Is there anything Republicans could do that our top newsrooms would call out as grotesque?
How about if they accused educators who oppose totalitarian and theocratic censorship of, say, grooming children for sexual abuse? Is that Pizzagatey enough to get the Washington Post to call it a toxic and hateful conspiracy theory?
Not even close.
Under the headline “Teachers who mention sexuality are ‘grooming’ kids, conservatives say,” Post reporters Hannah Natanson and Moriah Balingit started off their story with three paragraph of unrebutted, noxious hysteria:
The spokeswoman for Florida’s Republican governor tweeted in early March that anyone who opposes a bill forbidding teachers from talking about gender identity or sexual orientation with students in early grades is “probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.” A few days later, Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked on national television, “When did our public schools, any schools, become what are essentially grooming centers for gender identity radicals?”
And, speaking before the Tennessee House of Representatives in February, country music star John Rich compared librarians who allow children access to graphic books to sexual predators — adding he believes that there is “bona fide grooming taking place” in the state’s public schools.
“What’s the difference between a teacher, educator or librarian … or a guy in a white van pulling up at the edge of school when school lets out?” he asked. Students “can run away from the guy in the white van.”
Then came what journalists call the “nut graph”: the paragraph that explains what the story is fundamentally about. But instead of clearly debunking and critiquing this insane, divisive filth, Natanson and Balingit put together a confusing jumble of words and sentences that entirely withholds judgment:
In the charged debate over what and how children should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity, some mainstream Republicans are tagging those who defend such lessons as “groomers,” claiming that proponents of such teaching want children primed for sexual abuse. The argument draws on previous tactics adopted by the right to oppose the erosion of traditional gender roles at moments of societal transition, experts say. They point out that, while groomer rhetoric seems designed to appeal to fringe partisans, it is part of a conservative effort to foster a moral panic that will help limit how and what educators teach — by restricting history lessons, banning books, and curbing discussions of systemic racism and LGBTQ issues.
No, it’s not a “charged” debate. It’s one side hurling wildly deceitful and utterly disgusting accusations at educators and their champions.
No, this isn’t actually about “how children should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity.” It’s about using radical extremist calumny to set off a culture war about whatever’s handy, to incite the base.
The statement that it’s a lot like the tactics adopted to “oppose the erosion of traditional gender roles” is absurdly euphemistic. These tactics were used to fight against basic human rights. (And even that conclusion is kept at arm’s length, lamely attributed to unnamed “experts.”
Finally, those arm’s-length experts ostensibly “point out” that it’s an attempt to foster “moral panic” — but accept on face value that the goal is to change what’s happening in schools. It’s not. The goal is the moral panic itself.
So let me rewrite that for you.
Here’s what they should have written after those first three paragraphs:
The rhetoric from some mainstream Republicans that those who resist repressive assaults on sex education in schools are “grooming” children for sexual abuse is wildly, willfully deceptive and reprehensible by any normal standard.
Using unfounded accusations of abhorrent conduct to incite moral panic is reminiscent of the shameful tactics adopted by the right to oppose the expansion of racial equality, women’s rights and gay rights during earlier periods of societal transition. Its re-adoption by the modern GOP sets the political discourse in this country back decades.
In the absence of extensive, bipartisan refutation and condemnation, these vicious lies will almost certainly result in further censorship of public school teachers in Republican-led regions of the country, particularly when it comes to talking to their students about history, racism, and LGBTQ issues.
But the real goal – just as it was when Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governorship after falsely accusing public schools of teaching critical race theory — has nothing to do with what is really going on in schools, and everything to do with inciting the Republican Party’s increasingly angry base, whatever it takes.
Then, instead of forcing readers to wade through eight more paragraphs of insane accusations and the attempts to legitimize them, I would have moved up the comments from Sophie Bjork-James, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, especially this part:
Fears about “grooming” are spiking at a moment when long-marginalized LGBTQ identities are starting to appear in popular culture and to become more accepted, Bjork-James said.
And I would have provided some essential context, making it crystal clear that the people saying this stuff – and the people they are trying to rile up — are dead-enders on the fringe of society. I would have reminded readers that an overwhelming majority of Americans across religious and political affiliations now support anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people; that only 1 in 4 Americans think we have “gone too far” in accepting transgender people; that two out of three Americans support gay marriage.
I wouldn’t have used the word “conservatives” to describe these people. I would have described them as extremist, right-wing totalitarian theocratic provocateurs.
I would have called it a conspiracy theory, and reflected on how it relates to the ones that have given us Pizzagate and Qanon and the Jan. 6 insurrection.
I would have noted that one common feature of the Trump-led Republican Party is that the accusations it hurls are often true not of their opponents, but of themselves.
I would have shown how it’s Republican Party leaders who have actually been caught engaging in or enablilng sexual abuse of children: Former House speaker Dennis Hastert, who abused teenaged boys; Rep. Jim Jordan, who covered up a sex-abuse scandal in college; Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who sexually assaulted teenage girls; and Jeffrey Epstein pal Donald Trump.
I would have popped in a paragraph about how it’s GOP states that are re-legalizing heterosexual marriage between adults and children.
I would have told readers that accusations involving sex with children have become so generic and so disconnected from reality that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene just accused fellow Republicans of being “pro-pedophile” for supporting the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.
I agree with the Nation’s Joan Walsh, who complains of “insufficient media attention to the way these lurid claims about Democrats have been mainstreamed in the Republican Party, over the years and around the country.”
And I keep asking myself: What is happening in our major-media newsrooms such that reporters whiff on calling out something this messed up? Will they ever be braver? What will it take?