We Must Not Allow Right-Wing Media to Set the Narrative

Ali M Collins
8 min readMar 8, 2023

I went down a rabbit hole after reading an article in St. Louis Today by Coleen Schrappen about a right-wing legal attack on a hospital doing work to save the lives of trans teens.

First, a little background…

First, I want to provide background on what interested me in this story. Apart from the fact that recent statements by conservative activists should make us ALL vigilant to protect the trans community, especially youth, I also felt a personal connection to the story. Two years ago, my colleague, Gabriela López, and I were targeted similarly via a coordinated media campaign.

The attacks against the San Francisco School board started in the fall of 2020, during the wake of the COVID pandemic. This was before anyone really understood how the January 6th Insurrection and rising Christian nationalist movement would fuel a wave of attacks on public schools and education justice now sweeping the nation. These attacks became visible when “parent's rights” groups descended on school boards to demand the removal of mask mandates under the guise of reopening schools.

San Francisco was the first of many targets in a nationally coordinated campaign to dismantle public education. As I began learning who was behind these attacks, I came to know Dr. Isaac Kamola, an expert on dark money, the #KochDonorNetwork and the right-wing media ecosystem.

Dr. Isaac Kamola, a dark money researcher at Trinity College, describes how fake grassroots astroturf non-profits funded by the Koch donor network push right-wing narratives fueled by false outrage. Watch the full interview on the Just Talks podcast and read the description for more details.

As the primary target of school board recall, fueled by a right-wing outrage campaign, I witnessed in real time what Dr. Kamola described. Local actors create drama, often using conservative lawsuits, to generate talking points for national media and right-wing influencers. These stories are promoted by political operatives and astroturf (aka: “fake grassroots”) “parent's rights” groups to validate the efforts of local politicians working to enact right-wing policies or legislation.

If you see something, say something

Once you become aware of a phenomenon, you are able to identify it elsewhere. I’ve learned that when multiple news articles cover outrage about something that really isn’t a story, you can assume there is a right-wing interest (and think tank) creating and amplifying said story.

Like an elaborate reality TV scenario, political operatives “produce” outrage and then cover it, which in turn MAKES it into real news.

How the right-wing media ecosystem works to create outrage for Fox News.

What do Dr. Kamola’s teachings tell us about media surrounding Jamie Reed’s Lawsuit? We have a disgruntled case manager, not a doctor or expert in any way, shape, or form, fired due to poor performance, including misgendering trans children in a trans youth clinic, who *coincidentally* teams up with a right-wing lawyer known for filing lawsuits connected to “Don’t Say Gay” laws and a Republican state senator currently pushing anti-trans legislation.

It’s not surprising Fox News and others are whipping up outrage.

None of this is surprising. What is actually surprising is the fact that journalist, Coleen Schrappen, took the time to interview families and young adults who benefited from the treatment they received at the Washington University Transgender Clinic.

Typically, media rely on “two-sides” narratives that silence the targets of outrage attacks while validating that “someone said something” even if that “someone” benefits politically or financially and that ‘something” has no basis in fact.

This should not be a new idea considering information coming out of the Dominion lawsuit that revealed how Fox News deliberately elevated false news.

As consumers and citizens, we have a right and a responsibility to call out media that run false narratives for political manipulation campaigns. A good illustration of this was when folks spoke up (on the right and the left) about coverage of horrific statements at a recent CPAC event; the media does respond to public feedback.

Multiple headlines for the same story in Rolling Stone magazine about Micheal Knowles horrific statements calling for the eradication of transgender people.

The problem with right-wing outrage campaigns is the more attention directed at them, the more they grow. Fake news often gets validated by legacy media. For example, when Gabriela and I were targeted by political operatives from the International Women’s Forum, Manhattan Institute, Parents Defending Education, Moms forLiberty affiliated groups like Friends of Lowell Foundation, and LITERALLY Chris Rufo, the false talking points they amplified were also shared in The NY Times and SF Chronicle.

The story was never renaming, it was right-wing media

When Gabriela and I took over as President and Vice President, our first agenda included a carry-over item approving work taken up by a community committee convened by previous Board Presidents. The resolution to rename schools was initially proposed by former Board President Matt Haney after the murder of Heather Heyer during the Unite the Right protests in Charlottesville, VA, to preserve a confederate monument there. This work began in 2016.

The SFUSD Renaming Resolution was initially proposed by state senator Matt Haney and approved before Gabriela Lopez and I assumed office in 2019.

The renaming committee comprised of parents, students, educators/historians, and community members was overseen by former Board President Mark Sanchez and Stevon Cook before him. While Gabriela and I supported this work, we agreed reopening schools was the Board’s number one priority. So, one month after taking leadership, we led the Board in pausing this work. Nonetheless, the NYTimes ran these headlines:

After publishing multiple articles on renaming concerns, and even though we addressed these concerns in a following Board meeting (making them a non-issue), the NY Times did not update the story until several months later.

News coverage that SFUSD was pausing renaming efforts received far less coverage that initial outrage stories.

The NY Times and other mainstream media continued to falsely claim that parents were “frustrated by renaming”, a right-win narrative promoted by Breitbart, Infowars, Tucker Carlson and others. This narrative was promoted locally by a couple of parents, Siva Raj and Autumn Looijen, two unemployed tech entrepreneurs and political grifters who announced the SF School Board recall on the Glenn Beck show after only living in SF several months prior and who didn’t even send their children to SF schools.

The New York Times and other media relentlessly pushed narratives originally promoted on the Glenn Beck show.

The NY Times has never discussed why Siva Raj nor Autumn Looijen would take on a school board recall when they aren’t even parents of SFUSD kids. Nor has the NY Times discussed that the recall would never have succeeded without heavy investment from wealthy tech venture capitalists with a history of supporting school privatization campaigns.

Nor did the fact that one of the biggest cheerleaders for the recall was billionaire tech bro, Paypall mafia, and Ron DeSantis supporter David Sacks

Nor did The NY Times cover the fact that one of the most prominent people attacking the Board and me was a woman who works as a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute, a right-wing think tank affiliated with Chris Rufo, the man leading a campaign to remove Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion under the guise of “woke ideology” and CRT.

The SF School Board recall was promoted by right-wing media and political operators aligned with Pizzagate in Washington D.C., a prominent Antifa conspiracy theorist in Washington state, Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA, the International Women’s Forum, Parents Defending Education, Moms for Liberty, anti-affirmative action lawyer Ed Blum, and Trump lawyer Harmeet Dhillon (currently suing Kaiser to undermine trans rights in California.

Meanwhile, Gabriela López and I worked to get over one million meals to SF children during the pandemic and a laptop for every child to access remote learning, a feat many districts struggled with. We received no media coverage about this or our pleas to get monetary support to provide ventilation, testing and masks to low-income students and families, and SF educators during the apex of the pandemic.

Nonetheless, the NY Times and even the SF Chronicle refused to publish even one Op-Ed from Gabriela as Board President during a pandemic!

Ishmael Reed sees through the noise

We cannot allow corporate media to pander to right-wing propaganda mills seeking to undermine democracy and terrorize educators or the trans community. Black media, independent media, content creators, and artists are doing brave and necessary work to hold political grifters accountable.

Black revolutionary playwright, poet, and author Ishmael Reed sees how mainstream media works to erase social justice movements by tokenizing, co-opting, and containing Black thought. Across the Bay, he watched the headlines push out stories that pitted Blacks and Asians against one another and portrayed Black and Latina leaders as aggressors when they were, in fact, targets of right-wing terror and harassment.

As a world-renowned Black revolutionary playwright, Reed understands the power of using one’s platform to elevate others. And, so, he used his talent to research and write a satirical play, The Conductor, to start a conversation about the truth behind the propaganda. Using theater to communicate complex truths the mainstream media refuses to touch.

Photo from “The Conductor” by Ishmael Reed, a satirical play about the SF School Board recall. In this photo we see Imran Javaid who plays Shashi Parmar in disguise.. Laura Robards as right-wing newscaster Hedda Duckbill. Photos: Jonathan Slaff.

See The Conductor opens this Thursday, March 9th!

The Conductor opens this Thursday, March 9th LIVE Off-Broadway, at the Theater for the New City in NYC. If you attend opening night, there will be a panel with me, Gabriela Lopez, and the playwright himself. Performances will run (and stream virtually) from March 9–26th.

Go to this link to purchase tickets and learn more!

Now more than ever it’s important to support Black literature, arts, and media as an antidote to book bans and whitewashing of history, even as it happens in real-time via inaccurate media and disinformation campaigns against education justice!

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Ali M Collins

mom of twins. education nerd. public school warrior. reformed cat-lady. amateur urbanist. social justice addict. BLERD. & most recently Board of Ed Commissioner