PragerU, short for Prager University, is an American non-profit organization that creates videos on various political, economic and philosophical topics from an American conservative or right-wing perspective. The organization was co-founded by talk show host and writer Dennis Prager and Allen Estrin. The videos are posted on YouTube and usually feature a speaker who lectures for about five minutes. The organization relies on donations, and much of its early funding came from fracking billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks. PragerU is not a university or academic institution. It does not hold classes, does not grant certifications or diplomas, and is not accredited by any recognized body.
PragerU was founded in 2009 by conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager and radio producer and screenwriter Allen Estrin, in order to present 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; it had more than 20 employees as of March 2018, and around 50 as of 2019.
Since a lawsuit over the use of a photograph in 2013, PragerU has used animation in its videos. (As of November 2018), its YouTube channel includes 482 videos. The organization depends on donations. 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 October 2017, PragerU filed a federal lawsuit against Google, claiming that 37 of its videos on YouTube 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. 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 August 2018, PragerU criticized YouTube for adding fact-checks to YouTube videos which cover climate change.
Also 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.
Much of the early funding for PragerU came from hydraulic fracturing 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, 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. PragerU largely avoids mentioning President Donald Trump. Each video costs between $25,000 and $30,000 to create.
Videos on PragerU have defended capitalism, argued against a $15 minimum wage, argued that gun ownership is a constitutional right, and argued that the media cannot be trusted. In one video, Dave Rubin argues that "racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, and Islamophobia" are "meaningless buzzwords". In a video on the topic of the alt-right, Michael Knowles argues that it is similar to the American Left, saying "the alt-Right has nothing in common with conservatism, and is in fact much closer to leftism... Except of course, the left is much, much larger." In 2018, PragerU published an anti-legal immigration video by Michelle Malkin, a conservative known for defending the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Other PragerU videos defend the Electoral College, arguing that "pure democracies do not work" and that the Electoral College thwarts voter fraud. In more than a dozen videos, PragerU promotes fossil fuels and disputes the scientific consensus on climate change; in one of the organization's videos, viewed over 1.5 million times, fossil-fuel proponent Alex Epstein promotes misinformation about climate change, including false and misleading claims. According to Mother Jones, still other videos argue there is no police discrimination toward African-Americans, and the gender pay gap does not exist.
PragerU has 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. Additionally, 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.
As of August 2019, PragerU videos have been watched more than 2 billion times, and are becoming a staple on college campuses. As of December 2019, PragerU reported on its website that its videos have received over 3 billion views.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Historian Kevin M. Kruse has described a PragerU video as false revisionism. The video, entitled "Why Did the Democratic South Become Republican?" and hosted by political scientist Carol M. Swain, discussed the Republican Party's "Southern strategy" of the late 1960s. According to Kruse, the video presented a distortion of history, cherry-picked its evidence, and was an "exercise in attacking a straw man".
In an article for the American Conservative, historian and philosopher Paul Gottfried, who has written extensively on the subject of fascism, harshly criticized a PragerU video hosted by Dinesh D'Souza which maintained 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, from across the political spectrum, who view him, as I do in my study of fascism, as the most distinguished intellectual of the revolutionary right."
Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute criticized a PragerU video by Michelle Malkin as being anti-immigration. Nowrasteh said that the video was "rife with errors and half-truths, leaves out a lot of relevant information, and comes to an anti-legal immigration conclusion that is unsupported by the evidence presented in the rest of the video."
Regarding the PragerU video "The Suicide of Europe" by Douglas Murray, ADL fellow Mark Pitcavage has said that he does not consider it fascist or white nationalist, but that the video is prejudiced, and he says that it contains anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric that would certainly be agreeable to white supremacists.
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."
Sociologist Francesca Tripodi described the effect of PragerU's videos in a report for the Data & Society Research Institute. In a 2018 study, Tripodi used Candace Owens and James Damore as case studies in order to demonstrate that there is a Youtube algorithmic connections between Fox News, PragerU, and alt-right YouTube personalities. Tripodi wrote that PragerU relies on "search engine optimization and suggested content to elevate their messaging," and that PragerU's content "allows for those who identify as mainline conservatives to gain easy access to white supremacist logic." On page 36 of her report, Tripodi observed that PragerU was very popular among the respondents who participated in her study. She noted that regardless of age, all participants in her study confirmed either having liked or shared PragerU videos on Facebook. Tripodi also observed that “Sites like PragerU create an opportunity to dabble in content that seems extremely innocuous, yet makes connections to the same kinds of ‘revelations’ pushed out by the alt-right."
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.