In the latest episode of a series of right-wing attacks on both public education and accurate teaching about race and history, right-wing media twisted comments that the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten made in an interview to falsely paint her and the teachers union as hysterical and anti-parent.
For over a year, right-wing media have waged war on public education by attacking factual instruction about history, race, and diversity (which they inaccurately label “critical race theory” or simply “CRT”) — all while portraying their campaign as a fight for “parents’ rights,” an approach that dates back to 1990s battles over public education and is now used as a racist dog whistle.
As part of this campaign, state legislators have introduced dozens of bills to limit teachers’ ability to provide accurate history lessons; jurisdictions have banned books on race and LGBTQ identity; and Florida outlawed instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation. Some conservative candidates have even run on the promise of opposing so-called CRT and promoting parents’ rights in a bid to energize white voters through racist rhetoric.
In an interview for the left-leaning Rick Smith Show, which aired on April 13, Weingarten argued that propaganda and misinformation in general can fuel wars and hatred. She also criticized right-wing legislation that has banned books and restricted lessons about the Holocaust, race, and gender.
Early in the interview, Weingarten spoke out against banning books like Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction graphic novel about the Holocaust. She said it’s better for teachers to explain difficult topics like genocide to kids in a “welcoming environment” than for kids to first learn about it on TV.
We've been very lucky in America and we, in some ways, live in a bubble for a long time. This is propaganda, this is misinformation — this is the way in which war starts. This is the way in which hatred starts. ... What we're trying to do is make sure that, you know, we educate kids. We keep them safe, we keep them welcome, and we help them learn how to think.
For over a week, the podcast received little attention on Twitter. Then, on April 21, the Republican National Convention’s research arm posted an out-of-context video clip from the interview with the caption “AFT union boss Randi Weingarten absurdly says parental rights bills are ‘the way in which wars start.’” The RNC’s tweet distorted Weingarten’s words; her comments were generalized and not directed specifically at any legislation.
After the RNC’s tweet went live, multiple right-wing media outlets seized on quotes from the interview. They twisted Weingarten’s comments, falsely claiming that she had attacked parents who want to be involved in their kids’ education or that she had implied so-called parents’ rights bills start wars. Here are some examples of right-wing media pushing this misleading narrative about Weingarten’s remarks:
- The right-wing website Watchman published an April 22 editorial titled “Union Head Randi Weingarten Says Parents Are Stoking the Flames of War.” The article went on to falsely claim, “The AFT President suggested the current trend of parental interest and parental rights activism is ‘propaganda’ and intimated that parents fighting for their liberties is akin to stoking warfare.”
- On April 22, The Daily Caller published a piece with the exaggerated title “‘The Way In Which Wars Start’: Randi Weingarten Freaks Out Over GOP Parental Rights Bills.” The story falsely implied that Weingarten had used Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill (also known as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill) as an example of “the way in which wars start.”
- Fox News posted a supposedly straight news article on its website on April 22 with the misleading title “Randi Weingarten says parental rights bills are 'the way in which wars start.'” Like other right-wing media, Fox falsely implied that Weingarten had singled out specific legislation in her comments, claiming that “Weingarten warned that legislation similar to Florida's recent parental rights bill may have dire consequences.”
- On the April 22 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, after the hosts played a clip from the interview, Fox contributor Brian Brenberg said, “Did you hear the words that she brought into that? Misinformation and propaganda. If you are a parent who wants to question schools, you must be a victim of misinformation.”
- The right-wing website The Blaze called Weingarten’s interview “unhinged” in an April 22 post, lying that she was “proclaiming the country could soon be heading for civil war as a result of parents assuming more control over their children's education.”
- Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity’s website released an article on April 22 titled “TEACHER'S PEST: Union Pres. Randi Weingarten Says Parental Rights Bills 'The Way Wars Start.'”
- An April 22 Townhall article blustered that “Weingarten said on a recent podcast that GOP-backed parental rights legislation could have alarming results and even suggested that such laws are how ‘wars start.’”
- In an April 22 article, the New York Post misleadingly claimed, “Weingarten recently likened encouraging parents to get involved in how their kids are being taught to fighting words — saying it’s the way ‘wars start.’”
- On April 23, the right-wing commentary site PJ Media falsely claimed that “Randi Weingarten thinks parental rights legislation can 'Start wars.'”
- Breitbart News also twisted Weingarten’s comments in an April 23 post, claiming she “said that parental rights bills such as the one recently signed into law in Florida are ‘the way in which wars start.’”
- A New York Post editorial published April 24 claimed that Weingarten’s “anti-parent rantings” were “extreme” and added, “Whatever she thinks she’s doing, American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten isn’t helping her members with such over-the-top extremism as claiming that things like Florida’s new parental-rights law are ‘the way in which wars start.’”
- On the April 25 edition of America’s Newsroom, Republican congressional candidate Brandon Michon criticized Weingarten’s comments and pushed the false narrative that the Department of Justice was treating conservative parents as “domestic terrorists.”