CNS And The False School Board Narrative
CNSNews.com parroted its Media Research Center parent in pushing the falsehood that a national school boards group and the Justice Department want to criminalize all people who speak out at school board meetings.
By Terry Krepel
Susan Jones surprisingly started out an Oct. 5 article by sticking to the actual facts:
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday announced a new effort to "address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel."
However, Jones quickly started casting doubt on the letter from the National School Boards Association that prompted Garland's effort, then quickly embraced the bogus narrative:
The letter cites more than twenty instances of (alleged) threats, harassment, disruption, and acts of intimidation that have transpired during school board meetings and that are targeted at school officials. "As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes," the NSBA wrote.
But even the MRC has admitted at no point did the NSBA letter explicitly portray mere criticism as terrorism, making it a lie for Jones to suggest that it did and that any such link was only "suggested" -- which leaves lots of room for partisan interpretation and the creation of a false narrative.
The next day, however, Jones was fully on board with that false narrative, uncritically repeating Republicans politicians' bogus claims calling it a crackdown on all "parental speech":
Several Republican lawmakers are condemning what they call a "dangerous overreach" in "going after parents."
Melanie Arter joined the dishonest pile-on in an Oct. 6 article that began with reciting the actual case made by the NSBA and Garland, then weirdly waited until the ninth paragraph to discuss the issue that was the actual headline, as promoted by the MRC's favorite biased White House reporter, Peter Doocy:
When asked whether the administration considers parents who are upset about their children’s curriculum to be domestic terrorists, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that threats and violence against public servants, particularly school board members, is illegal.
Arter lazily left Psaki's answer -- that "threats and violence against public servants is illegal" -- buried in a transcript excerpt, though that statement was also the headline of her piece.
Arter followed up on Oct. 7 with an article uncritically quoting Republican Sen. Marco Rubio complaining that "parents who show up at school board meetings to protest critical race theory or mandatory mask mandates are being demonized while left-wing protesters are encouraged by Democrats and the media to harass members of Congress that they disagree with":
“First of all, it's alarming, and second of all, it’s hypocritical. It’s alarming because this idea that somehow if parents show up at a school board to complain, if somebody there decides, well we don't like his tone of voice, we don't like how loud he’s speaking, we don’t like how often he shows up, you can be reported,” Rubio told “Fox News Primetime.”CNS clearly had its marching orders -- to work with Republican and right-wing activists to repeat this bogus claim far and wide and as loudly as possible. And so it did.
Managing editor Michael W. Chapman used an Oct. 7 article to serve as stenographer for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who cited Garland "directing the FBI to treat parents who speak out at school board meetings as 'domestic terrorists" as evidence that Democrats are "jackbooted thugs."Chapman uncritically called in other right-wing firepower: "According to the conservative Heritage Foundation, 'The Garland memo looks like an effort to use the FBI to threaten and silence parents who are outspoken opponents of critical race theory in schools. That alone would be a stunning partisan abuse of power. What Garland has done, however, is even more disgraceful.'" But threatening and silencing school boards is apparently perfectly fine with Heritage and Chapman.
The same day, Arter gave another politician's lying, paranoid rant a pass:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who was accosted by Black Lives Matter protesters while he was with his wife, said Wednesday that the DOJ is criminalizing parents who show up at school board meetings angry over mask mandates and critical race theory curriculum in schools, but protesters on the left who use violence are getting off with a slap on the wrist.
Chapman returned to bring his favorite hateful evangelical activist to spread the lie:
Noting that communist governments use their power to silence their citizens, Rev. Franklin Graham said the Biden administration is doing exactly that by trying to silence parents who oppose the teaching of Critical Race Theory in their children's schools.
Chapman did no fact-check on Graham, even though his reporters had previously outlined the truth about what Garland and the NSBA are doing. That's because Chapman knows pushing employer-mandated right-wing narratives is more important to keeping his job than reporting the truth.
An Oct. 11 article by Megan Williams hyped a right-wing senator pushing the false narrative on the show of CNS' favorite right-wing media presence:
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) slammed the Biden Administration for ignoring the “violent crime surge across our country,” and instead working “to shut down parents from speaking” out about critical race theory on Sunday's "Life, Liberty & Levin."
Arter gave right-wing drama over the issue prominence in an Oct. 21 article about Attorney General Merrick Garland testifying before Congress:
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday that the DOJ “supports and defends the 1st Amendment rights of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children, about the curriculum taught in their schools.”
Another Arter article the same day on that hearing pushed a related distraction in order to attack Garland: "Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) grilled Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday about whether he sought ethics counsel before issuing a memo responding to the National School Board Association’s request for the DOJ to address threats and violence from parents upset about critical race theory being added to school curriculum. During a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, Johnson pointed out that Garland’s son-in-law co-founded a company that publishes and sells critical race theory to schools nationwide."
An Oct. 27 article by Susan Jones featured more testimony from Garland at a different hearing, while also making sure to give the false narrative prominence:
Critics of the memo -- including many parents, Republican politicians, and even some local school boards -- say the memo is intended to chill the speech of furious parents who may fear a knock on the door from the FBI after speaking at a school board meeting.
Jones provided no evidence that these "critics" were correct in assuming that all parents were being targeted simply for speaking out. Nor did she or the other CNS writers explain why law enforcement is not allowed to be proactive and must wait until violence against a school member actually occurs before taking action against violent threats.
But because it's a talking point to nitpick the letter and Garland's response. Which is the rationale documented in an Oct. 28 article by Jones:
Attorney General Merrick Garland's Oct. 4 memo states, "There has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff." Yet neither Garland nor his Justice Department looked into the alleged parental threats raised by the National School Boards Association.
Again, neither Jones nor Cruz explained that the narrative is a lie or why law enforcement is not allowed to be proactive.
Jones used a Nov. 2 article to uncritically quote Sen. Mitch McConnell claiming that Garland "just wrote an entire memo singling out concerned parents who speak up at their local school board meetings. Arter similarly uncritically quoted Republican Rep. Rob Wittman advancing the false narrative:
“And when they see a letter from the National School Board Association that asks the attorney general of the United States to go after parents who speak out at school board meetings under the Patriot Act and to be treated as terrorists, let me tell you folks, they are deeply concerned about that, and then when the attorney general follows suit and goes to the federal law enforcement agencies and says, by the way, look at these parents and what they’re doing at these school board meetings, what they are practicing their 1st Amendment rights to speak out and to demand that their school systems reflect what’s best for their children,” he said.
That bogus narrative spread to CNS' commentary section as well. An Oct. 6 commentary by the Heritage Foundation's GianCarlo Canaparo and Mike Howell did its best to mislead readers:
Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo on Monday directing the Department of Justice and the FBI to “launch a series of additional efforts in the coming days designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”
Why should anyone wait until a school board member gets injured or killed before action is taken here? Shouldn't law enforcement be proactive in a volatile environment where things can easily escalate to violence? Interestingly, neither Canaparo explicitly denounce violence or the threat of violence against school boards; indeed, they praise parents for being "justifiably angry," and that "The tactics thus far employed certainly are nothing compared to the riots of the summer of 2020 that destroyed over a billion dollars in property and resulted in multiple deaths" -- thus, it seems, implicitly endorsing violence against school board members.
The right-wing Family Research Council's Meg Kilgannon contributed an Oct. 7 column to false fearmongering as well (though she, unlike the Heritage writers, did denounce violence):
Family Research Council condemns violence. Parents who have tried in good faith to work with elected officials to remove pornographic books from school libraries or to expose injustices in programs for children with disabilities are often harassed and demeaned, banned from meetings, or silenced. This latest insult from the DOJ, at the behest of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), is dangerous and authoritarian.
If the NSBA's complaint was so "ridiculous," why did Kilgannon feel the need to remind readers that the FRC "condemns violence"? Because it knows that things could easily escalate to that level, given how it and other right-wing activists have whipped up the frenzy over critical race theory and other hot-button issues.
Kilgannon went on to tout the FRC's resources for parents, which include a "School Board Boot Camp," which certainly doesn't sound very benign.
FRC leader Tony Perkins tried to manufacture a conspiracy theory in an Oct. 14 column:
The federal government isn't exactly a bastion of efficiency. In fact, entire late-night comedy routines have been written about the glacial pace of Washington. So how is it that Joe Biden's Justice Department managed to snap to attention and mobilize against parents within hours of the National School Board Association's complaint? That's simple, one legal group says, if it was the president's idea to begin with.
Like the other writers, Perkins doesn't explain why officials should wait for injury or death of a school board member before getting involved. He also doesn't mention the fact that the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has demonstrated that right-wingers will resort to violence. Indeed, threats against public officials have surged, making it even more important to be proactive.
Ellie Wittman of the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom repeated the false narrative in an Oct. 29 commentary: "On top of all that, the Department of Justice is essentially treating parents as 'domestic terrorists' by directing the FBI to investigate them in what seems an attempt to intimidate them into silence."
Trashing the NSBA
CNS also made sure to highlight state-level school board groups quitting the NSBA because of this false narrative. An Oct. 27 article by managing editor Michael W. Chapman pushed the false narrative in hyping criticism of the school board that originally sought help from Garland:
Although the National School Boards Association (NSBA) apologized for labeling parents concerned about left-wing curricula as potential domestic terrorists, the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) has dropped its membership in the NSBA, asserting that it rejects "the labeling of parents as domestic terrorists."
Again: An MRC fact-check admitted that the HSBA letter never actually calls all parents "domestic terrorists" merely for speaking out.
Craig Bannister served up his own version of the false narrative in a Dec. 8 article:
Since the National School Board Association (NSBA) sent a letter asking the Justice Department, FBI and Secret Service to treat parents protesting radical school policies as domestic terrorists, 17 state school board associations have left and stopped funding the NSBA.
That portrayal is a lie, and Bannister knows it -- which is why he selectively quoted the letter (and why he did not directly link to a copy of the letter but to an Axios article about the NSBA's loss of funding). In fact, as documented in another Axios article, the letter itself (which has been removed from the NSBA website) listed numerous examples of violence, harassment and intimidation, adding that the "classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes."
That sums up the dishonesty with which CNS has treated this issue.