Inside the Great Cathie Black Media Blitz


​Today in How Reporters Report: Everyone got their panties in a twist when former city schools chancellor Joel Klein resigned last November and Mayor Bloomberg appointed Cathie Black — a publishing exec with no discernible skills, background, or preparation for the job — as his replacement. Then we found out she needed a state-approved waiver (which she got) to take the job, despite the fact that nobody really wanted her to.

Black’s appointment had all the elements of good drama: Secrecy! Cronyism! Outspoken public backlash! School children in (exaggerated) peril! So it’s no surprise that New York’s press corps were (and kind of still are) foaming at the mouth over the story of her appointment. And since Runnin’ Scared has traditionally had kind of an interest in How the Media World Works, we decided to take a closer look at the story behind the Cathie Black story.
In November, we fired off a couple of public records requests to various city and state agencies to get a sense of how New York’s reporters chased the Cathie Black story. We were kind of surprised at how aggressively the city’s papers were criticized Black and her nomination, so we thought it might be interesting to see if we could dig up their thoughts — and maybe some public officials’ — on the whole fiasco.
Last week, we heard back from the state’s Education Department, who handed over 70 e-mails between the state and the city’s three major daily newspapers. The e-mails were mostly devoid of scandal, and we have more requests pending that we hope will yield more. But in the meantime, here are some of our favorite moments from the Great Schools Chancellor Waiver Debate of 2010:
Anything for the Story
When the news broke that Cathie Black needed a state-approved waiver to start her new job, reporters jumped on the state’s Education Department to find out when Mayor Bloomberg would submit the request, and when state’s education commissioner David Stenier would make his decision. Joshua Greenman, the New York Daily News‘ opinion editor, was gunning to break the story so hard that he offered Stein column inches in the paper to break the news himself — even before Bloomberg submitted the actual waiver request.

From: “Greenman, Joshua”
To: Tom Dunn
Date: Mon, Nov 15, 2010 at 3:36 PM
Subject: waiver

If the commissioner feels like breaking the news of his decision via an op-ed in the Daily News, I’d love to run it.

Josh Greenman | Opinion Editor | New York Daily News 450 W. 33rd St. | Third Floor | New York, NY 10001
212-210-xxxx(desk) | 347-788-xxxx(cell) And please find us on twitter at

On Nov 15, 2010, at 3:38 PM, “Tom Dunn” wrote:
Cool idea!

On Nov 15, 2010, at 3:38 PM, “Greenman, Joshua” wrote:

On Nov 15, 2010, at 3:40 PM, “Tom Dunn” wrote:
The idea is cool. I’m guessing that I can’t sell it here but I really like it.

On Nov 16, 2010, at 7:00 PM, “Greenman, Joshua” wrote:
Op-ed not gonna happen?

On Nov 16, 2010, at 7:16 PM, “Tom Dunn” wrote:
We haven’t even received the request.

On Nov 18, 2010, at 11:16 AM, “Greenman, Joshua” wrote:
Keep us in mind please.

On Nov 18, 2010, at 11:18 AM, “Tom Dunn” wrote:
Will do.

On Nov 18, 2010, at 1:27 PM, “Greenman, Joshua” wrote:
1% chance? 20% chance?

On Nov 18, 2010, at 1:31 PM, “Tom Dunn” wrote;
high single digits. Not very likely.

Even Reporters Get Bored With Their Stories
At some point in the Black appointment saga, critics started wondering whether Bloomberg even had the authority to seek a waiver for her credentials, or if such a request had to come from the city’s board of education (known as the Panel for Education Policy). Seeking clarification, New York Post reporter Yoav Gonen wrote to the state’s department of education and let slip that he, too, was getting sick of the Black baloney:

From: Gonen, Yoav
To: Tom Dunn
 Mon, Nov 15, 2010 at 10:21 AM
Subject: Ms black

Hey Tom,

I’m hoping to stop writing about Cathie and the waiver soon, but for the time being it’s still an issue. The Panel for Educational Policy I mentioned on Friday wrote Steiner this morning (assumingly by email) asking him to delay a decision on a waiver for Black until the PEP puts it to vote. I’m wondering if he would consider granting that request (i.e. you guys are the ones who are going to have to determine what the law says about where a waiver should come from. I’m hoping you can tell me today whether in your reading of it, the mayor or the PEP (aka board of education) is the one that should produce the waiver request).

Thanks, Tom.

Yoav Gonen
Education Reporter
New York Post
Phone: (212) 930-xxxx

There Are Such Things as Dumb Questions
Apparently responding to an inquiry about the state education commissioner’s reaction to Joel Klein’s surprise resignation, a Daily News editor gets confused when the state education spokesman forgets to specify which “chancellor” he’s talking about — outgoing schools chancellor Joel Klein, or the state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. The reporter seeks clarification and gets advice on how to sass her boss/get fired:

From: Tom Dunn
To: Rachel Monahan
Date: Fri, Nov 12, 2010 at 4:15 PM
Subject: RE: Surprise


Like the Chancellor, the Commissioner was taken by surprise by the announcement on Tuesday.


On Nov 12, 2010, at 4:27 PM, “Monahan, Rachel” wrote:
I assume by Chancellor, you mean Merryl?

On Nov 12, 2010, at 4:29 PM, “Tom Dunn” wrote:
Yes, how parochial of me.

On Nov 12, 2010, at 4:31 PM “Monahan, Rachel” wrote:
No I’m parochial. And it’s just because I forwarded your message to my editor and she got jumpy when she saw the word chancellor. I told her it as Tisch, but I just had to check.

On Nov 12, 2010, at 4:35 PM, “Tom Dunn” wrote:
You could also have told your editor that it would be a truly Bizarro World occurrence had Klein been taken by surprise by the announcement he was leaving his position.

Another truly “Bizarro World” occurrence? Where a seemingly unqualified magazine mogul snags a high-ranking public sector job governing education, despite a monumental backlash from the public and an unusually ballsy press! But hey, stranger things have happened, right?