ConWebWatch home
ConWebBlog: the weblog of ConWebWatch
Search and browse through the ConWebWatch archive
About ConWebWatch
Who's behind the news sites that ConWebWatch watches?
Letters to and from ConWebWatch
ConWebWatch Links
Buy books and more through ConWebWatch

The MRC's DeSantis Defense Brigade: History Lessons

When Ron DeSantis changed black history lessons in Florida to teach that slaves benefited from skills learned while enslaved, the Media Research Center rushed to defend the dubious teaching.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/27/2023

When it became public that new standards in Florida for teaching black history involved teaching that slaves "developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” the Media Research Center's DeSantis Defense Brigade knew it was time for assemble once again. Alex Christy complained in a July 20 post:
Florida has come out with their new curriculum guidelines for African-American history and MSNBC’s Ana Cabrera invited Vanderbilt Prof. Michael Eric Dyson on to her Thursday show to talk about how they allegedly are comparable to teaching that there were good things about the Holocaust.

Before introducing Dyson, Cabrera cited the two most controversial aspects of the new standards, “the new standards say students should learn that enslaved people developed skills that, quote, ‘could be applied for their personal benefit.’ And that during lessons about mob violence against black residents, teachers should include “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.’”

Christy served up a kneejerk defense of that talking point:

It would not be totally unreasonable to look at the part that related to skill acquisition and say that Florida is making it seem as if slavery had a redeeming quality, which would be a mistake on the state’s part, but a more charitable explanation would be that the state is pointing out that slaves performed various tasks, such as tailoring or blacksmithing in addition to manual agricultural labor, that were used after emancipation.

Intern Ana Schau similarly grumbled in a post the same day:

Thursday’s CNN This Morning featured a segment where hosts Abby Phillip and Phil Mattingly expressed how appalled they were at Florida’s new standards for education in black history. Joined by CNN national correspondent Athena Jones, they spoke about how these “inaccurate” and “ahistorical” changes would disable teachers from teaching “the proper history,” and how they were “very disturbing when it comes to actually teaching accurate history in the schools.”


It is just a fact that many of the skills, especially agricultural skills, that these people acquired while working on plantations probably benefitted them immensely when they gained emancipation and were able to work their own land and earn money for themselves.

Schau offered no evidence to back up her claim; perhaps she felt she didn't need to since she declared to be "just a fact." She continued to insist that the standards were being misrepresented (bolding in original):

Jones then continued to complain about another change, which was the requirement for teachers to teach about “acts of violence perpetrated by African Americans” during various historical massacres and riots that targeted black people.

When pointing this out, she omitted the two words, “against and” included in the Academic Standards, which required education on “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.” Seems like an important thing to note, since this just entailed equal and honest instruction about all the acts of violence performed in these massacres, regardless of the race of those who committed them.

This was one detail that Jones clearly didn’t know about, since she complained that “these standards say you have to talk about acts of violence perpetrated by blacks,” as though that was all they said.

Again, no evidence was offered that crimes committed by blacks were "equal and honest" to those committed against them.

When Vice President Kamala Harris criticized the new standard, there were more complaints. Alex Christy whined in a July 22 post that there are many more references to slavery in the standards and not all them treat it positively:

Washington Post contributor Gary Abernathy and associate editor Jonathan Capehart joined PBS NewsHour’s Geoff Bennett to recap the week that was by not only excluding any mention of the House hearing on IRS whistleblowers alleging improper interference in the Hunter Biden investigation, but finding consensus that Vice President Harris is correct to attack Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s new history standards.

Bennett put the ball on the tee for Abernathy by noting “I want to raise the trip that the vice president, Kamala Harris, made to Florida today. It was a last-minute trip, and she was tackling changes to the state's education standards that appear to play down the horrors of slavery.”

Specifically, “The Florida Board of Education voted this week to approve revised Black history curriculum that includes instruction how slaves actually benefited from slavery because they learned some skills.”

In Florida’s new guidelines, there are 191 references to “slave,” “slaves,” or “slavery,” and the media is hyper-focused on only one of them. Nevertheless, Abernathy replied, “Yeah, it's ridiculous. I don't know what the fear is of teaching Black history, of teaching the horrors of slavery, of teaching what a horrible chapter in our history was. There's nothing to be afraid of with that teaching. It's — you know what? We’ve downplayed it too much in the past.”

Kevin Tober launched a major rantfest over Harris' criticism:

Late last week, Vice President Kamala Harris told one of the most heinous lies the Biden regime has ever uttered, which is quite the accomplishment considering this regime has zero regard for the truth as long as it gets in the way of the left's agenda to bring the United States to its knees. It was so important to Harris that she got on a plane to Jacksonville Florida to maliciously spread the foul claim that Florida is teaching that slavery had some good aspects and had many benefits to those enslaved. This is obviously a flat-out lie and during Sunday's edition of State of the Union on CNN, senior political commentator Scott Jennings had enough of the propaganda and called it out.

After the other panelists simply regurgitated the lies about Florida's new educational curriculum, Jennings jumped in to express his outrage at the irresponsible statements from the Vice President "It’s amazing to me that how little Kamala Harris has to do that she can read something on Twitter one day and be on an airplane the next to make something literally out of nothing," Jennings exclaimed.

"This is a completely made-up deal. I looked at the standards, I even looked at an analysis of the standards, in every instance where the word slavery or slave was used. I even read the statement of the African American scholars that wrote the standards. Not Ron DeSantis, but the scholars," he added.

And where did that "analysis of the standards" come from? The right-wing National Review, which can be relied upon to be biased in favor of Republicans like DeSantis. Tober described the National Review article as a "fantastic piece" but did not disclose its right-wing bias.

When a token Fox News liberal spoke out against the standards, Tim Graham huffed in a July 24 post that "Juan Williams took the Democratic hot takes to a new level, that Florida was teaching something like 'Jews picked up some skills in concentration camps' and 'engineers learned a lot" from 9/11.'" He touted that right-wing panelist "Katie Pavlich also noted the Florida standards talk a lot about teaching the horrors of slavery. But Williams could only try to suggest Ron DeSantis & Co. were like whitewashers of 9/11 and the Holocaust."

When an MSNBC "Morning Joe" panelist said that "we can't teach the correct history of this country, because it makes white kids uncomfortable," Mark Finkelstein retorted: "That is patently untrue. In Florida and in other states, kids of all races are taught about the evils of slavery. What DeSantis and others object to is kids being taught that slavery is the essence of the American story, and that every aspect of American life must be viewed through the lens of systemic racism that never ends." Finkelstein offered no proof that slavery is not part of "the American story" or that racism has completely ended.

Nicholas Fondacaro melted down when "The View" tacked the subject:

Disney and ABC’s The View was flooded with racism again on Monday, as the liberal ladies reacted to Florida adopting new standards for their black history courses and pushed misinformation peddled by Vice President Kamala Harris (D). During their unhinged and profanity-laced hot takes, racist co-host Sunny Hostin attacked ALL white people by insisting they “continue to reap the benefits” of slavery. Meanwhile, moderator Whoopi Goldberg suggested Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was trying to bring back slavery.

Largely ignoring (in one case scoffing) the fact the curriculum was written by multiple black scholars, Goldberg claimed they put it together without talking to any black people. “I feel like they didn't talk to any African Americans because we could have told them about the history, and nor have any -- anyone seemingly gone to the Smithsonian to find out anything,” she decried.

Yes, Fondacaro thinks talking about racism means you're racist (and he didn't disprove anything the co-hosts said), and he still thinks Hostin is a "racist" because he doesn't understand how metaphors work.

Cassandra DeVries complained that DeSantis was criticized for doubling down on those dubious standards:

CNN This Morning disparaged Presidential Candidate Ron DeSantis on Monday for commenting on a Florida curriculum update on slavery. Political commentator Errol Louis called DeSantis’s brief explanation a “disgraceful hash of history” and a “disgraceful pander.” Mario Parker, Bloomberg’s national politics team leader, alleged DeSantis was “disgraceful to defend slavery — to double down on it.” Despite the harsh backlash for his explanation, DeSantis never condoned or supported slavery.

CNN’s anger arose from Florida’s slavery curriculum summary. In a list of 191 points about the horrible truths of slavery, one read, “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

DeVries then botched a fact-check:

When DeSantis offered a list of people who proved the clause was historically accurate, Anchor Erica Hill claimed he manipulated the truth. “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good narrative here, right?” Hill said.

“Don’t let the facts get in the way of a disgraceful pander in the case of Ron DeSantis,” Louis replied, after claiming 12 out of 14 of the people were listed as freedmen, not slaves, and thus could not serve as examples. He conveniently forgot the term freedmen referred to freed slaves, who did, in fact, fit the description DeSantis offered.

We're not sure what list DeVries is referring to, but two of the members of the workgroup that developed the standards released a list of 16 people whom they claimed were former slaves who allegedly learned skills in slavery they applied later in life. As one researcher documented, nine people on the list were born free and never enslaved, several were listed in the wrong industry, most did not use the skills learned in slavery later in life, and one was the (white) sister of George Washington.

Of course, Graham made sure to whine about all of this in his July 24 podcast.

Curtis Houck cheered fellow right-wing outlets for helping it defend DeSantis in a July 24 post that also included a coverage count (and touted that biased National Review defense again):

Starting Friday morning and running through Monday morning, the major broadcast networks spend nearly 20 minutes (19:43) on their flagship morning and evening newscasts cheering lies peddled by Vice President Kamala Harris over the “controversial” new Florida Department of Education standards on African-American history that they insist “rewrite[s] history” and slavery as a good thing.

ABC, CBS, and NBC were shameless in their childish, fact-free partisanship and swooning over Florida facing “growing outrage,” “sharp criticism,” and being “slammed,” “under fire,” and “under scrutiny.” But an actual inspection of the standards in the 216-page document (which National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke did masterfully) reveals Harris and the liberal media willingly peddled an odious lie.

Cooke wrote that Harris’s claims that Florida was promoting slavery “is an astonishing,” “brazen,” and “evil lie” that’s “so deliberately and cynically misleading — that, in a sensible political culture, Harris would be obligated to issue an apology.”


Townhall’s Guy Benson even pointed out the sentence about “skills” was not only “a minuscule fraction of what the curriculum calls for,” but “factually true” with the line in question mirroring “an encyclopedia published with the impriumatur of Oxford and Columbia universities' scholarship.”

None of these writers apparently disputed that the standard exists -- they simply tried to explain it away. And Houck didn't disclose the right-wing ideology of Cooke and Benson; the MRC regularly lectures that claims in the "liberal media" shouldn't be taken at face value, and one can assume that the same applies here as well.

Houck had a further meltdown in a post the next day:

ABC chief White House correspondent and Biden apple polisher Mary Bruce leveled an scurrilous insinuation and lie during Tuesday’s Good Morning America as, not only did she mention Governor Ron DeSantis’s (R-FL) Florida Board of Education in the same breath as the horrific lynching of Emmett Till, but she suggested President Biden declaring three Till sites a national monument would ensure accurate teachings of black history (unlike in the Sunshine State).

The segment started off innocently with co-host Robin Roberts declaring before she tossed to Bruce: “We’re going to go now to President Biden set to sign a proclamation this afternoon that will establish a national monument honoring Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till Mobley.”

And after Bruce’s hitjob of a report, Roberts didn’t engage and kept the focus on the Tills, saying his mother was “so have an open casket” at his funeral.


After pointing out Biden “is roughly the same age that Till would have been,” Bruce made the insanely partisan turn by insisting this announcement “comes as we are seeing this controversial and very polarizing debate in this country over the teaching of black history.”

“That move by the Florida Board of Education to teach some slaves may have benefitted from the skills they developed is sparking a firestorm,” Bruce added.

She concluded with more spin from her friends in the White House: “But, Robin, this White House says monuments like this to Till will help teach the complete story of our nation's history[.]”

First, the phrase “it comes as” was a classic trope used to tie two things together, whether or not they’re actually related. Second, it’s only “controversial and very polarizing” because some academics and much of the media had outsourced their history education to a blatant fraud.

That "blatant fraud" is the 1619 Project, which in fact largely holds up. Houck cited Cooke's ideological claims again, then helped DeSantis play victim by asserting that "the linkage was no accident given the liberal media’s purposeful attempt to bury DeSantis and smear Florida."

A post by Alex Christy once again made a point of context when it works for right-wing narratives, attacking PolitiFact for finding that Vice President Kamala Harris' criticism of the standards is correct:

PolitiFact waded into the controversy surrounding Florida’s new history standards by rating Vice President Kamala Harris “mostly true” for her statement that the state is teaching “enslaved people benefited from slavery.” To reach such a conclusion the trio of Sofia Bliss-Carrascosa, Louis Jacobson, and Amy Sherman had to tie themselves into a giant pretzel by simply downplaying evidence contrary to Harris’s allegation.

After summarizing the positions of Harris on one hand and Governor and potential 2024 rival Ron DeSantis and Republicans on the other, the authors write, “Although the new standards include many conventional lesson points about the history of slavery, they also include a sentence that enslaved people developed skills that ‘could be applied for their personal benefit’ — and this has drawn heated rebuttals from historians, who consider it factually misleading and offensive for seeming to find a silver lining in slavery.”

Later in the article, they add “The rest of the document includes specific standards about slavery, including the development of slavery and the conditions for Africans as they were brought to America. It also covers how slave codes resulted in enslaved people becoming property without rights, abolitionist movements, state and federal laws, revolts by slaves, and the Civil War.” (emphasis added)

Further still, the trio quote two members of the working group, who are both black, that came up with the standards as correctly stating “the criticism took ‘a few isolated expressions without context.’”


PolitiFact can’t have it both ways. Either Florida teaches that slavery was awful because it deprived people of their rights or it teaches that slavery was benevolent. As the authors admit, the part about skill acquisition is just one of many parts of the new standards, meaning the “mostly true” rating for Harris is way too generous.

Christy defended DeSantis and the standards again in a July 27 post:

Late Wednesday night saw people close to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defend the state’s new history guidelines on slavery by pointing out that the Advanced Placement course that the media demanded the state adopt has very similar standards. However, Thursday’s viewers of CNN News Central were not informed of these latest developments as host Jim Sciutto conducted a softball interview with Alpha Phi Alpha General President Willis Lonzer III where he accused DeSantis of trying to “soften the brutality” of slavery.

Lonzer was on to discuss his fraternity’s decision to pull its convention out of Florida over the state’s allegedly “racist” policies when Sciutto asked him, “can you help folks understand exactly what the change is in how aspects of slavery will now be taught in Florida schools? Just so folks who may not have followed this closely understand exactly what the change in language was.”

According to Lonzer’s summation of the changes, Florida is trying “to suggest that those who were enslaved benefited from being in slavery, as if they came into this chattel slavery system, without any skills or any type of labor perception. And that's quite the opposite.”

Jeffrey Lord spent his July 29 column playing whataboutism to defend DeSantis and attack Democrats in lashing out at criticism of the standards:

The irony here? The volumes of irony? Nowhere in this Post editorial, nor in Bouie’s column or from MSNBC - nowhere - does it mention exactly which American political party came into being supporting the idea - made into policy - that slaves should be owned as “chattel by other human beings who stole their freedom, labor and bodily autonomy.”


Who, exactly, was benefitting from slavery - and how?

Answer: The Democratic Party was benefitting politically from slavery. Supporting slavery - and after that segregation and Jim Crow laws - is what won Democrats elections.


On and on - and on and on - goes The Post and Times and MSNBC silence on the real history of the Democratic Party. Instead, when it comes to analyzing the Florida Board of Education’s rules as supported by Governor DeSantis, they simply fall silent on the serious, indisputable history of race in America.

Lord did seem to concede that no Democratic Party platform since 1860 endorsed slavery, but he seems to be unaware that not only has the party evolved significantly since then, it effectively traded places with the Republican Party on racial matters, as Democrats who supported segregation migrated to the Republican Party in the 1960s. He then attacked Democrats for trying to counter racism:

Just as slavery supporters and segregationists gained election-winning political support for the Democrats, so now are their political descendants in the Democratic Party and the broader American Left still profiting from dividing Americans by race. That would be done by using the race-dividing grandson of slavery and the son of segregation known today as “identity politics.”

Lord concluded by claiming that the Democratic Party "needs to whitewash history to pretend it is something it has decidedly never been. And still isn’t." But Lord is whitewashing how Republicans are the ones currently more likely to act in a racist manner.

Miscellaneous defenses

While it was busy defending DeSantis over his revisionist black history curriculum in Florida schools, the MRC's DeSantis Defense Brigade studiously ignored other controversies involving the Florida governor:

  • DeSantis made a weird, racially tinged remark about basketball players.
  • The puppet board DeSantis installed to govern the land where Disney World is located voted to defund the police, slashing $8 million from the district's law enforcement budget.
  • DeSantis campaign workers created inflammatory pro-DeSantis videos intended to hype his campaign which were then laundered through anonymous accounts that would post the videos. One video featured a version of the Sonnenrad, a symbol of Nazi Germany.

Rather than tell its readers about any of this, the DeSantis Defense Brigade had other things to complain about, like trying to shoot down another negative story about how DeSantis loves to travel via private planes rather than flying commercial. Asa Schau was the designated defender (and whataboutism-hurler) in a July 25 post:

Monday morning’s CNN News Central featured an interview with Daily Beast columnist Matt Lewis, who co-host John Berman somehow labeled as a “conservative writer.” In promoting Lewis's new book Filthy Rich Politicians, Berman did not discuss the Biden Burisma bribes.

Instead, they decried Governor Ron DeSantis's preference for “private planes” to travel on the campaign trail as proof of a “lifestyle” that DeSantis has led as a result of his “high-profile political platform.”

Berman introduced the subject by quoting a New York Times article about the DeSantis campaign’s recent financial troubles, and how these may be related to DeSantis’s preference “to travel by private planes” instead of commercially:


This criticism of modern American politicians and their financial habits is not unmerited, but CNN doesn't use this as a general principle, but as an anti-Republican argument.

To illustrate how he thought DeSantis should try to rectify his allegedly sticky financial situation, Lewis brought up liberal media favorite John McCain, who “was flying commercial” to make campaign stops and go to fundraising events, and thus was apparently “able to turn it around” with his then-failing primary campaign in 2007.

A July 27 post by Clay Waters complained that the New York Times reported on the less-than-stellar record on COVID in Florida:

Sunday’s lead New York Times story by Sharon LaFraniere, Patricia Mazzei, and Albert Sun, “ was a retrospective hit piece for the 2024 presidential race. The trio of reporters reached back before current culture war controversies to focus on Florida’s Republican governor-presidential candidate and the alleged deadly medical malpractice he performed by discouraging vaccinations (not true) during Covid’s 2021 “Delta Wave.”

Digging into the numbers reveals Florida did perfectly well against Covid, while ensuring freedom of action and movements for its citizens. Interestingly, “masks,” which were once supposed to be our ticket out, are only mentioned once in this 3,200-word story.


The accompanying charts were staggeringly unconvincing: “Vaccination Rates From January to July 2021” showed the percentage of over-65 Americans “fully vaccinated” topping off at just over 80%, with Florida tracking with the national average after previously leading the pack. But there was always going to be a hard-core group of “never-vaxxers” in America, Florida residents or not. The chart shows Florida seniors…at the national average for vaccination in July 2021. Scandalous!

Waters didn't mention that among the "hard-core group of 'never-vaxxers'" is DSantis' own state surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo.

When the article noted that 80,000 Florida residents have died of COVID, Waters went into spin mode: "The pandemic left more than 108,000 Californians and more than 80,000 New York state residents dead. Where are the 3,000-word condemnations of California Gov. Gavin Newsom and former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo? Oh right, they’re Democrats." By focusing on raw numbers, Waters obscured the fact that the per capita death rate in Florida is higher than in California and New York.

Christy spent a July 28 post complaining that an awkward exchange between DeSantis and a child on the campaign trail got attention:

There is something about political figures and food that CNN Inside Politics host Dana Bash finds intensely fascinating and worthy of deep discussion. On Friday, the subject of discussion was Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis’s interaction on the campaign trail with a child about his Icee and what the impact it will have on his campaign.

During a larger discussion of the state of the DeSantis Campaign and its attempt to reboot itself, Bash introduced a clip of DeSantis, “There was a clip that I think probably is fair to say went sort of viral yesterday... In our world, which is the world that matters on Inside Politics. Ron DeSantis on the campaign trail was on that bus tour that Jessica was talking about interacting with a child about an Icee.”


After the video, senior political analyst Nia-Malika Henderson declared that “I don't know what's more awkward there. The ‘good to see you’ part to a child or the, you know, comments about the calorie count of an Icee. The problem that Ron DeSantis has, and we've been talking about it endlessly, doesn't have a lot of charisma, he's very awkward on the trail.”

She also insisted that, “sometimes he comes across as a humorless robot. And in a place like Iowa, in a place like New Hampshire where you're going to be greeting all sorts of people from kids with Icees to grandmas with Icees, he's got some work to do. Listen, I think the average small town mayor is probably better at sort of the nitty-gritty of politics than Ron DeSantis is. And we're sort of seeing that over and over in clips like this.”

Henderson never explained what is so awkward about telling a child that it is “good to see you.” While Henderson may be suggesting that DeSantis sugar shamed a child for eating a cold desert in the middle of the summer, other possible explanations include that DeSantis, as a father of young children, is used to keeping an eye on his kids’ sugar intake. Another possibility is that this whole thing is no big deal and CNN needs to make mountains out of molehills in order to fill time.

And Christy filled time at work by writing about this time-filler.

Waters returned for a July 28 post whining that Christiane Amanpour's show "brought on left-wing New York magazine journalist Rebecca Traister and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi for a long conversation harping on the evils of the racist, misogynistic presidential candidate, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis (almost as bad as Trump!) and reelecting Joe Biden, without the slightest of journalistic nods toward balance," moving swiftly to whataboutism:

Strangely, there was no mention of Vice President Kamala Harris, perhaps indicating that even the press realizes the American people have low confidence regarding her as a prospective president. There was also nothing about Hunter Biden’s expanding list of scandals, many of which touch his father the president himself.

In a July 31 post, Nicholas Fondacaro was still whining about criticism of Florida's black history standards as he also whined that it was pointed out that DeSantis was floundering in the polls:

A week ago, ABC’s pushed Vice President Kamala Harris’s BIG LIE that Florida schools were going to teach students that slavery was a good thing. On Monday, Disney’s attack dogs on the show took things to a disgusting and hypocritical low as faux-conservative Ana Navarro minimized the brutality of slavery when she suggested Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was getting a “beating” like a slave in the polls.

In a segment where they touted Republican presidential candidate Will Hurd attacking a Republican crowd in Iowa, Navarro was irate that former President Trump was still doing well in the polls. “[H]e's got over 50 percent. He's at 54 percent, and there's 200 other Republicans running, and you've got Trump at 54 percent,” she huffed.

She then turned her ire to DeSantis and mocked his poll numbers:

Ron DeSantis was supposed to be plan B, and he's ended up being plan bad. Very, very bad. He's at 17 percent. That's over 30 points under Donald Trump who's got two indictments and possibly a third and fourth before this month is over.

Navarro, a failed political strategist, suggested he should abandon updates to Florida’s black history curriculum by pushing the Vice President’s BIG LIE. She also used an analogy to compare the “beating” he was getting in the polls to that of the slaves and hoped he would “learn some skills” from it:

Again, the curriculum specifically states that slaves learned skills while enslaved that they used later in life -- which is arguably a take on saying that "slavery was a good thing," making it not a BIG LIE at all.

Send this page to:

Bookmark and Share
The latest from

In Association with
Support This Site

home | letters | archive | about | primer | links | shop
This site © Copyright 2000-2023 Terry Krepel