Brian Stelter: Sometimes I see Libs of Tik Tok videos and think 'This doesn't seem right for five-year-olds to learn' (Update)

One of the selling points of the now-defunct CNN+ was that subscribers would get a daily version of Brian Stelter’s weekly show. That’s all over now but today Newsbusters posted clips from one of Stelter’s final shows. In the clips he’s discussing the Taylor Lorenz story about Libs of Tik Tok. You won’t be at all surprised to learn that Stelter immediate adopts the framing of Lorenz’ story, i.e. that the content is anti-LGBT hate.


The bulk of the segment was spent interviewing a teacher whose video had been posted a few days ago by Libs of Tik Tok. According to the teacher, the goal of LoTT is to get teachers fired and put parents in charge of what their kids learn. “They want to control what their kids learn, how they learn it, even if it’s a lie. They just want to control what their kids learn, “she said.

Again, no surprises so far. But in the 2nd clip below Stelter said something that did surprise me. “Sometimes when I’m scrolling through these videos I’m thinking to myself ‘these are cherry-picked from random teachers and random school districts that have no relationship to my children,’” he said. He continued, “However, there are also moments I might see clips out of context and think ‘This doesn’t seem right for five-year-olds to learn. This doesn’t seem right for six-year-olds to learn regardless of sexuality. Maybe we shouldn’t be talking to them about sex at all or gender at all.'” Here’s the clip (2nd one below).


Maybe Stelter got away with this because no one was watching? I’m genuinely surprised because this one admission really undermines the dishonest game Taylor Lorenz and others have been playing. Lorenz’s story was heavy on teacher’s getting threats and being fired and made no effort to relay the content of the videos themselves, i.e. what was it that some people were reacting to. The simplistic and intentionally misleading answer is to claim parents were merely reacting to videos of gay people going about their business. But that’s not the case. The Spectator published a story yesterday about all of the actual content Lorenz chose to ignore.

Lorenz provides the example of Tyler Wrynn, an English teacher who resigned following a backlash over a video he posted on TikTok. Lorenz characterizes the video as merely an expression of pride and love for his LGBTQ students. But Wrynn’s actual words were “if your parents don’t love and accept you for who you are this Christmas, fuck them, I’m your parents now.” LibsOfTikTok tweeted this clip, along with the commentary: “This teacher was let go last week after complaints of grooming and this tiktok + others containing questionable content were brought to the principal’s attention.” This plays into the culture war, to be sure, but so does the outright claim that teachers should supplant the parental role.

Another instance that Lorenz finds objectionable is LibsOfTikTok’s post concerning a sex education teacher in Kentucky. Lorenz complains that LibsOfTikTok called the woman a “predator,” and that the tweet was amplified by a segment on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show. But LibsOfTikTok’s actual words, accompanied by supporting clips, were “This woman is running a ‘sexy summer camp’ for children in Kentucky. She says she think it’s good for toddlers to masturbate.” The woman in question was directly quoted: “I worked with the school systems…my job was not to teach sex-ed… I try to figure out ways to work this into the schools.” That was then followed by LibsofTikTok’s arch comment: “This woman is a predator.”…

And then there’s the State University of New York professor who was relieved of contact with students after LibsOfTikTok shared video of him advocating for pedophilia, saying, “the notion that [sexual contact] is wrong even with a one-year old is not quite obvious to me. There are reports in some cultures of grandmothers fellating baby boys to calm them down when they are colicky.” What did supposed hatemonger LibsOfTikTok say about this? “This guy needs to be fired ASAP.”


I’m not suggesting people can’t argue the merits or demerits of these statements. I have no doubt there are plenty of people on Twitter who think ‘sexy summer camp’ for kids is a great idea or that what the SUNY professor said is perfectly defensible. I’m quite sure these people are not alone.

What bothers me is the effort to whitewash the content and claim no one but the most egregious, anti-LGBT bigot could possibly object. That’s what Taylor Lorenz did and why she didn’t include the quotes or the details in her story. Because if she had even some progressive parents who subscribe to the Washington Post would might have been given pause.

And that brings us back to Brian Stelter. What he said here is significant because, unlike Lorenz, he briefly acknowledged that the actual content really did bother him in some cases. And that raises all sorts of obvious questions that challenge the entire premise of his show. For instance, should we all be expected to remain silent about the actions of government employees because speaking up might lead to some people being fired or unfairly abused online? Taylor Lorenz and many of her fans are arguing the answer is yes because they claim this is pure bigotry. I think the answer to that is no precisely because at least some of the content is genuinely concerning. Libs of Tik Tok doesn’t have the power to fire anyone. Adults in charge made those decisions based on what they saw in the videos.


It’s the nature of online speech in the 21st century that people on all sides sometimes behave very badly. I don’t think anyone should be hounded or harassed online, especially women who get more than their share of it. But wanting to spare people from bad actors can’t come at the cost of silence from everyone. People have to be able to honestly and authentically say that they don’t like what some government employees are saying about other people’s children.

Of course Stelter added some weasel words about the clips being “out of context” but that’s just a hedge in case the mob comes for him. Libs of Tik Tok included whole videos in her posts. What Taylor Lorenz is doing is a far more egregious abuse of context. She has literally removed most of the context of the clips themselves from her report. If Stelter were a bit more fair minded than he is he might have noticed that.

Update: Stelter has a new story up about the DeSantis pushback on Disney and it’s basically a rehash of his comments from the CNN+ show:

Homophobia and hate are right underneath the surface of the high-minded talking points about “parental rights in education.”

Of course parents have rights-—but right-wing media stars and conservative lawmakers are galvanizing viewers and voters by demonizing transgender teachers and condemning inclusive Disney shows.

The most incendiary commentators throw around terms like “child abuse” and accuse opponents of “grooming” kids for sexual predation, sometimes by taking a teacher’s comments grossly out of context, or acting like one outspoken educator represents an entire profession.

It is a conservative backlash to growing acceptance of gay and transgender people, with entire networks and websites programming to a fear that conservative beliefs are being trampled on.


So I guess his momentary admission that reasonable people might feel concern about some of the content landed on the cutting room floor. Can’t say I’m surprised.

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