After Fox News deliberately ginned up culture-war outrage for electoral purposes, the network’s “straight news” side is now working to smear a simple government response to school board members who are facing genuine dangers over a range of issues that have been actively stoked by right-wing media: “critical race theory,” COVID-19 health measures, and LGBTQ inclusion.
Fox News has aired over 60 segments that discussed an announcement Monday by the Justice Department that it would conduct interagency strategy sessions and offer assistance to local authorities on threats against school board members. The network’s overall response has been to accuse the government of targeting parents. And a review of the segments shows just how dishonest Fox’s purported “straight news” side has been. (Previously, the network has promoted unrest at school board meetings, without disclosing that its own guests are longtime Republican activists and political staffers — instead describing them simply as an “everyday American” or “mom.”)
A letter sent to the Biden administration last week by the National School Boards Association detailed its concern about a rise in behavior that was potentially or clearly illegal. Examples included death threats against board members, a threatening letter, and a local school board member who resigned after an unidentified person had taken photos of his home while his daughter was alone. Another peculiar case involved interstate travel by a man calling himself the “vaccine police,” who has threatened both pharmacists and school boards.
“As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased,” the letter said, “the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
In response, the Justice Department’s press release specifically said that people could report “threats of violence” to the FBI, while the attached official memorandum specifically differentiated such threats from “spirited debate about policy matters” that is protected by the Constitution.
But disregarding any of that critical context, America’s Newsroom co-anchor Bill Hemmer asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Wednesday, “Can you stop this move against parents?”
In addition, co-anchor Dana Perino also asked whether FBI Director Chris Wray “should refuse to go along with such a directive from the Justice Department.” She further added: “Threats should be investigated — actual threats. But anger is not necessarily a threat.”
Wednesday’s edition of America Reports also hosted frequent Fox guest Christopher Rufo, the driving force behind the political campaign to use “critical race theory” as an umbrella term for every right-wing culture war grievance. As Media Matters has previously documented, Rufo has taken credit for a Trump-era executive order that restricted federal racial sensitivity trainings — an order that President Joe Biden rescinded upon taking office — and he has worked with state legislatures to restrict diversity training materials.
Rufo claimed that the Justice Department and school board announcements were “predicated on a lie” that there was a wide pattern of threats against school boards.
“But when you go through the footnotes [of the NSBA letter] one by one, you realize very quickly they only can come up with one single example of a simple assault in Illinois,” Rufo said. “Which of course should be condemned, but it’s hardly justification for a national dragnet, and saying that parents are not only racist and white supremacists — which they tried to label us as over the summer — but now they’re domestic terrorists.”
In fact, the letter’s footnotes revealed more examples than just the “simple assault in Illinois” that Rufo pointed out. But following Rufo’s comment, guest co-anchor Trace Gallagher simply bemoaned that “this was a country built on robust debate, and now you can’t debate COVID, you can’t debate climate, you can’t debate kids, because there are people on the left who want that criminalized.”
And on Fox’s flagship “straight news” program, Special Report with Bret Baier, guest anchor Mike Emanuel opened Wednesday’s broadcast by announcing there was “increasing pushback against the Biden administration over its efforts to stifle dissent” from parents.
Then on Thursday’s edition of America’s Newsroom, fellow Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner promoted an upcoming segment of her own show The Faulkner Focus with a bold and defiant statement: “We will not be muzzled. That is the rallying cry from parents, as we see a lot of people who are upset after President Biden’s DOJ said it’s going to sic the FBI on parents who make so-called threats, advocating for their children.”
And on Thursday’s edition of America Reports, co-anchor Sandra Smith discussed the topic with a Fox opinion host, Brain Kilmeade of Fox & Friends. Following a video clip of White House press secretary Jen Psaki telling Fox’s White House correspondent Peter Doocy that the memo noted that “threats and violence against public servants” are illegal, Smith responded by again changing the goal posts.
“There’s already laws to prevent that,” Smith said — overlooking the fact that enforcing those existing laws is exactly what the memo is about. “But they’re specifically asking about those parents who are speaking out in those school board meetings about what is happening in the classroom. Are they terrorists?”
Kilmeade in turn extolled what he thought parents were communicating: “I am upset by the curriculum. My second-grader hearing about transgender — not good. Hearing about how terrible our country is — not positive.”
Of course, America is a diverse country. And for Kilmeade and other purveyors of this whole scare campaign, diversity and inclusion are in fact the “terrible” things they are fighting against.