My Takeaway From the Dallas ISD Guestigation: Paul Coggins and the Morning News Have No Idea How Reporting Works

So, Paul Coggins gave the trustees what many of them have long wanted, which is a b.s. excuse to get rid of the guy they were so happy about bringing in here a few years ago. The guy who is angering people because of his sweeping reforms (the ones trustees and many parents asked for). That’s fine. Miles was stupid enough to interfere with a ridiculous investigation caused by horrible communications hire Rebecca Rodriguez, a joke of a “scandal” that was flamed by the Dallas Morning News and Channel 8, each of whom have bought into the anti-Miles narrative brought on by a few trustees who have decided they hate him. (BTW: I hadn’t published the video above here yet, because I was on vacation last week. But I encourage you to listen to it. You’ll hear three guys give you the lowdown on the Coggins report six days before it was released.)

Again, no problem with this. It’s unfair, but so’s life. He danced in the DISD snake pit and got himself bit.

What continues to fascinate me, though, is just how committed Brett Shipp at Channel 8 and Mathew Haag at the DMN are in running Miles out of town. I’ll detail Shipp’s insane reporting on this at a later date. Let’s today just deal with Haag’s attempts over the weekend to take what Coggins wrote about Miles — that he masterfully guided the Dallas Observer’s Jim Schutze to write negative things about school board trustees — and make it stick. As well, let’s see how he tried to implicate me in all this. Because insanity.

UPDATE: See end of post for Haag points, which are very worth mentioning.

So, if you’ve read the Coggins report or the reporting on the report, you know that Coggins suggests Mike Miles likely made Jim Schutze write negative articles about the school board, because he called Schutze and texted him the day before Schutze blogged about how much the school board sucks. I guess I don’t fault Coggins for this specious reasoning. He’s a lawyer, and almost every lawyer I’ve ever known is far dumber than you’d think. A few are brilliant, yes. Most, though, are just clever enough to convince themselves they’re never wrong. They’re the personification of mansplaining. Coggins in this case takes circumstantial evidence — Schutze talked to Miles, then wrote something favorable about Miles — as a way to suggest that Miles orchestrated this.

You think that’s silly? You think reporters (and, especially, columnists like Schutze) talk to people all the time whom they end up backing, and to suggest the talking to triggers the backing means you don’t understand how journalism works? Well, you and I are on the same page.

Matthew Haag is not on that page, however. After he and I got in a Twitter spat (something about me calling the DMN coverage of the report “bullshit”), he put up this post. I need you to go read it, and please also listen to the Schutze audio contained therein.

Are you done? Excellent. Now, could you please explain it to me?

I texted Tim on Saturday and asked him to do just that. His response: “F*** me in my eye.” Wait, wrong text. That was about Notre Dame. This is the right one: “I have no clue. It appears to be pointless. My big takeaway: Jim texts with Miles. Impressive!”

So, I’m still not 100 percent sure what the point of Haag’s post was, but I have an idea: I think he was trying to say Jim Schutze’s explanation (from the audio) that he was following up on my CultureMap post about trustee Elizabeth Jones is bulsh. The point Jim is trying to make — I know this is all so stupid, but bear with me — is that Coggins suggested Schutze only did the story bashing trustees because Miles manipulated him into doing so. Jim’s point is that he was following up on my suggestion that good people were quitting and/or fed up with many trustees, including Elizabeth Jones, and that Miles was just one source in that follow-up.

Haag appears to reject that scenario. Instead, he tries to suggest — I think — that Miles probably orchestrated my post, too. Or one of Miles’ underlings. Or maybe just Miles. I dunno. But he points out that I noted in the comments that I couldn’t give away too much without implicating my sources, who would face retribution.

A-ha! Haag’s post suggests that my source could have been Miles, too, and that’s why I pointed out that the trustees could come after him if I gave him up.

One huge problem with that scenario: I’ve never talked to Mike Miles. I’ve never emailed with him. I’ve never texted with him. I’ve never communicated with him via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, gchat, Snapchat, Tumblr, Grindr, headset, hand signals, or eyebrow manipulation. That means through him directly or a go-between.

Look, I could play this ridiculous “let’s find your source” game, too. I could point out that after I wrote about Jones, she went ballistic and started trying to find who my source/sources was/were within the DISD administration. Not long after that, Haag started writing stories that promoted her side of the Miles narrative. In fact, his first question to me on our Twitter spat was in defense of Jones, suggested only two of seven DISD officials quitting because of Jones doesn’t make her a story. So, surely she’s his off the record confidant, right?

I have no idea. Also, don’t care. This should seem obvious, but it doesn’t matter who told me or Jim Schutze anything. All that matters is: were we right? Spoiler alert: Yes we were.

All I’ve been saying — Schutze has been saying this, too, and he does so again today — is that if you’re doing your job, you need to cover the real story here: that DISD can’t hang onto good people because of trustees like Elizabeth Jones (and others).

Actually, it’s deeper than that. It’s the entire board that makes change impossible.

Rene Barajas, the CFO who left for Garland, was by all accounts an outstanding, important hire for the district. He is bilingual, smart, and passionate. He told friends that the average board meeting and briefing in Garland collectively take four hours one night a month for one of the largest districts in the state. Because of that, it attracts reasonable board members who want to help the superintendent and staff do the right thing by kids, teachers, and administrators.

Contrast that with the DISD board. DISD board meetings are held two evenings a month and each can last eight hours. Add in school openings, reading briefings, etc., and that means a DISD board member has to spend 30 hours a month for an unpaid job. It is very, very difficult to get good talented people to serve because of this — so, the job inevitably attracts many of the wrong sort of people. It attracts those enthralled with the power of the position.

That’s why you get power-mad nutjobs trying to run the district. Those are the ones spending even more time than that worrying about putting their stamp on their schools. The meddle, they demand answers, they leak to a pliant press when things don’t go their way.

Just go to a meeting to see the result. DISD is the only district in the county out of the 15 largest that doesn’t limit public comment. So the meetings turn into shitshows. Every item greater than $50k (in a district with a $1.7 billion budget) goes to the board even if its an item already signed off within the budget. That’s Micro-Managing 101. Why would good people take such a job? Private schools and public charter schools get great board members because they  don’t have to raise money to run a campaign so they can be yelled at by fellow board members and deal with media coverage that is all about administrative nitpicking.

Once the idiots run Miles outta town, and the DMN trumpets its role in the move, here’s what will happen next. The business community — which DISD needs, because otherwise there just isn’t enough money or political will to get things done — will just stop trying. They are just about done with it. They will not sink their money, time, or effort into the snake pit anymore just to see a strong-minded, good-hearted (albeit bumbling) reformer get run out of town for doing exactly what was asked of him. We can either fix this school board, rework the structure completely, or engage in fantasies about Mike Miles telling columnists what to think. Your call.

Update: So Haag makes some good points via Twitter that I should include. He says he was only trying to give my side of the story since Schutze mentioned me so much in his explanation of why he was chasing the story. He says he included the stuff from the comment section not because he was suggesting I got it from Miles, but because he finds my statement “amazing” that I say I’ll tell you Jones has made it tough on DISD execs but say I won’t give examples. (It’s true. I am amazing.) I’ll believe him, and I’m therefore wrong that he was suggesting Miles was my source. He also says it’s not that he doesn’t believe Barajas left because of Jones, but that Barajas won’t return his calls or emails. Fair enough. I think I stand by the rest of what I wrote but I’m not reading that many words again.