Education

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  • Conservative media misinformation leads to violent threats against professors

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conservative media misinformation cycle is increasingly targeting college professors for engaging in what they call anti-white rhetoric. Some conservative advocacy groups and right-wing and conservative media are working together to produce fake news about professors, leading to threats, intimidation, and campus shutdowns.

    Several articles published in the past week in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed trace the path of misinformation as it moves through the conservative media ecosystem. The Chronicle notes: “Whether true or trumped up, tales of liberal faculty espousing tone-deaf or noxious views are good business for the network of conservative media outlets that purport to document the leftward drift of higher education.” The process often starts with Campus Reform, a website where conservative college students write about perceived liberal bias on campus.

    The Chronicle reports that “Campus Reform’s pieces are often stamped with the hallmarks of nonpartisan journalism” but that they are packaged with sensational headlines and generally fail to place professors’ comments in context. These stories are picked up by right-wing “longstanding industry leaders” such as “The National Review and edgier newcomers like Heat Street and The Blaze,” which then further skew the original stories in ways intended to resonate with their conservative audience. After bouncing around right-wing media, the stories may be picked up by more mainstream conservative media outlets such as Fox News. By this time the story often bears only a superficial resemblance to reality. The result of these right-wing media campaigns has sometimes been an outpouring of abuse and threats against the professors. Recent instances have resulted in one campus closing down, universities asking professors to take a leave from campus, and a professor moving to protect his family.

    For instance, one of the many examples the Chronicle documented was the case of Trinity College professor Johnny Eric Williams. On June 18, Williams published a series of Facebook posts on race and policing. He shared a controversial article titled “Let Them Fucking Die” that referenced the shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise (LA-R).

    Campus Reform quickly wrote an article about Williams’ social network posts with the headline “Prof calls whites ‘inhuman assholes,’ says ‘let them die.’” The Blaze and The Daily Caller picked up the Campus Reform piece and wrote articles titled “College professor to blacks, other minorities: Let white people ‘f***ing die’” and “Professor Calls White People Inhuman,” respectively.

    On June 21, The Washington Times followed with an article based on these three pieces titled “Trinity College professor calls white people ‘inhuman’: ‘Let them f-ing die.’” Finally, Fox News published an article the same day titled “Professor’s profane, anti-white messages cause campus controversy.” Williams also issued a statement on June 21, defending his position: “It is evident to anyone who carefully reads my posts on Facebook and Twitter that I did not call for the death of all self-identified ‘whites,’” he said. He called the coverage a “provocative move to get readers to pay attention to my reasoned, reasonable, and yes angry argument.” But by then, the cycle was complete and the campus was temporarily shut down due to a multitude of violent threats.

    Trinity College eventually placed Williams on leave. Williams told the media that this was not his idea; the Hartford Courant quoted him saying, “They said it was in the interest of the college, primarily in their interest, not in my interest.”

    Media Matters has documented an extensive network of conservative and right-wing funders, advocacy organizations, and media organizations that work together to generate a toxic culture of harassment and intimidation. Campus Reform plays a critical role in this nexus by providing stories about college campuses. Campus Reform is also intimately connected to Professor Watchlist, another right-wing campus group that targets college professors and asks site visitors to “submit a tip” about professors who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Campus Reform is the primary documentary source that Professor Watchlist links to to substantiate professors’ purported anti-conservative discrimination. Two of the professors profiled in the recent Chronicle stories, Tommy Curry and Johnny Eric Williams, are also profiled on Professor Watchlist. Professor Watchlist currently lists 216 professors, complete with pictures, brief summaries of their alleged offenses, and links to stories of dubious quality detailing these offenses.

    Inside Higher Ed reports that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) “is definitely concerned about this trend” of professor intimidation. The article notes that some universities have offered “mixed responses” to professors in the wake of threats and intimidation. Universities have also censored, fired, or put on leave some professors, like Williams, who are targeted by these dishonest campaigns. They have also tried to cancel, or rename controversial courses that draw attention of the far right.

    Universities that fail to protect professors against the dishonest misinformation campaigns of conservative media are complicit in the rise in violent right-wing rhetoric on college campuses. A statement from AAUP, reported by the Chronicle, highlights the risk: “Threatening messages are likely to stifle free expression and cause faculty and others on campus to self-censor so as to avoid being subjected to similar treatment.” The conservative media that create the environment for these threats -- and the mainstream media outlets that fail to aggressively counter this misinformation -- are also at fault in creating less safe and less open universities.

  • PBS is airing right-wing-sponsored school privatization propaganda

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her department have pushed for an expansion of privatized school choice programs in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, particularly in the form of private school vouchers. Now a propagandistic three-part documentary series called School Inc. will help DeVos in her efforts to gain public support for expanded private school choice options. The series has already aired on PBS stations in some markets and will be shown on more this month.

    A majority of people across the partisan spectrum oppose private school vouchers, programs that redirect public education money to pay for private school tuition. Vouchers are problematic for many reasons, including their history of allowing for discrimination against LGBTQ, disabled, and special education students, their impact on reducing public education funding, and their ineffectiveness in boosting academic achievement.

    Despite these problems, private school vouchers are a long-standing priority of the corporations and right-wing funders backing the education privatization movement. The late Andrew Coulson, long-time head of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, was the driving force behind School Inc. The Cato Institute is a right-wing, libertarian think-tank that calls for the elimination of public schools in support of greater “educational freedom” to choose from a free market of privately run schools.

    In addition to School Inc.’s roots in the radical, libertarian Cato Institute, education historian and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch found that the film was funded by a number of arch-conservative foundations with ties to the “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust and the Ayn Rand Institute. Ravitch has prescreened School Inc. and provided this scathing review to The Washington Post:

    This program is paid propaganda. It does not search for the truth. It does not present opposing points of view. It is an advertisement for the demolition of public education and for an unregulated free market in education. PBS might have aired a program that debates these issues, but “School Inc.” does not.

    Why would a public broadcast channel air a documentary that is produced by a right-wing think tank and funded by ultra-conservative donors, and that presents a single point of view without meaningful critique, all the while denigrating public education? PBS responded in part with a statement to the Post, saying, "PBS and local member stations aim to offer programs that reflect diverse viewpoints and promote civic dialogue on important topics affecting local communities."

    However, as Ravitch notes, when a documentary fails to objectively present information about a topic that may not be well understood by the general public, the result is unlikely to “promote civic dialogue.” And when major media outlets uncritically provide a platform to right-wing ideologues, they further misinform and polarize the debate around important issues such as public education.

  • Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson can’t get anything right

    Watson's fans include Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump administration

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson has no credibility. The longtime Alex Jones collaborator has frequently fallen for hoaxes, posted transparently false information, and pushed fringe conspiracy theories about 9/11 and mass shootings.

    Infowars and Watson have become a favorite source for President Donald Trump and his fans. The president and his aides have referred to Watson’s work during the campaign, and Jones claimed senior aides have said they “really want” Watson to be part of the White House press corps.

    Watson is an Infowars editor and writer who has been working for conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones since October 2002. He has emerged as his own brand, regularly posting videos to his own YouTube channel. His videos carry headlines like “Why Are Feminists Fat & Ugly?”; “Hillary's Weird Behavior: The Cover-Up”; “F**k Beyoncé"; and “The Deep State War on Trump.”

    He’s also a prolific presence on social media, where he regularly pushes false information and misogyny. Watson has tweeted that the Women's March on Washington would be composed of a “handful of self-entitled, fat, ugly feminists trying to get arrested in desperate attempt to impress any man”; “a feminist is a woman who hates men because she is ugly on the inside and out and no one wants to be around her”; “strident feminists are almost always joyless cunts who are not fun to be around. This is a scientific fact”; and the “stereotype of most feminists being fat, ugly and obnoxious is completely accurate.”

    Watson also rails against purported political correctness and “social justice warriors.” He complained in a June 2 Reddit Ask Me Anything discussion that liberals are anti-science because they won’t accept that African and Middle Eastern people are more aggressive because they have lower IQs, adding: “You can’t deny that there are differences between races when it comes to IQ.” He also said that there’s a “war on men and masculinity” and that popular culture glorifies “being a pussy” and having depression, which Watson falsely alleges is not a real medical condition. And Watson has claimed that “there’s no such thing as moderate Islam. Islam is a violent, intolerant religion which, in its current form, has no place in liberal western democracies.”

    Watson is a conspiracy theorist who has woven tales about the United States government's involvement in tragedies such as 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Virginia Tech shooting. He has also fallen for numerous hoaxes, including fake stories about President Obama grabbing Melania Trump’s butt, President Trump generously allowing a black woman to live in Trump Tower for free for eight years, and a “damaging new Trump tape.”

    Trump and his aides have helped mainstream Watson, Jones, and Infowars, which is aiming to get permanent White House press credentials. Trump has twice retweeted Watson’s account (Watson responded to one retweet by writing that he “can now retire”). Donald Trump Jr. loves retweeting Watson’s account and has done so nearly 40 times since October 2016, according to the Trump Twitter Archive database. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, Eric Trump, and White House director of social media Dan Scavino Jr. have also retweeted Watson or promoted his work.

    Jones said during a February 22 Reddit Ask Me Anything that he’s “talked to some of the senior Trump people” and they have told him, “‘Hey, we like you, but we really want Paul Watson’” as the Infowars White House correspondent. Jones added that Watson has declined to move to D.C.

    Here are 22 times Watson has pushed false stories and/or fact-free conspiracy theories:

    Watson fell for hoax that "CNN/BuzzFeed" would leak “damaging new Trump tape” before inauguration

    Watson helped start false claim that Trump “almost certainly” won popular vote due to votes “cast by illegal aliens”

    Watson posted fake photos claiming CNN made Fort Lauderdale airport shooter appear white

    Watson fell for fake story that Common Core curriculum taught 6th graders “how to use strap-on dildos”

    Watson posted -- then deleted -- story claiming WikiLeaks “bombshell” revealed that Clinton said she “hates everyday Americans”

    Watson fell for photoshopped picture of Obama supposedly grabbing Melania Trump’s butt

    Watson published false story that Obama executive order “mandate[s] the apprehension and detention of Americans who merely show signs of ‘respiratory illness’”

    Watson published 2011 story claiming “sources” say “bin Laden’s corpse has been on ice for nearly a decade”

    Watson’s Wash. Post-Seth Rich conspiracy theory fell apart

    Watson fell for fake story that trump allowed “homeless black woman” to live in Trump Tower rent free “for eight years”

    Watson falsely claims that depression is a fake condition

    Watson falsely claimed Obama adviser advocated “forced abortions” and “mass sterilization programs” through water supply

    Watson repeatedly connected Chicago attack with Black Lives Matter (police said it wasn’t connected)

    Watson falsely claims Obama’s birth certificate is “fraudulent”

    Watson falsely reported that “Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest”

    Watson conspiracy theory: “U.S. establishment” “trained, funded and allowed” 9/11 hijackers into country

    Watson conspiracy theory: WTC 7 collapse “was a controlled demolition”

    Watson conspiracy theory: Virginia Tech mass shooting might have been “another government black-op”

    Watson conspiracy theory: Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh carried out attack under the direction of the FBI

    Watson conspiracy theory: Fort Hood mass shooting appears “perfectly staged”

    Watson conspiracy theory: Norwegian shooter “a patsy?”

    Watson conspiracy theory: British government behind 7/7 London bombings

    Watson fell for hoax that "CNN/BuzzFeed" would leak “damaging new Trump Tape” before inauguration

    Watson: “CNN/BuzzFeed to release damaging new Trump Tape 48 hours before inauguration.” Watson reported that a “source claiming to work for NBC has contacted Infowars to warn of a CNN/Buzzfeed plot to release a damaging video tape of Donald Trump just 48 hours before he is inaugurated as president.” [Infowars, 1/16/17, via Internet Archive]

    Watson was tricked by man who wanted to see how gullible he is. BuzzFeed reported that a man named Markus Muir said he tricked Watson into publishing the story. He explained: “It was only two direct messages and I thought he might ask for more confirmation. I went to bed, forgot about it, then I checked his feed on the train to work and it was just him saying there was huge news about to come out. I couldn’t believe it. It was a cut-and-paste job of what I said to him and it was all bullshit -- I made it all up.” He added that his idea came to him after seeing a CNN discussion on fake news. Infowars later took down Watson’s story. [BuzzFeed, 1/18/17]

    Watson helped start false claim that Trump “almost certainly” won popular vote due to votes “cast by illegal aliens”

    Watson: “Trump may have won popular vote.” Watson posted an Infowars piece claiming that “three million votes in the U.S. presidential election were cast by illegal aliens, according to Greg Phillips of the VoteFraud.org organization,” and as a result Trump “almost certainly won the popular vote.” [Infowars, 11/14/16]

    Reality: The claim that millions of “illegal” votes swung the popular vote is a baseless conspiracy. Numerous fact checkers noted that the “three million” “illegal” votes claim is false. PolitiFact wrote that the claim was given oxygen by Infowars, and it is “inaccurate” and “false.” It added that “studies have consistently shown that voter fraud is nowhere near common enough to call into question millions and millions of votes. Indeed, the ability to carry off such a far-reaching conspiracy -- potentially involving millions of people over the course of several months and without being noticed by election administration officials, many of them in states controlled by Republicans -- is ridiculously illogical.” [PolitiFact, 11/18/16, 11/28/16]

    Watson posted fake photos claiming CNN made Fort Lauderdale airport shooter appear white

    Watson tweet: “Why is CNN attempting to make the shooter look more white? bizarre.” After Esteban Santiago was arrested for the deadly January 2017 shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport, Watson tweeted:

    [Twitter, 1/6/17, via archive.is]

    Watson’s photo was fake. As The Daily Beast noted, “In reality, CNN had yet to air a picture of Santiago, let alone lightened a picture of him. The conspiracy also used a picture of an entirely different man named Esteban Santiago -- not the alleged shooter. … A real image of the shooter circulated on the internet hours later, confirming that he is not the 39-year-old Santiago showed in Watson’s tweet and Gateway Pundit’s article.” Watson later deleted his tweet. [The Daily Beast, 1/6/17]

    Watson fell for fake story that Common Core curriculum taught 6th graders “how to use strap-on dildos”

    Infowars story: “6th graders taught how to use strap-on dildo.” Watson wrote in a September 2014 story that “shocking images out of a classroom in Jacksonville, Florida illustrate how 11-12 year olds in 6th grade are being taught how to use strap-on dildos amidst a debate about sexual content finding its way into other Common Core subjects, material which has been attacked by some as pornographic.” [Infowars, 9/15/14, via archive.is; Snopes.com, 1/18/14]

    Watson mistook “satire” article as real news. As The Washington Post noted, “a quick reverse image-search make it pretty clear that the images came from an LGBT event at a college in Canada … and that the story itself originated on Modern Woman Digest, a bad ‘satire,’ i.e. fake-news, site.” Infowars has since taken down the story. [The Washington Post9/19/14]

    Watson posted -- then deleted -- story claiming WikiLeaks “bombshell” revealed that Clinton said she “hates everyday Americans”

    Infowars story: “WikiLeaks bombshell: Hillary Clinton ‘hates everyday Americans.’” Watson wrote an October 2016 piece headlined “Wikileaks Bombshell: Hillary Clinton ‘Hates Everyday Americans.’” He began the story by claiming: “New Wikileaks emails released just moments ago include a shocking admission by Clinton campaign manager John Podesta that Hillary Clinton ‘has begun to hate everyday Americans’. The whistleblower organization dumped part 3 of its Podesta email release today and this has to be the most jaw-dropping revelation yet.” [Infowars, 10/11/16, via archive.is]

    Watson wildly misrepresented Clinton’s comment. As even conservatives acknowledged, Clinton did not say she hated “everyday Americans.” Rather, the email was relaying that Clinton hated the cliché phrase “everyday Americans” -- not people themselves. Infowars later deleted its story. [Media Matters, 10/11/16]

    Watson fell for photoshopped picture of Obama supposedly grabbing Melania Trump’s butt

    Watson tweeted out photo of Obama grabbing Melania Trump’s butt. Watson tweeted out the following photo after President Trump’s January 20 inauguration:

    [Twitter, 1/22/17]

    The image was photoshopped. As BuzzFeed noted, the supposed Obama-Melania Trump image is “a very badly Photoshopped image” and “so bad that you can literally still see some of Obama’s original arm in the photo.” Watson later claimed it was just a “joke.” [BuzzFeed, 1/24/17; Twitter, 1/23/17]

    Watson published false story that Obama executive order “mandate[s] the apprehension and detention of Americans who merely show signs of ‘respiratory illness’”

    Watson: Obama order allows “him to mandate the apprehension and detention of Americans who merely show signs of ‘respiratory illness.’” Watson wrote in 2014: “As the Ebola outbreak continues to cause concern, President Barack Obama has signed an amendment to an executive order that would allow him to mandate the apprehension and detention of Americans who merely show signs of ‘respiratory illness.’” [Infowars, 8/1/14]

    PolitiFact: Order did “not mandate the apprehension and detention of people who show signs of ‘respiratory illness.’” PolitiFact wrote that Infowars’ supposed reporting is “a fundamental misreading of the executive order Obama signed and the power the federal government has. The updates Obama made to a 2003 executive order do not mandate the apprehension and detention of people who show signs of ‘respiratory illness,’ has nothing to do with the current Ebola crisis and only affect people entering the country or crossing state lines. We rate the claim Pants on Fire.” [PolitiFact, 8/6/14]

    Watson published 2011 story claiming “sources” say “bin Laden’s corpse has been on ice for nearly a decade”

    Watson: “Inside Sources: Bin Laden’s corpse has been on ice for nearly a decade.” Watson reported on May 2, 2011, that contrary to the announced death of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader had actually been dead for years and the government was merely waiting for “the most politically expedient time” to announce it, according to “sources”:

    A multitude of different inside sources both publicly and privately, including one individual who personally worked with Bin Laden at one time, told us directly that Osama’s dead corpse has been on ice for nearly a decade and that his “death” would only be announced at the most politically expedient time.

    That time has now come with a years-old fake picture being presented as the only evidence of his alleged killing yesterday, while Bin Laden’s body has been hastily dumped into the sea to prevent anyone from finding out when he actually died. [Infowars, 5/2/11]

    There’s no evidence bin Laden’s body was frozen for years. Al Qaeda confirmed that bin Laden had died in the 2011 raid. [The Associated Press, 5/6/11]

    Watson’s Wash. Post-Seth Rich conspiracy theory fell apart

    Watson suggested Wash. Post released breaking story “to distract from Seth Rich bombshell.” Watson suggested on May 6 that The Washington Post “published its dubious story on President Trump leaking classified information to the Russians less than an hour after the bombshell news broke that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich was in contact with Wikileaks and that DC Police were ordered to cover it up. The coincidental timing has led many Trump supporters to accuse the Post of publishing their story in an attempt to distract the rest of the media from focusing on the massive new revelations in the Seth Rich case.” [Infowars, 5/16/17]

    The Post story went up before supposed “Seth Rich bombshell.” As Post reporter Dave Weigel noted, the Post story went up before the Fox 5 story was published. (The Fox 5 story has since been disproven and the main source for the story has backtracked.) [Twitter, 5/16/17; Media Matters, 5/16/17, 5/17/17]

    Watson fell for fake story that Trump allowed “homeless black woman” to live in Trump Tower rent free “for eight years”

    Watson: “A homeless black woman reveals that she has been living in Trump Tower for eight years with the blessings of the Donald himself.” Watson posted a story with the headline “Black Homeless Woman Says Trump Allowed Her To Live In Trump Tower Rent Free For 8 Years.” He began by writing that a “homeless black woman reveals that she has been living in Trump Tower for eight years with the blessings of the Donald himself” and “this doesn’t quite fit with the media’s portrayal of Trump as a rich, racist bigot.”

    [Infowars, 12/8/16]

    Trump Hotels spokesperson said the story is not true. BuzzFeed reported in response to Infowars that the story is not true, according to Trump Hotels:

    A woman’s claims in a now-viral video that she has lived in Trump Tower rent-free for up to nine years with the blessing of President-elect Donald Trump himself is not true, a Trump Hotels spokesperson told BuzzFeed News Friday.

    “There is no validity to the video,” said Jennifer Rodstrom, a spokeswoman for Trump Hotels, who answered a BuzzFeed News request sent to a transition team spokeswoman. “The woman depicted is not our guest.”

    The video, which first appeared to be posted on YouTube in July, gained traction on Thursday after it was published on InfoWars, a right-wing conspiracy outlet, and celebrated by Trump supporters who said it contradicts criticism that Trump is a bigot.

    The InfoWars link was shared more than 28,000 times on Facebook.

    Infowars later added an editor’s note stating that the story was “unconfirmed,” but was worth reporting “given Trump’s long and documented history of helping those in need.” [BuzzFeed, 12/9/16; Infowars, 12/8/16; Internet Archive, accessed 6/5/17]

    Watson falsely claims that depression is a fake condition

    Watson: Depression shouldn’t be a “medical condition.” Watson posted a January 2017 video attacking people who have depression, complaining that “being weak-minded and emotionally incontinent” has “become a positive personality trait.” Watson concluded that people who have depression have been “misled” because depression is “temporary” and the pharmaceutical industry just wants to “control people” and make money off of them:

    PAUL JOSEPH WATSON: Why is everyone so depressed now when we've got it so much easier? It's because you've been completely misled about what depression actually is. Depression is nothing more than dissatisfaction with life. It's temporary unhappiness, but the dominant culture in the pharmaceutical industry figured out that it could control people and make tons of money by treating depression as a pathological disease. So now depression is not unhappiness but a medical condition which it’s the responsibility of the doctor to alleviate by medical means. And they're only too happy to, often being paid to do so under the insane justification that depression is a chemical imbalance -- which it isn't. [Infowars, 1/4/17; YouTube, 1/4/17]

    Medical professionals: Depression is real. The American Psychiatric Association notes that depression “is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.” The organization notes that “several factors can play a role in depression” and that “differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.” [American Psychiatric Association, accessed 6/5/17]

    Watson falsely claimed Obama adviser advocated “forced abortions” and “mass sterilization programs” through water supply

    Watson: Obama adviser advocated “totalitarian measures of population control, including forced abortions, mass sterilization programs conducted via the food and water supply.” Watson wrote of former Obama science adviser John P. Holdren in 2009:

    President Obama’s top science and technology advisor John P. Holdren co-authored a 1977 book in which he advocated the formation of a “planetary regime” that would use a “global police force” to enforce totalitarian measures of population control, including forced abortions, mass sterilization programs conducted via the food and water supply, as well as mandatory bodily implants that would prevent couples from having children.

    The concepts outlined in Holdren’s 1977 book Ecoscience, which he co-authored with close colleagues Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, were so shocking that a February 2009 Front Page Magazine story on the subject was largely dismissed as being outlandish because people couldn’t bring themselves to believe that it could be true. [Infowars, 7/11/09]

    PolitiFact: Claim is “pants on fire” false. PolitiFact wrote that many conservatives, including Glenn Beck, were quoting from Holdren’s book “out of context” and concluded he was not advocating those positions:

    But with regard to Beck's claim that Holdren "has proposed forcing abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population," the text of the book clearly does not support that. We think a thorough reading shows that these were ideas presented as approaches that had been discussed. They were not posed as suggestions or proposals. In fact, the authors make clear that they did not support coercive means of population control. Certainly, nowhere in the book do the authors advocate for forced abortions.

    Some have argued that Holdren's view of the imminent and grave global dangers posed by overpopulation should provide pause, given Holdren's current view that global warming now presents imminent and grave global dangers. That's a matter for reasoned debate.

    But in seeking to score points for a political argument, Beck seriously mischaracterizes Holdren's positions. Holdren didn't advocate those ideas then. And, when asked at a Senate confirmation hearing, Holdren said he did not support them now. We think it's irresponsible to pluck a few lines from a 1,000-page, 30-year-old textbook, and then present them out of context to dismiss Holdren's long and distinguished career. And we rate Beck's claim Pants on Fire! [PolitiFact, 7/29/09]

    Watson repeatedly connected Chicago attack with Black Lives Matter (police said it wasn’t connected)

    Watson was among the first to tie Chicago kidnapping and attack with BLM. On January 4, four black people were arrested after they live-streamed a kidnapping and attack of a white man with special needs in Chicago. Watson repeatedly claimed that the attack was connected to Black Lives Matter, tweeting among other things: “#BLMKidnapping is the hashtag to get this story trending” and “the BLM torture victim was held for 24-48 hours. #BLMKidnapping.” [Media Matters, 1/5/17; Twitter, 1/5/17]

    CNN: “Chicago police say they see no connection between the suspects and the Black Lives Matter activist group.” CNN reported following the attack that “Chicago police say they see no connection between the suspects and the Black Lives Matter activist group, contrary to some reports on social media” and noted that Watson was an early promoter of the connection:

    Chicago police say they see no connection between the suspects and the Black Lives Matter activist group, contrary to some reports on social media.

    Yet in less than 24 hours, the hashtag #BLMKidnapping was mentioned more than 480,000 times on Twitter and became one of the top five Twitter trends across the country Thursday.

    Paul Joseph Watson, editor at large of the website "Infowars," was among the first to tie the attack to Black Lives Matter, a social justice movement that protests violence and racism against African-Americans. "Infowars" is known for promoting conspiracy theories, saying the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a government hoax and claiming the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by the US government. [CNN.com, 1/5/17]

    Watson falsely claims Obama’s birth certificate is “fraudulent”

    Watson: “National security threat: Obama’s birth certificate proven fraudulent.” Watson wrote a July 2012 piece concluding that “Obama’s birth certificate betrays innumerable instances clearly indicating that the document has been tampered with in an effort to manufacture the myth that Obama was born in the United States. The manifestly logical conclusion that he was not creates an urgent national security threat and represents one of the biggest cover-ups in U.S. political history.” [Infowars, 7/18/12]

    Former President Obama’s birth certificate is not fake. Obama’s birth certificate is authentic and he was born in the United States. [PolitiFact, 7/1/09; FactCheck.org, 4/27/11]

    Watson falsely reported that “Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest”

    Infowars suggested “Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest.” Watson wrote in August 2012: “It’s not outlandish to suggest that the Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest. Social security welfare is estimated to keep around 40 per cent of senior citizens out of poverty. Should the tap run dry in the aftermath of an economic collapse which the Federal Reserve has already told top banks to prepare for, domestic disorder could ensue if people are refused their benefits.” [Infowars, 8/15/12]

    AP debunked Infowars’ claim. The Associated Press wrote at the time that the administration isn’t building up arms “to defend against unruly senior citizens”:

    The clamor became such a distraction for the agency that it dedicated a website to explaining the purchase. The explanation, it turns out, isn't as tantalizing as an arms buildup to defend against unruly senior citizens.

    The bullets are for Social Security's office of inspector general, which has about 295 agents who investigate Social Security fraud and other crimes, said Jonathan L. Lasher, the agency's assistant IG for external relations.

    The agents carry guns and make arrests — 589 last year, Lasher said. They execute search warrants and respond to threats against Social Security offices, employees and customers. [The Associated Press, 9/4/12

    Watson conspiracy theory: “U.S. establishment” “trained, funded and allowed” 9/11 hijackers into country

    Watson: 9/11 “was an inside job.” Watson wrote in his 2003 book Order out of Chaos: Elite Sponsored Terrorism & The New World Order that he can prove 9/11 "was an inside job,” writing:

    Initially we will document the overwhelming amount of evidence indicating that the US knew the attacks were about to take place. The question of why the attacks took place despite the fact that they could have been prevented runs parallel throughout this extended section of the book.

    It is important to note that the official story of 9/ 11 can be dismantled from two or more different angles. If we are to believe that nineteen suicide hijackers carried out the attacks on behalf of Al-Qaeda then it can be proven that these men were trained, funded and allowed into the country by the U.S. establishment. They were tracked and traced and their intentions were well known by the authorities, many months and even years before that fateful day. I will present the evidence to verify these claims in this chapter. In the following chapter I will switch to the second and more cutting edge angle of research, namely that the Al-Qaeda plot was merely a smokescreen to shadow who really carried out the attacks and what methods were used.

    […]

    One of the biggest smoking guns to indicate that the terrorist attack was an inside job is the CIA’s direct connection with the hijackers via Pakistan ISI Director General Mahmoud Ahmad. General Mahmoud Ahmad instructed Ahmad Umar Sheikh to hotwire $ 100,000 to the 9/ 11 lead hijacker, Mohammad Atta. On September 11th, Ahmad was a guest of former clandestine CIA officer and CFR member Rep. Porter Goss and Skull and Bones/ CFR member Senator Bob Graham. Since September 4th, he had met with top brass at the CIA, the Pentagon and the White House, including Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Joseph Biden and George Tenet.

    Condoleezza Rice lied in a May 16th 2002 press conference when she claimed ignorance of Ahmad's visit and the $ 100,000 transfer. Ahmad had already resigned from the ISI and the FBI had confirmed the circumstances behind this. Rice stated, "I have not seen that report, and he was certainly not meeting with me."

    What was the money man behind the terrorists doing in the halls of the US government before, during and after 9/ 11? This is just one example of the firm alliance running through the CIA, which in turn controls the ISI, which in turn controls Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. [Paul Joseph Watson, Order out of Chaos: Elite Sponsored Terrorism & The New World Order, 2003, via Kindle]

    Watson conspiracy theory: WTC 7 collapse “was a controlled demolition”

    Watson: “Building 7 was a controlled demolition.” Watson concluded in an October 13, 2010, article that the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 was actually a “controlled demolition”:

    How much more evidence do we need to conclude that Building 7 – which was not hit by a plane and suffered limited fires across just a handful of floors – could not have simply crumbled into its own footprint within seven seconds without the aid of additional explosives?

    Of course, if authorities were ever forced to admit that WTC 7 was deliberately demolished it would then tarnish the credibility of the entire 9/11 official story, which is why NIST has engaged in an obvious cover-up to firstly withhold and then edit some of the footage in an attempt to hide the self-evident fact that Building 7 was a controlled demolition. [Infowars, 10/13/10]

    Watson conspiracy theory: Virginia Tech mass shooting might have been “another government black-op”

    Watson: Purported ties between shooter and CIA are “arousing increased suspicion.” Watson wrote an April 2007 article arguing that Seung-Hui Cho, who perpetrated the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, “was a mind-controlled assassin, whether you believe he was under the influence of outside parties or not.” He wrote of the shooter’s alleged connections to the CIA:

    Questions about the sequence of events on Monday, VA Tech, as well as the profile of the killer are arousing increased suspicion.

    We have been receiving numerous calls and e mails alerting us to the fact that VA Tech is pulling links from its website concerning their relationship with the CIA. Reports from November 2005 confirm that the CIA was active in operating recruitment programs based out of VA Tech. Several professors from VA Tech are involved in government programs linked with NASA and other agencies.

    Wikipedia also pulled a bizarre recently taken photograph of Cho wearing a U.S. Marines uniform.

    Such details only fan the flames of accusations that Cho could have been a Manchurian Candidate, a mind-controlled assassin.

    The CIA's program to create mind-controlled assassins that could be triggered by code words, MK ULTRA, is not a conspiracy theory, it's a historical fact documented by declassified government files and Senate hearings. President Bill Clinton himself had to apologize for the program before he left office. [Prison Planet, 4/19/07]

    Watson: “This could very well be another government black-op.” Watson wrote of the shooting:

    Early details about the horrific school shooting at Virginia Tech strongly indicate that these events represent a Columbine-style black-op that will be exploited in the coming days to push for mass gun control and further turning our schools into prisons.

    Eyewitness Matt Kazee told the Alex Jones Show that it was a full two to three hours after the shootings began that loudspeakers installed around the campus were used to warn students to stay indoors and that a shooter was on the loose.

    Quite how the killer was afforded so much time before any action was taken to stop him is baffling, especially considering the fact that the campus, according to Kazee, was crawling with police before the event happened due to numerous bomb threats that had been phoned in last week.

    […]

    The details that are beginning to emerge fill the criteria that this could very well be another government black-op that will be used as justification for more gun control and turning our schools into prisons, festooned with armed guards, surveillance cameras and biometric scanning to gain entry. [Prison Planet, 4/16/07]

    Watson conspiracy theory: Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh carried out attack under the direction of the FBI

    Watson: “A plethora of evidence” shows FBI directed McVeigh to bomb federal building. Watson wrote in 2010 of the Oklahoma City bombing:

    In reality, as anyone who has done five minutes research into the OKC bombing will understand, the official story crumbles on the merest hint of casual examination.

    While the media, the SPLC, the ADL and similar organizations are happy to play the Timothy McVeigh card over and over again, they are less enthusiastic to mention the fact that McVeigh planned his deadly assault on the Alfred P. Murrah building under the intimate direction of a high-level FBI official, according to McVeigh’s co-conspirator Terry Nichols, a claim voluminously backed up by a plethora of evidence that has been presented in court on several occasions. [Infowars, 4/19/10]

    Watson conspiracy theory: Fort Hood mass shooting appears “perfectly staged”

    Watson: “Everything about Nidal Malik Hasan screams ‘patsy.’” Watson wrote that Nidal Malik Hasan, who was convicted of the fatal 2009 Fort Hood mass shooting, appears to be a “patsy” and the shooting was “staged”:

    The Empire strikes back – right when when public support for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan sinks to all time lows, an anti-war Islamic extremist with links to suicide bombers goes on a shooting rampage at a U.S. army base, reinvigorating support for the war on terror and demonizing opposition to it as anti-American extremism. The scam would be believable if it wasn’t so perfectly staged.

    Without getting into convoluted conspiracy theories about mind control and whatever else, not that they aren’t without merit, the facts we already know about Hasan and his behavior prior to the deadly shootings just screams out “patsy” and “set-up” and almost exactly mirrors other terror scams the Empire has run in the past.

    Just like the would-be liquid bombers that were supposedly planning on bringing down multiple airliners in August 2006, who were caught on CCTV buying bulk supplies of cake in the very hours before the plot, Hasan’s pre-shooting behavior contradicts completely the idea that he was preparing for a deadly rampage.

    […]

    When the dust settles on yesterday’s tragic events at Fort Hood it may indeed turn out to be the case that Nidal Malik Hasan was a lone nut seeking to exact revenge for what he saw as perpetual war crimes being carried out against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. If that is the case, it doesn’t make such crimes acceptable nor does it mean all people who oppose the war on terror are likely to go on a shooting rampage.

    However, from all the evidence that has emerged thus far, and in comparing it with other terror scams in the past where patsies have been deliberately groomed and set up to be the fall guys for false flag attacks, everything we know about yesterday’s events suggests that there is infinitely more to the story of Nidal Malik Hasan than meets the eye. [Prison Planet, 11/6/09]

    Watson conspiracy theory: Norwegian shooter “a patsy?”

    Watson: “Anders Behring Breivik: Manufacturing a patsy?” Watson has suggested that Anders Behring Breivik, who was convicted of murdering 77 people in a Norwegian mass shooting, was “a patsy.” He wrote a July 2011 article headlined “Anders Behring Breivik: Manufacturing a Patsy?” which claimed that “Breivik’s character of an enraged psychopath intent on butchering as many people as possible in the name of his cause is also contradicted by people who knew him personally” and concluded:

    A plethora of other questions continue to circulate surrounding Breivik and his motives. Why did this supposedly anti-Muslim crusader slaughter dozens of white Norwegian teenagers? Why didn’t he target a mosque? Why did this supposed “Christian conservative” list a television series that glorifies vampirism (True Blood) as his favorite show? How did Breivik’s ties to freemasonry and his obsession with the Knights Templar play into his rampage? Why did Breivik lift entire portions of leftist Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto and incorporate them into his own screed?

    Just like the Oklahoma City bombing, which the case has been obsessively likened with, the evidence is starting to point to a wider plot, but concurrently there seems to be a deliberate effort to manufacture a profile of Breivik as a lone-nut psychopath who was influenced by racism, nationalism, Christianity, and a hatred for Europe’s predominantly neo-liberal elite, who coincidentally will reap the greatest political benefits from this tragic massacre. [Infowars, 7/25/11]

    Watson conspiracy theory: British government behind 7/7 London bombings

    Watson wrote an article claiming British government was behind London bombings. On July 7, 2005, as The New York Times noted, 52 civilians were killed and 700 people were wounded when “four suicide bombers linked to Al Qaeda detonated explosives on a London bus and on three subway trains in the attacks.” Watson wrote a 2005 article purporting to explain how the British government “staged the London bombing,” which included: “Hire four Arabs and tell them they're taking part in an important exercise to help defend London from terrorist attacks. Strap them with rucksacks filled with deadly explosives. Tell the Arabs the rucksacks are dummy explosives and wouldn't harm a fly.” [The New York Times, 7/7/15; Prison Planet, 7/13/05

  • Print media fail to point out pervasive anti-LGBTQ discrimination in existing voucher programs

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    During a House hearing last week, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos refused to say whether private schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students and their families would be eligible for federal funding under a proposed voucher initiative. Print coverage of the hearing and her remarks largely failed to expose the pervasive problem of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in state-funded voucher programs.

    On May 24, Betsy DeVos testified before the House Committee on Appropriations on the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 education budget. DeVos was questioned at length about the budget’s proposed federal voucher program, which re-directs public money to pay all or part of the private school tuition for participating students. Lighthouse Christian Academy, an Indiana private school that receives public voucher money while openly discriminating against LGBTQ students and families, was at the center of the debate. DeVos repeatedly refused to rule out allowing schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students and families to access federal funding. 

    A Media Matters search of U.S. newspapers available in Nexis returned 50 news stories, op-eds, and editorials between May 24 and 31 on the DeVos hearing (20 original stories, 30 reprints). Of these, only one original story, in The Washington Post, briefly mentioned that voucher schools other than Lighthouse Christian Academy discriminate against LGBTQ students and families: "Researchers have found that many states allow religious schools that receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to deny admission to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students or children with LGBT parents."

    No other story stated that other schools discriminate against LGBTQ students and families, mentioned any other state where discrimination has been found, or discussed existing research on discrimination in voucher programs.

    As the Post alluded to, research has demonstrated a pervasive pattern of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in voucher schools across several states.

    • In North Carolina, The Century Foundation characterized North Carolina’s voucher program as “highly discriminatory” and found multiple examples of explicit anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Multiple other researchers found widespread anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the North Carolina voucher program.
    • In Georgia, the Southern Education Foundation found that at least 115 private schools, representing at least a quarter of all participating voucher schools, discriminate against LGBTQ students and/or families. According to The New York Times, “Public information about the scholarship program is limited by law, so the number [of schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students] is probably much higher, according to the foundation.”
    • In Indiana, NPR reported that the Indiana Department of Education says schools are prohibited from denying entry based only on “race, color, national origin or disability” -- not sexual orientation -- and that there is “evidence that these protections are limited and open to interpretation." The open discrimination of Indiana's Lighthouse Christian Academy was also raised in the committee hearing.

    It is likely that many more voucher schools covertly discriminate against LGBTQ students and their families because state voucher programs permit schools to discriminate.

    A 2016 study in the Peabody Journal of Education titled “Dollars to Discriminate” examined the language of all existing state voucher statutes and found that “none of the 25 voucher programs studied prohibit discrimination against students on the basis of sexual orientation.”This means that no existing voucher programs protect LGBTQ students from discrimination. 

    Failure to prohibit discrimination in state voucher programs has led to widespread discrimination against LGBTQ students and families by hundreds of schools receiving millions of public dollars. Media coverage should reflect the fact that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is already a serious problem in existing voucher programs, and that any federal voucher program that fails to address this discrimination would be likely to amplify the problem.

    Methodology:

    A Nexis search was conducted for U.S. newspapers and wires using the search terms “DeVos” and “voucher” or “private school” or “lgbtq” or “lgbt” or “gender” or “sexuality” or “sexual orientation” for one week starting on the hearing date (5/24/17-5/31/17).

  • NPR series exposes the numerous problems with Trump and DeVos’ push for private school vouchers
     

    ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON

    President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 education budget calls for the creation of a new federal private school voucher program. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a longtime proponent of vouchers. A recent series of NPR articles raises a number of questions about existing voucher programs and suggests that expanding vouchers is not likely to improve educational outcomes

  • For-profit tactics might be coming to public universities, and no one is talking about it

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Unless you’re a resident of Indiana, you probably haven’t heard about Purdue University’s recently announced acquisition of troubled online for-profit college Kaplan University. This acquisition is highly unusual and has many unknown implications for Indiana students and educators and beyond -- and media’s limited and uncritical coverage of the unprecedented merger is exactly what the leadership behind the deal wants.

    On April 27, Purdue University announced the deal to acquire Kaplan University, in a first-of-its-kind move to bring a for-profit college under the umbrella of a public university. Many details of the deal remain unclear, including whether the unnamed new university will operate more like a for-profit or a public college. Purdue issued a press release stating that “the creation of a new public university ... will further expand access to higher education.” Purdue President and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in the same press release that he wants “Purdue be positioned to be a leader “ in online education.

    Daniels’ rhetoric mirrors common right-wing media defenses of “innovative” (actually troubled) for-profit institutions that take advantage of students and often underserve communities that need accessible higher education most. Kaplan’s track record is no different.

    Kaplan’s troubling history

    Kaplan University is among many high-profile institutions in the for-profit online college industry that have been investigated for troubling practices that hurt students. In an April 30 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, for-profit college accountability expert Robert Shireman wrote that “a U.S. Senate committee investigation revealed that Kaplan in 2009 allocated more money to marketing … than to actually teaching students”:

    Kaplan’s sales operation trained recruiters to steer prospects away from comparing Kaplan’s programs to other options by using a "fear, uncertainty and doubt" strategy aimed at getting prospects to enroll right away. A U.S. Senate committee investigation revealed that Kaplan in 2009 allocated more money to marketing and profit than to actually teaching students. The recruitment process was designed to get students to sign enrollment contracts — complete with clauses denying them the ability to go to court if there was a dispute — before they even spoke to financial-aid counselors about the details of financing the degree.

    [...]

     Kaplan tripled its enrollment between 2003 and 2010, mostly by signing up older students who would qualify for the maximum amount of federal student loans. In an industry already known for poor student outcomes, Kaplan’s tactics gave it among the worst withdrawal rates and loan-default rates of the 30 companies investigated by the Senate committee. In several majors at Kaplan, far more former students ended up defaulting on their loans than earned degrees.

    In addition to the federal investigation, Kaplan has been or is currently under investigation in at least six states. Kaplan has settled lawsuits for using misleading advertising in Massachusetts and employing unqualified instructors in Texas.

    For-profit colleges in general have come under increased scrutiny in recent years due to their low graduation rates and high student loan default rates. This scrutiny has led to calls for harsher guidelines to better hold for-profit colleges accountable for serving students.

    Enrollment has steeply dropped across the for-profit college sector in recent years. As Fortune magazine’s Kaitlin Mulhere wrote, Kaplan University’s “enrollment fell 22% in 2016 and its revenue is down 40% from 2014, according to an annual report from Graham Holdings, which own[ed] Kaplan.” Kaplan’s rapidly declining business and dings to the for-profit industry’s reputation across the board mean that the Purdue deal is a timely opportunity for the troubled Kaplan University to reinvent itself.

    And the marriage of Purdue and Kaplan also raises the possibility that the problematic behaviors of online for-profit colleges will be introduced into public universities.

    Purdue-Kaplan merger was announced with little community input

    A second aspect of the Purdue-Kaplan merger that ought to raise red flags for journalists is the manner in which the deal was developed and announced, and the lack of accountability built into it.

    Purdue’s faculty members say they were not informed of the merger until an hour before the acquisition was announced, a misstep that angered many who viewed the lack of consultation as a violation of shared governance. The Purdue faculty senate has voted against the deal, calling on Daniels and the board of trustees to rescind it, although Daniels asserts that the senate does not “dictate” matters pertaining to the new university.

    The unnamed Purdue-Kaplan school labels itself “the World’s Next Public University”-- but the specifics of the deal suggest the public will have little information about the school’s operations. Indiana Republican state senator Brandt Hershman surreptitiously added language into the new state budget specifically to allow the new university to avoid public disclosure laws. According to higher education reporter Goldie Blumenstyk, “in some ways, the new institution will be even less public than a for-profit college.”

    As Journal & Courier’s Dave Bangert wrote on May 2:

    Steve Schultz, Purdue’s legal counsel, said the [public records] exemptions were put into the bill intentionally to be clear that the new online university will be a different animal that Purdue and its regional campuses.

    First, Schultz said, it won’t receive state money. And second, the New U will operate more like a nonprofit corporation and will not, he said, “meet the definition of a ‘public agency’” under state open records or open meetings laws.

    Local print media covered the story critically, but few national outlets did

    Since the Purdue-Kaplan acquisition was first announced, major national broadcast and print outlets have largely stayed silent on the deal. And when some media outlets have covered the story, they’ve largely failed to mention Kaplan’s troubled history with high student loan default rates, low graduation rates, and federal and state investigations into its problematic practices, as well as the transparency issues that plagued the deal.

    Database searches of transcripts from major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- and cable news networks -- CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News -- found no mention of the Purdue-Kaplan merger for 23 days, despite the important implications it has for higher education beyond Indiana. On May 20, Fox provided the first national television coverage of the Purdue-Kaplan deal. Daniels gave a seven-minute interview to Paul Gigot on America’s News Headquarters. The segment briefly mentioned faculty dissatisfaction with how the deal was negotiated. There was no reference to Kaplan’s problematic history or the lack of transparency around the deal.

    Among five major national newspapers -- The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- only the Post and the Journal covered the deal. The Post published one article that discussed the state and federal investigations of Kaplan. The Journal published three news stories and one op-ed about the deal. Between these four pieces, the Journal made no mention of the federal and state investigations into Kaplan, but two pieces discussed faculty complaints about being excluded from the decision-making process (one of them just passingly) .

    Local Indiana broadcast outlets ran 41 total segments about the Purdue-Kaplan merger on 11 different local stations of CBS, Fox, ABC, and NBC outlets in the Lafayette, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Terre Haute markets. None of these segments discussed Kaplan’s history of student loan defaults, its low graduation rates, its open records issue, or the federal investigations into its practices.

    Indiana print outlets have published by far the most critical and comprehensive coverage of the Purdue-Kaplan deal, though they still failed to provide important context in some instances. Lafayette’s Journal & Courier has provided the majority of analysis on the deal, some of which was also featured in The Indianapolis Star and Evansville Courier & Press. The South Bend Tribune also reported on the merger. In all, 12 stories were written in seven local Indiana newspapers on the Purdue-Kaplan deal, six of which were reprinted in other local newspapers. Most -- though not all -- of these stories mentioned Kaplan’s problematic history and the merger’s transparency problems. Of the 12 articles, four discussed state and federal Kaplan investigations and six mentioned the lack of faculty input on the deal. Four articles mentioned Kaplan’s record on high student debt loads and default rates and just two touched on Kaplan’s low graduation rates. More than a third of the local articles discussed the open records exemptions for the new university.

    More comprehensive media coverage of the Purdue-Kaplan deal and other efforts to privatize public education would be in the public interest. Local communities should be informed about education matters like the Purdue-Kaplan deal that utilize taxpayer money in potentially harmful ways, and they should have a say in whether they want their public institutions to be privatized. Because the deal has not cleared all regulatory hurdles, local and national media still have an opportunity to dig deeper into this story in the coming weeks and months.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis news program transcripts for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC for all mentions of “Purdue” and “Kaplan” from April 27 through May 18. Nexis transcripts include all-day programming at CNN; programming from 5-11 p.m. on MSNBC and Fox News; and morning, evening, and Sunday show news programming on ABC, CBS, and NBC. Media Matters also used video databases Snapstream and iQ media to search for transcript mentions of “Purdue” and “Kaplan” on MSNBC and Fox News programs that are not included in Nexis, and on local broadcast news programs in the Indiana media market.

    To analyze print coverage, Media Matters searched mentions of “Purdue” and “Kaplan” in major print publications The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. Media Matters also conducted this search for all Indiana print publications included in Nexis: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Evansville Courier & Press, Fort Wayne Journal, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, The Indianapolis Business Journal, The Indianapolis Recorder, The Indianapolis Star, Lafayette Journal and Courier, The Noblesville Ledger, Palladium-Item, South Bend Tribune, and The Star Press.

  • Heartland's Effort To Bring Climate Denial To Classrooms Earns "F" For False In NY Times Op-Ed

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    An op-ed published in The New York Times takes aim at the Heartland Institute’s campaign to bring its brand of climate denial into classrooms across the country.

    The Heartland Institute, a fossil fuel-funded think tank known for promulgating climate science denial, is now seeking to influence the country’s educators. The think tank plans to mail its book “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming” to 200,000 K-12 and college science teachers across the country. A cover letter accompanying the mailing asks educators to “consider the possibility that the science in fact is not ‘settled’” and argues that the 97 percent consensus among climate scientists “is not only false, but its presence in the debate is an insult to science.”

    In an April 27 op-ed published in The New York Times, paleoclimatologist Curt Stager pushed back against Heartland’s misinformation, writing that “multiple surveys of the scientific literature show that well over 90 percent of published climate scientists have concluded that recent global warming is both real and mostly the result of human activity.” Indeed, in the past decade, there have been numerous surveys by a number of different researchers that confirmed human-caused global warming, and the country’s leading scientific institutions confirm the reality and urge action to address it.

    Stager -- who describes himself as having been “cautiously skeptical myself before reaching the consensus position” on climate change -- further noted that increased scientific understanding over the past several decades “made it clear that the recent warming is not simply a result of natural variability or cycles.”

    Stager also points out the lack of scientific expertise behind Heartland’s book, noting that despite Heartland’s claim that the book’s authors are “highly regarded climate scientists,” none of them “have the publication record of an accomplished expert in the field, though they may be lauded by the conservative media.” Stager could have additionally pointed out that each of the book’s authors’ -- Craig Idso, S. Fred Singer, and Robert M. Carter -- have extensive fossil fuel ties.

    From the April 27 op-ed:

    PAUL SMITHS, N.Y. — The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank known for attacking climate science, has been mailing a slim, glossy book to public school teachers throughout the United States. The institute says it plans to send out as many as 200,000 copies, until virtually every science educator in America has one.

    The book, “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” presents the false premise that the evidence for human-driven climate change is deeply flawed. To understand where the Heartland Institute is coming from, consider a recent comment by its president, Joseph Bast, who called global warming “another fake crisis” for Democrats “to hype to scare voters and raise campaign dollars.”

    [...]

    The cover letter inside, however, made the book’s premise clear. “Claims of a ‘scientific consensus’ ” on climate change, it read, “rest on two college student papers, the writings of a wacky Australian blogger, and a non-peer-reviewed essay by a socialist historian.” In fact, multiple surveys of the scientific literature show that well over 90 percent of published climate scientists have concluded that recent global warming is both real and mostly the result of human activity.

    For example, a study in 2010 found that 97 percent of the 200 most-published authors of climate-related papers held the consensus position, and a survey in 2013 of 4,014 abstracts of peer-reviewed climate papers found 97 percent agreement. The Heartland-distributed book disputes the methods used in these and similar surveys but provides no definitive counterarguments against the overall weight of evidence. The fact is that survey after survey, involving multiple approaches and authors, finds a strong consensus among scientists who are most knowledgeable about climate change.

    This latest edition contains a foreword by Marita Noon, described by the book as a columnist for Breitbart and executive director of Energy Makes America Great.

    Ms. Noon introduces the book’s three authors as “highly regarded climate scientists.” Not quite true. Despite their academic credentials, none have the publication record of an accomplished expert in the field, though they may be lauded by the conservative media.

    Having been cautiously skeptical myself before reaching the consensus position, I remember that some legitimate uncertainty about the human contribution to global warming did exist within my specialty of paleoclimatology several decades ago. Since then, however, high-quality climate reconstructions from ice cores, tree rings, lake sediments and other geological sources, coupled with rigorous analyses of solar activity, volcanism and fossil fuel emissions, have made it clear that the recent warming is not simply a result of natural variability or cycles. Long after the newer, better data convinced me and the vast majority of other climate scientists of the powerful human role in global warming, climate-change deniers still cling to the outdated idea of natural causes.

  • VIDEO: Media Can't Ignore The Voices of Activists

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    In a time of historic protests and activism against bigoted and hateful policies of President Donald Trump and his administration, news outlets need to scrap the so-called “fair and balanced” panels of pundits and politicians speculating and judging protests from a studio.

    Since day one of the Trump administration, there have been organized efforts around the country to protest the president’s policies. These include the Women’s March On Washington in January which mobilized an estimated 3.6 to 4.6 million protestors around the world, demonstrations at airports across the U.S. a week later to protest banning and detaining Muslim travelers, the International Women’s Day Strike, the upcoming Tax Day March in April to pressure Trump to release his full tax returns, the People’s Climate March in the same month, and the Immigration March in May. Journalists can no longer ignore the activists, organizers and protestors who are taking to the streets and to town halls across the country to demand accountability and change.

    Media have dismissed the protests as spectacles, alleged that they are being staged, or falsely claimed that the protesters are paid to show up. Activists have been central to the evolution of American democracy and have fought for policies that are more inclusive and that better their communities.

    News outlets need to let activists tell their stories.

  • New Reporting Exposes Anti-LGBTQ Hate Group Suing This Pennsylvania School District

    ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is the anti-LGBTQ hate group leading the national fight against transgender student equality. ADF recently filed a lawsuit against the Boyertown School District in Pennsylvania claiming that the district’s transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination policy “intentionally” violated a student’s “right to bodily privacy.” In reports, op-eds, and columns about the lawsuit, local print outlets in Pennsylvania are accurately labeling ADF as a hate group and exposing the group’s history of anti-LGBTQ extremism -- important context that national outlets often fail to provide when reporting on ADF.

  • Reporters, It’s Time To Investigate DeVos’ Department Of Education

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In the lead-up to billionaire Republican megadonor and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ confirmation, numerous media outlets published deep-dive investigations into DeVos’ background, significant political contributions, potential conflicts of interest, far-right ideology, and negative influence on Michigan policies.

    But since she formally took over at the Department of Education, the investigative work seems to have mostly dropped off; coverage of DeVos has focused more on her public gaffes than the inner workings of the agency she now runs. It certainly doesn't help that DeVos and her department have struggled with media transparency. As education media writer Alexander Russo wrote, "DeVos takes press questions at events only occasionally, has yet to grant a formal interview with a major national education reporter, and heads a department that only intermittently provides answers in a timely manner – through a spokesperson whose name reporters are forbidden to use. The agency has even struggled to put out her weekly schedule in advance of public events."

    It's time for investigative journalists to dig deeper and shine light on DeVos' priorities, such as early staffing decisions at the Education Department. There's certainly plenty to explore -- many of the temporary staffers in the Education Department are veterans of the right-wing think tank echo chamber on "education reform," and some have anti-LGBTQ and anti-black track records. Like DeVos, almost none have spent significant time as educators. 

    As ProPublica reported, the Trump administration has installed hundreds of officials across federal agencies including the Education Department (known as “beachhead” teams). Though the positions are designed to be temporary, many are expected to transition into permanent roles, and may have “taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees” who need to first be vetted and confirmed by the Senate:

    Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.

    [...]

    Much about the role of the beachhead teams at various federal agencies is unclear. But close observers of the early weeks of the Trump administration believe they have taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees.

    The beachhead team members are temporary employees serving for stints of four to eight months, but many are expected to move into permanent jobs.

    Several Education Department Officials With Offensive Online Histories May Remain On Staff

    A December Politico report highlighted three newly named Education Department staffers who had previously posted offensive comments about women and people of color online. Two of the staffers still appear to work for DeVos’ agency months after the report. Kevin Eck, a special assistant to Secretary DeVos, had to apologize after he tweeted disparagingly in late 2015 about the “all black cast” of NBC’s The Wiz adaptation. Politico also documented several disparaging tweets by Eck about the LGBTQ community, including at least one post that pushed the dangerous “bathroom predator” myth people use to justify barring transgender individuals (students, in particular) from using the appropriate public facilities. According to his LinkedIn profile, Eck still serves in this role at the department.

    The Politico article identified another staffer, Derrick Bolen, who “has tweeted numerous statements that could be considered insensitive to African-Americans and women.” Bolen’s posts include at least one in which he used a racial slur. He began serving as a confidential assistant to DeVos in the early days of the administration; ProPublica notes that Bolen “appear[s] to have switched departments” and may now be working at the Department of Labor. His LinkedIn profile does not list any past experience in teaching or education policy; instead, Bolen served most recently as a regional field director for the Republican National Committee.

    One "Beachhead" Staffer Was Investigated For Corruption By The Federal Government

    Former Alaska state Sen. Jerry Ward served as a special assistant to Secretary DeVos until his reported resignation last week. Years before Ward worked as the Alaska state director for the Trump campaign or served on Trump’s inaugural committee, he was investigated by the Department of Justice for alleged corruption stemming from “his relationship with private prison advocate William Weimar.” According to local media coverage, federal prosecutors also concluded that Ward had interfered with a witness in a corruption trial in order to protect himself from prosecution. Little is known about Ward's resignation from the "beachhead" team; he has not discussed the matter publicly. 

    Prominent Education Officials Have Serious Ties To The For-Profit Education Industry

    Journalists have already begun identifying new members of the Education Department staff -- beachhead or otherwise -- whose backgrounds raise strong conflict-of-interest questions. In March, The New York Times reported that Robert Eitel, a vice president for regulatory legal services at for-profit college operator Bridgepoint Education Inc., is on leave from the position to work as a special assistant to Secretary DeVos. Ethics experts told the Times that Eitel’s connections to Bridgepoint, in particular his legal work while the company faced several government investigations, could “bump up against federal rules involving conflicts of interest and impartiality.” Eitel was recently granted written permission from ethics officials to work on regulations specifically affecting student loan repayment; under his legal leadership, Bridgepoint paid out “a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.”

    Another early member of DeVos’ staff, Taylor Hansen, also has significant financial ties to the for-profit higher education world; he’s both a for-profit college lobbyist and the son of the former CEO of a student loan guarantee agency. As Bloomberg News reports, Hansen resigned from his role at the Education Department in mid-March, just one day after the department announced a reversal on an Obama-era directive related to fees that loan guarantee agencies can charge some students who default on their loans. The change, Bloomberg explained, “is almost certain to hand … a victory” -- and possibly $15 million in additional revenue -- to the company that, until very recently, was operated by Hansen’s father.

    Jerry Falwell Jr. Brings A Handful Of Conflicts And Concerns To The Department

    Jerry Falwell Jr. is the son of televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr. and the president of Liberty University, a Christian college in Virginia founded by Falwell Sr. in 1971. He has also been tapped to head a "task force on higher education” in the Trump administration, reportedly at the insistence of senior White House official and former Breitbart.com executive Stephen Bannon. Falwell Jr. has encouraged students to carry concealed weapons on campus in order to “end those Muslims,” and defended President Donald Trump’s 2005 comments boasting about sexually assaulting women. Liberty University also offers insight into Falwell Jr.’s leadership and priorities -- the school is closely tied to the Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, hosts extremist groups and individuals for campus events, and prohibits “sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman.”

    Little information has come to light about Falwell’s plans for the higher education task force, but reports indicate that he is “particularly interested in curbing rules that require schools to investigate campus sexual assault under Title IX, a federal law that bans discrimination in education.” Falwell has also said that he wants the task force to “re-evaluate ‘overreaching regulation’ by the federal government,” reportedly in areas such as college accreditation and federal loan cancellation for defrauded students, leading to calls for more information from Senate Democrats who see potential for conflicts of interest. “Mr. Falwell’s personal and financial interests on issues affecting student loan debt, recruitment, and distance education are extensive,” the lawmakers wrote, noting that Liberty University was the third-largest recipient of federal student loans in 2016.

    Numerous “Beachhead” Officials Have Ties To Privatization Groups DeVos Has Supported -- And Almost None Have Ever Worked In Classrooms

    The vast majority of “beachhead” officials within the Education Department have close connections to the right-wing “education reform” media echo chamber bankrolled by billionaires and private corporations -- but little to no experience in the classroom.

    This list includes at least four staffers who have previously worked for education privatization groups led by DeVos in some capacity: Michael Frendewey, a communications staffer at American Federation for Children, which was founded by DeVos and led by until her nomination; and Andrew Kossack, Josh Venable, and Neil Ruddock, all former staffers of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which counted DeVos as a board member until her nomination.

    The longer list of staffers who come from the dark-money “education reform” echo chamber includes Jason Botel, of the DeVos-affiliated Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now; Michael Brickman, a former staffer with the Fordham Institute and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI); Gillum Ferguson, a former staffer for conservative outlets Opportunity Lives and The Washington Free Beacon; Alexandra Hudson, who has written education policy pieces at conservative outlets and think tanks like The Heartland Institute, The Federalist, and The Weekly Standard and recently worked as an education policy analyst for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (part of the State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks); Lauren Rigas of the American Conservative Union and the American Enterprise Institute; and Patrick Shaheen, a former staffer at the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

    And DeVos’ Brother, Erik Prince, Held A Secret Overseas Meeting To Create A “Trump-Putin Back Channel”

    Let’s not forget the bombshell Washington Post report from April 3: Erik Prince, DeVos’ brother and the founder of the infamous Blackwater security firm, met with “a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and [then] President-elect Donald Trump” days before Trump’s inauguration. According to officials, Prince “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump” during the secret Seychelles meeting although he has no formal role with the administration. The meeting took place less than two months after Trump announced he would pick Prince’s sister to head the Education Department. 

  • How The Hate Group Alliance Defending Freedom Is Infiltrating Public Schools

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Media Matters first identified the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as the powerful legal group leading the national campaign against transgender student equality in November 2015. Since then, ADF has continued to email school districts, show up at school board meetings, and file lawsuits to oppose basic protections for transgender students -- and candidates who appear to be affiliated with ADF are even running in local school board races.

    In 2015, Media Matters published a piece about ADF’s campaign to influence local school district policies and pass state-level legislation that would ban transgender students from accessing bathroom and locker room facilities consistent with their gender identity. In December 2014, ADF started emailing public school districts across the country to "advise" them of its recommended "Student Physical Privacy" policy. In February 2015, ADF released a model state-level bill to prohibit all public school transgender students from using any facilities that correspond with their gender identity. Later that year, legislators in Nevada, Kentucky, Minnesota, Texas and Wisconsin all proposed versions of ADF's bill. Similarly, North Carolina’s disastrous anti-transgender House Bill 2 (HB 2), which passed in spring 2016, closely mirrors ADF’s model state-level bill regarding student bathroom access.

    In the 2017 legislative session, over 20 anti-transgender “bathroom bills” have been proposed in state legislatures across the nation. While none of these bills have passed yet, ADF continues to use its nearly $50 million annual budget and employ its mammoth network of over 3,000 allied attorneys to try to convince public school districts to adopt discriminatory, anti-transgender policies. The organization also appears to be trying to install friendly candidates on local school boards to further its causes.

    It’s impossible to know the extent of ADF’s anti-transgender activism, especially because many of its 3,000-plus “allied attorneys” never publicly identify themselves as such. Below is a nonexhaustive list of situations in which ADF representatives or affiliated individuals testified at local school events and ran in local school board races, sued school districts with transgender-inclusive policies, and sent letters to schools urging them to institute anti-transgender policies.

    ADF Representatives Testified At Local School Events

    March 20, 2017: ADF legal counsel Douglas Wardlow testified against a transgender-inclusive policy at an Anoka-Hennepin School Board meeting in Minnesota. Prior to his testimony, Wardlow sent a letter to the school board in which he cited discredited anti-LGBTQ junk science researchers Mark Regnerus and Paul McHugh to support his claim that protecting transgender students from discrimination isn’t supported by medical experts (it is). This “research” included a widely denounced report by McHugh attacking transgender people that was published in a journal -- The New Atlantis -- that is not “subject to rigorous peer review” as scientific research usually is. The New Atlantis is published by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which is dedicated to “applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.”

    September 7, 2016: ADF legal counsel Caleb Dalton testified at a public hearing in Prince William County, VA, on a proposed LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy for the district. As reported by the Washington Blade, Dalton told the school board that the district could face legal liability if it approved the proposal.     

    May 12, 2016: Ken Fletcher, ADF’s senior director of strategic relations, testified at a Board of Education meeting in Fannin County, GA, regarding rumors that the county was going to institute a transgender-inclusive restroom policy (those rumors were false). In his testimony, Fletcher cited the anti-LGBTQ hate group the American College of Pediatricians (a deceptively named extremist group with an estimated 200 to 500 members whose name is meant to be confused with the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics) to claim that schools should lead transgender girls away from being transgender and “cure” their so-called “gender confusion” so that they do not “lead a life of heartbreak.”

    May 9, 2016: ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp advised the Horry County Board of Education in South Carolina during a specially called board meeting to give the school board “legal advice” regarding Title IX. After speaking with Sharp and two other lawyers employed by the district, the board agreed not to change its existing policy of allowing transgender students to use facilities that align with their gender identity.

    ADF Sued School Districts For Implementing Transgender-Inclusive Policies

    March 2017: ADF sued the school district of Boyertown, PA, for allegedly violating the “privacy” of a cisgender boy because the school had a trans-inclusive locker room policy.

    September 2016: ADF sued the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the Virginia Public School District in Minnesota on behalf of a group of 10 parents calling themselves “Privacy Matters,” who said that their children’s privacy was violated by a transgender student “twerking” in the locker room.

    June 2016: ADF sued the DOE on behalf of the Highland Local School District in Ohio because it said it was set to lose federal funding if it didn’t let a transgender girl use the girl’s restroom.

    May 2016: ADF sued the DOE and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of a group called “North Carolinians for Privacy” in response to the DOJ’s lawsuit regarding North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ HB 2 law.

    May 2016: ADF sued the Palatine, IL, Township High School District 211 and the DOE on behalf of an anonymous group called “Students and Parents for Privacy,” saying a transgender-inclusive policy created an "intimidating and hostile" environment for students who share the locker room with the transgender student.

    ADF Affiliates Running For School Boards

    March 2017: In Palatine, IL, an ADF-affiliated group called “D211 Parents for Privacy” is advocating for ADF’s model policy and has endorsed three candidates for the board of education in that district. It’s also targeting current school board members who voted in favor of the transgender-inclusive policy.

    September 2016: ADF-affiliated attorney Derrick Good was tapped as an “emergency replacement” for a school board in Jefferson County, MO, after a controversy arose in 2015 when a Hillsboro High School student asked to use locker rooms and bathrooms that corresponded to her gender identity. Good, who said that people make "decisions" about being transgender, helped the district install an anti-transgender policy that prohibits transgender youth from using restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.

    ADF Sent Letters To Local Schools

    January 2017: ADF sent a letter to the school district of Egg Harbor Township, NJ, saying that it was ready to “litigate if necessary” regarding a proposed transgender-inclusive policy.

    May 2016: ADF convinced Grayson County, VA, to institute its “Student Physical Privacy Policy.” The superintendent told ThinkProgress that ADF claimed that “if we adopt their policy and it is contested,” ADF would come to the school district’s defense for free. During the debate over the policy, Virginia State Sen. Bill Carrico, who reported a $5,000 gift from ADF in 2014 for a trip with his wife to a conference in Naples, FL, also assured the district that ADF would defend the policy “all the way up to the Supreme Court, if necessary.” Prior to the debate, Carrico said that he had spoken with “legal organizations about the possibility of bringing suit against the Obama administration” regarding its guidance on transgender students. 

    May 3, 2016: ADF sent a letter to the Berkeley County School Board in South Carolina arguing that a transgender-inclusive restroom policy would “endanger students’ privacy and safety, undermine parental authority, violate religious students’ free exercise rights and severely impair an environment conducive to learning.”

    May 2, 2016: ADF sent a letter to the school board in Candia, NH, urging it to adopt ADF’s model anti-transgender policy. At a school board meeting on May 5, 2016, multiple speakers urged the board to adopt ADF’s model policy. But the meeting ended with the school district instituting a transgender-inclusive policy.

    April 28, 2016: ADF sent a letter to the Durham, NC, school board of directors and superintendent saying the school district had no obligation to protect transgender students and could be held legally liable for instituting a transgender-inclusive policy. ADF later sued the district after it instituted a transgender-inclusive policy.

    March 2016: ADF sent a letter to the Westwood Regional High School District in northern New Jersey opposing its transgender-inclusive policy. The policy passed with “little opposition” from school board members or the general public.

    February 29, 2016: In an article about a proposed bathroom bill in South Dakota that was drafted using ADF’s language, The Washington Post reported that ADF had sent its model school policy to “thousands” of school districts nationwide, which it described as an effort to protect the “bodily privacy” of children.

    January 2016: ADF sent letters to “every Tennessee school district” saying that districts could be at risk of “legal liability” for instituting transgender-inclusive policies.

    ADF Otherwise Influenced Schools To Pass Its Model Policy

    December 18, 2015: Political Research Associates reported that ADF’s model policy is also being disseminated through a project of the anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family (FOTF). The project website provides a “Tell a School” tool that allows visitors to share ADF’s Student Physical Privacy Policy with their local school boards, allowing ADF’s model policy to be sent through FOTF’s website without the sender even reading it.

    December 2, 2015: At least seven different people who have children in Township High School District 211 in Palatine, IL, cited ADF’s privacy policy while testifying in a special school board meeting after the board instituted a transgender-inclusive policy.

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko.

  • The Conservative Dark-Money Groups Infiltrating Campus Politics

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    College campuses have long served as unique places for the free exchange of ideas -- but increasingly they’ve also become playgrounds for ideologically driven, right-wing billionaires and the dark-money groups they fund. Media Matters has mapped out some of the biggest actors behind astroturf conservative campus activism, creating an echo chamber of seemingly grass-roots right-wing student media and campus groups that are actually propped up by a handful of the same conservative funders and, sometimes, even prominent hate groups.