A vocal element of the GOP’s culture war is critical race theory, or CRT — a previously little-known area of ​​academic study examining the central role of racism in shaping our society.

But lately, right-wing eccentrics have seized on the phrase, claiming the CRT is a left-wing mind control plot pushed by evil teachers. They cry out that schools are using critical race theory to program children to hate white society and “replace” it with non-Christian, multicultural rule.

That’s not what CRT is – and it’s not even taught in our schools!

But that hasn’t stopped power-hungry witch hunters like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Texas’ Greg Abbott, and (the most witchy of them all) Donald Trump from issuing executive orders banning schools from teaching a subject that – hello ! – they do not teach.

So how did such a non-issue rise to the top of the Republican political agenda? Because of fake news.

Over the past few years, thousands of articles have been published claiming that CRT is infiltrating public education. They appeared several times in the Houston Republic, San Francisco Sun, Chicago wire of the cityand dozens of other local newspapers from coast to coast.

Have you ever heard of these dailies? This is because none of them are real, local or even paper.

These are just some of the approximately 1,300 hyper-partisan websites owned and operated by Metric Media, a fake news maker. These bogus news sites spit out a flood of articles trumpeting the big lie of a massive CRT conspiracy.

This is not innocent campaign play, but politically cynical and crazed nonsense that causes real and significant harm. Teachers are fired or resign in disgust. Sane members of the school board are literally assaulted by deceived parents. Schoolchildren are fed with raw ideological ignorance. And elections are perverted.

The real crisis is not in our classrooms, but in the collapse of real local newspapers that produce real journalism. Without them, we surrender “information” to the deceptions and scams that are inevitable under the hedge fund profiteering and partisan hacks that already dominate large swathes of the American media landscape.

Journalism is an essential public resource, essential to democratic autonomy. America should start investing in it as such, providing adequate public funding for local, independent and watchdog reporting.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer and speaker. This editorial was distributed by OtherWords.org.