Conservatives weren’t surprised by National Public Radio (NPR) Senior Editor Uri Berliner’s recent whistle-blowing account showing how NPR is actively involved in pushing a progressive agenda. Berliner detailed how the taxpayer-funded news outlet simply stopped asking questions and instead took a partisan side on most issues. During the pandemic, NPR declared that to suggest that COVID-19 might have started as a lab leak was racist, so it didn’t interview anyone who believed what finally was found to be true—COVID-19 most likely originated in a lab.

NPR did not cover reports that Hunter Biden’s laptop was anything other than Russian misinformation because, as one of his colleagues told Berliner, “it would help Trump.”

And in 2020, after the George Floyd murder, Berliner noted that rather than investigating charges made by Black Lives Matter that so called “systemic racism” drives every aspect of American life, NPR simply accepted the BLM premise as a given and reported on everything from law enforcement to housing to the economy with the assumption that virtually everything is rooted in “systemic racism.”

Such directives are hardly limited to NPR. Systemic racism in higher education has never been questioned by the Texas press, and coverage of Senate Bill 17, the DEI ban, has been predicated on an NPR-like “no questions asked” directive from the beginning.

Immediately after the bill went into effect, the Austin American Statesman’s overview of the implementation allowed the opponents of the bill to define the issue—the Texas House Democratic Caucus, the Senate Democratic Caucus, the NAACP, the Mexican American Legal Caucus, and LGBTQIA+ all agreed that the lack of resources for DEI initiatives creates “a void in addressing systemic inequalities and fostering an inclusive learning environment for all students.” These advocates did not say how DEI addresses such inequalities, and the reporter didn’t ask.

At the end of the news report, she includes a 7-month-old statement from the author of the bill, Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe:

“With this bold, forward-thinking legislation to eliminate DEI programs, Texas is leading the nation, and ensuring our campuses return to focusing on the strength of diversity and promoting a merit-based approach where individuals are judged on their qualifications, skills, and contributions. What sets SB 17 apart from other proposals is that the legislation delivers strong enforcement with mandates to return Texas colleges and universities to their core mission—educate and innovate.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, as Creighton’s statement challenges everyone else who is quoted in the Statesman’s news report—but the reporter doesn’t unpack it.

That’s because she’s following another directive from the NPR playbook. In addition to pursuing stories that focus on “racism, transphobia, signs of the climate apocalypse [and] Israel doing something bad,” reporters were directed to put out stories that show “the dire threat of GOP policies” (my italics).

The “Dire Threat of GOP Policies”

Throughout the debate, passage and implementation of the DEI ban in Texas, the press has portrayed it as a malicious Republican initiative.

After the firing of DEI employees at UT, the Texas Tribune makes it clear Republicans are to blame:

“Republicans have become increasingly critical of the culture at higher education institutions. [UT President Jay] Hartzell and other university leaders must balance the concerns of the students and faculty who breathe life into their campuses, and Republican leaders that provide critical funding that keep the lights on.”

An Austin American Statesman editorial screams: “The Harsh Consequences of The Texas GOP fervor to crush DEI.” It follows a previous editorial calling the anti-DEI ban “a Republican war on academic freedom” and still another decrying Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s “attack on diversity politics.

The opening line of a Houston Chronicle story reads, “as Republicans attack diversity, equity and inclusion programs on college campuses…” while the Dallas Morning News makes the partisan divide clear in a February news story noting that DEI bans similar to the Texas law are popping up in dozens of states, while Democrats are standing up against them.

Despite the unshakeable fidelity of the Texas press to the narrative, support for the DEI ban is not particularly partisan. The Texas Public Policy Foundation conducted a statewide survey earlier this month asking voters if Texas universities “should create special programs for black, Hispanic and gay students to help them fit in and succeed in college” or if “all students should be treated the same at Texas universities without special programs for black, Hispanic and gay students.” Almost 70% of voters responded that all students should be treated the same, regardless of race or sexual preference. That included 51% of African Americans, 63% of Hispanics and 73% of Anglos.

The Rise of Feelings Over Facts  

When Berliner’s boss, Kathleen Maher, responded to the allegations of bias at NPR, she never said he was wrong. Instead, she said he had hurt everyone’s feelings with his “disrespectful” and “hurtful” comments. The elevation of the relevance of feelings over facts is one of the most frightening things that is happening in journalism today, and Texas media coverage of DEI is riddled with it.

A Texas Public Radio story on the firings at UT reported a student was “devastated” and “felt pretty betrayed” by the actions following the DEI ban. Again, the story provides no clue about why this student’s feelings were newsworthy.

Instead of digging into the facts of DEI programs, some news outlets like KVUE simply found a couple students who said they were sad DEI offices were closing and reported that. One student inexplicably said, “This is just [the state of] Texas … Texas does not want us here. Texas has never wanted us here.”

That is a very strong allegation, but we have no idea what she’s referring to since the reporter asked no follow-up questions.

KXAN reported the feelings of two journalism students at UT who were distraught about losing funding for their student group. One student said she came to UT “with a certain expectation of being, you know, supported and validated and to have spaces where we can be like, fully loved, right?” It is not clear whether that is a realistic expectation for college, even among Generation Z.

The Texas Tribune called UT’s Multicultural Center the “beloved” Multicultural Center so often in news reports that when a national outlet picked up the story they also used the “beloved” adjective before the building’s name. The question “beloved by whom” was not answered by either outlet.

Some outlets garbled hard facts as well as feelings. KVUE reported it was told over a thousand people had protested the firings at UT, but outlets that actually covered the protest gave 200 as the crowd count. For perspective, there are about 51,000 students at UT Austin. The number of people who were let go was also a moving target. News reports ranged from over 40 to almost 60 in a dozen news reports. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at UT published a list of 62 people, but so far no media outlet as taken the trouble to follow-it up.

The Houston Chronicle pulled in its data team to report that minorities and women were most impacted by the anti-DEI program layoffs at the UT: “Black staffers were disproportionately affected, making up nearly a third of the cuts while accounting for just 7% of the total university staff, excluding tenured faculty. Roughly three-fourths of the employees let go were women, though they make up just 55% of the total staff.”

The Houston Chronicle doesn’t say why it used the official number of 49 from UT instead of the list of 62 of those laid off from AAUP at UT.  It also failed to ask any questions about these numbers. For starters, if only 7% of UT staff are black, how many of them are working in DEI programs? If the answer is most of them, isn’t that a red flag that should be addressed? Similarly, if over half the staffers at UT are women, how many of them are relegated to DEI programs, compared to other departments at the university? Also, a quick look at UT’s website from last year indicates that at least 150 people were working on DEI efforts. Why were only 49 (or 62) of them fired?

Of course, those questions just dance around the big one—why has black enrollment continued to stagnate at under 5% at UT despite millions invested in DEI?

Creighton will hold hearings with the leadership of the state’s universities next month where he will undoubtedly ask for answers to some of these questions, although it is not likely the media will report them. Instead, you can bet reporters will characterize the hearings as one more example of the “dire threat of Republican policies.”

Texans of all races oppose DEI on Texas campuses because they understand it is not the evolution of racial integration or the civil rights movement. The ideology of DEI refutes those constructive movements as “oppressive.” DEI’s goal is re-segregation—not equal treatment under the law, but the creation of what’s been called “hyper-race consciousness” that fuels division and distrust. To see exactly how absurd this “hyper race consciousness” looks in action, note that a leader of the opposition to the DEI ban heads what is called the UT Austin’s Queer Trans Black Indigenous People of Color Agency. It’s not clear what kind of “agency.” The reporter didn’t ask.


Sherry Sylvester is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the former Senior Advisor to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.