From the December 10 edition of WOR's The Steve Malzberg Show:
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In a December 11 editorial, The Washington Times continued its relentless anti-gay campaign against Department of Education official Kevin Jennings by advancing several previously debunked claims, including the false claim -- which was pushed by the hate group MassResistance -- that the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a group founded and formerly headed by Jennings, "allowed" an explicit safe-sex brochure that included a bar guide "to be handed out to high school students." In fact, a community health group -- not GLSEN itself -- reportedly said that it had mistakenly "left about 10 copies" of the booklet on an informational table it rented at a 2005 GLSEN conference and GLSEN stated that if it had known the booklets had been at the conference, it would have demanded they be removed.
Right-wing media outlets have relied on false or misleading claims by MassResistance, a Massachusetts-based anti-gay group, in advancing several recent attacks on Department of Education official Kevin Jennings. The founder of MassResistance -- a group the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a "hate group" -- reportedly denied that gays and lesbians were a target of the Holocaust and has compared the gay rights movement to the Nazis. The organization has also called on parents to keep their children home from school during an event promoting awareness of, and opposition to, anti-gay bullying and has stated that suicide prevention programs for gay and lesbian youth have no "legitimate medical or psychological basis."
In attacking the media for allegedly insufficient coverage of Obama administration official Kevin Jennings, a blogger for Accuracy in Media, which purports to "set the record straight on important issues that have received slanted coverage" -- and which has a record of antagonism toward gays -- smeared Jennings as a "pedophile" and falsely claimed that "[v]ideos have surfaced of Jennings teaching 14-year-old boys the dangerous sexual practice of 'fisting,' and discussing with them the particulars of oral sex." In fact, Jennings did not conduct that seminar and, in fact, reportedly criticized it when he became aware of its content.
From the December 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show
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In the latest of an obsessive series of editorials vilifying Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, The Washington Times again advanced discredited attacks to assert that Jennings is "unfit to serve as a senior presidential appointee". The editorial falsely claimed that Jennings encouraged a sexual relationship between a student and adult, attempted to tie Jennings to the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), and falsely suggested that Jennings supported a controversial workshop at a 2000 event sponsored by the group he founded, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
In an attack against Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, RedState.com's Erick Erickson again advanced the repeatedly debunked falsehood that Jennings "encouraged a sexual relationship between a boy and an adult" and the smear that Jennings "supports NAMBLA."
When The Washington Times announced it would be laying off 40 percent of the staff, reports of the move stated that the paper desired to focus on its "core strengths," which included "cultural coverage based on traditional values." Apparently, that includes the continuity of the paper's relentless anti-gay crusade.
Readers of this site are certainly familiar with The Washington Times' history of anti-gay rhetoric. This is, after all, a paper that repeatedly warned of a gay "assault upon traditional norms and values" and whose former editor-in-chief defended the ban on gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military by arguing that it prevents violence against "a randy gay caballero" who "starts making eyes at a straight." They use scare quotes around "partners" and gay "marriage," a practice that was reportedly banned by former editor John Solomon, but was quickly reinstated upon his departure from the paper.
Most recently, The Washington Times has been waging an anti-gay war on Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, an openly gay former educator who has worked tirelessly to increase awareness of gay and lesbian issues in the education system. A gay man responsible for education policy focused on keeping kids safe? Obviously, the Times could not let this stand. So, they've invested incredible interest and editorial page space to smearing Jennings as an "extremist" who promoted a "bizarre sexual agenda" and supports "homosexual pedophiles" who prey on children.
In its most recent Jennings attack, The Washington Times dubbed Jennings "Obama's buggery czar," attempted to link him to NAMBLA, and accused Jennings of promoting relationships between children and "homosexual pedophiles." Media Matters has extensively documented the lengths to which the paper has gone to distort Jennings' past in what appears to be a less-than-subtle attempt to play on small-minded fears that gay men and women prey on children that they could then recruit to their homosexual lifestyle. And, despite the massive shake-ups at the flailing paper, its obsessive focus on Jennings remains undeterred. I, for one, am not surprised that one of the Times' "core strengths" on which the paper will focus is gay bashing.
Fox Nation and Big Government are trumpeting the latest smear on Department of Education official Kevin Jennings: that Jennings is, in the words of Fox Nation, "linked to shocking teen sex talk," referring to a recorded exchange that occurred during a "Queer Sex and Sexuality" workshop during a 2000 conference sponsored by Jennings' organization, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). In fact, Jennings reportedly criticized "some of the" workshop's "content" when the recordings were first released in 2000, and the people involved in conducting the controversial discussion -- none of whom were GLSEN employees -- were either terminated or resigned.
Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft has published blog posts this weekend targeting Department of Education official Kevin Jennings under the hair-on-fire headlines, "Breaking: Obama's Safe Schools Czar's Question to 14 Year Olds: 'Spit vs. Swallow?... Is it Rude?' (audio-video)" and "Fistgate: Barack Obama's Safe Schools Czar Promoted "Fisting" to 14 Year-Olds (audio-video)." Two problems: The audio isn't of Jennings, and these stories aren't even remotely new.
Back in 2000, Jennings' organization, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), held a conference at Tufts University. The conference featured numerous workshops for students and educators, including "How to decide whether to come out at work," and "Strategies and curriculum ideas for addressing gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender issues in a high school English curriculum." One of the workshops, titled "What They Didn't Tell You About Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Class: Workshop for Youth Only, Ages 14-21," was run by two Massachusetts state Department of Education staffers and a state DoE consultant.
Basically, during the workshop, students asked a lot of very explicit questions about sex, and received explicit answers. As Hoft himself acknowledges in the body of his posts, it is the Department of Education staffers - not Jennings himself - who appear in the audio giving those answers. An activist for the anti-gay group Parents Rights Coalition (now MassResistance) snuck into the workshop and taped it, in a possible violation of state laws banning the taping of people without their permission (stop me if you've heard this one before).
Jennings subsequently criticized the workshop to the Boston Herald:
"Like the Parents Rights Coalition and the Department of Education, GLSEN is also troubled by some of the content that came up during this workshop," said Kevin Jennings, national executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
He said people who run workshops in the future will get clearer guidelines, though Jennings said the network's annual conference at Tufts University should not be judged on the 30-student seminar "What They Didn't Tell You About Queer Sex and Sexuality in Health Class."
"We need to make our expectations and guidelines to outside facilitators much more clear," said Jennings. "Because we are surprised and troubled by some of the accounts we've heard." [Boston Herald, 5/18/2000]
And to the Boston Globe:
Meanwhile, officials at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said they would also be looking further into the March workshops, because they would also be opposed to graphic sex talk that would be inappropriate for young adults.
"From what I've heard, I have concerns as well," said executive director Kevin Jennings. "GLSEN believes that children do have a right to accurate, safer sex education, but this needs to be delivered in an age appropriate and sensitive manner."
But, he was also critical of the coalition's agenda.
"What troubles me is the people who have the tape know what our mission is, they know that our work is about preventing harassment and they know that session was not the totality of what was offered at a conference with over 50 sessions," he said. "Our mission is being misrepresented." [Boston Globe, 5/18/2000]
You'll notice that that's two separate articles quoting Jennings responding to the workshop. That's because contrary to Hoft's claim that this story is "Breaking," it was a big deal when it happened more than nine years ago. In addition to the local Boston papers, which each devoted several articles to it, the story received coverage in the AP, National Review, The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, The New York Post, UPI, and on Fox News.
The workshop's organizers (i.e., the people in the tape) were fired or resigned, though one later got her job back. Nice people that they are, the Parents Rights Coalition went on to use the incident to call for the elimination of state funding for Gay-Straight Alliance groups and the disbanding of the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. [Boston Globe, 5/18/2000] Oh, and they tried to sell copies of the tape of the workshop for $5 a pop.
Back in June, MassResistance posted the audio of the workshop online, as part of their ongoing effort to get Jennings fired. I assume Hoft has broken it out now because it goes well with his smear that Jennings promoted "Child Porn in the Classroom." Unfortunately, as with that smear, the facts just don't match Hoft's rhetoric.
Conservative blogs have claimed that Department of Education official Kevin Jennings is unfit as "Safe Schools Czar" because he supposedly promoted "child porn" by allowing an education organization he founded to recommend for students in grades 7-12 books that included sexually explicit content. The organization, however, specifically stated on its book list website that "some titles for adolescent readers contain mature themes" and recommended that "adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability"; further, schools regularly teach books that contain sexually explicit material.
Given the right-wing freak-out over the existence of sexually explicit passages in several books that Kevin Jennings' former organization has recommended for adolescents, we look forward to the I'm-sure-forthcoming denunciations of the Ayn Rand Institute. It'll be hard for them, of course, since The Right loves Rand's books and considers her one of the founders of modern conservative philosophy, but in order to avoid being hypocrites, they will have to do so.
The Ayn Rand Institute, according to its website, "works to introduce young people to Ayn Rand's novels, to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience."
And boy, do they promote! Here's their website for high school students. Here's the description of the contests they hold for high students competing to see who can write the best essays on Rand's works: 8th, 9th, and 10th graders compete for the best essay on Anthem and 11th and 12th graders compete for the best essay on The Fountainhead. Here are the Institute's lesson plans for high school teachers who want to assign Anthem or The Fountainhead. And here's the Institute's notice to high school teachers that they can get free copies of Rand's novels to teach in their schools from the Institute.
Oh, and here's the Scribd.com version of The Fountainhead. If you scroll down to page 186, you'll find an extremely explicit rape scene, which the Institute apparently finds appropriate for 11th and 12th graders.
I'm sure those denunciations will be coming any time now.
The Right-wing has rushed to attack Kevin Jennings because the organization he used to run lists several books with sexually explicit passages among those they recommended for adolescents. Aside from the fact that GLSEN's list specifically recommends that adults review the books themselves before selecting them for youths, the conservative media's argument is undermined by the fact that numerous books that are often assigned to high school students and are considered classics contain similar material.
For example, during my tenure at a public high school, I read the following books from an American Library Association list of "Banned and/or Challenged Books" that have been cited for sexual content:
- The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Challenged at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC (1987) because of 'language and sexual references in the book.'"
- The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger, challenged or removed from several schools due to "sexual scenes," "sexual references," "depict[ion of] premarital sex," "lurid passages about sex," and "sexual exploits experienced in the book"
- The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, "Challenged in the Greenville, S.C. schools (1991) because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a 'vain and profane manner along with inappropriate sexual references.'"
- Beloved, Toni Morrison, "Challenged in the Sarasota County, Fla. schools (1998) because of sexual material."
- The Lord of the Flies, William Golding, "Challenged in the Waterloo, Iowa schools (1992) because of ... lurid passages about sex."
- 1984, George Orwell, "Challenged in the Jackson County, FL (1981) because Orwell's novel is 'pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter.'"
- Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck, "Challenged at the Jacksboro, Tenn. High School (1991) because the novel contains 'blasphemous' language, excessive cursing, and sexual overtones."
- Native Son, Richard Wright, Challenged or banned in various districts because it was considered "sexually explicit," "sexually graphic," and for "sexual content."
We also read Gunter Grass' Cat and Mouse, which is not on the ALA's list, but contains an extremely vivid scene of group masturbation.
On the other hand, most of the sexual content in the above books is of the heterosexual variety. Perhaps that is why the conservative media isn't as worked up over them.
In the latest in a long line of smears conservative media figures have hurled at Department on Education staffer Kevin Jennings, Scott Baker of Breitbart-tv.com takes to the blog Gateway Pundit today to claim that Jennings' organization, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), recommended books to students which include explicit sexual passages. Baker states that the information comes from "team of independent researchers that I have known for some time and have come to trust." Baker goes on to falsely claim that "these are the books that GLSEN's directors think all kids should be reading."
Somehow, Baker missed the following note at the bottom of the GLSEN BookLink website, in bold red type, recommending that adults review the books before adolescents read them:
All BookLink items are reviewed by GLSEN staff for quality and appropriateness of content. However, some titles for adolescent readers contain mature themes. We recommend that adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability. The editorial and customer reviews listed at Amazon.com often provide information on mature content.
CORRECTION: Buried in the 13th paragraph of his post, Baker does acknowledge that "GLSEN does advise adults to 'review content for suitability.'" He does not acknowledge that this undermines his entire point.