The Virginia Model

In recent years, fake news articles have declared that critical race theory is ruining public education, thus spawning the “Virginia model.”

One particularly noisy piece of the GOP’s current “culture war” bunkum is “critical race theory.” For 60 years, critical race theory has been a little-known field of study by academics, examining racism’s central role in shaping our society. In the last few years though, a covey of right-wing operatives has seized the phrase, shrieking that critical race theory is a liberal mind-control plot being pushed by a cadre of diabolical K-12 schoolteachers. The scaremongers warn that the goal of critical race theory is to demonize and “replace” White society with un-Christian multicultural rule. This worked in the “Virginia model,” and so is being duplicated in red states everywhere.

It’s a patently kooky bugaboo, of course — that’s not what critical race theory is, nor is the subject even taught in our schools, much less being spread in a cosmic plot. But that hasn’t stopped power-hungry witch hunters like Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and (witchiest of all) former President Donald Trump from actually issuing executive edicts BANNING schools from teaching a subject that — Hello! — they are not teaching.

So… how did such a nonissue rise to the tippy-top of the Republican political agenda? Fake news. For the past couple of years, thousands of articles have run declaring that critical race theory is infiltrating public education, appearing repeatedly in the Miami Courant, Houston Republic, San Francisco Sun, Chicago City Wire, Kalamazoo Times, St. Louis Reporter, Philly Leader, Wisconsin Business Daily and scores of other local papers from coast to coast.

Never heard of these dailies? That’s because none of them are real, local or even paper. All of the above are right-wing propaganda fronts, just a few of some 1,300 hyperpartisan websites owned and run by Metric Media, a bogus news fabricator. MM’s faux local news sites spew out a gusher of articles every month, trumpeting the big lie of a massive critical race theory conspiracy. Many of the articles are automated with no author’s byline. The sites, designed to mimic the looks of real journalistic reporting, create the impression of a spreading national crisis in public education.

Judd Legum, the progressive digger who publishes the excellent Popular Information newsletter, reports that just in the first 10 months of last year, 11,988 of these anti-critical race theory articles appeared on Metric Media’s Florida sites, with another 10,096 running across Texas, giving political cover for the shamelessly demagogic GOP governors in both states who were exploiting the nonexistent critical race theory “crisis.”
This is not innocent campaign gamesmanship, but politically cynical, crazy BS that’s causing real, extensive harm. Teachers are being fired (or quitting in disgust), sane school board members are literally being assaulted by deluded parents, schoolkids are being fed raw ideological ignorance and elections are being perverted.

Last year’s gubernatorial race in Virginia was narrowly won by Republican Glenn Youngkin, a son of privilege and Harvard elite who became a multimillionaire Wall Street predator. He was going to lose, until his handlers turned him into an unscrupulous anti-critical race theory attack dog, fomenting parental fear and racism, while also rallying the right-wing hard core with repeated, inflammatory promises to sweep all teaching of critical race theory out of Virginia classrooms, thus creating the “Virginia model.”

But, golly, it was not actually taught in any of the state’s public schools. To help Youngkin dodge this inconvenient fact, the Central Shenandoah News, Fredericksburg Leader, West Nova News, and 25 other fake “local” news sites in Virginia fueled panic during the election by fabricating 4,657 articles spreading the lie that critical race theory was dominating school curricula. While these “papers” have no subscribers and no significant online readership, they allow campaigns and front groups to use these spurious political claims in speeches, mailers, ads, etc. — laundering them as facts by simply saying: “…as reported in the Virginia Daily Deceptor.”

With Youngkin riding critical race theory fear into the governor’s office last year, expect hyperactive copycat campaigns in Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and elsewhere this year, with Metric Media and other newspaper pretenders pumping out critical race theory sludge to poison the waters. Indeed, the lie has become its own political industry, with such billionaire extremists as the Koch brothers’ Donor Trust Network pumping money into it. Also, an astroturf front called “Fight for Schools” is stoking the paranoia and community factionalism by pushing parents to confront teachers and launch recall campaigns against school board members who won’t join the McCarthyesque crusade against an imaginary conspiracy.

We simply must have actual local newspapers (widely available and affordable, either in print or online) that have the community commitment and journalistic resources to do the job of nurturing truth and democracy. Otherwise, we’re ceding “news” to the shams, scams and democratic deterioration that is inevitable under hedge-fund profiteers and networks of partisan hacks, both of which are already becoming dominant across wide stretches of America’s media landscape. Journalism is not a private commodity to be controlled by a few for their personal profit or political advancement; it is an essential public resource, key to democratic self-government. And America should start investing in it as such, providing adequate public funding for local, independent watchdog reporting.

Jim Hightower