PragerU isn’t just fake news, it’s dangerous


Ben Hummel, Columnist

All it takes is the application of critical thinking to make the far-right unravel.

The plutocracy Trump panders to knows this well. One of those plutocrats decided to actively fight against the “liberal mainstream media,”  and that man was Dennis Prager.

Thus, “Prager University,” or PragerU was born.

Prager University is just fake news done well.

However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. If you scroll through your Facebook feed, you will probably see one of their videos.

They feature a pleasant blue background with a reasonable-looking, mild-voiced narrator. Their videos’ titles usually pose questions like, “Who are the racists? Conservatives or Liberals?” and then always fall far right of center with their answer.

The videos’ issues range from one professing their enthusiastic endorsement of fossil fuels to challenging the idea of rape culture on college campuses.

PragerU isn’t concerned with facts and often skirt around making any substantial claims, but they still put on academic airs to benefit the conservative platform.

To understand the videos, you must understand the man behind PragerU, and how, with enough money and slick graphics, any opinion can be made to seem reasonable.

It all started in 2011. Prager’s rise to prevalence in politics as a radio-host established him as an authority in discerning the moral character of political actors.

One certain billionaire with strange hair and a clementine-esque hue drew his attention: Donald Trump.

Believe it or not, he came out against Trump’s botched run in the 2012 election for president, releasing a column on the Jewish World Review on May 3, 2011 criticizing Trump’s speech, which was rife with profanity. In the piece Prager asserts, “the words render him unfit to be a presidential candidate, let alone president.”

However, five years later during the Republican primary when it was becoming increasingly apparent Trump would actually be the Republican nominee, Prager changed his tune.

Just before the general election, he took it upon himself to fund a social media campaign rivaling the Russian Facebook fake ad campaign, not in size, but in persuasiveness.

While Russia might have put out numerous ads bashing Clinton and leftist ideology, they were rather crude and overtly racist.

Most of the videos put out by PragerU were well done, using their panache to sell their views, which would have been considered radical had they portrayed them any differently.

In particular, their views on climate change are problematic.

Despite there being little to no scientific debate on whether or not climate change exists — spoiler: 90 to 100 percent of scientists believe it does according to a Dec. 14, 2016 article from Forbes — PragerU puts out videos insisting there is some matter of argument for the other side.

They say there are two groups of thought on the matter of manmade climate change, but neglect to say how small the group of scientists in dissent is.

Other videos, such as the aforementioned one on fossil fuels, present correlations as causations.

For instance, about a minute into the video on fossil fuels, the narrator presents an argument. Fossil fuel use has risen and so has access to clean water.

This must mean that the more we use fossil fuel, the cleaner our water gets.

The argument is wrong for a number of reasons.

While it is true fossil fuel use has risen, air and water quality in areas that have heightened their consumption of coal, natural gas and petroleum has gone down significantly.

The best case against this argument is China.

China has been modernizing their economy at an alarming rate and uses a lot of fossil fuels to power their cars and light up their homes, according to a Nov. 14 article from The Third Pole website.

As a consequence, their water quality has gone down significantly.

In fact, two-thirds of China’s rivers were deemed too toxic for even animals to drink, according to the South China Morning Post on Aug. 26.

However, the problem isn’t finding the data to disprove PragerU’s claims. Factual information is everywhere, and it isn’t hard to access.

Instead, it’s that those who watch and believe these videos don’t bother to check anywhere else.

Critical thinking has always been in short supply, but if people like those at PragerU get their way, the wrong information will make its way to media consumers before the facts do.

Nov. 29 — This article has been updated for accuracy.

Ben Hummel is the opinion editor at The Collegian and can be reached at [email protected].