Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo has become a target of the liberal media because of his criticism of Critical Race Theory, and the outspoken scholar feels the press is “lying, manipulating and playing language games to obfuscate the truth” about the hot-button issue.
In recent days, the Washington Post added a lengthy set of “clarifications” to a feature on Rufo that many considered a “hit piece,” and MSNBC’s Joy Reid invited him on air to debate Critical Race Theory Wednesday but hardly allowed him to speak before cutting him off throughout the interview. NPR accused Rufo of using Critical Race Theory as a “political opportunity to manufacture a culture war issue,” and he says The New York Times once claimed he was afraid to debate the issue.
Fox News caught up with Rufo on Thursday to get his thoughts on the state of American media, who truly understands Critical Race Theory, and even why viewership is so low on Reid’s MSNBC program “ReidOut.”
Fox News: Why do you think the mainstream media is so against your message?
Rufo: I think the political left and its enablers in the media are scared of my message because it’s the truth and because it’s working. Critical Race Theory, as I’ve documented in more than a dozen original reports, is being taught widely in American public schools. They’re not just teaching about the history of race. They’re teaching concepts like white privilege, white fragility, internalized white supremacy, white guilt, spirit murder. They’re teaching the idea that that even elementary school kids can be labeled as oppressors. It’s a really deeply disturbing phenomenon that we’re seeing all over the country.
And they want to just deny that it’s even happening, despite evidence from students, from parents, from teachers, despite now hundreds of different reports from around the country. They know that this is politically toxic. They know that it’s intellectually bankrupt, and they just want to hide the truth.
Fox News: You tweeted “Democracy dies when the media lies.” Are prominent news orgs lying about Critical Race Theory?
Rufo: I’m very hesitant to use words like a lie because in a lot of things in politics, there’s a different interpretation. There’s reasonable disagreement. There’s different frameworks that you could use to evaluate a claim. But in this case, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever accused anyone directly of lying, from what I can remember, the media is absolutely lying, manipulating, and playing language games to obfuscate the truth. And it’s clear they’re perpetuating a series of lies. They’re perpetuating the lie that Critical Race Theory is not taught in schools when in fact, we now have hundreds of reports from all over the United States documenting with hard evidence that it’s true.
They’re perpetuating the lie that Critical Race Theory is not derived from Marxism, but the literature on that is overwhelming. Even if you look at something tracing back the lineage of Critical Race Theory to critical theory in the Encyclopedia Britannica, kind of a very old and neutral source, it’s absolutely derived from the kind of 20th-century, neo-Marxism, and it maintains a lot of the features of Marxism, such as anti-capitalism. I mean, Critical Race Theory is explicitly anti-capitalistic, which is another way of saying Marxist. And they’re also lying about state legislation to stop Critical Race Theory indoctrination.
They say that it’s going to stop teachers from teaching the history of slavery and segregation and racism, the United States, when in fact, that’s not true at all and will prove that’s not true next year when Texas and Oklahoma and Tennessee and Idaho go back to school and they’re still teaching about racism. But what they’re not allowed to do is they’re not allowed to categorize their students as oppressors based on race.
Fox News: How does the way the reacted to your criticism reflect on the state of media in America?
Rufo: The media has been relentlessly attacking me. Everyone from the New York Times to the Washington Post, to the Atlantic, to the New Republic, to CNN and MSNBC. They’ve engaged in a month-long and vicious campaign against me and against my work. But what I’ve noticed is that a lot of this mainstream media attack is really kind of fake, both because it perpetuates falsehoods, but also fake in the sense that it has very little organic support. So you have an outlet like the New York Times and the Washington Post that have these massive platforms. They have enormous staff, they have tremendous reach, but actually, when you look at something like on Twitter, for example, that really gives you a sense of where the organic grassroots energy is on either side. All of these stories against me have fallen completely flat. No one’s talking about them. No one’s discussing them. No one’s sharing them.
They’re really best compared to a kind of Soviet-style state propaganda that gets through the guest, out through all of the official channels, but the actual citizens, the people don’t believe it because they know it to be false. And consequently, my work actually, a lot of these attacks have just elevated me. They’ve helped me get out my message.
Fox News: Have you received any threats or online harassment since the media started attacking you?
Rufo: I mean, of course, I think we all get it. Nothing like out of the ordinary, really.
Fox News: Have any mainstream outlets given you a fair shake?
Rufo: The New Yorker, which is obviously a magazine of the political left, did a profile that I felt was fair, that I felt was thoughtful, that I felt conveyed my real belief. And I think a lot of the credit goes to the writer Ben Wallace-Wells, who you know, he and I disagree on political issues, but he’s a writer that really took the time to try to understand not only my views and my reporting, but also try to understand what’s driving people in kind of grassroots America to be reacting to the way they are against Critical Race Theory. And, you know, I think of all the media that’s happened. The New Yorker did a job that was fair, that was balanced, that was insightful, that was thoughtful. And I’m really grateful to them because I think that’s a valuable addition to our public discourse.
Fox News: Do you think liberal pundits and journalists that criticize you truly understand Critical Race Theory or just push it because they know conservatives support it?
Rufo: I think it’s very clear, Joy Reid last night, she absolutely embarrassed herself on the facts, as I posted on Twitter. I mean, I think her argument was that Critical Race Theory isn’t even Critical Race Theory. I mean, she said that the founder of Critical Race [Theory] wasn’t a critical race theorist. She said that the people who wrote the textbook on race theory are not critical race theorists. She said that Ibram Kendi, who claimed that Critical Race Theory was, quote, ‘foundational to his work,’ was not a critical race theorist. And she claimed that ethnic studies is not based on Critical Race Theory, even though there are more than a dozen official college programs teaching critical race and ethnic studies. It’s either one of two things … either she is so ignorant of the basic facts around Critical Race Theory that she just doesn’t know what she’s talking about, or she is so cynical and dedicated to running cover for these awful ideas that she’s willing to lie straight to her audience over and over and over.
Either way, I think what we’re seeing is that they’re playing language games … but the American people are too smart for that. They know exactly what’s being taught in their children’s schools. They know exactly what kind of messages are coming out of legacy media. And they know exactly the principles and the ideas and the concepts that Critical Race Theory teaches.
Fox News: Reid is coming off her lowest-rated week in the history of her show. Do you think her combative style and failure to engage with people she disagrees with is a reason why she’s losing viewers?
Rufo: I think so. Certainly Joy Reid can scream and shout on television and there’s a hardcore faction of her audience that will like that. But I think that American news viewers want a substantive exchange … Joy Reid is a one-trick pony. She made her career, I think, because of her kind of screaming and shouting about Donald Trump. Now Trump is gone. You can’t scream and shout about him. She’s trying to scream and shout about me. But, you know, it’s not compelling television. I’m sure some of the viewers see something in her show, but clearly they’re leaving for a reason and I don’t think last night helped her in any way.
Fox News: What does the public not grasp about CRT, in your opinion?
Rufo: I think the public grasps CRT quite well. According to The Economist, 64 percent of Americans now know about Critical Race Theory, of which 58 percent view it unfavorably, including 72 percent of independents who believe that it’s bad for America. So I think the public is much more knowledgeable and understands the theory much better than our supposed intellectuals at places like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR.
Fox News: Michigan congresswoman Rashida Tlaib tweeted, “Opposition to Critical Race Theory is obviously rooted in racism and has just become the newest dog whistle for racists.” What is your reaction to that claim?
Rufo: [Laughs] I’ve seen articles recently that claim that square dancing, math and even oxygen are racist. I mean, it’s getting to the point of absurdity where there isn’t a molecule in the entire galaxy that Rashida Tlaib could not make a claim that is racist. So it’s just like it’s their last fallback. They realize that they’re absolutely losing on the substance. They’re getting crushed politically and their only fallback, their last great hope is to accuse everyone and everything of being racist. But that language was powerful five, six years ago, I mean, really, if you accused something of being racist, it had tremendous social power. But it’s been used and abused so often in the last five years that it’s really lost all of its linguistic power.
Some questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.