Gov. Phil Murphy (photo WHYY)

Gov. Philip Murphy’s rejection of  the appointment of Paula White as assistant state education commissioner was the right decision for the public schools of New Jersey. She is an avowed proponent of school privatization, the former head of an organization that promotes charter schools. She was named to a top position in a department already overloaded with ideological partisans  of charter and voucher schools who flocked to New Jersey during the eight years of former Gov. Chris Christie’s  misrule.

The details of that rejection are, so far, unknown because the only reporting–alleged reporting–has been done by Tom Moran, an opinion writer for the state’s largest newspaper who cannot allow facts to get in the way of the pro-charter school, anti-union narrative he has been pushing as truth for years.

The Star-Ledger’s coverage of this incident has been a disgrace, starting with the sleazy suggestion that Murphy was motivated by racism. This is the second paragraph of the column in which writer Tom Moran broke the news:

“Why would Gov. Phil Murphy want to pull this job away at the last minute from an African-American woman who is unquestionably qualified to do the work?.”

Moran follows that with calling the incident a “remarkably clumsy show of disrespect.”

What difference does it make that Paula White is white or black? What’s that got to do with the story? Nothing, obviously, except it is clearly aimed at besmirching Murphy and inciting racial animosity.

So, instead of reporting on a decision about changing the course of educational policy by re-staffing the department with public school educators and not political partisans, Moran is all but accusing Murphy of racism. The issue isn’t charters versus genuine public schools but a white governor’s disrespectful dismissal–if that’s what it was–of a qualified black woman.

How low can you sink?

Even lower, apparently. Moran has been credited for a “scoop” by revealing White would no longer be assistant education commissioner. But the story provides no factual basis for the rather fantastic and unsupported claim that the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) called Murphy and demanded White’s appointment be rescinded (as if an organization, not a person, could make a telephone call, anyway).

Moran should have taken the heat from his editors for the distortion of journalistic values inherent in this paragraph:

“What is the governor hiding? The obvious answer is that this stunt came after his office received a call from the state’s largest teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, which seems to have a brass ring firmly hooked into the new governor’s nose. Asked directly, the governor’s office would neither confirm nor deny.”

The obvious answer? Maybe to the feverish brain of an anti-union paranoiac. But there is nothing obvious in the column.

Ok, Tom, answer this–do you know for a fact that Murphy “received a call from the state’s largest teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association?” If so, say so. You sleaze around this little factoid by implying it must be true. You call it the “obvious answer,” but why is it so obvious? Because you believe it? Because it fits your narrative?

C’mon, Tom, give us the story. Who called? When? What was said? My guess is you know none of the answers because you’re only guessing, only assuming, –and journalists don’t present guesses and assumptions as if they were facts.

Because some people will believe them. Like the newspaper’s editorial cartoonist, Drew Sheneman,  who, apparently without his own reporting and in support of a childish drawing, piled on:

“The position was summarily yanked from beneath her by our newly elected governor at the behest of the NJEA… It seems White has some views on education that don’t march in lock step with the NJEA, the state’s most powerful and politically active union. They ordered Murphy to make her disappear and he dutifully did as he was told.”

Facts?  Murphy acted “at the behest of the NJEA”? They “ordered Murphy to make her disappear”? Where’s your support, Drew? Who is your source? Tom Moran?

Sheneman unwittingly reveals himself with the construction, “It seems….” Since when, Drew, do journalists report on what “seems” to be the truth without sourcing, without  reference to provable facts, without qualifications that what “seems” to be true may not, in fact, be true?

Doesn’t anyone in The Ledger know the NJEA represents teachers at some charter schools–and would have more members if charters expanded? Doesn’t anyone in The Star-Ledger remember that the NJEA caved in to the biggest pro-charter political deal in the state’s history by supporting “urban renaissance” charters in Camden?

I can imagine a different scenario than that painted by Moran. There is no foundation even for the idea–fundamental to his narrative–that Murphy appointed Paula White or even wanted her appointed to such a high position. More likely, it was Lamont Repollet, Murphy’s pick as state education commissioner,  himself someone with pro-charter credentials, who presented the appointment to the state school board meeting.

According to statute and regulation, that’s how appointments at that level are made–not by the governor, but by the commissioner–a commissioner, of course, who would be wise to ensure the front office approves of the selection. Approves–before the appointment is announced and ratified by the state school board.

Undoubtedly, someone–and maybe it was someone from the NJEA, who cares?–wondered aloud (or on the telephone) whether Murphy was going back on his campaign promise to slow the growth of charter schools in the state. And maybe Murphy didn’t have a clue as to who White was (or what color she was) but hit the roof when he found out that, not only  his appointment as commissioner, but also Repollet’s appointment as assistant commissioner,  were both pro-charter partisans.

And, as he was finally quoted as saying by The Star-Ledger, he didn’t want another top staff member whose views were “not consistent with my views of where we want to take education in this state.”

Tell me, Tom–and the Wall Street Journal that, also  in deep ignorance of the facts and using only Moran as a source, ran an anti-Murphy editorial on the subject–what is wrong with that? Isn’t Murphy allowed to insist his top administrators agree with him?

Couldn’t it have happened that way?

So, suddenly, it isn’t–as Moran so poetically put it–the union leading Murphy by a “brass ring firmly hooked” into his nose. It is a governor–like all governors before him–demanding that his appointments be consistent with his philosophy.

The so-called “clumsy” nature  of the incident also may not be what it seems to Tom Moran and Drew Sheneman. I’d bet Murphy is covering for Repollet’s gaffe, taking some heat himself to avoid embarrassing his new education commissioner.  And, incidentally, trying his best not to embarrass Paula White, whose career really isn’t helped by The Ledger’s story.

Isn’t that more  likely than the panting fiction of  some mystery person, a cigar-chomping union thug no doubt, dialing into Murphy’s direct line from the NJEA offices to order the governor around? With the governor obeying immediately?

But even if it were solely a governor’s rookie mistake, some of us still can remember when the newly elected Gov. Thomas Kean, someone with a real background in education, appointed a new state education commissioner who plagiarized his doctoral dissertation.

It happens. And the role of journalists–and, especially the role of opinion writers–is to put facts in perspective, not to weaponize falsehoods.

And let’s discuss a perspective. For the last eight years, public schools–especially in the cities–were used by their state masters, Republicans and Democrats, to promote the idea of pouring public funds into privately-operated charter schools.

I am most familiar with Newark where Christie’s appointees–Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf–deliberately pursued policies that drained regular public schools of students and resources so charter schools could gain more students and more money.

This was a  policy to weaken public schools, close them down, and help support money-making outsiders from New York and Montclair who wanted to experiment with the lives and minds of the city’s children to prove their point. They were, and are,  anti-union, anti-public school, anti-teacher.

Chief among the pro-charter organizations is Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Unlike real Democrats, DFER ‘s members are privatizers, pro-charter and, often, pro-voucher. Among their gods is Cory Booker, the former mayor who came from Bergen County to the city to promote school privatization (and his own career), a man who conspired with Christie to make Newark the “charter capital of New Jersey.”

Paula White was head of New Jersey’s DFER, an organization that praised Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s secretary of education, for her support of privatizing public education.

This is how Shavar Jeffries, the national president of DFER and an unsuccessful candidate for Newark mayor, responded to the DeVos appointment:

“DFER congratulates Betsy DeVos on her appointment as Secretary of Education, and we applaud Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools.”

White, no matter what her other qualifications, no matter what her race, was a DFER partisan. By allowing White to stay, Murphy would have been facilitating the continued, destructive growth of charters in the state–something he promised in his campaign not to do.

Murphy was keeping a campaign promise.

He was right not to support her appointment.

The newspaper’s actions in response were  disgraceful. A hatchet job. A disservice to readers. And to journalistic values and ethics.


  1. Bravo! Someone has to get us the facts and I’m glad it’s you. We need to slow down charter growth in this State. We ended up with one here in North Plainfield and we hate it! Draining our budget.

  2. Amen to all of the above. It was a disgraceful editorial.

  3. Totally agree with you Bob! Moran yet again proves to be a hack and a pawn.

  4. While Moran’s adulation of Paula White is nauseating given her embrace of tired, status quo, ed reform “solutions” that have delivered #fakeresults and utter failure, I can’t understand why the Education Commissioner, Lamont Repollet, tapped her to join his team. Is he secretly an ed reform proponent?

    Also, he and White have worked together in the past, so it seems as if he was trying to hook her up with a new gig:

    Was he so naive that he thought White would embrace Murphy’s anti-PARCC stance? Or that she’d magically shed her ed reform beliefs? I’m actually more bothered by Repollet’s position on all of this than Murphy’s!

    1. I agree.

  5. […] Bob Braun: Murphy was right to remove Paula White as assistant state ed commish, a “disgrace” […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.