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The MRC's School Wars, Part 3: The False Narrative

The Media Research Center wants you to believe that a national school boards group and the Justice Department want to criminalize every person who speaks at a school board meeting. But even the MRC's own fact-check didn't back up that claim.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/16/2021

When the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Biden expressing concern over increasingly violent attacks against school board members over mask mandates and manufactured right-wing outrage over critical race theory and other culture-war issues, The Media Research Center knew what it had to do: dishonestly frame the letter as an attack on all parents purporting to be concerned about their children. That's the frame Kyle Drennen used in an Oct. 1 post:
On Thursday and Friday, CBS Evening News and NBC’s Today show both hyped an outrageous demand from the left-wing National School Boards Association (NSBA) that the Biden administration treat parents protesting at school board meetings across the country as acts of “domestic terrorism.” Rather than call out the extreme overreaction, the networks eagerly touted the wild attempt to get the federal government to go after concerned citizens.

“Cry for help. A shocking turn in the fight over vaccine and mask mandates in school,” co-host Savannah Guthrie proclaimed at the top of NBC’s Today show Friday morning. She then parroted the incendiary rhetoric coming from the NSBA, a group loaded with Democratic Party donors: “School boards across the country calling on the White House to send federal agents to protect them from angry parents, saying their protests should be treated as domestic terrorism.”

Minutes later, fellow co-host Hoda Kotb declared:“There are some very shocking images of parents and protesters pushing back and now school boards from coast to coast are demanding help.” The footage that ran on screen showed one individual getting into a scuffle with another man at a school board meeting, the rest of the supposedly “shocking images” were of protesters peacefully holding up signs or chanting.

Of course, the NSBA never asked that all parents who spoke at school board meetings, and Drennen is lying by suggesting otherwise. The letter cited specific instances of extremism:

An individual was arrested in Illinois for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct during a school board meeting. During two separate school board meetings in Michigan, an individual yelled a Nazi salute in protest to masking requirements, and another individual prompted the board to call a recess because of opposition to critical race theory.

In New Jersey, Ohio, and other states, anti-mask proponents are inciting chaos during board meetings. In Virginia, an individual was arrested, another man was ticketed for trespassing, and a third person was hurt during a school board meeting discussion distinguishing current curricula from critical race theory and regarding equity issues. In other states including Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Tennessee, school boards have been confronted by angry mobs and forced to end meetings abruptly.


In Ohio, an individual mailed a letter to a school board member labeling the return address on the envelope from a local neighborhood association and then enclosing threatening hate mail from another entity. This correspondence states that, “We are coming after you and all the members on the ... BoE [Board of Education].” This hate mail continues by stating, “You are forcing them to wear mask—for no reason in this world other than control. And for that you will pay dearly.” Among other incendiaries, this same threat also calls the school board member a “filthy traitor,” implies loss of pension funds, and labels the school board as Marxist. Earlier this month, a student in Tennessee was mocked during a board meeting for advocating masks in schools after testifying that his grandmother, who was an educator, died because of COVID-19. These threats and acts of violence >are affecting our nation’s democracy at the very foundational levels, causing school board members – many who are not paid – to resign immediately and/or discontinue their service after their respective terms.

It didn't matter that the MRC's portrayal of the letter had no real basis in reality -- it had a narrative, and it could make use of it. Kristine Marsh pumped up the dishonest narrative the same day as Drennen's piece:

As parents protest across the country against school mask mandates and dangerous political ideologies like Critical Race Theory being taught to their children, the liberal media has been out to demonize these concerned parents as menaces to society.

Such was the case Friday morning, as CNN invited the president of the National School Boards Association on to stoke fear against parent protesters, or as CNN called them, “angry mobs.” (Yes, this is the same network that refused to use that word or “riot” during violent left-wing riots last Summer.)

The complete dramatic chyron read on screen, “Intense Threat: Schools Beg Biden for FBI Protection Against Angry Mobs.” Angry parents probably just didn’t sound scary enough.

NSBA President Viola Garcia was on the program after she wrote a letter to President Biden yesterday demanding that the feds treat parent protesters as “domestic terrorists.”New Day host Brianna Keilar was very sympathetic to Garcia, even doing her a favor by hiding that gross part about calling parents “terrorists” from the interview.

The NSBA didn't call all parents "terrorists", and Marsh knows it. Like Drennen, she's lying by suggesting otherwise. Yet she repeated her lie in an Oct. 6 post: "Last week, the National School Board Association president called on President Biden to get the FBI involved in policing parents at school board meetings, labeling them as 'domestic terrorists.' This week, Attorney General Merrick Garland happily gave in to this demand."

So dedicated was the MRC to its bogus narrative that it lashed out when the falsity of it was proven. A curiously anonymous Oct. 6 item ranted:

The Associated Press is being criticized on Twitter for getting a fact-check wrong on a hot topic.

Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, detailed the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) request that the federal government crackdown on anti-critical race theory. Rufo highlighted the NSBA’s labeling of parental protests as “domestic terrorism.”

The Associated Press quickly pushed back against the story, and issued a fact-check saying the NSBA “is not asking the Biden administration to label parents who protest school policies domestic terrorists.”

“Contrary to false claims circulating online, the National School Boards Association didn’t ask President Joe Biden to label protesting parents ‘domestic terrorists,’ and there’s no indication Biden or the Justice Department called them terrorists, either,” the AP tweeted.

The fact-check is easily disputed by the NSBA’s own letter, however, which suggested to the Biden administration that parent protests "could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism." The letter also recommended prosecution of the parents under the "PATRIOT Act."

Attorney General Merrick Garland reportedly responded to the letter and instructed the FBI to monitor such protest, citing violent "threats."

Conservatives on Twitter slammed the AP for the incorrect fact-check.

How dare the AP call out the MRC's dishonesty! But note that the anonymous MRC writer cited no specific instances in which the NSBA letter stated it was calling parents who merely speak out at meetings "domestic terrorists" -- all that was offered up was that the idea was merely "suggested."

And of course "Conservatives on Twitter slammed the AP"; that's the mob response the MRC wants to provoke whenever the AP blows up a cherished right-wing narrative. But the AP fact-check was not "wrong" or "incorrect" -- it was very correct, and the MRC was lying. And it lied again in an Oct. 10 post -- also anonymously written -- complaining that 'Facebook is allegedly using a debunked fact-check from The Associated Press to censor posts for criticizing critical race theory." Again, the MRC offered no specific text from the letter explicitly demanding that parents who merely protest be labeled terrorists.

Why did the MRC writer of those posts choose to remain anonymous? Perhaps because he or she didn't want to put their name on an obvious lie.

Once again, the MRC's narrative became more important than the truth. Not a good look for an organization that claims to be all about "media research." Nicholas Fondacaro -- who knows all about bad looks and spreading lies -- ranted in a Oct. 6 post cheering how Fox News also embraced the bogus narrative:

Last week, both CBS Evening News and NBC’s Today show peddled a smear against concerned parents protesting and rallying against their local school boards, parroting comments from the National School Boards Association attacking them as taking part in “domestic terrorism.” Now with the Biden Justice Department sicking the FBI’s anti-terrorism assets on American parents, those networks didn’t want to share how the parents they besmirched were fighting back.


But with the federal government this week showing they’re determined to fight against parental rights using lies and smears, the parents weren’t going to put up with it.

“Breaking tonight, the increasing pushback against the Biden administration over its efforts to stifle dissent on the part of parents against school boards disregarding their wishes over the children's education,” announced Fox News fill-in anchor Mike Emanuel on Wednesday’s Special Report.

Fox News correspondent Mark Meredith reported that Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke “says the Justice Department stands by its recent memo directing the government to do more to protect school board members from what it sees as an escalating threat of violence.”

The next day, Scott Whitlock huffed: "All three network newscasts this week buried the move by radical Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate and harass parents who speak out on issues like Critical Race Theory at school board meetings across the country. A Justice Department memo slimed those challenging CRT and other issues as possibly being part of an insurgent 'violent' effort to 'intimidate' schools." But as we detailed, the NSBA cited specific threats of violence and intimidation, and it never portrayed all parents who speak out as domestic terrorists.

Fondacaro returned to lie some more on Oct. 18, again giving a cookie to a right-wing outlet that stayed on message with the false narrative:

Over the weekend, a group of parents gathered outside the Department of Justice to protest the suggestion that parents outraged at radical leftist school boards were domestic terrorists. They stayed on message against schools poisoning kids with Critical Race Theory and apparent pornography in school books. Meanwhile, the evening newscasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC kept silent on the rally as the networks previously backed the smear or remained silent on the topic.

In later September and early October, CBS Evening News and NBC’s Today show hyped a demand from the radical leftist National School Boards Association (NSBA) that demanded concerned parents protesting at school board meetings be declared domestic terrorists and have the terrible power of the federal government brought to bear against them.


As for what actually happened at the weekend rally, we look to Daily Caller education reporter Kendall Tietz. “Frustration at school boards boiled over for some parents and activists who protested outside of the Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C. Sunday,” she reported.

Adding: “A small crowd gathered for the ‘Parents Are Not ‘Domestic Terrorists’ Rally,’ a reference to Merrick Garland’s Oct. 4 memorandum that called on the FBI to “use its authority” in response to the ‘disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.’”

Tim Graham repeated the lie on Oct. 19 about a supposedly softball interview CBS did with first lady Jill Biden: "There were no difficult questions about how Attorney General Merrick Garland wants to investigate angry parents who attend school board meetings (as the National School Boards Association compares them to domestic terrorists). "

Fondacaro spouted the lie again on Oct. 21:

Earlier this month, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Biden administration used federal actions in an attempt to chill the exercise of free speech by concerned parents protesting their school boards after they were equated to domestic terrorists by the National School Boards Association. But on Thursday, Garland was held to account by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee in a heated hearing that went unreported by the evening newscast of ABC, CBS, and NBC.

When the NSBA was forced to backtrack in the face of the dishonest attacks by the MRC and other right-wingers, Scott Whitlock was still clinging to the lie in an Oct. 25 post:

Late on Friday night, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) belatedly apologized for language that linked concerned parents to domestic terrorists. But all three networks from Friday to Monday morning ignored the organization retreating, “On behalf of NSBA, we regret and apologize for the letter.... There was no justification for some of the language included in the letter.”

The original letter in question claimed that some actions by parents “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” On the weekend morning and evening newscasts, as well as Monday, the apology went unmentioned. NBC’s Sunday Today, however, offered a new hit piece on parents, falsely claiming that Critical Race Theory is not in schools and also blaming the whole thing on “former Tea Partiers.”

Yet the lie went on. Drennen huffed in an Oct. 28 post about "the DOJ complying with a now-withdrawn letter from the National School Board Association labeling parents speaking out at local school board meetings 'domestic terrorists.'"

Mark FInkelstein tried to dishonestly frame the letter in an Oct. 29 post, ironically while accusing CNN's Brianna Keilar of dishonestly framing it:

Co-host Brianna Keilar claimed "we should be clear" that there was a letter from the school board association to the Biden administration. But rather than being clear, Keilar was clearly deceptive. She framed the letter as simply "looking for help, because clearly school boards have been suffering a lot of violent threats, and a lot of tumult."

What she failed to disclose was that the school board association letter—signed by its two most senior officials—branded parent protests as " domestic terrorism."

Yes, when parents reacted with outrage to the accusation, the association subsequently withdrew the letter. But that "domestic terrorism" bell couldn't be un-rung. It was that accusation that Garland responded to with his memo to federal law enforcement.

Of course, Finkelstein can't point to any wording in the letter that specifically accused all parents of taking part in "domestic terrorism" -- because it doesn't exist.

As with its other school attacks, the MRC's interest in this story waned after Youngkin was elected Virginia governor on Nov. 2. Matt Philbin served up its own unique version of the false narrative -- which did shockingly admit the truth that some parents were acting "stupid and irresponsible" -- in a snarky Nov. 10 post:

Parents electing conservative school boards may stand in the way of brave teachers trying to dismantle the systemic racism of third grade. Parents have been showing up to school board meetings and making a terrible racket. They smell of Hamburger Helper and rage.  

Allegedly, some have been stupid and irresponsible enough to threaten school board members, causing an anguished plea from the National School Boards Association to the Biden Justice Department. AG Merrick “We Dodged a Freakin’ Bullet” Garland complied, scrambling the feds to root out “harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators.” Parentes delenda est.

But out in the sticks, things look a little different. Accusing concerned moms of  “a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” doesn’t play in Peoria.
So are they "stupid and irresponsible" parents or merely "concerned moms"? Like the rest, Philbin provides no evidence that anyone accused merely "concerned moms" of acting in a terroristic way, but he also doesn't seem to concede that the parents making threats were acting in a terroristic manner, either.

Whitlock repeated the lie again in a Nov. 12 post:

All three networks on Thursday night and Friday morning ignored bombshell new e-mails that indicate the White House, the National School Board Association (NSBA) and the Justice Department may have been coordinating in the now infamous e-mail smearing upset parents as the equivalent of domestic terrorists. 

Whitlock went on to praise Fox News for advancing the story.

Kristine Marsh falsely claimed in a Nov. 14 post that Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin had "whitewashed the National School Boards Association together with Merrick Garland labeling parents as domestic terrorists to gripe about parent 'temper tantrums'," going on to justify the anger by labeling targeted school boards as "far-left" and "radically left." Marsh provided no evidence to support either claim.

Fondacaro hyped a shady story in a Nov. 16 post:

The liberal media have super hearing when it comes to picking up the “racist dog whistles” they suggest spurs opposition to Critical Race Theory in schools. But when it comes to certain whistleblowers in the federal government, they suddenly need hearing aids. That was exactly the case on Tuesday when the broadcast networks didn’t want anything to do with an FBI whistleblower warning Congress that the bureau is indeed tracking parents who are upset with their local school boards.

Instead of reporting on this disturbing turn toward an Orwellian society, ABC’s World News Tonight gushed about one of their reporters going down to Antarctica to see the emperor penguins and go for a swim. CBS Evening News noted a settlement in the class-action lawsuit against TikTok for collecting users’ personal information. And NBC Nightly News touted General Motors’ new electric car factory.

Meanwhile, the story was breaking news on Fox News Channel’s Special Report.

Of course it was. Fondacaro did not name the whistleblower, and we know how the MRC feels about anonymous sources -- they're not to be trusted unless they're attacking non-conservatives. There was no apparent corroboration for this story, according to Fondacaro's loving writeup of what Fox News did -- just a partisan Republican congressman pushing this claim. Still, Fondacaro felt the need to huff: "This all stemmed from a disgusting letter the National School Boards Associate [sic] admittedly wrote with coordination from the White House, the Department of Justice, and Homeland Security among others, which described parents protesting at school board meetings as 'domestic terrorism.'"

One other thing worth noting: By embracing the false narrative that the NSBA letter called all parents domestic terrorists, the MRC absolved itself from ever criticizing the specific examples of intimidation and violence the letter cited -- thus suggesting it endorses that intimidation and violence in furtherance of its right-wing agenda. When you're dealing with liars, would you expect anything different?

The MRC has clearly decided that pounding right-wing narratives is more important than telling the truth. It may be politically expedient, but the ultimate result is that nobody will be able to trust anything the MRC puts out. Is that what they really want?

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