Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced in January that his state would not allow the use of the College Board’s Advanced Placement course in African-American history in its current form, citing its promotion of ideologically questionable material. The mainstream media’s first responders were quick to craft a narrative: There was nothing wrong with the course, and DeSantis was a racist monster for even suggesting that there was.
Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, who had evidently not bothered to look at the course curriculum in question, wrote of DeSantis, “He’s gone full-blown white supremacist,” claiming further, “The goal here is unmistakable: eradication of African American historical experience.”
Other outlets echoed Rubin. National Public Radio interviewed an academic (who had helped develop the curriculum for the course) who claimed, “There’s nothing particularly ideological about the course except that we value the experiences of African people in the United States.”
NPR followed up with several stories that prominently featured critics of DeSantis, including the NAACP’s “director of education innovation,” who denounced Florida’s “reprehensible whitesplaining of Black Studies.”
The choice of language was notable: Journalists used words such as “assault,” “attack,” “authoritarian,” “suppression,” and “erasure” over more neutral and objective descriptors. Perhaps the most over-the-top fulminations came courtesy of Jan-Werner Müller, a teacher at Princeton. Writing in the Guardian, he claimed that the “rightwing governor of Florida” was engaged in “systematic intimidation campaigns” meant to prevent children from becoming “fearless, critical citizens.”
Then some non-mainstream analysts, notably Stanley Kurtz at National Review, got hold of the actual AP course materials and revealed just how questionable (and how averse to debate on controversial subjects) they were. These leaned heavily on left-wing (and even Marxist) interpretations throughout, but the ideological slant was particularly egregious in Unit 4 of the course. Here, students would learn about reparations for slavery in an entirely one-sided fashion, since the reading materials, among them an essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates and the text of proposed legislation for reparations, only made the case for reparations.
Unit 4 also featured many readings about the Black Lives Matter movement (again with no alternative viewpoints to counter BLM’s calls for the abolition of prisons and policing). Unit 4 also included a section on “Black Queer Studies,” including the study of “the concept of the queer of color critique, grounded in Black feminism and intersectionality” as well as a section on “Intersectionality and Activism,” which included readings by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the self-described doyenne of that very thing the mainstream media has claimed was not being taught in K–12 public schools: Critical Race Theory.
Presented with clear evidence of ideological bias, the media narrative quickly pivoted to claim that, in fact, the politicized material was good for students. Politico asked contributor Joshua Zeitz to assess the AP course (in a story illustrated with an image of protestors in Florida waving BLM signs that read “Stop the Black Attack”). Although he acknowledged the radical nature of much of the material, Zeitz dismissed concerns about it as merely the petty worries of white people: “To be sure, many culture warriors will object to topics and texts that strike most people as unproblematic. Voices like Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Ta-Nehisi Coates and bell hooks offend the sensibilities of some white Americans.”
But such offensiveness was the point, according to this new line of reasoning: “Why would you teach these topics to 17-year-olds? Are they not in fact…‘woke?’ The answer to this last question is a resounding: Yes! Also: So what?” Zeitz argued. “That’s the point. They’re complicated works of sociology and philosophy. They’re highly contested polemics. We read them to sharpen our capacity for analysis and argument. Contra Gov. DeSantis, being assigned a text is not an exercise in indoctrination.”
Politico’s conflation of critical theory and critical thinking is a common error in the mainstream media. In his criticism of the AP course materials, DeSantis drew a crucial distinction between exposure to challenging ideas and indoctrination. The AP course as initially conceived did not include alternative views about any of these controversial subjects. How can you foster debate on issues when only one side is presented?
But journalism’s fangirling of dubious CRT theories became clear when the College Board announced it would be revising the curriculum to remove some of the more questionable elements. (College Board CEO David Coleman claimed that the revisions came because of feedback from educators, not as a direct response to DeSantis’s criticism.) It also added new sections such as “The Growth of the Black Middle Class” and even allowed students the option of studying the debate over affirmative action and the work of conservative black intellectuals.
The New York Times, which has already fully committed itself to a CRT-inspired vision of American history via its “1619 Project,” ran a story with the headline “The College Board Strips Down Its A.P. Curriculum for African American Studies.” Rather than use a more apt word—“revises”—the Times chose a more violent phrase—“stripped down.”
The story describes the new AP course as having “purged the name of many Black writers and scholars.” Among the “purged” was Kimberlé Crenshaw, who told the Times she was disappointed by the revisions because she thinks high-school students are eager for “ways of thinking about things like police brutality, mass incarceration, and continuing inequalities.” In an earlier version of the article, later stealth-edited, the Times quoted Crenshaw as claiming that CRT and intersectionality represent the “true history” of the United States: “For it [the AP course] to be true to the mission of telling the true history, it cannot exclude intersectionality, it cannot exclude critical thinking about race.”
NBC News also gave plenty of space to the complaints of angry activists, many of whom falsely claimed that DeSantis was trying to “erase” black history. The more controversial subjects that had been given one-sided presentations in the proposed curriculum (reparations, BLM, queer theory, intersectionality, CRT) have not been banned but are now optional themes students may choose to study for end-of-year-projects, rather than mandated elements of the curriculum.
Nevertheless, NBC featured a “community activist” who had majored in African-American history: “How,” he ventilated, “can you label a people and their history of no value?” The NBC reporter helpfully added, “DeSantis’s crusade on diversity and race comes in a state colonized by the Spanish, where the intersections of Black, Latino, and Indigenous culture and history abound.”
All of this is further evidence of the mainstream media’s continued inability to offer a fair-minded or mildly nuanced examination of stories around race—and the revolution in consciousness many argue the media should undergo as a result of race. In June 2020, the journalist Wesley Lowery published a piece in the New York Times arguing that the idea of objectivity is not a useful ideal but merely a mask for white privilege: “The mainstream has allowed what it considers objective truth to be decided almost exclusively by white reporters and their mostly white bosses.”
Less than three years later, former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr.—who once so embraced the notion of “objectivity” that he openly proclaimed he did not vote—argued that newsrooms should “move beyond objectivity” since “reporters, editors and media critics argue that the concept of journalistic objectivity is a distortion of reality. They point out that the standard was dictated over decades by male editors in predominantly White newsrooms.” Or, as one of the advocates of such a shift put it more succinctly: “The consensus among younger journalists is that we got it all wrong,” Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, editor in chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, said. “Objectivity has got to go.”
Post–George Floyd journalism takes as its starting point the radical notion that colorblindness is not only impossible but actively harmful; that Critical Race Theory is the best lens through which all race issues can be properly understood; and that the goal of objective reporting masks a lurking white supremacy. No wonder that is how they viewed the story about DeSantis and AP African-American history. With their false and defamatory coverage of the matter, they have shown why this new standard is so dangerous.
Photo: Gage Skidmore
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