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TribBlog: Don McLeroy on Al Jazeera

From the Department of You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Arab world's favorite news source takes on the State Board of Education.

Don McLeroy, as he appeared in an interview for Al Jazeera.

From the Department of You Can't Make This Stuff Up: Al Jazeera takes on the State Board of Education.

Yes, that Al Jazeera, the network known for a certain amount of sensationalism and anti-Americanism in its coverage, and that State Board of Education, the one known nationally and now internationally for its sometimes bizarre and fringe-y take on American history, not to mention science and religion. (The wall between church and state doesn’t exist; nor does American Imperialism; nor does hip-hop, at least not in our history books — yada, yada, yada.)

Predictably, Al Jazeera selected lame-duck SBOE member and former chair Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, as its social conservative poster boy. You might think McLeroy, known for liberal-media conspiracy-thinking, might shy away the Arab world's favorite news source. But you’d be wrong: The man loves a camera of any kind. (He likes in-depth print or online media interviews quite a bit less; he tends to cut me off after five minutes.)

I gotta hand it to McLeroy, though. Ever amiable if strident, he’s got a sense of humor about being a media darling, even though he well knows some reporters cast him as the clown. At the last board meeting, he stopped by the press table — then crowded with grizzled Texas veterans as well as national Fox News interlopers and everyone in between — and gave an uproarious dramatic reading of sections describing him in a Washington Monthly piece in which he did not come off particularly well. He reveled in the characterization of him as a “balding, paunchy man with a thick broom-handled mustache” (fairly accurate, frankly, from one bald though not particularly paunchy man to another) and of his drinking glasses as “cut crystal,” which his wife disputes. His favorite: the “childlike glee” with which he flipped through a book on evolution, which he had “littered with stars, exclamation points and hundreds of yellow Post-its that were brimming with notes scrawled in a microscopic hand.” (I’ve seen McLeroy’s scrawl — that’s accurate, too. “Childlike glee” is a toss-up.)

Then he read, with relish, the description of someone expressing views apparently more to the writer’s liking: Jim Kracht, a dean of Texas A&M’s education school, who appears as “a soft-spoken professor with a halo of fine white hair.”

“A halo!” McLeroy roared, laughing. We reporters laughed with him. “That’s the last time I let a reporter into my house.”

But now he lets Al Jazeera into his dentist’s office.

Funny thing is, McLeroy is really rather boring on camera, calmly offering up his stock line about how the board isn’t rewriting history to suit its ideology but merely adding “balance” to correct the outrageous left-wing bias contained in state standards. (I should point out the standards were written by appointees of the board members themselves.) What’s more, the Al Jazeera piece is one of one of the more in-depth and fair I’ve seen on television, hitting the high points without the hysteria and fact errors that has plagued, say, Fox News' coverage. The piece ran some seven minutes — an eternity in TV. And the reporter treated McLeroy quite even-handedly. Maybe dogs and cats can live together after all.

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