Archives for category: Media

Please watch this fascinating series (part one and part two) by Australian television on the rank cynicism of Rupert Murdoch and FOX News.

Under his leadership, FOX turned into a propaganda machine for Trump. Its leading correspondents (Sean Hannity and Judge Jeanine) joined his rallies, urged people to vote for him. They ceased to be journalists.

The two parts are gripping and well worth watching. There are pending lawsuits against FOX, Rudy Guiliani, and Sidney Powell for slandering Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, another voting machine used only in Los Angeles.

Powell and Guiliani both said numerous times that the voting systems were used to hack the vote and steal the election. Powell has since said that her claims were so ridiculous that no one took them seriously.

A must watch.

Not long ago, someone posted a comment on the blog asking how I could be so contemptuous of Donald Trump when the man was a highly successful businessman and a billionaire. I replied by referring to his multiple bankruptcies, Trump Airlines, Trump Steaks, Trump University. But I couldn’t remember them all.

Michael Hiltzik helped me out. He writes a business column for the Los Angeles Times. In this article, he takes advantage of a regulatory document that lists nearly all) of Trump’s business failures.

Trump is launching a new social media platform called “Truth Social” and hopes to raise at least $875 million. Skip over the fact that one of the most notorious liars in our nation would call his outfit “Truth Social.” He doesn’t believe in “truth,” by his own account. He (through Kellyanne Conway) gave us the term “alternative facts,” as well as “fake news” (whatever he didn’t agree with) and said the free press (though protected by the First Amendment) is “the enemy of the people.”

In order to bring a stock offering public, the risks associated with it must be made public. Thus, the publication of Trump’s many bankruptcies appears in a document called an S-4.

Since Hiltzik wrote this article, the SEC and a federal grand jury filed subpoenas to Trump’s social media company (Trump Media and Technology Group), and he resigned from its board, along with Don Trump Jr. and 4 other buddies. Open the link on this article: Trump is running away from the SEC investigation of his company.

Hiltzik writes:

The litany appears in a section of the S-4 headed “Risk Factors,” specifically “Risks Related to our Chairman President Donald J. Trump…”

Let’s delve instead into the Trump-related risks.

“A number of companies that were associated with President Trump have filed for bankruptcy,” the document states. “There can be no assurances that TMTG [that is, Trump Media & Technology Group] will not also become bankrupt.”

Let’s start with Trump’s casinos in Atlantic City:

“The Trump Taj Mahal, which was built and owned by President Trump, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1991. The Trump Plaza, the Trump Castle, and the Plaza Hotel, all owned by President Trump at the time, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1992. THCR, which was founded by President Trump in 1995, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2004. Trump Entertainment Resorts, Inc., the new name given to Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts after its 2004 bankruptcy, declared bankruptcy in 2009.”

Then there’s the list of “companies that had license agreements with President Trump [that] have failed”:

“Trump Shuttle, Inc., launched by President Trump in 1989, defaulted on its loans in 1990 and ceased to exist by 1992. Trump University, founded by President Trump in 2005, ceased operations in 2011 amid lawsuits and investigations regarding the company’s business practices. Trump Vodka, a brand of vodka produced by Drinks Americas under license from the Trump Organization, was introduced in 2005 and discontinued in 2011.”

Also, “Trump Mortgage, LLC, a financial services company founded by President Trump in 2006, ceased operations in 2007. GoTrump.com, a travel site founded by President Trump in 2006, ceased operations in 2007. Trump Steaks, a brand of steak and other meats founded by President Trump in 2007, discontinued sales two months after its launch.”

The S-4 also observes that “President Trump is involved in numerous lawsuits and other matters that could damage his reputation, cause him to be distracted from the business or could force him to resign from TMTG’s board of directors.”

The document goes on to list the numerous investigations of Trump’s behavior in office and after his election defeat, as well as his business dealings before taking office.

Also, “The Trump Organization recently paid $750,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the District of Columbia accusing the organization of misusing nonprofit funds from the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee.”

On top of that, “President Trump is the defendant in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by E. Jean Carroll who claims that President Trump defamed her when he denied her allegations of sexual assault against him. In the past, President Trump has been involved in multiple lawsuits and settlements — and the subject of numerous accusations that did not result in legal action — related to sexual conduct and alleged misconduct.”

For investors, the scariest line in the entire document may be this: “The foregoing does not purport to be an exhaustive list.”

The S-4 cites a USA Today article from 2016 finding that “over the previous three decades President Trump and his businesses had been involved in 3,500 legal cases in U.S. federal and state courts…. In the 1,300 cases where the record establishes the outcome, President Trump settled 175 times, lost 38, won 450, and had another 137 cases end with some other outcome. In the other 500 cases, judges dismissed plaintiffs’ claims against President Trump.”

So if you’re inclined to invest with Donald Trump, don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Timothy L. O’Brien, who has written critically about Trump’s claims to be a multi billionaire, wonders whether Elon Musk is having buyer’s remorse about his offer of $44 billion for Twitter. Musk tweeted on Friday morning that his offer was “temporarily on hold” while there is an investigation of Twitter bots.

O’Brien wrote at Bloomberg News:

Elon Musk took to Twitter early Friday to say that his takeover of the company was “temporarily on holdpending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users.”

Musk might be serious about this. Or he might be joking and just using his vast social media reach to have fun with the investors, Twitter Inc. employees, journalists, free-speech advocates and others who have been watching this garbage fire ignite. (A couple hours later he tweeted he was still committed to the deal.)

I’m in the camp of: “Musk is serious about this but he’s finding the most unserious of reasons to explain why he’s bailing.” As in: “I was thinking about buying that mansion, but the deal is on hold pending details about whether there are termites in some of the planters on the patio. I still have plenty of cash and can get a mortgage from the bank, believe me. It’s not about the money.”

I suspect Musk’s jitters about buying Twitter are all about the money and has nothing to do with how many bots are zooming around the platform. He just doesn’t want to say that. If the richest guy in the world wanted to be more honest about what’s going on, he might have to acknowledge that his primary credit card — his shares in Tesla Inc. — doesn’t have the buying power it once did.

Musk said last month that he wanted to buy Twitter for $43 billion — when he only had about $3 billion in cash on hand. Most of the fortune of the world’s richest man, which added up to some $259 billion at the time, was tied up in his Tesla shares. Since then, Tesla’s shares have lost about 36% of their value, and Musk’s net worth has fallen to about $215 billion.

Frankly, I would be pleased to see this purchase fall through. It’s frightening to think that one person would wield the power to control what has become the nation’s public square.

Musk has said he believes in unlimited free speech, but that too is dangerous in these times of disinformation and pervasive propaganda. In a famous Supreme Court decision, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that free speech does not give you the right to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater. Holmes was using the reference to justify a decision against a man handing out flyers opposed to recruitment for the military during World War 1. (Schenck vs. United States). That decision was subsequently overturned but the metaphor remains apt.

Musk would not exclude those on Twitter who offer phony cures for COVID or other diseases or those who urge people not to take the vaccines that would protect their lives. He would not exclude those who peddle hatred and bigotry.

This not to say that he does not exclude anyone. A group called “Public Citizen” has complained that it was blocked by Elon Musk. It may be that he blocks groups and individuals who post tweets about the riskinesss of Tesla. Who knows?

The Twitter platform should have standards for screening and deleting tweets that incite violence or circulate medical misinformation. That’s why Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene were banished.

Musk is apparently politically biased. He tweeted not long ago ““I strongly supported Obama for President, but today’s Democratic Party has been hijacked by extremists.” Extremists? Inciting an insurrection on January 6 doesn’t count as extremist? Invading the halls of z Congress and attacking police officers is not extremism? Insisting that the 2020 election was stolen is not extremist? If any party has been hijacked by extremists, it is the Republican Party.

Twitter is too important in our common life to be controlled by one man and his wildly inflated ego. I’m hoping the deal never happens.

NBC News debunks the conspiracy theorists who have claimed that Russia invaded Ukraine to eliminate biolabs funded by the United States. The main promoters of this claim are QAnon, Tucker Carlson, and the Russian propaganda machine.

It begins:

Russia’s early struggles to push disinformation and propaganda about Ukraine have picked up momentum in recent days, thanks to a variety of debunked conspiracy theories about biological research labs in Ukraine. Much of the false information is flourishing in Russian social media, far-right online spaces and U.S. conservative media, including Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News.

The theories, which have been boosted by Russian and Chinese officials, come as U.S. officials warn that Russia could be preparing a chemical or biological weapons attack of its own in Ukraine.

Most of the conspiracy theories claim that the U.S. was developing and plotting to release a bioweapon or potentially another coronavirus from “biolabs”’ throughout Ukraine and that Russia invaded to take over the labs. Many of the theories implicate people who are often the targets of far-right conspiracy thinking — including Dr. Anthony Fauci and President Joe Biden — as being behind creating the weaponized diseases in the biolabs.

Disinformation experts said the biolabs theory echoes other Russian propaganda meant to justify its military efforts, which often makes allegations against other countries and populations that reflect similar attacks it plans to make.

Question: If this was the Russian goal, why are they also bombing apartment houses, maternity hospitals, schools, and residential areas? Is all of Ukraine one giant biolab?

The New York Times recently wrote about Twitter’s suspension of the personal (not the official) account of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. Twitter applied its rule of “five strikes and you’re out” because she posted misinformation about COVID and vaccines that could cause harm to others. Among other things, she had posted on Twitter that COVID was not dangerous and that vaccines should not be mandated; that the vaccines were “failing”; and that many people who got the vaccines had died.

While reading this article, I learned of a website called The Center for Countering Digital Hate. This organization published research on the dozen most influential social influencers who spread misinformation about vaccines.

The Center surveyed major social media platforms and found that 12 people were the source of 2/3 of the lies about COVID and the vaccines. The only name familiar to me was that of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The leading influencer was one Dr. Joseph Mercola. His Twitter handle was @drmercola. Perhaps he was banned by Twitter. But he now reappears as @mercola.

At the time the CCDH report was written, the COVID death toll in the U.S. was 500,000. It is now over 800,000. It’s likely that the Dirty Dozen caused some of those deaths (and will be responsible for many more) by encouraging resistance to the life-saving vaccines.

Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times explains why American copyright law benefits major corporations, not the creators of original works.

In 2022, he says, there will be a bumper crop of well-known titles that will enter the public domain, including Winnie the Pooh, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, poetry collections by Dorothy Parker and Langston Hughes, and first novels by William Faulkner and Agatha Christie. A number of sound recordings, including ones by Al Jolson and Enrico Caruso will no longer be copyrighted.

Hiltzik writes:

As it happens, however, this massive release isn’t something entirely worth celebrating. Instead, it’s a pointer to the sheer absurdity of American copyright law, which long ago came under the thumb of the entertainment industry and distant heirs of artists determined to preserve what is essentially a windfall.

It’s proper to keep in mind that copyright law was not designed originally to keep cash flow running for future generations of a creator’s family. The idea was always to preserve an incentive for creators to create, by guaranteeing that they would be able to enjoy the fruits of their own labor for a set period.

The first U.S. copyright law, passed in 1790, established a limit of 14 years, and allowed the original creator, if still living, to renew the copyright for another 14 years.

Eventually, the term was extended to 28 years, plus a single renewal option of another 28. (The vast majority of copyrights were never renewed.) The 1976 Copyright Act extended the term to 50 years from the date of an author’s death, and the 1998 Sonny Bono Act increased it to 70 years after the death of the author, and to 95 years after publication for corporate works-for-hire.

The Walt Disney corporation and the families of George Gershwin and Oscar Hammerstein, among others, have lobbied effectively to keep their copyrights intact. Disney wants to protect its rights to Mickey Mouse as long as possible. Even though A.A. Milne’s book Winnie the Pooh will no longer be copyrighted, Disney owns and defends the animated forms of Winnie, as well as the trademark of ”Winnie the Pooh.” The Disney copyright on Mickey Mouse is scheduled to expire January 1, 1924, but Hiltzik bets that Disney will lobby for another extension of the law to protect its property.

A notable feature of all this maneuvering over copyright terms is that it hasn’t done much to straighten out the mazes of copyright claims afflicting some of our culture’s most important and popular creative legacies.

Emily Dickinson, for instance: The Belle of Amherst died in 1886 with the vast majority of her poems unpublished (indeed, unknown). That was 136 years ago, but most of her works are still subject to a copyright claimed by Harvard University, which maintains that “all applications to quote or reprint Emily Dickinson material should go through the Harvard University Press Permissions Department.”

Harvard zealously defends its control of Emily Dickenson’s works.

Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, holds the copyright to her diary until the 2040s, even though she died in 1945 at age 15 in a concentration camp.

The family of Dr. Martin Luther King holds the copyright to everything he wrote, including his speeches.

Hiltzik writes: As I reported in 2015, the King family stringently controlled broadcasting of King’s seminal “I Have a Dream” speech without royalty payments, even as the 50th anniversary of its Aug. 28, 1963 delivery on the National Mall approached in 2013.

When I compiled an antholgy of great Americans speeches, poems, and songs called The American Reader in 1990, I had to pay the family royalties to include not only the ”I Have a Dream” speech, but his important ”Letter from a Birmingham City Jail.” They are significant historical documents, and I wrongly assumed they were in the public domain.

Extending the copyright of original works for a century does not encourage creativity, especially when the creator of that work has died. The descendants should have a reasonable time to enjoy the fruitsof their relatives’ labors. But that too should be limited to a generation, not monetized through multiple generations. It is even harder to justify the century-long copyright eagerly sought and won by corporations.

Hiltzik concludes:

A return to the fundamental principles on which copyright law was originally based would point to a reduction in copyright terms, not the persistent efforts to lengthen them. That’s especially so in the digital age. As the Duke scholars [at Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain], argue, “the public domain is being impoverished just as its opportunities for creativity, innovation, democratic participation, and knowledge advancement are transformed.”

Knowing the power of the corporate lobbyists, he is doubtful that the terms of copyright will be reducedn more likely, they will be extended yet again. You know, Mickey Mouse.

Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect reviews the Netflix movie Don’t Look Up!


“Appreciate the brilliance of the season’s most profound, category-busting movie.”

Don’t Look Up is described as a parody of Trumpism and climate denial. It is elegantly that. But more importantly, the movie is a dead-on satire of the interconnected debasement of America’s politics, pop culture, conventional media, social media, spectacle, tech and corporate elite—and of how the corruption of each element corrupts the other, feeding the general cynicism and the craving for a fascist savior, political or corporate.

Credit goes to the director, writers, and producers: Adam McKay, David Sirota, Kevin Messick, and Ron Suskind. The public seems to grasp what this movie is about more than many critics.

Don’t Look Up is the top Netflix hit, so no spoiler alert is needed: A graduate student (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers that a comet is headed directly for Earth, where it will wipe out human life. She and her professor (Leonardo DiCaprio) meet with the president (Meryl Streep), who is torn between denial and acting decisively to save the planet (Trump and vaccines?).

The president has a demented chief-of-staff son (the Trump kids). I am told that the opportunistic Streep character was intended as three parts Trump and one part the Clintons.

The president, after dithering, initially orders NASA to send a nuclear weapon to explode in space and deflect the comet. But here comes the best part of the movie.

A tech billionaire, played by Mark Rylance, realizes that the comet contains trillions of dollars’ worth of rare minerals. So he devises a rival mission, blessed by the president, to break the comet into bits that will fall into the ocean to be profitably harvested. The mission fails.

In a formidable cast, Rylance steals the show. The Rylance character is the CEO of BASH Cellular, a data-mining company that can read people’s thoughts and predict their futures.

Rylance was actually a late addition. At one point, DiCaprio was to play both the scientist and the billionaire, and the billionaire was a more conventional business thug. Rylance, soft-spoken and new-agey, has created a character who perfectly captures the creepy, messianic allure of Musk, Zuckerberg, Bezos et al., as well as their hypocrisy and willingness to sacrifice humanity.

As a Rylance obsessive, I have seen him, live, playing an astonishing range of roles from Richard III to a Minnesota ice fisherman, and this could be his most inventive and true creation of a character ever.

One of the movie’s many grace notes is the send-up of manic happy-news talk shows. Here, the co-hosts interview the scientists but want only an upbeat story. Even the good-guy scientist of the piece (DiCaprio) ends up corrupted, promoting the comet’s commercial potential and having a cheesy fling with the talk show co-host (Cate Blanchett), whose character is as cynical off camera as she is giddily upbeat on TV.

Those who have dismissed the movie as too much of a downer, or too obvious a parody of science denial, miss the point. Don’t Look Up is far richer as an excavation of the codependency of corporate and political fascism, enabled by the distraction of spectacle, social media, and tech.

The takeaway: If we are doomed, it is not mainly because of climate denial.
~ ROBERT KUTTNER

It being New Year’s Eve, it is not a time for serious thinking.

Thus, I take this opportunity to offer my suggestions for good things to watch on television. Or, to put it another way, things that I really liked watching.

My favorite was the Belgian crime series called “Professor T.” on PBS. Do not mistakenly watch the British version. Professor T. is a highly intelligent, neurotic criminologist who solves difficult crimes. The series is urbane, witty, provocative, and sometimes zany. I enjoyed watching Professor T. think, and I liked his taste in music (mostly Bach.)

The best film I have seen lately is Don’t Look Up. It is a terrifying, sometimes hilarious metaphor for our times. It has a star-filled cast (Merryl Streep as a Trump-like President), Leonardo DiCaprio as a scientist at Michigan State, Jennifer Lawrence as a graduate student at MSU). And many more big names (Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Ariana Grande).

The story, in brief, is that a grad student observes a giant comet headed directly for earth. A direct hit will extinguish all life on earth in a bit more than six months. She tells her professor and they contact federal authorities,who bring them to D.C. to meet with officials at NASA, the military, and the White House. The White House decides the story should be buried because it might have a negative effect on the midterm elections. They go to the media. The nation’s biggest talk show treats them as less important than a story about a singing star breaking up with her boyfriend. They get low ratings, and the news media decides their story is not interesting; it won’t sell papers. Basically, their warnings are discredited, and no one takes them seriously.

But the President calls them back, says their calculations have been verified by the scientific community, and she deploys plans to destroy the comet with massive strikes of nuclear missiles.

Then the plot changes as a tech genius convinces the President that the comet can be stopped without destroying it, and its minerals are worth trillions. The profit motive brings a sharp change of plans. I won’t tell you how it ends. You should see it. It captures the essence of our celebrity-driven, superficial mass culture, where power and greed outweigh common sense and integrity.

What are your favorites?

Gary Rubinstein, a math teacher at Stuyvesant High School, has no patience for overblown claims. For a few years, he maintained a website devoted to debunking the spurious claims of “miracle schools,” such as those that claimed 100% graduation rates of their seniors but neglected to admit the high attrition that occurred before senior year.

He inevitably had to review the chain called Eagle Academy, which was founded by David Banks, who is Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ choice to be Chancellor of the New York City public schools. The Eagle Academy has six schools, one in each of the city’s five boroughs, and one in Newark.

Gary reviewed public records for the data, and he wondered why none of the city’s media had done what he did.

He writes:

Before Eric Adams was the next mayor of New York City, he was the borough president of Brooklyn. In that capacity, he worked with David Banks to create ‘The Brooklyn Nine’ where Banks would share some of the best practices from Eagle Academy to improve nine schools in Brooklyn. There is a short documentary about Eagle Academy on HBO currently called ‘The Infamous Future’ , similar to Waiting For Superman, made a few years ago in which Eric Adams says that the practices of Eagle Academy should be used in more schools so that they become ‘The Brooklyn 90’ and then ‘The Brooklyn 900′ and eventually the entire school system can replicate the success of Banks’ Eagle Academies. So this gives us some idea of what to expect in the next 4 or 8 years with Adams as Mayor and Banks as Chancellor.

Maurice Cunningham is a political scientist with a deep interest in how Dark Money influences education policy. His motto is: “Dark Money never sleeps.” He is a master at following the money. He customarily blogs at a website called MassPoliticsProfs, but was kind enough to send me this post first.

He writes here about the groups pushing the attacks on critical race theory:

The Corporate Critical Race Theory Attack: Chaos is the Product

“The backlash” begins an opinion piece in Newsweek by Parents Defending Education outreach director Erika Sanzi, and these may be the most accurate two words published by those who are attacking “wokeness,” gender studies, and Critical Race Theory. The sad fact is that white backlash has a proven record of effectiveness in American politics and it is once again being employed in the service of right wing corporate interests. The end product desired has less to do with CRT than with spreading disruption, fear, and chaos across America’s most important democratic public institution, schools.

According to the Washington Post, as of June 24 CRT (a theory developed in law schools and not well known among most Americans) has exploded on Fox News. The term was heard on Fox only 132 times in 2020 but has been mentioned 1,860 times this year, escalating month by month. The narrative is that grassroots parents groups have discovered the threat CRT poses to their children in schools and have arisen organically across the country to form local parent groups, a movement noticed and captured by websites and the powerful Fox News. The truth is that of an oligarch-funded and coordinated campaign using time tested techniques.

Follow the Money

Over the past five years I’ve been following “education reform” groups created by billionaire investors with names like Families for Excellent Schools, Massachusetts Parents United, and National Parents Union which have presented diversity as their public face while attacking teachers. So when I saw the launch of Parents Defending Education on March 30 I took note because it follows a different path: white backlash aimed more at school boards, superintendents, and principals. The first thing to do when evaluating these groups is always, follow the money.

But as the financial backers of groups like PDE well know, public disclosure of funders will only come about nearly two years down the road, if then, in publicly available Form 990 tax returns for organizations with Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3)status as charitable organizations. PDE president Nicole Neily has refused to disclose the organization’s donors when asked by media outlets. It’s not just that she won’t. She can’t. Disclosure would likely reveal ties to radical right funders tied into the Koch network and similar underwriters. We know this thanks to work done by PRWatch and from Sourcewatch at the Center for Media and Democracy. They show that Neily is a political operative at Koch network funded operations like the Independent Women’s Forum, Franklin Center, and Speech First.

The Speech First association is instructive. Neily is founding president of that non-profit as well. Sourcewatch has identified some of its funders as the Bader Family Foundation for $30,000, Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund: $500,250, Judicial Education Project for $1,000,000, and National Philanthropic Trust: $500,000. The real check writers will probably never become known. Form 990s show that Neily is the sole employee, earning $161,000 in 2018 and $150,000 in 2019. Speech First brings lawsuits against universities for policies touching on race. For this, it paid the law firm Consovoy McMullen $950,000 in 2018, and to get the word out paid the Republican communications firm Creative Response Concepts $106,000. Boiled down, Speech First is a pass through that allows wealthy conservative donors to remain hidden while paying Consovoy McMullen to attack universities.

And who represents Parents Defending Education? Why, Consovoy McMullen. William Consovoy also represents Donald Trump and clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. The firm is conservative legal royalty. PDE did not hire it after an especially successful bake sale.

Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education, and Moms for Liberty

PDE launched its well-developed website featuring pages with links to its allies, most of which were branches of groups called No Left Turn in Education and Moms for Liberty. According to NBC, No Left Turn in Education was launched in 2020 when a parent from a Philadelphia suburb became enraged at her children’s school for teaching concepts of racism after the police murder of George Floyd. Elana Yaron Fishbein then sprang into action to attack wokeness and founded NLTE. In September she appeared on Fox’s Tucker Carlson program and the next day the group’s Facebook increased from about 200 followers to over 30,000 and there are now 30 chapters in 23 states.

But when I looked at local NLTE chapters’ Facebook pages linked to through the PDE site in April, I found sparse membership: Alabama, 7; Arkansas, 3; Delaware, 6; Iowa, 2; Idaho, 4; Indiana, 8; Michigan (Betsy DeVos home state), 13; Mississippi, 3; Montana, 2; North Dakota, 2; Massachusetts, 17; Hawaii, 1. All of the NLTE Facebook pages featured the same banner, a montage of diverse teens against a background of school lockers, each student smiling and engaged, not a pimple on their perfect teenage faces; probably models, most certainly not local students. As for Moms for Liberty, it too had sparse membership in its affiliates: Arizona, 17; Wright Co, Minnesota, 8; Corpus Christi Nueces, Texas, 70. Moms for Liberty’s creation story is similar to others in the anti-public education universe: “moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.” The story goes that two parents became upset with their local schools and started up a parents group. It happens. It’s a lot more unusual for the two grassroots moms to then book former Fox host Megyn Kelly for a fundraiser with tickets running from General Admission of $50 up to Presenting Sponsor for $20,000 with perks including a photo with Ms. Kelly and corporate logo on print and online marketing materials.

From Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education, Moms for Liberty and on to groups like National Parents Union, the creation stories are similar. A handful of disgruntled moms talk over their frustrations, determine to start their moms or parents group to seek change, and then in pour the millions of dollars; contracts are quickly signed with nationally recognized public relations firms and pollsters (one newly birthed charter school-tied group in Rhode Island immediately hired a Biden pollster); the head mom is booked on Fox or featured in national media outlets. Conservative outlets like The Federalist, Washington Times, Campus Fix, and most importantly Fox News amplify the misleading message.

How to Attack Educators in a Few Easy Steps

The tactics for going after K-12 educators did not spring up anew but have been adapted from successful attacks on college and university professors. Isaac Kamola has explained this in an important article titled Dear Administrators: To Protect Your Faculty from Right-Wing Attacks, Follow the Money. Kamola finds that groups like Campus Reform and Campus Fix, which pay conservative students as “reporters” to whistleblow on their professors, are funded by wealthy right wingers including Koch who wish to gain leverage over what is taught and researched at America’s universities. These attacks follow a common script. Something a professor says or writes in research, a lecture, or even on social media is grabbed and most often taken out of context; there is never an engagement with the actual intellectual product. (In Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, Anne Nelson shows that Campus Reform is tied into right wing clearing house organizations the Leadership Institute and Council for National Policy). The targets are often scholars of color, especially women, and their work focuses on race or inquiries into capitalism. The out of context remarks are then percolated through a right wing ecosystem which includes web sites funded by the same network and all the way up to Fox News. Results can be stark. After Campus Reform did a story on a speech by Princeton University professor Keenga-Yamahtta Taylor the piece was picked up by Fox; threats against Professor Taylor were so virulent she cancelled talks in Seattle and San Diego. After Campus Reform misrepresented remarks by Trinity College professor Johnny Williams the campus had to be shut down due to threats and Williams was unfairly placed on leave. So the radical right knows how to generate chaos. Parents Defending Education has refined the play book further.

PDE relies upon two modes of attack on schools (which may include charter as well as public schools). The first, often well covered in the media and with appearances on Fox, is individuals who inundate school districts with public records requests. The second involves anonymous attacks on school personnel, concealment guaranteed by guidance offered by PDE to assure their agents remain hidden.

NBC News reported on one now famous Fox-supported attack by an individual wielding public law requests. A Maine parent named Shawn McBreairty was disgruntled with his local schools and joined No Left Turn in Education. He has filed over 50 public records law request with his Maine school district, tying up education professionals serving the public for his individual crusade. In South Kingstown, RI a parent whose child is enrolled but not yet attending kindergarten in the town filed 200 public records law requests “seeking copies of middle and high school curricula, lists of all books related to gender available in the library and 10 years’ worth of harassment complaints and emails.” The district estimated it would take 300 hours to fulfill the request. Local officials were undoubtedly right in assessing the attack as an effort to disrupt public education and attack a public good. The Rhode Island parent was rewarded with an appearance on Fox. When districts try to resist the onslaught of requests, corporate spokespersons like PDE’s Sanzi are ready with pro-wrestling sincerity to whine—to Fox News—about the people’s right to know. These groups weaponize the very openness of government to undermine government.

In a forthcoming work, Kamola and co-author Ralph Wilson show how groups like Speech First use discovery in lawsuits to create a “nightmare for administrators and their general counsel.” PDE and allies are now using public records lawsnationwide to achieve the same goal against public school districts.

While the public records requests are designedly onerous and discouraging, at least educators can tell where the attacks are coming from. The second tactic promoted by PDE is much worse, to encourage anonymous attacks against educators.

Take a recent example involving the Boston suburb of Wellesley, Massachusetts. This was an anonymous complaint forwarded by PDE grumbling that Wellesley had violated civil rights laws by providing affinity rooms for students to process their emotions after anti-Asian attacks across the nation. Ms. Neily confessed she has no idea who submitted it to PDE or if anyone in Wellesley agrees with the complaint. This is a baked in design by PDE as we see from examining the operation’s website page that teaches How to Create “Woke At” Pages. It provides detailed instructions for how to set up “an anonymous, safe Instagram page.” First set up a Gmail account “that can’t be tied to you.” Gmail is recommended because the site creator will also need to set up “an anonymous Google Form . . . which allows you to receive anonymous tips” that shields the informant’s identity, even from the Woke At administrator. At all times “we recommend erring on the side of secrecy.”

The Woke At instructions encourage PDE’s local spies to check out social media pages of educators which may reveal woke attitudes. The Understanding Woke Jargon page catalogs terms like “social justice” or “antiracism” the group finds offensive. Questions to Ask School Officials offers gotcha questions that can be asked of woke school officials “with cameras rolling.”

Why the advice to always act with hidden identities? Because of the terrifying disposition of those “woke activists” who talk about “inclusion, equity, justice” but are really “divisive, toxic, and extreme.” PDE is one education organization that was absent on the day irony was taught, for it insists on secrecy while pretending it promotes transparency. Concealment is especially important “given how angry and retaliatory many woke activists get when criticized.” PDE understands that much of its audience consumes a heavy diet of Fox News. Research by Jeffrey M. Berry, James M. Glaser, and Deborah J. Schildkraut shows Fox’s “underlying strategy is to anger viewers by stoking their resentment of racial and ethnic minority groups” and building fear. For instance, after the images of George Floyd’s murder, which initially shocked even Sean Hannity, Fox repeatedly showed video of “rioting and looting by protestors, relying on film showing fires burning and Blacks running out of looted stores with stolen merchandise in their arms.” These images were repeatedly shown well beyond the first week, after which there was little new such behavior to report upon. But the coverage stokes ideas of lawlessness and fear.

Whether by an avalanche of public records requests or generating negative coverage from anonymous tipsters, PDE and its allies are in business to create disruption and chaos in public education.

Getting Results

As Kamola has shown with his work detailing the corporate backed assault on higher education, these tactics often work. They are now working at the K-12 level. Public records requests have tied up school boards and administrators. NBC reports that Washoe County, Nevada halted in person school board meetings “after residents filled a large auditorium and lobbed insults and threats of violence during the public comment portion.” When open meetings later convened in a smaller venue, many residents waited long hours in the hot sun to make their comments against CRT and anti-discrimination policies—including quite a fewwho do not even have students in the system. “During the most recent meeting, which lasted 11 hours, speakers railed at school board members, calling them Marxists, racists, Nazis and child abusers, among other epithets.” In Rockwood Illinois, the St. Louis Post dispatch reported, teachers called upon the school board and superintendent to protect them against “personal attacks and outright threats of violence.” In Camas, Washington, the state’s 2020 teacher of the year thanked the school board and administrators for defending her efforts to promote inclusion and access after some residents “railed against the school district’s ‘woke’ agenda, COVID-19 mask mandates, remote learning and racial justice and equity programs.”

After all, as No Left Turn Maine’s Shawn McBreairty said in an email to NBC News, “This is a war with the left, and in war, tactics and strategy can become blurry.”

As the corporate agitators behind all this understand, they are making public service exhausting and distasteful, a campaign to drive good community members away from serving. This isn’t an unfortunate byproduct. We’ve seen it at the university level. It’s intentional.

The Rise of the Right Wing Moms

In announcing PDE’s complaint against the Columbus, Ohio public schools for its willingness to address racism in the wake of the police shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, Ms. Neily acknowledged that no Columbus parent had complained, but that PDE was just a concerned group of parents. “We just all work from home,” Neily told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. “We’re all working moms.”

That sounds cozy and homey but Neily is a well-compensated veteran of numerous right wing organizations, including not only Speech First but the Cato Institute. Sourcewatch reports that “Nicole Neily has worked for many Koch-affiliated groups.” Ms. Sanzi has worked for billionaire funded school privatization groups, also bringing home a hefty paycheck. According to research from Mercedes Schneider the Education Post, an online publication originally funded by Eli Broad, paid Sanzi $121,000 in 2016 and $131,000 in 2017. She is also a “senior visiting fellow” at the Fordham Institute.

This is another area where patterns are not immediately visible but things become more clear years down the road when Form 990s become available. What we see is that following the emergence of these organizations with their tales of concerned moms banding together is that the moms are actually political operatives or communications professionals being well paid. Take for example Keri Rodrigues, “mom-in-chief” of the Walton backed Massachusetts Parents United. One of the several creation stories is that Ms. Rodrigues (always identified as a former union organizer) and a few other mothers gathered in their local library and decided to start a parents group. Actually, Ms. Rodrigues had been state director for Families for Excellent Schools, which ran a losing ballot campaign to increase charter schools in Massachusetts in 2016. She is also a communications professional, having been a radio host. MPU and an affiliate paid Ms. Rodrigues over $388,000 in 2017-2018. But the mom-in-chief story has had some penetration.

When the CDC announced reopening guidelines for schools in May 2021 Ms. Rodrigues, now also of Walton and Koch backed National Parents Union, appeared on Fox News to accuse teachers unions of undue influence. The host accused “teachers unions of basically writing the guidelines” a claim that Ms. Rodrigues enthusiastically agreed with. There was no basis for that claim other than that the unions, like over fifty other advocacy groups, had offered comments to the CDC. But it was blown up by Republican senators from a letter provided by a Republican dark money group. And then on to Fox and the eagerMs. Rodrigues.

Thus we shouldn’t be too surprised by a recent Media Matters study that showed that a number of the concerned parents featured on Fox News criticizing CRT are actually Republican political operatives. Quisha King, an African American woman billed by Fox News as an “everyday American” who is “Northeast Florida co-chair of Moms for Liberty” and “mom of two daughters” is also a GOP political consultant who worked for the Republican National Committee in 2020. Though Fox News billed Ms. Neily as a parent fighting against CRT in schools, Media Matters added that she “has spent her entire career working in and for libertarian and conservative political advocacy organizations and think tanks . . . .” PDE senior fellow Elizabeth Schultz was noted by Fox’s Dana Perino as a former Fairfax County, Virginia school board member. But she is also a former Trump appointee to the Department of Education, under Betsy DeVos. Before being defeated for re-election to the school board Schultz was known for opposing “‘expanding the school system’s sex-education curriculum to include lessons on gender identity and transgender issues’ and supporting armed teachers in classrooms.”

Charles Koch’s Pincer Movement

Far right groups like Parents Defending Education are new born but billionaire funded corporate education reform groups like Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union have been around a bit longer. Families for Excellent Schools was successful in New York until its 2016 Massachusetts charter school campaign was badly beaten, its dark money donors were ordered to be disclosed by the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance, and its CEO was fired after #MeToo allegations surfaced. These groups often present themselves as leaning liberal, non-partisan but vaguely Democratic, featuring spokespersons who are women of color, and advocating for their privatization policies as being pro-civil rights. National Parents Union even released a statement defending Critical Race Theory on May 21, but it seems to have dropped the topic since. Why then would Charles Koch, a likely source of support for the right wing groups, also be funding National Parents Union?

But he is, through his Charles Koch Institute, which is partnered with the Walton Family Foundation in a joint venture called the Vela Education Fund. Vela dropped $700,000 on NPU to promote home schooling. NPU then spread Vela funds around in grants for home schooling. As Casey Parks explained in The New Yorker these foundations “advocate ‘school choice’—rerouting money and families away from traditional public schools through such means as charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, and vouchers, which allow public-education dollars to be put toward private-school tuition.” NPU had been launched by the Walton Family Foundation to help in the Waltons quest to undermine teachers unions. Recognizing the opportunity presented by closed schools Vela formed and wrote the $700,000 check even though NPUhad been in business only a few months. Vela has pursued other such opportunities including funding the far right Home School Legal Defense Association.

Coincidentally or not in 2017 the civil rights-proclaiming Ms. Rodrigues and the radical right Ms. Sanzi were partners in another venture named Planet Mom, which featured a podcast and proposed radio show. In her paid position at Education Post Ms. Sanzi wrote of Ms. Rodrigues “I consider her a partner in this work. And a friend.” It’s a small planet, after all.

The point is not Critical Race Theory, or charter schools, virtual schools, or home schools. The point is to undermine public education, keep taxes low, spread doubt of the efficacy of public goods, and demolish institutions like unions and local school communities that make demands on the Waltons and Kochs of the nation. It is, as Nancy MacLean has said, to put democracy in chains. Diverse-presenting National Parents Union and white backlash Parents Defending Education serve the same cause.

Whither We Are Tending and What to Do About It

I hope my colleagues in academia continue to speak out about the intellectual contributions of Critical Race Theory and the fine efforts of K-12 educators to provide the kind of schooling all our students need—open and honest about the nation’s race and history and our ongoing challenges, including corporate promoted white backlash.

On the other hand, don’t expect any engagement from Nicole Neily or the anti-CRT bard Christopher Rufo, who has helped spike this ridiculous campaign. In a triumphant appearance at the Claremont Institute, Rufo described his annoyance at scholars trying to bait him into a discussion of what CRT really means and proclaimed “I don’t give a shit about this stuff.” (Nine minute mark)

As Isaac Kamola has urged, start with follow the money and pursue that relentlessly. There’s a reason groups like PDE and NPU can’t come clean about their funding sources and amounts and that reason is that they know the public is suspicious of the Kochs and Waltons of the world and what’s more, the public and America’s billionaires are on a different page on policy issues.

These are corporate generated right wing attacks. Say it. Name names.

Come awake to the threat. Recognize what this is and that isn’t just about wokeness or even education but something else Koch and the Waltons can’t say out loud: to destroy the capacity of people to coalesce together and fight for a better life for themselves, a project that offends oligarchs ideologically and threatens their power and pocketbooks. They focus on educationbecause schools have been a fertile locale for white backlash but also a source of great progress, because teachers unions are a barrier to them, and because local community organizations defy them.

That means that teachers unions, school boards, superintendents, principals, lunch workers, school bus drivers, custodians, business, parents and students—everyone who serves their local school community—have to recognize that they need to fight together against this assault. In other words, join together to take action—exactly what the Waltons, Kochs, and other radical right billionaires fear.

And stand up for a real education for all our children, not the white(wash) backlash being promoted by phony AstroTurf fronts like Parents Defending Education. Remember, fronts are fronting for someone and in this case, fronting for radical right billionaires.

Money never sleeps. Follow the money.

Maurice T. Cunningham is recently retired as an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a union member. He is the author of the book Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization, forthcoming in 2022.