Subscribe via RSS Feed

Jordan Weissmann: Hack

[ 103 ] January 19, 2012 |

What on earth has happened to the Atlantic? It’s become embarrassing, especially considering the century and a half of great authors who have published there. It still occasionally publishes some very good pieces and I really like Ta-Nehisi Coates, but in the internet age the grand old magazine has evidently decided to split the difference between Slatepitches and the Washington Post op-ed page. It has gone all in for corporate shilling, hosting any number of big corporate events that potentially compromise its journalistic integrity. Here’s an example of how the Atlantic pitches this stuff. Among the speakers the Atlantic has hosted: union-buster Michelle Rhee.

As far as the hackish writers go, we all know about Caitlin Flanagan and Megan McArdle. But we have a new arrival in the battle for the Atlantic’s most hackish writer: Jordan Weissmann. His relative anonymity is blown out of the water by this story on supposedly indulgent out-of-touch teacher unions in Buffalo. Weissmann writes Mitt Romney some Republican debate talking points about teacher unions by blowing up the fact that Buffalo teachers have reconstructive surgery covered by their insurance. Equating Buffalo teachers with Beverly Hills starlets getting breast implants, Weissmann paints a picture of union greed.

Where to start here? The sexism of the photo published at the top of the article? That Weissmann provides not a single example of what any of these teachers used the benefit for during this supposed boom in plastic surgery of recent years, not to mention any comprehensive data? That he doesn’t bother to interview a single union member for his piece? That he doesn’t explore any other possible way for Buffalo balance the budget? That he doesn’t explore how much money Buffalo school administrators make? You have to especially love this bit, showing the sheer temerity of those fat cat union leaders:

In 1996, the rider was nearly cut. But after the daughter of a district employee was hurled through a windshield during a car wreck, requiring surgery to repair scars on her face and body, union officials lobbied to keep the benefit in place.

How dare those corrupt unionists demand that this woman not be disfigured for life!!!! I now totally support right to work a person to death laws!

Weissman of course follows with this all the evidence-free claims, the one-sided reporting, the disinterest in actually exploring what these surgeries were used for.

And of course, what does the average teacher in Buffalo make a year? $52,000!!! Talk about the 1%!!!!!!!! And I assume this means the average starting salary for a teacher is, what, in the high 30s or low 40s?

Here is a more balanced story on the matter. Note that the union has not rejected getting rid of the program, but argues it needs to be part of a comprehensive agreement. This totally makes sense–what union just gives back benefits without sitting down and hashing everything out? That would be counter to what a union fundamentally does. We’ll give back the benefit and you give us something else. Negotiation. But it’s far easier for Weissmann to provide a Republican talking point than engage in real journalism.

The most important point: if you are a journalist working for a major publication and writing a piece attacking unions and you can’t be bothered to call the union office and ask for a comment, you are a grade A hack.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Comments (103)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. brad says:

    There remain 2, or perhaps 3, real questions about The Atlantic.
    Why is Fallows still there, why did they ever hire TNC, and why did someone of his obvious talent join a sinking ship.
    It’s sad to see things you love die.

  2. Vance Maverick says:

    Ugh. For what it’s worth, the article in question.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Way to go Erik, leaving the link out!!!

      Fixed, thanks.

      • West of the Cascades says:

        Ugh. Thank you for reading these idiots so we don’t have to, and don’t have to give them site traffic to judge their heinousness. “Reconstructive” is not equal to “cosmetic.”

        • DrDick says:

          Exactly. “Reconstructive surgery” is exactly what the name suggests, surgery to repair damage from disease or injury, not a beauty enhancement procedure. The man is absolutely appalling in his callous inhumanity and lack of empathy.

          • dr says:

            Double plus exactly. The talking point is bathed in ignorance.

          • timb says:

            So, you’re telling me, breast reconstruction surgery after a double mastectomy is not JUST a future Cinemax starlet looking for an easy way out? Who woulda thunk?

            That article is an embarrassment to “journalism.”

          • actor212 says:

            I’ve had reconstructive surgery twice in the past five years, both times on my nose, both after cancer excisions.

            Once, I was lucky enough to just need two stitches, but the insurance classed it as reconstructive since the original oncologist didn’t perform it, but passed me off to the plastic surgeon.

            The other time I needed a chip off my ear cartilage and a hunk-o-flesh off my thigh. If I didn’t have insurance, I could wear a plate in my nose like an African prince.

            Which actually could have been cool, but I digress…

  3. Warren Terra says:

    Forget it, Erik, it’s the Atlantic.

    I subscribed for about a decade, often liked some of the short pieces, and greatly admired many of the long pieces. I gave up when I realized that over time the magazine had changed such that essentially all of the short pieces were not not merely valueless but actively hateful to me and that very few of the long pieces had any noticeable merit, either. I let my subscription lapse, and no longer bother opening their pleas that I come back for $0.50 an issue. I hope they continue to pay Fallows, and a lot of people I respect rhapsodize over Coates, who’s never particularly interested me. But the rest of their staff is composed mostly of abominations and nonentities, and it’s the abominations that rule the roost.

    • Warren Terra says:

      Oh, and looking at their masthead, I note that one of the people I rather despised is no longer there – Joshua Green, longtime fluffer of Unity ’08 and the American Select (he works for a Bloomberg magazine now, there’s a coincidence) – and that McArdle is no longer listed as “The Business And Economics Editor Of The Atlantic“, at least not on their masthead (she’s now “a senior editor for The Atlantic who writes about business and economics”). Maybe all the mockery finally got through, just far enough to embarrass them a very little bit.

    • Anonymous says:

      I subscribed a long time ago. One cover story I remember was Dow 36,000!
      Rolled my eyes when that one arrived.

    • I did that with the New Republic.

      As it turns out, running numerous pieces accusing your core readership of being anti-Semites for opposing the Iraq War wasn’t a good business decision.

      • Warren Terra says:

        Oh, I gave up on TNR years before, when they decided to promote the Bush campaigin in 2000 and eventually endorsed his side in the recount dispute.

        • Jeffrey Kramer says:

          I stopped subscribing after McCaughey’s “No Exit” piece on the Clinton health care plan (the “death panels!” of its day), figuring that the shark which stood at the border between “self-critical liberalism” and “right-wing hackery” had been well and truly jumped. I guess I was a premature liberal fascist.

      • Kadin says:

        Even the liberal New Republic etc.

  4. shah8 says:

    In this context, this quote is entirely appropriate.

    Brother Mouzone: Lamar, where’s my Harper’s?
    Lamar: Say what?
    Brother Mouzone: Harper’s. The new issue.
    Lamar: You didn’t say that one. You said the New Republic, and Atlantic, and a new something else.
    Brother Mouzone: I did not forget to tell you Harper’s. Every week I tell you the same shit, and every week you forget half of what I say. Tomorrow first thing, you go down to the newsstand, and you get Harper’s. And the Nation, too, which you also managed to forget. You know what the most dangerous thing in America is, right? Nigger with a library card.

    These days, it’s a nigger with broadband and knows where the wiki’s at.

  5. Clark says:

    I miss the articles by Bobo on the virtues of central Pennsylvania, where nobody drives a Lexus to the Applebee’s salad bar.

  6. witless chum says:

    This Weissman is just a fucking shitheel.

    Did he notice that the only example of someone using the benefit he cites is someone getting disfiguring injuries received in a car accident repaired?

    Shuck and jive about boob jobs and tummy tucks and in the course of the performance fucking demand that the science teacher’s kid go around with holes in their face so your fucking masters can pay slightly less in taxes? A person who’ll do that will do anything. I wouldn’t trust this shit alone with an open till, a balance sheet or my dog.

    That’s not liberalism, it’s realism, you little fuck.

  7. BigHank53 says:

    David G. Bradley is what happened to the Atlantic.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      He certainly accelerated the rot, but I’m pretty sure they were giving cover stories to Dinesh D’Souza before Bradley bought it in ’99.

      • Bighank53 says:

        There’s a difference between being conserva-curious with a freelancer and hiring McArdle, Sullivan, Weissmann, and the fistful of other right-wing fellatroids on the masthead.

        Though it’s probably not as large a difference as I’d like to imagine.

  8. Weissman, like so, so many conservitard sociopaths, are unable to understand someone’s problems unless it happens to THEM.

    After which, of course, it’s the most important problem in the entire rotating multiverse, bar none.

    So clearly the Atlantic needs to cancel reconstructive plastic surgury coverage for their employees, right before Weissman has a “face-plant incident” with one of McArdle’s high-end blenders.

  9. HonorableBob says:

    *IF* the benefit allows teachers to have non-reconstructive plastic surgery, then they deserve everything this writer has for them.

    • Why? If the insurer covers it, that’s their choice, and the marginal cost of having it on the policy is almost certainly very near zero.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        So much of American life today is dominated by a desire to screw over other people. It’s as if people are actually invested in the race to the bottom. There’s not even a bs “dependency” story to be told about this benefit. It’s just beggar-your-neighbor all the way down.

        You know what helps make life better for most people? Actually wanting most people to have better lives!

        Fwiw, Germans often get spa vacations covered by their health insurance and they still spend less per capita on healthcare than we do.

      • BKP says:

        Why? If the insurer covers it, that’s their choice, and the marginal cost of having it on the policy is almost certainly very near zero.

        From the article:

        There’s no co-pay, so the school district ends up footing the entire bill. It estimates the current annual cost at $5.2 million, down from $9 million in 2009.

        Buffalo doctors began advertising directly to teachers through their union’s newsletter. Predictably, the school district’s tab fattened. In six years, usage of the perk tripled, and by 2009, about 500 employees were taking advantage of the opportunity to get free cosmetic surgery. A single doctor billed the district $4 million.

        • Well aside from the fact that we’ve established that the author has a credibility issue, I ask again…so? If the problem is that there’s no co-pay required, then…sit down and negotiate a co-payment. Done and done.

          • BKP says:

            I addressed that below, and I don’t think you read the article in question because it extensively treats the reasons why the teacher’s union has absolutely no reason to renegotiate.

            • actor212 says:

              Whoa! NO reason? Or no incentive?

              It sounds to me like the city is the one to blame here. They’re quite happy providing free boob jobs in exchange for not having to pay a higher salary or fund a pension or any of those other messy perks the union asked for and were denied.

        • Malaclypse says:

          There’s no co-pay, so the school district ends up footing the entire bill.

          Note conspicuous lack of discussion of employee portion of health insurance paid up front via withholdings.

          It estimates the current annual cost at $5.2 million, down from $9 million in 2009.

          I see three possibilities: 1) massive headcount reduction, of bloodbath proportions, 2) huge increases in employee withholdings, as noted above, or 3) decline in actual costs by self-insuring and eliminating private insurance profit-skimming.

          • BKP says:

            I see three possibilities: 1) massive headcount reduction, of bloodbath proportions, 2) huge increases in employee withholdings, as noted above, or 3) decline in actual costs by self-insuring and eliminating private insurance profit-skimming.

            Or, from the article Weissmann linked:

            BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York has taken steps to contain the costs of the procedures. Until early this year, doctors could charge as much as they wanted for the various procedures, union and district officials said.

            “Previously there were no set reimbursement rates for these procedures, so there was a big difference in what doctors’ rates were,” Smith said. “[This year] BlueCross BlueShield set a fee schedule for some of the procedures and limited the number of times some procedures could be reimbursed.”

            • Malaclypse says:

              Oh, so the problem has basically been solved, because the problem was caused by the private insurer, and not the union. Cool.

              • Well goddamn, that’s even simpler than I imagined.

              • BKP says:

                No, Mal. The cosmetic surgery rider is self-insured by the district. I was pointing out that a major regional health insurance company has been driving down the procedures costs and the district is free-riding off of that.

                Plus the problem is that some teachers have begun to abuse a portion of a contract that expired in 2004. But because of a law requiring the contract to be binding until a new one is reached, there is no way to rectify the problem.

      • Njorl says:

        Two things:

        First, elective surgery is not covered. A physician must deem it medically necessary. Physicians are almost certainly committing fraud from the description of the surgeries involved. That isn’t the union’s problem, though. That is a law enforcement problem. If some teachers are conspiring with doctors to commit fraud, go after the law breakers, not the union.

        Second, there is no insurer. The school system is “self-insuring” for the cosmetic surgery rider. All of the money for the surguries comes out of the school system budget.

        It looks like the school system is flushing money away because they’d rather complain about the teachers’ union than put doctors in jail.

  10. Really, you should always just stop taking someone seriously on the fauxrage schtick when they demonstrate that they think reconstructive surgery is just boob jobs and tummy tucks.

  11. chip says:

    I dropped my subscription the Atlantic once they started prominently featuring that hack Robert Kaplan… and that was decades ago.

  12. lawguy says:

    “This totally makes sense–what union just gives back benefits without sitting down and hashing everything out?” Perhaps the writer confused the negotiating techniques of the democratic party with those of a union.

  13. Pith Helmet says:

    I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where he makes fun of a dermatologist he is dating, only to find out she treats skin cancers: The Slicer.

  14. Dave S. says:

    This may be the year I overcome inertia and drop the subscription. It’s getting a lot harder to wade through the crap to find the good stuff.

  15. BKP says:

    Note that the union has not rejected getting rid of the program, but argues it needs to be part of a comprehensive agreement. This totally makes sense–what union just gives back benefits without sitting down and hashing everything out? That would be counter to what a union fundamentally does. We’ll give back the benefit and you give us something else. Negotiation. But it’s far easier for Weissmann to provide a Republican talking point than engage in real journalism.

    You do realize that Weissmann addresses this in his article, and its a fairly important part:

    When news of the doctors’ bills broke, there was, predictably, a public outcry. Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore, who did not return calls for comment, said then that his union would be happy to drop the rider during the next round of contract negotiations. But therein lay the problem.

    Buffalo’s teachers haven’t had a new contract since the last one expired in 2004. That’s because they haven’t needed one, thanks to a 1982 state law known as the Triborough Amendment. Under the law, when a public employee’s contract expires, they are allowed to continue working under its terms until their union reaches a new agreement with the state. They get to keep all their benefits, along with any yearly salary increase built into the old deal. In the case of the Buffalo schools, teachers have been getting yearly 2.5% “step increases” since 2007, when the state-imposed control board that oversees Buffalo’s municipal finances unfroze salaries.

    As a result, there isn’t much incentive for the union to sit down and hash out a new contract. Not in these days of government austerity, and not when they might be asked to make additional concessions on fundamental issues such as teacher evaluations.

    The article had a full eight paragraphs that deal with the Triborough Amendment, the unbalanced negoatiation position it creates, and then the problems that develop from that in turn.

    Your response is no less hackish.

    • BKP says:

      That he doesn’t bother to interview a single union member for his piece?

      It is also of note that Weissmann says:

      Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore, who did not return calls for comment, said then that his union would be happy to drop the rider during the next round of contract negotiations.

      I am inclined to believe you stopped reading the article halfway through. You probably should have read it, because you didn’t explain anything about the union’s position that Weissmann didn’t mention in his article, and Weissmann spent a significant portion of his article explaining why teachers simply waiting for another round of negotiations is problematic.

      • Guest says:

        Why is it the union’s fault that they don’t want to give up benefits with no compensation? Why is that “problematic”? It’s like saying that their salary is costing the district money, so the union should just drop salaries across the board without a new contract.

        Also, calls not being returned can mean that he called them twice this morning while they were in meetings. It’s not like this is breaking news or anything. There is time to get the story right.

        • Guest says:

          Also, the Buffalo News articles are from October 2010, so I definitely think there was time to find a real comment on the issue.

        • BKP says:

          Why is it the union’s fault that they don’t want to give up benefits with no compensation? Why is that “problematic”? It’s like saying that their salary is costing the district money, so the union should just drop salaries across the board without a new contract.

          Its problematic because the teacher’s union hasn’t negotiated a contract since 1999 and the one they are working under now expired in 2004.

    • BKP says:

      Sweet Jesus, it just keeps coming:

      That Weissmann provides not a single example of what any of these teachers used the benefit for during this supposed boom in plastic surgery of recent years, not to mention any comprehensive data?

      Weissmann links to this article in his piece:

      The vast majority of those procedures — nine out of 10 of them — were chemical peels, laser hair removal, skin rejuvenation and other skin treatments. All of them were elective procedures that required a doctor’s approval.

      • Guest says:

        He also links to the article that includes the quote “We’ve already agreed to drop it” from the union leader. Seems unfair to grant quotes to Weissmann that he doesn’t cite that support his argument, but not those that hurt his argument.

        Also the bits about:

        Doctors used to be able to collect $300 reimbursement for microdermabrasion, he said. Now, after the insurance company cut reimbursement rates in August, it’s down to $60, which he says does not cover the cost of employees or materials. Laser hair removals used to fetch $700 or more from the insurance company, he said; that has now been cut to $200.

        Seems things were being overcharged (4 million to one doctor). That’s a large contribution.

        Why do problems in the price of care and the lack of incentives to give up benefits with no gain come down on the union? These seem like systematic problems, not reasons to screech about the union.

        • BKP says:

          He also links to the article that includes the quote “We’ve already agreed to drop it” from the union leader.

          This addresses your earlier point about the dates, and highlights why this is problematic:

          From an article dated August 23, 2011:

          He took heat from the board for a cosmetic surgery rider that costs the school district $5.4 million — almost enough to bring back the laid-off teachers. He was asked again about agreeing to a one-year moratorium but said he would only do so as part of a more comprehensive agreement.

          They have been agreeing to drop it for years, but only in a new contract. Conveniently they have been delaying any negotiations on a contract because they needn’t enter them.

          • Tom M says:

            The fact that the average salary is $52,000 does not mean that an out of pocket cost of $5.4 million equates to bringing back 100 teachers. That figure would seem to exclude the cost of benefits which for my employer, a bank, is 40%. A minor point, but one meant to show how “unreasonable” the union is.

            The article elides any mention (and I am not looking it up) of any contract offer by the district. I am familiar with our (rust-belt) school district and teachers’ union negotiating so it seems unlikely the district has not made an offer in 7 years.

            I think being critical of the post is fine and can be useful but not if you just swallow the other side whole.

            • Njorl says:

              I believe teacher salary is less than 1/4 of the cost of having a teacher working in a classroom and teaching kids. Some of the other 75% of the cost has already been spent, though, like the cost of building a school. The number of layoffs averted would probably be around 40-70.

        • DrDick says:

          Why do problems in the price of care and the lack of incentives to give up benefits with no gain come down on the union?

          Because Brad hates unions (or at least, according to him, public unions) and everything they do is automatically bad and all costs incurred by their employers are their fault (the employers having absolutely no choice or agency in the matter).

          • timb says:

            Weird that the libertarian doesn’t believe the people should gather together to form private entities as a market counter-balance to employers

            • Malaclypse says:

              Libertarians all believe in the truth of this book. Not only does it start off with BROKEN WINDOWS!!!, but it takes the (correct) point that unions cannot raise income levels for everyone, and then completely ignores the basic concept that what unions are for is to shift income away from capital towards labor.

              In further proof that the corpse of irony is being buggered, note the blurb: Concise and instructive, it is also deceptively prescient and far-reaching in its efforts to dissemble economic fallacies that are so prevalent they have almost become a new orthodoxy.

              So, libertarians dislike unions because libertarian theory has proven that they are useless. Why, Ayn Rand herself liked this book!

    • dr says:

      No. The upshot of this is that the teachers have no incentive to agree to a contract that is worse overall, not that they have no incentive to negotiate. Your view appears to be that since the teachers can’t be compelled to accept take backs, therefore negotiation is impossible.

      • BKP says:

        The upshot of this is that the teachers have no incentive to agree to a contract that is worse overall, not that they have no incentive to negotiate.

        That’s a particularly stupid statement to make.

        The conservative alternative that follows that exact logic would be: “Just because an employer can fire a worker whenever he wants, we shouldn’t assume he has no incentive to negotiate.”

        • Guest says:

          It would be: An employer has no incentive to raise the worker’s salary with no increase in productivity/etc. It’s about taking on a harm without getting something back.

        • Njorl says:

          It is not stupid at all. Your logic is hopeless.

          If the school system wanted to save money, they could negotiate a new contract in which the cosmetic surgery benefit was eliminated, and other things which the union found more desirable, but less expensive, were added.

          That would not be in the school district’s best interest, though. It would be better if they got off their stupid, lazy asses and administered the program responsibly. The contract covers procedures deemed necessary by a physician. The physicians involved are obviously committing fraud when they deem chemical peels medically necessary. They should be sent to jail, but nobody ever wants to send doctors to jail. Fraud by doctors is over 10% of US health care costs, but it’s considered rude to do anything about it.

    • actor212 says:

      What Weismann hackingly leaves out, Brad, is New York State’s longstanding Taylor Law, which says no public union can strike, under penalty of imprisonment of the union members and their leaders.

      Which weakens the union position significantly.

      But I wouldn’t expect Weismann to, you know, bother to ask the obvious question.

      • BKP says:

        That’s certainly worth mentioning. It’s certainly a bad law. The Tribourough Amendment is a part of the Taylor Law, and the whole thing has the effect of making adversarial contractual negotiations impossible.

        • L2P says:

          Jesus Christ. It DOESN’T. Almost every state and the Federal government has anti-strike provisions, at least for safety workers. They have negotiations ALL THE TIME. I’ve been involved in them. They don’t get to the point where there’s barricades and crap, but they are definitely adversarial.

          These aren’t just gimmes. Management doesn’t say “We want X. Thank you!” The cops don’t say, “We want X. Thank you!” A lot of time it might look like it, but it’s not.

          Maybe you guys should do more than read a couple hack writers at the Atlantic.

          • BKP says:

            Almost every state and the Federal government has anti-strike provisions, at least for safety workers.

            No other state has anything like the Triborough Amendment.

          • actor212 says:

            Yea, but here’s the thing: if the state (or municipality) comes back with a wholly unreasonable offer, and basically says “take it or leave it,” there’s not much the union can come back with. And they have to keep teaching.

            So you’re left in a stalemate: on the one hand, the union has been forthrightly saying “we want a better offer,” and Buffalo has said “We’re not giving you one.”

            This whole story smacks of the city’s attempt to railroad the union back to the table with some bullshit “plastic surgery” thing sure to piss off parents.

          • DrDick says:

            Even though state employees here in Montana are prohibited from striking, my union is currently engaged in very adversarial negotiations with the State University system. Brad needs to wake up from his libertarian haze and smell reality

        • witless chum says:

          This is really common with regard to public employee unions, where they have something in return for not having the right to strike.

          The Michigan version involves binding arbitration if public employee union and management can’t agree. But union and management mostly come to agreements and don’t go to arbitration. Lately, this is mostly because management is seeking concessions they know they aren’t going to get from an arbitrator.

          I’ve yet to hear one of the Republicans who want to strip public employees of various things offer to include making strikes legal.

          • BKP says:

            There is a big difference between binding arbitration and extending expired contracts indefinitely.

            The Buffalo Teacher’s union hasn’t negotiated a contract since 1999, even though their last one expired in 2004.

            Has a similar thing occurred in Michigan?

    • L2P says:

      The way Weisman frames the issue (and you’re defending it) makes no sense. Basically, the union should just unilaterally drop this benefit because…it’s generous? Or what?

      Should they give up their salary increases too? What about vacation and sick leave? What the hell is your point here? What’s Weisman’s?

      If the current deal was really so bad for Buffalo, they’d be threatening the union with layoffs and furloughs unless they renegotiated. LIKE IN EVERY OTHER DISTRICT IN THE GOD-DAMN COUNTRY. This article is one-sided bullshit.

      • BKP says:

        They’ve already laid off over a hundred teachers, and one of the major local talking points (not just Weissermann) is that giving up that benefit would pay for the salaries of 100 teachers.

  16. wengler says:

    Everytime a hack writer punches a teacher, a libertarian somewhere smiles.

  17. It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I’ve read this submit and if I may I desire to suggest you few interesting issues or suggestions. Maybe you can write next articles regarding this article. I desire to read even more things approximately it!

  18. […] Are Doing Really Important Things Obama Promises CISPA Veto The Non-Geek’s Guide To CISPA Jordan Weissmann, Hack, Writes For Hacky Hack Magazine The Atlantic Jordan Weissmann Got A Journalism Degree And A Sweet Job Writing Hacky Hit Pieces For Conservative […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.