The media’s failure in Virginia gubernatorial contest was critical to the race

Far-right websites and shows pumped countless falsehoods into Virginia to help Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign
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

Trying to pull off victory in the Virginia governor’s race, Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin continued his push with an unlikely pledge at the center of his campaign: If elected he would immediately ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in Commonwealth classrooms.

His promise to voters produced nonstop media coverage, as the political press eagerly hyped the possibility of a Democratic loss. It worked. On Tuesday, Youngkin edged out incumbent Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state President Joe Biden won by 10 points.

What the media have uniformly failed to do in Virginia, and nationwide as deep-pocketed, right-wing activists march on with their manufactured outrage over CRT, is forcefully point out that it’s not taught in schools. Period. When pressed, most Republican parents, politicians and activists aren’t able to explain what CRT is. (It’s an academic framework taught at the college level that examines how systemic racism is ingrained in America’s history.)

Claiming it’s an attempt to “indoctrinate the kids,” Republicans are using CRT as a battering ram to not only take over local school boards, but to try to win the Virginia governorship in what is clearly a GOP dress rehearsal for the 2022 midterms. The media remain widely impressed by the strategy, while refusing to note that the entire enterprise is a con.

The whole thing represents a stunning failure of American journalism as news outlets defy common sense. It’s the latest example of the media working hand-in-hand with Republicans to spread nonstop misinformation.

What’s happening is that right-wing dark money groups are pumping millions into creating an army of activists who rally around lies about public education in hopes that that hysteria will get people out to vote more Republicans into office, who in turn then will vote to keep the tax rate low for corporations and the wealthy. CRT is being used as a Trojan Horse by big-money donors with Koch ties who likely couldn’t care less about the state of public education in America. Instead, they’re fueling the made-up controversy about teaching race in the classroom in order to build a Republican majority in Congress.

The mainstream press is playing an essential role in this dangerous propaganda roll-out. As Republicans weaponize school boards across the country as part of their political campaigns, the media are legitimizing the attacks. Think about the media malpractice on display this year — the press has showered attention on right-wing attacks about CRT being taught while consistently refusing to point out that CRT is not being taught.


Why are the media covering for the GOP? They’re terrified of labeling conservatives as cheats and cons. Especially the ones who present themselves as ‘concerned parents.’ The CRT lie is so brazen that it works. In order for any of this CRT news coverage to sustain itself, the press must ignore the fact that the topic isn’t being taught. It’s either that, or call out conservatives as obvious liars, which the press is too scared to do.  

Afraid of the Liberal Media Bias charge, journalists have programmed themselves to look past obvious right-wing lies and instead focus on the controversy they create. If school board shouting matches break out over CRT, that’s the news. If CRT might help Republicans get out the vote, that’s the news. The fact that the whole thing is built around a transparent lie? That’s definitely not the news.

This lengthy, October 21, piece from the New York Times, “How Republicans Are Weaponizing Critical Race Theory Ahead of Midterms,” was a classic of the genre, as the paper leaned into the political benefits of the GOP’s attacks while all but ignoring the falsehoods it’s built around. “The issue has become a major rallying point for Republicans from Florida to Idaho, where state lawmakers have moved to ban it,” the Times reported.

It wasn’t until the 13th paragraph that the Times acknowledged CRT isn’t taught in public schools. Incredibly, four paragraphs later the Times reported, “But Republicans say critical race theory has invaded classrooms.”

Showtime’s “The Circus” recently featured a sit-down interview with a conservative activist in Virginia campaigning against CRT. When host Alex Wagner asked for some proof of CRT being hoisted on students, the activist pointed to a single rap song whose lyrics were once discussed in a nameless school somewhere. Instead of the entire interview being about how CRT actually isn’t part of any curriculum, the activist was given a national platform to push more misinformation.

The Washington Post published a 1,500-word piece all about the Virginia race and how “Republicans are seizing on CRT as an opportunity to connect with voters,” even though, as the Post quietly conceded, it’s “not part of classroom teaching.” Shouldn’t that be the story?

The Associated Press this week published a whitewashing report about how school board members nationwide are stepping down from their positions after being terrorized by political activists. The article “never even hints that the chaos and hostility at board meetings is mostly whipped up by the right wing and entirely related to its fantasy wars against mask tyranny and race theory,” noted NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. “That’s malpractice.”

Media malpractice has defined CRT coverage all year.