On June 14, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law eliminating diversity, equity, and inclusion offices and programs at state-funded universities and colleges. TV broadcast news stations across the state collectively spent just 59 minutes on the story in the two weeks after the law was signed and largely failed to explain the context and effects of this decision.
DEI programs include strategies, policies, and practices that aim to foster equitable treatment toward and participation from historically underrepresented groups. They have become a favorite target for right-wing activists looking to sabotage any attempt at addressing systemic oppression.
Starting in January 2024, state-funded universities and colleges in Texas will be banned from creating DEI offices, hiring employees to conduct DEI work, mandating DEI training for students or employees as a hiring or admission condition, and considering a job candidate’s race, gender, or approach to diversity. The law passed following widespread opposition from students and faculty who say dismantling DEI offices will negatively impact student well-being and university accreditation (and thus funding).
Local broadcast news outlets aired 67 segments covering the bill from June 14, the date of the law’s signing, through June 27. Throughout the reports, broadcasters rarely defined DEI, mentioned concerns about accreditation without DEI, or quoted concerned students, faculty, or university administrators. They also repeated right-wing misinformation without critique and neglected to inform viewers about the conservative think tanks that pushed for the ban in the first place.
Just 18% of segments tried to define diversity, equity, and inclusion
College DEI offices exist to help prospective and current Black, Latino, Asian, disabled, first-generation, low-income, female, LGBTQ+, and veteran students and faculty access services, support, and find community on campus. They might do this by drafting plans to increase underrepresented faculty members, tracking disparities in student demographics, providing spaces for student events, and responding to racist incidents on campus. However, only 18% (12) of the segments defined DEI.
Only five outlets out of the 35 outlets that covered the DEI ban from June 14 to June 27 defined DEI. All but one of the 12 reports framed definitions of DEI as opinions from supporters, using statements like “supporters say DEI programs eliminate biases against people of color.” Rio Grande’s KGBT was the only outlet that defined DEI without relying on such framing, noting that the offices “prioritized more inclusive working and learning environments for students varying of different backgrounds, including people of different races, ethnicities, military veterans, and people with disabilities.”
45% of segments repeated right-wing misinformation about DEI
Common misinformation featured in local broadcast reports included legislation proponents’ claims that “DEI offices force faculty and students to adopt certain political beliefs” or “advance political agendas,” that DEI promotes “reverse racism” or is “creating villains out of certain races or religions or sexual orientation” and that eliminating DEI programs and policies “puts an end to all activities that discriminate against students based on their race, ethnicity, or gender.”
These are blatant mischaracterizations and lies about DEI programs and policies; responsible reporting would debunk and properly contextualize these lies instead of platforming them.
There is no reliable evidence that DEI offices indoctrinate students or advance political agendas, whereas experts say DEI bans have a cost to academic freedom. While many on the right promoting this culture war like to play victim, DEI offices are about creating a culture where everyone can thrive and they are set up so they don’t violate federal anti-discrimination laws.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, studies suggest DEI increases enrollment and retention rates for marginalized students and hiring and retention rates for marginalized faculty, and leads to higher social mobility among marginalized groups. More diverse higher education institutions enrich everyone’s academic experiences, including those of white people, the purported victims of DEI policies.
No segment acknowledged the right-wing strategy that led to the DEI ban
Texas’ DEI ban is the latest manifestation of a disingenuous right-wing misinformation campaign seeking to demonize and eliminate institutional efforts to acknowledge and address systemic oppression. But zero Texas broadcast TV segments mentioned this extensive right-wing campaign.
In 2023, the Manhattan Institute produced model legislative text to remove DEI from higher education institutions, which both Florida’s and Texas’ anti-DEI proposals in part reflect. One of the think tank’s main proponents of DEI bans, Christopher Rufo, is a prominent right-wing strategist and anti-civil rights activist seeking to exert conservative control over educational policy by injecting misinformation and bigotry about the LGBTQ+ community and critical race theory into mainstream discourses.
Despite the outsized role conservative think tanks had in passing the DEI ban, information about the origin of these conservative efforts was absent from Texas’ TV broadcast news coverage.
Only 37% of segments quoted students, faculty, and other university officials
Only 37% (25) of the segments cited or quoted people impacted by the law: students, professors, and other faculty and staff. Across those 25 segments, local news stations interviewed just two students and one faculty member — and one of those students had already graduated. Other outlets just read from or referenced statements from universities saying they were working to understand how to implement the new law.
The other interviewed student, who is a member of Texas Students for DEI, shared that they were skeptical of the reasoning and the intention for the law, and concerned that lawmakers did not weigh the negatives appropriately. And Jasmine Harris, an African-American studies professor at University of Texas at San Antonio told WOAI the bill would have “earthquake-like” effects on education, including a “mass exodus of folks who are committed to creating inclusive environments on higher education campuses."
Only 12% of segments mentioned concerns about how the DEI ban would affect funding or accreditation
Just one report mentioned accreditation or funding concerns, and it aired eight times across four Texas broadcast outlets, all owned by Nexstar media company. Other outlets avoided the issue entirely. The Nexstar report included an interview with recent law school graduate Connor Bridges, whose comments the reporter summarized as “banning DEI offices is a true risk for Texas’ public law schools considering the American Bar Association requires DEI initiatives as part of its accreditation.”
Legislators added language that if a federal granting agency or accreditation agency requires DEI programs, a Texas university or employee can submit a statement highlighting their work helping first-generation, low-income, and other underserved students. However, eliminating the offices that track, quantify, and report this information may make applying for grants and renewing accreditation difficult.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the Kinetiq video database for all original news programming on local affiliates for ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX in media markets that air in the state of Texas; Abilene-Sweetwater, Amarillo, Austin, Beaumont-Port Arthur, Corpus Christi, Dallas-Ft. Worth, El Paso (Las Cruces), Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen, Houston, Laredo, Lubbock, Odessa-Midland, San Angelo, San Antonio, Sherman-Ada, Shreveport, Tyler-Longview (Lufkin & Nacogdoches), Victoria, Waco-Temple-Bryan, and Wichita Falls & Lawton for any variation of the term “Senate Bill 17” or either of the terms “Texas” or “Abbott” within 20 words of any of the terms “DEI,” “diversity,” “equity,” or “inclusion” from June 14, 2023 – when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 17, the legislation banning diversity, equity, and inclusion offices, programs, and initiatives in publicly funded state universities and college campuses – through June 27, 2023.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when Senate Bill 17 was a stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the legislation. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the bill with each other.
We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned the legislation without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the bill scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We then reviewed the identified segments to determine whether they interviewed or quoted impacted parties, including students, faculty, or other staff, or mentioned one or more of the stated purposes or definitions of DEI programs: addressing historical inequities, providing safe spaces for marginalized employees and students, providing additional levels of support to previously unsupported faculty at these institutions, and reducing discrimination and bias.
We defined impacted parties as students, individuals who attend a publicly funded Texas state university or college; faculty, tenure-track or adjunct professors; or other staff, such as administrators or other non-faculty personnel. We defined DEI as strategies, policies, and practices that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion and foster equitable treatment and participation from historically underrepresented groups.
We also reviewed the identified segments for whether they interviewed or quoted from the conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research or conservative activist Christopher Rufo; included anti-DEI claims from the Manhattan Institute, including that such programs promote a left-wing ideological agenda, threaten free speech, are equivalent to loyalty oaths, compelled speech, political coercion, or political litmus tests, are divisive, discriminatory, or promote racial profiling, are unconstitutional, or have no positive impact or have a negative impact on college campuses and marginalized students.
Finally, we reviewed the identified segments for whether they mentioned that the law could cause publicly funded Texas state universities and colleges to lose federal funding.