Campbell Brown says she’s done using Twitter to provoke union leaders into a debate.
After a furious 48-hour exchange this week with AFT President Randi Weingarten, in which the 140-character messages quickly elevated into charges of sexism and conflicted interests, Brown said she wants the next showdown to be face-to-face.
“I’d love to sit down with Randi and have a real debate,” Brown said this morning in a phone interview. But she added a caveat. “There’s nothing to debate.”
In less than a week, Brown, a former NBC White House correspondent and CNN anchor, has gone from largely unknown in education advocacy to the center of a heated war of words with union leaders over how to handle teachers suspected of — and found guilty of — sexual misconduct with students. She outlined her case in a provocatively headlined column in Sunday’s Wall Street Journal.
But the op/ed wasn’t Brown’s first public statement about the issue of sexual predators in schools. A week ago, she delivered a surprising testimony on the issue before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission during its New York City meeting.
Not everyone who asked to speak was given a chance to. But Brown had been given the top speaking slot on the “teacher quality” panel with testimony that coupled concern about sex abuse with statistics about low student test scores and college-readiness rates.
The speech she delivered was significantly different.
She had done away with discussion about student performance and added in three examples — complete with names and salacious details — of teachers who have not been fired despite being found to have behaved inappropriately.
After the meeting, Brown told GothamSchools why she had revised her testimony.
“I don’t think it was really what they were planning to focus on,” she said. “But if we’re going to address quality, this certainly falls under it.”
Brown, a mother of two children who aren’t quite school-aged, said she became interested in the issue as she read more and more of the city’s tabloid headlines that detailed cases where teachers who were found to have acted inappropriately were allowed to return to the classroom. She said recent events were decisive.
“I think in the context of the Sandusky stuff, it was just really getting to me,” she said, referring to the Penn State football coach convicted of molesting many young boys, even after some of his supervisors knew about allegations against him. “I mean how could it not?”
Since the op-ed, Brown has become the subject of heightened attention, both positive and negative. She appeared that morning on Morning Joe, whose host, Joe Scarborough, is a vocal critic of teachers unions. Then she took to Twitter, where she reached out to Weingarten.
“Why is teachers union protecting teachers who commit sexual misconduct?” Brown tweeted to Weingarten.
Weingarten responded by accusing her of doing the dirty work of an advocacy group that supports many policies that teachers unions oppose. Weingarten suggested that Brown had gone on the attack because her husband, Dan Senor, is a board member of StudentsFirstNY, which jumped into the fight to defend Brown on Twitter.
Speaking today, Campbell acknowledged that her campaign against the teachers union could have been handled better, beginning with a full disclosure of her relationship with Senor, a top advisor to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and his role at StudentsFirstNY.
“You know what?” Brown said today in a phone interview. “In retrospect, I totally wish I had.”
She added, “But at the end of the day does it really matter? Because that doesn’t change the issue. Everybody should be on the same page here.”
Brown also defended herself against Weingarten’s charge that her husband’s role had influenced her opinions.
“Give me a break,” Brown said. “I’ve been a journalist for 20 years. Nobody uses me. That’s really insulting. You want to attack me personally, that’s just a pathetic attempt to distract from the real issue. What they’re doing is defending sexual predators.”
A UFT spokesman said today that the union’s position is sticking to its long-standing position: There should be zero-tolerance for sex abuse of students, but that a bill proposed this year in New York would erode due process for teachers without making students safer. Weingarten said she was traveling and would be not be available to speak.
Brown urged the commission to make the legislation a top priority. Today, she said she was hopeful that the union would come around eventually and that Weingarten could lead the effort.
“She’s very influential,” Brown said. “If she dives into this, my gosh, nothing would make me happier.”