Education

Issues ››› Education
  • Right-Wing Media Slam Student Loan Assistance, Calling It A “Con” And A “Bailout”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board joined a chorus of right-wing outlets in blasting the federal government’s income-based student loan repayment program, calling it a costly “con” meant to “buy millennial votes.” Yet right-wing media are ignoring the benefits of a program that could relieve millions of student borrowers of a portion of their remaining debt and that is still generating a profit.

    Right-wing media lambasted the Department of Education and student borrowers after the Journal reported on November 30 the latest findings from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the government is on track to forgive $108 billion of $352 billion in student loans as part of federal income-driven repayment plans. The Journal’s editorial board blasted the government on December 1, calling the latest findings proof that the Department of Education’s loan program is a “con” designed to “buy millennial votes.” (The editorial column was the Journal’s second since November 1 lamenting the federal program, which has led to millions of students earning student loan forgiveness.) Earlier that day, Fox News host Jon Scott questioned if the program was a “bailout” for student borrowers. Fox Business host Stuart Varney also called the program “a bailout” on the November 30 edition of Varney & Co., while his guest Steve Costes added that the program is “a shame.”

    Federal student loan borrowers have multiple repayment plan options, including income-based plans that require borrowers to pay back loans based on a percentage of their income for a certain number of years, after which the remainder is eligible to be forgiven. The GAO’s findings were for the hypothetical cost in loan principal forgiveness for the 5.3 million borrowers who signed up for income-based repayment plans for loans issued over a 22-year period, between 1995 to 2017. These borrowers will likely see an average of $21 forgiven for every $100 in loans received. Despite right-wing media complaining about the cost of borrower relief for those on income-based payment plans, the GAO found that the Department of Education still nets a profit on student loans.

    The reason the government still makes a profit even after loan forgiveness is because many federal student loans have an interest rate at 6.8 percent -- a figure that is much higher than inflation or the 1 percent interest rate banks receive from the Federal Reserve. The 6.8 percent interest rate is so high that the GAO’s hypothetical borrower would pay almost double the original principal of their loan if the income-based plan had no cutoff date for forgiveness:

    Student loan debt is a leading concern among young people, with The Atlantic finding nearly 30 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 “cited paying off student loans as their biggest financial challenge.” According to Fortune, “there is little doubt that many Millennials are struggling financially” after a survey by PwC found that 79 percent of the 42 percent of millennials that have student loans struggle to pay those loans. Evidence shows student debt can impact personal wealth, delay homeownership affect personal decisions to marry or start a family, and that it has “cripple[d] retail sales growth.” The financial stress of student loans has a “devastating toll” on borrowers’ mental health, according to Complex, which cited findings by researchers that “student loans were associated with poorer psychological functioning.”

    While right-wing media push many myths about student debt, student concerns are valid; according to a November 21 op-ed published by Investopedia, Americans with student loan debt have “a challenging road ahead of them in the present and the future” due to workers being unable to save for retirement. The op-ed, which was authored by a financial adviser, even questioned whether people with student loans "will be able to retire” at all. The increasing debt burden can even hinder career advancement as graduates can be forced to take jobs that may have no chance of wage growth or career development so they can make debt payments on time.

    Conservative media have labeled higher education as a "privilege" and suggested students ought to choose fictional cheaper colleges. Some outlets have even defended schools that take advantage of students and leave them with significant debt. But research shows college matters now more than ever, and the cost to attend is rising across the board. The student debt crisis is especially damaging for poor students and students of color, who more frequently attend cheaper open-access and community colleges and are still forced to borrow in higher numbers to pay for their education.

    Blaming students for the student loan debt crisis ignores the facts and distracts from finding real solutions to America's skyrocketing student debt burden.

  • Meet Charlie Kirk, The “Boy Wonder” Trump Ally Behind A Poorly Sourced McCarthy-Like Watchlist Of Professors

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    A new website called Professor Watchlist is soliciting “tips” to help publicly “expose and document” college professors who “advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The conservative group Turning Point USA, led by frequent Fox News guest and former Breitbart.com contributor Charlie Kirk, is behind the site.

    Professor Watchlist, which launched on November 21, encourages visitors to “submit a tip” to report professors who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” (The website originally also solicited reports of professors who “promote anti-American values,” but that language has since been deleted.) The submission form allows visitors to identify professors by name and school, and to submit evidence of perceived bias discovered via “Article/News Report,” “1st Hand Experience,” or simply “Word of Mouth.” It also allows visitors to share optional “Video/Photo Evidence” of alleged transgressions. The site’s “About Us” page notes that it will “only publish profiles on incidents that have already been reported somewhere else,” though it does not provide further information on the quality of previous reporting required or the overall vetting process.

    As of noon on December 1, the site lists 143 professors by name, including photos of the allegedly biased educators, brief details of reported incidents that have warranted their inclusion on the site, and links to “source(s)” that reported the incidents. Of these 143 entries, right-wing student reporter website Campus Reform, operated by the conservative activist training group the Leadership Institute, served as the singular “source” for 75. The conservative student blog The College Fix sourced 10 entries, and the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant David Horowitz Freedom Center’s website DiscoverTheNetworks, which often cites white nationalist groups, accounted for another 12. Other sources included Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, FoxNews.com posts, and edited “undercover” videos from conservative activist James O’Keefe’s discredited group Project Veritas. (Even Bill O’Reilly expressed some concern about the legitimacy of these “third-party” reports in a recent interview with Kirk.)

    Kirk’s Professor Watchlist site mimics the M.O. of other “citizen journalist” vigilantes of the far-right, like O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, by promoting “tips” from the public with little accountability for the truth, yet potential real consequences for those caught in the crossfire.

    In fact, O’Keefe was invited to attend the final presidential debate courtesy of Kirk and Turning Point USA. Last year, O’Keefe spoke about “gorilla journalism” (sic) at a Turning Point USA event in West Palm Beach, FL, and Professor Watchlist cites his videos as the sole “source” justifying four entries so far.

    The “alt-right” white nationalist news site Breitbart.com, now predictably defending Kirk’s dangerous watchlist, has previously aligned itself with O’Keefe via exclusive releases and spirited defenses of his “journalism” tactics. Both Kirk and O’Keefe also appear to support Breitbart mouthpiece Milo Yiannopoulos, a racist and sexist media stunt artist who styles himself as a journalist.

    The 23-year-old Kirk has made guest appearances on Fox Business for several years. Kirk was previously a contributor at Breitbart, and he has written pieces for The Washington Times and FoxNews.com, among other right-wing outlets, beginning when he was in high school. On Twitter, Kirk has pushed Clinton conspiracy theories, repeatedly delighted in the failures of “the media,” and targetedleftist” professors and “likely” professors for perceived bias for years.

    In 2015, Kirk was the subject of several puff profiles labeling him a “major player in conservative politics” and a “boy wonder” set to “energize” the Republican Party. His group also hosted multiple “Big Government Sucks” rallies that year, with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) making appearances. In July of this year, Kirk spoke at the Republican National Convention about Turning Point USA, describing its work to push conservative values on college campuses, which he called “the most treacherous terrain imaginable.”

    Apart from “calling back to McCarthyism and making lists of college professors who have offended their conservative sensibilities,” Kirk’s Turning Point USA is classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.” The group claims to have a “presence” on 1,000 college and high school campuses nationally. Another of its projects, Hypeline News, is a “young-adult driven social news site” that employs college-age writers and says it’s “taking back the media.”

    Kirk personally publicly supported Trump for the final months of the election season (although during the primaries he called Trump a “statist” and “demagogue” and was “cheering for a slowdown of the Trump train” in March). In 2011, however, Kirk -- then a high school student -- repeatedly tweeted at Trump, encouraging him to run for president. Last week, Kirk reportedly met with undisclosed members of the Trump transition team at Trump Tower to give “advice on young people and millennials and outreach.”

  • Journalists Should Follow Politico’s Lead And Press Betsy DeVos On LGBTQ Student Equality

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    After President-elect Donald Trump annouced he would nominate billionaire conservative activist and megadonor Betsy DeVos as education secretary, Politico highlighted civil rights groups’ deep concern about LGBTQ student equality under a DeVos Department of Education. While the DeVos family has a “long history” of supporting anti-LGBTQ causes, Betsy DeVos’ personal stance on LGBTQ student equality is unclear.

    On November 23, news reports confirmed that Trump named conservative megadonor DeVos as his nominee to head the Department of Education under his administration. DeVos is part of the “ultra-rich, ultra-conservative” DeVos family -- which routinely bankrolls education privatization, anti-choice, and anti-union causes nationwide -- and her education advocacy work is an epicenter of the right-wing corporate “education reform” echo chamber. The DeVos family also has a long record of donating to anti-LGBTQ causes and organizations, including giving more than $6.7 million to the anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family since 1998. Focus on the Family promotes the harmful and discredited practice of so-called “ex-gay” conversion therapy and has accused anti-bullying programs in schools of “promoting homosexuality.”

    Politico spotlighted those donations in a November 25 article detailing concerns about DeVos’ potential to dismantle the Obama administration’s protections for LGBTQ students. Those protections include urging schools to extend anti-bullying policies to LGBTQ students, allow LGBTQ student groups on campus, and protect transgender students’ right to use facilities that match their gender identity.

    While the DeVos family’s opposition to LGBTQ equality is well-documented, Stephanie White of Equality Michigan told Politico that she believes Betsy DeVos’ personal views aren’t “accurately reflected by her family’s past donations” and said she hopes that DeVos will protect LGBTQ students. Politico also interviewed Eliza Byard, executive director for the LGBTQ student advocacy group GLSEN, who pointed out that DeVos’ support for school vouchers threatens at-risk LGBTQ students by undercutting federal civil rights enforcement and draining public funds from traditional public schools.

    Notably, DeVos did not respond to a request for comment for Politico’s story. Given the critical importance of nondiscrimination and anti-bullying protections for LGBTQ students, journalists should continue to push DeVos to articulate her views on LGBTQ student equality. 

    From the November 25 Politico article:

    Civil rights groups say they're “deeply concerned" that the extension of civil rights protections to gay and transgender students by President Barack Obama’s Education Department will be dismantled by Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the department.

    They note the DeVos family has a long history of supporting anti-gay causes — including donating hundreds of thousands to groups that push “conversion therapy” — raising questions about how, if at all, she would address discrimination against gay and transgender students.

    [...]

    Advocates point to one DeVos relationship that they say gives them hope for how she may approach LGBT issues: Greg McNeilly, a political adviser to DeVos and the chief operating officer of the DeVos family’s company Windquest Group, is gay and was one of the first to marry his same-sex partner in Michigan after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. McNeilly declined to comment for this story.

    Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, said she believes that with McNeilly as an influence, DeVos’ views on LGBT issues have evolved. She noted that DeVos doesn’t speak out against gay rights, and even called on Dave Agema, a Michigan Republican National Committee member, to step down from the RNC in 2014 after making comments highly critical of gays.

    [...]

    Still, the DeVos family has a long history of supporting groups that espouse anti-gay rights views.

    DeVos and her husband have given hundreds of thousands to Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group whose founder called the battle against LGBT rights a "second civil war," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group has also pushed so-called “conversion therapy” — discredited practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation — according to the Human Rights Campaign.

    DeVos’ ties to a group that pushes “conversion therapy” is “most alarming,” and DeVos needs to clarify her stance on the practice, Griffin said.

    [...]

    Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, a group that advocates for LGBT rights in education, said her concerns extend beyond what DeVos might do with the Office for Civil Rights. She contends that DeVos’ support for measures such as school vouchers undercut civil rights enforcement and drain public funds from public schools.

  • Sunday Shows Gloss Over, Ignore Trump U. Settlement

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Sunday morning political shows barely addressed -- or completely ignored -- the recent settlement in the class-action fraud lawsuit against Trump University and President-elect Donald Trump. In doing so, these outlets are continuing a pattern by broadcast and cable news of ignoring important revelations about Trump’s business and charitable practices.

    On November 18, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle the class-action fraud lawsuit against the now-defunct Trump University in which the defendants alleged, according to the Los Angeles Times, that Trump “defrauded customers into thinking they would learn real estate secrets from professors he had ‘handpicked.’ The students said they learned little and instead were subjected to hard-sell tactics urging them to spend thousands of dollars on classes.”

    As NBC reported, “The settlement likely means that Trump will avoid becoming possibly the first sitting president to testify in open court.” The New York Times called the settlement “a remarkable concession” for Trump, “who derides legal settlements and has mocked fellow businessmen who agree to them.” The Times also pointed out that the settlement is a “significant reversal from Mr. Trump, who had steadfastly rejected the allegations and vowed to fight the lawsuits,” and that he “doubled down” on that response when “political opponents pressed him on the claims during the campaign, saying he would eventually reopen Trump University.”

    Despite the unusual nature of a president-elect settling a multimillion-dollar fraud lawsuit, the November 20 editions of the Sunday morning political talk shows -- including ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press -- barely covered the settlement. Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday did not mention the settlement at all, while This Week, State of the Union, and Meet the Press spent a combined total of merely four minutes and eight seconds on the news.

    The omission provides yet another example of media continuously ignoring new revelations and investigative reporting about Trump.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis and Snapstream for mentions of Trump University or Trump U. on the November 20 editions of ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press. Mentions were coded and timed for length on Snapstream.

  • A $25 Million Settlement Just Tanked Right-Wing Media’s Fraudulent Defense Of Trump University

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    President-elect Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits alleging his for-profit business Trump University used aggressive sales tactics and unqualified instructors to scam students. Throughout the lawsuit’s litigation, right-wing news outlets helped shield Trump University from criticism by enabling Trump to lie about the institution and aiding his racist attacks on the judge overseeing the case.

  • Purge: Right-Wing Media Fabricate Quote In Attempt To Get Gay Man Fired

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    After George Mason University’s assistant admissions director spoke out on his Facebook page against the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-LGBTQ extremist group, and said that he was “worried” about the future given the election of Donald Trump, right-wing media jumped at the opportunity to mischaracterize his statement and condemn him for speaking out for his beliefs.

    After Donald Trump was declared president-elect, George Mason University senior director of admissions Andrew Bunting posted publicly on his Facebook page that he was “worried,” linking to a November 9 blog post by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which is lead by Brian Brown. Brown is also currently the president of World Congress of Families, the anti-LGBTQ hate group that has worked internationally to use the doctrine of the “natural family” to “build support for laws that criminalize homosexuality and abortion,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. NOM has a long history of attacking LGBTQ people, relying on lies to promote its agenda, and promoting policies that encourage anti-LGBTQ violence.

    The blog Bunting linked to, titled “The Plan,” outlined all of the goals that the organization planned to work with Trump’s administration to achieve, including: reversing marriage equality, targeting “gender identity” directives, and passing anti-LGBTQ legislation like the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, which would codify anti-LGBTQ discrimination and hate speech into law. Additionally, NOM declared its intention to reverse policies of the Obama administration that they claim “seek to coerce other countries into accepting same-sex 'marriage' as a condition of receiving US assistance and aid.” The blog continued, “It is fundamentally wrong for a president to become a lobbyist for the LGBTQ agenda.” Bunting concluded that if you agreed with NOM, you are “a worthless piece of trash.”

    Bunting’s Facebook posts were originally reported on by MRCTV, a conservative online platform helmed by Media Research Center, which mischaracterized his statements as regarding “conservatives” broadly. The author also noted that Bunting worked at a gay bar, “In addition to working at GMU, Bunting appears to work at a gay bar called Cobalt. Photos on his Instagram account show him dressed provocatively while saying he is at the bar every ‘4th and 5th Saturday.’” Shortly after the MRCTV post came out, Townhall, another conservative website, published an article mischaracterizing Bunting’s post by saying:

    College administrators everywhere are having a really difficult time accepting Donald Trump's White House victory, but the admissions director at George Mason University just lost it. On his Facebook page, Andrew Bunting declared conservatives, Trump voters and anyone who dares to disagree with his progressive ideology are "worthless pieces of trash."

    After the story made the rounds on right-wing media sites, Bill O’Reilly reported on the post during the November 15 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. O’Reilly similarly mischaracterized the statement made by Bunting in a conversation with Washington Examiner contributor Lisa Boothe, and the segment culminated in calls for his dismissal. From The O’Reilly Factor:

    BILL O'REILLY (HOST): If you are a student, and you're applying to George Mason University, you have to write an essay. I mean, you have to tell the people about yourself. And if you hold a certain belief system, maybe that will be included in your essay. And one of the admissions deciders is telling you, “if you don't agree with me you are a worthless piece of you know what?” Come on? How can he possibly do his job?

    LISA BOOTHE: He can't. And that's the big problem here. And this is why he should be let go. Because his job is supposed to be objective with the admissions process. And clearly he is anything but. And, I think the university needs to take it one step further and do a review of the applications process to ensure that no students and previous applicants -- that they were not discriminated against based off of their political ideology or Christian beliefs. Because the statement that this individual made on his Facebook post was related to gay marriage, and was actually -- cited something from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled groups like the Family Research Council hate groups.

    O'REILLY: So, well, I want to get this right. So, you would fire him outright? He’s done, if you were the chancellor?

    BOOTHE: Yes. And I think he needs emotional therapy puppies. Maybe he needs to attend a cry-in. But yeah, I think he should be let go.

     
  • Breitbart News Published Slur-Filled Talk Given By Senior Editor Milo Yiannopoulos At The University of Delaware

    Yiannopoulos: “Never Feel Bad For Mocking A Transgender Person.”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    Breitbart News published the text of a slur-filled speech given by “alt-right” mouthpiece Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of Delaware on October 24.

    The “alt-right” website Breitbart News posted the full transcript of an October 24 speech given by senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of Delaware, which was also filmed and made available online. Breitbart is known for being anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant, as well as for its inflammatory click-bait headlines. Additionally, Breitbart News provides a platform for Yiannopoulos to lash out at political correctness, peddle misogyny, and promote white nationalism.

    Prior to the event, promotional posters featuring anti-trans statements were posted on University of Delaware’s campus but eventually taken down. Yiannopoulos’ speech was a slur-filled diatribe that relied on recycled right-wing attacks on diversity and political correctness and was rife with misinformation -- using the debunked “bathroom predator” myth, relying on junk science from discredited professionals, and clumsily trying to conflate identifying as transgender with having rare mental health disorders. Yiannopoulos also selectively cited a Williams Institute report about suicide, pointing to the high rates of suicide in the trans community as a sign of mental illness. He omitted the study’s conclusion: elevated suicide attempts among transgender people were correlated with experiencing anti-trans bias, such as discrimination and harassment.

    Yiannopoulos relied heavily on slurs as a substitute for a cohesive argument. Reprinted from Breitbart (emphasis added):

    Of course many trannies, or those that make up their own new gender, are not actually retarded. But they are deeply mentally damaged, and they are failed by a liberal establishment obsessed with making them feel good about themselves.
     
    [...]
     
    Although I may seem cruel to trannies, I say all of this because i recognize they are vulnerable and at-risk, and are treated as pawns by the liberal establishment eager to use them to push thought control on the rest of us.
     
    [...]
     
    I will close with this advice. Never feel bad for mocking a transgender person. It is our job to point out their absurdity, to not make the problem worse by pretending they are normal. Much like fat-shaming, if our mockery drives them to get the help they need, we may save their life. 
     
    Remember that your target isn’t someone suffering with this condition. It is the media. It is the people turning a psychiatric condition into an aspirational lifestyle choice.
     
    [...]
     
    I do it because nothing else is working. I do it because America and the rest of the west is sleepwalking into one of the cruellest mistreatments of a small but vulnerable slice of the population.
     
    My words don’t hurt anyone. But subjecting children to hormone therapy and mutilating their genitals does.
  • Seven Pressing Debate Questions We Never Heard

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Presidential debate season is officially over, and critical policy questions that directly impact millions of Americans remain unasked just 19 days before the election.

    Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump met last night in Las Vegas, Nevada for the final presidential debate, which was likely the last chance for the candidates to discuss specific policy issues face-to-face before November 8. Just as in the previous two presidential debates this year, moderator Chris Wallace chose to focus questions on a handful of familiar topics. Even within the context of six pre-announced debate topics, Wallace could have asked questions on major policy issues that deserve thoughtful and substantive prime-time discussion from the presidential candidates, like affordable health care, climate change, or tax plans.

    But that didn’t happen. When debate discussions did manage to turn to policy specifics on critical topics like reproductive rights or gun violence prevention, Wallace didn’t ask necessary follow-up questions or offer clarifications on the facts. (Prior to the debate, Wallace announced his intention to be a debate timekeeper rather than fact-checker.)

    All in all, last night’s debate largely covered the same ground as the previous two debates, both in topics discussed and in tone. If any of the three debates had focused more aggressively on what’s truly at stake -- what voters have said they wanted asked, what people actually believe is most important for their own families and communities -- the questions in this debate cycle would have looked very different. And the answers could speak for themselves.

    Let’s explore just how hard the moderators dropped the ball.

    This year, the United States began the process of resettling its first climate refugees. A bipartisan group of top military experts warned that climate change presents a “strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security and international security.” While Clinton wants to build on President Obama’s climate change accomplishments, Trump wants to “cancel” the historic Paris climate agreement, “rescind” the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency -- and he’s even called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

    Moderators did not ask a single question about the effects of climate change in any of the three presidential debates or the vice presidential debate.

    Several tragic mass shootings -- including the single deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando, FL, in June -- have shaken the nation since the beginning of the election season. Gun deaths in the United States, both in instances of mass shootings and in more common day-to-day violence, vastly outnumber gun deaths in other Western democracies -- so much so that the American Medical Association has declared gun violence a public health crisis. And Americans are overwhelmingly ready for lawmakers to take action. Seventy-two percent of voters say gun policy is “very important” in determining their vote this year, and an astonishing 90 percent of voters -- representing both Democrats and Republicans -- think that strengthening background check requirements for firearm purchases is a good place to start, as does Clinton. Trump recently told the National Rifle Association -- which has endorsed him  -- that he opposes expanding background checks. 

    Moderators failed to ask a single question about specific policies for gun violence prevention in the first two presidential debates, and they failed to ask a question about background check policies specifically in any debate. In the final debate, Wallace asked about gun policies in the context of the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision about the scope of the Second Amendment, but he failed to follow up when Trump skirted questions about the case and about his specific positions on several gun policies like his opposition to an assault weapons ban and his oft-repeated false claim that "gun-free" zones are responsible for public mass shootings. The entire exchange lasted just under five minutes.

    Though seven in 10 Americans support legal abortion and one in three American women report having had an abortion procedure, states have enacted 288 anti-choice laws since 2010. These laws are creating a crisis by preventing women from low-income families -- many already parents who are struggling to keep families afloat -- from receiving the health care services they need. Some evidence even suggests greater numbers of women are contemplating dangerous self-induced abortions due to a lack of access to care. Trump has espoused support for these types of restrictive laws, and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), wants to “send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.”

    But moderators did not ask a question about the candidates’ stances on reproductive rights until the final debate -- when Chris Wallace asked about Roe v. Wade. Again, Trump repeatedly lied about abortion policy, and the misinformation was left hanging as Wallace pivoted to a new topic after about five minutes of discussion.

    How about tax policies? Tax rates are a critical issue that directly affect all Americans, and the candidates’ respective tax policy proposals could not differ more. Clinton’s plan would benefit low- and middle-income families most and hike tax rates only for the wealthiest earners and for corporations. Trump’s plan has been called “a multitrillion-dollar gift to the rich” that “screws the middle class,” and has been panned even by conservative economists and The Wall Street Journal. One analysis concluded that Clinton’s plan  “trims deficits,” while Trump’s plan could add $6.2 trillion to the national debt. These numbers directly impact  the short-term and long-term financial health of families and communities, and 84 percent of voters say the economy is “very important” in deciding their vote in 2016.

    Substantive questions about the candidates’ specific tax plans were missing from the debates, though Trump still managed to lie about his tax proposals on several occasions. When the candidates mentioned their tax plans briefly in the final debate when asked about the economy, Wallace again lived up to his promise not to fact-check.

    A record number of anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, and LGBT students face significantly more violence than their peers, but the debates did not include a single question about policy positions related to LGBT equality.

    About 70 percent of today’s college graduates leave school with student loans, and more than 43 million Americans currently have student debt. This economic squeeze is changing how Americans plan their families, buy homes, and spend their money. Clinton has responded by making college affordability a signature issue of her campaign, while Trump’s newly described plan could “explode the student debt crisis.” Neither candidate was asked to address this issue either.

    The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world -- we account for 5 percent of the world’s population but a whopping 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Inmate organizers recently launched what could be the nation’s largest prison strike to draw attention to deplorable prison conditions. The majority of Americans want to see changes to a federal prison system they believe is “too large, too expensive, and too often incarcerating the wrong people.” Moderators didn’t ask about criminal justice reform policies at all.

    The presidential debates instead largely focused on statements made on the campaign trail, whichever offensive comments Trump had made most recently, and -- again, always -- Hillary Clinton’s email use as secretary of state. Viewers might now  know a lot about these topics  -- or at least what each candidate has to say about them -- while still having very little information on the candidates’ starkly contrasting policy positions on issues with direct and immediate consequences to citizens’ daily lives.

    Americans relied on moderators to raise the questions they think about every day, to help them understand how the next president can help ensure that their families are safe, secure, and set up to thrive. It’s a shame the debates did not deliver. 

  • National Advocacy Organization Urges Debate Moderator Chris Wallace To Include A Question On “Bathroom Bills”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    The National Center for Transgender Equality urged Fox News host Chris Wallace to address the “critical issue” of transgender equality when he moderates the third and final presidential debate on October 19. Despite the unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills introduced into statehouses, moderators at the general-election vice presidential and presidential debates have so far failed to ask a single question on LGBT equality.

    The ongoing fight against LGBT nondiscrimination protections has been in the spotlight at the local, state, and national levels. This year saw an unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills introduced in state legislatures, high-profile lawsuits from several states against federal policy guidance over transgender student equality, and adoption of North Carolinas widely condemned HB 2, which, among other things, requires transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates.

    During the primary season, debate moderators failed to ask Democratic candidates a single question related to LGBT equality in any of the nine debates. Moderators asked Republican candidates several questions related to LGBT issues, including what their thoughts are on Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples; how they would feel about collaborating with a gay-friendly corporate board; and whether “gay marriage dissenters have rights.” Both general-election presidential debates so far, as well as the vice presidential debate, have omitted questions on LGBT equality.

    In response to the lack of attention given to LGBT equality during the debates, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality sent moderator Wallace a letter on October 18 urging him to pose a question about transgender students’ rights to access appropriate bathrooms. The letter points to a model question proposed to the Open Debate Coalition by the mother of a transgender 12-year-old girl:

    In advance of the second presidential debate, the Open Debate Coalition allowed members of the public to submit questions for the moderators to consider. Amy, the mother of a transgender 12-year-old, submitted the following question: “What would you say to a trans kid forced to use a separate rest room in school?” She went on to write, “My 12 year-old daughter is transgender. She just started middle school, where she has to either use the boys’ restroom or a separate one, making her a target for teasing and bullying, or worse.” Over 6,000 people voted for Amy’s question, demonstrating that this issue is important for far more people than just the transgender community.

    As you prepare your questions, we urge you to consider including this crucial issue. We also ask you, of course, to treat these issues with the respect and dignity that we and our families deserve, without repeating the baseless scare tactics used by those who oppose our rights. In particular, if you ask a question about transgender people using the restrooms that match our gender, please take care to frame them as a matter of necessity and not as a matter of choice.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched transcripts of two presidential and one vice presidential debate, as well as nine Democratic and twelve Republican primary debates for the 2016 election cycle provided by the Washington Post for the search terms “LGBT,” "gay," “lesbian,” “bisexual,” "transgender," "sexual orientation," and "gender identity."

  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution Exposes Dark-Money Funding Behind Georgia School Takeover Campaign

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Private corporations, lobbyists, and a national group connected to major dark-money, anti-teachers-union donors are major contributors to a campaign supporting a state education proposal that is fiercely opposed by teachers and parents, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

    A proposed amendment to the Georgia state constitution -- Amendment 1 -- would allow the state to take over schools that are deemed “failing” and create an “Opportunity School District,” a move proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal and opposed by public educators and parents. As the Journal-Constitution explained, the amendment would “enable an appointee of the governor to seize ‘chronically failing’ schools and the local tax dollars that support them. Those schools would either be shuttered, run directly by a new statewide district or converted to charter schools under independent management.”

    Amendment 1, which will be on state ballots in November, has attracted millions in funding from groups in support and in opposition of the proposal, including substantial funding from national teachers unions for an advertising campaign opposing the measure.

    Teachers groups and the state PTA have spoken out against Amendment 1, explaining that its passage could eliminate local control by school boards and community members -- particularly in black and Latino communities -- and could shift tax dollars to private charter management companies or other groups that are subject to less oversight. As the Journal-Constitution reported, the National Education Association has spent heavily on a campaign opposing the amendment representing 35,000 Georgia teachers who are among its ranks.

    But the identities of donors bankrolling the advertisements in support of the proposed amendment -- as part of an organization called Opportunity For All Georgia Students -- were purposely concealed using a group set up by supporters of Gov. Nathan Deal. The group, Georgia Leads, is categorized as a “social welfare” group with a 501(c)(4) tax status, and as such is not required to disclose its donors. Of the four donors contributing a total of $1.22 million to the campaign in support of Amendment 1, Georgia Leads contributed the most substantial amount -- $810,000. 

    On Friday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an investigative report revealing some of Georgia Leads’ donors -- and the biggest names were private corporations and lobbying firms (emphasis added):

    The biggest donor to the pro-OSD amendment this year — as of Sept. 30 — was Georgia Leads Inc., a fund set up to push Deal’s agenda. Georgia Leads had put $850,000 into Opportunity for All Georgia Students as of the end of September.

    [...]

    While Georgia Leads doesn’t disclose donors, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found more than $250,000 in contributions to the group by reviewing expenditure listings by companies and political action committees who file reports with the state ethics commission. All the donors have big stakes in legislation at the state Capitol, including AT&T, the retail store lobby, McGuireWoods (one of the best-connected lobbying firms at the Statehouse), Hospital Corporation of America, beer distributors and bank lobbyists.

    The investigation also identified the national group 50CAN as another major donor to the pro-Amendment 1 campaign, second only to Georgia Leads. 50CAN is affiliated with a dark-money-fueled echo chamber pushing conservative, anti-union policies under the guise of “education reform,” and has supported past Georgia initiatives to open up schools to private competition, as well as similar Opportunity School District-type initiatives in other states. It is affiliated with a number of other national groups that received dark-money funding from anti-teachers-union private donors. 

    Graphic created by Sarah Wasko.