Friday, December 30, 2005

The Cowboy, Cassia County, & The Constitution

Tuesday morning on the Zeb Bell Show, Zeb asked Wayne Hurst (the chairman of the Cassia County Republicans) why the United States Constitution is not being taught in our schools.

Now, the motivation behind Mr. Bell's question has a long history, a history that residents of Cassia County are quite familiar with and a history that I personally have had a run in with. And when I say "run in," I mean like the head-on collision I had with a guard rail on the interstate two years ago that left me with cracked ribs, a mangled car, and an outrageous ambulance bill. The motivation behind Mr. Bell's question is pretty simple--he despises teachers. Having lived in Cassia County for a good chunk of my life, Zeb Bell's radio show was nothing new to me. I had listened several times over the years as he ripped apart teachers for what they were teaching in the classroom and for what they were not. I had listened for years to a man dead set on running the reputation of public education into the ground and frankly, I had had enough.

There is this part of my brain that operates on its own terms in situations where I have clearly had more than I can take. When that part of my brain kicks into gear I am capable of amazing things. When I have had enough I am ruthless. So I wrote a letter to the editors of both the South Idaho Press and the Times-News. I truly did not expect anything to come of that letter, but much came of that letter. I was slaughtered on Zeb's show. His overall perception of me was that I had been handed everything all of my life and did not understand sacrifice. He spoke about Vietnam and friends he lost there. He explained to his audience that he understood what true sacrifice was and that I was clueless. He also made a statement regarding the fact that my mother taught in the school district and I was coming to the defense of teachers either at her request or she had written the letter. His comments could not have been more off base. Yes, my mother taught in the Cassia County School District, but not even she knew that I had written the letter. At that time I may not have even been living at home. Yes, I have been blessed to live in a time without a draft and will never fathom the sacrifices that came with Vietnam, but let me assure you, I know what sacrifice is. Nothing has ever been handed to me. I have worked for everything I have and have never accepted anything on a silver platter.

That day in a maximum of thirty minutes, my name went out on the airwaves in disdain, and yet just as quickly I was defended by another radio personality in the area, I saw a letter to the editor from my English teacher's husband in praise of my own letter, and most importantly gained the respect of every teacher in Declo High School. The day that Zeb Bell took it upon himself to criticize a high school senior who sought only to praise the efforts of underpaid and underappreciated teachers was the day I became a true advocate for public education.

Tuesday it was my former high school government teacher who informed me of the happenings on the Zeb Bell show. Mostly because his own name came up. Wayne Hurst knew, just as well as I know, that not a single student has gone through Declo High School without being taught the Constitution. Not one. If they have they never showed up to class. Even today, three years out of high school, I know the Constitution. I know the Bill of Rights. I know that section one of the 26th amendment provided me the right to vote following my 18th birthday. I know that the only reason that Mr. Bell is able to get on a soapbox while on the air and rant about what a poor job he thinks teachers are doing, teachers who everyday teach in classrooms that are poorly supplied and struggling due to budget cuts and unfunded mandates, is because the 1st amendment of the United States Constitution allows him to do so.


N. Speth said...

You ever seen The Big Lebowski? This joker sounds like Walter on that show (played by John Goodman) who somehow links everything to Vietnam. What does a high school senior's defense of teachers have to do with Vietnam?

Tara A. Rowe said...

I actually haven't seen The Big Lebowski, but several people have recommended it to me. I better get on that.

The connection with Vietnam makes absolutely no sense. Sure sacrifice in Vietnam from 1964-74 was much different than sacrifice today, but then again we invaded Iraq the March of my senior year. How one generation defines sacrifice shouldn't be any different than any other generation's definition.

I'm the wrong person to play the Vietnam card with.

Julie Fanselow said...

Tara, you GO! As someone who lived in the Magic Valley for 15 years, I know all too well what a burr Zeb Bell is under the region's collective saddle. It's a shame, too, because with his media mouthpiece, Bell can advance the idea that everyone in Cassia Co and environs thinks just like him (and like Denton Darrington and Dean Cameron) - and that just ain't so.

I love your story because it also shows what a simple letter-to-the-editor can do. LTEs are by far one of the best-read sections of any paper (read by far more people than our blogs, unfortuantely). If you want to make change, writing regular LTEs to your local paper is a great way to do it.

Anonymous said...

This is Liz from I Speak of Dreams. I came by from Skelly I'm wondering, did Bell claim himself to be a Vietnam War Vet? If so, his claim is almost certainly false, given his medical history (polio and impaired locomotion following polio).

It is odd that he spoke of "sacrifice" relative to the Vietnam War era, when he himself did not serve.

I believe what Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter enunciated: "The public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means of promoting our common destiny."

I'm wondering where the big hatred for public schooling on the part of the hard right comes from. Do you have a clue? It probably has multiple, equally specious sources. In any case, the hard right is really invested in the "Big Lie" approach about public schooling.

The Alliance Defense Fund is a big player in the "public schools=bad" right wing ideology machine.

Cupertino Case illustrates the Alliance Defence Fund's tactics in pounding public schools to advance the religious hard right's agenda.

But, as a story from almost 15 years ago pointed out:

the Christian Coalition and other similar and related entities are active in every state and most counties. The answers will explain why the national media missed what was possibly the biggest political story of 1992 -- one that was certainly as significant as the Ross Perot movement and far more so than the Jerry Brown phenomenon, both of which received considerably more coverage.

One explanation is that the religious right is a difficult beat to report. Unlike presidential candidates, political parties, and interest groups, thereligious right doesn't depend upon "free media" or "earned media," in the current jargon, to transmit its message to the audience it is seeking. Instead, Robertson and other leaders of the Christian Coalition reach voters through a network of alternative media, embracing elements of both low and high technology, that stretches well beyond relatively mainstream religious broadcasts epitomized by The 700 Club. They have set up their own special satellite-fed broadcast capability -- to cite one example of an important Robertson project that has received little notice in the national press -- that can facilitate a national televised town meeting or send an alert on a pending issue in Congress. Political reporters accustomed to handouts will never find out about the religious right, or will learn only what the movement's leaders want them to know.

That is what Ralph Reed, Jr., the Christian Coalition's executive director, means when he talks about "flying below radar." Now that the radar of the national press has picked up the religious right, a few things ought to be kept in mind while trying to track them.

* Treat political stories as political, not religious. The motivation of Pat Robertson and the leaders of the Christian Coalition may be religious, but their aims are political and they have entered the process seeking power in secular institutions. To criticize them or their tactics, or to quote others doing so, is not to deny them their religious or political freedom, no matter how often they make that accusation. There are stories involving Christian fundamentalism that ought to be reported by those journalists specializing in religion; there may also be stories about the religious right to which editors should assign teams of reporters that include religion writers. But those who have closely observed the religious right, especially the Christian Coalition, have noticed how little religion per se is discussed at its meetings or in its publications. Its leaders are politicians and activists, and they deserve to be treated by the press with all the skepticism that is customarily directed at such subjec.

* Perform the necessary background research on religious right figures and organizations. Perhaps this advice seems obvious, but the only alternative to accepting the pronouncements of a Pat Robertson or his local equivalent at face value, on deadline, is to have already examined the individual's background. When Robertson disclaims any religious or nativist bigotry, for instance, it helps to know that in one of his books he disparages Henry Kissinger for having a foreign accent. When he says that the Christian Coalition has in no way violated its tax-exempt status as a "social welfare organization," it is worth remembering that an earlier Robertson-controlled political outfit, the Freedom Council, was disbanded in the midst of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, although no charges were ever made formally. The point is that the Christian Coalition and groups like it belong to a political subculture that is unfamiliar to reporters used to covering Senate hearings, city council meetings, andajor party conventions.

* Report the religious right story from the field, not from your desk. Again, this is an axiom of all reporting, but one harder to achieve in this case. Mainstream journalists are not likely to be invited to a meeting of the local Christian Coalition chapter, or even to know that such a meeting is taking place, unless they make a special effort to be informed, either through local church bulletins, by monitoring local religious broadcasts, or by subscribing to the coalition's publications. Meanwhile, since most such events are closed to the press, it is important to try to develop sources within the local group and among local opponents of the Christian right.

* Don't treat leaders, activists, or members in religious right groups with condescension and don't stereotype them. It is worth distinguishing local members of the Christian Coalition from national leaders, even though their ultimate goals may be identical; no one likes to be treated as a stereotype, and to do so is bad reporting, which will cost the reporter useful information. Moreover, the level of knowledge and mastery of current political technology among the leadership of the religious right is generally far higher than that of the journalists who regard them as hicks. The best defense against so-called stealth campaigns by local religious right figures is to understand and describe the techniques they use -- from direct mail to phone trees.

* Demand full disclosure and accountability from religious right groups -- and their adversaries. When a local preacher spearheaded the Christian Coalition's foray into New York's school board campaigns, he was forced to admit that he had never sent his children to a public school. Neither, it turned out, had the director of the tristate office of People for the American Way, his most vocal critic. But reporters need to dig deeper than that -- to examine financial disclosure reports, incorporation and tax documents, and other public filings -- and to report the failure to file, too, if that is what they discover. The Christian Coalition keeps meticulous documentation of its own events and meetings, including video and audio tapes of speeches by Robertson and other leaders. The evidence of the coalition's true tactics, strategies, and goals is contained in those materials -- and it's about time that reporters covering the religious right made a point of asking to see and hear those tapes for themselves.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Bell did not claim to be a Vietnam vet, I believe he said he lost friends in Vietnam.

Having lived in Cassia County and knowing its political history (speaking mostly of the elections of both Len Jordan and Henry Dworshak), the area confuses me.

I also can't say much for the representatives out of that area. Denton Darrington, Scott Bedke, Dean Cameron, and Speaker Newcomb are not high on my list. But, come to think of it, I am not high on their lists either.

208 said...

I hope you contact an Idaho Statesman reporter the only news about this racist in Boise was a short AP article on the newspapers website about an Obama slur it made no mention about this racists track record, the TV made it out to be just a slip up by a jock and really wasn't his fault.

You need to expose this guy to a bigger population base, so we can get this bigot removed from public airwaves and expose Lee Family Broadcasting as advocating racism

Keep up the good fight for what is right there is no room for intolerance and racism, good luck.