Fox News marked the start of the school year with a predictable mix of attacks on public education, racial justice activism, and progressive policies, often launched by extreme-right commentators and campaign surrogates for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Fox Villainized “Stalinist” Teachers Unions On Air And Online
Fox News hosts engaged in education discussions using the network’s typical approach: bashing teachers unions and attempting to drive a nonexistent wedge between educators’ priorities and the best interests of students.
On Your World With Neil Cavuto, guest host Stuart Varney dismissed guest Tamara Holder’s attempts to substantively discuss a recent story about a state teachers union. The union decided to boycott a back-to-school promotion to draw attention to public school funding disparities. Before Holder, a Fox contributor, could speak about the boycott, Varney combatively accused Holder of wanting to “squash school choice.” Varney repeatedly interrupted Holder during the three-minute segment -- even after she implored, “Why are you so mad at [teachers unions] when they’re not doing anything other than fighting for more resources?” He concluded the segment by saying, “I’m really shocked that you won’t support school choice, that you support the Stalinist bureaucracy of the teachers union.”
Meanwhile, FoxNews.com ran an opinion piece titled “If your child’s school is failing, thank a union” authored by Richard Berman -- a corporate lobbyist and the executive director of the Center for Union Facts, a dark-money-fueled organization that routinely smears labor unions. Berman rehashed the same tired, inaccurate attacks on both organized labor writ large and teachers unions specifically that have long clogged the airwaves at Fox. The piece equated the political spending of the two major national teachers unions -- the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which together represent almost 5 million individuals -- with the spending of dark-money PACs funded by a small number of wealthy private donors. Berman’s organization does not publicly disclose its funders, though tax disclosures show the group has received substantial funding from anti-union “dark-money ATM” groups DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, as well as the right-wing Bradley Foundation.
A second opinion piece on FoxNews.com, written by Fox News “Medical A-Team” member Keith Ablow -- a longtime anti-LGBT “pop psychologist” who has recently attacked transgender teens -- was titled “Are your kids back in school? Time to apologize to them.” Ablow’s op-ed argued -- with zero evidence -- that “antiquated systems of tenure” and resistance to voucher programs have led to subpar schools. Ablow encouraged readers to “follow my lead and apologize to their kids for what passes as primary and secondary education in America.” Meanwhile, the majority of Americans believe their local public schools are performing well.
Fox Figures Repurposed Racial Justice Arguments To Attack Progressives On Education
On Hannity, frequent Fox guest and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke -- a right-wing extremist who has previously called members of the Black Lives Matter movement “garbage” and Hillary Clinton a “cop hater” -- argued that progressive policies such as opposition to increasingly unpopular school voucher programs “have herded black people… onto that plantation called the American ghetto.”
On The Five, co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle, Juan Williams, and Dana Perino, and guest co-host Jesse Watters, concluded that viable solutions to “social pathologies” in Milwaukee’s communities of color include African-Americans “step[ping] up to the plate” rather than playing “victims of Democratic policies,” and pushing efforts to “hold teachers accountable.” Perino mentioned that the NAACP opposed privately managed charter schools, prompting Williams to declare the position “unbelievable,” and Guilfoyle to conclude, “I don’t get that.”
Days later, the co-hosts pivoted a discussion about Trump’s tweet about the Chicago shooting death of basketball star Dwyane Wade’s cousin to push right-wing myths. They used it to claim that even "school choice" cannot address challenges facing the black community, including the right-wing canard of “black-on-black crime.” They also dismissed the NAACP’s recent resolution calling for a halt in the expansion of privately managed charter schools.
On The Record With Greta Van Susteren interviewed Trump surrogate and frequent Fox guest Rudy Giuliani about Trump’s attempted outreach to the African-American community, allowing Giuliani to spend nearly five minutes attacking the education stances of teachers unions and progressives and touting his own record on pushing privatization measures in New York City schools as mayor.
Fox Hosts And Guests Laughed At Students’ Activism On Offensive Terminology: Should An Injured Horse “Get A Lawyer, Because The Horse Is Offended” By Being Called “Lame”?
Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle guest-hosted On The Record and interviewed a student leader at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee about students’ efforts to highlight offensive terms. After student Mike Fortello explained why using terms like “lame” or “gay” as negative descriptors can be hurtful to others, Guilfoyle bizarrely questioned whether Fortello’s logic would somehow mean a hypothetical horse with broken legs “should get a lawyer, because the horse is offended” by being called “lame.” Guilfoyle and her other guest, Ben Shapiro, ended the segment by talking over the student repeatedly, laughing, and insulting the university. In another On The Record guest host stint the following day, Guilfoyle gleefully reported on the University of Chicago’s rejection of trigger warning and safe space use, beginning a segment on the story by jokingly asking a network correspondent if he was “in a safe space to report this.”
Later that week, campus sexual assault denier George Will joined Bret Baier in a panel discussion on Special Report to celebrate the University of Chicago’s decision not to “appease” students “we now call snowflakes, these fragile little creatures who melt at the first sign of the heat of controversy.” Panel members laughed at Will’s example of “committing cultural appropriation by wearing a sombrero or something of the sort.” Will was disinvited from a college campus speaking engagement and protested at several other campuses in 2014 following his comments that those who experience sexual assault enjoy “a coveted status” in society. He identified himself in the segment as “someone who’s been disinvited from a college campus, I’m delighted to say.”
None of these segments acknowledged the serious reasons students -- particularly increasing numbers of students of color, women students, and first-generation college students -- may be seeking out safe spaces or conversations within campus learning environments.