Hostile ABC and NBC Deride Texas Conservatives for ‘Rewriting’ and ‘Whitewashing’ History

ABC and NBC rushed to get stories onto the air Friday night delivering left-wing talking points against the new social studies curriculum guidelines passed by the Texas State Board of Education, as both portrayed conservative Christians as the enemies of accurate history. Reality wasn’t good enough for ABC, which framed its lead story around “Rewriting History?” and saw no liberals in the “big controversy,” yet also tried to discredit the conservatives by highlighting “some of the things the conservatives tried and failed to do.”

ABC’s Dan Harris fretted “the new standards require that textbooks mention pillars of the conservative movement, like the Moral Majority the National Rifle Association, and the Contract with America with no liberal counter balance.” Harris, acting as more of a prosecutor than a journalist, then ran archived clips of him demanding from board chairman Don McLeroy:
- What do you say to people who say that you are, in essence, imposing your political and religious views on school children?

- If the Founding Fathers really wanted this to be a Christian nation, why is there no mention of Christianity or Jesus in the Constitution?
Instead of citing any other examples of awful new guidelines, Harris went to ones not added: “Here are some of the things the conservatives tried and failed to do: Have the President called by his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, which some called an attempt to raise questions about his faith, and even rename the slave trade as the Atlantic Triangular Trade.”

On NBC, Rehema Ellis presumed that term for the slave trade was included: “Even some vocabulary would change. The word ‘imperialism’ would be replaced with ‘expansionism’ in describing America's land acquisitions. And the expression ‘Slave Trade’ would be changed to the ‘Atlantic Triangular Trade.’ Some critics see that as a move to deny slavery.”

Ellis complained: “Textbooks must now include mention of the conservative resurgence of the 80s and 90s, the National Rifle Association, the Moral Majority, and include the idea that our Founding Fathers may not have intended a separation of church and state.”

Unlike Harris, however, Ellis at least uttered the word “liberal” and allowed McLeroy to contend they were just trying to bring back balance:
ELLIS: Every 10 years, the powerful state board of education votes on a new curriculum. And this time the strong conservative block is pushing to correct what it sees as a liberal bias.

DON McLEROY, TEXAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION: I'm pleased to actually to move it to balance. We have not swung it to the right, we swung it to the middle.

ELLIS: But critics say the board is whitewashing history...
In an April 27 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Is Texas Messing With History? Criticisms of the state's proposed new school curriculum are overblown,” David Upham, an assistant professor of politics at the University of Dallas, disabused any reason for panic:
....Despite the allegations, however, no one has pointed to a particular significant error of fact. My own review of the proposed curriculum did not reveal anything plainly false, and the oft-repeated accusations of outrageous omission are demonstrably false. The board did not excise Thomas Jefferson, downplay constitutional religious freedom, or minimize the role of women and minorities. On the contrary, the curriculum is replete with specific references to Jefferson, religious freedom, the civil rights movement, and the achievements and struggles of women and minorities....

The board's Republican majority rejected an amendment by board member Mavis Knight, a Democrat, to teach students that "the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others." This decision fostered the myth that the Republicans had de-emphasized religious freedom.

Yet the proposal was an overstatement of the historical truth. While virtually all the Founders endorsed religious freedom, they disagreed as to whether, and how, the government should promote Protestantism, Christianity, theism, or religion in general....

In one respect the curriculum is profoundly conservative. As "Celebrate Freedom Week" suggests, the board determined that the abolition of slavery and the expansion of civil rights for women and minorities should be treated as a fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence. Unlike the liberal readings of history that prevail in academia, this approach affirms that this progress resulted from the renewal of the Founders' principles, and not their rejection.

Is the board's more conservative and overtly patriotic reading of history the best one? That's a matter of legitimate disagreement. Yet there is no evidence to support the charge that this imperfect curriculum amounts to educational malpractice.
From April: “ABC Self-Generates 'Controversy' Over Palin's Innocuous 'Christian Nation' Remark

From Friday night, May 21, transcripts provided by the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth:

ABC’s World News:
DIANE SAWYER: And good evening. Breaking news out of Austin, Texas tonight, and one of the most closely watched stories by teachers, parents and politicians across the nation. The Texas State Board of Education today made a decision that will make history. By rewriting the books on it for nearly five million Texas school children. But Texas is such a force in the purchase of textbooks, where Texas goes, the nation usually follows. Here's Dan Harris on the big controversy and the big vote tonight.

DAN HARRIS: The Texas State Board of Education opened its meeting this morning with a prayer describing America like this:
                        
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: -a Christian land, governed by Christian principles-

HARRIS: And then the members went on to pass a new social studies curriculum with a controversy that goes well beyond religion. For example, the new standards require that textbooks mention pillars of the conservative movement, like the Moral Majority the National Rifle Association, and the Contract with America-

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: God Bless America.

HARRIS: -with no liberal counter balance. And they insist that the words of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, be considered alongside those of Abraham Lincoln.

HARRIS TO McLEROY: What do you say to people who say that you are, in essence, imposing your political and religious views on school children?

DON McLEROY, TEXAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION: We're a political body. We have to make decisions.

HARRIS: One of the leaders in all this is longtime board member Don McLeroy, a suburban dentist and a self-described Christian fundamentalist.

HARRIS TO McLEROY: If the Founding Fathers really wanted this to be a Christian nation, why is there no mention of Christianity or Jesus in the Constitution?

McLEROY: They wanted it to be a secular state. However, we can still refer to it as a Christian nation and the fact that the principles on which our country was built are biblical principles.

HARRIS: Here are some of the things the conservatives tried and failed to do: Have the President called by his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, which some called an attempt to raise questions about his faith, and even rename the slave trade as the Atlantic Triangular Trade.

SAWYER: So, Dan, now that the decision's been made, how many years will these rules govern textbooks?

HARRIS: For a long time, for a decade. And here's an interesting twist: Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservatives on the board, he was recently voted out of office. But he gets to keep his office until the end of the year, so his work is going to have a lasting impact.

SAWYER: For this year that he got to vote. Thank you, Dan Harris.
NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: In Texas tonight, public education and politics at a crossroads. The state's board of education has voted to change what school children learn about American history. We get a late report tonight from our education correspondent, Rehema Ellis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER: -the Voting Rights Act of 1964-

REHEMA ELLIS: In Texas public schools, this curriculum is headed for a major rewrite. For weeks there have been rallies and heated discussions about how history, geography and social studies should be taught.
                    
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I feel that I have let down the students in our state.

ELLIS: Every 10 years, the powerful state board of education votes on a new curriculum. And this time the strong conservative block is pushing to correct what it sees as a liberal bias.

DON McLEROY, TEXAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION: I'm pleased to actually to move it to balance. We have not swung it to the right, we swung it to the middle.

ELLIS: But critics say the board is whitewashing history.

ROD PAIGE, FORMER SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: We may not be completely proud of all the things that took place in our history, but history is history.

ELLIS: Here are some of the proposed changes. Textbooks must now include mention of the conservative resurgence of the 80s and 90s, the National Rifle Association, the Moral Majority, and include the idea that our Founding Fathers may not have intended a separation of church and state. Even some vocabulary would change. The word "imperialism" would be replaced with "expansionism" in describing America's land acquisitions. And the expression "Slave Trade" would be changed to the "Atlantic Triangular Trade." Some critics see that as a move to deny slavery.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS, NAACP PRESIDENT: This is a radical group that wants your kids to learn what they want to tell them, and not what actually happened. And that should be of concern to all of us regardless of party.

ELLIS: The school board sets the standards for the nearly five million Texas public school children. But traditionally the board's influence has extended far beyond the state because their books are often sold nationwide at an attractive price.

FRITZ FISCHER, NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR HISTORY EDUCATION: The real danger is that these standards will stand regardless of how many textbooks include these standards and will stand as a very potentially dangerous precedent for other states and other school districts to follow.

ELLIS: This evening, the Texas State Board of Education approved the new curriculum. Rehema Ellis, NBC News, New York.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center