Journalistic Competence and Integrity, Explained – Part 1

V-P building in Norfolk is being turned into 181 apartments. Staff members working from their homes.

by James C. Sherlock

A couple of reporters, Sara Gregory and Matt Jones, wrote the lead front page article in The Virginian-Pilot print edition today.  

It was headlined “Critical Race Theory, Explained” and was presented as news, not opinion.

The line between the two is more blurred every day. I wish it were not, but that is not my objection.

People are entitled to their own opinions on critical race theory and its implementation in K-12 schools. Honest people can disagree. But a newspaper is not entitled to wrongly redefine ideas that form the basis of an active public debate and then criticize one side.

That happened here.

Ignorance or dishonesty?

To write this, I had to decide if the authors and their editor, if they had one at the shrunken Virginian-Pilot, were just ignorant or purposely misleading.  

The paper is on its last legs, and staffers are working from home, so in a triumph of hope over experience, I am going with an ignorance/incompetence theory.

The article offers “some answers about what critical race theory is — and what’s behind the political war that has engulfed the nation’s schools.”

It thus set lofty expectations that it utterly failed to redeem.

The V-P authors report:

“(Critical Race Theory is) an academic framework that tries to explain how race and racism affect people’s lives.”

“Critical race theory says inequities persist not just because of people’s biases but because racism is embedded in America’s legal and cultural systems.”

But, the authors then write, clearly distressed and disapproving:

“Critical race theory has become a household phrase because of a campaign to make it one by twisting its meaning.”

Its meaning has been twisted, but not by parents or “right-wing organizations” as the authors contend.

Old political axiom:  “If you are getting killed by your position on something, reframe” it.” Presto.

A “framework”

The V-P article positioned CRT as an entirely reasonable “framework” to advance society, but then offered a defense by redefining the term and saying what it is not:

“Teaching students to think critically about race is not the same thing as critical race theory taught to much older students. General efforts to improve diversity or create equity are not part of the critical race theory framework.”


“The framework is taught in college and law school classrooms, not K-12 schools.”

Nothing to see here, parents.  

Ignorance? Delusion? Whatever.

Harvard Law

I decided to go for definitions to the institution where critical race theory was founded and where it continues to be centered, Harvard Law School. One of the reasons I “credit” the authors with ignorance is that they appear not to have known that Harvard is the keeper of that particular flame.

The source is Harvard Law School’s Bridge Project.

Critical Perspectives on Rights

From Harvard Law:

“The critique of rights developed by critical legal theorists has five basic elements:

• The discourse of rights is less useful in securing progressive social change than liberal theorists and politicians assume.

• Legal rights are in fact indeterminate and incoherent.

• The use of rights discourse stunts human imagination and mystifies people about how law really works.

• At least as prevailing in American law, the discourse of rights reflects and produces a kind of isolated individualism that hinders social solidarity and genuine human connection.

• Rights discourse can actually impede progressive movement for genuine democracy and justice.”

Disturbing, but important to know.

Critical Theory

The V-P authors brought up “think critically” about race. So, let’s look at the Harvard definition of critical theory. “A family of new legal theories, launched since 1970, share commitments to criticize not merely particular legal rules or outcomes, but larger structures of conventional legal thought and practice. According to critical legal scholars, dominant legal doctrines and conceptions perpetuate patterns of injustice and dominance by whites, men, the wealthy, employers, and heterosexuals.”

“The “critical” dimension of critical legal studies includes not only efforts to expose defects, but also affinity with other theoretical projects and social movements. A variety of scholars and lawyers have joined together to organize symposia, workshops, and other projects under the headings of critical legal studies, feminist legal theory, and critical race theory.”

The Harvard definition failed to mention that critical theory originated in the anti-capitalist Frankfurt School founded during the Weimar Republic to “Westernize” Marx (the Russian revolution had proven less an advance of society than hoped) by adding components from Hegel and Freud.  

But let’s move on with the dons at Harvard.

Critical Race Theory

Harvard Law School’s “The Bridge” project has written that CRT is:

“Not a set of abstract principles but instead a collection of people struggling inside and outside legal scholarship, critical race theorists are engaged in building a movement to eliminate racial oppression, and other forms of group-based oppression. The scholars pursue individual routes, methods, and ideas. Nonetheless, they converge around the belief that racism is endemic, not aberrational, in American society; that liberal legal ideals of neutrality and color-blindness have replicated rather than undone racism; that analysis should be informed by personal experience and contextual, historical studies; and that pragmatic and eclectic strategies should be pursued in the struggle for racial and social justice.”  

The V-P article quoted a University of Arizona professor who opined that:

“It’s looking at systemic inequities,”… “If you and your actions are supporting that, then you might feel bad about it, but there’s nothing inherent that says white people need to feel bad and that white guilt is a central component of this in any way, shape or form.” 

Sorry, professor, but the Harvard begs to disagree. Its description of CRT contains the following sections:

  • Critique of Liberal Antiracism – 
    • Scholars “demonstrated the failure of struggles for race-blindness to dislodge white supremacy”. 
  • Critique of Whiteness – 
    • Race is “a product of social processes of power.”  
    • “Exposing and dismantling the usually invisible privileges of white people is a related major focus of critical race scholarship.” 
    • “Cheryl Harris developed a conception of whiteness as property, a resource of considerable value and investment receiving massive legal protections.”
  • Re-envisioning Race and Society.  
    • “Patricia Williams juxtaposes analyses of judicial opinions with reflections on campus struggles over racism, her own encounters with prejudices on the basis of race, and her observations about how a person undergoing a sex-change operation was shunned by persons of all kinds.” In these and other works, critical race scholars propose compelling visions alongside their critiques of racial and cultural dominance by whites.
  • Intersectionality and Division.  
    • “Rejecting the idea of race as a natural category, critical race scholars join feminists and queer theorists in the project of unearthing the social, cultural, and legal constructions of identities.”  
    • “Even progressives tend to erase the situations of women of color in their analyses and proposals or else require those very individuals to pick one group—defined either by race or gender. Here, critical race theorists join some feminist theorists in emphasizing the potential fluidity and latitude for contest over gender, racial, and sexual identities. Mari Matsuda, for example, urges new kinds of law to accommodate “multiple consciousness” framed by conflicting and intersecting group experiences of oppression. 

Twisted meaning

It is easy to see who has “twisted” Harvard’s baseline definition above.

The same V-P story informed us that the New Yorker has “attributed the entire (anti-CRT) movement to (Christopher) Rufo’s advocacy.”  

Helpfully, to set expectations, they identified Rufo with Fox News and President Trump– the loudest dog whistles in the woke universe. Do they believe that:

  • no parent could see what was happening in his or her kids’ schools and legitimately object? 
  • No one but Rufo read Kendi? 

Have the authors read Kendi?

A right-wing plot to exercise parents rights

They wrote:

“Right-wing organizations have put out playbooks in recent months detailing how supporters can pressure school boards and other elected officials to denounce critical race theory — or remove them from office if they don’t.”  

They failed to offer the observation that the backlash was in response to years of declarations of intent and now implementation of CRT in K-12 education. It was pre-dated by widely reported efforts of the entire race industry, including best selling books and massively overpaid speakers at faculty meetings. 

Now teachers unions are proudly dedicated to those exact principles.  

So, of course many parents are now rising to contest critical race theory in K-12 schools.  

Maybe those parents actually read the source materials like those above before they offered opinions.  

What a concept.


It gets worse.

In Part 2, I will discuss the same Virginian-Pilot article’s take on Social Emotional Learning and the “protection” of transgender children by new VDOE standards.

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11 responses to “Journalistic Competence and Integrity, Explained – Part 1”

  1. vicnicholls Avatar

    The VP was clueless when it went progressive. The folks who actually bought the paper, most of them were right wing. They’ll not buy. Then the progressive folks aren’t going to buy it because they get it free elsewhere.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I don’t buy defining left and right wing opinions Vic.

      If people have done the research and have informed opinions, I just call them citizens.

      It is the informed opinions part to which not nearly enough attention is paid.

      Much of the press/internet universe, as seen in the V-P article, is too lazy/weak or idealogical to do the work, shapes the facts to fit their opinion.

      V-P fits the former definition, the New York Times the latter.

      1. vicnicholls Avatar

        True. However, the reason why the print went down was 1) online and 2) the stories were not facts.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    You are still trying to denigrate critical race theory by tying it to Marxism and claiming that CRT is an offshoot of it. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, critical theory:

    “may be distinguished from a traditional” theory according to a specific practical purpose: a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human

    ’emancipation from slavery’, acts as a ‘liberating … influence’, and works ‘to create a world which satisfies the needs and powers of’ human beings”.

    Critical theories ” aim to explain and transform all the circumstances that enslave human beings.” One distinctive aspect of critical theories is their emphasis on practical methods to achieve their ends. It is usually traced to the Franfurt School in the early 1930’s beginning with Horkheimer and Adorno and stretching to Marcuse and Habermas.

    A “critical theory” must “explain what is wrong with current social reality, identify the actors to change it, and provide both clear norms for criticism and achievable practical goals for social transformation.” It is an approach to examining society that involves various aspects of the social sciences. It can be used in many areas, such as feminism and critical race theory.

    You then identify critical race theory with the favorite bete noir of conservatives, Harvard University. It is true that Derrick Bell, who is generally recognized as a co-founder of CRT, is on the faculty of Harvard. It also happens that Richard Delgardo, who is also regarded as a co-founder of CRT, is on the faculty of another leftist institution–the University of Alabama.

    The American Bar Association also has a section on its website defining CRT (does that make it a “center of CRT”?) It attributes the development of CRT not only to Bell and Delgardo, but also to Kimberle Crenshaw (who coined the term CRT), Cheryl Harris, Patricia Williams, Gloria Ludson-Billings, and Tara Yosso, none of whom are affiliated with Harvard.

    1. CJBova Avatar

      Dick, Critical Race Theory has evolved since the 1970s. Y0u are incorrect about Kimberle Williams Crenshaw not being affiliated with Harvard.

      Her page at Columbia Law School says: Education
      LL.M., University of Wisconsin, 1985
      J.D., Harvard Law School, 1984
      B.A., Cornell University, 1981

      Quick quote from Wikipedia: “Crenshaw is one of the founders of the field of critical race theory.

      While at Harvard Law School, she was one of the founding organizers of the Critical Race Theory Workshop, which originated the term.”

      Peller, Garry (1995). Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement. The New Press. ISBN 9781565842717.

    2. CJBova Avatar

      From a Harvard Law page on a 2019 conference:

      “In 1981, a group of Harvard Law students, led by Kimberlé Crenshaw,
      organized an “Alternative Course” on race and law at Harvard Law School to boycott a mini-course on race offered by HLS administration as a failed attempt to appease students demanding a discussion of race and law. The Alternative Course was in many ways the first institutionalized
      expression of CRT. Since then scholars, lawyers, and activists have utilized CRT principles to conceptualize how systems of oppression are
      designed to marginalize peoples at the intersection of race and their other identities, including gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, and class. Today, lawyers are still left grappling with how to dismantle these systems of subordination in partnership with
      communities, as well as the relevance of CRT in guiding that work.
      Today, 37 years later, Harvard “Law students are carrying forward the
      critical tradition sparked by the 1981 student organizers by organizing
      the first CRT Conference at HLS. The conference seeks to re-ignite this
      conversation by exploring how CRT today contributes to the power
      building efforts of modern social movements led by communities and lawyers working to dismantle systems of subordination at the intersection of race and other marginalized identities.”

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        I knew that she got her law degree from Harvard, but I didn’t find out about the other details. Thanks for filling me in. My point was that she is not on the Harvard faculty now. Furthermore, except for her and Bell, none of the other main academics associated with CRT are associated with Harvard.

  3. My constitutional law professor was a critical legal studies adherent. We read the “Red Book” (the bible of critical legal studies) for the class. The professor enjoyed arguing with me, and I with him. It was always good natured and with no personal attacks (if only we could return to those days). I ended up agreeing with some of CLS theory (which is the basis for CRT). If the “solutions” under CLS were revealed I think the woke parents supporting it now would change their tune. For example, to ensure equity in college and law school admissions, admissions would be random. That achieves true diversity, but good luck convincing parents. LOL.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      A random selection may ensure equity in diversity, but diversity is only one goal in college and law school admissions. Therefore, a random selection process that gives “C” students and “A” students equal chances of being admitted would not be equitable.

      1. But the entire grading system is biased (racist). All of society is biased (racist). Only random selection is an appropriate means of choosing. Also, grades are based in large part on privilege (as are SAT scores).

  4. Never forget, the V-P is the newspaper that apologized for the whiteness of the reporters who wrote a series about racial segregation in Hampton Roads. You can’t possibly expect an unbiased account of “critical race theory” — or whatever name you want to append to the cluster of neo-racist beliefs being foisted on public schools these days — from these people.

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