A new Pew Research Center report finds that a sharply increasing number of Republicans surveyed have a negative view of colleges. This follows years of concerted right-wing media attacks on higher education.
Media Matters has reported extensively on conservative media’s portrayals of higher education. Here are four ways that conservatives demonize American colleges and universities, and several instances where conservative media misrepresented or sensationalized the words or actions of administrators, professors, and students, helping to convince audiences that higher education is bad for America.
1) Conservatives claim liberal colleges turn students into jihadis, Nazis, and fascists
Conservative media often depict colleges and universities as places where students are brainwashed and radicalized. According to Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, colleges are “literally corrupting people’s minds” and “turning them into jihadists.” Meanwhile, Fox News contributor Bernie Goldberg equated “liberals on college campuses” to the Nazi “Brown Shirts.”
Then-Fox News host Bill O'Reilly blamed Black Lives Matter for “the rise of fascism on American college campuses.”
2) Mocking students for seeking “safe spaces” and fearing assault
Conservative media often use the concept of so-called “safe spaces” to mock colleges and college students for seeking to create welcoming environments on campus. Fox contributor Judith Miller told student protesters: “You want a safe space? Stay in your playpen.” Fox News has characterized students protesting insensitive Halloween costumes as wrapping themselves in the “cloak of victimhood” and another Fox panel once argued college students advocating fossil-fuel divestment are “immature and irrational.”
Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed, “it's gotten to the point where women on college campus imagine they're going to be raped. Imagine they have been raped. Write fake stories about being raped when it hasn't happened.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham lamented that discussing sexual consent policies “is what they spend their time doing at our American colleges and universities today” because efforts to get people riled up about the “patriarchy thing hadn’t really caught on.”
Fox host Tucker Carlson even bemoaned that “everybody gets a safe space” at American colleges “except white men,” who he claimed “are hated and despised.”
3) Outrage over University of Missouri protests
In the fall of 2015, student protests began at the University of Missouri following a series of racist incidents on campus. Many students felt that the university administration was not doing enough to respond to events that made black students feel unsafe on campus. The protests eventually resulted in the resignation of the university’s president.
Limbaugh claimed that the president resigned for “committing the crime of being a white male.” Some conservative outlets resorted to name-calling with the conservative blog Red State calling the protesters “cowardly liberal lazy douchebags.”
4) Right-wing activists smear supposedly “biased” professors
Right-wing activist groups like Campus Reform and Professor Watchlist compile and sensationalize perceived instances of liberal bias on college campuses to create profiles of professors who “discriminate against conservative students.” These profiles include contact information of targeted academics to facilitate trolling and harassment.
Campus Reform and Professor Watchlist are just two of the many conservative groups funded by right-wing dark money networks in an effort to influence campus politics and university curriculum. Stories from these conservative websites often end up being promoted by right-wing news media such as Fox News.
Media Matters recently described how this process happened to Trinity College sociology professor Johnny Eric Williams. Williams wrote a series of posts on race and policing and linked to a controversial article on social media. Campus Reform wrote an article on the posts, which was picked up by TheBlaze and The Daily Caller, before reaching The Washington Times. These articles resulted in a deluge of threats and harassment being directed toward Williams and Trinity and eventually a campus shutdown. Fox News then blamed the social media post, instead of the threatening right-wing responses, when it wrote, “Professor’s “profane, anti-white messages cause campus controversy.”