Analysis: National Education Association Post Blames ‘Dark Money’ for School Culture Wars — But Is Silent About the Funds It Pays Its Own Experts

NEA President Becky Pringle (Getty Images)

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive.

The National Education Association has a long tradition of finding hidden cabals behind groups that place themselves in opposition to the union’s agenda. In 2019, I chronicled the history of NEA’s efforts, going as far back as 1998, and its report “The Real Story Behind ‘Paycheck Protection’ — The Hidden Link Between Anti-Worker and Anti-Public Education Initiatives: An Anatomy of the Far Right.” That report featured this elaborate flow chart.

The union’s latest dispatch is a 3,000-word piece posted on its website, headlined, “Who is Behind the Attacks on Educators and Public Schools?

It characterizes protests over critical race theory and COVID-19 safety measures as “manufactured outrage” by small groups “whipped into a furor.”

Who’s holding the whip? It’s “a web of dark money and right-wing operatives looking to exploit culture war grievances for political gain” by spreading disinformation.

But while NEA seeks to warn us of the actions of these conspirators, it has a typical blind spot about its own record of manufactured outrage, dark money and disinformation — much of it present in its own article.

It quotes NEA President Becky Pringle: “We must reject false narratives that distract and divide us, and come together to ensure that students have what they need to succeed. We should focus on addressing the educator shortage that has only grown more severe during the pandemic.”

But an “educator shortage that has only grown more severe during the pandemic” is itself a false narrative, to the point that even an NEA state affiliate president noted that “there is little evidence… suggesting a mass exodus. To the contrary, most of our colleagues are staying.”

To support its conspiracy theories, NEA cites a number of specialists and experts. One is Tim Chambers, who works for the Dewey Square Group.

“‘The anti-CRT effort is textbook disinformation, manufactured and funded by right-wing think tanks and boosted by programmatically targeted ads to inflame users,’ Chambers said. ‘It is from well-funded orgs working with suspect local groups on the ground, and with the ever-present background push from Fox News on broadcast and cable behind it all.’”

Unmentioned in the article is that NEA paid the Dewey Square Group $283,650 last year.

The article also cites the Center for Media and Democracy and Media Matters. Both have received six-figure grants from NEA, though not last year. The article omits the union’s previous financial arrangements with these organizations.

NEA is also upset with efforts to recall school board members, particularly in the state of Wisconsin. It cites a researcher from the True North Research firm in Minnesota.

Left unsaid is that True North Research has its own transparency issues. The firm is headed by Lisa Graves, former executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. NEA and Graves were not always so put off by recall efforts, since both of them were instrumental in the failed recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in 2012.

I don’t believe people are chess pieces moved around by the high and mighty, but if they are, certainly there are players on both sides of the board.

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