It’s an article of faith on the left that misinformation and conspiracy theories originate almost exclusively from the right. But consider the media’s coverage of the latest controversy over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (or any that preceded it).
Florida recently rejected a planned Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies curriculum that DeSantis argued would indoctrinate children. The curriculum includes works from proponents of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the abolition of prisons and police. There are units on Black Queer studies, the case for reparations, “Black feminist literary thought,” BLM, intersectionality, and other pet progressive causes.
“In the state of Florida, our education standards required students to study Black history,” DeSantis explained. “It’s part of our core curriculum [but]… we want education not indoctrination.”
Predictably, progressives and their allies in the media went berserk, portraying DeSantis as an authoritarian nut hell-bent on whitewashing history. New York congressperson Richie Torres tweeted, “Florida has gone from Don’t Say Gay to Don’t Say Black.” The Washington Post’s Karen Attiah claimed DeSantis was normalizing “anti-blackness” and “making institutional anti-blackness lawful again.”
Roderick Ferguson, a professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Yale University, DeSantis’s alma mater, complained of a “growing authoritarian climate” thanks to DeSantis in a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education. “DeSantis and co. have also shown a desire to ban the critiquing of the state, capitalism, and white supremacy,” he wrote.
What none of them will acknowledge is that students in Florida are required to study black history and, in fact, Governor DeSantis signed legislation mandating they learn about the 1920 Ocoee massacre, in which a white mob killed dozens of black Floridians who exercised their right to vote.
Weeks after the initial controversy, the nonprofit College Board released a new curriculum framework devoid of much of its left-wing bias. David Coleman, head of the College Board, told the New York Times that the changes were all made for pedagogical reasons and had nothing to do with DeSantis. He said they came from AP principles and from feedback from teachers at the schools where the original draft curriculum was being tested. The Times also reported that the College Board had a “time-stamped” document proving that the new (less woke) curriculum predated the objection from Florida’s Department of Education.
But Times readers and many in the media smelled a conspiracy! Surely the College Board must have falsified documents to cover up their acquiescence to DeSantis, right? The Times piece on the controversy generated thousands of comments, and the most popular ones, each with a few thousand likes or more, were not buying the explanation. One read, “Who needs to go to China for censorship when you can stay home!”
Vanity Fair, meanwhile, published a hysterical polemic with the headline “Ron DeSantis Successfully Bullies the College Board into Tailoring AP African-American Studies to the Needs of Fragile White People.” Bess Levin, Vanity Fair’s politics correspondent, characterized the affair as part of DeSantis’s “dystopian attempt to dictate the topics people can and cannot discuss in the state of Florida.” Ms. Levin referenced the Times article, but failed to mention the College Board’s documentary evidence that the changes were unrelated to Florida, and bizarrely critiqued the Times for — get this — being too soft on DeSantis. (I reached out to Levin for comment but she didn’t respond.)
Rolling Stone was no better, publishing a piece with the headline, “College Board Kicks Off Black History Month by Caving to Ron DeSantis.” The piece’s author, Nikki McCann Ramirez, also failed to inform her readers of the College Board’s denial that the changes were unrelated to DeSantis. And she repeated a lie that apparently originated in the Washington Post about Florida teachers facing felony charges if they give children books “deemed too woke by the state.” (At least WaPo issued a correction. I reached out to Ms. Ramirez for comment but she didn’t respond.)
When the College Board announced its revised course curriculum, I naively thought the left would back down or at least drop the story. After all, the changes are a clear signal that Florida’s objections had merit. The fact that so many in the media are doubling down by publishing assertively dishonest reports on the matter shows how many now seek to delegitimize the GOP’s potential 2024 nominee.
It also illustrates the right/left divide over school curricula. Conservatives are satisfied if we get reasonably objective and neutral curricula, whereas the left insists on woke indoctrination. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, for example, sent the College Board a letter insisting they make no changes whatsoever to their original woke AP course.
Most of my fellow Floridians have tuned out the left-wing disinformation about our governor. We live here and know that no books are “banned,” no topics of conversation are off-limits, and no freedoms are being curtailed. But unsuspecting readers in other parts of the country may buy at least some of the narrative about DeSantis turning our state into a dystopian dictatorship. If we don’t push back against the tsunami of fake news, even more will succumb to the “Florida is North Korea” line.