The Weekly season 1 premiere recap: The Education of T.M. Landry


The Weekly kicks off its new series focusing on a New York Times story from 2018 that now has the FBI involved.

Each week, The Weekly takes one New York Times story and tells that story in a visual, documentary-style format. This week, the focus is on the Times story that came out on Nov. 30, 2018 about the truth behind the college admissions practices of the Louisiana private school, T.M. Landry.

The co-authors of the article, education reporter Erica L. Green and Justice Department reporter Katie Benner, lead us through the story, which coincides with June 2’s publication of a follow-up article saying the FBI is now involved in investigating the school.

The episode opens showing the pride T.M. Landry had in sending minority students to Ivy League universities. Even very young children express their dreams of heading to Harvard, Brown or Yale. But, as one T.M. Landry grad points out, the way it looked to the outside world was very different from the reality.

Green and Banner wound up heading down to check out the school after Green received a tip from a former federal prosecutor. Everyone across the country had seen viral videos of T.M. Landry students repeatedly celebrating getting into big name schools—a feel good story if you know how much the odds are stacked against minorities in that department—so it was pretty surprising to learn that something might be off.

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What they find when they get to Louisiana are dozens of angry parents who go so far as to call T.M. Landry a “cult.”

The Weekly then details the insane scam running through T.M. Landry. Students are encouraged to lie in their college applications (to make up sob stories to exploit black stereotypes) and their transcripts are doctored to add classes they never took. Worse? T.M. Landry wasn’t even an accredited school, meaning student diplomas aren’t recognized by the state of Louisiana and are, in effect, worthless.

Parents are furious at Mike and Tracey Landry (the founders of the school) and it’s incredibly clear why.

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What’s great about The Weekly is that it’s not just a rehash of the Times article. They show the process that these two journalists went through. The interviews, the evidence, the paperwork. It’s a documentary about journalism that also tells an insane story.

It all feels like a reaction to the calls of “Fake News.” If you think what we do is fake, it seems like the Times is saying, watch how we do it.

They even show a conversation between Green, Benner and their editor, Jonathan Weisman where they wrestle with the ethics of their article. What will happen to any students who agreed to come forward but who are still enrolled in a college that T.M. Landry got them in to? What will the community do to the Landrys when the news drops? Will this article wind up hurting those who came forward more than those who actually did something wrong?

You can debate whether or not they play this question up for the cameras, but it’s a real question journalists face with every story.

As if the scam wasn’t enough, The Weekly then moves on to a former student who, at 14, had his neck stepped on and was choked by Mike Landry. There were witnesses and multiple people corroborated the story. But the police did nothing. And Landry told students and other parents to stop talking to that family—completely ostracizing them.

Choking and body slams were just a few of Landry’s choice punishments for students. And, since he had complete control over the lies that went on transcripts, students were powerless out of fear they’d miss out on college.

As they go through this part of the story, you really start to see Green’s passion and compassion toward those involved in this story. Still, Green and Benner give Landry a chance to respond to what students have had to say.

Then, the best moment of the episode happens: Benner is asking Landry about the 2017 allegation of him choking a student and he, in his attempts to explain away his behavior, said he wanted to talk about “the first time.” Uh…what first time? Oh the beauty of good journalists pinning interviewees with tough questions.

After they interview, they check out this “first time” and find that Landry was not telling the truth about that. They find another police report filed against him, this one from 2012. Choking, slapping, stepping on the student’s neck and making the student eat rat feces. Landry only got one year of probation and was allowed to keep teaching.

Thankfully, The Weekly drops in a little context on why no government body was checking in on the school. Louisiana allows schools that don’t operate with government funding to work independently. They, basically, don’t care about those schools.

We’re getting close to the story going out now, Green and Benner have plenty of material. But, they decide to give the Landrys one more chance to respond to the evidence and allegations.

The Landrys take this opportunity to gather a group of students to defend the school. It’s honestly terrifying to watch that man in front of students. It easily echoes back to parents calling the school a “cult.” He compares his mission to do whatever it takes to get students into Harvard (and the like) to Jesus—saying to write whatever they want and nail him to the cross.

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The Weekly wraps up this episode by pointing out that Mike and Tracey are still teaching and T.M. Landry is still open. Obviously, because it was produced well in advance, they don’t mention the fact that, according to their June 2 Times article, the chairman of the T.M. Landry board hired a law firm to investigate the Times’ claims and they, basically, found that there were some college application errors, but everything is a-ok now. Transcripts were just clerical errors. Corporal punishment was just a misunderstanding.

It will be interesting to see what the FBI finds and concludes considering there are some personal connections between the T.M. Landry school and those conducting that law firm investigation. It’s clear that those involved have every intention of continuing to do what they’ve been doing.

Heading into the rest of the season (especially as we approach the nitty gritty of the 2020 election) it will be interesting to see what kind of stories the Times continues to focus on with The Weekly. Will they all be on articles from six or more months ago or will we start seeing more recent stories?

What did you think of this first episode of The Weekly? Let us know in the comments!