As usual, Tucker Carlson was mad.
The Fox News host opened a March 17 segment of his program by decrying how schools in Loudoun County, Virginia, “recently went completely off the deep end” when their “teachers began teaching children about critical race theory,” which he described as “pure racism.” Interviewing Ian Prior, a Republican political operative described on-screen as a “concerned parent,” Carlson claimed the situation in the Washington, D.C., suburb proved that a “destructive, almost suicidal impulse has descended on our leadership class” and is “destroying communities.”
Carlson’s segment launched a monthslong Fox propaganda campaign attacking Loudoun County’s school system, which serves “more than 81,000” of the nation’s 51 million public school students and has denied that “critical race theory” is part of its curriculum.
Fox ran 78 segments about “critical race theory” in the school system from March through June. The network’s coverage ran to nearly 4 1/2 hours. Fox’s website likewise returns more than 300 articles referencing Loudoun County and “critical race theory” over that period. Adding in Fox’s coverage of other Virginia locales -- primarily focused on neighboring Fairfax County -- brings the totals to 98 segments and nearly 5 1/2 hours of coverage.
Critical race theory is an academic legal framework which examines the systemic impact of racism in the United States. But a right-wing movement encapsulating think tanks, advocacy groups, media outlets, and Republican politicians has turned “critical race theory” into an umbrella term that focuses its mostly white adherents’ racial anxiety into political energy. This movement will pluck, exaggerate, or manufacture discrete instances of alleged left-wing excesses in discussions of race from the nation’s 13,500 school districts; dishonestly describe them all as “critical race theory”; nationalize coverage of those local stories as part of the broader culture war; use them to justify new laws restricting teachers; and polarize the debate for political gain.
That effort has particularly focused on Virginia, one of the few states with elections this fall. GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin is trying to turn his opposition to “critical race theory” into a winning issue on the campaign trail -- and if he succeeds, the party’s candidates in the 2022 midterms will likely follow suit.
Loudoun County, one of several Northern Virginia counties whose shift into the Democratic column has heralded the state’s emergence as a solid blue state, is key to that effort. Loudoun is a bedroom community for GOP activists, analysts, and operatives like Prior, who are using their political skills and communications experience as leaders of the commonwealth’s anti-”critical race theory” parents groups to focus attention on the issue. That attention has helped turn Loudoun County School Board meetings into mob scenes and driven racist threats against its members.
Fox, the chief propaganda apparatus for the GOP and a longtime home for reactionary racial demagoguery, is deeply invested in the strategy, referencing “critical race theory” nearly 1,700 times from March through June. An outsized share of that attention has fallen on Loudoun’s school system.
Fox’s obsessive coverage of “critical race theory” in Loudoun County schools
Fox ran 78 segments on “critical race theory” in Loudoun County schools from March through June. The network’s coverage of the story totaled 4 hours and 29 minutes over that period.
The network ran an additional 18 segments on “critical race theory” in schools elsewhere in Virginia, primarily focused on neighboring Fairfax County, which totaled another 54 minutes.
Fox’s Loudoun County coverage started with five segments and 20 minutes of coverage in March and increased over every month we assessed. In June, Fox’s coverage exploded to 58 segments on “critical race theory” in Loudoun County and five more in other Virginia schools. The network covered Loudoun County’s schools for more than three hours that month.
Fox ran 25 segments on Loudoun’s schools just from June 21-27, with coverage totaling 1 hour and 17 minutes. This included significant time devoted to previewing and then reporting on the June 22 meeting of the Loudoun County Public Schools board. The board shut down that meeting and went into closed session after outbursts from protesters against critical race theory and the board’s proposed policy on transgender students. (One attendee who refused to leave was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.)
These Fox shows covered “critical race theory” in Loudoun County schools the most
The Fox morning show Fox & Friends devoted the most coverage of any network program to “critical race theory” in Loudoun County schools. The show featured 32 segments and 1 hour 48 minutes of coverage across its weekday and weekend editions.
Fox’s leading “straight news” programs also devoted outsized coverage to the story. America Reports ran 10 segments and 32 minutes of Loudoun coverage, while America’s Newsroom produced seven segments and 22 minutes.
Laura Ingraham, who lives in a “gated McLean, Virginia, mansion,” was most fixated on Loudoun County’s schools of Fox’s prime-time hosts; The Ingraham Angle featured five segments and 19 minutes of coverage.
Who Fox hosted to discuss “critical race theory” in Loudoun County schools
“Many of the parents helming anti-critical race theory groups in the commonwealth are also conservative operatives and right-leaning policy analysts,” according to a Politico Magazine report on the effort by Virginia Republicans to use the “critical race theory” issue to win elections in the state. Fox hosts often feature those experienced and camera-ready operatives and analysts in their on-air coverage of Loudoun County, at times without acknowledging their day jobs.
Prior, for example, has discussed “critical race theory” in Loudoun’s schools in 12 Fox segments, and in two more about Fairfax’s schools. The network has identified him as a “concerned parent,” a “Loudoun County, VA parent,” and as the founder and executive director of the political action committee “Fight for Schools,” all of which are true. But he’s also spent much of his career as a Republican political operative and runs his own political communications consulting firm. Fox knows this -- Prior’s been a regular guest on the network for years.
Other Republican strategists, conservative think-tankers, or right-wing media personalities who Fox has promoted as educators or parents in coverage of “critical race theory” in Virginia schools include Patti Hidalgo Menders, a GOP strategist; Lilit Vanetsyan, a right-wing media figure; Elizabeth Schultz, a former Trump administration official; and Joe Mobley, a right-wing podcaster.
Fox has also regularly provided a platform for GOP gubernatorial nominee Youngkin to decry the purported teaching of “critical race theory” in the state. He made five such appearances over the period of the study.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “critical race theory,” “CRT,” “race theory,” “critical race,” or “diversity” within close proximity of any of the terms “Virginia,” “Loudoun,” “Fairfax,” “Alexandria,” “VA,” or “Potomac Falls” and also within close proximity of any of the terms “school,” “student,” “board,” “superintendent,” or “parent” or any variation of the term “teach” from March 1 through June 30, 2021.
We included segments, which we defined as instances when critical race theory in Virginia school systems was the stated topic of discussion or when we found “significant discussion” of the subject. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the subject with one another. We also included passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker brought up critical race theory in Virginia school systems without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment. Finally, we included teasers promoting segments about the subject scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We timed all relevant speech in all such segments, mentions, and teasers and rounded all times to the nearest minute.