Whatever happened to critical race theory?
Just one month ago, the media bombarded news consumers with CRT coverage, announcing it had been the defining issue in the GOP’s surprise Virginia governor victory, and was likely going to sink Democrats nationwide during the 2022 midterms. All year, the press couldn’t be bothered with pointing out that CRT isn’t actually taught in public schools, and that the GOP’s hysterical campaign — it’s an attempt to “indoctrinate the kids” — was based on lies.
Yet suddenly, the topic seems to have disappeared into the ether. “No one is talking about CRT now that the election is over,” tweeted journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of the acclaimed 1619 Project. “That media stopped reporting this made-up controversy speaks to the complicity in the propaganda campaign.”
Using the Nexis database, I searched for articles, columns, or transcripts that mentioned “critical race theory” two or more times and were published or aired this year, and looked at how many of those were produced in December, after the GOP had successfully used its education scare campaign in the Virginia race. The matches confirm there was a massive media drop-off among national outlets. (Local coverage of CRT has remained more consistent.)
For instance, ABC News aired 31 reports on CRT between January and November, then 0 reports in December, according to Nexis. CNN produced 183 segments that mentioned the topic two times or more during the first eleven months of the year, but just one in December. At Politico, the before and after ratio was 48: 1. Dallas Morning News, 69: 2. The Los Angeles Times, 38:0. CNN’s newswire, 88:2.
It’s telling that the trend of turning away from CRT after the votes were counted in Virginia, and all that election punditry quieted down, has been even more pronounced among right-wing media outlets. Fox News aired a staggering 430 CRT segments the first eleven months of the year (or nearly 40 per-month), but just 7 in December.
The Daily Caller churned out 215 items between January and November, and 7 this month. The Washington Examiner has produced 280 CRT updates this year; none in December. The Washington Times: 130, compared to just three in December. And Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post published 60 CRT dispatches, then 0 since November.
It’s clear that following the election, conservatives and journalists came to the exact same conclusion at the exact same time about CRT. That’s because journalists spent most of this year simply regurgitating right-wing lies and refusing to highlight the obvious holes in the race-baiting allegations. (CRT is an academic framework taught at the college level that examines how systemic racism is ingrained in America’s history.)
This whole chapter represents a textbook example of how every Beltway news cycle starts with the very simple premise: What are Republicans angry about today?
Benghazi during the Obama presidency was a classic example of how Republicans hijacked the news for months and years on end, and the Beltway press happily playing along.
What’s different with the CRT media charade is that Benghazi actually happened — there was a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate on Sept. 11, 2012, in Libya, and four Americans did die. By contrast, the CRT controversy was completely made up by Republicans — it’s not taught in schools K-12 — yet the press still peddled it without pause for most of 2021.
For the record, conservatives still care about critical race theory, in the sense that they’re trying to bully educators into not teaching students uncomfortable truths about American history and the role racism has played in it. Republicans across the country are busy today trying to ban books from public schools and outlaw topics teachers can teach.
It’s just that GOP politicians are not making lots of noise about the topic because there are no campaigns to slot the message into to generate phony outrage, like there was in Virginia this fall. That means the media aren’t interested either.
The press played a central, defining role all year in helping spread that phony outrage. Back in the spring, the Washington Post published a 3,000-word look at the GOP’s critical race theory campaign. Yet the Post made no mention that the topic can’t be found public schools. The Post also made no effort to quote any Democrats about a Republican strategy to use the classroom wedge issue to defeat them next year. The Post though, did quote eight Republicans for the article, and marveled at the GOP’s success in creating the CRT controversy.
A lengthy October piece from the New York Times, “How Republicans Are Weaponizing Critical Race Theory Ahead of Midterms,” was another classic of the genre. It wasn’t until the 13th paragraph that the Times acknowledged CRT isn’t taught in public schools. Incredibly, four paragraphs later the Times reported, “But Republicans say critical race theory has invaded classrooms.”
That broken model was used all year by the press — CRT represents a political boon for Republicans, regardless of whether or not its classroom claims are built on lies. Instead of forcefully debunking, journalists remained overly impressed with how the GOP was able to turn CRT into a big news story, while journalists helped them turn CRT into a big news story.
In a rare bout of Republican truth-telling this year, when Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed the state’s CRT classroom ban to become law without his signature, he conceded it “does not address any problem that exists.”
That should have been the media story all year.