearly, was not that the unions or anyone else had "bought" Dr. Ravitch's views but that news organizations that booked her on television shows or had her writing Op-Eds would have wanted to know (so they could inform their viewers and readers) that she had accepted speaking fees -- such as the $10,000 she has acknowledged receiving from the Florida Education Association – for her speeches.


To take another example, someone may come on CNBC saying that X is a great stock. And he may sincerely believe it. But CNBC would want to identify that person as more than a stock analyst (read "education historian," or "professor") if that person was short or long on the stock, was a consultant to X corporation, etc.


I really don't think it matters much whether Dr. Ravitch got five or ten or twenty such paid speaking assignments but I tried mightily to get her to tell me exactly what she had received. She repeatedly declined in several exchanges in which I enumerated my count of twenty-plus such engagements, though she did say she had done "some" for free, which I reported. So I was stuck making an estimate based on what I could find out elsewhere – and I made it clear to readers that it was only an estimate. As we were about to go to press, she said she was donating the fees to charity, which I also reported.


You now say she says she has done the "vast majority" for free. When we taped a CSPAN show last week (to be aired next week) I think she said she had done "many" for free. But, again, whether it's $50,000 or $200,000, the point would be the same.


Also, since these paragraphs comprise about .25% of the book, I don't think it should be construed as an attack on Dr. Ravitch, whom I respect and like personally and whose cooperation as I was reporting the book I deeply appreciate.


Best regards,


Steve Brill

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