Naive mainstream journalists are helping Republicans lie about ‘critical race theory’

Facing low turnout without Donald Trump on 2022 election ballots, GOP activists are manufacturing a fake controversy with assistance from gullible reporters
A Republican activist shouts during a protest of a school board meeting in Loudon County, Virginia. Jun 22, 2021. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein

First published at Press Run

One of the more telling sentences published amidst an avalanche of recent coverage regarding critical race theory, or CRT, and how conservatives have turned the once-obscure area of study into a mindless Fox New faux controversy, appeared in a recent Miami Herald report. The piece detailed the push by Florida Republicans to banish CRT from Sunshine State classrooms — to save students from the “Marxist” indoctrination that teaches students to “hate their country,” according to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The crucial sentence appeared in the 17th paragraph of the Herald article: “Superintendents across the state have said they do not teach critical race theory in their schools. But that did not stop the State Board [of Education] from considering the rule” to ban it.

Across the country, Republican legislators and officials in more than 20 states, who often have no grasp as to what CRT is, are forbidding educators from teaching it. And across the country educators are confirming CRT isn’t being taught. (The theory, often taught at the college and grad school level, details how racism and white supremacy are systemic in American society.) This year’s runaway, manufactured, red-state frenzy is reminiscent of the Red Scare that swept through the country during the Cold War.

Back then at least, the Soviet Union was an actual foe and represented a military threat to American security. By contrast, the mobs forming to make sure CRT isn’t taught in schools seem to have no idea — or don’t care — that CRT isn’t taught in schools. The whole controversy is fabricated, and it’s getting a ton of media attention. It’s the kind of media attention that plays right into the hands of conservatives.


For the press, it’s imperative that the colossal hole at the center of this right-wing misinformation campaign be emphasized, and that news coverage not go along with the GOP charade that insists CRT poses a pressing threat to students. Instead of it being in the 17th paragraph of the Herald article, it should have been mentioned in the third paragraph that Florida Republicans are scrambling to ban a topic that’s not part of any K-12 lesson plan. (When Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently allowed a CRT ban to become law without his signature, he conceded it “does not address any problem that exists.”)

Unfortunately, lots of critical race theory coverage omits that crucial information and leaves news consumers with the impression that the topic is being taught nationwide, and therefore conservative opposition makes sense.

The Washington Post recently published a 3,000-word look at the GOP’s critical race theory campaign, emphasizing how it was shaping up to be a major cultural issue for the 2022 midterm election cycle. Yet the Post made no mention that the race topic isn’t taught in public schools. The Post also made no effort to quote any Democrats about a Republican strategy to use the classroom wedge issue to defeat them next year. The Post though, did quote eight Republicans for the article, and marveled at the GOP’s success in creating the CRT controversy.

Coverage should also highlight the fact that today’s right-wing scare campaign isn’t an organic one stemming from genuine, hometown education concerns. Instead, the highly choreographed GOP freakout is AstroTurf’d, as NBC recently detailed. It’s an “increasingly coordinated movement with the backing of major conservative organizations and media outlets. The groups swarm school board meetings, inundate districts with time-consuming public records requests and file lawsuits and federal complaints alleging discrimination against white students.”

As the witch hunt intensifies, it’s Fox News  lighting the pyre, warning incessantly that CRT is the vanguard of a “cultural revolution.” (Newsmax is going with the “death camps” analogy.)

That’s why frantic parents in Washoe County, Nevada want teachers to wear body cameras to ensure they’re not indoctrinating students, including fifth graders. It’s why Cobb County School Board in Georgia recently approved a resolution that banned the “Marxist” teaching that’s not being taught. It’s why the Greenwich Public Schools district in Connecticut had to reassure the community that CRT is not taught by any teachers, after a group of parents began loudly protesting the non-existent lesson plan at Board of Education meetings.

The conservative ignorance surrounding CRT is overwhelming, and it’s purposeful. Journalists have a responsibility to ask every Republican fanning the flames of hysteria to explain, in their own words, what critical race theory is. And if they cannot, journalists need to walk away.

It was actually a local caller phoning into a Nebraska radio show who pressed Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts to define CRT, after he urged it be banned from state schools. His word-salad response made clear he had no idea what the academic and legal theory is:

So, the critical race theory — and I can’t think of the author right off the top of my head who wrote about this — really had a theory that, at the high level, is one that really starts creating those divisions between us about defining who we are based on race and that sort of thing and really not about how to bring us together as Americans rather than — and dividing us and also having a lot of very socialist-type ideas about how that would be implemented in our state.

The Republican Noise Machine is demanding critical race theory be banned, but has no idea what critical race theory is, or that it’s not taught in American schools. That’s the news story that requites attention.