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  • Turning Point USA and Campus Reform are defending a Florida professor with ties to a white nationalist group

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A recent investigation exposed ties between a Florida professor, Marshall DeRosa, and the white nationalist hate group League of the South. DeRosa currently serves as faculty adviser for his university's chapter of the conservative organization Turning Point USA (TPUSA). In response to student activism in the aftermath of the report, TPUSA and fellow conservative organization, Campus Reform -- both of which have recently gained influence in the conservative media echo chamber --  are defending DeRosa and attempting to whitewash his history.

    TPUSA is perhaps best known for a misguided 2017 protest in which its members wore adult diapers to “trigger the libs,” but the organization’s stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” Campus Reform is a project of The Leadership Institute, a decades-old and Koch-funded nonprofit that trains young conservative activists and policy leaders to sell right-wing ideals through seminars on media, fundraising, communications, and campaigning. TPUSA’s website lists The Leadership Institute as one of its “partners.”

    Both TPUSA and Campus Reform have gained prominence in part due to right-wing media’s readiness to offer them a platform. Fox News frequently hosts TPUSA founder and conservative “boy wonder” Charlie Kirk and relies upon Campus Reform’s content (which includes selectively edited videos) to fearmonger about “liberal facism” and the plight of conservative students on college campuses. Other conservative outlets, including Breitbart.com, The Daily Caller, and National Review, have also cited Campus Reform to stir up outrage about American colleges.

    In March, a report by the activist group UnKoch My Campus, which highlights the influence Republican megadonors Charles and David Koch have on colleges and universities, revealed a connection between DeRosa, a Koch-affiliated professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and League of the South (LOS), a white nationalist, neo-confederate group. According to both UnKoch My Campus and The Nation, DeRosa was a “faculty member” at the LOS Institute, the “educational arm” of white-nationalist group League of the South (LOS), from 2000 until at least 2009.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described LOS as a neo-Confederate hate group dedicated to a second Southern secession and “a society dominated by ‘European Americans.’” Group members participated in the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, and one LOS member has since been charged with viciously beating a black man during the rally.

    DeRosa’s association with LOS isn’t the only damning information to come to light in recent months. After the UnKoch My Campus report was released, students discovered two extremist and bigoted essays that DeRosa had penned on the website of the conservative Abbeville Institute, which was created by the founder of the LOS Institute. In one essay, DeRosa claimed that “linking … slavery with white supremacy is a gross over-simplification” and that, in fact, “black supremacy is the origin of Southern slavery.” In another, DeRosa repeatedly misgendered Olympic gold medalist and reality television star Caitlyn Jenner, asserted that Jenner will “never be a woman,” and called her “somewhat repulsive from a Christian perspective.”

    Since DeRosa’s ideological leanings and former ties to LOS came to light, students at Florida Atlantic University have been protesting his position at the school. Regardless of clear evidence of DeRosa’s unsavory associations and extremist views, however, TPUSA and Campus Reform have defended him throughout the controversy, and attempted to explain away his racist past. The professor himself has attempted to downplay his relationship with the neo-Confederate group. He told The Nation that he “disengaged early on” after he “got an inkling as to some of the characters involved.” But, as experts on LOS told The Nation, it’s unlikely that DeRosa could have spent nine years within the group without recognizing the racist beliefs at the organization’s core. According to SPLC's Heidi Beirich “LOS was different when DeRosa was involved, not as militant, but it still had very, very bad racial views.” She added that DeRosa “can’t scurry away from the fact that for a long time he was a member of a group that had white-supremacist views.”

    Despite this, TPUSA chapter President Morgan Sachs told Campus Reform that the group supports its adviser and added that she is proud of DeRosa for “refusing to back down” in the face of “these false allegations.” University Press wrote that Sachs claimed “she’s used to antagonistic left-wing groups targeting” her organization and that as soon as she saw the posters decrying DeRosa, she covered them with TPUSA “socialism sucks” stickers.

    Campus Reform has run two articles on its website defending DeRosa as a “conservative” and condemning the students protesting his position at the university. The first article, posted March 29, was titled “Flyers defame conservative prof as a 'white supremacist'” and argued that students were smearing DeRosa “over his connection to conservative organizations.” The second post, from April 10, was titled “Students crash faculty meeting to attack conservative prof,” called the protests against DeRosa a “crusade,” and defended the professor, claiming he “has explained that while he was once a faculty member with the League of the South, he cut ties with the group long ago once it began to become more extreme.”

    As the TPUSA and Campus Reform grow more prominent thanks to the platform given to them by right-wing media, the risk only increases of the racist ideologies they excuse and enable being popularized as well.

  • Fox News ran over 50 segments in a month fearmongering about college campuses. These two organizations are driving the outrage.

    Turning Point USA fundraises off of Fox segments about “nuttiness on college campuses,” which frequently come from its “partner” Campus Reform

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On April 6, Politico magazine ran a profile of Charlie Kirk, the founder, chief fundraiser, and public face of Turning Point USA (TPUSA). Though TPUSA is perhaps best known for a misguided 2017 protest in which members wore adult diapers to “trigger the libs”, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” Politico magazine reported that TPUSA’s donors generally “inhabit a conservative media universe that pumps them with anxiety about liberal kids,” and that “Kirk is not shy about saying he’s selling them a solution to those worries”:

    “You can’t watch Fox News without seeing five or six segments a day about the nuttiness on college campuses,” Kirk told me in one of several interviews we conducted starting in November of last year. “You pair that nuttiness up with people in their 60s and 70s who are beginning to map out where they want a significant portion of their wealth to go, and they’re saying, ‘I don’t want my money to go to my university. It’s not representing my values.’ Then we come along.”

    Kirk isn’t wrong about the “nuttiness” on Fox News. Between March 1 and April 5, Fox ran at least 53 segments promoting supposedly outrageous stories on American college campuses. Of these 53 segments, 40 were stories previously reported by a conservative organization called Campus Reform, and 15 of those 40 segments either cited Campus Reform specifically, or featured a Campus Reform representative to comment.

    Campus Reform is a project of The Leadership Institute, a decades-old nonprofit that trains young conservative activists and policy leaders to sell right-wing ideals through seminars on media, fundraising, communications, and campaigning. TPUSA’s website lists The Leadership Institute as one of its “partners,” meaning that Kirk uses manipulative stories originating from his allies to fundraise for his own organization, with little acknowledgement of his partner relationship to the source of many such stories. Put another way, Kirk’s donor base is filled with “anxiety about liberal kids” because Kirk’s allies actively fuel and encourage that anxiety.

    Some examples of Fox pushing Campus Reform stories over the past year:

    Fox & Friends aired a video from Campus Reform's Cabot Phillips in which he lied to students about Trump’s State of the Union address to make college students appear uninformed. As Media Matters reported, this deceptively edited video got heavy playtime on Fox News and was also featured on Alex Jones’ Infowars.

    On Fox & Friends, Phillips dismissed high school- and college-aged March for Our Lives demonstrators for their “lack of appreciation and understanding of the Second Amendment.”

    Laura Ingraham and her radio producer complained about a Christian college “changing history” by removing its Crusader mascot -- a story Campus Reform had covered several days before.

    Fox & Friends mocked gender-neutral pronouns, using a list from Campus Reform. While discussing Kennesaw State University’s guide to using gender-neutral pronouns like ne and ey, multiple people in the studio laughed as Fox host Jillian Mele said, “I don’t even know what I just read, oh my goodness.” Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade added, “that makes 2 million people.” Later, when Kilmeade read the headline himself, he commented, “I’m not sure of who’s who, but I know I don’t like it. … What planet am I on?”

    The relationship between TPUSA and The Leadership Institute previously revealed itself in one of Kirk’s best-known projects, “Professor Watchlist.” The Campus Reform-sourced operation  targets professors nationwide who allegedly “discriminate against conservative students,” collecting tips on them to a database. According to Politico magazine, “the list is also ill-maintained and often inaccurate,” with “multiple cases of professors being listed for things they didn’t exactly say or do, and others listed for petty criteria, like being rude to students or making quips about Trump.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for variations of the words “campus,” “university,” or “college" from March 1 to April 5 on all Fox News Channel programming. Including “Headlines” segments, we counted mentions if their framing played primarily into existing right-wing college narratives about college campuses, such as anti-Trump professors or free speech issues, and/or if a host explicitly mentioned “Campus Reform.”

  • While covering teacher walkouts in Oklahoma and Kentucky, Fox News didn’t host any teachers

    CNN has hosted teachers and educators 10 times. MSNBC hosted them 17 times.

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Thousands of teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky have staged protests and walkouts over the last several days, demanding better funding for their schools, higher pay, and pension protections. A Media Matters study found that both CNN and MSNBC have offered a live platform for teachers and education experts to explain the walkouts and their demands, while Fox News has failed to host a single educator or education expert, featuring Oklahoma's governor as the sole guest to talk about the issue.  

    On Friday, March 30, hundreds of teachers across Kentucky called out sick to protest proposed cuts to their pensions. Their protests continued into this week, and they were joined by thousands of Oklahoma teachers, whose walkout forced almost half of the state’s 500-plus school districts to close. The teachers are demanding raises for themselves, as well as a pay increase for support staff and millions more in funding for their woefully underfunded schools. Educators in Kentucky and Oklahoma were inspired to protest by teachers in West Virginia, whose statewide nine-day strike in March led to the teachers winning all five of their demands, including a pay increase. The current walkouts are a significant national development, and national media coverage has allowed teachers to shine a light on the calamitous condition of their public schools and the obstacles they face every day as educators.

    But coverage on Fox News has entirely excluded the voices of teachers, outside of brief clips in packaged reports. Between midnight April 2 and noon on April 3, Fox News hosted only one guest to discuss the walkouts in Oklahoma and Kentucky, Oklahoma Republican Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who said he supports a pay raise for teachers and increased classroom funding but also made clear that he opposes tax increases to pay for them.

    By contrast, CNN and MSNBC have interviewed numerous educators and education experts, offering them a platform to explain their demands and the conditions of their schools. CNN hosted teachers seven times, as well as the president of the National Education Association, the president of the Kentucky Education Association, and the president of the Oklahoma Education Association. MSNBC hosted teachers 10 times, as well as the president of the National Education Association, the president of the Oklahoma Education Association, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, a professor of education at UCLA, and the author of a bestselling book about the history of teaching in America.

    CNN also ran a packaged report that profiled multiple teachers, who explained that they are forced to work extra jobs and use soup kitchens in order to make ends meet:

    Teachers and education advocates have been the driving force behind the walkout movement and are, along with students, the people most affected by and best able to speak on the issues facing the U.S. education system. As such, their voices should be centered during any discussion of the walkouts. While CNN and MSNBC offered their viewers the pivotal perspective of educators and education experts, Fox News (not for the first time) failed to highlight the most important voices in the story.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Snapstream from midnight April 2 until noon April 3 for “Oklahoma,” “Kentucky,” and “strike” on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. We reviewed and coded relevant segments for guests who were interviewed live.

  • Laura Ingraham’s attack on David Hogg is nothing new. Fox has been mocking students and children for years. 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On March 28, Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted a link to a Daily Wire article pointing out that Parkland survivor David Hogg was rejected by several colleges and accused him of whining about it. Ingraham’s attack on the teenage mass-shooting survivor is far from a shocking development given her and her Fox News colleagues' repeated slandering of the shooting victims. 

    In the month and a half since the shooting in Parkland, FL, Ingraham herself has said the Parkland students should not be given “special consideration” on gun policy; told her viewers that the March 14 student walkout wasn’t some sort of “organic outpouring of youthful rage,” but rather “nothing but a left-wing, anti-Trump diatribe”; and complained that anti-abortion protesters didn’t get the same attention. Two of Fox’s other primetime hosts, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, both dismissed the students as pawns being manipulated by gun control advocates. Carlson went a step further, calling the students “self-righteous kids” who “weren’t helping at all” and comparing them to Mao's Red Guards. The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, who is also a Fox News contributor, dismissed the students as just “children, not founts of wisdom,” and Fox & Friends Weekend host Pete Hegseth responded to the student-organized March For Our Lives by angrily commenting, “Spare me if I don't want to hear the sanctimoniousness of a 17-year-old.” Fox’s sustained and hostile attacks on students in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting fit right into the network’s years-long pattern of insulting and belittling students and children.

    Fox’s attacks on students and children go back years

    In 2017, two Fox employees attacked 8-year-olds in the course of five months. In May, after a young boy followed Vice President Mike Pence to ask for an apology for bumping into him, Tammy Bruce called the child a “snowflake” who “needed a safe space” and said he “pretty much stalked the vice president afterward.” Months later, Rachel Campos-Duffy smeared a football team of 8-year-olds as “shameful” for kneeling during the national anthem at a football game.

    Fox figures have consistently insulted college students and mocked them for attempting to make changes to their colleges and universities. A 2012 Fox panel dismissed students as “immature and irrational” after they attempted to persuade their school to divest from fossil fuels. In 2015, Fox contributor Judith Miller insulted student protesters, asking, “You want a safe space? Stay in your playpen,” and Fox anchor Martha MacCallum dismissed students’ push for safe spaces in response to racial injustice, suggesting that “if they want to see the violation of a safe space,” then they should “visit ground zero.” In 2016, then-Fox contributor George Will labeled students “snowflakes, these fragile little creatures who melt at the first sign of the heat of controversy.” Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle laughed at students’ activism on offensive terminology and mockingly asked if an injured horse should “get a lawyer because the horse is offended” by being called “lame.” In September 2017, a Fox contributor derided college students who sought mental health care and compared them to teenage soldiers in WWII. Just two months ago, Fox & Friends ran a selectively edited hit piece against college students created by the conservative activist group Campus Reform. The show further edited the video and showed students' responses without giving sufficient context to the nature of the questions posed to them, making the students look ill-informed.

    Fox personalities have targeted some of the most vulnerable students with vicious, racist, and anti-LGBT attacks

    In 2015, Fox personalities repeatedly besmirched 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a Texas student arrested after bringing a homemade clock mistaken for a bomb to school. Then-Fox reporter Anna Kooiman claimed that Mohamed “might not be as innocent as he seems,” backing up her claim by noting that teen was once caught “blowing bubbles in the bathroom” at school. Fox contributor Mark Fuhrman, famous for committing perjury and spewing racial epithets during the OJ Simpson trial, assured viewers that he didn’t “feel sorry for Ahmed,” adding that the child seemed “passive aggressive” to him. Another contributor, Mike Gallagher, repeatedly compared Mohamed’s homemade clock to a bomb and suggested that the student should have been more "forthcoming" when he was interrogated by the police. And Brian Kilmeade asked whether Mohamed might be “extort[ing]” his former school district by suing.  

    Fox often attacks children who have immigrated to the United States or whose parents are immigrants. Fox personalities have repeatedly used the derogatory term “anchor baby” to belittle the children of immigrants. Tucker Carlson once responded to the notion that it is the United States' legal obligation to educate children who come into the country by saying, "But what about the rights of the kids who were born here?” Fox Business Networks’ Brenda Buttner questioned whether parents should be concerned with "a surge of up to 60,000 illegal kids in their classrooms." Buttner exclaimed, "Forget the Ebola scare. Is it really the back to school scare?" In 2016, Fox’s Heather Nauert and Brian Kilmeade slammed several refugee students who sued a school district in Pennsylvania after alleging their educational needs weren’t being met. Kilmeade smeared the students as “ungrateful,” and Nauert mocked their request, commenting that “going to our schools for free” was “apparently… not good enough for them.”

    Fox hosts have also used their shows to attack transgender students. In 2013, during a conversation about a California bill aimed at allowing transgender students to use facilities and play on sports teams that correspond to their gender identities, Fox host Greg Gutfeld mocked the “gender-confused students” that would benefit from the bill. Two years later, in 2015, then-Fox host Megyn Kelly asserted that accepting transgender students causes “confusion” for other students.

    Fox employees have also gone after other groups of students. In 2014, Fox News' "Medical A-Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow claimed that middle school girls can "certainly provoke" harassment by wearing leggings to school. In 2015, Megyn Kelly labeled a group of protesters in Missouri “angry black students.” That same year, the hosts of Fox News’ Outnumbered lamented that overweight children are allowed to feel confident in their bodies. Fox’s Sandra Smith bemoaned that kids “feel good about themselves when they shouldn’t.”

    As David Hogg demands accountability for Laura Ingraham’s bullying, it is clear that Ingraham’s behavior was not a mistake or an anomaly, but representative of her network at large.