By JAY AMBROSE
Scripps Howard News Service
March 09, 2006
On the basis of watching Lauer interview Bennish, many in the audience could easily have concluded that the Denver-area teacher finds himself suspended and in danger of losing his job only because one or two surprising remarks he made to his students were taken out of context. He was trying to stimulate thinking, you see, and he happily accepted replies, making everything OK.
In the old days, TV journalists might get away with such bamboozlement, but we live in the age of the Internet and talk radio when thousands of us were able to listen to 20 minutes' worth of a radical rant taped by a student. Taken as a whole, the material was far more damning than Lauer or a preceding summary on the show so much as hinted.
Lauer did treat us to a portion of the tape in which Bennish said there were "eerie similarities" in the "tones" of speeches by Adolph Hitler and President Bush, and later he mentioned that Bennish had said the United States was the most violent nation on Earth and that the war in Iraq was illegal. He also played a short stretch of the tape in which Bennish told the students that he himself was "not necessarily taking a position."
Coming in the middle of a far-left, anti-American diatribe, that last "I-may-not-mean-it" remark was not just disingenuous, but on the order of offering someone an aspirin while the Black Death was decimating households.
What Lauer neglected to mention was Bennish's assertion that the CIA kills innocent human beings for the sake of killing, that the United States was a "democracy, quote, unquote," or that compassion was incompatible with capitalism.
Lauer did not bring up Bennish's peculiar and rationally indefensible contention that if the Chinese and others attacked tobacco fields in the United States, it would be no different from U.S. support of coca eradication in the Andes. He did not get into Bennish's spurious explanation of why al Qaeda operatives had reason to think of the World Trade Center as a legitimate military target.
About the toughest Lauer got in his questioning was to ask Bennish how he responded to criticisms that he was imbalanced and intimidating. (Bennish said he used "cognitive dissonance" to provoke thought and encouraged contrary responses.) Lauer went out of his way to say that "you don't make statements like that without looking for a reaction," that the student who made the tape "shopped it around to conservative media outlets" and to say Bennish's observations on tape were taken out of the context of a 50-minute class.
How about asking Bennish some questions like these?
- You invited response, but what makes you think your 16-year-old students are equipped by their education and experience to do intellectual combat with the person who is, after all, their teacher? Don't you think providing just one side to such issues is unethical and an abuse of a public trust, especially considering you are preaching to a captive audience?
- If your purpose is purely to provoke, is it safe to conclude that you have also lectured your students from a far-right point of view? Are you prepared to say that you really don't subscribe to the attitudes you expressed? Don't you give these leftist sermons regularly?
- Don't you think that even a qualified comparison of a Bush speech to the words of a man responsible for murdering millions, eradicating any semblance of democracy or liberty in Germany and starting a world war is pedagogically delinquent? Does your use of such extreme, emotion-laden references and failure to make patently obvious historical distinctions help students to think clearly? How so?
- Does it worry you at all that if large numbers of teachers adopted your "cognitive dissonance" technique that our nation's public classrooms would be converted into instruments of ideological mud-slinging instead of places where students could actually acquire dispassionately provided information about facts and varied points of view?
The fact that such questions were not asked shows journalism can sometimes be as flawed as teaching can sometimes be.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.