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  • WSJ Lines Up Behind Conservative "Web Of Dark Money" Pushing SCOTUS Case To Weaken Public-Sector Unions

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Wall Street Journal's editorial board predictably lined up behind the conservative establishment's interests by arguing in favor of a Supreme Court decision that would deal a blow to unions representing teachers, social workers, EMTs, firefighters, and other public employees.

    On January 11, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case calling into question a California state teachers union's right to charge an "agency fee" or "fair share fee" to non-members who benefit from the union's collective bargaining efforts despite not paying full membership dues. Media have noted that if the case results in the court overturning a previous decision, it would weaken all public-sector unions -- and a "who's who" of conservative anti-union backers have been instrumental in bringing it before the Supreme Court as quickly as possible.

    The "agency fee" principle was established in a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and was designed to prevent non-union employees from freely enjoying the substantial benefits negotiated by unions on behalf of their members. This so-called "free rider" problem would otherwise force unions to operate on smaller budgets but continue to bargain and organize on behalf of the same number of people. As The Atlantic reports:

    Under federal law, if a majority of employees decide to form a union, the union must represent all employees for bargaining purposes. But if some people decide not to join (whether because of genuine political disagreement or merely to save money on the fees), the union has less leverage because it represents fewer members. It also has less money to pay for the things that keep it strong, like bargaining and organizing. But it still has an obligation to do things such as bargaining and organizing since, in many states, public employers are required to bargain with unions.

    The Supreme Court's most recent decision on agency fees in the 2014 case Harris v. Quinn, which the Wall Street Journal also advocated for and celebrated, signaled the conservative majority's desire to revisit and potentially overturn Abood, and thus decades of labor law that are "vital to the very concept of public employee unionism" -- an opportunity Friedrichs now provides.

    Of course, the Wall Street Journal predictably jumped at the chance to fall in line with conservative interest groups pushing for a case like Friedrichs that could give the court -- in particular, Justice Samuel Alito, who seemingly asked for such a case in his Harris opinion -- the chance to overturn Abood. On January 10, the Journal's editorial board celebrated Friedrichs as "a rare and splendid opportunity to repair damage to the First Amendment done by the Court itself" -- at best, minimizing the implications for public-sector unions and public employees and, at worst, enjoying the prospect that institutions of organized labor could be dealt a serious blow with the decision. The editorial pushed several incorrect claims related to the case before concluding that Abood ought to be sent "to the mistake file" with the Friedrichs decision:

    But as the teachers point out, collective bargaining in government is impossible to separate from matters of ideological speech. For public teachers, collective bargaining involves wages and benefits that inevitably implicate fiscal policy and the tax burden. It also includes such controversial political matters as teacher evaluations and tenure. Individual teachers who object to the union's positions on these issues must nonetheless subsidize them.

    In her dissent in Harris, Justice Elena Kagan justified this state coercion for unions on grounds that the government has an interest in labor peace. But no great harm to the state or the public is caused by letting teachers exercise their free-speech right. The union won't vanish, or even lose its monopoly bargaining power. It will merely have less money to spend to influence politicians.

    The board claimed that "no great harm to the state or the public" would result from a decision overturning Abood, and that the California teachers' union "won't vanish, or even lose its monopoly bargaining power," but would "merely have less money to spend to influence politicians."

    The Journal's anti-union argument managed to be wrong on just about all counts: research shows that unions are severely weakened when they are no longer allowed to charge agency fees for collective bargaining activities, and the economy suffers as a result. In so-called "right-to-work" states, where unions cannot charge agency fees, unions have notably decreased in size and potential leverage, and public employees are earning less and enjoying fewer benefits. And as economist Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, points out, "a decline in unionization on the national level has caused wage stagnation, growing inequality, and the overall slippage of the American middle class."

    The Journal also mischaracterized the premise of agency fees, arguing that paying such fees requires public employees who do not agree with a union's political stances to "nonetheless subsidize them." The Abood decision establishing agency fees prevents exactly that, drawing a distinction that limits agency fee revenue to subsidize only collective bargaining activities, not political advocacy. The Journal's claim ignores that distinction to back the plaintiff's flawed argument that all union activity constitutes free speech -- even bargaining and organizing that directly benefit employees and prevent costly, escalated labor disputes.

    The Wall Street Journal's factually challenged opinion on the Friedrichs case should come as no surprise; the Journal has a long history of advocating for measures that would weaken organized labor, and members of its board are tied to the "web of dark money" responsible for pushing Friedrichs to the Supreme Court.

    The plaintiffs in Friedrichs, ten California public school teachers, are represented by conservative legal group the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), a pro-bono legal organization known for its work on cases dismantling affirmative action and civil rights protections, with donors connected to "the web of dark money" associated with anti-labor billionaires Charles and David Koch. CIR attorneys declined to argue the case in lower courts, instead pushing for the courts to issue decisions that would allow the case to move exceptionally quickly to the Supreme Court level. The CIR's funders constitute "a who's who of the right's opposition to organized labor." As The American Prospect reported:

    Koch-linked groups known to have made grants to CIR, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, include DonorsTrust, the Donors Capital Fund, and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation. Other CIR funders belong to the Koch donor network. Among them are the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, as well as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which was instrumental in the legislative attack on labor in Wisconsin...

    Think tanks and groups that receive either direct funding from Koch entities or are linked to the Koch brothers' funding network also filed amicus briefs in favor of the Friedrichs plaintiffs. They include the Cato Institute, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, and the Mackinac Center, a major force behind the 2012 anti-union legislation enacted in Michigan.

    According to journalist Laura Flanders, earlier in its history CIR also enjoyed the support of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist organization devoted to the promotion of eugenics.

    It's clear the "phony grass-roots support" behind Friedrichs is well-funded by the anti-labor conservative establishment, and propped up by research written by institutions and individuals receiving that funding. The Wall Street Journal editorial board's flimsy argument to overturn Abood may be no exception -- several members of the board have received large grants from the Bradley Foundation, one of the foundations involved in Wisconsin's "right-to-work" push in 2014 and a funder of the CIR. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, two of the foundation's annual $250,000 "Bradley Prizes" for journalism were awarded to Wall Street Journal columnists in 2014 -- one of whom sits on the paper's editorial board. In 2010, Paul A. Gigot, the editorial pages editor at the Journal, also received the Bradley prize.

  • The Worst Media Failures On Public Education In 2015

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    2015 was an important year in education policy, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the beginning of the 2016 election campaigns, and local fights for teachers and public schools making national headlines. In an important year for students and teachers across the education spectrum, however, some media outlets used their platforms to push falsehoods. Here are five of the worst media failures on public education this year.

    5. Campbell Brown Hired Transphobic, Sexist, Racially Insensitive Writer To "Fact-Check" Education Policy Reporting

    This summer, teachers union opponent and former journalist Campbell Brown launched a "non-profit, non-partisan news site about education," called The Seventy Four. In spite of the site's stated mission to combat "misinformation and political spin" with "investigation, expertise, and experience," Brown hired Eric Owens, who has a long history of attacks on students and teachers, to write for the site. Owens has a long history of attacking and mocking teachers and students with transphobic, sexist, victim-blaming, and racially insensitive rhetoric as the education editor at the Daily Caller.

    4. National Newspaper Editorials Promoted Anti-Teachers Union Myths

    This year, The Wall Street Journal continued its campaign of misinformation on teachers unions, pushing harmful, union-opposed policies such as a Louisiana voucher program that was found to violate desegregation requirements and a Washington, D.C. voucher program reported to waste federal dollars on "unsuitable learning environments." The WSJ editorial board often explicitly attributed its support of these unsuccessful policies to combating teachers unions. In an October editorial, for example, the board wrote that being "unpopular with unions... ought to be a requirement for any education leadership position," ignoring the troubling realities of the programs they attempted to defend in spite of well-founded union concerns.

    As ESSA moved through Congress in late November, the editorial board doubled down on its teacher-blaming rhetoric, claiming that the new legislation was favored by "teachers unions who want less accountability," and advocating for the continuation of unpopular high-stakes testing and voucher policies in the states.

    The Washington Post editorial board similarly advocated for continuing the extensive testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation, lending support to a high-stakes testing policy with questionable public or research support, and villainized teachers unions in the process. In its February editorial on the issue, the Post claimed that teachers unions "give lip service to accountability as long as their members aren't the ones held to account," and cited this self-interest as the source of unions' opposition to flawed teacher evaluation models that utilize students' standardized test scores to punish teachers.

    3. Fox News Continued Their Assault On Public Schools, Educators, And Unions

    Fox News featured offensive and often inaccurate commentary on public education and the teaching profession throughout the year -- in some cases doubling down on the anti-teacher rhetoric many Fox figures pushed in 2014.

    In February, Outnumbered co-host Kennedy kicked off the teacher-bashing by arguing that "there really shouldn't be public schools," before the hosts agreed that the federal Department of Education ought to be abolished. In April, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy slurred prospective bilingual educators, referring to immigrants with legal permission to work in the United States as "illegals" during a segment highlighting an initiative to boost language learning in schools.

    In August, Fox & Friends included a segment where Fox News regular Frank Luntz conducted a live focus group segment about public education. Questions for the focus group included "Who here has issue with teachers unions?" and "Doesn't it make you angry that you're putting all this money into public schools?" Luntz followed up his leading question about teachers unions by singling out a teacher from the group and asking him to "defend" himself.

    In an October discussion about New York City schools on Fox's The Five, the co-hosts implored the city's public school teachers to "become a better teacher" and "don't suck at your job." That same month, co-host Juan Williams attacked unions' endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, asserting that an "unholy alliance between education unions and Democrats" would be "dangerous for our kids" and would "hurt" "minority communities" and "poor people."

    2. Moderators And Candidates Overlooked K-12 Education Issues Throughout The 2015 Debate Season


    This year also marked the launch of the 2016 presidential campaign season, with five Republican and three Democratic debates held this fall. While candidates outlined their positions time and again on national security issues, women's health care, and taxes, the debates barely mentioned education issues. A Media Matters search of all eight full debate transcripts found only nine mentions of any variation of the term "teach." In fact, according to this review, no candidate or moderator uttered the phrases "No Child Left Behind," "Race To The Top," or "Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)" throughout the 2015 debate season, despite the recent passage of the landmark ESSA legislation replacing No Child Left Behind.

    Moderators did discuss schools and teachers a handful of times throughout the debate season, mostly in relation to national security. In the August 6 Republican debate on Fox News, moderator Bret Baier questioned former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on their disagreement on the Common Core state standards and asked former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) whether he would abolish the Department of Education, among other federal agencies. The moderators of the October 28 CNBC Republican debate also mentioned teachers once, when moderator Carlos Quintanilla asked Donald Trump about his comments that educators ought to be armed. And on CNN's December 15 Republican debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked candidates about the closure of the Los Angeles Unified school district following an email threat.

    The other five debates did not feature questions regarding K-12 education policy.

    1. State Newspapers Baselessly Attacked Teachers Unions Across The Country


    Public school educators and their unions in major cities made national headlines in 2015 following strikes, contentious contract negotiations, school board elections, and school funding battles. While research shows that teachers unions not only protect the rights of educators but also benefit students and their communities, state newspapers editorializing on union activities framed unions and educators as selfishly seeking higher pay at the expense of others.

    Amidst a victory year for teachers unions on several fronts, Media Matters found that state newspapers in New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, and Washington published editorials distorting the facts to question the motives of teachers and attack their right to organize.

    In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News repeatedly claimed that teachers unions supporting a parent-led movement against standardized testing want to maintain "the wretched, costly, dysfunctional status quo" and require children to "pay the price." In Scranton, Pennsylvania, The Scranton Times-Tribune lamented that teachers unions had the ability to strike and dismissed teachers' calls to be treated with respect and dignity. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, The Albuquerque Journal mocked teachers' concerns over an unfair evaluation method that was subsequently struck down by a district court that agreed with the unions. In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times dismissed unions' worries that a charter expansion plan created by one of the paper's education reporting funders would financially jeopardize local public schools, telling those who opposed the plan to "quit whining." And in Seattle, Washington, The Seattle Times repeatedly attacked the local union for "using their students as pawns," as they advocated for fair pay, guaranteed recess time, more funding for schools, and greater equity in school discipline policies.

    These editorial board attacks on educators -- because of the readers they serve and the prominence of local priorities on education policy -- have the dangerous potential to shift public conversation away from the facts and to pit communities against the teachers who advocate for them. After a year where the importance of education policy has become more critical than ever, hopefully this disturbing trend will not continue in 2016.

    Image by Ian MacKenzie under a Creative Commons license.

  • 5 Attacks Against Teachers Unions By State Newspapers In 2015

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Public school educators and their unions in major cities made national headlines in 2015 following strikes, contentious contract negotiations, school board elections, and funding battles. While research shows that teachers unions benefit students, educators, and communities, state newspapers editorializing on these union activities have ignored the facts and framed unions and educators as selfishly seeking higher pay at the expense of others. Amidst a victory year for teachers unions on several fronts, here are some of the most inaccurate claims state newspaper editorial boards pushed.

  • Campbell Brown's "Non-Partisan" News Site Hires Contributor With Long Anti-LGBT History

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Since its launch this summer, education reform advocate and former broadcast journalist Campbell Brown's "non-partisan education news site," The Seventy Four, has published 11 pieces from contributor Eric Owens. Owens, the education editor at the conservative Daily Caller, has a long history of penning racially insensitive, sexist, and transphobic attacks on students and teachers, and has continued to publish this offensive content since becoming a The Seventy Four contributor.

  • Five Topics That Need To Be Discussed At The Next Democratic Debate

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The October 13 Democratic debate on CNN offered the public a first look at a slate of candidates whose policy positions offer a stark contrast to their counterparts in the Republican party. However, in an election season that could determine whether or not the country continues to make strides toward progressive goals or instead takes steps backwards, it is crucial that the next debate explore these substantive differences even further. Here are some suggestions for the second Democratic debate scheduled to be hosted by CBS, KCCI, and the Des Moines Register on November 14:

    1. Ask About The Crisis Of Money in Politics. Although the topic was brought up spontaneously, the next round of moderators should ask the candidates their thoughts on how to fix what is recognized to be an immediate threat to our democracy -- the explosion of barely regulated money flooding American political campaigns to the detriment of an informed electorate. As a unifying issue among the Democratic candidates, the wealthy's role in influencing politics in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision should be highlighted in full in the next debate so Americans can decide which presidential candidate has the best chance to address the crisis. The numbers are as stark as the issue's importance: the New York Times reports that "just 158 families have provided nearly half the early money for efforts to capture the White House," an undue political influence that Americans largely reject. According to a recent Bloomberg Politics poll, 78 percent of those polled -- across the political spectrum -- are in favor of overturning Citizens United, a figure that was ignored by the media. Sanders, Clinton, O'Malley, Chafee, and Webb have all expressed concern over the role money currently plays in politics and they deserve an opportunity to explain their approaches to the American public who badly need a solution.
    2. Ask About The Concerted Attack On Reproductive Rights. Reproductive rights are under assault across the country, from statehouses to courtrooms to clinic entrances themselves, in an unprecedented fashion. Unlike the candidates across the political aisle, the Democratic slate recognizes this as a national emergency. The current Planned Parenthood defunding scheme was mentioned on stage on October 13, but does the electorate fully understand the threat and the right-wing forces behind it? For example, the Supreme Court will likely have a crucial role in deciding issues of access to reproductive health care in the coming 2015 session, with the Court likely to take on a case examining an anti-choice law in Texas, which mandates abortion providers have unnecessary admitting privileges at hospitals and comply with the same building guidelines as ambulatory surgical centers. As has been extensively documented, these laws are a thinly-veiled attempt to limit the reproductive rights of women whose health often depends on the availability of these targeted clinics. In Texas, the requirements -- if allowed by the Court -- could close all but ten abortion clinics in most in the state. Should Texas' law and similar ones be allowed to stand, the effect would perversely continue to allow abortion in theory, but in practice render it unavailable in many states as these unnecessary regulations block long-standing and safe providers from operating. It is likely the next president will have the opportunity to appoint new successors to the Court. With the wave of anti-choice legislation flooding the courts from conservative legislatures across the states, these possible appointments could very well determine the course of reproductive rights in this country.
    3. Ask About The Ongoing Civil Rights Revolution For The LGBT Community -- And The Backlash. There are still a number of important LGBT issues that presidential candidates can address now that the debate over marriage equality has been largely settled. One would be the candidates' positions on the Equality Act, a bill that would extend vital non-discrimination protections to LGBT people at the federal level, an extension of civil rights law that is opposed by many prominent Republicans. For example, even some current GOP presidential candidates are pushing for so-called religious protections for individuals who refuse to serve or recognize same-sex marriages, like the federal First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). Beyond non-discrimination protections, the next debate could address the fact that 2015 has seen an unprecedented spike in recorded murders of transgender women, and especially transgender women of color. Asking candidates about how they plan to address the most marginalized and victimized members of the LGBT community would help flesh out their substantive plans for fighting anti-LGBT bias beyond the marriage question.
    4. Ask About The Need To Protect Collective Bargaining And The American Worker. During the first Democratic presidential debate, the CNN moderators pressed the candidates with a range of questions pertaining to the American economy, but several important issues fell through the cracks. The candidates were not asked explicitly about their stances on proposals to raise the federal minimum wage, expand workplace protections guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work, or stimulate the economy through investments in vital infrastructure projects -- though several did offer unprompted outlines of their vision in those areas. The candidates were also not asked any questions about labor unions or workers' rights to collectively bargain, despite the Republican Party's continued assault on organized labor through so-called "right-to-work" laws implemented in cities and states around the country. For example, Gov. Scott Walker's (R-WI) decision to suspend his presidential campaign did not mark an end of his party's anti-worker antagonism, and conservative media continue to target unions in an attempt to strip workers of the hard-fought benefits they provide. The Democratic debate audience, and American voters as a whole, deserve to know where the candidates stand on these issues as the campaigns move forward.
    5. Ask About Our Children's Rights To Quality Education And Protections For The Teachers Who Provide It. Last night's debate included a substantive question on college debt and answers that focused on policy differences and referenced candidate plans, but the questioning avoided K-12 students and teachers completely. In fact, CNN's official transcript reveals that the words "teachers," "testing," "curriculum," and "Common Core" were never uttered. "Students" and "schools" received only passing mentions, mostly in the context of the candidates' backgrounds or in answering the question on college debt. The candidates themselves connected education policy priorities with other topics, such as income inequality and criminal justice reform, and briefly outlined their views on in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants -- all important issues -- but the opportunity to discuss public schools and federal policy at length never materialized. How candidates will ensure quality K-12 education for all deserves more than a passing mention. The law that determines federal funding and support for schools across the country, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is currently in the pipeline for a long-overdue reauthorization. Both of the nation's largest teachers' unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have formally endorsed Clinton in the presidential race. National polls and the prevalence of the recent opt-out movement in several states indicate that voters would value a discussion of standardized testing and school accountability policies. Candidates and voters would benefit from the opportunity to combat misinformation around the Common Core state standards, teacher evaluations, school curriculum, voucher programs, and other "third rail" K-12 education topics, and to address policies that directly impact students, teachers, and parents.
  • The WSJ's Editorial Board Celebrates Arne Duncan's Resignation By Promoting Anti-Public Education Myths

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    An October 5 editorial by the Wall Street Journal used anti-union rhetoric and pro-privatization arguments to celebrate Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's resignation and replacement by Acting Deputy Education Secretary John King. The editorial perpetuated several well-worn education policy myths, and mischaracterized the economic outcomes of for-profit colleges and the effects of voucher programs for low-income students of color. 

  • WSJ: Union Benefits Are So Good, Non-Members Should Get Them For Free

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    The Wall Street Journal editorial board is siding with four teachers in California who are suing their unions, claiming "coercion" and "political extortion" because "critical benefits" are being withheld from non-member employees who don't pay for them, but failed to mention the challenge is seeking to overturn decades-old precedent.

    In April, four teachers filed suit against the California Teachers' Association and several other teachers' unions, arguing that their denial of certain benefits to non-members was unconstitutional, despite Supreme Court precedent to the contrary. The teachers had refused to join their representative unions because they disagree with the groups' "political activity," which is funded by members who pay full membership dues. While even non-members are required to pay some dues to the union -- a reduced share known as "agency" or "fair share fees" -- that money cannot be used for political activities.

    In a May 4 editorial, the Journal sided with the suing teachers, calling their lawsuit an opportunity "to end the political extortion" by unions, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of agency fees. The editorial took special exception to the fact that non-members aren't covered by a disability insurance program that provides paid maternity leave, claiming that it is unfair for teachers to have to "ante up to receive substantial employment benefits":

    Teachers who disagree with the union's agenda can opt out of membership and not pay dues. Trouble is, they then must forfeit material benefits including legal representation in workplace disputes as well as union insurance that is necessary for disability and maternity leave. They also cannot vote on collective-bargaining agreements that govern the terms and conditions of their employment.

    The coercion is particularly insidious in the case of maternity leave, which the union does not collectively bargain. Teachers who want to take leaves of absence are guaranteed full-time pay only for their unused sick days. After that, their pay gets docked substantially. So if new mothers want to take a couple of months off, they in effect must either join the union -- and finance its political advocacy -- or take a huge pay cut.

    Imagine if a bank made maternity leave and flex time available only to workers who contribute to a Republican political action committee. This is essentially what the union public-school monopoly does: restrict critical benefits to those who support their political spending.

  • Watch John Oliver Explain How Standardized Testing Has Gotten Out Of Control

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    Last Week Tonight host John Oliver highlighted the standardized testing environment in many of today's schools, discussing the high stakes and stress often associated with testing in classrooms across the United States.

    In contrast to recent calls for annual testing from some media outlets, Oliver spent nearly 18 minutes covering the current realities of standardized testing on the May 3 edition of HBO's Last Week Tonight, including high-stakes testing and value-added models that can negatively impact teachers and students. He also emphasized the connection to "publishing giant" Pearson, a company whom a Politico investigation found that "public officials often commit to buying from...even when there's little proof its products and services are effective."

    Oliver also drew attention to the recent battle over testing in Florida, and to the stress some students face as a result of standardized testing. He specifically pointed to test instructions in Ohio, which include procedures for students who vomit on the test booklet.

    Watch below:

  • School Teachers With Valid Work Authorization Labeled As "Illegals" By Fox News

    DREAMers Attacked With Anti-Immigrant Slur -- Again

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Fox Deploys Racial Slur Against School Teachers

    Fox News misleadingly slurred immigrants with legal permission to work in the United States as "illegals" during a segment highlighting attempts by disadvantaged school districts around the country to boost bilingual education initiatives.

    On the April 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy introduced a headline news segment by falsely claiming that a nonprofit group is "hiring dozens of illegals to teach disadvantaged students." Doocy acknowledged just seconds later that the prospective teachers could "apply for a work permit and earn a reprieve from deportation under the DREAM Act," but still felt it appropriate to label them with the "illegals" slur commonly used by Fox News:

    The segment, which alludes to an April 4 report by the Associated Press about the recruitment of DREAMers as bilingual educators, mirrors a similarly misleading and smear-filled segment featured on Fox & Friends nearly one year ago in which co-hosts Doocy and Brian Kilmeade questioned Denver Public Schools' hiring of so-called "illegal aliens." As was the case today, the teachers in question actually held legal employment authorization.

    Fox has a long history of smearing immigrants with the "illegal" label, which reputable news agencies like The New York Times have abandoned because it is an offensive slur.

  • Teachers On Trial: 5 Times The Media Failed Educators In 2014

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    Teachers faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny in 2014, thanks to a landmark legal case dismantling teacher tenure in California, which is likely to spark copycats lawsuits across the country. In part due to this increased scrutiny, educators also encountered various attacks from mainstream and conservative media over the year, five of which were particularly egregious.

    In June, a California Superior Court handed down the decision in the Vergara v. California trial, a case in which "a group of student plaintiffs ... argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place." Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu sided with the students, in a ruling that Teacher Wars author Dana Goldstein wrote "has the potential to overturn five state laws governing" how tenure, which helps guarantee due process to prevent "capricious firings," operates in the state. The lawsuit became something of a model for media attacks -- sparking reactions that ranged from outraged to elated -- and prompted extensive media discussion about the positives and negatives to reform of the public education system.

    Unfortunately, much of this discussion featured direct attacks on educators in 2014. They came from all facets of the media sphere, and were often rooted in conservative misinformation, though some rang louder, stronger, and more abhorrent than others.

    Here are the top five times media failed educators in 2014.

    5. The Coverage Of Time Magazine's "Rotten Apples" Cover.

    Time CoverThe November 3 cover story of Time magazine, titled "The War on Teacher Tenure" and promoted on the cover as "Rotten Apples," spurred significant backlash, particularly among teachers, who were dismayed at the portrayal of their profession as "rotten." The backlash led to a petition calling for an apology from Time that garnered more than 70,000 signatures. In their coverage of the Time backlash, however, several media outlets, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, Fox News' Outnumbered, and The Weekly Standard's blog failed to discuss what was at the heart of the controversy: due process for teachers. These media outlets instead took to doubling down on the allegations of "rotten," and making outlandish claims. 

    4. Fox News' Misplaced Blame On Teachers Unions.

    If Fox News can find a way to blame any education controversy on teachers or teachers unions, it will do so. Two such instances in 2014 were particularly egregious. When hundreds of Colorado high school students walked out of class to protest a "conservative-led school board proposal" to change their history curriculum, Fox hosted the country board of education president to falsely allege that "teachers [were] using students" as "pawns" not over the history proposal, but over an upcoming teachers union contract. And in March, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would block three charter schools from using public school space rent-free, Fox figures took to speculating and attacking teachers and teachers unions, arguing, among other things, that de Blasio was trying to "kiss back butt on the unions" and wage a "war on children."

    3. Glenn Beck's Book On Public Education.

    Glenn Beck's book Conform, released in May and co-authored with Kyle Olson, lobbed a number of laughable attacks against public schools, the Common Core State Standards, and in particular, teachers. His ridiculous attacks on teachers included claiming that:

    • Longer school days help teachers encourage "teen sexual activity."
    • "Most teachers get a raise for not dying over the summer."
    • Teachers' colleges are "not very hard" to get into and are "Marxist brainwashing factories."
    • "Radical educators" use civil rights to "further their Marxist agenda."

    Glenn Beck & Book

    2. The Koch Connection To A Kansas Law Dismantling Teachers Rights.

    In April, the Kansas State Legislature passed a bill in a whirlwind weekend session that "kill[ed] long-held teacher rights" in the state, namely the right to due process. In addition to being pushed by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, the bill was also introduced by a committee whose chairman had ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has received "untold sums of cash" from the Koch brothers. None of the three major newspapers in Kansas, however, made the connection between the legislation and the Koch brothers in their original reporting.

    Kansas Papers

    1. Lack Of Educator Voices In Cable Evening News Education Coverage.

    Media Matters conducted an analysis of education coverage on weeknight cable news programs from January 1 to October 31, 2014, to determine how many of the shows' guests who discussed the topic were educators. The report found that across CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, educators made up only 9 percent of guests during education segments, with each network only hosting a total of one, four, and eleven educators, respectively.

    Cable News Coverage Chart

    This post has been updated for accuracy. 

  • What Conservative Media Miss In Coverage Of Controversial Time Teacher Story

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    Rushing to defend a recent Time magazine article critical of teacher tenure, several conservative media outlets neglected to discuss what is at the core of a major backlash against the article: due process.

    Time CoverTime's November 3 cover story, titled "The War on Teacher Tenure" and promoted on the cover as "Rotten Apples", has spurred significant backlash, particularly among teachers. The Huffington Post noted on October 27 that a petition from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) "asking Time to apologize for the cover had reached 72,000 signatures." In response to the uproar, Time published reactions to its piece from various individuals, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA), AFT President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.

    Various conservative media outlets covered the Time controversy by defending the article and cover, attacking teachers unions, and mischaracterizing teacher tenure. The common thread in all of this coverage, however, was a lack of discussion about due process, or why due process policies like tenure exist.

    On the October 30 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski hosted Time's Nancy Gibbs to discuss the backlash. The segment did not include a discussion or even a mention of tenure or due process, though Scarborough claimed, "It's absolutely silly. There are rotten apples. There are horrible teachers. There are horrible lawyers. There are horrible journalists. There are horrible TV hosts. In every field you can go, there are rotten apples in that field."

    Fox News' Outnumbered on October 27 also neglected to discuss due process during a discussion of the Time piece, though co-host Andrea Tantaros stated that teachers unions are "destroying America" while co-host Jedediah Bila claimed:

    BILA: And unfortunately, the reality is, is that a lot of bad teachers stay. They have tenure.& You cannot get rid of them. They want no accountability, and they are bringing schools down in every city across this country.

  • The Midterm Election Spending Fox Actually Wants To Talk About

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER

    With two weeks to go before midterm elections, the North Carolina Senate race is on track to be the most expensive Senate race ever. But on Fox News, the focus is on spending by teachers unions, not the conservative-backed groups pouring money three times that amount into the state.

    Fox News' America's Newsroom highlighted on October 21 how two prominent teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), are "on track to spend a record amount this [campaign] cycle." Focusing specifically on the North Carolina Senate race, host Martha MacCallum asked, "What are the teachers unions doing there?" Correspondent Mike Emanuel noted that Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is polling narrowly ahead of her Republican challenger Thom Tillis, as "the National Education Association super PAC has spent about $3 million on ads blaming Republican Tillis for making class sizes bigger and for reduced art and sports programs. Expect more of this down the final stretch," because Tillis is "a target."

    With its focus on teachers unions, Fox conveniently left out the spending from outside groups that totals nearly three times more. For example, the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity,  a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers has poured in at least $8.3 million in ad money. At least $6 million has come from groups linked to conservative Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor. 

    Such selective reporting on election spending is becoming standard for the network, which has worked to minimize the influx of money supporting Republican candidates into states with hotly-contested congressional races this election cycle.

  • Fox Takes Premature Victory Lap On AP History Controversy In Colorado

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    Win for Patriotism chyronFox News misrepresented the latest news about a controversy over the Advanced Placement (AP) history curriculum in Jefferson County, Colorado, falsely portraying a vote by the county's school board as a decision to "mak[e] history courses more patriotic." In fact, the board voted to change the way the school district reviews its curricula, but it did not adopt the supposedly "patriotic" changes to the AP history curriculum, which Fox has been promoting.

    Hundreds of Jefferson County high school students have walked out of class over the past few weeks in response to the proposed changes to the AP history curriculum. The original resolution, introduced by school board member Julie Williams, "stated that AP history classes should promote 'patriotism and ... the benefits of the free-enterprise system' and should not 'encourage or condone civil disorder.'"

    Fox News has reported on this story several times, including hosting Ken Witt, the conservative president of the school board, to scapegoat teachers unions for supposedly "using students" as "political pawns," despite a statement to the contrary by the president of the local teachers union. Fox host Gretchen Carlson even told students "that if they 'don't like it here,' then they should just 'get out.'" Fox's disapproval of these protests stands in stark contrast to the network's previous lauding of students who stood up against things like healthy school lunches and rules regarding religious texts.

    On the October 3 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox host Heather Nauert reported on the Jefferson County school board meeting the night before, claiming that the board "voted 3-2 in favor of making history courses more patriotic" while an on-screen graphic read "A Win For Patriotism":

    NAUERT: The controversial history plan that sparked massive protests in Colorado still alive this morning despite students, parents, and teachers protesting for days. The Jefferson County School Board voted 3-2 in favor of making history courses more patriotic. There was a bit of a compromise, though. The board will let students and teachers get more involved in that process. [emphasis added]

    Nauert's report, however, is misleading. Though she is correct that the vote allows for input from students and teachers, according to reporting from local TV station KUSA and the Associated Press, the board in fact voted 3-2 "to revise procedures for reviewing curriculum but did not specifically approve a review of AP U.S. History." The report continued:

    Ultimately the board adopted a compromise proposal penned by Superintendent Dan McMinimee to revise current review procedures to include students, teachers and other community members. But the committee that was approved is not course-specific and has not been charged at this point with reviewing AP U.S. History, according to Marlene Desmond with Jeffco Public Schools.

    While another Associated Press report acknowledged that Williams "refused a call to withdraw her original proposal," The Washington Post emphasized that "it's not immediately clear whether the committee will review the history course, only that the meetings must be held in public." In addition, NPR reported that after two weeks of protest in the county, "the original language about patriotism was dropped," though "the resolution still calls for a committee to review course materials."

    Meanwhile, FoxNews.com published an Associated Press story that also described the events accurately.

  • The Fox News Hypocrisy On Student Freedoms

    Blog ››› ››› HILARY TONE

    Student protestNews of a massive student protest in Colorado against a "conservative-led school board proposal"  has prompted Fox News to rethink its stance on student freedoms.

    Earlier this week, hundreds of students across six high schools in Arvada, Colorado, walked out of their classrooms amid news of a "conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority." The Associated Press reported that the curriculum proposal would establish a committee to ensure certain history materials "don't 'encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law'":

    Student participants said their demonstration was organized by word of mouth and social media. Many waved American flags and carried signs, including messages that read "There is nothing more patriotic than protest."


    The school board proposal that triggered the walkouts in Jefferson County calls for instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage. It would establish a committee to regularly review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."

    On September 25, Fox & Friends hosted Ken Witt, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, which oversees the Arvada schools, to discuss the protests. Amid chyrons like "Political Pawns" and "Teachers Are Using Students," Witt alleged that the real issue was not the history curriculum proposal, but rather the upcoming teachers union contract :

    WITT: That's the unfortunate situation that's going on. I believe that there is a significant amount of union conflict right now that we would like to not have. The issue is that it's easy to get children out. It's easy to use kids as pawns and it's not right. We have a union contract that's expiring in August of this year.

    Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck parroted Witt's allegations, saying, "What concerns me is that what I'm hearing from you, and correct me if I am wrong, is that there is someone else behind this planting it and using these students for their own gain."