How the WaPo’s Epic Fail on Schools Helped Elect Youngkin

Loudoun County parents pack a School Board meeting. Photo credit: Idiocracy News Media

by James A. Bacon

The national news media are full of commentary today analyzing the implications of the Republican sweep of statewide offices in Virginia. Almost all focus on Glenn Youngkin’s deft exploitation of the culture wars playing out in the state’s public schools, especially in Northern Virginia.

Youngkin does indeed deserve credit for harnessing the parents’ rebellion against “critical race theory.” Parents of school children shifted decisively from McAuliffe to Youngkin during the campaign. But there’s a big piece of the story that everyone is missing: how conservative media established the narrative of “critical race theory” and made it a top-tier issue in the election, catching the Washington Post flat-footed in the year’s biggest political story unfolding in its own back yard.

Scrappy conservative publications have long served as a counter to the dominant liberal media. They have served as a partial antidote to the dominant progressive narratives of our time, plugging voids in mainstream coverage by filling in “the other side of the story.” But they always played defense. This is the first time I can recall in which conservative media seized upon a narrative and drove an issue that decisively influenced a statewide election.

Do not underestimate the importance of this. The power of the mainstream media to craft narratives and frame the issues confers an extraordinary advantage to Democrats, both nationally and in Virginia. A Washington Post exit poll of voters in Tuesday’s election shows that 36% define themselves as conservative compared to only 23% who call themselves liberal, with a 41% identifying as moderates. Ideologically, Virginia voters lean conservative. Virginia should be a red state, but it hasn’t been for years — until this year

Youngkin did not create the parents’ rebellion, he just figured out how to ride it to victory. A grassroots movement of parents created the rebellion, and conservative media fanned the flames.

The parents’ rebellion is a national movement. Northern Virginia — Loudoun County in particular — became the epicenter, but not because the implementation of policies and practices inspired by Critical Race Theory is so much more advanced there than elsewhere. Northern Virginia became the epicenter because conservative media — the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, the Epoch Times, National Review, the Daily Wire, and above all Fox News — have a presence in the Washington area. Conservative reporters and editors tend to live in Northern Virginia, which is less sapphire blue than the rest of the Washington metropolitan area. They could see what was happening in their communities, and they reported on it, creating a positive feedback loop with the grassroots movements already in place.

The parents’ rebellion first surfaced in Fairfax County, where the Northam administration and Fairfax public school officials revamped the admissions criteria for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, widely held to be the best public school in the country. The problem was that 70% of the student body, who qualified on the basis of an admissions test, were classified as “Asians”; only a few were Black or Hispanic. On the grounds of “equity,” admissions criteria were changed to open the elite school to disadvantaged minorities. Many parents decried the replacement of the merit-based approach with social-justice criteria.

Northern Virginian parents became agitated again upon discovering that a proposal to transform the mathematics curriculum had worked its way far through the Virginia Department of Education’s bureaucratic approval process. At issue was whether the Northam administration proposed to eliminate “advanced” classes. Virginia Department of Education officials backtracked amidst the uproar through the rhetorical trick of insisting that high-achieving students still would have access to “advanced” classes such as trigonometry and calculus, while downplaying the fact that the mathematics overhaul would eliminate tracked courses allowing advanced students in lower grades to progress more rapidly than slower students.

As parents became wise to what the Northam administration and its progressive allies in several of the state’s largest school districts were doing, they began paying more attention. They began digging. They issued Freedom of Information Act requests. They documented how CRT advocates were paid handsome sums to give presentations and perform consulting work, and how policies derived from critical race theory were driving curricula changes, teacher and staff training, disciplinary policies, and the “honest and open dialogue” about race outside the classroom. And they fed their findings to conservative media and blogs. (No one did this more successfully than T.J. High School parent Asra Nomani, a media-savvy former Wall Street Journal reporter, whose ambuscades we published on Bacon’s Rebellion).

For all intents and purposes, the newspaper whose motto is, “Democracy dies in darkness,” declared a blackout. When the issues couldn’t be ignored, the Post repeated the talking points of the Northam administration and the McAuliffe campaign: Republicans and conservatives were engaged in racist dog whistles, creating bogeymen, and, in effect, making it all up. “CRT is not being taught in our schools,” became the absurd mantra, as if rebel parents had claimed that high school students were being instructed in an abstract academic theory originating in law schools or, alternatively (and contradictorily), that parents objected to teaching students the cruel history of slavery and racism in America — topics that were already embedded in the Standards of Learning.

The story kept mutating as the battleground shifted to Loudoun County, where the school district was pushing “equity” (equal group outcomes) as justification for changing admissions standards to Loudoun’s elite school of science and technology. Then the school board backed controversial new guidelines for transgender students. Irate parents began packing school board meetings, not just in Loudoun, but in Virginia Beach, Albemarle County, and elsewhere. Local newspapers covered these as localized events, never connecting the dots, never conveying that parents were reacting to a radical ideology that was transforming their schools without their knowledge or approval.

Then came the revelation that Fairfax County schools had purchased sexually explicit books — containing graphic words and illustrations — for their libraries. The dam broke politically when gubernatorial candidate McAuliffe famously said, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision. I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Then came the request by the National Association of School Boards that the Biden administration sic the FBI on parents as “domestic terrorists” harassing and threatening school board members…. And then Attorney General Merrick Garland’s pledge to do so… And then the revelation that one of the parents cited by the NASB for his arrest for disorderly conduct had, in fact, been the parent of a daughter who had been raped in a Loudoun County school bathroom… by a boy wearing a skirt and allegedly referring to himself as “gender fluid”… And that Loudoun school officials had covered up the rape…

Conservative publications and Fox News, fast followed by community publications, broke these stories. Washington Post ate their dust, falling behind by three news cycles. The Virginian-Pilot treated the school controversies as a local issue, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Virginia Public Radio barely mentioned the controversies at all.

Conservative media spotted a real story and made it a national issue. For once, they drove the narrative every step of the way. They helped make history. Youngkin could not have won without them.

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44 responses to “How the WaPo’s Epic Fail on Schools Helped Elect Youngkin”

  1. Ronnie Chappell Avatar
    Ronnie Chappell

    I can’t speak to the role “conservative” news outlets played in the election. I think there’s a lot of press skepticism across the political spectrum. I do think suburban parents who took on bigger mortgages so they could live in the attendance districts of quality schools are very tuned into what’s happening in the classroom and whether their children’s needs and their expectations are being met. Also, it’s difficult for a truly local paper to ignore a school board meeting at which 200 people show up to protest.

    You have done a really nice job of detailing all of the concerns parents brought forward in this story. I think one of the reasons Educrats are so focused on CRT is that it allows them to attribute abysmal minority student SOL results to “systemic racism” and not their own abject failure to teach poor kids to read and do math at grade level.

    1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
      Baconator with extra cheese

      CRT also provides cover for not blaming horrible parents or the lack of parents.

      1. I think that’s classified as a ‘root cause’, thus cannot be discovered, discussed, nor resolved.

    2. John Harvie Avatar
      John Harvie

      Your “I think one of the reasons Educrats are so focused on CRT is that it allows them to attribute abysmal minority student SOL results to “systemic racism” and not their own abject failure to teach poor kids to read and do math at grade level.” hits the nail on the head!

      OABTW, do you live in my old neighborhood, the Wellington area south of the WW Bridge? Just curious. Might have been a friend of your dad or granddad who had a service station on North Washington St. in Alex.

  2. dsmithuva75 Avatar

    Excellent summary!

  3. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Search the Post’s website for the phrase “Accountability Virginia PAC” and come up with a goose egg. That pop-up mystery PAC that took Dominion’s money and used it for false flag advertising attacking Youngkin on gun issues never got any coverage in the paper. None. The Compost has lost any of its remaining credibility.

    I wouldn’t call the Richmond TD a conservative outlet (ha) or Patrick Wilson a conservative writer, but hell, it was just a great and important story and that’s what is supposed to matter. The Post and Mercury are partisan organs of propaganda.

    1. The Mercury — States Newsroom’s VA outfit — is straightforwardly an Arabella Advisors cutout. Vogelsong is a great climate reporter but she really needs to find her paycheck somewhere else.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      ” In an internal email to Dominion employees obtained by The Washington Post, CEO Robert Blue said the company is asking that the Accountability Virginia PAC give back Dominion’s donations, which total at least $250,000, according to recent Virginia Department of Elections filings.”

  4. tmtfairfax Avatar

    My mother told me stories about when her family went to visit her father’s grandparent’s parents on a farm in Western Wisconsin. The outhouse didn’t have toilet paper but, instead, old Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs.

    What a fine use for the Washington Post but for the fact that the Post’s ink retention is not as good as that of the old mail order catalogs.

    1. white privilege Wisconsin-style… you didn’t have to use leaves.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      You got told stories? Geeze TMT, we actually USED a real outhouse for years at my Grandmothers. and yes we had the catalogs but they were “backup” to when the TP ran out.

      The thing about the WaPo is that yes it is derided by many conservatives BUT they STILL do read it – then complain about it again – over and over!

      And Dems and liberals who do read the WaPO -they KNOW it is biased – yes but they also know most of the media on the right is even more biased and not at all dissuaded from distoring new, lying and misinforming on the issues and more than a few engage in outright conspiracy theories.

      Folks on the left simply don’t read right wing media much less believe it…

      Even Conservatives don’t trust some of the media on the right!

      1. tmtfairfax Avatar

        My maternal grandparents had a lake home in northern Minnesota and, for years, it had an outhouse. But we had toilet paper! (When I was little, I worried I’d fall through the toilet seat and well!!!!

        How can you say anything good about the Post? They missed Ralph Northam’s blackface antics not just when he ran for Governor, but also four years earlier, when he ran for Lt. Governor. As I’ve posted many times (no pun intended), I read one or two Post articles a month, generally when someone sends me a link.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          If you’re looking for perfection in media, left or right, good luck.

          Like I said, you guys bitch and complain about how awful WaPo is and then you go right back and read it again – AND then you will quote it if you like that article!

          And you KNOW what the right wing media writes is often just trash in terms of facts and truth!

          I read the WaPo – knowing that some articles are biased , yes… and NYT too and WSJ fairly fact-based but also biased -to the right. If all three publications agree on the facts, I trust it. I certainly treat just about everything else from right wing media with a heavily jaundiced eye. The post is biased but they don’t promulgate disinformation or outright lies like right wing media does.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    There’s a terrible misconception here that folks who vote Democratic normally and read WaPO – give credibility to right wing media which is often full of lies and outright misrepresentations of facts.

    The Trump base and many GOP supporters, OTOH, eat it up and often believe it. Like, CRT is in the curriculum and taught – simply not true but right wing media implies and claims it and folks who lean right do believe it. It’s a modern day boogeyman Southern Strategy.

    What happened is that the right wing media got the base spun up on lies and then McA stepped in it big time and lost the independents.

    Are minds changing?

    or this

    1. I guess the 22 Feb Memo #050-19 directs educators to resources which ARE NOT to be used in the classroom with our kids… interesting approach — it was, after all, written on ‘Reverse Friday’.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        more whataboutism that has little to do with the truth…. this is what the right does now.

        1. An official government memo is ‘whataboutism’ i thought an official document would fall under ‘facts, or evidence’ — i need to fix my on-line Webster dictionary, or can you direct me to yours?

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            If that document said that CRT would be made part of the curriculum – of course.

            But what does it mean with this memo?

            what you want to say it means?

            I can’t even tell what you are referencing specifically…

      2. I’m sure Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education, by Edward Taylor, David Gillborn, and Gloria Ladson-Billings was included on the list at the end of the memo because the Superintendent of Public Instruction wanted to make sure teachers were not using it.

        In fact, a book with the title Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education cannot exist at all. It must be some kind of white supremacist fiction. After all, Larry the G, the WaPo, CNN, MSNBC, etc., etc., have proven to us (by saying it again and again and again) that critical race theory is nothing but a law school exercise and that it has nothing to do with our education systems…

      3. This is from the overview of Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education included in the February 22, 2019 memo (emphasis mine):

        A comprehensive introduction provides an overview of the history and tenets of CRT in education. Each section then seeks to explicate ideological contestation of race in education and to create new, alternative accounts. In so doing, this landmark publication not only documents the progress to date of the CRT movement, it acts to further spur developments in education.

        Anyone who continues to claim that our education systems are not being targeted for implementation of CRT is either delusional or is being willfully ignorant.

        1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          No worries anymore because Youngkin bans CRT in Virginia on Day 1. Your nightmare is over.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            absolutely – day 1 – it’s DONE!

        2. There are facts, real facts, and what the left believes…. and now for something completely different [a whataboutism, if you will]…… We were told by CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and the others that Condi Rice was the new face of white supremacy. Those fictional institutions were all WRONG!!!! Here’s the REAL new face of WS….

          1. I was just looking for the right time to use that photo……

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            the right never much cared for Condi Rice until she said Trump understood those who felt diminished by Elites. Apparently that did not extend to black folks killed by Elites.

            not so much Colin Powell,

            ” Carlson, the right-wing talk network’s highest-rated star, instead used Powell’s death on Monday night to suggest Americans are “being lied to” about the vaccines.

            Carlson was not the only Fox News host to take such an approach.

            Will Cain, who hosted the hour before him, also used Powell’s death to question the effectiveness of vaccines while ranting against mandates.

            And John Roberts, the daytime Fox News anchor, deleted a tweet earlier in the day which said Powell’s death “raises new questions” about the effectiveness of vaccines.

            None of the Fox News hosts made mention of the fact that 90% of Fox Corporation employees are vaccinated or the fact that unvaccinated Fox employees must submit to daily Covid-19 tests.”

            Of course the above was on CNN! 😉

          3. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            With so many red herrings, you’ll eat for days.

    2. JimBob237 Avatar

      beware the Fox News fallacy at your own risk

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        sounds like a pleonasm….. 😉

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Harnessing? Or creating?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar


    2. Donald Smith Avatar
      Donald Smith

      Repeat after me: “GOP Governor. GOP Lieutenant Governor. GOP Attorney General. GOP-led House of Delegates (with the authority to conduct investigations.)”

      It’s a mouthful, but it’s worth it. It feels just as good the 100th time you say it as the first time.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        enjoy it ! Investigations? for what?

        1. Jake Spivey Avatar
          Jake Spivey

          Investigations? The state parole board would be a good place to start.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Can’t look partisan… or else it fails.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Enjoy. Caducous.

  7. tmtfairfax Avatar

    Seriously, what I don’t get about Bezos is why he worried so much about quality at Amazon. (I’m an Amazon shareowner.) But besides dumping money into the Post, he’s been hands-off. A good media outlet should be digging into everyone. I once had one Post news editor and two reporters ask me questions about Tysons for two and one-half hours. (They did buy me lunch.) And I’m a nobody. Why wouldn’t they poke deeply into what’s going on in Loudoun County schools? Shouldn’t they put three reporters on the superintendent and push him as hard as I was pushed?

    Lawyers often represent people or entities that they don’t especially believe in or like. Yet, we put full effort into our representation. Why wouldn’t a reporter be able to expose weaknesses in a position they support or strengths in a position that they didn’t like one bit? Journalism is no longer a profession.

    And Bezos is out of his mind.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I’d wager that the post has written more stories about Loudoun than any other outlet and more deeply in some respects and more trustworthy on the facts.

      Bezos is not worried about the quality at Amazon. He had a brilliant idea but he now has a plethora of competent staff that knows that business model and Bezos himself has said that some day, competition will come up with more/better models….

      You don’t want Bezos involved in editorial issues at WaPo if you ask me… you want those folks to do what they do without worrying about what Bezos thinks.

      TMT – you seem almost obsessed with WaPo at times…!

      Right-wing Media has always had the opportunity to do in-depth investigative reporting superior to WaPo and the truth is – it’s just not what right-wing media really wants to do… so why not blame them also for it not getting done?

  8. Steve Gillispie Avatar
    Steve Gillispie

    Is there any survey data of voters which would show why people voted the way they did?

    The one poll I have seen is that it was jobs. While we could wish there were a backlash against the devastating and destructive impact wokism and the teachers’ union have had on our schools, we believe that at our peril if it isn’t so.

    Judging from the rather appalling ignorance of the loquacious commenter here who apparently feels compelled to correct the thinking in virtually every BR post, the facts of what is happening may not have penetrated very deeply into liberal circles or may not be disturbing them as much as sanity would say they should.

  9. Donald Smith Avatar
    Donald Smith

    There really should be consequences for the Washington Post. The Post has every right to be a progressive paper. But, as Democrat Senator Joe Manchin said today, America is a center to center-right country. That makes the Post, by definition, out of the mainstream.

    So…TREAT it that way! Once, a while ago, it was a flagship mainstream media institution. But it’s changed. It now represents the viewpoint of extreme progressives. That’s OK for DC; DC is dominated by extreme progressives. That’s not my characterization—that’s Thomas Boswell’s, when he described the political flavor of D.C.

    But the vast majority of Virginia is not extreme progressive. That makes the modern-day Post a fringe player. The Youngkin administration should hold it at arms length. At press briefings, it should move the Post reporter to the back of the room. (Who cares what NPR thinks?) Team Youngkin should make the Post live with the consequences of its choices.

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      “But, as Democrat Senator Joe Manchin said today, America is a center to center-right country.”

      Joe is in the business of propping up Joe these days. Consider, however, that as each party moves further and further from the center, the center becomes harder and harder to define. Clearly the “center” is now not what it used to be.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      so what consequences should there be for those far-right publications that spew misinformation and outright lies ?

      The problem with critics of WaPo is that it’s certain articles that set them off while many other articles are so objective that even critics of the Post will put credence in them, more so than right-wing publications, and actually quote the article when it supports their views.

      Bottom line – if the Post was as bad as conservative critics say – it would actually lose out to right-wing media in readership.

      We KNOW that will never happen because the simple truth is that WaPo is better than right-wing media.

  10. My sister — a LHS senior — experienced this a few months ago. Texting with her today regarding the rhetoric around Youngkin and education, she says, “i remember this day as if it was yesterday. same goes for the day we were asked the survey. … [more recent incidents have been] nothing that drastic but they still show us videos on equity, tolerance as unconditional acceptance, racist bullying where the antagonist is always the white kid”

    So, no, CRT isn’t a core part of FCPS curriculum. But distasteful pedagogy around race is absolutely kicking around NoVA classrooms.

    EDIT: Yes, Fox was the only outlet to pick up the incident. Nothing from the Post, Inside Nova, the Patch, Tysons Reporter etc. Thanks a lot local journos.

  11. Jake Spivey Avatar
    Jake Spivey

    LTG gets it right. Quit bithchin’ about the WaPo’s political bend. Opinionated papers go all the way back to the founding of the Republic. Online media is the same thing different format. Read a variety of publications everyday WaPo, NYT, WSJ, CNN, Fox, Lew Rockwell, US Naval Insitute News, Defense One, and of course Bacon’s Rebellion.
    Be informed.
    As LTG Russ Honore (USA, Ret.) once said, “Don’t do stupid.”

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Actually, I could not agree more except I do distinguish between “bias” and lies and misinformation that inform as to how much credibility to place in a given publication.

      WSJ is almost always dead factual on the News side but does have some bias (and expected) but compare the WSJ to other “right” publications and tell me which ones have equivalent credibility.

      WaPo, as biased as it is, does not spew outright lies and disinformation… AND it’s pretty easy to “fact check” by comparing to other publications like WSJ and the NYT but not really many right-leaning publications that have a reputation for not reporting facts or outright misrepresenting them – way beyond bias.

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