Our Horrible Media: (News)papering over the controversy

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on September 2, 2021

On Tuesday, James O'Keefe's Project Veritas unveiled a 12-minute long video featuring Inderkum High School AP Government Teacher Gabriel Gipe talking about how he runs his public school classroom.

Highlights from the Project Veritas site include:

  • Gipe: “I have 180 days to turn them [students] into revolutionaries…Scare the f*ck out of them.”
  • Gipe: “I’m probably as far left as you can go.”
  • Gipe: “I post a calendar every week…I’ve had students show up for protests, community events, tabling, food distribution, all sorts of things…When they go, they take pictures, write up a reflection -- that’s their extra credit.”
  • Gipe: “So, they [students] take an ideology quiz and I put [the results] on the [classroom] wall. Every year, they get further and further left…I'm like, ‘These ideologies are considered extreme, right? Extreme times breed extreme ideologies.’ Right? There is a reason why Generation Z, these kids, are becoming further and further left.”
  • Gipe: “I have an Antifa flag on my [classroom] wall and a student complained about that — he said it made him feel uncomfortable. Well, this [Antifa flag] is meant to make fascists feel uncomfortable, so if you feel uncomfortable, I don’t really know what to tell you. Maybe you shouldn’t be aligning with the values that this [Antifa flag] is antithetical to.”

Needless to say, even in reliably blue California, teachers are not allowed to indoctrinate minors in public schools.

Inderkum High School is in the Natomas Unified School District in the Sacramento, Calif.-area, and the main newspaper there is the McClatchy-owned The Sacramento Bee. Newsworthy stories like this one often make their way to numerous other McClatchy paper, including my local paper, the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

So, what was the Day 1 headline on this viral story?

Sacramento school district threatened after far-right group films teacher discussing antifa
Sacramento school district threatened after far-right group films teacher discussing antifa

'Discussing antifa'

For the record: If all Gipe had been doing in his AP Government classroom was "discussing antifa," then there really wouldn't be any controversy. This is not what Gipe was doing.

You can "discuss antifa" all you want in a public school history, government, or even English class as long as you're not encouraging or endorsing that group's goals, and as long as you present both sides of the issue.

What you can't do is encourage students to go to antifa protests, give them extra credit for attending what often turn out to be violent rallies, and post a weekly calendar of only progressive political activities.

The latter is what Gipe was doing.

The rest of the story isn't any better

The lede:

A Natomas Unified teacher and the school district are receiving threats of violence after the teacher was recorded in an undercover video talking about how he wants his students to become “revolutionaries.”

It should go without saying that threats of violence shouldn't be tolerated, no matter to whom they are directed, but nowadays you need to.

In the big scheme of things, encouraging students to become "revolutionaries" can be the most milquetoast of encouragements to young people. "Go out and change the world," and "start a revolution" are perhaps the most clichéd admonitions in graduation speeches at the high school and college levels. Gipe wasn't encouraging generic civic activism and participation in public life, he was encouraging kids to join his preferred side.

Of the controversial—and disqualifying—parts of Gipe's "teaching" style, the Bee only includes mention of Gipe chastising a student for feeling "uncomfortable" by the antifa flag in the classroom.

There's no mention of his "ideology quiz," no mention of his weekly left-wing calendar, no mention of providing extra credit for attending potentially violent antifa protests, or that he dismissively refers to some subset of the public and his students as "rednecks."

In fact, the Bee declines to even name Gipe in its articles because he has received threats (again, don't threaten people), as though this is the 1980s and that information can be shielded from the public if the local paper declines to name him.

It's an interesting decision to (attempt to) shield a bad actor from opprobrium simply because some yahoos have threatened him.

Let's tell you about Project Veritas

The Bee story spends several paragraphs on Project Veritas, informing readers that they often produce "undercover and edited videos," "secret recordings to target media organizations and progressive causes" with a link to an unflattering Wikipedia page, and describing a video recorded attempt by a Project Veritas reporter to get an on the record comment from Gipe after the original video was released.

What is curiously absent from the Bee's reporting is any description of what antifa actually is.

Nowhere in the story is any description of the group that held numerous violent protests in cities across America. There is no mention of the monthslong siege of the federal courthouse in Portland, the volunteer antifa "security officer" who murdered a Trump supporter, or even the antifa riots in Berkeley several years ago.

Antifa is important enough to mention in the headline. It's important to note, again in the headline, that the video was taken by a "far-right" group. But nothing in there identifies antifa as far left.

Illegal taping?

The Bee also makes an argument that the Project Veritas reporter may have violated the law in recording Gipe as a reason for not publishing his name. It is true that California is a two-party consent state; that is, everyone must agree for a private conversation to be recorded.

However, for that law to apply, there must be a "reasonable expectation that no one is listening in or overhearing the conversation." The Project Veritas video was recorded inside what looks to be a reasonably crowded Peet's Coffee shop. As the Digital Media Law project notes:

If you are recording someone without their knowledge in a public or semi-public place like a street or restaurant, the person whom you're recording may or may not have "an objectively reasonable expectation that no one is listening in or overhearing the conversation," and the reasonableness of the expectation would depend on the particular factual circumstances.  Therefore, you cannot necessarily assume that you are in the clear simply because you are in a public place.

In short, whether or not it's illegal depends on the circumstances. It is not an open-and-shut case as the Bee makes it out to be as it would be if the interview took place over the phone.

Our horrible media

The headline is bad. The story isn't any better. And don't even get me started on the headline on the Day 2 version of the story, which actually has a period in the headline rather than a semi-colon.

Interestingly enough, some of the headlines on area TV stations websites were much more accurate and informative.

KCRA 3 (NBC): Sacramento teacher put on leave for ‘inappropriate,’ ‘disturbing’ actions after undercover video

CBS13: Natomas Teacher With Antifa Flag In Classroom Caught On Video Urging Students To Attend Protests

ABC10: Inderkum High School teacher to be fired after allegedly indoctrinating students with ANTIFA ideals

Also, both the NBC and CBS reports identify Gipe by name. ABC10 did not.

The Bee's reporting was sadly what we have come to expect. It still blows my mind that antifa is in the headline, but there isn't a single paragraph explaining what the group is in any version of the story. That's a blunder that would get you knocked down at least one letter grade in J-school, and probably more since you used it in the headline too!

Tags

I'll take a look at dude's new book, but this tweet isn't promising. Watts is a self-aggrandizing extremist whose easily debunked smears have done a lot of damage to her own cause. Also, within pro-gun-control circles everyone knows she's toxic, & Busse surely knows this. https://twitter.com/ryandbusse/status/1450623648067248128

Ryan Busse@ryandbusse

It’s time for reasonable gun owners to cry bullshit on those who demonize good people like @shannonrwatts who are just fighting to make the world better. As Shannon says…it’s also time to buy this book. http://www.ryanbusseauthor.com

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