Opinion: Is PragerU Practicing Journalism or Propaganda?

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October 6, 2020

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Dennis Prager speaking with attendees at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida [Credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr]

Dennis Prager, 72, is an educated man; Prager earned a Bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College and took graduate courses at Columbia University’s School of International Affairs and University of Leeds. He’s traveled extensively and speaks three languages. He’s written 11 books, one of which was on the New York Times bestseller list. His nationally syndicated column is published in print and digital media. He has produced a documentary and three best-selling comedy videos. Pragertopia is his podcast. He founded his own “university,” PragerU. The videos on PragerU have garnered over 4 billion views, according to the website’s counter. For the past 38 years, Prager has hosted a syndicated talk show from KRLA news radio in Los Angeles. And, when the mood strikes him, he conducts orchestras.

The message that Prager disseminates on his multiple, far-reaching platforms melds conservatism with religion. His column espouses his beliefs on everything from race relations to politics to COVID-19. According to Prager, “leftists” are ruining the country. America is not racist; white people are not racist. Free speech is being suppressed “by the press, the universities, the high schools, the elementary schools, all the giant internet media, Hollywood, and virtually every major business in America.” Anti-Americanism is the new anti-semitism (an actual column title). The state-sanctioned restrictions in response to COVID-19 threaten our liberty and place us frighteningly close to a police state. Equality for women and transgender folks, believing in climate change, and wanting any profit from earth’s resources to be fairly distributed are important to leftists only because they don’t seek fulfillment through God, family, and patriotism.

Whoever disagrees with him hates America.

Prager founded Prager University, or PragerU, in 2011. PragerU.com says that the 5-minute videos discuss “life’s biggest and most interesting topics” and that “we educate millions of Americans and young people about the values that make America great.” PragerU is not an accredited university but rather a nonprofit to which people may make tax-deductible donations. Many of the messages are delivered by extreme right political commentators like Candace Owens, Tucker Carlson, and Ben Shapiro.

PragerU’s target demographic is young people, and this platform reaches out to conservative college students, encouraging them to volunteer for PragerFORCE, “the most influential digital army of conservative students that is fighting the Left on the newest and largest battlefield … social and digital media.”

In a September 2019 video titled PragerU Videos Are Changing Minds, a group of ethnically diverse young people talk about their personal experiences with watching PragerU videos.

“Less than four years ago, I was embarrassed to call myself an American,” a white man says. After binge-watching PragerU videos, he realized that he had been “manipulated by the left.”

“I believed people would harass me just because of the color of my skin,” says a Black man. The Candace Owens Show helped him stop thinking of himself as a victim.

An Asian woman says she “used to be an atheist” and the videos “changed her mind about God.”

They encourage other young people to join PragerFORCE. A donation request completes the commentary. The clip possesses a satirical quality, like a staged commercial one might see on the comedy series, Saturday Night Live.

Prager’s radius of influence may lead many to believe that he is a journalist. He engages in the same activities as many journalists — talking on a radio show, writing a column, creating podcasts and videos. He disseminates information to the public and while his topics are clearly biased, that alone does not disqualify him. The claim could be made that Prager’s content speaks his truth and therefore is not misinformation.

But the Changing Minds video sounds like an appeal to young people who feel isolated or attacked for their conservative beliefs. Once they are hooked, they continue to receive more information that affirms their identity and beliefs — which just happen to be Prager’s beliefs.

Prager also owns the media on which he publishes his own work. A publisher can determine its editorial stance and what it will print or publish digitally, and this presents a conflict of interest; one of journalism’s core tenets is to be as unbiased as possible. Even though his actions mimic journalism, what he publishes is his opinion, citing few facts. Though the content does not often violate Pew Research Center’s Core Principles of Journalism, Prager walks a razor-thin line and these indoctrination-style videos cross it.

Prager does not claim to be a journalist — and he is not. He is just a publisher who uses his platform to spout his ideology and attempt to convince others to agree — in five minutes or less.

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