A Wall Street Journal editorial dismissed the student loan relief plan outlined by President Obama as a distraction from the so-called Bowe Bergdahl "scandal," even though conservative media had previously declared Bergdahl's release a distraction from other alleged "scandals."
In a June 9 editorial, the Journal's editorial board attacked Obama's plan to extend income-contingent loan repayment options to all recipients of federal student loans. The Journal chided Obama's decision to extend through executive action reduced payment options to 5 million previously unqualified borrowers who had taken out loans before October 2007. The Journal also invoked myths that college loans are driving up attendance costs and represent taxpayer handouts to college graduates.
The Journal concluded its anti-loan relief tirade by claiming that the president's announcement, along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) proposal to lower student loan interest rates, amount to little more than "attempts to change the subject" from alleged "scandals" and "government failures." From the editorial:
The Warren bill has no chance to pass the House, as Democrats know. The Warren bill and the Obama debt-forgiveness-by-fiat are attempts to change the subject from the cascading examples of government failure -- the VA scandal (see nearby), the Taliban prisoner swap, the rising cost of health insurance under ObamaCare. In the Obama era, government failure is never a failure. It's another political opportunity to call for more of the same.
The Journal's claim that proposals to relieve millions of student loan borrowers buried under more than $1 trillion in outstanding debt are a distraction from "the Taliban prisoner swap" is just the latest in a series of right-wing media outlets obsessing over the notion that each policy proposal or news development from the White House is a "distraction" from something else:
The Journal's decision to force the "distraction" talking point into the student loan debate proves that no news item is safe from being uncritically dismissed by right-wing media outlets bent on turning every issue into a political scandal.
Fox News is ignoring economists' warnings that record student debt is a drag on the economy and attacking President Obama's plan to provide an avenue for student debt relief as a "distraction" that Fox claims will leave taxpayers "footing the bill."
The Daily Beast published a piece by former CNN host Campbell Brown on a controversial California education trial without disclosing Brown's ties to anti-teachers union groups.
Earlier this year, lawyers spent "more than two months" in state court arguing the Vergara v. California trial, a case which The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss called a "deeply misguided lawsuit" that "is ostensibly about one thing -- protecting students -- but is really about attacking teachers unions and the due process rights for teachers." On May 29, The Daily Beast ran a piece by Brown titled, "Vergara v. California: The Most Important Court Case You've Never Heard Of," which asserted that the trial "is about equity" because it "takes aim at laws that go directly to the heart of a good education":
Vergara v. California takes aim at laws that go directly to the heart of a good education: the ability to have, keep, and respect good teachers and dismiss utterly failing ones. Specifically, the suit challenges California laws that create three sets of problems, all of them undermining a school's ability to act in the best interest of students.
What Brown doesn't bother to mention and what The Daily Beast neglects to include in the post is that Brown has multiple conflicts of interest when it comes to matters of education, especially teachers. Brown's husband Dan Senor sits on the board of StudentsFirstNY, a group that actively opposes teachers unions and tenure. In addition, Brown launched a venture last year called the Parents' Transparency Project (PTP), a purported "watchdog group" that Mother Jones' Andy Kroll took a closer look at in October 2013:
Shortly after it was launched in June, PTP trained its sights on the New York mayoral race, asking the candidates to pledge to change the firing process for school employees accused of sexual misconduct. When several Democratic candidates declined, perhaps fearing they'd upset organized labor, PTP spent $100,000 on a television attack ad questioning whether six candidates, including Republican Joe Lhota and Democrats Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner, had "the guts to stand up to the teachers' unions."
Another consulting firm working with Brown's group is Tusk Strategies, which helped launch Rhee's StudentsFirst. Advertising disclosure forms filed by PTP list Tusk's phone number, and a copy of PTP's sexual-misconduct pledge--since scrubbed from its website--identified its author as a Tusk employee. (Tusk and Revolution declined to comment. Brown referred all questions to her PR firm--the same one used by StudentsFirst.)
The New York Daily News also reported that Brown recently launched a website to "influence the direction of [New York City's] ongoing contract talks with the teachers union."
Vergara v. California has significant implications for the future of teaching in the state. LA Weekly referred to the case as the "Vergara Time Bomb," asking if "a judge [will] tear down California teacher protection laws," while Daily Kos concluded that "The Vergara lawsuit has nothing to do with a good education for the disadvantaged, and has everything to do with destroying the power of unions. And if it succeeds, it could set a very dangerous precedent across the nation."
From the May 29 edition of Fox News' The Real Story:
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Fox News is echoing Republican attacks on healthy school food standards that come from a group receiving funding from companies that sell food to school districts.
On the May 27 edition of Fox's Outnumbered, co-host Sandra Smith defended new Republican-sponsored legislation to roll back school nutrition standards, providing waivers from standards to those schools that report a financial loss in their food programs during the previous six months. Smith attacked the healthy food initiative as a program whose "economics" is "failing," asserting that "90 percent of schools...are now reporting increased costs" and that the legislation simply takes into account the difficulties faced by school nutritionists, who she claimed "just want some flexibility because it is being forced down their throat right now":
While Smith did not disclose the source of her information, the Associated Press notes the claim that "90 percent of schools that are now reporting increased costs" and that school meal programs are losing money come from the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which describes itself as "a national, nonprofit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country."
SNA receives a significant amount of funding from companies that sell food to schools. Among its "major" contributors is Schwan's Food Service, which makes pizzas and sandwiches for schools and similar operations. Other SNA donors include more companies that sell food to schools, such as ConAgra, Kellogg's, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Domino's Pizza, and Tyson Foods.
The Washington Post reported that the SNA, in a "dramatic change" of position, supports the Republican-backed waivers. The Post noted that White House assistant chef and nutrition policy adviser Sam Kass opposed the change, meaning that "congressional Republicans are choosing to favor corporate preferences over the recommendations of nutritionists and physicians." The food industry has previously sought to weaken food standards, according to the Post, succeeding in 2011 to change rules so that pizza with tomato sauce could be counted as a vegetable.
A new GOP push to dramatically cut federal spending for summer school lunch programs comes after years of right-wing media misinformation about and attacks against funding for school lunch programs.
On May 19, House Republicans proposed an agriculture budget that would cut the summer lunch program for low-income schoolchildren in urban areas and would require the Agriculture Department to "establish a waiver process for local school districts who have found it too costly to comply with tougher nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs," according to Politico (emphasis added):
In the case of nutrition programs, the House bill seeks to open the door for starchy, white potatoes to be added to the list of qualified vegetables under the WIC supplemental feeding program for pregnant women and their young children. The Agriculture Department would also be required to establish a waiver process for local school districts which have found it too costly to comply with tougher nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs.
And in a surprising twist, the bill language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households -- both urban and rural -- during those months when school meals are not available.
These proposed cuts echo years of right-wing media attacking the need for summer lunch programs, and school lunch programs in general. As far back as 2010, radio host Rush Limbaugh challenged the Summer Food Service programs, suggesting hungry children from low-income families can "dumpster dive" for food (emphasis added):
LIMBAUGH: I think, you know what we're going to do here, we're going to start a feature on this program: "Where to find food." For young demographics, where to find food. Now that school is out, where to find food. We can have a daily feature on this. And this will take us all the way through the summer. Where to find food. And, of course, the first will be: "Try your house." It's a thing called the refrigerator. You probably already know about it. Try looking there. There are also things in what's called the kitchen of your house called cupboards. And in those cupboards, most likely you're going to find Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, Lays ridgy potato chips, all kinds of dip and maybe a can of corn that you don't want, but it will be there. If that doesn't work, try a Happy Meal at McDonald's. You know where McDonald's is. There's the Dollar Menu at McDonald's and if they don't have Chicken McNuggets, dial 911 and ask for Obama.
There's another place if none of these options work to find food; there's always the neighborhood dumpster. Now, you might find competition with homeless people there, but there are videos that have been produced to show you how to healthfully dine and how to dumpster dive and survive until school kicks back up in August. Can you imagine the benefit we would provide people?
Fox News has also voiced opposition to the summer lunch program and attempted to gin up controversy about the program by baselessly speculating that it was a "come one, come all" invitation for taxpayer-funded meals that ineligible children would exploit. Last year, Fox's Stuart Varney criticized summer lunch programs, ignoring the fact that such programs play an instrumental role in reducing child hunger.
The right-wing media's campaign against school lunches extends beyond summer. Fox and others have previously asked if children should work for school meals and claimed free school meal programs hurt low-income kids, yet ignored their usual lunch stance when it involved students who usually pay for their lunch.
Food insecurity affects millions of children -- 10 percent of households by USDA data-- and reports hold that hunger is on the rise in many U.S. cities. Studies show that child hunger impairs their academic achievement, facts that right-wing media overlook in coverage that provides public cover for harsh GOP cuts.
Saturday, May 17, marked the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, holding that state-mandated racially-segregated schools violated the U.S. Constitution. Fox News celebrated this historic event by slamming Attorney General Eric Holder and First Lady Michelle Obama for discussing the role of systemic racial discrimination in modern American society in commencement addresses over the weekend.
On the May 19 episode of Hannity, host Sean Hannity was joined by Town Hall reporter Katie Pavlich to discuss the speeches, saying that he found it "suspicious" that Holder's commencement address at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD, and Michelle Obama's to graduating seniors in Topeka, KS, discussed race at all, even though Brown is known as ushering in modern civil rights law by condemning the racial caste system of white supremacy. In his remarks, Holder pointed out that despite the holding in Brown, "in too many of our school districts, significant divisions persist and segregation has reoccurred -- including zero-tolerance school discipline practices that, while well-intentioned and aimed at promoting school safety, affect black males at a rate three times higher than their white peers." The first lady warned that "today, by some measures, our schools are as segregated as they were back when Dr. King gave his final speech," and that "many districts in this country have actually pulled back on efforts to integrate their schools, and many communities have become less diverse as folks have moved from cities to suburbs."
But Hannity was unmoved, criticizing these speeches that discussed the "subtle" institutional discrimination that leads to severe inequalities of opportunity for persons of color. Pavlich, meanwhile, blamed Holder and President Obama for the spike in resegregation, because they have fought "school choice" and voucher programs.
This is not the first time that Fox News bizarrely complained about these commencement addresses because they discussed race on the anniversary of Brown. On the May 18 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, co-hosts Tucker Carlson and Anna Kooiman complained about Holder's accurate description of the discrimination currently facing minority students, and claimed that his speech was not sufficiently "uplifting." Kooiman went on to argue that Holder should have included a "call of action for African-American fathers to actually be fathers and not be baby daddys" instead of calling zero-tolerance policies that unfairly funnel students of color into prison "racist." Carlson agreed with Kooiman's assessment and argued that Holder's speech didn't "acknowledge reality."
What Fox ignores is that not only is the 60th anniversary of one of the most significant civil rights victories in history a perfectly appropriate time to discuss race, but that Michelle Obama and Holder were correct to point out that there is still work to be done to fulfill the promise of Brown. According to a recently released study by UCLA's Civil Rights Project, "segregation increased substantially" after federal court desegregation orders were terminated and ignored under Republican administrations and conservative Supreme Court rulings, leaving devastating and lasting effects on America's students and future leaders.
From the May 19 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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To right-wing media, commencement speeches observing the anniversary of the desegregation of U.S. schools is no time to talk about race in America.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder each gave commencement addresses this month marking the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, when the Supreme Court ruled that state-mandated racial segregation of schools violated the U.S. Constitution.
Speaking to graduating high school seniors in Topeka, Kansas, the first lady referenced racial segregation that still exists today, according to The Kansas City Star:
Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregated schools, Obama reminded the city where the case originated that the country is still racially divided -- although much more subtly than in the 1950s.
"Our laws may no longer separate us based on our skin color, but there's nothing in our constitution that says we have to eat together in the lunchroom or live together in the same neighborhoods," Obama told a full house at the 8,000-seat Kansas Expocentre.
At Morgan State University's commencement, Holder called on graduates to "take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it."
Fox contributor and radio host Laura Ingraham attacked Obama's remarks as a "negative, cynical speech" that told kids their family members "were probably racists." Ingraham concluded that Obama was really just "projecting" her own racist beliefs.
This week marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, holding that state-mandated racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, and right-wing media have jumped at the chance to mislead about the case and its legacy.
On May 13, The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by former National Review Online contributor Abigail Thernstrom and her husband, Stephan Thernstrom, who misrepresented both the importance and legacy of Brown by declaring it "an American success story" and its promise "fulfilled," while pushing the myth that the U.S. Constitution is "colorblind." Because apartheid schools are now technically prohibited, the Thernstroms also dismissed statistics that show schools have been rapidly resegregating in recent years, called integration efforts "racist," and ignored the well-documented link between housing segregation and the growing separation of schools based on class and race. Instead, the Thernstroms blame "the differential fertility rates of immigrants and natives" for our separate and unequal schools.
This most recent attack is part of a larger right-wing pattern of denying the continuation of systemic racial discrimination and advocating for the rollback of half a century of civil rights precedent and legislation.
When conservative media discuss Brown at all, it is usually to misrepresent the case's condemnation of a racial caste system designed to maintain white supremacy in order to champion education policies like voucher programs and school choice, or take offensive shots at civil rights leaders. For example, when Louisiana's voucher program was scrutinized for violating several long-standing desegregation orders, outlets like National Review Online compared Attorney General Eric Holder to segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, famous for blocking the University of Alabama's doors to black students in the wake of the Brown decision.
Similarly, this purportedly colorblind right-wing media have criticized race-conscious educational initiatives designed to eliminate racial biases that perpetuate the stigma of inferiority that Brown condemned. When the Department of Justice announced new disciplinary guidelines intended to prevent racially discriminatory punishments in public schools, Fox News characterized the new rules as "bringing race into it," a promotion of race-based punishments, and were tantamount to "playing the race card." NRO agreed with Fox's assessment of the new guidelines, and went even further, claiming that black students have "weak impulse control" that "means more disruptive behavior in school." Of course, these outlets glossed over the fact that black students are disproportionately more likely to be punished, and even arrested, for minor and nonviolent infractions at school, whereas their white counterparts are often never disciplined for the same behavior.
But what this vitriol chooses to ignore is just how resegregated public schools have become, leading to racial and socio-economic isolation and heightened racial tensions in higher education. This problem is only compounded as federal courts have lifted long-standing desegregation orders or failed to actively enforce those still in existence. As reported by ProPublica's Nikole Hannah-Jones, there are still hundreds of districts under a federal desegregation order. Many of those schools, however, have no idea that they're under orders or what the order says, and the courts are "releasing districts from court oversight even where segregation prevails, at times taking the lack of action in cases as evidence that the problems have been resolved."
Glenn Beck released a new book last week on everything that is supposedly wrong with education in America. The title, Conform: Exposing the Truth about Common Core and Public Education, gives most of it away.
Most people know Glenn Beck from his previous stint on Fox News or from the various media outlets associated with his network, The Blaze. His co-author Kyle Olson, on the other hand, appears to be up-and-coming in the right-wing media sphere. Currently, he is the publisher, founder, and CEO of EAGnews.org, a "news service dedicated to education reform and school spending research, reporting, analysis and commentary." He is also a contributor to Townhall, and just last week launched a new conservative website called Progressives Today with "Dumbest Man on the Internet" Jim Hoft.
In Conform, Beck and Olson take on everything from teachers unions' to the Common Core State Standards to school lunches to abortion in a book characterized by anecdotal evidence, sweeping generalizations, and quotes from anonymous bloggers. The focus of their ire is what they call the "controllists," defined as "the teachers' unions and their progressive friends in the media and the state legislatures." In 222 pages, Beck and Olson lob a number of outlandish attacks against the various evils they perceive in public education, relying on such conservative actors as Michelle Malkin, the Heritage Foundation, National Review, The Wall Street Journal, and the Heartland Institute to do so.
Here are the eight most ridiculous attacks from Conform:
1. Longer School Days Help Teachers Encourage "Teen Sexual Activity."
Beck and Olson seem convinced that teachers are not only "promot[ing] sexual activity among children," but would use longer school days to "encourage teen sexual activity," among other radical ideas (emphasis added):
Educators back then knew that some parents were too shy or awkward to broach the subject, so schools made sure kids would have basic knowledge to build on as they grew and developed their own points of view.
Today the trend seems to be to promote sexual activity among children, rather than gradually preparing kids for the facts of adult life.
There's also the issue of what our kids would learn with even more hours at school. Many of these educators would relish the opportunity to spend more time feeding students a steady stream of radical, anti-American political ideas, encouraging teen sexual activity, and deemphasizing the importance of traditional values and religion. [Conform, pgs. 126 & 138]
Fox News' "Medical A-Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow claimed that girls can "certainly provoke" harassment by wearing leggings to school.
On the May 9 edition of Fox's Outnumbered, Ablow and his fellow co-hosts discussed a school that is allegedly telling its female students that wearing leggings to school is inappropriate and distracting to the male students. Ablow said any harassment the girls might experience while wearing leggings "was certainly provoked" (emphasis added):
ABLOW: You cannot come in with leggings. Because my son wants to learn and the truth is it is distracting. And it is kind of inappropriate because when did we decide as a culture that tights would become an overgarment instead of an undergarment. The reason we're doing that is because girls are in a panic to be more and more sexual because we've taken all the restraint away from femininity. We've made girls into boys.
ABLOW: I don't know that we can restrain boys from being boys. So the long stare, the offhand comment, you have to -- what do you do, excuse it? Because it was certainly provoked. And I think girls put themselves in the line of fire that way.
Ablow has a history of wildly sexist remarks on Fox News. He has previously said that allowing women to serve in combat roles is "narcissism," that a parent who bought dolls for her son was "nuts" for "gender-bending," and that Newt Gingrich's three marriages would make him a strong president.
From the May 9 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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According to the National PTA, this week was Teacher Appreciation Week. Right-wing media appear to have missed the memo.
The week started on May 5 with radio host Rush Limbaugh stating that those who advocate for greater diversity among teachers were "pushing for racial quotas" and want to return the U.S. to segregation and "go back to the way it was ... before the Civil Rights Act." Limbaugh was responding to a report from the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association which found, according to the Associated Press, that "U.S. teachers are nowhere near as diverse as their students."
On Fox News' Outnumbered the same day, Fox host Tucker Carlson responded to a story about a female teacher who supposedly gave a "lapdance" to a male student, claiming that men understand that getting sexually harassed by a female teacher is the "greatest thing that ever happened." When co-host Harris Faulkner read a viewer comment that "Whether this woman is hot, of course, is still out," Carlson responded, "She's hot enough." On April 28, Carlson told America to "lighten up" on the issue.
On May 6, Fox & Friends took to calling a Florida public school teacher a "Bible Bully" because a fifth-grade boy at a Broward County school claimed his Bible was taken away during free-reading time. Despite a statement from the county affirming its commitment to students' religious freedom and local reporting that the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," Fox hosts nonetheless accused the teacher of being a "Bible Bully" and "humiliat[ing]" the student.
Fox & Friends even hosted Fox radio host Todd Starnes later in the program to discuss the Florida story, who made multiple outlandish claims about teachers:
STARNES: We got to start calling this like it is. We either have a bunch of religious bigots teaching our kids or we have a lot of ignorant people who don't understand the law.
STARNES: What if that child had been reading a Quran? I don't think that teacher would have done a single thing.
Breitbart.com blogger Javier Manajarres joined the fun on May 8, claiming the Florida story was indication of a "War on Christ in Florida," outing the teacher as a "registered...wait for it...wait for it...Democrat" and concluding, "Can you imagine if [the teacher] were to have banned a Koran from being read in classroom? All jihad would have broken loose, and she would be canned. The War on Christ is alive and well among the Democrat faithful."
Of course, teacher-bashing rhetoric is nothing new when it comes to conservative media. Limbaugh previously claimed that the idea that teachers contribute to a growing economy is "ignorance." Fox News earlier this year devoted several segments to bashing teachers and teachers unions in a debate over public school space in New York City. And just a few weeks ago, Breitbart Texas launched a transphobic attack on a substitute teacher in Texas who was suspended because of her gender identity, attempting to portray her as mentally disturbed and suggesting that a divorce was what prompted her to become transgender.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
Image at top obtained via Flickr user Cybrarian77 with a Creative Commons license.
Right-wing media have worked themselves into a tizzy over a controversy about a student reading his Bible in a Florida public school, but they aren't telling the whole story.
The CBS affiliate in Miami, FL, reported on May 5 that a fifth-grade boy at a public school in Broward County claimed he was banned from reading his Bible during "free-time reading" in his classroom:
A Broward County boy said he was banned from reading "The Good Book" during free-reading time in school. The boy and his father have hired an attorney, calling this a violation of the boy's Constitutional rights. Meanwhile, the Broward County School District says this is all a big misunderstanding.
The Miami Herald reported that Broward school officials "rejected the accusation" because the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," not during a free-reading session. The Herald also noted that the boy's family is being represented by the Liberty Institute, a "conservative religious-rights group" that "targeted Broward County on Monday in an ongoing campaign contending that faith is under attack in America's elementary schools." (Indeed, the Liberty Institute has a "long history of hyperbolic assertions about the impending end of religious freedom.")
A statement from Broward County Public Schools on Monday, May 5, affirmed the county's commitment to religious freedom:
Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the rights of students to bring personal religious materials to school, including the Bible, and to read these items before school, after school or during any "free reading" time during the school day.
On right-wing media, however, it's a much different story.
Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed the story on May 6, leading with its "Trouble With Schools" chryon. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the boy's father had previously been in touch with the school principal about when the boy was allowed to read the Bible in school, which included before and after school, during lunch, and at free time, but that "the teacher didn't like it" when the boy began reading his Bible during "his free time." Doocy continued:
DOOCY: Well the teacher didn't like it, and the kid said, if you have a problem with this, you need to call my dad. Well the dad wasn't there to pick up the phone and instead, the teacher left this embarrassing voicemail.