Early Childhood

Head Start Donor Flamed by Ravitch Gives $100K to Fact-Checking Group

By Christina A. Samuels — November 14, 2013 1 min read
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During the government shutdown, Houston-based philanthropists John and Laura Arnold provided a $10 million interest-free loan to Head Start grantees faced with having to close because they had not received the Oct. 1 federal funding they were due.

In addition to its work in education, the Arnold Foundation has been actively involved in advocating for public pension reform. Soon after the Head Start news was publicized, education historian Diane Ravitch weighed in, pointing to a column by Salon writer David Sirota that said the Arnolds’ loan to Head Start was a distraction from John Arnold’s “ever-expanding effort to relegate retirees into poverty by slashing their pension income.”

Rather than praise for the Arnolds, Ravitch wrote, “outrage is a human and appropriate response.”

Thursday, Ravitch wrote a correction and an apology to John Arnold, saying that while she continues to disagree with him on pension reform and education reform, she was wrong to say he “fleeced” Enron investors. Arnold earned his $3 billion fortune as a hedge fund manager after leaving the energy company, which collapsed in 2002.

John Arnold also wrote a response Thursday, not just to Ravitch but to all the criticism he has received recently, including from Rolling Stone contributing editor Matt Taibbi, who wrote his own lengthy article harshly criticizing the foundation’s work and calling Arnold (among other colorful epithets) a “young right-wing kingmaker with clear designs on becoming the next generation’s Koch brothers.”

The first blog post on the Arnolds’ personal website carries the title “Kudos to Diane Ravitch for owning up to her mistakes.”

We would never seek to silence anyone who cares to comment on our work, our viewpoints or any other aspect of our public life that he or she deems worthy of public discourse. But with the power of the pen comes responsibility. Professor Ravitch's blog post crossed the line between acceptable public debate and malicious, defamatory—and therefore impermissible—personal attacks. Challenging our policy positions is fully within Professor Ravitch's rights; falsely accusing me of a crime is not.

John Arnold also said he plans to donate $100,000 to FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, that “monitor(s) the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players” in television ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and press releases.

“The issues our country faces are multiple and complex, and at times rightly evoke debate that is acrimonious and emotionally charged. But they are too critical, and the dialogue is too important, for us to collectively surrender to malicious misstatements and character assassination rather than true public debate,” Arnold wrote.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.