Fox News has found a new scapegoat for Trump’s failures on coronavirus: teachers unions

Screencap of a segment of Fpx & Friends Saturday

In recent weeks, Fox News has been attacking teachers unions -- which are demanding safety measures be in place before they return to physical classrooms -- in order to defend the Trump administration's demand of schools reopening and to deflect from the failures of President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Across the country, school districts have faced increasing pressure from the Trump administration to allow students and teachers to return to the classrooms in the fall -- despite many states seeing spikes in coronavirus cases. As The New York Times reported:

Teachers say crucial questions about how schools will stay clean, keep students physically distanced and prevent further spread of the virus have not been answered. And they feel that their own lives, and those of the family members they come home to, are at stake.

Fox News and Fox Business have attempted to distract or downplay the impact of Trump’s dangerous stance on schools reopening in the fall by treating teachers unions as greedy boogeymen pushing for liberal policies. Instead of focusing on the coronavirus outbreak as the reason why schools are not able to safely reopen, Fox has framed the situation as entirely the fault of teachers unions.

Here are four ways in which the Fox channels have attempted to deflect from Trump’s dangerous stance on reopening schools.

Fox claim: Teachers unions are greedy

  • Fox News host Laura Ingraham said during her July 7 show that the push not to reopen schools was “unbelievable” and “like child abuse at some point,” saying that “the unions want more money.” On that same show, Ingraham again claimed that teachers unions just “want all the money” and don’t really need any equipment to protect students from the coronavirus, calling it “a scam.”
  • On the July 14 episode of Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Fox Business host Charles Payne said, “These unions have put themselves, their paychecks, and political power over children, particularly in large cities and progressive states, for decades. … This is really an attack on the most vulnerable, poorest parts of our nation.”
  • During a July 11 episode of Fox News’ The Journal Editorial Report, The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger alleged that teachers unions are “doing the holdup” on reopening schools “for more money” from the state and federal government. The Journal’s Jason Riley claimed he has “no doubt” that teachers unions are planning “to leverage COVID to get more education spending, more spending on pensions and so forth. This is what the unions do. Their priority is their members -- the kids are not members and the parents are not members.”
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Citation From the July 11, 2020, edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report

  • On the July 13 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne, Independent Women’s Forum’s Hadley Heath Manning said that the teachers unions are advocating against “what is best for education or for students” and claimed that “anyone who is interested in keeping a public education system has to be in favor of reopening.”

Fox claim: Teachers unions are demanding liberal policies as a condition for reopening

Some of Fox News' outrage was over a research paper released by United Teachers Los Angeles about conditions that need to be met before schools reopen amid the pandemic. In addition to essential conditions to reopen, such as adequate Personal Protective Equipment and temperature screenings, the paper laid out how “this crisis presents an opportunity to create a new normal that supports all students,” including advocating for Medicare for All on the federal level. Instead of recognizing UTLA's comments as a critique of the system, many on Fox used the paper as an opportunity to claim the “evil” union was making “irrational and socialistic” demands.

  • On the July 14 episode of his Fox Business show, host Stuart Varney said that the teachers union in Los Angeles “demanded Medicare for All and the defunding of the police department as a condition for reopening,” adding, “Leftist politics rule, and the largely minority student body in southern California will be deprived of a meaningful education.”
  • Also on July 14, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that demands from the Los Angeles teachers unions sound “like Joe Biden talking points: $500 billion in federal assistance for K-12 schools, defund the police, Medicare for All, a wealth tax, a millionaire's tax, financial support for illegal immigrants. Why don't you just focus on algebra, math, and coloring?”
  • On the July 13 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, The Five co-host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery said the Los Angeles teachers union wants “masks for kids, they want social distancing, but they also want to shut down any pending charter schools. … They want a Medicare for All-type insurance program, and they are demanding all of this and holding the nation's second largest school district hostage unless their demands are met.” She added, “It is so irrational and socialistic, you cannot grasp the power and the depth of the evil of” the Los Angeles teachers union. 
  • On a July 12 appearance on Fox & Friends Weekend, Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee asked, “Why don't we defund the teachers unions that have ceased being about education and about kids?” Huckabee claimed that teachers unions are now “all about left-wing politics. And I'm not talking about liberal politics, I'm talking about far-left, loony politics."
  • During an episode of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum on July 10, public school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs -- who previously sued the California state teachers union to allow public sector workers to refuse to pay union dues -- said that “Marxists are posing as teachers unions” and “pushing a radical leftist political agenda, and they are never standing up for teachers or for children.”
  • In a episode of Fox & Friends on July 16, Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation claimed that the list of requests from the Los Angeles teachers union “is another example of unions putting politics ahead of what is in the best interest of children," adding, “They are using this moment right now to try to fulfill a liberal wish list, and they’re using this question of school reopening as a bargaining chip during the pandemic.” Burke added, “This is about advancing a radical agenda that includes everything from eliminating charter schools and raising taxes to Medicare for All and defunding the police. We should not be defunding the police -- if anything, we should be defunding the teachers unions to provide some real accountability to families.”

Fox claim: Teachers unions are the reasons schools are not reopening -- not the coronavirus pandemic

  • Ingraham -- whose coverage during the pandemic has been filled with dangerous misinformation about the virus -- alleged on her July 10 show that “Democratic politicians, leftist school administrators, and teachers are the main impediment to schools opening in the fall, especially teachers unions.”
  • On July 13, Ingraham claimed, “No more lockdowns. Viruses are a fact of life,” adding, “Teachers are essential workers. They're just like firefighters and policemen that way. They need to be on the job.” Ingraham said that not reopening schools will be “catastrophic for parents and kids” and urged her viewers to “start making noise on that.”
  • On the July 7 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson blamed teachers unions for stopping the reopening of schools, saying, “You may have thought this was a debate that we settled conclusively back in the 19th century when we banned 8-year-olds from working in factories and sent them to school.” Carlson continued, “The teachers unions’ positions on every question is always the same. They would like less work, no accountability, and much more pay.” 
  • On a July 11 episode of Fox & Friends Weekend, Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy said that “the only reason” reopening isn’t happening “in some of these liberal cities is politics and the activists inside the teachers unions who are pushing for that.” 

Fox claim: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is in the tank for teachers unions

  • Campos-Duffy said on the July 10 edition of Hannity that teachers unions are “filled with activists with a vested interest in seeing Joe Biden win” and “are pushing for closure of schools for very political purposes.”
  • On July 7, Ingraham claimed, “Joe Biden is bought and paid for by the teachers union; he’s just going to rubber-stamp whatever they decide.”
  • On July 9, Ingraham claimed that “Texas is full steam ahead reopening schools in the fall, unless the teachers unions -- Joe Biden's pals -- get their way.”
  • On July 14, Ingraham blamed “Biden's big allies, the teachers unions,” for ignoring the lower rates of infection of children and “the horrific mental and physical health consequences from keeping kids away from school” when considering reopening policies.
  • Trump campaign official Erin Perrine -- who has also appeared on a QAnon-related show to promote Trump’s reelection campaign -- said on the July 8 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co. that “Joe Biden is beholden to the teachers union in this country, and he has said directly he will do whatever they want” in regard to reopening schools. 
  • Judicial Crisis Network’s Gayle Trotter -- another right-wing media figure who recently expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory -- alleged on Fox News’ MediaBuzz that “the media are aligned with the Biden campaign and the talking points of the teachers union who want to keep the schools closed this fall.”
  • Trump campaign senior adviser Mercedes Schlapp attempted to disparage Biden, saying on The Story with Martha MacCallum that “he aligns himself with the teachers unions. The president aligns with the parents and the children.”