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PragerU

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PragerU
PragerU logo.svg
PragerU logo
Formation2009; 13 years ago (2009)
Founders
Type501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
Area served
United States
Revenue (2020)
$28,000,000[1]
Expenses (2020)$28,000,000[1]
Staff (2018)
44[2]
Websiteprageru.com
PragerU
Personal information
NationalityAmerican
YouTube information
Channel
Years active2009–present
Genre
  • Politics
  • current affairs
Subscribers2.9 million[3]
Total views1.34 billion[3]
YouTube Silver Play Button 2.svg 100,000 subscribers
YouTube Gold Play Button 2.svg 1,000,000 subscribers 2017

Updated: August 7, 2021

PragerU, short for Prager University, is an American 501(c)(3) nonprofit advocacy group.[4] The organization was co-founded by Allen Estrin and talk show host and writer Dennis Prager in 2009 to create videos on various political, economic, and sociological topics that promote an American conservative viewpoint.[4][5][6][7] The organization relies on tax-deductible donations, and much of its early funding came from oil billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks.[4][7]

Despite the name, PragerU is not an academic institution and does not hold classes, does not grant certifications or diplomas, and is not accredited by any recognized body.[7][8] PragerU frequently presents misleading and sometimes factually incorrect content in its videos, particularly those that downplay climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and racism, as well as those that oppose immigration.[9][10][11][12]

History

PragerU was founded in 2011 by conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager and radio producer and screenwriter Allen Estrin,[13] in order to advocate for conservative views and to offset what Prager regards as the undermining of college education by the left.[6][14] The two originally considered making it a brick-and-mortar university, but the idea was revised into a digital product to save money.[7] PragerU is based in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California,[4] and it had around 50 employees as of January 2020.[7] PragerU encourages students to join "PragerFORCE", an international student organisation to promote PragerU's videos and ideology, about 6,500 college and high school students promoted its videos as of 2020.[7]

Since a lawsuit over the use of a photograph in 2013, PragerU has used animation in its videos.[15] PragerU reached a billion views in 2018.[4]

Dennis Prager, co-founder of PragerU

In July 2019, PragerU representative Allen Estrin attended then-United States President Donald Trump's Social Media Summit, along with other conservative organizations and people such as Charlie Kirk and James O'Keefe.[16][17]

In the fall of 2020, PragerU started fundraising for PragerU Resources for Educators and Parents (PREP), a program targeted towards kindergarten and school-aged children. PREP released its first content in April 2021.[18]

Conflicts with YouTube and Facebook

In October 2016, PragerU claimed that YouTube had put 21 of PragerU's videos in the "restricted mode" setting, which ensures content is age appropriate.[6][19] YouTube responded, saying: "We aim to apply the same standards to everyone and we don’t censor anyone. Often it’s not the right approach to say that videos with the same topic should get the same rating. We’ll need to take into consideration what the intent of the video is, what the focus of the video is, what the surrounding metadata of the video explains."[6]

In October 2017, PragerU filed a federal lawsuit against YouTube's parent company, Google, claiming that 37 of its videos were unfairly demonetized or flagged so that they could only be viewed with "restricted mode filtering", which limits views based on viewer characteristics such as age.[19] PragerU claimed that Google's demonetization and flagging violated the First Amendment by arguing that YouTube was a public forum. In March 2018, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh dismissed the case, ruling that because Google was a private company, PragerU had failed to show that Google had infringed its free speech rights.[20][21][22] In February 2020, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this ruling.[23][24]

In 2018, as part of its efforts to counter misinformation, YouTube added fact-checking tags to PragerU's videos about climate change.[25][9] In August 2018, Facebook removed two PragerU videos from its platform. It later restored the videos, saying that they "were mistakenly removed."[5][26] According to Francesca Tripodi, professor of sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill, there are plausible non-ideological explanations for Facebook's removal of several of the videos.[27] PragerU contended that Facebook had engaged in deliberate censorship.[5][26]

Finances

The organization depends on donations to produce its content.[28] Much of PragerU's early funding came from hydraulic fracturing billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks.[4][7] Two members of the Wilks family sit on PragerU's board.[4] The next-largest donor is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.[13][29] Other donors include the Morgan Family Foundation, Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, Donors Trust, the late Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson,[8] Lee Roy Mitchell,[8] and the Minnesota-based Sid and Carol Verdoorn Foundation, led by former C.H. Robinson CEO Sid Verdoorn.[29]

As of 2018, the organization reportedly had a $10 million annual budget, of which it spent more than 40% on marketing.[4] In 2020, PragerU reported to have received about $28 million in revenues, most of it from donations, and reported approximately $28 million in expenditures, with 39% going into marketing.[1] PragerU consistently spends more on Facebook advertising than major political campaigns and national advocacy groups.[30] In 2019, it ranked among the 10 biggest political spenders on the platform.[30]

In 2020, PragerU received $704,057 in COVID-19 relief loans from the Paycheck Protection Program.[31]

PragerU provides an extensive range of donation methods including donations of cryptocurrency, stocks, the incorporation of PragerU into a will, and direct transfers from an individual retirement account.[32]

Content

PragerU releases one video per week on various topics from a conservative viewpoint that according to its site "advances Judeo-Christian values." As of May 2020, its YouTube channel included 968 videos.[33] Each video costs between $25,000 and $30,000 to create.[4] Dennis Prager "personally approves every item" and "edits every script" before publication, according to Mother Jones.[13] PragerU guests cover a range from the secular right, the far-right, and the theocratic right.[34] Some prominent video presenters have included Tucker Carlson, Nigel Farage, Charles Krauthammer, Michelle Malkin, Bret Stephens and George Will.[7]

Among topics covered, PragerU videos have argued against a $15 minimum wage, against increased gun control, and in support of capitalism.[4] Although topical, PragerU videos largely avoided mentioning Donald Trump during his presidency.[7][28][35]

Dave Rubin stated in a video that "racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, and Islamophobia" are "meaningless buzzwords". In a video about the alt-right, Michael Knowles argued that it has nothing in common with conservatism and instead is close to leftism, except the left is much larger.[4][34] PragerU videos also promote the Electoral College, arguing that it thwarts voter fraud and that "pure democracies do not work".[13]

Over a dozen videos promote fossil fuels and dispute the scientific consensus on climate change.[9] According to the non-profit think tank InfluenceMap, targeted ads posted on Facebook included misleading material that cast doubt on science, framed climatic concerns as ideological and hysteria and promoted a conspiracy theory that "big government control" is the real motivation behind energy policies to reduce gas emissions.[36]

By 2015, PragerU developed two partnership programs to promote its views, including religious material, in public and private schools. PragerU's Educator Program supplies teachers with lesson plans and study guides that accompany videos. Secondary school teachers and college professors can register their classes through PragerU's Academic Partnership program, which lets students sign up and allows teachers to monitor their students' progress.[37]

Reception

According to a 2019 report in the Los Angeles Times, PragerU videos have been watched more than 2 billion times and were becoming a staple on college campuses.[30] In its 2020 annual report, PragerU stated that its videos have received over 4 billion lifetime views.[1] PragerU has ranked highly in influence compared to other free-market advocacy organizations, such as Reason and National Review.[38]

Vanity Fair said PragerU "packages right-wing social concepts into slick videos" and that PragerU was "one of the most effective conversion tools for young conservatives."[39]

Sociologist Francesca Tripodi has studied PragerU's marketing and messaging for the nonprofit Data & Society.[40] She found that PragerU relies on search engine optimization and "suggested content" to market its videos.[12][40] She noted that PragerU was popular among the respondents in her study and that they all either liked or shared PragerU videos on Facebook. Tripodi argued that PragerU allows viewers to dabble in content that "makes connections to" the alt-right's talking points.[4] In this way, viewers identifying as mainline conservatives gain "easy access to white supremacist logic".[12] She also demonstrated an algorithmic connection on YouTube between PragerU, Fox News, and alt-right personalities.[40][12]

A Buzzfeed News article published in 2018 attributed PragerU's success to the quality of its production values compared to similar outlets and to its use of popular presenters with established audiences. The article also noted that it had received comparatively little attention from news and media analysts due to PragerU's lack of coverage of topical issues, such as Donald Trump.[4]

In an August 2019 article written by Drew Anderson of GLAAD, an LGBT media monitoring organization, Anderson noted PragerU's ties to white supremacy and white supremacists, and also noted PragerU's "Horrific Anti-LGBTQ Record".[41]

Reason has criticized PragerU's claims of being censored by big tech companies for being false, as the company's content had not been removed from any social media platforms, and that they indicate a misunderstanding of the First Amendment as protecting a party from any type of censorship, when that law merely protects content from censorship by the government.[42]

Climate Feedback, Reuters and the Weather Channel have found that PragerU's videos promote inaccurate and misleading claims about climate change.[9][43][44]

PragerU's coverage of COVID-19 has been criticized for spreading false and misleading information about the pandemic.[10][45][46][47]

In 2019, Mike Gravel, a former United States Senator from Alaska, launched The Gravel Institute, a progressive left-leaning think tank, to counteract PragerU.[48][49][50]

Mother Jones said PragerU videos assert that there is no gender pay gap,[13][51] and that there is not discrimination in policing of African-Americans.[13]

On race, Pam Nilan, in her 2021 book Young People and the Far Right, says that PragerU "pretends to sidestep" white supremacy, but that "the message is always that white culture is better than other cultures."[52]

Criticisms of videos

Historian Paul Gottfried, who has written extensively on the subject of fascism, harshly criticized a PragerU video hosted by Dinesh D'Souza which stated that fascism was a left-wing ideology. D'Souza maintained that Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile, who influenced Italian fascism, was a left-winger, to which Gottfried noted that this contradicted the research by almost all scholars of Gentile's work who view him as a distinguished intellectual of the revolutionary right.[53]

According to Joseph McCarthy of The Weather Channel, in the 2016 video "Fossil Fuels: The Greenest Energy", fossil fuel proponent Alex Epstein promotes misinformation about climate change, including false and misleading claims.[9]

Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute criticized a 2018 PragerU video by Michelle Malkin that argued for stricter restrictions on immigration. Nowrasteh wrote that the video was full of errors and half-truths and omitted relevant information.[11][third-party source needed]

In 2018, the PragerU video "The Suicide of Europe" by Douglas Murray argued that Europe is "committing suicide" by allowing mass immigration. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described the video as a "dog whistle to the extreme right". Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League described it as "filled with anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric".[12][29] "Why Did the Democratic South Become Republican?" is another video that the SPLC says contains such dog whistles. In this video, Vanderbilt University professor Carol M. Swain argues that the Southern strategy, the political strategy which saw the Republican Party exploit racial tensions to appeal to white Southerners, was false revisionism. History professor Kevin M. Kruse said that the video presented a "distortion" of history, "cherry-picked" its evidence, and was an "exercise in attacking a straw man".[12]

In June 2020, Snopes criticized the video "How To End White Privilege". The video argued that white privilege is a myth because a black police officer's race did not provide a barrier to his success. According to Snopes, the video is inaccurate as recent history and statistics indicate that white privilege still exists.[54]

According to Francesca Tripodi, PragerU's videos advance the conspiracy theory, popular among the alt-right, that whiteness and conservatism are under attack and many videos on PragerU focus on delegitimizing the mainstream media, accusing it of being based on emotion or opinion rather than fact.[34]

In October 2020, Gita Jackson of Vice noted that "There's already a cottage industry of YouTubers trying to debunk PragerU."[50]

References

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External links