National Education Association a Left-Wing 'Lobbying Group.' You'd Never Know it Watching Networks

When even a liberal president criticizes the educational system, the groups happy with the status quo have problems. “We've got to be able to identify teachers who are doing well [and] teachers who are not doing well. We've got to give them the support and the training to do well,” said President Obama on NBC's Today Show Sept. 27. “And, ultimately, if some teachers aren't doing a good job, they've got to go.”

The president was discussing the new documentary on education reform, “Waiting for Superman.” Both the film and Obama's comments ran the risk of angering a huge, powerful liberal constituency: The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union.

But while the media doesn't seem to have a problem with recklessly labeling conservative groups – when it comes to accurately describing liberal special interest groups like the NEA, news broadcasters appear to be at a loss.

The NEA, America's 3.2-million member teachers' union and a liberal lobbying group that is one of the largest and most powerful donors to the Democratic Party, was almost never labeled as such on MSNBC, CNN and the network news stations over the past year.

Just How Liberal?

The motto on the NEA's website is “Great Public Schools for Every Student.” The important word there is “Public.” The NEA is ideologically opposed to school vouchers and charter schools as a way break the monopoly of failed public schools, even as it fights increased accountability for teachers in an effort to make schools “great.”.

President Obama's Sept. 27 statements appear to part ways with the liberal policies backed by the NEA. His words, however, may just be lip service. In the recent Democratic primary for Mayor of Washington, D.C., (a city with some of America's worst performing public schools) Obama didn't endorse incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty who had been a major advocate for school reform..

In fact, the NEA helped put Obama in the White House, and its advocacy for liberal policies goes well outside the realm of education. An October 2008 press release available on the union's website announced a “multipronged communications blitz in 10 battleground states” that attacked “Sen. McCain's wrongheaded prescription plan for what ails America's health care system.”

The fact is, when Democrats look to their liberal base, the NEA is one of the stalwarts they count on. The NEA spent roughly $50 million on “political activities and lobbying” mostly for Democratic causes and campaigns in 2009. The organization has 16 in-house lobbyists, and also outsources to four other major D.C. lobbying firms. From 1990 to 2008, 93 percent of the donations made by the group went to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The NEA has also worked with political organizations that oppose many conservative policies, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Sierra Club. A search of the union's website includes a Sept. 2009 press release distancing the NEA from the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN), in the wake of a scandal involving ACORN employees caught on video abetting prostitution and human trafficking. “NEA has not given $1.2 million to ACORN – this is a gross exaggeration,” the release stated. “Since 2002, we have contributed approximately $400,000 to ACORN.” 

In other press releases, the NEA saw fit to condemn Arizona's immigration enforcement law, called on Congress to support the DREAM alien amnesty act, and proudly touted the union's participation in the upcoming “One Nation March.” In addition to Big Labor, the Oct. 2 March claims the support of a number of far-left organizations, including Queers for Economic Justice, the Human Rights Campaign, Solidarity (“a democratic, revolutionary socialist, feminist, anti-racist organization”), The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, The Network of Spiritual Progressives and Code Pink, among many others.

Media Silence

Despite its very public liberal advocacy and common cause with the far left, the NEA gets a pass from the media. In fact, out of 16 mentions of the mammoth liberal lobbying group in the past 12 months, only one – CBS Evening News on Sept. 27, 2010 – even bothered to mention the NEA's ties to the Democratic Party. Instead of disclosing the group's political clout within the party, most of the news shows either introduced the organization with no description, or simply labeled it as a “national teachers' union.”

“[T]he newly published [education reform] “blueprint” immediately came under fire from the nation's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association, which said it was 'disappointed' by Obama's proposals,” reported CNN on March 15, 2010.

Only CBS Evening News referred to the NEA's Democratic ties, on Sept. 27, after President Obama snubbed the organization.

“[President Obama] called for more money and a longer school year, but said that`s only part of the solution,” said CBS reporter Chip Reid. “More important, he said, is an aggressive program of education reform, but that puts the president in a political bind, because much of his reform program has been resisted by the teachers` unions, a powerful Democratic interest group.”

The coverage of the NEA was also largely neutral or positive, and never negative.

“[L]et's start with No Child Left Behind,” Tony Harris said during an interview with former Bush Administration Secretary of Education Rod Paige, on CNN on March 17, 2010. “It was a law you were to implement, law you believed in, law you criticized the NEA, the National Education Association for resisting. And now the president's education secretary wants to shift the focus from singling out underperforming schools to rewarding successful programs, some of the proposals right here on this screen. Also increasing flexibility and broadening the emphasis beyond math and science and reading.”

“You know, according to the National Education Association, 73 percent of teachers enter the profession because they want to help young people,” reported anchor Tamron Hall on NBC News on Sept. 26. “My mother was an educator for many years, so I know firsthand that one person can really make a difference.”

MSNBC had even more flattering coverage of the NEA.

“New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a huge problem for our schools,” said host Ed Schultz on his Sept. 27 program. “He gives money back to millionaires and he takes it away from our kids` futures. Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, has a lesson plan for him next.”

But unlike their media counterparts on TV, the major newspapers have pointed out the connection between the NEA and liberal Democratics over the past year.

The New York Times outlined the importance of the NEA to helping Democratic candidates in a July 5 article titled “New Tension in Obama's Tie to Teachers.”

“[NEA President Dennis] Van Roekel's association, with more than three million members, says it spent $50 million in 2008 to help elect the president and more than 50 candidates for Congress and governors' offices, most of them Democrats,” reported the Times.

And on May 26, The Washington Post reported that, “Lawmakers bucked fierce opposition from the state's largest teachers union, traditional allies of the Democrats who control the legislature, to pass a bill that makes it harder for teachers to win tenure and easier for them to lose it.”

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