|Type||501(c)(3) non-profit organization|
|Total views||1.15 billion|
Updated: December 2020
PragerU, short for Prager University, is an American 501(c)(3) non-profit media company that creates videos on various political, economic, and philosophical topics from an American conservative perspective. The organization was co-founded by Allen Estrin and talk show host and writer Dennis Prager in 2009. The organization relies on tax-deductible donations, and much of its early funding came from fracking billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks.
PragerU was founded in 2011 by conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager and radio producer and screenwriter Allen Estrin, in order to advocate for conservative views and to offset what Prager regards as the undermining of college education by the left. The two originally considered making it a brick-and-mortar university, but the idea was revised into a digital product to save money. PragerU is based in the San Fernando Valley, and it had around 50 employees as of January 2020.
Since a lawsuit over the use of a photograph in 2013, PragerU has used animation in its videos. According to its CEO, Marissa Streit, a group of approximately 500 students called "PragerFORCE" promotes its videos. PragerU reached a billion views in 2018.
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.
Conflicts with YouTube and Facebook
In October 2016, PragerU published a petition which claimed that YouTube had unjustly put 21 of PragerU's videos in YouTube's "restricted mode" setting, which ensures content is age appropriate. The petition demanded that YouTube remove the videos from restricted mode. 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."
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 certain characteristics, including the age of the viewer. PragerU claimed that Google's actions violated the First Amendment by arguing that YouTube was a public forum. In March 2018, the case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, who ruled that because Google was a private company, PragerU had failed to show that it had infringed its free speech rights. In February 2020, this ruling was upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In August 2018, Facebook removed two PragerU videos from its platform, later restoring the videos, saying that they "were mistakenly removed." According to Francesca Tripodi, professor of sociology at James Madison University, there are plausible non-ideological explanations for Facebook's removal of several of the videos. PragerU contended that Facebook had engaged in deliberate censorship.
The organization depends on donations to produce its content. Much of the early funding for PragerU came from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks. Two members of the Wilks family are on PragerU's board. The next-largest donor is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Other donors include the Morgan Family Foundation, Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, Donors Trust, the late Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, Lee Roy Mitchell, and the Minnesota-based Sid and Carol Verdoorn Foundation, led by former C.H. Robinson CEO Sid Verdoorn.
As of 2018, the organization reportedly had a $10 million annual budget, of which it spent more than 40% on marketing. In 2019, PragerU raised $22 million and expects to receive $25 million in 2020. PragerU consistently spends more on Facebook advertising than major political campaigns and national advocacy groups. It ranks among the 10 biggest political spenders on the platform.
PragerU releases one video per week on various topics from a conservative viewpoint that according to its site "advances Judeo-Christian values". Its videos, although topical, largely avoid mentioning former U.S. President Donald Trump. As of May 2020[update], its YouTube channel included 968 videos. Each video costs between $25,000 and $30,000 to create.
The videos support and argue for capitalism, against a $15 minimum wage, and that gun ownership is a constitutional right. Dave Rubin states in a video: "racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, and Islamophobia" are "meaningless buzzwords". In a video about the alt-right, Michael Knowles argues that it has nothing in common with conservatism and instead is close to "leftism", except the left is much larger.
The videos promote the Electoral College, arguing that it thwarts voter fraud and that "pure democracies do not work". Over a dozen videos promote fossil fuels and dispute the scientific consensus on climate change.
By 2015, PragerU developed two partnership programs to help cultivate relationships with educators. PragerU's Educator Program supplies teachers with lesson plans and study guides that accompany their 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.
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. In its 2019 annual report, PragerU stated that its videos have received over 2.5 billion lifetime views. PragerU has ranked highly in influence compared to other free-market advocacy organizations, such as Reason and National Review.
Sociologist Francesca Tripodi has studied PragerU's marketing and messaging for the nonprofit Data & Society. She found that PragerU relies on search engine optimization and "suggested content" to market its videos. 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. In this way, viewers identifying as mainline conservatives gain "easy access to white supremacist logic". She also demonstrated an algorithmic connection on YouTube between PragerU, FoxNews, and alt-right personalities.
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.
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 their "Horrific Anti-LGBTQ Record".
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.
According to Joseph McCarthy of The Weather Channel, in one of the organization's videos, fossil fuel proponent Alex Epstein promotes misinformation about climate change, including false and misleading claims.
Critiques of videos
In a video entitled "Why Did the Democratic South Become Republican?", host Carol M. Swain, a professor at Vanderbilt University, argued 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".
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 leftist ideology. D'Souza maintained that Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile, who influenced Italian fascism, was a leftist, 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.
Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute criticized a 2018 PragerU video by Michelle Malkin as being anti-immigration. Nowrasteh wrote that the video was full of errors and half-truths and omitted relevant information.
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 described the video as a "dog whistle to the extreme right" and Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League that is was "filled with anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric".
Snopes criticized the video "How To End White Privilege", which 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, recent history and statistics indicate that white privilege still exists.
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