It’s no secret that websites like the Daily Caller, Breitbart and Daily Wire are full of fake news nonsense. But an investigation by Jane Lytvynenko published in Buzzfeed last week revealed that Republican-led public relations firm Third Dimension Strategies, or TDS, has covertly placed at least 33 op-eds for its clients in 10 different conservative media outlets. With content ranging from contact lens regulations to the renewable fuel standard, the pieces were so manufactured they were sometimes credited to authors who don’t exist. But apparently the tight editorial standards of the Daily Caller and friends let these fake pieces slip through…
Per Lytvynenko’s piece, these fake pieces appear to be confined to conservative media, where they’re preaching to the choir and unlikely to change many minds. But changing minds is the aim of another conservative PR effort. This one, however, disguises itself not as op-eds but as an online university.
Prager University sounds innocent enough, and its glossy 5-minute videos appear educational, which is part of why they have millions of views. But what sort of educational institution is Prager University? Or PragerU, for the hip young kids?
Mark Oppenheimer explores the operation for the March/April edition Mother Jones. As you may have guessed, Prager University is in no way an actual university. It’s just a bunch of heavily advertised five-minute YouTube clips that Oppenheimer describes as “engineered to sway those in the mushy middle, especially young people trying to figure out what they stand for.”
Oppenheimer details how through Prager, far-right Christian extremism is being mass marketed to impressionable young YouTube viewers. It’s spearheaded by Roy Moore supporter Dennis Prager, a religious conservative talk show host known for being anti-marriage equality, anti-feminism, anti-multicultural and even anti-self esteem. Prager is the kind of man who equivocates false rape accusations with rape, says a wife’s mood is less important than her husband’s desires, and defends married men who leer at other women.
The Prager U 5-minute video “lessons” aren’t much more modern than its namesake’s views. Whether it’s defending police and southern Republicans from charges of racism, decrying all mainstream news as fake news, denying the gender wage gap, claiming Christians are the most persecuted minority, or opposing gun control, there doesn’t appear to be any issue Prager isn’t ready to “educate” viewers about.
Prager’s climate videos alone--which include Will Happer criticizing climate models, Bjorn Lomborg telling us everything’s fine, or Richard Lindzen explaining what scientists think about climate change--have millions of views between them. Prager’s videos tend to recycle already-debunked material dug up from the rest of denierdom, so we don’t tend to pay them much attention.
But we thought they’d be worth mentioning when we saw in Oppenheimer’s story that PragerU is funded by a pair of brothers who earned a fortune off of fracking.
No, not the Kochs, but their fellow Heritage and Franklin Center funders Dan and Farris Wilks. Having made a fortune in fracking, the brothers are now dedicated to funding conservative causes. Farris Wilks is also a preacher, who says that homosexuality is “a perversion tantamount to bestiality, pedophilia and incest.” On climate change, Wilks preached that if God “wants the polar caps to remain in place, then he will leave them there.”
But Wilks’ funding doesn’t mean the Kochs don’t also have connections in PragerU. For example, last year Desmog’s Ben Jervey showed that PragerU’s “War on Cars” video featured Lauren Fix, whose husband’s race car happens to be sponsored by the Kochs’ now-defunct Fueling US Forward campaign.
Given Dennis Prager’s views on women, we’re just surprised she was allowed to speak at all.
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