My presentation at the Parents Unite conference: “Framing the narrative, I think at this stage, is really counter-framing the narrative, because we are up against an extremely organized and well-funded movement to push euphemistically called ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,’ and race-based teaching throughout education.”
On October 1, 2021, I spoke at the Parents Unite Conference in Boston. My topic was How to Frame the Media Narrative and Moving to Action. That lecture, transcribed below, can serve as a Guide to messaging and counter-messaging for the parents movement.
While topically I addressed mostly Critical Race Theory, all of the points are applicable across topics.
You can see videos of various speakers at the Parents Unite website. I was happy with the speech, but yikes, my hair was a mess! Must have been that hotel shampoo, either that, or my hair is just a mess.
The video of my speech and partial transcript are below. The slides embedded throughout the video and transcription are here.
(Auto-generated, may contain transcription errors. Q&A not transcribed. Not all slides embedded.)
Speaking of our next speaker, we have William Jacobson. He is an attorney at the Cornell Law School and the founder of the Legal Insurrection Foundation. And he’s going to talk about the media and what they’re doing about pushing some of these narratives out there, and what we can do to combat that. Bill, thank you.
William Jacobson, Cornell Law Professor and President, Legal Insurrection Foundation
Thank you for that. And [Wilfred Reilly] is a very hard act to follow. He covered so many points that got me rethinking what I’m gonna talk about today. I want to thank Ashley and Jean for putting this all together and the others at Parents Unite.
It’s really great to meet a lot of people who are part of a really great movement, a movement I consider one to save not only our children, but our country. What we are seeing happen in the schools, and it’s been a generation in coming, is a movement to really tear down our society, to set people against each other. And race is the mechanism that is being used. It is the tool to split people apart.
It’s really great to see so many of the people that, at Legal Insurrection and CriticalRace.org, that we’ve worked with, have either been on our panels or we’ve interacted with, including Wilfred, Ian, Paul, Erica, and Kenny, and so many different people here.
And going through the very impressive list of speakers, I was really taken by how broad-based this movement is that we have and how young it is. I looked through the list, and I got a little panicked because I realized, I think I’m the oldest speaker here today. But that’s good. We need younger people, and it really is a younger persons’ movement. And I don’t mean 18 year olds, but [it is a] younger persons’ movement.
It’s a parents’ movement. It’s a movement of parents who really became awakened, not “awokened,” awakened to something that has been happening for a generation. I think the trajectory that I had is very reflective of what has gone wrong in the education system. So I graduated from Harvard Law School in 1984. My classmate practically invented all this nonsense, Kimberle Crenshaw. And the themes that were being pushed back then are the themes that we’re seeing now.
But there’s one difference. All of the activists, they didn’t call it critical race theory back then, it was critical legal theory. All of those activist students went into academia, and they very smartly identified the way to undermine our society. And it’s to get other people’s children and, in a sense, turn them into their own, ideologically. And that’s what they’ve been doing for 35 years. But that’s not a natural situation. And as people are waking up to that, you have parents coming through and objecting to it.
So just a short brief about myself. Most of my career, I was an attorney, joined Cornell Law School in 2007 and formed the Legal Insurrection website in 2008. The reality is they never would’ve hired me if I had that website beforehand.
I think Wilfred might have made some allusion to it, but the stats that I’ve seen, if you go back 20-25 years, not that long ago, the split between professors who self-identified as liberal or self-identified as conservative/moderate was only about 60-40. So yes, it leaned liberal, but it was not completely out of whack.
If you take that same survey now you find it something like 28 to 1. And if you look at the youngest cohort of hires at the university level, people who are maybe not yet tenured, who have only been there 5-10 years, it’s something like 40 to 1 in terms of self-identification. So at least that’s higher education. And of course, higher education ultimately feeds into K-12.
So we formed Legal Insurrection. We rolled out, last February, CriticalRace.org, which is a website devoted, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that, devoted to documenting initially the spread of critical race training. So we have a little bit broader scope than the theory of critical race theory, throughout higher education. We now have over 400 colleges and universities documented.
We have an interactive database, and we’re increasingly focused on K-12 because when we rolled that out, and we got a million views in one day when we rolled that website out, the biggest question we got from our tip line was, “When are you gonna do K-12?”
K-12 is really where the battle is now. Higher-Ed is more or less lost. We are trying to save the survivors in higher-ed. The leftists are scouring the landscape for survivors. And that’s why you hear about “cancel culture.” Cancel culture is an attempt to remove the few stragglers of moderation and true liberalism in higher-ed.
But K-12 is really where the fight is now. That’s the future, and we’re becoming more involved in that. That’s why I’m so thrilled that I was able to speak here today.
So the topic of my speech is, “How to Frame the Media Narrative and Moving to Action.”
Framing the narrative, I think at this stage, is really counter-framing the narrative, because we are up against an extremely organized and well-funded movement to push euphemistically called “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” and race-based teaching throughout education.
And when I say counter-messaging, [it is] because look at how good they are. Look at the terms they come up with. “Anti-racism.” That is, in my mind, the greatest linguistic sleight of hand that we have seen in our lifetime. Because as we all know, when you get into it, what they call “anti-racism” is not against racism. It actually is furthering racism. Yet they have staked out the territory.
Go to any university and probably any high school in America now, and they talk about anti-racist training. So if you are opposed to that, they have now defined you as racist. Look at how good they are at messaging.
And the person who perpetrated that linguistic sleight of hand more than anyone just received a MacArthur Genius Prize, another $600,000 in his pocket. And he gets $15,000 to appear before a school committee virtually.
So look at how good they are at framing those issues. “Equity.” Well, who could be against equity? They pick a word that I guarantee you 98% of the US population thinks means “equality.” It’s so similar. “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” And so they are extremely good at that messaging. They have created a landscape before we ever got into this that we now have to deal with.
I bet you almost everyone here has come up against a certain framing of the issues that the other side has established.
They talk about “truth in the classrooms.” All they want do is teach the truth in the classrooms. And they want us to “trust students.” We hear that all the time. “Why don’t you trust the students to receive this information?” And [they say] this [parents’ movement] is all the result of these “nefarious, dark money, right-wing groups. This isn’t an actual parents movement.” We hear that all the time. And that educators only want to teach the truth. And really what we want, they claim, is we want to ban discussion about racism. We don’t wanna teach about slavery. We don’t wanna teach about Jim Crow. That’s what they say.
Of course, none of that’s true. And these are the messages they push out all the time. But you need to understand that this is not happenstance. Most people don’t understand how organized and how monied the groups pushing this are.
Hopefully my slide will work. So in part of the research that we’ve been doing, we came across this group called the “Future of Learning.” They actually have a messaging guide that gets distributed.
And who is “Future of Learning”? It’s not a nothing group. It is a coalition of over 300 groups and major foundations funding them. And they coordinate.
Guess who is among their funders? The National Education Association.
Every time you dig into things, you find the National Education Association, and to a lesser extent, the American Federation of Teachers. But it’s really NEA that is behind a lot of what is happening in the schools. And they are among the funders of this group. They also have two people on the steering committee of this group.
And here are their top five messages in their messaging guide. Every one that I just read to you.
This is the messaging guide that they put out. We have it posted on our website. We wrote a lengthy article about it, about what we found about these groups.
They all also have outside consultants who help them design their messaging.
So this is highly organized. Every time they accuse you of being just a tool of some big Koch brothers scheme, they really are the ones who are the AstroTurf.
And so they’ve hired, and this has been part referenced in their messaging guide, outside strategic consultants to tell them what messages they should use and how they think they should approach it.
And these are actually really good advice. You should write these down.
Seize the moral high ground. Ascribe motivations to the opposition. Don’t volunteer the term “critical race theory.” They know that that term has become toxic, so they play games. One, they don’t use it. And two, they say, “That’s just a narrow legal academic theory,” which I think Wilfred addressed that’s not the case. And when asked about it, define it on their terms, as just honesty.
So the point of this is that we are up against a very-organized, very well-funded groups, who wants to reframe the issue.
And they want to reframe the issue away from patriotism. They want to reframe it away from color-blindness and race-neutrality and American exceptionalism and individualism and capitalism. In other words, they are against every single thing this country has stood for, for centuries.
And they want to reframe it toward collective responsibility, “diversity, empathy, belonging,” pragmatism, ingenuity. So they want to reframe everything. They are already doing that.
They love “culturally responsive education.” This is from their messaging guide. This is what they say. These words are from their messaging guide, that it’s worth fighting for. And they have literally talking points that they want people to use to push “culturally responsive education.”
So they play all these word games.
The question is, how can we reframe the narrative? And the media to me is key to it. It’s not the only aspect of it, but the media is key, and there are several different aspects of “the media.”
There’s the easy part, which I will loosely call “conservative media.” I would put Legal Insurrection in that. We have been very successful at bringing stories forward that we’re able to push nationally. We’re based in Rhode Island. So we brought a Rhode Island mother forward on our website, Nicole Solas. We brought a Rhode Island middle school teacher forward, Ramona Bessinger. And they’ve gotten national exposure, and hopefully we’ll have more. Conservative media is willing to publish these things.
You have social media, Facebook groups, if you can keep them alive and not have Facebook shut you down. And then there are old school listservs. Gather names of people, and this is all local stuff that you have to do locally.
And then there’s the mainstream media. And I put those into two categories, [one of] which is local, where you have some percentage of getting a fair shot, and national where you have zero percentage of getting a fair shot.
One thing that’s really important, as activists and as parents, is to develop relationships with reporters, particularly local reporters. Make their life easy for them. This is general media advice. Reporters nowadays are extremely underfunded. Newsrooms have been cut back drastically.
If you can, hand them a story on a silver platter. You can write it up for them. They may not take it verbatim, but you’re saving them work. If you can give them documents, if you can give them interviews, whatever you can give local media and conservative media. You can try large, mainstream media, but they will twist it, I guarantee you. You can give them scoops if something big is going to happen. Let them know in advance. Let them be the one to break the story.
Prepare a short statement for them that you can give to them in advance because they need to quote somebody in their article. And if you can save them a phone call, you’ve saved them work, and you have made it more likely they will cover your issue.
And of course by giving them a short statement, keep it short. I know you want to educate people. You want to tell every last detail and nuance. Keep it to one or two sentences. Because that’s what they need. They probably have an 800 word limit in their story and you’re making their life easier if you give them 20 words that they can just quote from you and plug right into their story.
Try to have your interviews with them by email. So they give you a written question, and you give them a precise written answer, because that way you don’t need to worry about them misquoting you. They could be misquoting you because people make mistakes, or they could be misquoting you deliberately.
Record your interviews, assuming it’s legal in the state you’re in. Or, if it’s not legal to record it on your own, tell them you’re recording it so you have their consent. Reporters, this is a big scoop for you, very frequently record everything on their phone, whether they tell you or not. So most of them will not be offended if you say, “I’d like to record this interview.” And that’s really good because you don’t want to be misquoted.
When you give them answers in writing keep it super short because if you give them something short, it is harder for them to cherry pick sections of what you’ve given them, and then perhaps portray what you said inaccurately. So keep it very soundbyte-ish. Make believe it’s Twitter, and you have, I think we’re up to, 280 characters. That used to be 140. But keep it really succinct. Soundbytes.
What do you want to be quoted on in the newspaper or on a website? And that’s what you want to give them. But also focus on the message. What is the message? Think this through, what you’re trying to push.
You are for equality. Equality is our highest standard as Americans. You are for non-discrimination. You oppose, and the word that I like to use is, the “racialization” of education. Because by using that term and focusing on the fact that they are focused obsessively on race, that they are pitting students against each other, pitting parents against each other, you are really focusing on what you want to happen.
Don’t get involved in their word games over, is this CRT or is it not? There are many good examples. If they’re teaching students that their destiny is based on the color of their skin, that they should view classmates based on the color of their skin, et cetera, they are teaching the principles of critical race theory. You will never find a fifth grade book called “Critical Race Theory.” That’s not how it happens.
And then the last point is moving to action, and I’m going to draw on a few of the things that I witnessed since we started in 2008. We were very much observant and, to some extent, participants in the TEA party movement. And there were a lot of lessons there.
One is that no one person or group can do everything. So find what you are good at, whether it’s as a group or as an individual, and use that to your advantage.
But what’s most important is that everybody do something, whatever it could be. It could be a letter to the editor. It could be going to a school board meeting. It could be running for school board. Whatever it is. It could be getting parents together. Whatever it is, it’s all hands on deck. Find your strength, find what you are good at.
I would also caution you to be very careful. What used to happen with the TEA party movement is that left wing websites would send people to rallies, and you could have a thousand people with 500 signs, and they would find the one person with the crazy sign, dressed crazy. Okay. And sometimes they sent those people to them. We were able to document, back in 2009, 2010, that various left wing groups would send people to TEA party rallies, who would shout racist things. They were plants. And then they would, of course, have a videographer there. [And they would say] look at who’s at this rally.
So you have to self-police. If you have a Facebook group and you see somebody talking trash and talking nonsense, kick ’em out. Because there’s a better than 50% chance that they’re a plant there. Because that way they can go, and they can screenshot your Facebook group, and then they use that against you. So you also have to self-police.
In terms of us, and I don’t know how much time I have left, our strength is research. There are many people who do things that wouldn’t just fit our personality. We’re not really an entity that’s equipped to deal with lawsuits, for example. We do have lawyers on staff, but we’re not a public interest law firm. We can’t bring lawsuits. We can connect people to people who bring lawsuits, but that’s not our strength. So we’re not gonna try to be something that we’re not.
We also are not really equipped to deal with a lot of the sort of leaks of documents that other individuals and groups have been very successful at getting media attention on and highlighting the issue here. And I know that Parents Defending Education and Erica Sanzi who’s here, they’ve been really good at getting those sorts of leaks. And obviously Chris Rufo, and there are other national personalities. But that’s not us. That’s not our personality. That’s not what we would be good at. So we don’t try to do that.
What we are good at is deep research, and we have done that at Legal Insurrection through the website, CriticalRace.org.
We’ve created an interactive map, which you can click on your state and then you have a dropdown menu of the schools we’ve covered. We haven’t covered every school, but we’re up over 400 now. And we have researchers who gather up publicly available information about what’s happening in higher ed.
We don’t have a map yet for K-12, but we do have a lot of resources for K-12 on the website. And I’m just gonna tease you a little bit, watch the news on Tuesday. We are rolling out a new feature on this website that I think will get a lot of media attention. [Here]
And so that’s what we do. We found our place in this movement and in this world, which is being research-oriented.
We’ve been around for 13 years. God-willing, we’ll be around another 13 years. We’re here for the long-haul. Kemberlee Kaye, who is our operations manager, was manning our table with her daughter outside, and she’s here today. So we really have found our place in the movement.
Find your place in the movement and do something, whatever it happens to be. And I will stop there and see if we have any questions.
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