I have yet to fully understand why conservatives decided attacking public education was a winning message (beyond Union Thugs and shiny-sparkly Privatization Thingie), but this incident out of Elizabethton, Tennessee is a classic example of how the conservative media will take a simple incident and manipulate it into the service of their message wars. Now, Elizabethton’s superintendent of schools is questioning the accuracy of Fox stories, accusing the broadcaster of sensationalism. Gee, ya think?
So here’s what happened: Fox News personality Todd Starnes ran a story saying third-graders received a Nation of Islam handout in class that called the presidents on Mt. Rushmore racists. What actually happened, of course, is a little … um, well, different from that.
ELIZABETHTON — Elizabethton Superintendent of Schools Ed Alexander said Thursday afternoon that no parent has come forward to substantiate the Fox News story that two additional Harold McCormick third-graders had received a handout from their teacher that was produced by the Nation of Islam claiming the four presidents on Mount Rushmore were racists.
Alexander said his initial Monday investigation uncovered that a teacher had downloaded a Nation of Islam document that criticized the four presidents as racists. He said the teacher had been searching the Internet for Mount Rushmore and found the document at that time because it asked “What does it take to be on Mount Rushmore.” He said she quickly discarded it after finding out its content.
Alexander called Starnes with his findings, but he said Fox ran the story, calling the document a “handout.”
Alexander said that while the Fox News story on Monday was accurate in reporting the boy had been in possession of a document he had taken from school, he went on to say on Tuesday that “what was reported (which had been rebutted prior to the airing) was misleading and totally incorrect. I can only think it was shown for its sensational effect. Sadly, regardless of any follow-up report, our system has been defamed.”
While the document the boy turned over to his mother was evidence for the initial Fox story, Alexander said when he called the network to get evidence of the handouts from the other two children, he said Fox told him they did not have any more documents to substantiate the later stories. He questioned the accuracy of the later Fox stories.
Alexander said he has received more than a hundred emails from Fox listeners who criticized him, often using profanity. He said many have called for his firing, while one letter said he should not be fired, he should be “eliminated.”
So the only accurate part of the story is that a child somehow got into possession of a Nation of Islam document calling the Mt. Rushmore presidents racists. How he got the document, and whether it was in fact used in the classroom, were all complete BS fabricated by Fox to stoke fears and anger at the public school system. Worse, Fox News knew before even airing the piece that this was utter BS. But they ran with what they had anyway. Even worse, they embellished the story, saying other parents had come forward — when they hadn’t. This is supposed to be a news organization?
As a teacher, let me say: I know exactly how this happened. You’re Googling, you’re downloading a ton of stuff, printing it out to go through later to see what fits the lesson plan and what you’re going to toss. And then you read one document heavy on the cray and woopsies, this one goes in the discard pile. But somehow Little Johnny Patriot got his hands on it and took it home to Mommy. (By the way: I find the how of this quite suspicious. I’m guessing Little Johnny Patriot did not, in fact, deliver this “handout” to Mommy. I’m thinking some right-wing Gladys Kravitz-type was going through the teacher’s trash and found it, then passed it on to their friend in the Tea Party Muslimophobia knitting circle who has contacts at Fox News. So yes, I’m questioning the one supposedly accurate part of this story. But whatever.)
And by the way, the Nation of Islam URL is noi.org — not, you know, scaryblackpeople-DOT-islamofascismZOMG. It’s not like you can tell from the URL that what you’re downloading is probably not going to be appropriate.
Regardless, the good people of Elizabethton, Tennessee just got an upclose look inside the dirty engine of the Fox Noise machine. Their takeaway? It’s probably a really good idea to question the accuracy of Fox News stories.