Pink slime news, 2022
A fake story about suburban Chicago schools made the rounds on social media.
On November 5, 2020, the morning after the presidential election, I saw a story from a website called “Milwaukee City Wire” claiming that in a number of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s voting wards, there were more votes than there were registered voters. If accurate, that would be a gigantic scandal, so why weren’t any of the mainstream newspapers in the area (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, local TV channels, etc.) covering it? Simply put: the story was completely false.
The numbers in the article didn’t match what was posted on the state election commission website. Legitimate local news outlets confirmed that the Milwaukee City Wire story seemed to be completely fabricated, and the state elections commission put out a statement addressing the claim directly on Thursday, November 6.
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Unfortunately, by the time debunks of the story began making the rounds, the false information was already being posted on social media by conservative employees at places like Newsweek, The Washington Examiner, and The Wall Street Journal. Eventually, a version of the claim made it into the feed of Republican Party spokesperson Elizabeth Harrington (who currently works for former President Donald Trump). Here’s her tweet, still online years after being debunked:
Along with Spencer Silva, I wrote about this over at Media Matters. “Milwaukee City Wire” is what’s known as a “pink slime” news outlet, which is a partisan propaganda operation slapped with branding to make it look like a legitimate local news outlet. Hundreds of these “news outlets,” which typically combine the aggregation of regular stories interspersed with propaganda items, have popped up in recent years, though their reach tends to be pretty minimal. The outlets don’t have any real readership of their own, but rather, they rely on bigger names in media (see: the people at Newsweek, WSJ, and Washington Examiner) to take their claims at face value and promote them. The goal isn’t to make money as a news site but to inject disinformation into the mainstream.
That brings us to this week.
Before I get too into the weeds on this, I’m going to recommend you check out Don Moynihan’s piece on the topic, which can be found here:
“West Cook News,” which would seem to suggest it covers western Cook County, Illinois, published a story with the headline “OPRF to implement race-based grading system in 2022-23 school year:”
Oak Park and River Forest High School administrators will require teachers next school year to adjust their classroom grading scales to account for the skin color or ethnicity of its students.
School board members discussed the plan called “Transformative Education Professional Development & Grading” at a meeting on May 26, presented by Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning Laurie Fiorenza.
In an effort to equalize test scores among racial groups, OPRF will order its teachers to exclude from their grading assessments variables it says disproportionally hurt the grades of black students. They can no longer be docked for missing class, misbehaving in school or failing to turn in their assignments, according to the plan.
Would it shock you to learn that this story is complete nonsense? And would it shock you to learn that this story was the product of another pink slime news network? In this case, it was LGIS, or Local Government Information Services, run by Illinois-based right-wing nutcase Dan Proft. Here are some of the other phony news outlets that are part of LGIS:
As Moynihan’s piece highlights, this story got a lot of attention among certain segments of the political right, center, and anyone else easily fooled into credulous consumption of “cancel culture” articles. “See!?!? The woke left is now assigning grades based on race!!!!” made for a story that they all just happily took at face value.
The actual story here was simple: there wasn’t one.
There weren’t any policies at all to discuss. The PowerPoint that served as the basis of this story was part of the school district’s ongoing assessment of its grading practices (something schools just… do!). It was a report that said the following:
Traditional grading practices perpetuate inequities and intensify the opportunity gap
Integrating equitable assessment and grading practices into all academic and elective courses requires the collaborative effort of a team of educators committed to improvements that benefit all students.
Many OPRFHS teachers are successfully exploring and implementing more equitable grading practices such as: utilizing aspects of competency-based grading, eliminating zeroes from the grade book, and encouraging and rewarding growth over time.
Teachers and administrators at OPRFHS will continue the process necessary to make grading improvements that reflect our beliefs."
The lie remains effective because it’s something that the people spreading it want to believe.
Matthew Yglesias, who you may remember from this recent post of mine, tweeted the article out on May 30, writing, “This whole thing reads like broad satire,” which adds a bit of irony to the fact that he shared it anyway.