When it comes to the concerns of American parents about the education of their children, the mainstream media have lost the plot. Story after story paints a portrait of American parents as an extremist, potentially violent mob driven by conspiracy theories and threatening the lives of this country’s hard-working school-board members and professional educators.
There are 63 million Americans with children under the age of 18.
This has all come to a head in recent months with the reporting on and commentary about local school boards, which the media have largely portrayed as under assault from hordes of unhinged, ignorant, racist parents. As that paragon of good behavior, CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, said recently, “it’s really important to remember why we are talking about school boards at all: because it’s about white supremacy, and that’s on the rise in the Republican Party.”
Several factors have contributed to the hysterical tone. For over a year during the pandemic, mainstream outlets reflexively parroted teachers’-union talking points about the need to keep schools shuttered. While repeatedly and dutifully transcribing the wisdom of American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, for example, few journalists managed to report on the views of the many parents and educators who disagreed with the union approach to school closures. Parents who protested draconian mask mandates were dismissed as right-wing kooks, and stories about mask mandates often failed to mention the evidence, including from countries in Europe and states such as Florida, that masking young children was not universally accepted as necessary.
Meanwhile, debates over how to teach students about race, which have been roiling for years in some school districts, did not appear on the mainstream media’s radar until parents began showing up in larger and larger numbers to school-board meetings to protest what they view as ideologically motivated curricula. The “racial reckoning” that elite gatekeepers at media institutions have enthusiastically embraced for themselves made it impossible for them to treat with appropriate professional skepticism some of the more outrageous claims made by critical-race-theory advocates at K–12 schools. Indeed, the media’s favorite claim—the source of many sanctimonious “fact checks” by mainstream news outlets—is that CRT isn’t even being taught in schools, that it is merely a figment of the right-wing imagination. It’s an astonishing act of misdirection; sure, it’s not the theory itself that’s being taught, but the ideas that emanate from it certainly are.
And so, as frustrations and concerns grew, parents began showing up in larger numbers to public meetings where they could air them—and demanding the resignation of school-board members in places like San Francisco that are hardly bastions of conservatism. Rather than report on those grievances and the responses from officials, the media largely told a single story: Parents posed a real and present danger to school administrators and school boards. “Violent school board meetings and threats toward school board members over these issues have caused dozens of board leaders to quit their positions,” Minnesota Public Radio reported breathlessly in October. And yet, they could not describe a single violent incident that had occurred.
Washington Post columnist Philip Bump was also on the case, and he identified the real culprit as…Fox News. “Fox News helped amplify (if not create) a furor at school board meetings several months ago,” he wrote, likening the spontaneous uprising of parents across the country to a conspiratorial cabal, “carefully cultivated and tended” in the manner of the Tea Party movement. Astounding political blunders made by Democratic candidates themselves were cast in these terms. After Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said during a debate that parents should have no say in what schools taught, Bump still found a way to blame Fox News: “McAuliffe’s comment about parents, which seems fairly obviously not to have been helpful, allowed the right and Fox News to center that frustration on his race in particular.”
Similarly, a widely reported dust-up in June between a father and law-enforcement officials who removed him from a school-board meeting in Loudoun County, Virginia, prompted a spate of articles in mainstream outlets decrying the supposed increase in violence.
Basic reporting would have revealed the devil in the details.
Just before the father’s arrest, during a discussion of potential dangers posed by transgender policies, Loudoun County Public Schools superintendent Scott Ziegler claimed, “We don’t have any record of assaults occurring in our restrooms.” The father was there, in fact, to question the school board about his daughter, who had been (so a court has found) sexually assaulted by a boy wearing a skirt, who identified as “gender-fluid,” in the girls’ restroom at her school. Loudoun County then transferred the offender to another school, where it appears he committed a second sexual assault.
The Daily Wire, a conservative outlet, broke the story, which the mainstream media ignored for days, most likely because the story of a gender-fluid boy sodomizing a 14-year-old girl did not fit their narrative about the need for more inclusive bathroom policies. Those who did comment on the rape ended up engaging in embarrassing intellectual contortions to keep the left’s narrative on message: New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg described the case as “the Right’s Big Lie about a sexual assault in Virginia.” Having suddenly developed an allergy to the word rape, Goldberg instead made sure to mention that the victim had previously had consensual sexual encounters with the boy. She went on to describe the forced sodomy with more anodyne language: The boy “expected sex and refused to accept the girl’s refusal.” Goldberg dismissed parents’ concerns about how the school board handled the rape as “a moral panic.”
The Big Lie here isn’t being told by Fox News. It’s being told by mainstream media and Michelle Goldberg. A girl was raped. Then her father was arrested and portrayed as a terrorist for protesting the actions of school-board officials who lied and covered up that rape. Those same officials put other children at risk by transferring the rapist to another school where he apparently committed an additional sexual assault.
The National School Board Association cited the arrest of the father in a September letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland as evidence that school-board officials were “under an immediate threat.” The
association demanded, and the Attorney General agreed, to devote federal law-enforcement resources, including investigation by the FBI, to the supposed problem.
The media are clearly and almost openly working to assist Democrats by deliberately ignoring a clear difference of opinion about how much power parents should have over what their children see and learn in school. Democrats (and their allies in the educational bureaucracy) have long assumed that parents should have no say and no ability to opt out of having their children read sexually explicit or violent books, for example, or instruction that casts some kids and their parents as racial oppressors and others as victims. Indeed, the argument embraced by the Democratic educational establishment—and now the media—is that all such texts should be presumed useful so long as they advance the agenda of greater “tolerance” that the establishment has deemed necessary.
Parents are no longer acquiescing to this form of ideological paternalism. If you’re wondering why ordinary Americans increasingly report mistrust in their institutions, from the media to the government, this is why. If you tell citizens who raise legitimate objections to what is happening to their children in schools that their pushback will be viewed as violence, or that they are merely pawns of Fox News, or that they are simply too ignorant to know what’s best for their children, they know you are attempting to stifle debate, not encourage it—to demonize them rather than cover them.
This is the self-destructive behavior of people who act as if they have already legitimately won a culture war—when, in fact, that war has only just begun.
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