State Department Paid Germans To Bring Censorship And Propaganda To U.S. Schools

"Media literacy" is a “tool to create the society we all deserve: one that nurtures racial equity, social justice, and true democracy"
The U-RI's Media Education Lab trained teachers how to discuss what it called the "Capital Seige." Its founder advocated for English teachers to turn from topics like spelling to social justice. / University of Rhode Island Media Education Lab
Image from the University of Rhode Island Media Education Lab training for teachers on how to discuss what it called the “Capital Seige.” Its founder advocated for English teachers to turn from topics like spelling to social justice. / University of Rhode Island Media Education Lab

The U.S. State Department paid for censorship practitioners from Germany, which does not enjoy the same freedoms as Americans do from the First Amendment, to train teachers in the United States how to police so-called “disinformation,” records show.

The records unearthed through the Freedom of Information Act by the Media Research Center (MRC) found that the State Department paid for trainings that were created mostly by German “disinformation” activists, and that that program was organized by an advocacy group that promotes similar laws in the United States, while sharing top officials and finances with a for-profit anti-disinformation firm that could profit from such laws.

The “Medialogues on Propaganda” training sessions, funded by a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, consisted of 11 online meetings from June 2021 to April 2022, with an audience of 700 schoolteachers. The intent was to train teachers to “inoculate” students against disinformation and train them in “media literacy,” a nebulous term that shifted between claiming that media sources that questioned the government or caused offense to liberals were not trustworthy, and that schoolchildren should create their own media parroting progressive activism.

The MRC investigation, shared exclusively with The Daily Wire, found that a group at the University of Rhode Island, an activist nonprofit, and a for-profit censorship firm all shared top officials and projects. The three entities propped each other up to give a veneer of credibility to behaviors that were otherwise partisan or profit-seeking, MRC said.

The anti-disinformation officials also allegedly violated their own purported tenets — misleading about their financial connections; promoting misinformation like the Trump-Russia hoax and censoring likely true information like the lab-leak theory; and opposing efforts to squash misinformation when it applied to leftist errors like the 1619 Project.

The State Department sessions were used by its activist organizers to promote products from their for-profit “partner,” Ad Fontes, as well as NewsGuard. The Daily Wire is suing the State Department for promoting the latter tool, which has been used to economically punish domestic media outlets with disfavored political opinions.

A Three-Headed “Media Literacy” Monster

The seminars were conducted by a team of three entities including Germany’s University of Würzburg’s Media Education & Educational Technology Lab and the University of Rhode Island’s Media Education Lab, both government entities.

The Rhode Island Media Education Lab has for years served as a center of liberal censorship efforts. It held a seminar for teachers on “how to teach students about the limits of freedom of expression.” It tried to confront the “white supremacy” of “digital blackface,” or when white people use images featuring black people.

But there was also the third entity in charge of the project: the nonprofit Media Literacy Now (MLN), which as the “fiscal sponsor” played a central role. The Rhode Island Lab is arguably a front for the activist group with which it has frequently partnered, providing an academic veneer to a something that’s closer to partisanship, the Media Research Center report said.

MLN lobbies for mandatory training in schools to fight “misinformation” and “online radicalization,” boasting that it has helped convince 18 states to make laws on media literacy training. And while the Rhode Island Lab wrote an entire report on the importance of “media literacy” without ever defining it, MLN had spoken more clearly, calling it a “tool to create the society we all deserve: one that nurtures racial equity, social justice, and true democracy. Media literacy equals cultural change.”

That missive came below the tagline “Justice now. Equality now. Democracy now,” and a graphic of the MLN logo superimposed over a picture of a protest with signs such as “ACAB,” the antifa slogan standing for All Cops Are Bastards.

MLN promotes a World Health Organization statement that said that “An infodemic is an overabundance of information, both online and offline. It includes deliberate attempts to disseminate wrong information” and must be addressed by “the UN system, with Member States and with each other, and to… prevent the spread of  mis- and disinformation.” Continuing with the virus metaphor, MLN said it intends to “inoculate” children against “misinformation.”

The founder of the Rhode Island Lab and advisory board member of MLN is University of Rhode Island communications professor Renee Hobbs, who attempted to push federal legislation creating $60 million in subsidies for anti-disinformation work like hers — legislation whose momentum rested on the idea that Russians caused Trump to win in 2016, itself a conspiracy theory.

Hobbs hosted the State Department-funded seminars while she also chaired a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) group that argued that English teachers should “move beyond” teaching children to write, and instead “disrupt classroom hierarchies” and focus on “consumerism, and economic injustice.” (True to form, Hobbs’ Rhode Island Lab showcased an image of a Lego set to push teachers to talk with children about the “Capital Siege,” a misspelled reference to the January 6 protest at the Capitol. It does not appear that Lego actually made the set in the image.)

Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews wrote that the group in charge of training 35,000 English teachers had lost “its grip on reality” with its statement that “the time has come to decenter book reading and essay writing as the pinnacles of English language arts education” in favor of turning children into “change agents.”

MLN immediately called for a reeducation camp for the Washington Post columnist. Hobbs called Mathews “smug” and “whiny.” Emails obtained by MRC show that MLN’s president, Erin McNeill, wrote that by not approving of Hobbs’ activities, Mathews — one of the most experienced journalists at one of America’s largest newspapers — had shown himself to be “desperately in need of media literacy.”

McNeill also coached Hobbs to be more discreet, saying NCTE should “steer away” from saying that English should be replaced with “critical pedagogies” like Critical Race Theory because it makes it “evident” that they “have an agenda beyond literacy.”

MLN advocated for Texas to mandate media literacy in schools, but when Texas lawmakers did just that but included the 1619 Project as an example of disinformation, it turned against the law. “Although it mandates media literacy within a teacher training program on civics education, it also takes some anti-free speech steps,” said the group, whose mission is devoted to suppressing speech that, like the 1619 Project, is factually flawed.

When asked why the State Department would fund a propaganda seminar aimed at Americans, the State Department told The Daily Wire that with its $30,000 grant to Media Literacy Now, “the U.S. Embassy in Germany supported the participation of German participants in the media literacy program you are inquiring about.”

But that doesn’t change who the target audience was. German “experts” were lecturing to an audience of mostly Americans, with the intent that they would carry the lessons back to their school districts. The conference organizers also didn’t recognize any such distinction in their final report. They wrote, “Thanks to a grant from the Public Affairs Section of the Berlin Embassy, we invited German, American, and global educators to gather online,” though “our total number of German participants was smaller than we had hoped.”

Ad Fontes

The third head of the three-headed monster of interconnected “disinformation” groups is the for-profit media monitor, Ad Fontes. The company assigns purported “bias” ratings to news sources, rating conservative media as twice as unreliable as liberal sources. Then it charges tech firms for the list, and the firms use it to steer viewers away from supposedly unreliable content.

MLN acknowledges that it has a “strategic affiliation” with Ad Fontes: the media monitor directs a portion of its income to MLN, which in turn advocates for laws that would steer millions of dollars to the for-profit firm and its peers. The president of MLN’s board, Jen Furlong, is the director of communications for Ad Fontes.

Ad Fontes CEO Vanessa Otero is also on the advisory board of MLN. Otero was a speaker at the State Department seminars and used them as a platform for a sales pitch for her firm. She also said media literacy training should be “required for everyone from a very young age.”

MRC interviewed Furlong and Otero, who denied that Al Fontes had ties to the government. Furlong said on her podcast, “Ad Fontes Media has zero ties to the federal government!”

MRC concluded that “these statements are verifiably false.”

“Furlong is president of Media Literacy Now’s board of directors, and Media Literacy Now organized the State Department-funded seminar,” the group found. “Otero — in her official capacity as Ad Fontes CEO — was the featured speaker at said State Department-funded seminar, hosted by the State Department-funded Rhode Island Lab. Otero was celebrated by the seminar host Hobbs, who serves with Otero on Media Literacy Now’s board. Otero then proceeded to give a lengthy sales pitch for Ad Fontes products, all while concealing any of these facts from the audience.”

EntityURI (Academic)MLN (Advocacy)Ad Fontes (Profit)
Jennifer FurlongBoard presidentDirector of Communications
Erin OteroAdvisory BoardCEO
Renee HobbsCEOAdvisory Board
State Department conferencesProject PartnerProject PartnerProduct promoted at


The seminars pushed a “Data Detox Kit,” which instructs teachers to install NewsGuard, a similar product to Ad Fontes. NewsGuard is a for-profit firm that rates news outlets — red-flagging conservative news outlets while rubber-stamping liberal ones — and then sells the lists to advertisers with the threat that they could face boycotts if they place advertisements on a disreputable media outlet.

Aside from the MLN speakers, most of the State Department speakers were European. The speaker who pushed the “Data Detox Kit” was Daisy Kidd, a self-proclaimed activist whose group, Tactical Tech, is partnered with George Soros-funded, left-wing groups as well as the Goeth Institute, which MRC calls “a propaganda wing of the German government.”

The so-called kit trains kids to reject misinformation by using left-leaning factcheckers like Snopes and PolitiFact—which have repeatedly “debunked” factual articles that were critical of liberals — but tells them not to use the term “fake news,” a colloquialism popularized by Trump.

Kidd also used the sessions to promote a United Nations-funded curriculum called “The Glass Room,” a game designed to train kids what to believe–including that it is “false or misleading” that “China was responsible for releasing the coronavirus.”

Another speaker at the State Department seminars worked for a European group called MEET Tolerance. It lamented that on the internet, “it is not just progressive voices which are being spread,” but also “ideologies which are based on hatred.” That group promotes a book called, “The New Racism: Conservatives and the Ideology of the Tribe.”

The disinformation experts seem to believe that while media that does not serve their aims inherently lacks credibility — like the Washington Post article — media produced by young children would be credible. MEET teaches how to turn children into “media producers” who advocate “intercultural values and social justice.”

Part of the curriculum was developed by socialist German politician Konstantin von Notz, who helps oversee Germany’s intelligence agencies and has given away balloons and stickers to recruit children to create the impression of support for an international censorship law to block “haters” and “right wing extremism,” MRC said.

The Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone

In Germany, tech platforms are punished with steep fines for not censoring users’ content, and those who opposed the censorship measures were placed under government surveillance. Those efforts have been “horrifyingly effective” in Germany, and the U.S. State Department is now importing Europe’s most Orwellian techniques directly from the source, MRC said.

American teachers were, in turn, paid to transform what they learned at the State Department sessions into lesson plans for children. For example, April Leach, a Florida schoolteacher, attended the sessions and used what she heard to create a “social emotional learning” lesson plan that promoted Ad Fontes. A left-wing foundation paid her $8,000 through an “SEL in Action Award,” according to the MRC report.

Another attendee, a Washington State educator named Lauren McClanahan, illustrated the circular nature of the disinformation ecosystem. She attended the State Department seminar, and then created a curriculum that relied on NCTE’s call to pursue social justice instead of reading and writing to justify having students create “public service announcements (PSAs) about a social justice topic.”

The videos featured children pleading with people to donate to leftist groups like Everytown for Gun Safety, whose subsidiary is a Rhode Island Lab “partner,” MRC found. McClanahan was named an “affiliated faculty” of the Lab.

The documents obtained under FOIA by the Media Research Center show how Hobbs, the Lab’s founder, often blurs the line between “media literary” and progressive politics that has nothing to do with disinformation. Her groups’ final report on the training sessions boasts that she used the State Department seminar to bring “media literary” to Austin, Texas’s police academy. That included making sure videos didn’t promote stereotypes and warning them not to raise an American flag for slain police officers because it might be offensive, MRC said.

Furlong and Hobbs did not return requests for comment.

MRC said that parents should ask their school board if Ad Fontes or NewsGuard are used in their schools, state legislatures must ban them from receiving funding, and attorneys general should investigate whether “activist” groups pushing “disinformation” laws are receiving kickbacks from censorship firms who would stand to profit off of such laws.

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