Betsy DeVos | Media Matters for America

Betsy DeVos

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  • After Betsy DeVos can't answer simple questions on 60 Minutes, Fox & Friends guides her through softball interview

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After embarrassing herself on CBS’ 60 Minutes, one of President Donald Trump’s controversial cabinet appointments, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, retreated to the administration's safe space on Fox & Friends, where she was asked easy questions and not challenged on the specifics of a school safety commission she will chair.

    In a March 11 interview with 60 Minutes anchor Leslie Stahl, DeVos struggled to provide evidence in support of “school choice,” her signature issue, stumbled when challenged on her claims, and failed to answer even basic questions about schools in her home state. When pressed to say whether there are as many false accusations as actual sexual assaults on college campuses -- which fits into a long-standing right-wing media myth that the problem of sexual assault is overblown -- DeVos said, "I don't know."

     

    The next day, Trump’s favorite show Fox & Friends interviewed her as well, feeding DeVos unspecific, open-ended questions and leaving her claims unchallenged. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt simply asked DeVos for her “reaction” to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) criticism of the Trump administration’s inaction on gun safety. Later, Earhardt’s co-host Brian Kilmeade asked DeVos to explain what HuffPost columnists “don’t understand” in response to the outlet’s criticism of “school choice” policies. From the March 12 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends (questions are bolded for ease of reading):

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Madam secretary, we've been going through some of the things on the agenda that the president and the White House would like to get done. But ultimately it sounds like the ultimate goal would be to harden the schools. Would that be accurate?

    BETSY DEVOS: Well, Steve, that's one of the opportunities we have and one of the responsibilities we have, frankly. We have many other venues in our country that are kept safe, and schools have to be a part of that equation as well. And every state and every community is going to do this slightly differently, but we’re going to advance ways in which schools can be made safer for students. And in which -- which works for each community and for each state.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Madam secretary, thank you so much for being on with us. Chuck Schumer -- he is not on board with this plan. This is what he had to say., and let's get your reaction. ... It’s a statement: “The White House has taken tiny baby steps designed not to upset the NRA when the gun violence epidemic in this country demands that giant steps be taken. Democrats in the Senate will push to go further, including passing universal background checks, actual federal legislation on protection orders, and a debate on banning assault weapons.” What's your reaction?

    DEVOS: Well, the point is there are pieces of legislation before Congress today that can take significant steps in the right direction. Background checks, the Stop Violence Act. They have broad bipartisan support. And the president wants to see Congress act now, take these steps today, and then let's look at what we can do as next steps beyond that. But every time we’ve had a situation like this, we’ve had a lot of discussion, and camps go into their various corners. And then we sit and don't get anything done. The president is committed to taking action and to ensuring that we do what we can at the federal level to protect kids.

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Do you like what Florida did last Friday?

    DEVOS: I think Florida has done an amazing job in a very short period of time of tackling some very difficult issues, and I think that every state is looking in that same direction, though Florida had obviously immediate motivation.

    KILMEADE: Right.

    DOOCY: Sure. And one of the things that Florida did -- and now they are being sued by the NRA -- is they raised the age for buying a long gun to age 21. The president had said shortly after Parkland he would like to see that happen. But that's not in the proposal. Any idea why?

    DEVOS: Well, everything is on the table. And part of the job of this commission will be to study that and see if that is advanced ultimately as a recommendation in next steps. The point being there are many steps to be taken now, and additional steps that will be taken down the road as we do the work of the commission.

    EARHARDT: The president had mentioned making our schools similar to airports where you have to go through metal detectors, you have to show IDs. Any details on that?

    DEVOS: Well, you know, some schools actually do that today. And perhaps for some communities, for some cities, for some states, that will be appropriate. There is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue and this problem. There are going to be many different solutions, and one of the things the commission has been charged to do is to really do an inventory and raise up all of the best practices across the country because some communities are getting it really right.

    KILMEADE: If I'm governor, I’d like to do it myself. Governor [Rick] Scott was not waiting for anything from Washington. That's probably what you should do. But I want us to switch to something else that really is the hallmark of your secretaryship, if that's a word, and that is giving kids a school -- give choice, vouchers for kids to be able to go to schools, some of which are excellent schools, and out of schools that might be failing. Well, Huffington Post says, “School choice is a lie that harms us all.” What don't they understand that you do?

    DEVOS: Well, they obviously haven't talked to the many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or millions of parents, who want to have the chance to choose the right education for their child. And we know today there is just a fraction of families in this country that are able to make that choice. And we need to make that choice much more broadly available to ensure that every child is in a school and in a learning environment that works for him or her.

    KILMEADE: And some can't afford it and that's where the vouchers come in, correct?

    DEVOS: That's right. And a voucher is just a mechanism. There are many mechanisms that can be used. The key is giving parents freedom for their kids' education. Freedom to make the decisions and the choices that are right for their child or their children.

    EARHARDT: Is that any type of school? Does that include religious schools?

    DEVOS: It does indeed. There are many programs already today in states that are serving small numbers of families of kids, and if they select a school, a faith-based school, that is certainly their option and choice. But, the idea, again, is giving parents the kind of freedom that those who have means and those who are wealthy are able to make those decisions on a daily basis.

    DOOCY: Well, we like the idea, but of course the teachers unions don't because they feel their jobs are at stake.

    DEVOS: Well, there are some very powerful forces that are arrayed against changing the status quo. And that is what we are up against. But the reality is that the majority of people in this country support the idea of giving parents that kind of freedom. And so this legislation is going to continue to advance at the state level. At the national level, we’re going to continue to push this conversation, and to encourage our lawmakers to look at ways that they can encourage it both in their states, and take steps nationally that will help parents be free to make those decisions for their kids.

  • Hate group Alliance Defending Freedom seeks to expand public funding for schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students

    ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON

    Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is an anti-LGBTQ hate group and legal powerhouse that has vigorously promoted policies that discriminate against LGBTQ students in schools and is leading the fight against transgender students’ equal access to restroom facilities. The group has also litigated private school voucher cases in at least five states in an effort to make it easier for religious schools, including those that discriminate against LGBTQ students, to receive public funding. A recent U.S. Supreme Court victory by ADF may make it easier for voucher programs to expand to more states.

  • CBS Evening News failed viewers in its DeVos interview on sexual assault protections 

    The show emphasized the "innocent students wrongly punished" without noting how rare false allegations are 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On September 7, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced plans to begin dismantling Obama-era protections for survivors of campus sexual assault, seemingly building her case on a common right-wing media argument that so-called “false allegations” are rampant on college campuses across America. Viewers who watched CBS Evening News' exclusive interview with DeVos, however, were provided with little to no context about the inaccurate nature of these claims. 

    In her speech, DeVos talked about the lives of "falsely accused students" who she said were "a victim of a lack of due process." DeVos argued that these students had to cope with having their hopes “dashed” and their futures “lost.” In focusing overwhelmingly on the "lives of the accused," DeVos reinforced right-wing media talking points about the frequency of false sexual assault allegations.

    DeVos also shared her plan to open a public “notice-and-comment” period about campus sexual assault regulations and indicated her intention to invalidate protections for survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits schools receiving federal funding from discriminating against students on the basis of sex. As Inside Higher Ed noted, previous case law had “established sexual violence as an issue of gender-based discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972”; the guidance instituted during Barack Obama's presidency served as an instruction to “higher ed institutions to do more to meet those obligations.”

    When reporting on the Obama-era guidance and DeVos’ proposed changes, however, CBS Evening News focused on right-wing media talking points that overstate the frequency of false allegations, despite an abundance of evidence of their rarity. During the September 7 segment, CBS’ Jan Crawford claimed that the guidance had disadvantaged those accused of sexual assault or harassment and ultimately created “another class of victims: innocent students wrongly punished.” Although Crawford couched this claim in the language of “opponents say,” she did not offer any evidence for such an allegation nor did she mention that statistics in fact demonstrate the rarity of false allegations.

    False reports are exceptionally rare -- representing between 2 and 10 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.”

    Nevertheless, CBS was content to rely on DeVos’ implications, which reflect years of inaccurate right-wing media talking points about sexual assault and harassment. Right-wing media have spent years attacking the credibility of survivors and misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment cases. Right-wing figures have disputed the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” and claimed sexual assault survivors occupy a “coveted status.” These outlets have even gone so far as to suggest that feminism encourages sexual assault and that attempts to address the issue harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although right-wing media have most consistently made such claims, other outlets have been similarly guilty of sympathetically highlighting past accomplishments of the accused or worrying about the costs to their lives and careers. 

    While DeVos did not explicitly roll back the Obama-era guidance in her speech, her assumption of common right-wing media misinformation as truth, as well as her receptiveness to positions of extremists -- both within and outside her administration -- sends a clear and dangerous signal. For example, in July, DeVos planned a series of meetings with a number of extreme men’s rights groups, many of whom have a history of lobbying to roll back legal protections for survivors and openly attacking survivors of assault.

    When not seeking input from these groups, DeVos can rely on the department’s Office of Civil Rights head, Candice Jackson, to supply inflammatory and inaccurate guidance about sexual assault. Jackson has previously garnered attention for her comments that women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual misconduct were “fake victims,” as well as a statement to The New York Times that “90 percent” of sexual assault allegations occur because the individuals were “both drunk” or “months later” the woman “just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’” Although Jackson later apologized for these comments, the fact remains: These are the opinions DeVos has courted in her quest to upend how campuses investigate sexual assault.

    CBS Evening News had an exclusive interview with DeVos after the announcement. Rather than fact-check her claims or even note the consequences her decision would have for sexual assault survivors, CBS decided to help DeVos spread the harmful misconception that the unheard voices in the fight against campus sexual assault were those of the “falsely accused.” As the National Women’s Law Center explained, DeVos’ announcement may appear “merely procedural,” but in reality it is “a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault” because it “signals a green light to sweep sexual assault further under the rug.”

  • DeVos continues carrying out ALEC’s agenda by dismantling for-profit college accountability

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON

    In a little-noticed action, on August 18, the Department of Education announced a rule change that will further loosen accountability of for-profit colleges. The move signals a continuation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ American Legislative Exchange Council-inspired agenda: favoring the interests of fraudulent for-profit colleges over victimized students, and dismantling higher education accountability structures.

    In 2010, the administration of then-President Barack Obama announced new rules designed to ensure that for-profit career preparatory colleges yielded appropriate levels of “gainful employment” for their graduates. According to The Washington Post, the rule “effectively would shut down for-profit programs that repeatedly fail to show, through certain measures, that graduates are earning enough to pay down the loans taken out to attend those programs.” After a series of court challenges, and a process of negotiated rulemaking, the final guidelines were set to be instituted on July 1, 2017. Even before the rules were implemented, evidence indicated that the pending gainful employment regulations were already having an impact, with many colleges proactively shutting down programs that might have been noncompliant.

    Back in 2010, right-wing media were up in arms over Obama’s efforts to make changes to gainful employment rules. For instance, Breitbart.com claimed it was a sign that “for-profit education” was “under assault” and that Obama was “intentionally targeting job-creating schools.” The Daily Caller asserted that the Department of Education couldn’t be trusted to fairly renegotiate these rules.

    On July 20, DeVos spoke before the annual convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate bill mill that shares model right-wing legislation with sympathetic state legislators. In her speech, she outlined a vision of higher education that includes changes to the gainful employment rule. DeVos characterized the Obama administration rewrite of the rule as “textbook overreach,” claiming it was part of an “administration-wide war on every type of organization they didn’t like.” Several for-profit colleges and trade groups are past or current members of ALEC, including the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (the trade association of for-profit schools), Bridgepoint Education, Corinthian Colleges, and Kaplan Higher Education.

    One month later, on August 18, the Department of Education published new revisions to the gainful employment rule, circumventing the normal rulemaking process. The revisions change the process by which colleges can appeal violations of the gainful employment rule, and according to Consumerist, they “appear to tip the appeals process in the college’s favor.” The new rules eliminate guidelines specifying what data would be considered representative of the student body. Now a college can appeal using any data it chooses, and “DeVos would determine what is reliable on her own.”

    The new rule will likely make it easier for for-profit colleges to successfully avoid being sanctioned under the gainful employment rules. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, responded to the change by stating, “It’s clear Secretary DeVos has no intention of enforcing rules that protect students and instead is once again prioritizing predatory corporations and for-profit colleges.”

    In addition to the gainful employment rule change, DeVos has made other rule changes that benefit for-profit colleges. She elected to delay implementation of the borrower’s defense provision, which would have provided debt relief to students who were defrauded by for-profit universities. As of July 26, she had failed to approve a single application from over 65,000 students who applied for relief from debt accrued while attending now-shuttered for-profit colleges.

    The New York Times questioned whether DeVos’ Department of Education could be impartial about for-profit colleges when she appointed Richard Eitel, who had worked for a company that runs the troubled for-profit college chain Ashford University, to a special adviser position. DeVos also hired Taylor Hansen, a for-profit college lobbyist, onto her transition team. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questioned DeVos over Hansen’s many conflicts of interest, and he resigned the same day. In addition, there are a substantial number of Education Department staffers with ties to dark-money “education reform” echo chamber groups that seek less accountability for for-profit institutions.

  • Education Week reports on how DeVos' investment in "brain performance" company raises questions about her ethics and competence

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Despite “ethical questions,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos continues to invest money in the scientifically dubious company Neurocore, according to Education Week.

    In an August 7 report, Education Week reported that DeVos has “significantly increased her family’s financial stake” in the “brain performance” company Neurocore, which “makes questionable claims” about its ability to treat a number of neurological conditions in children and adults.

    According to Education Week, there are several concerns surrounding DeVos’ increasing investment in Neurocore: “ethical questions” about potential conflicts of interest and “fresh worries from some researchers about DeVos’s commitment to rigorous scientific research.” From the August 7 report:

    Neurocore purports to treat patients by analyzing their brainwaves and other biological signs, then providing “neurofeedback sessions” through which they can train their brains to function better. The company often uses such treatments with both adults and children. It charges as much as $2,200 for a 30-session cycle.

    Overall, the evidence base for neurofeedback is weak, experts say.

    Still, Neurocore has claimed that its technology can “fix” problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and has “proven and long-lasting” positive effects on children with autism. In January, Education Week reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics and leading researchers all said there was limited evidence to support such assertions.

    Now, the company is touting new research on its website. In a March press release, for example, Neurocore CEO Mark Murrison said a recently published study showed that Neurocore’s technology is a “viable treatment option for people dealing with anxiety or depression.”

    Three experts consulted by Education Week all questioned the legitimacy of such claims, citing serious flaws with the study’s design that prevented it from generating credible evidence.

    “They’re misleading, at best,” said Rebecca A. Maynard, a professor of education and social policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

    “It bothers me to see anyone misusing evidence and promoting things that mislead the public,” said Maynard, a former commissioner at the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the federal education department that DeVos now heads.

    [...]

    Raising her financial stake in Neurocore does not cross any clear ethical lines, and federal ethics officials signed off on the moves, said Larry Noble, the senior director and general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington nonprofit staffed by election-law experts who promote public participation in democratic processes.

    But the transactions do raise some new ethical questions for DeVos and the public moving forward, Noble said.

    “I would want to watch very carefully if there is anything the department of education is doing that one could argue is going to help that company,” he said. “Also, if she had any inside information about anything that could have influenced the value of that stock, and she increased her holdings because of that, it would be a problem.”

  • Newspapers reveal human costs of Betsy DeVos abandoning defrauded students

    ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON

    The Trump administration has failed to provide relief to tens of thousands of students who were left with a “near-worthless degree” and large amounts of debt after attending fraudulent for-profit colleges that have since closed. Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education has delayed implementation of new rules that would better protect student borrowers, and several recent newspaper stories have captured the human cost of the lingering debt.

  • DeVos’ address to ALEC furthers alignment with corporate-driven education reform

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 20, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will address conservative legislators and corporate lobbyists at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Media outlets have spotlighted DeVos’ long-time support of right-wing corporate education reform proposals advocated by ALEC, including, among other things, so-called “school-choice” programs that weaken traditional public schools.

    ALEC is a corporate-funded “membership organization.” It connects right-wing state legislators across the country with model legislation that represents “the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism” and corresponds with corporate interests on a given policy issue. Almost one-quarter of all state legislators in the U.S. are part of the ALEC network, giving it unmatched influence in turning its model legislation into law. ALEC has promoted legislation on private school choice programs including voucher programs and scholarship tax credits. They have been a key part of the successful push to massively expand private school voucher policies across an increasing number of states over the past 10 years. Additionally, in line with its right-wing agenda, ALEC is also behind so-called “right to work” legislation that severely weakens unions -- including teachers unions.

    In reporting on her upcoming address, Education Week described DeVos and ALEC as “natural allies” because DeVos promotes education policies that are beneficial to the large corporations that make up ALEC’s membership. Education Week noted that “the current co-chair of the group’s education committee” is Tom Bolvin, “who works for K12 Inc., the for-profit education company that has been under fire for poor performance of many of the online charter schools it operates.” DeVos has also delayed the implementation of two measures designed to deter for-profit colleges from defrauding and impoverishing students. This delay has prevented victimized students from getting debt relief, but may help buoy the financial stability of ALEC-affiliated for-profit college corporations. DeVos and ALEC are both in favor of expanding online for-profit charter schools, which have a dismal record of academic performance but are extremely profitable.

    NPR also highlighted the extent to which DeVos’ and ALEC’s agendas overlap, quoting ALEC’s education policy head, Inez Feltscher, saying that DeVos "has been a wonderful champion for school choice both before and after becoming secretary of education, and advancing educational choice is one of the key issues we work on here at ALEC." University of Wisconsin-Madison education professor Julie Underwood summarized ALEC’s education policy agenda to NPR as "vouchers, vouchers, vouchers."

    DeVos indeed views the expansion of vouchers as a key policy objective, and she and ALEC even point to the same states as role models. DeVos has praised Arizona's, Indiana’s, and Florida’s versions of voucher programs. Arizona just passed legislation enacting an unprecedented voucher program with universal eligibility and functionally no regulation. Florida has the highest total number of students enrolled in voucher programs of any state in the country (not counting individual tax credit programs), and Indiana has the largest traditional voucher program. Arizona, Florida, and Indiana are also the only three states to receive the highest grade that ALEC awarded on its annual state education policy report card. ALEC was a co-signatory on a recent letter praising Devos’ “vision for empowering parents to choose the best educational setting for their children.” The letter emphasized the “innovative programs that are in place in states like Arizona, Florida, and Ohio.”

    DeVos is not the first member of the Trump administration to address ALEC’s annual meeting. Vice President Mike Pence addressed ALEC’s conference last summer, when he was governor of Indiana, in Indianapolis. As governor, Pence oversaw the rapid expansion of vouchers in Indiana. In his speech at the conference, he named this expansion of Indiana’s voucher program as one of his key accomplishments.

  • Betsy DeVos just perpetuated years of right-wing attacks on rape survivors

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Many have questioned the incomprehensible logic of President Donald Trump’s proposal to collaborate with Russia on cybersecurity policy, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to be deploying a similar strategy: collaborating with rape deniers on policy regarding campus sexual assault. This comes after right-wing media spent years questioning the severity of sexual assault and attacking the credibility of survivors.

    First reported by Politico, DeVos planned a July 13 meeting with “advocates for survivors of campus sexual assault, as well as with groups representing students who say they were wrongfully accused.”

    Politico identified several invitees as representatives from the men’s rights groups Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and National Coalition for Men -- all of which have dedicated themselves to combating what they believe is rampant false reporting of sexual assault, and the lack of attention paid to the “true victims”: those who are accused.

    As The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center classified SAVE as an organization that is “promoting misogyny” and "lobbying to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors.” Jaclyn Friedman, an expert on campus sexual violence, told Silverman that groups like SAVE not only “actively publicize the names of rape survivors in order to intimidate them,” but also “blame women for ‘instigating’ men's violence against them” and believe that “victims' sexual histories should be fair game in rape cases.” According to ThinkProgress and BuzzFeed, organizations like FACE, National Coalition for Men, and the like are no better in their advocacy, nor less extreme in their beliefs.

    Despite posturing from these groups, false rape reports are actually a statistical minority -- representing between 2 and 8 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.” Survivors already face rampant challenges when reporting sexual assault, and it is unlikely the Department of Education’s invitation to these men’s rights groups will improve these conditions.

    A July 12 press release explained that DeVos would meet with the various groups in a series of “listening sessions” meant to “discuss the impact of the Department’s Title IX sexual assault guidance on students, families and institutions.” In 2011, the Obama administration provided schools with guidance on how to “review and enforce Title IX complaints,” emphasizing the role assault and harassment play in the creation of “a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX.” Many have speculated that DeVos’ openness to including men’s rights organizations in the meetings is just the latest signal that the department will revoke these protections.

    In April, ProPublica implied that DeVos’ selection of Candice Jackson to head the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was a sign of bad things to come for Title IX and anti-sexual violence protections, noting that Jackson had previously “arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” and that she called women who accused Trump of sexual assault “fake victims.” In June, ProPublica published a memo from Jackson that directed OCR staff to make changes to investigative procedures that “advocates fear will mean less consistent findings of systemic discrimination at colleges.” As ThinkProgress previously reported, DeVos herself has “long donated to organizations that frequently side with students accused of rape and sexual abuse.”

    The men’s rights groups DeVos plans to meet with aren’t alone in waging war on sexual violence protections and survivors. Some of Trump’s favorite right-wing media figures and staunchest cable news supporters have put on a masterclass in how to not report on sexual assault. After an uncovered 2005 audio showed Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, many Fox News employees seemingly made it their jobs to either downplay the severity of his comments or attack the many women who came forward with specific allegations against him.

    Even before Trump, right-wing media were especially adamant in their campaign of misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment. Beyond disputing the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, right-wing media figures have called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a “coveted status,” blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although she has since fled the network in an attempt to rehab her image at NBC, former Fox News star Megyn Kelly was a chief proponent of the “war on boys” talking point -- which was just part of her long history of criticizing sexual assault prevention measures and minimizing the credibility of survivors.

    Fox itself has spent the better part of the past year -- when not providing the ultimate safe space for Trump and his administration -- embroiled in a series of sexual assault allegations after years of harassment at the network. Such allegations ultimately led to the ouster of both the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and longtime host (now aspiring podcast provocateur) Bill O’Reilly, as well as the recent suspension of Fox Business host Charles Payne.

    Although right-wing media have engaged in some of the most overt attacks on survivors, many other outlets are far from magnanimous in their coverage of sexual assault. As coverage around former Stanford student Brock Turner showed, media have a bad habit of sympathetically highlighting the past accomplishments of the accused, or bemoaning the costs to their lives and careers.

    The New York Times fell into this very trap in a July 12 article about the meetings. The Times began its report by highlighting the “heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault” before going on to describe the consequences they faced, ranging from “lost scholarships” to expulsion. In one case, as the Times noted, a man had tried to “take his own life” but “maintained he was innocent” and “had hoped to become a doctor.” In another example, the Times highlighted the comments of the father of an accused student who complained that his son’s “entire world [was] turned upside down” and that, as the paper put it, he had been “forced to abandon his dream of becoming a college wrestling coach.” Reporting like this -- although seemingly benign -- not only perpetuates victim blaming, but also downplays the severity of allegations by treating offenders as the real victims.

    Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described DeVos’ planned meetings as “a classic case of false balance, because the two sides here do not have equal merit.” She noted that one side includes “advocates for sexual-assault victims” while the other is made up of “trolls who have made it their lives’ work to defend domestic violence.” She concluded that however unfortunate the decision to invite these men’s rights groups to meet, it was unsurprising. After all: “As a representative of an administration run by a man with an interest in protecting sexual harrassers, DeVos has every reason to side with the latter.”

    Undeterred, survivors aren’t letting DeVos off the hook that easily. While she meets with men's rights groups that have systematically tried to silence and shame survivors, organizations that advocate for them will be outside the Department of Education making their voices heard.

  • 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).

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • When Journalists Investigated Trump's Nominee For Education Secretary, They Found Scores Of Unanswered Questions

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & PAM VOGEL

    Journalists have spent months investigating the complicated connections of education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, attempting to untangle her financial dealings and ideological stances on public education. In light of DeVos’ January 17 Senate committee confirmation hearing, Media Matters highlights some of the findings from quality investigative reporting on the billionaire Republican mega-donor.