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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

After embarrassing herself on CBS’ 60 Minutes, one of President Donald Trump’s controversial cabinet appointments, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, retreated to the administration’s safe space on Fox & Friends, where she was asked easy questions and not challenged on the specifics of a school safety commission she will chair.

In a March 11 interview with 60 Minutes anchor Leslie Stahl, DeVos struggled to provide evidence in support of “school choice,” her signature issue, stumbled when challenged on her claims, and failed to answer even basic questions about schools in her home state. When pressed to say whether there are as many false accusations as actual sexual assaults on college campuses — which fits into a long-standing right-wing media myth that the problem of sexual assault is overblown — DeVos said, “I don’t know.”

The next day, Trump’s favorite show Fox & Friends interviewed her as well, feeding DeVos unspecific, open-ended questions and leaving her claims unchallenged. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt simply asked DeVos for her “reaction” to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) criticism of the Trump administration’s inaction on gun safety. Later, Earhardt’s co-host Brian Kilmeade asked DeVos to explain what HuffPost columnists“don’t understand” in response to the outlet’s criticism of “school choice” policies. From the March 12 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends (questions are bolded for ease of reading):

STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Madam secretary, we’ve been going through some of the things on the agenda that the president and the White House would like to get done. But ultimately it sounds like the ultimate goal would be to harden the schools. Would that be accurate?

BETSY DEVOS: Well, Steve, that’s one of the opportunities we have and one of the responsibilities we have, frankly. We have many other venues in our country that are kept safe, and schools have to be a part of that equation as well. And every state and every community is going to do this slightly differently, but we’re going to advance ways in which schools can be made safer for students. And in which — which works for each community and for each state.

AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Madam secretary, thank you so much for being on with us. Chuck Schumer — he is not on board with this plan. This is what he had to say., and let’s get your reaction. … It’s a statement: “The White House has taken tiny baby steps designed not to upset the NRA when the gun violence epidemic in this country demands that giant steps be taken. Democrats in the Senate will push to go further, including passing universal background checks, actual federal legislation on protection orders, and a debate on banning assault weapons.” What’s your reaction?

DEVOS: Well, the point is there are pieces of legislation before Congress today that can take significant steps in the right direction. Background checks, the Stop Violence Act. They have broad bipartisan support. And the president wants to see Congress act now, take these steps today, and then let’s look at what we can do as next steps beyond that. But every time we’ve had a situation like this, we’ve had a lot of discussion, and camps go into their various corners. And then we sit and don’t get anything done. The president is committed to taking action and to ensuring that we do what we can at the federal level to protect kids.

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Do you like what Florida did last Friday?

DEVOS: I think Florida has done an amazing job in a very short period of time of tackling some very difficult issues, and I think that every state is looking in that same direction, though Florida had obviously immediate motivation.


DOOCY: Sure. And one of the things that Florida did — and now they are being sued by the NRA — is they raised the age for buying a long gun to age 21. The president had said shortly after Parkland he would like to see that happen. But that’s not in the proposal. Any idea why?

DEVOS: Well, everything is on the table. And part of the job of this commission will be to study that and see if that is advanced ultimately as a recommendation in next steps. The point being there are many steps to be taken now, and additional steps that will be taken down the road as we do the work of the commission.

EARHARDT: The president had mentioned making our schools similar to airports where you have to go through metal detectors, you have to show IDs. Any details on that?

DEVOS: Well, you know, some schools actually do that today. And perhaps for some communities, for some cities, for some states, that will be appropriate. There is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue and this problem. There are going to be many different solutions, and one of the things the commission has been charged to do is to really do an inventory and raise up all of the best practices across the country because some communities are getting it really right.

KILMEADE: If I’m governor, I’d like to do it myself. Governor [Rick] Scott was not waiting for anything from Washington. That’s probably what you should do. But I want us to switch to something else that really is the hallmark of your secretaryship, if that’s a word, and that is giving kids a school — give choice, vouchers for kids to be able to go to schools, some of which are excellent schools, and out of schools that might be failing. Well, Huffington Post says, “School choice is a lie that harms us all.” What don’t they understand that you do?

DEVOS: Well, they obviously haven’t talked to the many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or millions of parents, who want to have the chance to choose the right education for their child. And we know today there is just a fraction of families in this country that are able to make that choice. And we need to make that choice much more broadly available to ensure that every child is in a school and in a learning environment that works for him or her.

KILMEADE: And some can’t afford it and that’s where the vouchers come in, correct?

DEVOS: That’s right. And a voucher is just a mechanism. There are many mechanisms that can be used. The key is giving parents freedom for their kids’ education. Freedom to make the decisions and the choices that are right for their child or their children.

EARHARDT: Is that any type of school? Does that include religious schools?

DEVOS: It does indeed. There are many programs already today in states that are serving small numbers of families of kids, and if they select a school, a faith-based school, that is certainly their option and choice. But, the idea, again, is giving parents the kind of freedom that those who have means and those who are wealthy are able to make those decisions on a daily basis.

DOOCY: Well, we like the idea, but of course the teachers unions don’t because they feel their jobs are at stake.

DEVOS: Well, there are some very powerful forces that are arrayed against changing the status quo. And that is what we are up against. But the reality is that the majority of people in this country support the idea of giving parents that kind of freedom. And so this legislation is going to continue to advance at the state level. At the national level, we’re going to continue to push this conversation, and to encourage our lawmakers to look at ways that they can encourage it both in their states, and take steps nationally that will help parents be free to make those decisions for their kids.