Right-Wing Commentator Heather Mac Donald: Affirmative Action "Brings In Students To Schools Who Are Not Qualified"
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For Sexual Assault Awareness month, Media Matters looks back at right-wing media's history of downplaying, and questioning the legitimacy of, sexual assault. Right-wing media figures have called reporting statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a "coveted status," said the sexual assault epidemic is "not happening," blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault constitute "a war happening on boys."
Experts continue to debunk "the Ferguson effect," the right-wing media's zombie myth that uses flawed or cherry-picked data to link supposed increases in crime rates to the increased scrutiny of police following episodes of police brutality.
Fox News highlighted a blog post by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) freshman to attack an English course on the "literature of 9/11" for being one sided in favor of so-called "terrorists," despite evidence that the course includes diverse perspectives on the attacks and the War on Terror that followed.
On the August 31 editions of Fox & Friends and Outnumbered, Fox hosts criticized a course offering at the University of North Carolina, entitled "The Literature of 9/11." The segments drew from an August 28 post at the conservative blog The College Fix, written by a UNC freshman, that was also featured on FoxNews.com. Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck claimed that the course did not represent the views of victims of the 9/11 attacks or their families, then briefly interviewed a man who lost his cousin in the attacks:
ELIZABETH HASSELBECK: Students at one of the top universities in the country will learn about the September 11th attacks through the eyes of the terrorists, instead of the victims. A UNC-Chapel Hill's freshman seminar class, "Literature of 9/11," sympathizes with the terrorists who sparked the national tragedy, presenting America as imperialistic. Some of the required reading includes poetry by Guantanamo Bay detainees, but nothing at all from the perspective of September 11th victims or their families.
Outnumbered co-host Lisa "Kennedy" Montgomery introduced a segment on the class by citing The College Fix's claims that "None of the readings assigned in the freshman seminar present the Sept. 11 attacks from the perspective of those who died or from American families who lost loved ones." The co-hosts then focused their discussion on the supposed "one-sided" perspective of the course, and questioned whether the class should be cancelled. Kennedy went on to read her own comic take on what a poem written by a Guantanamo detainee might sound like, and stated that "most of this writing would make great lining for the bottom of my parrot's cage":
KENNEDY: I want to point out a little bit of the syllabus. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a little bit of literature told from the perspective of a Pakistani-American who finds America to be greedy and imperialist.
SANDRA SMITH: It appears from the course's online description, of which you read some of it, it says "We will explore a diverse array of themes related to the 9/11 attacks and the War on Terror." A diverse array of themes. But, you-- going back, none of the readings assigned in the freshman seminar present the perspective of those who died, or the families who lost loved ones. How is that a diverse array of theme? There's no diversity in this course.
KENNEDY: It's not diverse at all. And I think we should offer a thousand dollars to the first student who takes this class from Professor Neel Ahuja and actually disagrees with him, and we'll see what kind of a grade they get. Because I guarantee you--
HEATHER MACDONALD: Right, because he will shut down debate, that professor. Yeah.
KENNEDY: I guarantee the first person who presents a logical argument for why much of this writing would make great lining for the bottom of my parrot's cage -- I don't have a parrot, but if I did I would probably line the bottom with a lot of this literature -- and, you know, present a more well-rounded opinion of what actually happened.
The course, titled "ENGL 072: Literature of 9/11," is one of 82 freshman year seminar courses across all departments offered at UNC for the Fall 2015 semester, as of August 31. Professor Neel Ahuja, an Associate Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Geography, has taught the course since 2010. The original College Fix post about the course also cited a UNC student-driven rating page called Blinkness, which posts anonymous comments from supposed former students, to suggest that Ahuja had a personal agenda. Professor Ahuja's rating page received just four relatively positive comments from 2010 through August 29, 2015, but has since been swarmed with dozens of hateful messages demanding that he be fired, deported, or handed over to the terror group ISIS. According to his personal website, Ahuja was raised in Topeka, Kansas.
In addition, the full list of assigned readings for the course does in fact contain diverse literature representing the perspectives of Arab-Americans, residents of New York City, members of the U.S. military and their families, survivors of the attacks, non-partisan terrorism researchers, artists, historians, musicians, and the international Muslim community, as well as several texts aimed to honor or memorialize victims of the attacks. Here are just a few examples the Fox hosts failed to mention:
The course does include a collection of poems written by detainees at Guantanamo Bay, but all of the selections were cleared for release by the United States military during the Bush administration. One of the poets was detained at 14 and held for seven years without charge before his release. Another poet, the only journalist ever held in Guantanamo, was also released without charge after seven years in captivity.
Media outlets are baselessly linking an increase in murders in Baltimore and other cities to "increased scrutiny" of police, without noting the legitimate reasons why such scrutiny of local police departments is needed.
Homicides have spiked in the last month in Baltimore, with 43 killings reported in May, the most in one month since 1971 and the highest monthly per capita rate on record, according to The Baltimore Sun. At the same time, arrests have plummeted, with a WBAL-TV investigation finding arrests have gone down 32 percent since the curfew was lifted, and the Sun reporting arrests in May this year were less than half the number in May last year.
Several right-wing media figures are attributing these numbers to increased scrutiny of police, and this narrative is seeping into mainstream coverage. On the June 1 edition of Fox & Friends, during an interview with author Kevin Jackson, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle argued that "police are more concerned about their own well-being. They don't want to be arrested or persecuted for just putting on the blue every morning." She added that "when you have individuals like [Baltimore City State's Attorney] Marilyn Mosby going aggressively against the police," this "undermines the ability of law enforcement to keep people in the community safe," linking the increase in homicides to Mosby's decision to charge six Baltimore police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray.
On the May 31 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, National Review Online contributor Heather Mac Donald similarly claimed the U.S. is "in the grips of a hysteria against cops," saying "cops have gotten the message that they should back off of policing." She faulted the "mainstream media, the university presidents talking about assaults on blacks and of course the president and former attorney general." Mac Donald, who has a history of deeply offensive commentary on race, was discussing her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which she argued that the "most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months."
The previous week, National Review editor Rich Lowry also advocated for increased incarceration in response to the spike in violence, and cited anonymous police officers who "say they feel that city authorities don't have their back, understandably enough when city leaders are loath to call rioters 'thugs.'"
And now the Associated Press is adopting the same language. In a May 31 report on Baltimore homicides, the AP stated that "Some attribute the drop [in arrests] to increased scrutiny of police following the April death of Freddie Gray from injuries received in police custody."
Aside from the obvious problem with this argument -- that there is no evidence these feelings attributed to the police have resulted in an increase in murders -- this coverage has also missed a significant reason why people have called for increased scrutiny of police officers since the deaths of men like Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray: the fact that police killings and police brutality disproportionately affect people of color.
On May 30, the Washington Post released a study on police killings, which found that two-thirds of unarmed victims of police shootings were minorities, and "blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred." Their figures represent far greater total than the FBI statistics on police killings, which are "widely considered to be misleading and inaccurate": FBI records show about 400 shootings per year, compared to 385 so far this year in the Post's data. Three of the 385 shootings the Post reported on resulted in the officer being charged, or less than one percent. And over the last several years, the Department of Justice has found that numerous local police departments have engaged in a "pattern or practice" of improper discrimination against residents of color, and have disproportionately targeted them for stops and arrests.
Faced with stark numbers like these, any media outlet should feel compelled to at least contextualize claims of a "hysteria against cops" with this evidence of disproportionate police violence against minorities.
A segment on PBS' Newshour provided an example of how media should cover racial disparities in school discipline and educational achievement -- as well as a stark contrast with how right-wing media outlets have covered the same issues.
On the April 1 edition of PBS' Newshour, April Brown reported on the beginning of a new initiative in Washington, DC called the Empowering Males of Color initiative, and noted that some are concerned that the focus on boys of color leaves girls of color behind. The segment featured Kimberlé Crenshaw, a UCLA law professor, who pointed to the greater racial disparity in school discipline for girls than boys. The report went on to cover broader racial disparities in education, including the lower college graduation rate, and after-school programs such as Higher Achievement that are designed to help both boys and girls of color.
The Newshour segment was detailed and thoughtful -- providing a striking contrast with the way these issues have been discussed in right-wing outlets. Bill O'Reilly recently covered programs designed to reduce racial disparities in school discipline by declaring that "liberal mayors all over the country are making it easier for violent students to remain in public schools." National Review Online has published several articles that painted an image of black children as inherently more likely to need discipline: a post by Heather Mac Donald said it was "common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive"; another post cited the "lack of impulse control" of black students (as evidenced, she argued, by higher crime rates among black people). An NRO editorial described optional guidelines from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to address these disparities as being the administration's "most foolhardy idea yet"; Fox News host Megyn Kelly bashed that same DOJ policy as "handcuffing our educators" and needlessly "bringing race into it."
Newshour's nuanced discussion on racial and gender disparities in education seems far out of reach for outlets like Fox and NRO, which fall at the first hurdle in attributing racial disparities to the characteristics of children of color, and not systemic injustice.
National Review Online contributor Heather Mac Donald falsely said there is no evidence "that the overrepresentation of blacks in prison or arrest statistics is a result of criminal justice racism," while on NBC's Meet the Press. In fact, studies have found "conclusively" that disproportionate incarceration for African Americans is attributed to "racial bias."
Mac Donald has a history of racially inflammatory comments, including claiming that young African-American males have a "lack of self-discipline"; that it is "common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive" than white students; and that black men possess a "lack of impulse control that results in ... mindless violence on the streets."
Still, the August 17 edition of Meet the Press turned to Mac Donald to discuss fallout from the fatal shooting of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. In a taped segment, Deadspin.com's Greg Howard argued that "It's physically easier for a police officer to weigh what a black man's life is worth and to end up feeling that he is justified in pulling the trigger." Mac Donald was then presented as a counterpoint, to claim there is no evidence of racial bias in the criminal justice system:
MAC DONALD: The criminology profession has been trying for decades to prove that the overrepresentation of blacks in prison or in arrest statistics is a result of criminal justice racism. It is black crime rates that predict the presence of blacks in the criminal justice system, not some miscarriage of justice.
Due to a lack of information from local authorities it is still unclear what, if any, crime the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown believed Brown was committing, and whether such use of force was a necessary or appropriate response. However, research indicates that nationally, African-Americans are arrested and incarnated at rates that cannot be explained by crime rates.
In response to the Department of Justice's decision to collect demographic data on police stops, arrests, and convictions to address potential racial biases, National Review Online contributors Heather Mac Donald and Roger Clegg baselessly accused the Department of Justice of attempting to "racialize criminal justice."
On April 28, the DOJ announced a new initiative that will allow local law enforcement agencies to compete for federal grant money to implement a data collection program that could help reduce racially discriminatory and unconstitutional police procedures. According to Reuters, the program hopes to specifically address the fact that "black men were six times more likely, and Latino men were 2.5 times more likely, to be imprisoned than white men in 2012."
Mac Donald, who is not shy about her incredibly offensive views on race, has previously argued that young black males possess a "lack of impulse control that results in ... mindless violence on the streets." In a recent column for NRO, Mac Donald argued that the DOJ's initiative "fingered as bigots not just the police, but the entire criminal-justice system" by attempting to address already documented racial discrimination.
Mac Donald also claimed that the DOJ's decision to collect demographic data on police stops and arrests was "part of the Obama administration's war on phantom racism, a colossal waste of taxpayer resources and a depressing diversion from the real problems affecting black and Hispanic populations." Mac Donald went on to ignore the constitutional violations associated with race-based policing, arguing that law enforcement's attention should remain focused on people of color because black teenagers "commit homicide at ten times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined." Ultimately, argued Mac Donald, the DOJ's initiative "will have no effect on crime," but it will "inhibit sound policing."
In response to Mac Donald, fellow NRO contributor and anti-civil rights activist Roger Clegg declared in an April 30 post that "of course Heather is right." Clegg went on to suggest that people of color who have been unconstitutionally targeted by the police should simply stop breaking the law:
Now, I'm not persuaded that there is widespread discrimination in drug-law enforcement either, but let's assume that there is. What should be done about it?
Step 1: Do not use, buy, or sell illegal drugs.
Step 2: If you belong to a racial or ethnic group that you think is targeted by the police, then especially do not use, buy, or sell illegal drugs.
Now, it may be objected that it is unfair if the police let white kids buy, use, and sell illegal drugs more than black and Latino kids. True, but when you think about it, it's really not a good idea to buy, use, or sell illegal drugs anyway.
At no extra charge, I will also provide another suggestion, for members of all racial and ethnic groups:
Step 3: Instead of using, buying, and selling illegal drugs, spend that time doing homework or something else that will improve your mind and character rather than destroy them.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and an all-white panel used proposed changes to federal sentencing guidelines to accuse President Obama of trying to "accentuate the idea that America is a racist society."
The panelists were discussing new rules proposed by Attorney General Eric Holder that would allow more non-violent offenders convicted of drug laws -- which disproportionately sent black offenders to prison for long sentences -- eligible for presidential clemency. The panel suggested that the administration's acknowledgement of racial disparities proved the "race industry's" success in making the country look racist.
In 2010, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to reduce the federal mandatory minimum sentencing disparities between those convicted of powdered cocaine possession versus crack cocaine possession. As the Washington Post noted, prior to the law's passage, "those arrested for crack offenses -- mostly young, African American men--faced far harsher penalties than the white and Hispanic suspects most often caught with powder cocaine." In 2013, President Obama commuted sentences for eight individuals who were convicted of non-violent crack cocaine offenses under the old sentencing guidelines.
On April 21, Holder announced that Obama "wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety." The new effort would focus on prisoners serving longer sentences than they would if they were arrested under current law.
Dobbs' panel of experts on the whether Obama and Holder were accentuating racial tensions included National Review columnist John Fund and City Journal contributing editor Heather Mac Donald, a roundtable with a history of racially-charged remarks. In March, Mac Donald dismissed research finding black students were more harshly punished than their white counterparts by claiming it "common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive" than whites. Earlier this month, Mac Donald doubled down on her remarks, explaining that disproportionate school suspensions for black students stemmed from their "lack of self-discipline." Dobbs himself has accused Obama of "fomenting unrest" to incite racism and accused the Department of Justice of doing the same in the George Zimmerman case.
National Review Online's Heather Mac Donald attempted to justify her irresponsible and false claims about black students by highlighting the story of a 14-year-old boy accused of murder, conflating the story with recent data on racial disparities in school discipline and absurdly claiming that the story is evidence that black students do not suffer from discrimination.
In March, Mac Donald, who has a history of racially charged rhetoric, wrote an NRO column that misleadingly conflated the disproportionately high rates of suspension for black students with crime rate statistics and "family breakdown." The column also highlighted the story of 14-year-old Kahton Anderson, who was arrested for the shooting death of a 39-year-old bus passenger, to paint black children as inherently more likely to commit crimes, asking, "Did anyone doubt the race of the killer, even though the media did not disclose it?" later claiming it is "common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive in class."
In an April 4 post, Mac Donald again highlighted the Anderson story, saying, "Naturally, he was raised by a single mother" and using information reported by The New York Times which she claimed "is a case study in everything that the civil-rights complex assiduously denies." Mac Donald went on to portray Anderson as being representative of black youth in general:
The bus shooting was hardly unusual. Gunfire among these warring crews is routine; one crew member was shot to death last July. And as in Kahton's case, the lack of impulse control that results in such mindless violence on the streets unavoidably shows up in the classroom as well. It defies common sense that a group with such high rates of lawlessness outside school would display model behavior inside school. Multiply Anderson's homicide several-hundred-fold, and you get the nearly ten to one disparity between the murder rate among 14- to 17-year-old black males and that of their white and Hispanic male peers combined. Multiply his classroom infractions several-hundred-thousand-fold, and you get the three-to-one suspension disparity that so agitates the civil-rights and education establishments.
New Study Finds Racial Discrimination In School Discipline
Despite studies that consistently point to discrimination as the cause for disproportionately harsh discipline on students of color, a National Review Online article falsely suggested that unrelated black crime rates and "family breakdown" are to blame.
On March 21, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights released new data, including this snapshot on school discipline which found "disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color."
In a March 24 post, NRO's Heather Mac Donald criticized the Department of Education study for highlighting the racial disparity in school discipline, claiming without evidence that the black crime rate, not discrimination, "explains the school-suspension rate":
Black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at ten times the rate of white and Hispanic males of the same age combined. Given such high crime rates, what do the civil-rights advocates and the Obama administration think is going on in the classroom -- docile obedience and strict self-discipline? In fact, the same weak impulse control that leads to such high crime rates among young black males inevitably means more disruptive behavior in school.
Mac Donald proceeded to discuss the recent story of a 14-year-old who opened fire on a New York bus, asking, "Did anyone doubt the race of the killer, even though the media did not disclose it?" She concluded her piece blaming "family breakdown" as another factor behind student behavior that leads to the disparities in discipline among children of different races, calling it "common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive":
None of the federal studies mention or control for single-parent households, of course. Instead, we are supposed to believe that well-meaning teachers, who have spent their entire time in ed school steeped in the doctrine of "white privilege" and who are among the most liberal segments of the workforce, suddenly become bigots once in the classroom and begin arbitrarily suspending pacific black children out of racial bias ... Given the black-white crime disparities, it is equally common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive in class as well.
The refusal to take student behavior and family breakdown into account in interpreting student discipline rates means that more millions of taxpayer dollars will be wasted suing hapless school districts for phantom racism and sending teachers and administrators back to anti-racism training. The advocacy and anti-bias training complex cleans up, while the root cause of student misbehavior still goes unaddressed.
Despite Mac Donald's claims, experts and studies find discrimination as a cause of the racial disparity in school discipline. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that research shows "[e]ven when they commit the exact same offense as white students, black students suffer more severe consequences," and the Education Department's snapshot showed similar discipline disparities even between students with disabilities, finding "[b]lack students represent 19% of students with disabilities served by [the Integrated Disability Education and Awareness Program], but 36% of these students who are subject to mechanical restraint."
A Wall Street Journal op-ed advocated for police around the country to use New York City's "stop-and-frisk" policy as a model, which has no proven evidence of reducing crime rates and has historically targeted racial minorities.
Stop-and-frisk, the controversial policy which allows police officers to stop and search individuals they consider to be suspicious, is currently under review in the case Floyd v. New York. The New York Police Department has conducted more than four million stops since 2002, and according to a New York Times editorial, a federal judge "noted that nearly 90 percent of the time the police found no criminal behavior." The suit charges the NYPD with illegally detaining these individuals "not because of suspicious behavior but because of their race."
In her Journal op-ed, Heather Mac Donald disputed these charges, claiming that stop-and-frisk policies in New York have "helped the city achieve an astonishing drop in violent crime" and should be New York's "most valued export" along with other NYPD policies to the rest of the nation. She claimed that stop-and-frisks overwhelmingly targeted blacks and Hispanics because "the preponderance of crime perpetrators, and victims, in New York are also minorities," and concluded the crime rate would increase nationwide if the policy were overturned.
But there is no evidence that stop-and-frisk has decreased crime in New York City. New York Magazine noted that while stop-and-frisks have "skyrocketed" in the past decade, non-fatal shootings in the city have remained steady. Stop-and-frisk has done little to identify illegal firearms, as a New York Times editorial noted, as "guns were seized in only 0.15 percent of all stops." And the New York Civil Liberties Union similarly explained that while total violent crime fell in New York City by 29 percent from 2001 to 2010, cities that did not have stop-and-frisk policies saw even larger violent crime declines in the same time period, by as much as "59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas, and 37 percent in Baltimore."
In fact, the drop in violence in New York City is part of a trend that preceded widespread use of stop-and-frisk. As the Times reported, New York's sharpest drop in homicides came before 2002, the year stop-and-frisks started rising in New York. Forbes magazine provided the following graph, showing that "the number of murders decreased sharply between 1990 and 1998," while then remaining relatively steady during the period that stop-and-frisks increased dramatically:
National Review Online contributor Heather Mac Donald attacked female veterans who have struggled as a result of sexual abuse by fellow service members, speculating that any hardships they experience is more likely a result of "bad decision-making" than the lingering effects of their "alleged sexual assault."
Responding to a New York Times article that profiled female veterans who had been victims of sexual abuse and fell into homelessness, Mac Donald offered the "tentative alternative hypothesis" that some of these women, regardless of whether they were victims of sexual assault, were predisposed to become homeless because of the environments they came from. Mac Donald went on to imply that the women should blame poor decisions they had made for their condition, instead of "alleged sexual assault":
Now here is a tentative alternative hypothesis: Some of these women come from environments that made their descent into street life overdetermined, whether or not they experienced alleged sexual assault in the military. To blame alleged sexual assault for their fate rather than their own bad decision-making is ideologically satisfying, but mystifying. Having children out of wedlock, as a huge proportion of them do, also does not help in avoiding poverty and homelessness.
Feminists claim (speciously) that a whopping one-quarter of college co-eds are sexually assaulted by their fellow students in college; I am not aware of comparable claims that huge numbers of female college graduates are as a result ending up on the street. (The difference between the outcomes for college graduates and vets does not lie in the relative availability of services: College rape crisis centers and hotlines are barely used.) I am not even aware of claims that victims of stranger rape are more likely to end up dealing drugs and homeless, but that evidence may in fact be out there. (I recently wrote about a tough-as-nails, pro-police building superintendent in the Bronx who was raped three times, including by her mother's boyfriend as a child; she is only one case, obviously, but she was not on disability benefits or on the streets.)
Mac Donald concluded by suggesting that if "it really was their sexual experiences in the military that caused their downward spiral," feminists should oppose allowing women to serve in combat roles because "[a]rguably, coming under enemy fire or falling into enemy hands is as traumatic as the behavior one may experience while binge-drinking with one's fellow soldiers or as scarring as being 'bullied and ostracized' by a female superior."