Do you remember what the hottest topic on Fox News was this summer? If you guessed a more than 40-year-old theoretical framework for understanding the impact of structural and systemic racism, called critical race theory, you are right.

In June, the term was mentioned 993 times during Fox News programming, including overnight rebroadcasts of daytime and prime-time shows. In July, it was mentioned 921 times. That was after being mentioned only 132 times in all of 2020.

But the network seems to have largely moved on from critical race theory, which conservative activists and right-leaning media companies identified as a pressing threat as part of a backlash to the calls for greater attention to racial disparities that followed the police killing of George Floyd last year.

The theory, which holds that racial inequality is woven into contemporary institutions and legal systems, affecting people of color throughout their daily lives, is mostly fodder for law school discussions.

But vociferous critics of critical race theory have sought to conflate it with far less ambitious efforts in K-12 schools to promote diversity and discourage racial bias. As the cable news debate got hotter, the rhetoric began spilling over into school board meetings in places such as Loudoun County, Va., triggering outbursts and confrontations — and spawning more cable news coverage of the topic.

In August, however, critical race theory was mentioned only 325 times on Fox News. And in September, the theory was mentioned only 150 times on the network’s programming.

The waning mentions remain incendiary or at least vivid. Last Wednesday, Fox News host Pete Hegseth said the military is “infected with critical race theory.” On Thursday morning’s “Fox & Friends First,” viewers were shown a banner that read “The Battle Against Critical Race Theory.” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) appeared on air to promote a new bill he introduced that would ban critical race theory from being discussed in federally financed schools, arguing that it is “infiltrating all levels of our society.”

Critical race theory has also been discussed within the context of the Virginia gubernatorial election between Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, particularly after McAuliffe said during a debate last week that “parents shouldn’t be telling schools what they should teach.” Fox News anchor Dana Perino said Thursday morning that the issue is “front and center” in the contest.

Representatives for Fox News did not respond to a request for comment about the rise and fall of critical race theory as an area of coverage.

Overall, the drop has also been pronounced on Newsmax and One America News (OAN), two conservative upstart channels seeking to outflank Fox News Channel to the right. Critical race theory was mentioned 930 times on Newsmax in June but only 242 times in September. The theory was mentioned more than 1,000 times on OAN in June but only 208 times in September.

Kendall Thomas, a professor at Columbia Law School and a scholar of critical race theory, argued that conservative activists who have stoked the debate about the intellectual movement “want people to associate critical race theory with a whole range of things that have nothing to do with critical race theory. It’s a cynical effort to weaponize the illiteracy and the lack of knowledge in this country generally about race, racism and the law.”

In the rising and now waning focus on critical race theory, Thomas sees a politically driven programming philosophy of “whatever works … CRT one week, cancel culture the next, the threat to our borders the next, the hordes of Muslims being brought over from Afghanistan the next.”

Harvey J. Graff, an emeritus professor of English and history at Ohio State University, has criticized media coverage of critical race theory, arguing that journalists do not understand just how limited the academic use of it actually is. He says that misunderstanding is especially pronounced among television commentators, the vast majority of whom he believes are using it to score political points.

Critical race theory has also largely dropped off on rival networks CNN and MSNBC, where discussions of the topic had mostly focused on the conservative backlash and legislative proposals to abolish it from statehouses controlled by Republicans. After being mentioned 297 times on CNN in June, it was mentioned only 54 times in September. On MSNBC — where host Joy Reid claimed Friday night that conservative “operatives” had traded talk of critical race theory for anti-vaccine rhetoric — it was mentioned 278 times in June but only 76 times in September.