News Story

Michigan Learning Channel blames “technical error” for airing of drag queen story time

Detroit Public TV says relationship with New York station that distributed the show will continue

Twice in December, the Michigan Learning Channel aired a youth-oriented program that featured drag queen story time.

The channel is a cooperative effort of public television stations in the state, offering online and over-the-air programs. Joseph Yezak, program manager of Delta College Public Media, a public broadcaster in the Midland area, says the episode was aired on Midland public television, which does not control the content.

A drag queen and an author who goes by the name of Lil Hot Mess read the book, “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish” during an episode (available on YouTube) of the series “Let’s Learn” called “Can You Hear The Long O in Bold?”

The drag queen segment takes roughly the first 14 minutes of show.

Perhaps sensing the pushback that would come, a disclaimer airs before the program:

An Amazon description of the book notes that it’s a play on the nursery rhyme and song, “The Wheels on the Bus.” The description calls the book “a fun, freewheeling celebration of being your most fabulous self.” The book includes characters such as “Cinderfella,” “Rosie Ringarounda,” and “Ella Menopipi.”

The description says the book “encourages readers to boldly be exactly who they are.” It continues: “This playful picture book offers a quirky twist on a classic nursery rhyme by illustrating all of the ways to ‘work it.’”

CapCon asked Matt Hamilton, programming director of the Michigan Learning Channel, about airing the drag queen story time. He says that Detroit Public TV received the programming from a public TV station in New York City “for early elementary school children.”

Hamilton says the program aired on Michigan stations due to a coding error, and it was shown “to audiences in the early morning on two dates – December 22 and 23.” Hamilton says the technical error has been fixed so the episode will not air again.

Georgeann Herbert, DPTV’s senior vice president of strategy, who is Hamilton’s supervisor, told CapCon that “if not for a technical mistake, our audience would not have seen it.”

“As a nonprofit community-governed broadcaster, we cannot and do not take stands on political issues but have a responsibility to make programming decisions on behalf of our audiences, which we did in this case,” Herbert wrote in an email. 

Herbert said WNET, the New York station that produced the show, “is a longtime trusted provider of public television programming,” and added “our relationship with them will continue.”

The Michigan Learning Channel notes on its website that the show “Let’s Learn” is designed for children ages 3 through 8. It is a daily series meant to “curate high-quality, standards aligned video content,” both in and out of the classroom.

The MLC says its content “is aligned with Michigan’s educational standards and follows widely accepted sequences for mastering skills throughout the year.”

CapCon asked the Michigan State Board of Education and state superintendent of instruction for comment.

Martin Ackley, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, confirmed that the program was aired on two days in December. He said the department supports the learning channel “as a partner in providing free educational content to families,” but added that staff “do not review content before it is aired.”

The incident occurred several months after Attorney General Dana Nessel announced, at a conference hosted by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, that drag queens make everything better and “a drag queen for every school” is a good idea.

The Detroit Educational Television Foundation, which operates public media outlets WTVS-TV and WRCJ 90.9 FM, is a nonprofit organization. According to 990 forms filed with the IRS and available on GuideStar, it received $6.8 million in taxpayer funds in 2021.

Herbert said the Michigan Learning Channel “received state funding to launch during the pandemic, but we are not in the current Michigan budget.”

Detroit Public Television is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is funded by the federal government, Herbert said, but does not receive federal money directly.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.