How the Seattle Times Is Trying to Take Out Darcy Burner

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Oct 22, 2008 at 19:45

Emily Heffter at the Seattle Times just published a story falsely alleging that Darcy Burner's claims of a Harvard degree in economics aren't true.  The story is literally made up out of whole cloth.  Burner has a degree in computer science and economics from Harvard, as her website says.  Having gone to Harvard, I know how this works.  You get a degree under one department, take classes in another, write a thesis joining the two, and that thesis is reviewed by professors from both departments.  It's actually much harder to get a joint degree, but the registrar shows a degree only from one department because Harvard doesn't have minors.  In fact, economics is a fairly easy degree to get, while computer science and economics takes a lot more work.

Heffter took this to mean that Burner made up her Harvard degree, and misquotes Harvard officials to prove the story.  Heffter quotes Harvard computer science professor Harry Lewis, who supervised the computer science students when Burner attended Harvard.

"She doesn't have a degree in economics," he said. "It's a specialty within the computer science degree that she has."

Here's Harry Lewis's recounting of the conversation.

Talked to her and told her you had a degree in CS with a specialization in Ec. She said you were claiming to have a degree in Ec and I just repeated myself. She asked me what that consisted of and I said a block of Ec courses. She started to ask me if that would make you qualified ... and I cut her off, saying I couldn't judge economics qualifications. She thanked me and said that was helpful.

Heffter is the only journalist covering this race, and is simply making things up and pressuring sources to say what she wants them to say.  It's a travesty.  Heffter should be pulled off this race and fired, but of course, since it's her editor who made up the headline, she won't be.

I talked to Mike Shields, Reichert's campaign manager, and he told me "Apparently, after basing her entire economic message on Harvard, that turns out to have been a big lie.  She didn't get a degree in economics."  

This came from the Reichert campaign and the NRCC, and the Seattle Times printed the press release.  This is what we're running against, a conservative propaganda machine and their willing.  Unbelievable; well quite believable, actually.

You can help out here.  Heffter, incidentally, has a history of superficial reporting in her career, upsetting readers with facile stories full of false choices and misleading information.  I talked to her, and she was just set on telling this story the way she wanted to, without actually trying to understand anything about how Harvard awards degrees.  

Heffter's email is here:

Be polite, and let me know if you get a response.

Update:  Oh Jesus, it's getting worse.  The Burner campaign provided the Seattle Times with information about this.  Here's her bio page on the Seattle Times website.

Education: Harvard University, B.A. in computer science with a special field of economics, 1996.

Yeah, there's someone trying to mislead voters, alright.  

Matt Stoller :: How the Seattle Times Is Trying to Take Out Darcy Burner

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I sent something off (4.00 / 5)
that article pisses me off something awful.

I'll post a reply if I get one.

If she isn't getting a check from the GOP (0.00 / 0)
She should be really pissed about the money being spent on a new Sarah Palin pantsuit.

John McCain opposes the GI Bill.

The Seattle Times has been this way for a while now.... (4.00 / 2)
...and we need to respond in kind.

Convince your friends and fellow politicos of the following:

1) No more "dead tree" subscriptions to the Times.

2) No more viewing of the Seattle Times website.  (That will reduce the value of any web ads they sell on the site.)

3) No more purchasing of goods or services that advertise in the Times.  Convince said folks that provide goods and services to focus on ads in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Everett and Tacoma newspapers, neighborhood papers (the "...Reporter" series, perhaps) and The Stranger.

They will only change when we apply financial pain.  Never for anything less.

Long overdue (4.00 / 1)
And I strongly agree. I convinced my roommates to cancel the Seattle Times subscription back in 2003 or so. We switched to the P-I. The latter two are a bit more difficult to convince people of, but they ARE strongly necessary as well.

Of course, WA progressives ought to have been taking those steps since the malicious actions of the Blethens in the 2000 newspaper strike.

[ Parent ]
Changed your tune quickly on Emily Heffter (4.00 / 1)
I note with interest the glowing report you gave Emily Heffter, the same reporter who wrote the story you're criticizing here,when she wrote a story you happened to agree with.

An excerpt from your posting:

"This Seattle Times article by Emily Heffter highlights best practices by a political journalist this cycle.  It is analysis of an ad the US Chamber of Commerce is running against Darcy Burner claiming she will raise taxes, and the article is titled 'Radio ad distorts Darcy Burner's position'.This work gives the lie to the rest of the press that you have to do horse race 'this ad will change the race in this way' style journalism and perpetuate propaganda.  You don't."

You can here Darcy in her own words here:

Welcome Amanda! (4.00 / 2)
came here just for this?  To call someone a liar about whether or not the equivalent of a minor in Econ from Harvard constitutes getting a degree in it?

Is this really the road you want to go down?

[ Parent ]
Apparently it is (4.00 / 2)
I know Emily Heffter and she's not a bad reporter. But this IS a bad article, a third-rate hack job more fitting for Fox News. Emily knows how higher ed works - I know that for a fact - and she is throwing out her journalistic objectivity and using her considerable skills to advance a dishonest political attack.

[ Parent ]
Article (0.00 / 0)
The article isn't bad but the headline is atrocious and the intro paragraph misstates the content.  Btw, Reichert does not have a college degree at all but he does have an associates and it's not from Harvard or the University of Washington either.  There is a huge freakin' gap here, folks.  No wonder I read the PI when I want to follow Seattle news on the net.

[ Parent ]
Wait, (4.00 / 3)
do you mean Amanda Halligan, Reichert's spokesperson?

Cut her some slack, she's probably just taking a break from mailing out resumes.  

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
spelling (0.00 / 0)
I hope she's proofread her resume better than her comment.

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exactly (0.00 / 0)
I "here" yah!

[ Parent ]
welcome (4.00 / 1)
IMHO, maliciously lying in an article like this is a firing offense.  

[ Parent ]
Not if your superiors request it... (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Well (4.00 / 1)
It doesn't exactly absolve her, but it is likely that she is feeling pressured to write biased articles to serve the right-wing agenda of her bosses. Both Emily and the Blethens deserve to be targets of criticism here.

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I think I may have been banned for saying this earlier (4.00 / 1)
But I don't think this article really qualifies as a malicious lie; it's more an over-aggressive take on a (relatively minor) resume clarification.  

Burner's spokesperson admitted she was off in the way she described her degree in the debate, with a very plausible explanation (that "saying she had an emphasis within her computer science degree doesn't exactly flow off the tongue.")

Heffter buried the clarification in the article, and was a bit harsh and gotcha-y in tone, but this falls short of a "travesty" and definitely isn't grounds for her being fired.

[ Parent ]
I would disagree with you (4.00 / 3)
because the lede of the article implies that Darcy was lying about the whole damn thing, not passing off a concentration as a degree.

It's malicious, because it's a drastic stretch of the truth.  Saying that the claim is exaggerated, for instance, would have been far more realistic and honest.

[ Parent ]
Exactly (4.00 / 1)
And this is not exactly an ignorant mistake. Emily understands how academia works. She knows what "subfields" and "concentrations" are. And if she was told this on the phone by someone from Harvard who would know these details - as she was - and yet dismissed the truth in order to spin this...well, it seems like an open and shut case to me. A malicious article indeed.

[ Parent ]
You're right, it's definitely sloppy (0.00 / 0)
Heffter's line:

"But while she took courses in economics, Burner doesn't have a degree in the subject from Harvard."

really should have read something like:

"But while she concentrated in Economics as part of her course of study in Computer Science, she doesn't have a degree in the subject from Harvard."

Demoting Burner's concentration in economics to a mere "took courses" is definitely frustrating and lousy journalism, but I don't think it amounts to a travesty.  We've seen much worse.

[ Parent ]
i think the causation here (4.00 / 1)
is that Matt criticized Emily Heffter for writing a prejudicial article based entirely on an error of fact at a critical point in a campaign. Not because she disagrees with him.

I have a degree from Harvard in causation, so you can take that to the bank.

[ Parent ]
I spent a few seconds and registered .. (0.00 / 0)
and left a comment at the Seattle Times.

Emily Heffter is just another example of a reporter worker that disgraces journalism.

FUCK DEAN LEWIS (0.00 / 0)
He was Dean of Harvard College or Student Life or something my freshman year, and his final act before stepping down when the administration was restructured was making lighting fireplaces forbidden in the upperclass Houses.  So I don't trust anything he says.  And he sent this mailer out to freshmen before we got there saying "slow down".  Nice advice, asshole.  I missed out on a lot of opportunities because I didn't involve myself in as much as I could have freshman year.

Anyway.  Darcy Burner was co-chair of the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association when she was at Harvard, and therefore she is completely and totally awesome.

Also, Harvard does have minors.  As of after I graduated (which was 2006).  I'm pretty sure the class of '08 could have graduated with minors, and I'm sure '09 can.  They decided that the joint concentration system was too clunky or something.  Curriculum review.  They still haven't gotten rid of the Core, I think.  It also appears that finals are now in December rather than January.  Weird.

just for reference (0.00 / 0)
Remember this is institutional as well as individual.  I don't know anything about this reporter, but I do know as a former reporter that reporters are often directly and indirectly pressured to put out crap, that editors will change words directly or indirectly, and that headlines are often crap.

All that said, this article, from start to finish, is a) sensationalistic b) a political hit-job c) not news.

Which makes ANYONE involved with this article fair game for a demand for being fired (starting with the editor :).  It's really really unconscionable and good for standing up to it!

speaking of which (0.00 / 0)
does anyone know the editor's e-mail address?  i really think those mofos should be bylined as well (as editors).

[ Parent ]

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