Sinclair Broadcast Group has relentlessly pushed right-wing misrepresentations about critical race theory since it began circulating conservatives’ distorted views on the topic earlier this summer. In recent interviews on Sinclair's morning show The National Desk and in a town hall debate streamed on websites for Sinclair-owned or -operated stations nationwide, the broadcasting group allowed unqualified activists to spew lies about the academic theory and failed to include necessary context about some activists’ concerns. One interview days after the town hall even hid the punditry and activist background of a guest who spoke out against critical race theory.
Sinclair’s critical race theory town hall debate was derailed by right-wing activists
Sinclair’s August 18 town hall on critical race theory, which was streamed on multiple Sinclair stations’ websites, had the potential to be informative. Two of the debate panelists were well-qualified to discuss the topic of race in education and America in general: Dr. Lawrence Scott, a professor of educational leadership at Texas A&M University who conducts research on noncognitive factors influencing the educational outcomes of marginalized students; and Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, an author on race in America who founded two organizations that offer diversity and inclusion training, among other things.
But opposite these qualified panelists were strident right-wing activists who actively work to prevent schools from teaching students about race. Christopher Rufo of the right-wing Manhattan Institute has been a driving force of the conservative scare campaign against critical race theory and has admitted that the goal of his misinformation is “to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory’”. And Ian Prior is a longtime Republican political operative who launched a political action committee this year to support candidates who oppose teaching about race in schools. Prior has made multiple appearances on other Sinclair programming to express his opposition to critical race theory, and both panelists have made numerous appearances on Fox News, which also works to actively attack the study of systemic racism.
As Media Matters has explained previously, critical race theory is a decades-old academic theory that explores how the history of racism in America still has an effect on modern life and society. Rufo, Prior, and other conservative guests spewed numerous lies and dubious negative spin about critical race theory and race in America during the town hall:
- Rufo said, “Critical race theory is a neo-Marxist ideology that seeks to divide the world into oppressor and oppressed classes based on race, and then advocates for dismantling the systems of capitalism, of whiteness, of patriarchy in order to achieve a certain kind of post-American utopia.”
- Prior said the teaching of race in schools “creates a sense of guilt in Caucasian students, a sense of victimization in African American students, confusion in mixed-race students.”
- Rufo also said: “It’s not about teaching history, it’s about indoctrinating kids in a divisive, reductive, pseudoscientific ideology that seeks to tell children as young as 4 and 5 years old that they are either inherently racist and oppressive or inherently suppressed and oppressed.”
- Later in the town hall, Prior criticized “constantly talking about things through a racial lens,” suggesting schools instead “ show things through a success lens and then you will ultimately achieve your goal.”
- Rufo later suggested critical race theory aims to teach “collective guilt” and that it involves racial segregation.
- Texas Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes said critical race theory teaches “little white children that they should feel guilty for the sins of previous generations of white folks” and teaches “children of color that they’re doomed, that they can never succeed, that they’ll always have challenges, always be second place in America because of their race.”
- Rufo also claimed large majorities of Americans oppose the teaching of racial issues in schools. In fact, a July Reuters/Ipsos poll showed an overwhelming majority of Americans “support teaching high school students about the impacts of slavery (78%) and racism (73%) in the United States.” Most adults also feel there’s not enough education about nonwhite groups, according to a November poll of adults from Axios/Ipsos.
Sinclair aired two interviews with Ohio parents campaigning against critical race theory at their children’s school. It neglected to mention the threats against the school's leadership.
During the town hall and at least once before, Sinclair interviewed a pair of Ohio parents about their activism against critical race theory and their complaints that their children’s private school won’t allow them back for the current school year. The parents, Andrea Gross and Amy Gonzalez, have claimed it’s retaliation for “just asking questions” about the school’s anti-racist curriculum.
However, in their Sinclair interviews, neither the parents nor their interviewers mentioned the specific reason their children were denied reenrollment: threats made during their interview with a right-wing podcast. A July article from The Columbus Dispatch explained:
The private school of nearly 1,200 students in Gahanna recently told two mothers that their children couldn't enroll in the 2021-22 school year because the parents led a campaign of "false and misleading attacks" against the school and its leaders. That included speaking on a right-wing podcast, "Blunt Force Truth," in April about critical race theory.
The morning of April 7, two days after the podcast aired, Columbus Academy's director of security filed a report with Gahanna police, which The Dispatch obtained, and requested increased patrols near the school because employees "felt threatened" by comments Gross and Gonzalez made during the podcast.
On the podcast, one host said he would "rain down terror" on school leadership, while the other said "we're all about bringing pain to people that deserve it" and compared the school's students to "Hitler youth." Gonzalez compared the situation to "the Bolsheviks" and Gross agreed with a host calling the school's leader a dictator who needed to be defeated.
A recent interview of a critical race theory opponent on Sinclair’s The National Desk hid his history of conservative activism
On August 23, Sinclair’s The National Desk, a weekday morning news program that airs on 68 Sinclair TV stations, interviewed a man named Derrick Wilburn after he went viral for speaking out against critical race theory in a Colorado school board meeting.
During the interview, Wilburn ridiculed the idea that systemic racism against Black people exists in America, citing the example of Barack Obama’s two-term presidency and the existence of Black billionaires and other government leaders. Anchor Jan Jeffcoat introduced him merely as a “dad” in Colorado who opposes critical race theory.
In fact, he is a longtime conservative pundit and activist in Colorado who runs his own political organization called the Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives. He has also written extensively for right-wing websites, such as American Thinker, The Daily Caller, and Townhall. Wilburn and other people affiliated with his organization appear to be regular speakers at Republican Party organizations. But Sinclair failed to disclose Wilburn’s activism, instead presenting him as an average parent expressing opposition to critical race theory.
Sinclair has been pushing right-wing propaganda about critical race theory for months
Going back to at least early May 2021, Sinclair’s National Desk has repeatedly aired unchecked GOP lies about critical race theory. Throughout May and June, Jeffcoat allowed Republican guests to fearmonger that critical race theory has been “imposed” on multiple facets of American society and to misrepresent the theory itself:
- On May 7, Jeffcoat interviewed failed Republican congressional candidate Kim Klacik about critical race theory -- after falsely teasing the segment as an interview with an “expert” on the subject. During the interview, Klacik, who now has her own Republican political action committee, called critical race theory “a conspiracy theory” and claimed it’s designed “to make people feel less confident and inferior.”
- On May 26, Jeffcoat interviewed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton about his state’s effort to ban what it defines as critical race theory from being included in schools. Paxton referred to critical race theory as “teaching of this idea that white people are all racist and that children's behavior is sort of systematically racist.” He also claimed that it teaches that “people are somehow unequal” and promotes “disunity.”
- On June 3, Jeffcoat interviewed Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch -- a right-wing political organization that has pushed lies about voting and the 2020 elections. Fitton’s interview focused on documents that this organization obtained from a Maryland school district, where he claimed that a critical race theory-based curriculum was “attacking … the skin color of children” and helping to “turn kids into racists, or at least they suggest that they’re racist.”
- And on June 10, Jeffcoat interviewed Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) about multiple topics, one of which was legislation he’s co-sponsoring to “prevent federal dollars being spent on critical race theory in schools or government offices.” During the interview, Donalds claimed critical race theory has infiltrated America’s military, federal agencies, corporations, and schools through “diversity and inclusion” training.
Unfortunately, Sinclair’s coverage of anti-racist education in American schools shows little sign of improving, and is likely to promote even more conservative lies about the issue going forward.