COMEY'S GIRL: Kornacki on the attack!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2016

Part 2—Our own team's Wrong-Way Corrigan:
With bowl season approaching, our thoughts sometimes turn to the famous exploits of Roy "Wrong Way" Riegels.

In the 1929 Rose Bowl, Riegels, an All-American, famously ran the wrong way in an attempt to give Georgia Tech a chance to compete with his own much more powerful Cal. In effect, he was tackled by his own team on the 1. In effect, his famous wrong-way run ended up giving Tech a safety.

Riegels is sometimes confused with the more famous Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan. Corrigan achieved his nickname in 1938 by flying from New York to Ireland when he was supposed to be flying to California.

This year, in the first week of July, we liberals found ourselves confronted with our own "wrong way" performer. We refer to Steve Kornacki's woeful performance in the immediate aftermath of James B. Comey's intrusion on the White House campaign.

On Tuesday morning, July 5, Comey held a press event at which he broke with standard protocols by denouncing Candidate Clinton. Two days later, on July 7, he appeared before the House House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where he continued to criticize Clinton for allegedly having been "extremely careless" in her email practices.

In ways which have been widely described, Comey—he's often called Comey the God—was breaking standard protocols and violating explicit Justice Department procedures. That said, Comey had long since been anointed as the latest unassailable Republican straight-shooter.

In the strange but unmistakable tradition of Starr, Freeh, Powell, McCain and Ryan, Comey's rectitude had long since been confirmed by one and all. In part for that reason, Comey was praised by a long string of Democrats when he appeared before that committee. On the Democratic side of the aisle, the great man's obvious rectitude was widely affirmed once again.

Into this peculiar mix wandered Wrong-Way Kornacki. Kornacki was guest-hosting on The Rachel Maddow Show that week. On this basis, he was condemned to read the drivel Maddow's staff would assemble each day.

Some of that drivel concerned Comey and Clinton. In fairness, though, it must be said that Kornacki adopted a prosecutorial air all his own as he conducted interviews about Comey's accusations.

Maddow's staff had done their usual work. Kornacki's strangely unbalanced approach went beyond the shaky platform they had provided.

Before we review Kornacki's performance, we ought to mention another event from that unfortunate week. On Wednesday afternoon, July 6, Fred Kaplan published a piece at Slate which challenged Director Comey's accusations.

According to Kaplan, Comey's claims were largely bunk. His piece appeared beneath these headlines:
The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal Was Totally Overblown
We learned nothing new from the investigation or James Comey’s statement.
In his essay, Kaplan flayed the overwrought claims Comey had advanced the day before. Comey's claims were basically bunk, Kaplan basically said.

In these ways, the stage was set for Kornacki's guest-host efforts this week. On July 5, the analysts groaned as soon as he opened his mouth.

He started in classic Maddow Show fashion. Presumably under direction of staff, he aired some pointless old videotape, then made an unfortunate statement. As one, the analysts howled:
KORNACKI (7/5/16): Investigation or witch-hunt? Innocent mistakes, or massive cover-up? Is the conduct actually bad, or does it just look bad? That was almost exactly 20 years ago. That's when the Senate concluded its investigation into President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton's Whitewater scandal.
Oof! Just like that, Maddow's staff had Kornacki referring to "President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton's Whitewater scandal," a non-existent entity which has fueled right-wing political wars for more than twenty years.

"Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton's Whitewater scandal?" In a more competent world, it would be very strange to see a liberal host refer that way to this classic "fake news" event. In our world, that typifies the work you see on our own corporate news channel.

Can we talk? Like Maddow herself, Maddow's staff seems remarkably clueless about the politics of the Clinton/Gore era. That said, this first remark set the stage for the next three nights, during which Kornacki pursued Clinton's email behavior like a watermelon-shooting Son of Dan.

Kornacki would pursue this topic for three straight nights. His interview on this first night started off like this:
KORNACKI: Joining us for more on today's announcement is Carrie Johnson. She's the justice correspondent for National Public Radio. Carrie, thanks for joining us. Well, so, take us through—

What jumps out at me here are some of these numbers. Eight chains of e-mails here involving top-secret information passed through this server. A couple dozen more with other forms of classified information. Hillary Clinton had been saying that no, that nothing marked classified had gone through this server. The FBI today though is saying that did happen.
This would be Kornacki's most restrained performance of the week. That said, he was accepted Comey's presentations as fact, without expressing any doubts or asking any questions.

Comey's numbers "jumped out at me," he quickly said; he didn't say a word about Comey's departure from protocols. Treating Whitewater like a real scandal, he reversed the actual history which might have guided him here. He failed to warn viewers about the way these scams have worked in the past.

The following day, Kaplan's piece appeared, then vanished down the liberal world's familiar memory hole. That evening, Kornacki interviewed Ellen Tauscher, a former congresswoman who also served as undersecretary of state under Clinton.

At this point, let's be fair. By now, Kornacki was working at a disadvantage. The Clinton campaign had made little attempt to respond to Comey's accusations. It's also true that Tauscher was a rather incompetent defense witness when she appeared this night.

That said, Kornacki continued to take Comey's accusations at face value. Kaplan's skeptical analysis of those claims went unmentioned this night.

Below, you see the way Tauscher was introduced. Despite Kaplan's debunking report, Kornacki kept referring to what the god had "revealed:"
KORNACKI (7/6/16): There's a lot to explain here...

Comey revealed yesterday that 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains contained classified information at the time they were sent or received. Clinton has also made the more specific claim that nothing she sent or received was marked as classified at the time. But, again, Comey revealed yesterday there were a small number of e-mails that did have classified markings on them. He added that even for those that didn't, quote, didn't know, quote, "participants who know or should know that the classified matter is—that the matter is classified are still obligated to protect it."

And there was also said, Comey saying that, quote, "hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account." He also said it's the FBI's assessment that those actors may have gained access to Hillary Clinton's account.

Now in response to those specific revelations and contradictions, we have heard nothing from Hillary Clinton or from her campaign. The question is, can they really just continue to say nothing about this? And if they do have to say something about this eventually, what are they going to say?

Joining us now is Ellen Tauscher...Let me start with, doesn't Hillary Clinton owe an answer to what James Comey said yesterday and what he revealed?
Please note the language of that first question to Tauscher. In Kornacki's mind, Comey hadn't advanced allegations, accusations, claims or judgments. To Kornacki, those facts and figures represented "specific revelations," what the god had "revealed."

Kornacki interrupted and pounded Tauscher all through the interview. In our judgment, he would have been a bit over the top had he been guest-hosting on Fox. The following night, Rep. Gerald Connolly faced the same aggressive reaction when he appeared with Kornacki speaking on Clinton's behalf.

Fred Kaplan's skeptical piece at Slate wasn't mentioned by Kornacki on any of these programs. On the Rachel Maddow Show, Comey the God had "revealed" the facts. Kaplan had been disappeared.

On Friday, July 8, a crazy person in Dallas murdered a bunch of policemen. All other news coverage was wiped away by this event. By the end of the week, therefore, the Maddow Show had staged three nights of Comey-friendly work. This raised an important question:

What would happen when Maddow strapped on her big orange shoes and returned to her anchor desk?

Alas! The analysts all seemed to feel sure that Maddow would right the balance. They looked forward to watching her informative session with Kaplan.

They thought Kornacki's "wrong way" performance had been rather weird; in that, we judged them right. That said, would Maddow put up a fight against Comey's peculiar intrusion on the White House campaign?

"I want to be Bobby's girl," Marcie Blane had once memorably sung. We introduced them to the hit song, memorably told them to wait.

Tomorrow: Maddow ducks again

General Flynn is stark raving mad!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2016

The surprising appeal of The Crazy:
Way back when, itinerant merchants would peddle "elixir remedies" designed to "cure what ails you." During our sophomore year in college, we created an award-winning show which referenced this fact.

The show was an homage to our Grandfather Rufus, who we'd learned about the previous year from our older half-brother. It had an award-winning cast.

This will sound chronologically improbable, but Grandfather Rufus was a traveling showman starting around the time of the Civil War. He even has his own Wikipedia page concerning this early part of his career.

(One of them perfesser fellers has studied this part of his life.)

In October 1966, we took our act of homage to a coffeehouse at Wellesley College, an earlier, less expensive version of Trump University. As Melinda Henneberger later revealed, a future presidential contender performed a humorous sketch as our elixir salesman.

Henneberger had her chronology a tiny bit wrong, but the bulk of what follows is accurate. Ignore what Kapetan said:
HENNEBERGER (6/21/00): At the end of their freshman year, Mr. Gore, Mr. Jones and a couple of other friends assembled a musical revue that they actually took on the road—for one performance, at a Wellesley coffeehouse. "It was kind of like the Little Rascals: 'Let's put on a show!' " said Michael Kapetan, now a sculptor at the University of Michigan.

"Here at last, no longer coming soon," [the poster] said, "the Old-Time Country Panorama, featuring those old-time country musicians of note, Tommy Lee Jones and the Ben Hill County Boys."

"I was the stand-up comic," Mr. Gore said, "if you can believe that." And sure enough, there he is, billed as "the highly respected professor of animal husbandry and the curative sciences, Doctor Albert A. Gore" who "has promised to favor us with readings from the society pages of The Carthage Courier, including news on Wilber Gridley's recent trip to Bristol."

Mr. Gore does not remember the show as an unqualified success: "The women of Wellesley were in between puzzled and amused," he said. "Not quite the reaction we were shooting for."
Mr. Gore's recollection was perhaps a bit faulty. Of course, by the time this report appeared, everyone knew about his problem with the truth!

Dr. Gore had taken the stage that night to sell his "Tennessee Elixir Remedy (No Refunds)." Back in the era of Grandfather Rufus, itinerants would actually peddle such phony products to us, the susceptible rubes.

All too often, we the people couldn't tell that we were being scammed. Federal agencies now exist to regulate such craziness.

Over the past fifty years, reliable journalistic gatekeepers have been replaced by scam artists. In the process, we've learned that large numbers of us the people are highly susceptible to the kinds of claims the press now calls "fake news."

Until about fifteen minutes ago, the mainstream press was doing its best to ignore this general phenomenon. For that reason, our big newspapers made little attempt to explore apparently widespread crazy beliefs about President Obama's place of birth.

(Before that, the press made little attempt to challenge crazy claims about the many people the Clintons were said to have murdered. Later, the press corps played the leading role in inventing and spreading phony claims about Gore's deeply troubling lies. That was "fake news" too, of course. Our journalists peddled it hard.)

As people like Walter Cronkite were replaced by arrays of scammers, we learned a surprising fact—many people are inclined to believe The Crazy. At present, conservatives believe that Obama was born on the dark side of the moon. Liberals believe that The Others are all racists, based on stupid shit we get from professors and 10-year-old journalists.

As it turns out, many people seem to be strongly inclined to believe The Crazy. One such person is General Michael Flynn, who will soon be destroying the world.

General Flynn's crazy son seems to be even worse. For an overview, read Kevin Drum's report.

The press corps reveled in this lunacy for decades. Now they suddenly find it disturbing. For decades, they worked to build this culture. Now, they're very upset.

In the 1860s, Grandfather Rufus had a show called "the Civil War panorama." Wounded veterans would take the stage and describe battle scenes. Later, he toured at the head of Barnum-era traveling shows with colorful names, such as "Professor Wormwood's Trained Monkeys." The show broke box office records in the Maritimes in the late 1870s.

He also gave public lectures about the evils of hypocrisy. In paraphrased form, at substantial length, these lectures would appear on the front pages of major newspapers.

He died in 1903; we were born in 1947. (Yes, he was our grandfather and yes, the numbers work out.) In 1966, we learned about him for the first time. The rest is slightly inaccurate history.

If General Flynn had been in the crowd at Wellesley that night, he probably would have rushed the stage, such as it was, to purchase Professor Gore's remedy. The general seems to be starking raving mad, but so is our failed public culture.

The mainstream press corps worked for years to bring us to this dangerous point. Many top liberals helped in this work, although we agree not to say so.

COMEY'S GIRL: A funny thing happened when Comey declaimed!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2016

Part 1—The silence of the Ivankas:
A funny thing happened when James B. Comey injected himself into the White House campaign.

Comey, the FBI director, is, within the modern context, a classic insider type. As of July 2016, he'd long been cast by Washington elites as the morally upright Republican straight-talker, a rather familiar type.

On the scandal-purveying side, the role had been played in previous years by "Judge Starr" and by Louis Freeh, among others. On the policy side, the role has long been assigned to Speaker Ryan, a man whose proposals never make sense—but whose rectitude can't be challenged.

Except by Paul Krugman, whose analyses will be ignored.

(At present, the presumption of rectitude is being extended to Governor Romney, who is said to be courting Donald J. Trump due to his patriotism. In line with standard insider scripting, Romney's thinking is being paraphrased thusly: "He's our fake con man now." In line with familiar insider practice, few suggestions of runaway ambition have been offered.)

On July 5, Director Comey injected himself into the White House campaign. In a departure from normal practice and explicitly stated procedure, he assailed Candidate Clinton, saying she'd been "extremely careless" in her email practices. Two days later, he appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he continued his criticisms of Clinton's "extremely careless" ways.

Comey—he's often referred to as Comey the God—had departed from normal procedure himself in voicing these highly subjective assessments of the presumptive Democratic nominee. That said, a funny thing happened when he did so—two funny things, in fact.

Let's start with the first thing that happened. In that House committee hearing, one Democrat after another stood in line to note the obvious rectitude of the great Republican figure.

Our own congressman, Elijah Cummings, showered the godly figure with praise in his opening statement. We'll offer a few of the highlights:
CUMMINGS (7/7/16): Director Comey, thank you for being here today.

I want to begin by commending you and the public servants at the FBI for the independent investigation you conducted. You had a thankless task. No matter what recommendation you made, you were sure to be criticized.

There's no question that you were extremely thorough. In fact, some may even say you went too far in your investigation. But of course, that was your job. That is your job.

[...]

Contrary to the claims of your critics, there is absolutely no evidence that you made your recommendation for political reasons; no evidence that you were bribed or coerced or influenced; no evidence that you came to your conclusion based upon anything but the facts and the law. I firmly believe that your decision was not based on convenience, but on conviction.

[...]

Finally, I want to make it clear that I condemn these completely unwarranted political attacks against you. They have attacked you personally. They have attacked your integrity. They have impugned your professionalism. And they have even suggested that you were somehow bought and paid for because you made your recommendation based upon the law and the facts.

I know you're used to working in a world of politics, but these attacks have been beyond the pale. So you do not deserve this. Your family does not deserve it. And the highly skilled and dedicated agents of the FBI do not deserve it. I honor your professionalism and your service to our country.
Things went downhill from there.

By the end of the campaign, many people were saying that Comey's conduct, starting in July, had cost Candidate Clinton the White House. In real time, the godlike fellow was showered with praise from Clinton's side of the aisle!

A second funny thing occurred in the week when Comey declaimed. Guest hosting on The Rachel Maddow Show, Steve Kornacki offered several nights of reports about Clinton's bad conduct, reports which might have seemed a bit over the top had they been broadcast on Fox.

Tomorrow, we'll review those remarks. Later this week, we'll review the way Maddow reacted to Comey when she returned, the following week, from a richly-deserved vacation.

Having said that, let us also say this. By the time Maddow returned, important questions had been raised about the god's performance.

At Slate, Fred Kaplan had offered a challenge to Comey's claim that Clinton endangered national security through her "extremely careless" behavior. As this week's reports proceed, we'll review the way Maddow and other MSNBC hosts handled such basic questions.

By September, Comey's high-minded claims about Clinton's carelessness were dominating the conversation wherever press script was sold. During NBC's Commander in Chief Forum, Clinton made a dramatic statement about the emails to Matt Lauer, who seemed able to think about nothing else.

Actually, Clinton was speaking to a Republican who had been chosen to present the first question by an audience member. Needless to say, the question NBC had selected concerned those vexing emails, and contained a harsh accusation:
QUESTION (9/6/16): Secretary Clinton, thank you very much for coming tonight. As a naval flight officer, I held a top secret sensitive compartmentalized information clearance. And that provided me access to materials and information highly sensitive to our warfighting capabilities. Had I communicated this information not following prescribed protocols, I would have been prosecuted and imprisoned.

Secretary Clinton, how can you expect those such as myself who were and are entrusted with America’s most sensitive information to have any confidence in your leadership as president when you clearly corrupted our national security?

CLINTON: Well, I appreciate your concern and also your experience. But let me try to make the distinctions that I think are important for me to answer your question.

First, as I said to Matt, you know and I know classified material is designated. It is marked. There is a header so that there is no dispute at all that what is being communicated to or from someone who has that access is marked classified.

And what we have here is the use of an unclassified system by hundreds of people in our government to send information that was not marked. There were no headers, there was no statement, top secret, secret, or confidential.

I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system. I took it very seriously. When I traveled, I went into one of those little tents that I’m sure you’ve seen around the world because we didn’t want there to be any potential for someone to have embedded a camera to try to see whatever it is that I was seeing that was designated, marked, and headed as classified.

LAUER: Let us—

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: So I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously, always have, always will.
As Lauer tried to interrupt, Clinton rudely continued talking.

"I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate [email] system," the candidate said. "I did exactly what I should have done."

Given the claims by Comey the God, those were striking statements by Clinton. As the week proceeds, we'll review the way Maddow and her colleagues reacted.

Comey intruded on the campaign again on October 28. Eleven days were left in the White House race.

He declaimed for the third time on the weekend before the election. After the election was done, the Clinton campaign said that these last two intrusions flipped the final vote.

All this week, we'll be reviewing the way our liberal stars reacted to Comey's intrusions. We'll start with Kornacki's weird performances, then move forward from there. We'll also review the way these TV stars reacted in the fall of 2012, when the script about Clinton and Benghazi was crafted by another figure of obvious rectitude, the straight-shooting John McCain.

Benghazi and the emails! To state what is blindingly obvious, this potent pair of scripts played a key role in Candidate Clinton's defeat.

For that reason, it's worth reviewing the way our fiery corporate liberals dealt with these potent scripts. With that in mind, might we offer a personal note?

Especially when we think about the role Maddow played in this matter, we think of the great Marcie Blane. Back in 1962, the compelling teen acknowledged that she "wanted to be Bobby's girl."

All those years later, did Maddow want to be Comey's girl? More on Blane's big hit to come. For today, we'll tease you with this:

On the front page of today's New York Times, a nattering headline pokes at Donald J. Trump's grifter children. In our hard-copy edition, the snippy front-page headline says this:

"Tangle Awaits 3 Trump Children Molded for Business Since Birth"

When we read that snippy headline, we thought of our own set of cable news children. Have they perhaps been molded since birth? For service to the corporation? For service to their bosses? To the guild?

In the end, might a person sensibly ask if they resembled a gang of Ivankas in the way they approached the campaign? We'll return to this thoughtful question by the end of the week.

Does the compliance of the Ivankas help explain the way we got ourselves teabagged last month? Might our love for these silly kids help explain our remarkable loss?

Tomorrow: Guest host, over the top

Timss talk: Post reporter succumbs to script!

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2016

Sees the glass ten percent full:
Emma Brown is a Washington Post education reporter with the soul of a Globetrekker host.

According to her official Post bio, Brown is "a latecomer to journalism who worked as a wilderness ranger in Wyoming and as a middle-school math teacher in Alaska before joining the newspaper in 2009." We'd say that capsule tends to overstate her age and to understate her apparent spirit.

Brown graduated from Stanford in June 2000. During the academic term, she absorbed four years of overpowering Pacific-10 dominance. In the summers, she worked in the Wind River Range!

From there, she followed the path laid out by Capucine in the feature film North to Alaska, the only major Hollywood film which paired the Parisian star with her single-name counterpart, Fabian. She got a master's degree in teaching at University of Alaska Southeast, then taught junior high math in Juneau for three years.

She transcribed interviews with Alutiiq elders. At some point, she kayaked Baja California.

During this time, she began to dabble in journalism. She returned to the Lower 48 to get a master's in journalism at Berkeley, then joined the Post in 2009.

Along the way, she'd been praised for her writing. In his introduction to American Nature Writing 2003, John Murray opined thusly:

"At twenty-three, Emma Brown is one of the most gifted young writers I have ever encountered, and that includes the over six hundred undergraduate and graduate students I taught during my years as a university writing professor." Murray went on to say that Brown's prose evokes "the best of such diverse writers as Edward Abbey and Norman MacLean."

A ranger in the Wind Rivers! You'll have to thumb quite a few resumes to encounter a greater sense of adventure. That's why it's so striking to see the way Brown succumbed this week to the upper-end journalist's curse—to the kryptonite of script.

Brown reported for the Washington Post about the new Timss scores from last year's quadrennial testing. We hadn't actually seen the scores when we read her news report, but her headline seemed to have blown in from the Narrative River Range.

As Brown began her report, she took the path more traveled by. Extending a mandated gloomy framework, she saw the glass ten percent full.

Hard-copy headline included. Presumably, Brown didn't write it:
BROWN (11/29/16): U.S. pupils still trail Asian peers in math, science

Eighth-grade students across the United States showed some improvement in math and science over the past four years, but fourth-graders’ performance was stagnant and students in both groups continued to trail many of their peers in Asia,
according to the results of a major international exam released Tuesday.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, was administered to nearly 600,000 students in dozens of education systems across the globe in 2015. U.S. scores are likely to stoke renewed debate among politicians, educators and business leaders about why math and science achievement has not improved more quickly relative to other nations.
Darn those eighth-grade students across the country! Their performance was "likely to stoke renewed debate...about why math and science achievement has not improved more quickly!"

Let's be fair to Brown. She started with a few words about "some improvement."

Beyond that, her instant prediction will likely turn out to be true. Given the way our discourse works, these new data probably will "stoke renewed debate" about our students' alleged lack of progress. Given the way our elite mandates work, no other type of debate is allowed in the Script River Range.

Once again, let's be fair. Everything in those two grafs is true, as is the headline's assertion. On average, American students did "trail their Asian peers" on the Timss last year, by a substantial amount.

Still, we'd have to say that Brown went out of her way to see the glass empty—or at least, that's the way we'd review her report as published.

How well did American students perform as compared to their peers around the world? We'd say an obvious preference for gloom prevailed when Brown returned to that question. She named every system our students trailed, no one whom they surpassed:
BROWN: On TIMSS, the average score of U.S. fourth-graders in math put them behind students in 10 other systems: Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, Northern Ireland and Ireland, Norway, and the Flemish portion of Belgium.

In Singapore, for example, 50 percent of students scored high enough to be considered advanced in math, compared with just 14 percent of U.S. students who reached that benchmark.

U.S. fourth-graders’ average score was indistinguishable from nine other systems and higher than 34 systems.

U.S. students ranked comparably in science.
All ten systems we trailed got named. Brown named none of the forty-three (43!) "education systems" our students matched or exceeded.

That strikes us as a peculiar choice. It becomes even more peculiar when we consider that slightly peculiar term—"education system."

Uh-oh! As you might note, some of the "education systems" which outscored our kids aren't exactly nations. This isn't a criticism of the Timss. We do regard it as a criticism of the Post.

What's a more significant piece of information? The fact that our students were outscored by the Flemish portion of Belgium? Or the fact that our students outscored their peers in such places as these:

Germany, Canada, Australia, Italy, France, Spain.

That's right! On the test in question, U.S. fourth-graders outscored their peers in those large, well-known nations. Beyond that, on the level of statistical significance, they matched the scores of their peers in England, even in miraculous Finland.

These triumphs were withheld from Post readers. Instead, Post subscribers were told that our perpetually disappointing kids got outscored by Belgium, at least in the Flemish region!

This strikes us as a weird, but highly familiar, approach to such data as these. Journalistic elites accepted the mandate long ago:

We must find a way for gloom to prevail whenever we report test scores!

In this case, Brown listed all ten "systems" who humbled our kids, but none of the 34 they bested. She was refusing to see the glass largely full.

How aggressive was Brown's refusal? Consider the torture involved in her focus on those ten education systems.

Some of those systems aren't even nations. More significantly, some of those education systems serve populations which are rather small:
Total populations of four smallish entities:
Hong Kong: 7.2 million
Flemish region of Belgium: 6.5 million
Ireland and Northern Ireland: 6.4 million
Singapore: 5.6 million
It isn't that those populations aren't significant. It's just that they maybe possibly aren't as significant as these:
Total populations of eight major nations:
Germany: 82 million
France: 67 million
Italy: 61 million
England: 55 million
Spain: 46 million
Poland: 38 million
Canada: 36 million
Australia: 24 million
In what realm is the Flemish region of Belgium journalistically significant, while Germany, France, England and Canada aren't?

Answer: In a realm where the prevailing winds blow in from the Script River Range!

Just for the record, our fourth-graders also outscored their peers from The Netherlands, the Czech and the Slovak Republics, Hungary and Sweden, while matching their peers from Denmark. In what realm is Norway worth citing by name, while Finland and Sweden are not?

(Warning! Norway showed a very large score jump on last year's Timss, accompanied by a murky footnote which suggests that a change has occurred in the way "fourth grade" status is computed in that land. We'd be slow to stress Norway's score without determining what happened.)

Do our journalists ever tire of seeing the glass hugely empty? When it comes to our embarrassing, gruesome public schools, actually no—they do not.

We'd have to say that this claim is supported by Brown's gloomy framework—and sure enough! Inevitably, the Post's framework matched that of the AP, whose report bore a similar headline:
Washington Post headline: U.S. pupils still trail Asian peers in math, science

Associated Press headline: US STUDENTS LAG PEERS IN EAST ASIA IN MATH, SCIENCE
People, we're just saying! The glass largely empty is, by law, mandated, hugely preferred.

(Are points subtracted when Post editors copy off their neighbors?)

Those headlines are accurate, of course. American students do trail a set of Asian tigers on international tests. So does everyone else in the world—but that's only part of the story.

It's also true that American students outperformed most of the rest of the world on the 2015 Timss. Especially given the way this topic has been treated over the past twenty years, readers of the Washington Post deserve to have this surprising fact made clear.

When he discussed these Timss results, Kevin Drum coined a term; he talked about our "peer countries." He mentioned the success of the Asian tigers, but he also noted our students' relative success on this test as compared to almost every other large developed nation.

He also mentioned something important. Importantly, Drum said this:
DRUM (11/30/16): One other note. If you really want a takeaway from the latest TIMSS test, it's the same as the takeaway from every other test ever administered to American schoolkids: we do a terrible job of educating black children. The single biggest thing we could do to improve education in this country is to cut out the half measures and focus serious money and resources on poor, black school districts.
When we posted the scores for Grade 4 math, we "disaggregated" the American scores, showing our very large racial/ethnic "achievement gaps." Here's what Grade 4 math looks like when you talk about our "peer countries," and when you report those gaps:
Average scores, Grade 4 math, 2015 Timss
South Korea: 608
United States, Asian-American students: 605
Taiwan: 597
Japan: 593
Russia: 564
United States, white students: 559
England: 546
United States: 539
Finland: 535
Poland: 535
Germany: 522
Australia: 517
United States, Hispanic students: 515
Canada: 511
Italy: 507
Spain: 505
United States, black students: 495
France: 488
We didn't include the Flemish region of Belgium. We did include the developed world's larger nations—and we included the data which help us consider our own large achievement gaps.

Our domestic achievement gaps are very large. How did the Washington Post report this topic? Incredibly, this is the way Brown's report reaches its end:
BROWN: Among fourth- and eighth-grade students, the gender gap has narrowed or closed in math and science, according to TIMSS results. But there continues to be a yawning gender gap among the advanced high school seniors: Males scored 46 points higher than females in physics, and 30 points higher in math.
(Warning: those "advanced high school" scores involves results from a highly limited set of students who are taking advanced math courses. It's a very different type of measure than the Grade 4/Grade 8 scores.)

In Grade 4 math, the U.S. gender gap stands at seven points, with boys scoring higher than girls. In Grade 8, the gap is just two points. By way of contrast:

In Grade 4 math, the black-white achievement gap stands at 64 points, but so what? Brown's text discussed the gender gap. Race wasn't mentioned at all.

Especially given the endless propaganda, American kids scored surprisingly well on the 2015 Timss. In Grade 4 math, our students, even in the aggregate, outscored most "peer countries," even miraculous Finland.

Our white kids did better than that. Essentially, our Asian-American kids outscored the world.

Post subscribers weren't exposed to those facts. As is mandated by the Hard Pundit Law which blows off The Privatization Range, Post readers saw a gloomy headline, then learned a hard fact. Those Flemish kids kicked our asps! Our "leaders" will surely complain about the lack of progress!

A note about small populations: The Asian tigers outperform everyone else in the world. That basic fact should be reported. Beyond that, though, please understand this fact:

You can always find some small jurisdiction which has achieved good scores. For years, middle-class Finland (population 5.5 million) was the club the press corps used against our ratty public school teachers and their fiendish unions and their slacker approach to our embarrassing kids.

This year, American kids outscored miraculous Finland in math. Rather than mention this fact, the Washington Post moved to to the Flemish region of Belgium.

Regarding small regions, please note:

In the 2011 Timss, the state of Massachusetts (population 6.8 million) participated as an independent "education system." Massachusetts is larger than Finland. It's even larger than the Flemish region of Belgium.

Massachusetts students scored extremely well in math on the 2011 Timss. They approached the Asian tigers, smoked the rest of the world. If you want to go hunting for successful small regions, you can find such regions right here! In 2011, the United States got outscored in math by eight of its own small regions, as you can see by clicking here.

Brown's report was highly selective. For that reason, it was also strikingly uninformative. Based upon her earlier life, we'll assume she handed in something better—that her editors took things from there.

Or did she succumb to the power of script? Within our propagandistic press corps, script has functioned like kryptonite for many free thinkers down through the years.

Certain frameworks are heavily favored. Human nature takes over from there.