The end of Michelle Rhee’s media honeymoon

August 22, 2011

Michelle Rhee, ex-media darling? (Susan Biddle/for The Washington Post)
It’s hard to find a media outlet, big or small, that she hasn’t talked to. She’s been interviewed by Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw and Oprah Winfrey. She’s been featured on a Time magazine cover holding a broom (to sweep away bad teachers). She was one of the stars of the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” ... And yet, as voracious as she is for the media spotlight, Ms. Rhee will not talk to USA Today.

To reporters who covered her stint as D.C.’s schools chancellor, the selectivity of her media cooperation does not come as news. Now that Rhee is in a starring role on the national stage, she will find it much harder to control the media narrative the way she used to do quite effectively. Time was when Rhee could play national journalists interested in portraying her as a conquering hero against local beat reporters (ahem, beat reporter) trying to cover the less flattering granularities of dealing with teachers, parents and students.

Rhee can’t do that anymore, not with the natural tendency of journalistic inquiry to rigorously question any person or thing that attracts such lightly mitigated acclaim. I think Winerip’s article effectively marks the end of Rhee’s national media honeymoon (which has lasted an astounding four years).

That doesn’t mean it’s the end of Michelle Rhee as a media phenomenon. But, as I’ve discussed on this blog before, the existence of widespread test cheating poses an existential threat to the Rhee brand of school reform, and she needs to muster a better response than silence and the occasional meticulously crafted statement.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
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