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Parents who opposed critical race theory on Fox News are GOP activists, report says

The liberal watchdog group Media Matters detailed how 11 guests promoted as concerned parents are also involved in conservative politics.

Fox News failed to fully disclose the professional conservative ties of 11 guests featured in numerous segments about the teaching of critical race theory in schools, according to a new report from Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group that monitors conservative media. 

Fox News hosts introduced guests who oppose critical race theory as concerned parents, teachers and school board members, while downplaying or ignoring their official ties to larger conservative organizations and causes, according to the report.

While many of the guests are indeed parents or school officials, the Fox News segments rarely included their professional biographies: among them, Republican strategists and lobbyists, staff of conservative think tanks, and media personalities.

It’s unclear if Fox intentionally misrepresented the guests’ biographies.

Critical race theory has been a galvanizing topic on the right and the subject of near-constant coverage in conservative news publications. Fox News alone has mentioned it nearly 1,300 times since March, according to Media Matters. 

That national spotlight has been a boon to at least 165 new local and national groups targeting critical race theory at more than 50 school boards across the country, conservative organizers told NBC News this week.  

Critical race theory is an area of academic inquiry that studies systemic racism, its institutional causes and its lasting impact, but conservative activists have rebranded the term to include any efforts to provide equity or balance in curricula on race and gender. Most of the targeted school districts insist their schools do not teach critical race theory.

The Media Matters report highlighted guests including Ian Prior, who leads the school board recall effort in Loudoun County, Virginia. In at least 15 separate appearances, Prior was portrayed as a father first, while scant mention was made of his long ties to groups like the National Republican Congressional Committee or his work as communications director for the conservative Super Pac American Crossroads and the Department of Justice under President Donald Trump. 

A representative for Fox News emailed some examples of its efforts to identify guests, including Prior, who anchor John Roberts identified as a Loudon County parent and founder of FightForSchools.com, a political action committee formed to unseat school board members. Other examples included guests named by Media Matters who Fox news identified as an informal adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign and another as a co-chair for Moms for Liberty Northeast Florida Division.

Prior said in an email to NBC News: "I worked for Republican organizations and the Department of Justice for approximately 6 years. I've been a concerned parents for 8 years and will be for the rest of my life. That is, and always will, be my absolute priority over anything else."

The report also revealed that Lilit Vanetsyan, a Fairfax County teacher whose fiery speech against critical race theory at a school board meeting went viral this month, is a political activist affiliated with the conservative organization Turning Points USA and a correspondent with the pro-Trump media outlet Right Side Broadcasting Network. On Fox News, she was described simply as “one of the teachers who was at that school board meeting.”

Vanetsyan did not immediately responded to emailed requests for comment.

Jason Abbruzzese contributed.