Containing Michelle Rhee: The Washington Post's Use of Complementary Objectivity in its Coverage of Michelle Rhee's Leadership Decisions in District of Columbia Public Schools Open Access
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Michelle Rhee was an unexpected choice for the chancellorship of the District of Columbia Public School System when then D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty announced her appointment on June 12, 2007. At 37 years old, Rhee was young and, to most of the constituents in D.C., appeared inexperienced and unqualified for the position of school Chancellor. Rhee had never before run a school, let alone a school district. This study analyzed The Washington Post's coverage of Rhee and her protracted battles with the Washington Teachers' Union and the D.C. Council during her tenure as Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. As the school reform debate continues to rage in 21st century America, it is important to understand how the mainstream media reports on the dramatic changes in school governance, leadership, labor unions, and teacher evaluation systems that have become the hallmark of the reform movement. While Rhee's chancellorship was marked by several key decisions and events, this study focused on her decisions to utilize legal authority granted to her to make personnel decisions affecting the DCPS system and took a critically-oriented discourse analysis approach to analyze how those decisions were reported and commented on by The Washington Post. The study found that the use of "complementary objectivity" allowed the Post to take a pro-Rhee-reform stance, while pacifying her critics with an anti-Rhee-personality commentary. Three dominant cultural myths were regularly utilized by the Post in order to promote Rhee's positional power while containing her personal power. The Post relied on the cultural myths of the "liberal media" and "journalistic objectivity" to promote Rhee's positional power and legitimize the power of the office of chancellor, as well as promote the neo-liberal ideas contained in Rhee's reforms. The Post's coverage arguably also invoked the cultural myth of the "model minority" to contain Rhee's personal power within dominant cultural narratives of race, class, and gender.