Prager University (Not a University)
If you are at all active in conservative spaces, or even just follow a few conservative relatives on Facebook, you’ve probably heard of PragerU. According to their “About Us” page, “Prager University is the world's leading conservative nonprofit that is focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media. Taking full advantage of today's technology and social media, we educate millions of Americans and young people about the values that make America great. Donations to PragerU are tax-deductible.”
Though there isn’t a disclaimer on their website, I will include one here. Prager University is not an academic university. They are an organization that makes Internet content, much like Buzzfeed or Shane Dawson. Neither of them claim to be a university or an educational institution of any kind. The fact that PragerU claims to be a university is frankly very concerning, considering most of the information and ideas they spread is absolute hogwash.
Instead of putting you through an analysis of all of their resources, I will examine one video at random: “Is America Racist?” a video presentation by Lary Elder.
The video on Youtube does not provide any sources, but it does link to the video’s page on the PragerU website which provides 52 links to sources. All 52 links lead to the same ten sources.
So, let’s break down these ten sources. Showing just how difficult it is to find real, functional sources for these ideas, three were written by Lary Elder himself, and one of these is a link to buy his book on Amazon, only as a Kindle ebook. Two of the other sources are also inaccessible because they are links to the Amazon shop page for the book. One source, linked nine times, is a LiveLeak article that was removed. This leaves five sources, which I believe are the best sources linked.
Two of these sources are opinion pieces, one from the New York Times and one from the Washington Post. The other three are scholarly articles stating that interracial marriage is at an all time high and still growing.
If you are not interested in further commentary on the sources, feel free to skip this portion
Though I am glad they provided the sources used for those facts, I am much more interested in whether their ideas are actually based in any fact. Referencing your own book does not point to a diversity of ideas or factual backing, so I don’t consider those to be relevant. I also can’t consider the three scholarly articles as relevant because they do not discuss the ideas put forward in the video, just a couple of the percentages and numbers used. That leaves us with two op-eds and two books on Amazon.
The authors of these four sources are Jesse Lee Peterson, Orlando Patterson, and Heather McDonald who wrote two of them. Heather McDonald is employed at PragerU, which does not make sourcing her works an indication of a diversity of ideas. Moreover, neither of her pieces were sourced themselves. The op-ed by Orlando Patterson is from a decade ago in 2011 and is therefore not supporting any claims about the current day, but it does provide a new perspective. Jesse Lee Peterson is a well-known right-wing political commentator, but PragerU does deserve some credit for knowing who shares their ideas.
What I am trying to say here is that none of the ideas they share in the video are based on facts. Nor are they shared outside of the small community of people who work for and with PragerU. I would recommend, if anyone from PragerU is reading this, to link each source only once and to provide links to the actual texts, not where we can buy them. Also, in researching a topic, it’s a good idea for the things you base your ideology off of to have sources. I would spend some time finding sources for things you claim to be true, like interracial marriage leading to anything bad, instead of for a different point entirely. Most of your sources should not just be opinions that the presenter or other people affiliated with PragerU have written.
It’s just a bad look.
Another completely disingenuous claim PragerU makes is that it is a nonprofit organization funded by donations. They claim that “As a 501(c)3, tax-deductible charitable organization, we rely on donations from our viewers.” This is partly true, they do receive donations and are legally listed as a nonprofit, but their funding comes from elsewhere.
Their primary funders are the Wilks brothers, Dan and Farris Wilks, who made their billions in fracking and consistently lobby for less restrictions on fracking. In fact, the list of their funders is also functionally a list of right-wing lobbyist groups. They are also one of the top 10 political advertisers on Facebook. Not exactly what I would call a “creative use of digital media” or a good way to change minds.
PragerU is deeply disingenuous in its business and the ideas it spouts in the videos. For the coming months, I will be writing a bi-weekly article analyzing, commenting on, and probably debunking one of their new videos.
Sources for this article:
All Images used come from https://www.prageru.com/