It’s a tough business mining the fields of celebvocacy for nuggets of exciting news, but neophyte journalist Michelle Fields managed to score the scoop of the week.
She’s the young woman from Reason.TV who triggered a hot response from Matt Damon when she asked him at Saturday’s “Save Our Schools” protest rally on the Mall whether tenure gives public school teachers no reason to “work hard.”
“You take this MBA style thinking, right? It’s the problem with ed policy right now!” the shaved-head movie star declared in a Web video that quickly went viral. “It's this intrinsically paternalistic view of problems that are much more complex. . . A teacher wants to teach! Why else would you take a [expletive] salary and really long hours and do that job, unless you really love to do it?”
Four days later, Fields’s video for the libertarian Web site had been viewed by 76,000 people ... and a shorter clip of the exchange (promoted by a teachers’ group as “Matt Damon defends teachers”) had been viewed by more than 800,000.
“I feel like I woke up to learn that half the Internet hates me,” Fields told us, “and half the Internet thinks I’m a hero.”
She told us her “inbox has been flooded” with e-mail from teachers, some of it “very vulgar and almost inappropriate.”
If Fields isn’t familiar to Internet politics wonks, it’s because she’s a brand-new graduate of Pepperdine; this video was her first on-the-scene reporting job for Reason.
Forget the mean things they’re saying about you, kiddo — vitriol is the secret engine of Web traffic. Fields told us she didn’t realize when Damon lit up that she had a viral hit on her hands.
“I was just really in the moment,” she said. “I thought that was an important question.” As far as she’s concerned, he didn’t answer it, instead deflecting her cameraman’s suggestion “10 percent” of teachers are bad with the joke that maybe he’s a bad cameraman. “If our cameraman was underperforming, we would fire him,” Fields said.
Her boss at Reason.TV, editor Nick Gillespie said he thought she handled herself well in “a real baptism of fire.” He responded to the dustup with a blog post of his own quarrelling with Damon’s assertion that teachers are poorly paid — and in general, he’s happy with the discussion he says it’s provoked.
“I’m happy to have people pick up [the video], and saying, ‘Here’s Matt Damon pwning somebody [ed. note: As the kids say these days. . . ]. If they follow up by coming to our site, it complicates their easy glib dismissals.”