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The MRC vs. Media Literacy, Part 1

The Media Research Center went Nazi to falsely smear a federal program designed to teach how to be discerning about media as a "censorship" tool -- which somehow involved "German indoctrination strategies" to create an "Aryan youth movement."

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/8/2024

Tim Kilcullen

Last year, the Media Research Center conducted a so-called study of a government grant program it claimed was “an effort to destroy conservatives” that was such a mess that even Fox News felt compelled to correct the record. Tim Kilcullen — a co-author of that study — returned for more shoddy and biased work in a so-called “report” that is just as much of a mess. This was summarized in a Jan. 9 post:
The MRC Censorship Investigation Project has uncovered the Biden administration’s latest effort to silence Americans. Utilizing FOIA, state public records laws and other investigative tools, MRC has learned that the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have funded a censorship effort that trains teachers to “inoculate” students against conservative ideas and American ideals. It also trains educators to turn children into activists and to use censorship tools in classrooms across the nation. 

This report details how the State Department began this censorship push through a year-long series of seminars coordinated by the University of Rhode Island and its German counterpart. These seminars commenced in June of 2021 and concluded in April of 2022. Part 2 of this report will detail how the Department of Homeland Security took over the administration of this endeavor and expanded it nationwide.

The State Department trained educators on how to “inoculate” students against ideas not approved by the left. Over 700 educators participated in a year-long series of State Department seminars hosted by the University of Rhode Island’s Media Education Lab (the “Rhode Island Lab”). These seminars provided tools to train teachers on how to censor speech. Examples include video games designed to entice children to embrace leftist narratives and to compel them to use tech platforms that collude with the government to surveil and censor. 

The State Department seminars detailed how to put censorship tools Ad Fontes and NewsGuard into American classrooms.  The Media Research Center has already detailed how both Ad Fontes and NewsGuard partner with Big Tech to divert people away from conservative media and to media that promote a left-wing agenda. The State Department pushed curricula that included how to use NewsGuard’s “plug-in” (a computer program that displays the hopelessly biased rating NewsGuard gives each media site) and how to incorporate Ad Fontes’s rigged “Media Bias Chart” into lesson plans. The NewsGuard portion of the curricula was funded, in part, by activist billionaires George and Alexander Soros.
  • A separate MRC study showed NewsGuard ranks leftist media 26 percentage points higher, on average, than right-leaning media.
  • An MRC study found that Ad Fontes favors leftist media by a two to one margin.
  • A session of the State Department seminars centered on how to train children as political activists. The curriculum pushed in this session included lessons promoting street protests for leftist causes and detailed instructions on how to turn school children into “media producers” who advocate against free speech. Educators were told to reward children with prizes for promoting censorship via social media posts on platforms like Instagram.  

    The State Department seminars were co-hosted by a German government institution and focused on bringing German indoctrination strategies into American classrooms.  It is noteworthy that Germany was chosen to co-host the seminars: the nation’s government has been the most aggressive European Union power censoring online speech and restricting individual expression. The Rhode Island Lab’s partner in Germany was the University of Würzburg, a controversial state entity with a long history of censorship; the curricula was often developed with German government funds and was crafted, in part, by a vice chairman of the country’s socialist ruling party. 
  • In short: The MRC is portraying any attempt at teaching students media literacy as “censorship” and “bias,” relying on its own shoddy attacks on NewsGuard and Ad Fontes to frame it. Kilcullen ranted that the project “trained American educators on European socialist strategies for bringing indoctrination into the classroom to “inoculate” students against conservative ideas and turning students into leftist political activists” — but he had to apply a lot of right-wing bias in order to reach that conclusion. For example, this was one claim he made:

    In 2017, the Rhode Island Lab unveiled an entire lesson plan — titled “Teaching Conspiracies” — to attack the idea that Google had manipulated search results to favor former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, disparaging a video documenting the bias as coming from “a noted conspiracy theorist” who “was making money from the entertainment value of an anti-Hillary message.” In actuality, studies found that Google did manipulate their algorithms to interfere in the 2016 election, and it has only escalated its misconduct in recent years. 

    His source for those “studies” is a Breitbart article featuring Robert Epstein, an anti-Google activist whose study making that claim about Google was actually based on a set of 21 undecided voters, despite his protestations to the contrary. Another complaint from Kulcullen against the Rhode Island Lab:

    Also in 2020, the Rhode Island Lab promoted an article wherein the Rhode Island Lab founder boasted that “Trump is the ‘poster child’ of bad information” and that “he doesn’t value evidence.” She offered no evidence for this assertion.

    The Washington Post caught Trump making more than 30,000 false claims during his presidency alone, which would seem to be all the evidence one needs that Trump is the poster child for bad information. Kilcullen didn’t mention that, but he lashed out further at the lab:

    In 2021, the Rhode Island Lab held a seminar for educators on “how to teach students about the limits of freedom of expression” and how “to limit the harms of dangerous speech.” Promos for the seminar explained “domestic terrorism” was “clearly inspired” by former President Trump and featured tasteless artwork depicting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as a LEGO set for children.  

    Kilcullen didn’t explain what, exactly, was offensive to him about there being limits on freedom of expression — he clearly thinks the Capitol riot Lego set mockup crosses that — or why the Capitol riot apparently does not cross that limit.

    Kilcullen then went after a group called Media Literacy Now, which he huffed “is not an academic institution. It is a lobbying group: a self-described “advocacy nonprofit” dedicated to “ensuring that media literacy is recognized by policymakers and the public as an essential part of K-12 education.” He then manufactured a conspiracy about media literacy, insisting that it’s based on the idea that “too much information available to the public is inherently a threat”:

    What is “media literacy,” exactly? The term is nebulous and amorphous, providing Media Literacy Now and the Rhode Island Lab cover when they need to obfuscate their agenda. Despite the State Department grant being ostensibly for “promoting media literacy,” the Rhode Island Lab’s final report did not define the term “media literacy” once — despite using the term sixty-four times. Elsewhere, Media Literacy Now pledges it is “committed to elevating media literacy education as a tool to create the society we all deserve: one that nurtures racial equity, social justice, and true democracy. Media literacy equals cultural change.”

    This call for “cultural change” may seem vague, but Media Literacy Now displayed a glossy photo to highlight what it meant. The image, captioned “Democracy Now” and “Media Literacy Now,” depicted an angry mob of protestors waving a variety of presumably media literate signs. One prominently displayed banner read “ACAB,” a profane acronym popular among Antifa rioters. Translation: All Cops Are Bastards.

    Media Literacy Now’s concept of “media literacy” is based on the idea that making too much information available to the public is inherently a threat. “The devastating effects of the pandemic,” Media Literacy Now declared in one propaganda piece, “have been exacerbated by an infodemic.” Media Literacy Now directed its audience to observe a September 2020 proclamation by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is backed by communist China. The WHO statement explained, “An infodemic is an overabundance of information,” and this overabundance could only be corrected by having “media and social media platforms … collaborate with the UN system with Member States and with each other” to censor information with which the collective disagrees. 

    Building on this infodemic concept, Media Literacy Now promotes research for “inoculation” theory, which posits that “[j]ust as vaccines generate antibodies to resist future viruses,” a society can “inoculate” itself against “misinformation” before the person is even told it. Concerningly, this un-American theory, which treats information as a disease, has been parrotted by Biden’s Department of Homeland Security while promoting social media censorship. 

    In fact, the “glossy photo” Kilcullen claims Media LIteracy Now “displayed” appears to be a barely legible and faded black-and-white photo of a protest that’s used as a background for the group’s logo. He didn’t explain why “Democracy Now” is a bad thing. Kilcullen also didn’t explain why it’s a bad thing to teach people how to recognize misinformation.

    Kilcullen then rehashed his employer’s old attacks on NewsGuard and Ad Fontes as maker of “censorship tools” instead of their actual purpose of rating websites for reliability:

    MRC Free Speech America has previously reported on Ad Fontes Media, a media ratings firm that pushes a “Media Bias Chart” purporting to rank over 3,000 media sources for “bias” and “reliability.” Ad Fontes’s methodology and analysis is rigged to strongarm the public away from media on the right and towards media on the left. Ad Fontes favors leftist media by a two to one margin. Ad Fontes’s chart similarly, and outlandishly, suggests that media on the left are ten times less likely to be “unreliable.” Ad Fontes’s hopelessly broken system traces back to its founder and CEO Vanessa Otero, a left-wing Colorado lawyer whose media analysts must conform to her warped worldview.

    Ad Fontes boasts on its website about its partnerships with Big Tech behemoths Meta and Microsoft, for which it steers traffic away from new media and towards left-wing legacy outlets.  Ad Fontes is cagier, though, about its partnership with Media Literacy Now. 


    Media Literacy Now admits that it has a “strategic affiliation” with Ad Fontes. It lists the censorship outlet as one of its “sponsors” and “partners” (along with the Rhode Island Lab and the News Literacy Project, a pro-censorship activist group backed by tech giant Apple). What is less well publicized by Media Literacy Now is that Ad Fontes directs 10 percent of the income earned from its “News Nerd and News Nurturer Memberships” back to the supposedly non-profit lobbying group. Media Literacy Now then uses that money to pressure school districts into purchasing Ad Fontes products.

    Kilcullen repeated more employer propaganda, huffing that Otero “celebrated Ad Fontes’s low ratings for Fox News’s Sean Hannity and independent journalist Tucker Carlson — both noted critics of the Biden administration — while emphasizing the higher score given to disgraced left-wing newscaster Chris Cuomo.” Kilcullen provided no evidence that Hannity deserved to be ranked higher by Ad Fontes than they are (or explain why he laughably described right-wing ideologue Carlson as an “independent journalist”), and he hid the fact that the reason the MRC considers Cuomo to be “disgraced” is largely because of his efforts to protect his brother, then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, than the overall quality of his work for CNN. He also didn’t mention that his employer suddenly likes Cuomo a lot more these days now that he’s spouting more right-wing-friendly talking points at his new home at right-leaning NewsNation.

    Kilcullen also repeated his employer’s narrative that “NewsGuard rates right-leaning media significantly lower than their left-wing counterparts” — but he provided no justification for rating “right-leaning higher” than “left-wing” ones, nor did he explain why he didn’t use the term “right-wing” to match his “left-wing” label.

    Smearing Germans as Nazis

    Kilcullen moved on fearmongering about Germans:

    III. The State Department seminars were co-hosted by a German government institution and focused on bringing German indoctrination strategies into American classrooms.

    Aside from the American Otero, much of the seminars’ speakers were European. Conducted out of Germany by a German government institution, the State Department event focused on importing German socialism and German censorship into American classrooms. 

    Kilcullen didn’t explain what, exactly, those “German indoctrination strategies” are — it appears that he’s trying to allude to liking the whole program to Nazi tactics. He went on to whine that the program makes use of actual fact-checkers that the MRC has repeatedly smeared for fact-checking his fellow right-wingers:

    In addition to pushing NewsGuard, the “Kit” also instructs students to use Politifact and Snopes. Politifact and Snopes both purport to fact check other news sources, but are themselves infamous purveyors of misinformation. For example, both outlets aggressively attacked the New York Post’s October 2020 exposé on Hunter Biden’s corrupt business dealings, the former casting doubt on the reporting and the latter baselessly reciting false claims that the well-researched story from a century-old news publication was Russian disinformation. Though the fact checkers’ reports were themselves lacking key information and detail about the Hunter Biden bombshell reports — details even far-left outlets like CNN and The Washington Post now concede — fact checks provided cover for Big Tech platforms like Meta and Twitter (now X) to censor the story until after the election.
    As ConWebWatch has pointed out whenever the MRC brings this up, the New York Post — a pro-Trump right-wing rag — offered no independent verification of the provenance of Hunter’s laptop when its story came out, making it reasonable to dismiss it as an October surprise based on Russian disinformation, not surprising given Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And note that Kilcullen described CNN and the Washington Post as "far-left" while offering no evidence to support that hyperbolic labeling (while failing to hang a similar "far-right" label on the New York Post).

    Kilcullen went on to attack the German group Tactical Tech and its “Glass Room” curriculum that teachers about the issues in “scaling freedom of expression”:

    The Glass Room’s own interactives profligate misinformation — albeit misinformation that favors the agenda of Biden and his far-left European allies. “The Glass Room” penalized students who said that the COVID-19 pandemic may have originated with a lab leak from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, insisting this “has not been backed up with evidence.” In reality, evidence as early as March of 2020 indicated the virus originated from the Institute, and Biden’s own Department of Energy has now confirmed a Wuhan lab leak as COVID-19’s most likely origin. 

    The Glass Room also promoted an article reciting the unfounded conspiracy theory that Trump’s 2016 election victory was the result of “Russian hackers.” This is not the only place where the Rhode Island Lab baselessly suggested Trump had nefarious connections to Russia: it also distributed propaganda financed by the European Union and the Belgian Evans Foundation, which promoted a video implying Trump was working with or for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Hobbs herself has tweeted videos suggesting Trump was “supporting Putin [sic] interests over the United States;” she added it was further evidence of (entirely unsubstantiated) “Trump-Russia” ties.

    Kilcullen’s “March of 2020” evidence comes from the right-wing Breitbart, so there’s little reason to trust it, and in fact, there’s still no actual direct evidence proving a lab leak.

    Kilcullen went on to rant that that another segment of the program “train[s] children as political activists,” as if that’s a bad thing:

    Several pieces of MEET Tolerance’s curriculum described how to use “children as media producers,” where children would be “[a]dvocating intercultural values and social justice through [their] own media productions and practices.” 

    Most explicit was a curriculum developed by socialist German politician Konstantin von Notz. A vice chairman of the ruling Alliance 90/Greens Party, Von Notz is Deputy Chairman of the Bundestag’s Control Panel, the parliamentary organization overseeing the entirety of the nation’s intelligence agencies. Von Notz’s “No Hate Speech Movement” induced children to use predetermined and coordinated media hashtags and posts to create a seemingly grassroots push for an international censorship law, arguing “freedom of expression” should not protect “haters” motivated by “right wing extremism.” The movement for censorship even offered free red badges, “No Hate” balloons, and “No Hate” stickers to be distributed to children, encouraging the students to photograph themselves wearing the distributed apparel and then post the images on Meta’s Instagram.

    Von Notz’s censorship efforts in Germany have been horrifyingly effective. He helped lead a successful government effort to ban the nation’s top opposition party from accessing public financing, a near-necessity for winning elections in a nation with draconian limits on independent campaign funding. He proudly championed a new internet censorship package in 2019 expanding Germany’s anti-hate speech regulatory regime, which imposes crippling fines on Big Tech companies that do not proactively remove user speech the government could find “hateful.” Shortly after leaders of Germany’s opposition criticized the law as a “Direct Attack on Freedom of Speech” and a return to the country’s “Stasi Methods,” Von Notz and his allies placed them under surveillance. 

    Note that Kilcullen refers to the affected political party only as the “opposition.” In fact, it was the Alternative for Germany group, a party so far-right that it took part in a meeting with neo-Nazis to formulate a plan to deport millions of German residents that they deem to be “unassimilated.” Kilcullen didn’t explain why fighting hate speech is such a terrible thing.

    After waging personal attacks on several of the seminar attendees, Kilcullen concluded:

    Through the Rhode Island Lab, the State Department trained American educators on German socialist strategies for bringing indoctrination into the classroom, “inoculating” students against conservative ideas, turning students into leftist political activists, and putting the Ad Fontes and NewsGuard censorship tools into classrooms. The State Department provided a perfect demonstration of the Rhode Island Lab’s ability and the resources it could bring to the table. In a forthcoming follow-up report, the Media Research Center (MRC) will detail how, having honed its strategy, the Rhode Island Lab secured finances from the Department of Homeland Security to bring the theories discussed during the State Department seminars into action.

    The MRC unsurprisingly had to promote this one inside its right-wing media bubble. First up was a post by Luis Cornelio serving as a stenographer for his boss:

    MRC President and Founder Brent Bozell rebuked President Joe Biden’s State Department following MRC Free Speech America’s exposé on the government’s plot to brainwash children into becoming leftist activists through taxpayer-funded programs.

    Bozell drew attention to “Orwellian” MRC findings revealing that the scandal-plagued Department of State used taxpayer money to finance a German censorship effort that trained teachers to “inoculate” U.S. students against conservative ideas. “This is brainwashing at the youngest of an age to believe that conservatives are not to be trusted,” Bozell told WMAL radio


    A fired-up Bozell pointed out that this entire scheme is being bought and paid for at the expense of Americans’ tax dollars. “This is all using American tax money. The first question we ask ourselves is: What in the world is it any business of the United States State Department to be doing this?” asked Bozell. 

    A seemingly shocked O’Connor responded to the MRC Free Speech America findings with grave concern, particularly as the taxpayer-funded plan drew parallels to the staunch propaganda operations that had plagued Nazi Germany. 

    Specifically, O’Connor said, “I sort of expect this behavior from Germany because I know my history and there was a whole Hitler Youth thing that went on, and then there was propaganda going on there. But, you know, for an administration who likes to spend a lot of time calling their political opponents authoritarians and Nazis, for them to actually fund this through the State Department and then brainwash children and teachers about how evil conservatives are. I mean, that sounds kinda Hitler-y.”

    That “Hitler-y” implication O-Connor picked up on is precisely why Kilcullen made a point of highlighting it. An anonymously written Jan. 11 post touted another friendly Bozell media appearance:

    In a fiery appearance on The Erick Erickson Show, MRC President and Founder Brent Bozell harshly condemned the Biden administration’s weaponized government for pushing censorship and indoctrination into American schools.

    Conversing with host Erick Erickson on Thursday’s episode of the show, Bozell highlighted a recent MRC report showing how the State Department teamed up with the German government to fund seminars where American educators were trained in German strategies on censorship and indoctrination. The U.S. State Department “teamed up with [Germany] to do a program designed to teach teachers how to teach children how to turn against conservatives,” Bozell declared. “It’s something that ought to frighten every American more and more.”


    Erickson — an accomplished journalist, activist and former Macon City councilman — also confided in viewers of his longtime friendship with Bozell, remarking that “on the list of people I think most highly of on the planet, he is in the top five.” 

    This time, Bozell injected the Nazi reference, declaring that “it’s an Aryan youth movement, but it’s being trained with Maoist indoctrination camps.” Erickson bought into it, adding that “the Nazis and the commies were kissing cousins.” In fact, the Nazi movement purged communists and socialists from the German civil service and put communist leaders in concentration camps, so they were in no way the “kissing cousins” Erickson wants you to believe they are.

    It doesn’t enhance Bozell’s credibility to tout how his interviewer thinks “most highly” of him, since such hero worship pretty much guarantees Erickson will toss only the softest of softballs to his interviewee. Which, of course, is why Bozell limited himself to friendly softball interviews.

    In other words: This is not actual or legitimate “media research” — it’s a right-wing screed designed to peddle talking points and attacks against those who point out the shoddiness of right-wing media.

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