Teachers faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny in 2014, thanks to a landmark legal case dismantling teacher tenure in California, which is likely to spark copycats lawsuits across the country. In part due to this increased scrutiny, educators also encountered various attacks from mainstream and conservative media over the year, five of which were particularly egregious.
In June, a California Superior Court handed down the decision in the Vergara v. California trial, a case in which "a group of student plaintiffs ... argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place." Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu sided with the students, in a ruling that Teacher Wars author Dana Goldstein wrote "has the potential to overturn five state laws governing" how tenure, which helps guarantee due process to prevent "capricious firings," operates in the state. The lawsuit became something of a model for media attacks -- sparking reactions that ranged from outraged to elated -- and prompted extensive media discussion about the positives and negatives to reform of the public education system.
Unfortunately, much of this discussion featured direct attacks on educators in 2014. They came from all facets of the media sphere, and were often rooted in conservative misinformation, though some rang louder, stronger, and more abhorrent than others.
Here are the top five times media failed educators in 2014.
The November 3 cover story of Time magazine, titled "The War on Teacher Tenure" and promoted on the cover as "Rotten Apples," spurred significant backlash, particularly among teachers, who were dismayed at the portrayal of their profession as "rotten." The backlash led to a petition calling for an apology from Time that garnered more than 70,000 signatures. In their coverage of the Time backlash, however, several media outlets, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, Fox News' Outnumbered, and The Weekly Standard's blog failed to discuss what was at the heart of the controversy: due process for teachers. These media outlets instead took to doubling down on the allegations of "rotten," and making outlandish claims.
If Fox News can find a way to blame any education controversy on teachers or teachers unions, it will do so. Two such instances in 2014 were particularly egregious. When hundreds of Colorado high school students walked out of class to protest a "conservative-led school board proposal" to change their history curriculum, Fox hosted the country board of education president to falsely allege that "teachers [were] using students" as "pawns" not over the history proposal, but over an upcoming teachers union contract. And in March, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would block three charter schools from using public school space rent-free, Fox figures took to speculating and attacking teachers and teachers unions, arguing, among other things, that de Blasio was trying to "kiss back butt on the unions" and wage a "war on children."
Glenn Beck's book Conform, released in May and co-authored with Kyle Olson, lobbed a number of laughable attacks against public schools, the Common Core State Standards, and in particular, teachers. His ridiculous attacks on teachers included claiming that:
In April, the Kansas State Legislature passed a bill in a whirlwind weekend session that "kill[ed] long-held teacher rights" in the state, namely the right to due process. In addition to being pushed by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, the bill was also introduced by a committee whose chairman had ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has received "untold sums of cash" from the Koch brothers. None of the three major newspapers in Kansas, however, made the connection between the legislation and the Koch brothers in their original reporting.
Media Matters conducted an analysis of education coverage on weeknight cable news programs from January 1 to October 31, 2014, to determine how many of the shows' guests who discussed the topic were educators. The report found that across CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, educators made up only 9 percent of guests during education segments, with each network only hosting a total of one, four, and eleven educators, respectively.
This post has been updated for accuracy.
This year, media coverage of issues affecting women often failed badly, from trivializing sexual assault to pushing inaccurate reports on pending state abortion restrictions. Below are nine major ways the media failed women in 2014.
Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) will be the next chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Right-wing media figures like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity have championed the conservative legislator, calling him one of the "good Republicans," a leader on Benghazi, and someone who will be a "great Oversight chair."
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on Monday issued a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in anticipation of the grand jury announcement about whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be charged with the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown.
The unarmed teen's controversial death sparked weeks worth of protests, many of which were met with overwhelming police force. The killing also inspired a national debate about police shootings and law enforcement's relationship with black Americans. (The Department of Justice is currently investigating the Ferguson police department.)
And of course since the protests prominently featured the issue of race, and since Obama's conservative media critics positioned him at the center of the story -- his administration was allegedly "orchestrating" the unrest -- the events have inspired wave after wave of attacks from Fox News and its allies in the conservative media.
Brown family advocates have been denounced as "race hustlers." Fox contributor Laura Ingraham characterized Ferguson protesters as a "lynch mob" on her radio show. And conservative author Dinesh D'Souza actually compared the Ferguson unrest to beheadings carried out by the Islamic State terrorists. "What the common thread between ISIS and what's going on in Ferguson is you have these people who basically believe that to correct a perceived injustice, it's perfectly OK to inflict all kinds of new injustices," said D'Souza.
Conservative commentators have a long history of condemning, as vile and un-American, citizens who protest on behalf of their causes, whether it's racial injustice, income equality, collective bargaining rights, raising the minimum wage, or defending public education. The spotlight on Ferguson and its supposed "lynch mob" represents just the latest example of those sweeping condemnations and attacks on civil discourse.
Keep in mind that it was Fox News, as well as the rest of the right-wing media, that championed lawless insurrectionists earlier this year in Nevada when gun-toting militia members rallied to the side of rancher Cliven Bundy, who refused for more than two decades to pay grazing fees for his cattle that fed off federal land. (Bundy's Fox-sponsored crusade imploded when he was recorded making racist comments, asking if black Americans were "better off as slaves.")
In the Fox worldview, activists are thugs and thugs are freedom fighters.
From the November 17 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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From the October 16 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:
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From the October 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox News host Megyn Kelly said that Glenn Beck accurately predicted the formation of a caliphate in the Middle East, though in reality the actions of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State fall far short of Beck's 2011 prediction that was ridiculed by his fellow conservatives at the time.
In reaction to the protests against Egypt's former dictator Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, Beck theorized on his since-canceled Fox show that one of the results of this and other protests in Arab and North African countries would be "a Muslim caliphate that controls the Mideast and parts of Europe." On June 29 of this year, the Islamic State's leaders formally declared that they had formed a caliphate after seizing control of parts of Syria and Iraq.
On Wednesday, Kelly decided that recent developments had vindicated Beck's old claims, saying: "When ISIS became a big story earlier this year a number of people were reminded of a prediction by Glenn Beck. Beck had long argued that radical Islamists were pursuing a dream of establishing a caliphate in the Middle East, a country unto themselves. And that is exactly what ISIS has managed to do." She then interviewed him about how he feels about his claim now:
But reporter David Weigel, who was prodded by conservatives earlier this year about Beck's claims of a caliphate, explained on his former Slate blog that the recent developments show that Beck was very wrong:
[T]he gulf between what Glenn Beck was talking about and what the 10,000 or so murderers of ISIS are able to accomplish is so large as to be comical. Not that Beck's initial monologue wasn't comical.
"You have Somalia and Iran already in green," said Beck. "Now, let's add Tunisia. Former Tunisian government was considered one of the most secular and corrupt governments in the Arab world. The poor and the angry demanded changes. Most dangerous scenario is that radical Muslims seize power and put Sharia law into place."
That was a dangerous-sounding scenario. It did not happen. Tunisia is currently run by technocrats who were handed power after an Islamist party failed to govern effectively. Beck went on to worry that the Muslim Brotherhood would take power in Egypt, and that the result "could very easily be 1979 Iran." The Muslim Brotherhood did win an election, before being overthrown in popular protests and being replaced by a new military government. Not quite 1979 Iran.
Seriously, just read Beck's monologue. The host speculated that the weak economies of Spain and Portugal and the Muslim populations of France and Great Britain left them exposed to some kind of Shariah revolution. This was what "caliphate" meant--not a gang of killers terrorizing parts of Iraq, but a green wave spreading across the world that the early Muslims almost conquered.
Beck's prediction was also dismissed when he made it, particularly by his fellow conservatives. Then-Fox News contributor Bill Kristol wrote that Beck was "marginalizing himself" through his "hysteria" about the protests in Egypt, likening him to the conspiracy-minded John Birch Society. National Review Online editor Rich Lowry endorsed Kristol's "well-deserved shot at Glenn Beck's latest wild theorizing." And the Wall Street Journal's John Fund described Beck's claims as "apocalyptic conspiracy terms" that went too far.
Right-wing media are using President Obama's plan to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as another opportunity to attack him. Conservatives are calling the president a "hypocrite" because he's sending "more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS"; labeling the plan "arrogant" because of problems with HealthCare.gov; and accusing him of trying to "change the subject" by "fighting a really bad flu bug."
The White House announced on September 16 that the United States would send 3,000 troops to Africa to help combat the Ebola threat. The U.S. military and broader uniformed services effort will "entail command and control, logistics expertise, training, and engineering support."
President Obama said in a speech that "[m]ore than 2,400 men, women and children are known to have died -- and we strongly suspect that the actual death toll is higher than that ... In West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before. It's spiraling out of control. It is getting worse. It's spreading faster and exponentially. Today, thousands of people in West Africa are infected. That number could rapidly grow to tens of thousands. And if the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic."
Conservatives responded to the plan by mocking the president and his policies:
After terrorists kidnapped and beheaded two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, while releasing gruesome videos of the act, Fox News focused much of its ire on President Obama, portraying him as a source of troubling weakness.
"The president stuck his head in the sand, and now we've seen two Americans have lost their heads," insisted Fox analyst K.T. McFarland. Colleague Ralph Peters claimed of the president's foreign policy, "We have a president who has a real physiological problem: that he can't face responsibility and certainly not the responsibilities of his office," while Sean Hannity wondered if Obama's "radical indoctrination" had clouded his judgment.
On and on it goes, as the blame-America finger pointing takes up hour after hour of programming. The Washington Times' Charles Hurt on Wednesday wanted to know when Obama would stop acting like a community organizer and start hunting down the killers. Charles Krauthammer condemned Obama for not rising to the occasion, while former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Fox to claim world leaders see the president as "weak and ineffective" in the wake of the most recent beheading.
That last part is telling because in the spring of 2004, when Cheney was vice president and the misbegotten war he championed was raging in Iraq, two American citizens, Nick Berg and Paul Johnson, were also kidnapped by Islamic terrorists and were also beheaded for the world to see. But of course, Cheney didn't see that as a sign of President Bush's weakness and ineffectiveness, and neither did the White House's loyal band of professional defenders at Fox News.
Even six years into Obama's presidency, it's still stunning to see how radically different Fox presents the news and frames its commentary based entirely on which party controls the White House. When Bush was president, Fox talkers urged that Americans come together and support the administration as it battled lawless killers ("murders," "sadists," "savages") who decapitated Americans.
In 2004, Fox hosted long conversations about the beheadings and Bush's name was often never even mentioned. He was a non-player in the story. But today, the beheadings revolve around Obama.
With a Democratic president, many of those same 2004 talkers now turn their attention, and their wrath, to Pennsylvania Avenue and use the deaths as a cudgel to bash the president as being impotent. i.e. He didn't prevent the deaths! Of course neither did Bush, but the Fox rules of propaganda were different for him.
One year after San Antonio expanded its non-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT people, opponents' predictions that the measure would curtail religious liberty and free speech haven't come true.
On September 5, 2013, San Antonio's city council voted to extend non-discrimination protections to LGBT residents in housing, employment, public accommodations, city contracts, and board appointments. The ordinance was approved despite a right-wing misinformation campaign propagated by local anti-LGBT activists and national conservative media, including Fox News, Glenn Beck, and The Washington Times.
Opponents of the ordinance asserted that the ordinance could ban Christians from holding public office or winning city contracts, imperil the free speech rights of conservative opponents of LGBT equality, or even impose "criminal penalties" on anti-LGBT business owners. Those claims persisted even though the ordinance explicitly protected against religious discrimination and despite the striking of language that had raised free speech concerns.
At the time, Councilman Diego Bernal, the sponsor of the expanded ordinance expressed dismay at the "ludicrous" misinformation spread about the ordinance, telling Equality Matters, "I've been taken aback by the amount of purposeful misinformation and I find that to be very harmful."
But a year after the expansion of San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance, even an opponent of the measure admits that horror stories about threats to religious liberty haven't come true.
Throughout the debate over the ordinance, opponents insisted that prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people would result in anti-Christian persecution and harassment. One of those critics was Allan Parker, president of the San Antonio-based Christian legal group The Justice Foundation. Last September, Parker warned that the ordinance would be used to target Christians:
[Parker] said the ordinance is vague and unclear but he believes it can and will be used against Christians, especially those in the business world who disagree with unbiblical sexuality.
"The leverage of the city to pressure any business to caving in is enormous under this," he explained.
But one year later, even Parker admits the ordinance hasn't ushered in a wave of anti-Christian legal action. Only two complaints have even been filed under the ordinance - one from a transgender man who alleged he had been fired because of his gender identity and another from a lesbian couple who said they were asked to leave an ice house after sharing a kiss.
In a statement to Equality Matters, Parker suggested that the small number of complaints was due to the city allegedly refraining from enforcing the ordinance:
I believe because of the outcry against the ordinance, the City and the LGBT community have refrained from actively enforcing it. Their major goal of "stigma removal" and the "soft tyranny" of the threat of criminal prosecution has been achieved.
But as Bernal told Equality Matters, the existing ordinance included safeguards against religious discrimination even before LGBT protections were added.
"It's not intended to persecute any group," Bernal said. "It's crafted in such a way that protects everybody."
Deputy city attorney Veronica Zertuche told Equality Matters that her office hadn't fielded any complaints of discrimination against conservative Christians in the past year.
"The issue [of religious discrimination] has not arisen," Zertuche said.
San Antonio's experience isn't unusual. A 2012 study of local non-discrimination ordinances by UCLA's Williams Institute found "almost uniform compliance" with the ordinances, with no localities reporting spikes in frivolous litigation.
With the nation's attention turned toward the growing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, media figures have called on President Obama to speak out more forcefully on the situation and race relations in America. But Obama's past statements on race have been met with attacks from conservative commentators, blasting Obama for "promoting racial division" and "exacerbating racial tensions."
Voices currently urging the nation's first black president to say more on race ignore the marked history of conservative media figures' accusations of race-baiting in response to Obama's previous remarks:
The lament has spread all across the media spectrum this week, as the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri unfolds and people search for answers to the police killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown.
"Obama Should Go To Ferguson, Pronto," urged a Businessweek headline, beseeching the president to fill a leadership vacuum on the ground in Missouri. "Obama, can't you see black anger in Ferguson?" asked Marc Lamont Hill in a CNN essay. Writing at Daily Beast, Stuart Stevens lamented that Obama had "lost faith in his voice in Ferguson"; that he was "increasingly uncomfortable with the role of healer-in-chief," while the Washington Post's Joel Achenbach urged Obama to give another "national address" on race because that's what the crisis demands.
Maureen Dowd's New York Times column today's mocks Obama as a "the most ordinary of men" with a "bored-bird-in-a-gilded-cage attitude" who is unwilling to engage with the issue of racial strife.
Most of the of the do-something commentary has adopted the same premise: Obama could help the Ferguson crisis by giving a speech about race or addressing the situation more forcefully, but he won't. He won't use his powers. (See: The Green Lantern theory that Obama could convince a recalcitrant GOP Congress to pass legislation if he only tried.)
That premise though, and most of the commentary, completely ignores the corrosive role of the right-wing media in America, how it has spent years trying to silence and intimidate Obama on the topic of race, and how it's used some of the most offensive, guttural rhetoric and personal attacks to do so.
Through Obama's two terms, most of the Beltway press has remained strangely silent about the astonishingly ugly race baiting that now passes for mainstream conservative media commentary. That same press corps is now turning a blind eye to the tangible damage that kind of rhetoric has done to public debate, or the chance of public debate, and how the right-wing media has tried to implement a heckler's veto on Obama; to effectively shout him down.
It's fine for pundits to yearn for open dialogue and rhetorical leadership from the White House. It's less helpful for them to ignore the unpleasant realities of nasty partisan politics in the age of Obama. It does no good to pretend race baiting hasn't become a badge of honor and a professional path to success for lots of right-wing pundits.
For Obama to aggressively insert himself into the Ferguson story now is to invite a right-wing media hurricane that would likely rage for weeks. How do we know? Because again and again we've seen President Obama's attempts to engage on similar issues act as a lightning rod for these angry voices, quickly making it impossible to focus on the pressing issue at hand.
In an interview on CNN's Reliable Sources, Glenn Beck hyped his independent media venture while trying to divert attention away from his recent and past paranoid fantasies and conspiracy theories.
In an August 3 interview with host Brian Stelter labeled "the evolution of Glenn Beck," Beck appeared to discuss his network, The Blaze, and a move to a less political brand of talk, but Beck's own comments in the interview and recent work show his act hasn't really changed at all.