I guess it’s sort of a chicken-egg scenario. Does a polarized society breed a polarized media or does a polarized media breed a polarized society? Increasingly we are seeing folks take opposite positions not on opinion but on the facts. When that happens, someone plain and simple, is lying.
There are loads of examples but the one that was most recently brought to my attention by my readers is the case of Safe Schools Czar Kevin Jennings. Let’s start with the phrase “Safe Schools Czar”. This phrase fits in with the conservative talking point that Obama has all these unconstitutional “czars”. The Safe Schools Czar was in fact created by George W. Bush as part of No Child Left Behind and was staffed with two people with no qualifications in education. Jennings, appointed by Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education (not Obama) was the first Safe Schools Czar with any background in education.
Let’s dig deeper and look at some of the coverage:
Jennings hid a case of statutory rape: A student confided in Jennings that he had been involved with an older man. Jennings “counseled” him that he should wear protection. Jennings actually contributed to the statutory rape part of the story by mistakenly referring to the boy as 15 years of age when he was in fact 16 (the age of consent). Fox News had to correct its sensational headline when the boy himself came forward with evidence of his age. To further lay the matter to rest, Jennings said:
Twenty one years later I can see how I should have handled this situation differently. I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training or guidance about this kind of thing. All teachers should have a basic level of preparedness. I would like to see the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools play a bigger role in helping to prepare teachers.
Admittedly, this statement is a bit too little too late. As gay conservative blogger, B. Daniel Blatt points out, the issue is how could anyone in counseling the boy neglect to give the obvious advice to NOT have casual sex with strangers (which is what the boy admitted to). By fanning the flames of a bogus statutory rape charge, the right-wing lost the opportunity to hammer home Blatt’s more relevant point.
Jennings is a NAMBLA supporter: This one falls in the “Obama pals around with terrorists” category, namely lazy connect the dots journalism. Jennings, who is gay, spoke positively of Harry Hay, a gay activist from the 1950’s and 1960’s. He found inspiration from Hay’s advocacy. Some headlines cited Hay as founder of NAMBLA (North American Man Boy Love Association). The fact is that Hay did not found NAMBLA although late in his life he was a vocal NAMBLA sympathizer. At no time did Jennings voice support for NAMBLA nor did he say that Hay’s support of NAMBLA influenced him.
Jennings distributed porn to students: This is one of the latest shoddy jobs of journalism (i.e. lies) coming out of the right-wing. Jennings founded and led GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network). GLSEN sponsored a conference at which a third-party (Fenway Community Health) made available pamphlets describing explicit sexual activity. GLSEN did not request this information be made available nor did it approve of it. It was basically a slip up.
Now let’s look at this slip up from a few different angles. First, this was not classroom activity in a school, this was a conference about sexual matters and any parent taking their kid to such a conference had to understand the inherent risk of seeing information that might be over the top. I cannot for the life of me comprehend why any parent would take their kid to such a conference. Second, although Fenway claims no child took any of the pamphlets, let’s assume one did. Would that pamphlet scar him for life? Would it be any different from the kid finding a Hustler magazine in the basement? Cable companies have accidentally broadcast porn in the middle of a family show. While it triggered outrage, were any kids permanently scarred? Third, there is the question of what information should be shared with kids by way of preparing them for the real world. While I found the information in the pamphlet age-inappropriate (various “alternative” sexual practices were discussed) it reminded me of information I received in junior high school some 35 years ago. Back then, under the guise of informing kids about drugs so they wouldn’t use them, very detailed information was distributed to students on every drug imaginable, its effects, its slang names, etc. Years later, I looked back on it a bit puzzled. Why would you tell kids everything they wanted to know about drugs if the goal was to keep them away from it? In my opinion this is a typical pattern in educational circles of giving too much information. While the GLSEN conference is an extreme case, I think it fits the pattern.
Jennings wrote the forward to a pedophilia book: This is one of the more preposterous of the lies promulgated by the right-wing media. This lie is almost understandable because the truth is much more complex and to many minds, just as disturbing. Fox and friends simply found the lie easier to sell than the more complicated truth. The book in question is titled Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue about Sexualities and Schooling. I read an excerpt on Amazon.com. From my reading, it starts from the premise that homosexuals are born that way and therefore, teachers have in their class straight and gay students. Right off the bat, this premise leaves behind an entire league of people for whom homosexuality is deemed a choice, not an innate predisposition. With that premise in place, the book goes on to discuss how can we educate “homosexual children” in such a way that they are not demeaned or pigeon holed into a heterosexual model of behavior.
To any ordinary Joe, this is some radical stuff. The whole idea of labeling a five year old gay is ridiculous to some and downright repugnant to many. The fact is, as far as I can surmise, Kevin Jennings is steeped in a very political view of gay rights that includes the perception that gays are unfairly treated right out of the womb. (By the way, his “hero” Harry Hay seems to have the same view.)
So what is the bottom line to all this? In the never-ending effort to dumb down America and get eyeballs on web pages and TV screens, the right-wing media chose a bunch of lies (and some half-truths) to get everyone riled up about Kevin Jennings. What is fascinating is that the truth, although perhaps harder to present on paper, still leaves the average person with misgivings about Jennings. Should Duncan have appointed him? Despite Jenning’s stellar resume, I think Duncan bought himself more trouble than he needed to. America is justifiably sensitive about who controls their children’s education. While I believe Jenning’s ultimate influence in his job is small, mostly limited to anti-bullying campaigns, his real background (not the trumped up BS) touches on radical ideas for which most of the country is not yet ready. Some may call Jennings an outright pervert, others may call him a man before his time. No matter how you cut it, Duncan could have made a better choice.
If you want to investigate the different sides of this story, Gateway Pundit has made an entire side-business to “following” Jennings. Media Matters has taken the position of supporting Jennings (unfortunately mostly by saying “that’s not true, that’s not true” but providing little contrary evidence). Think Progress wrote a practical unemotional attempt to fact check the Jennings stories. George Stephanopoulos and Sean Hannity square off on the topic, with George trying to be a journalist and Hannity yelling the sky is falling.
Unfortunately, as long as the media chooses to lie instead of doing the hard work, you will have to do your own research to get a better understanding of any issue.