In recent weeks, the right-wing media have embarked on a witch hunt against Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, often advancing the repeatedly debunked falsehood that Jennings failed to report or even encouraged a 15-year-old student's relationship with an adult or the baseless smear that Jennings has "advocate[d]" for the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). Media Matters for America has compiled some of the most egregious attacks on Jennings that conservative media figures have made based on these smears, including calling Jennings "sick and immoral," a "pervert," someone who "facilitated" statutory rape, and "a zealous advocate of NAMBLA."
Conservatives lash out with vicious, fact-free smears
RedState.com's Erick Erickson declared the "profoundly sick and immoral" Jennings "a zealous advocate of NAMBLA." In an anti-gay rant posted on his blog, Erickson wrote: "Kevin Jennings is a profoundly sick and immoral human being -- a proponent of statutory rape, an opponent of the Boy Scouts of America, and a zealous advocate of NAMBLA." He went on to add that Jennings is "not just a gay man, but a man who believes in the full gay rights agenda, where men and boys can have sexual relationships free of prudish moral people frowning" and called Jennings "a man who encourages predatory relationships between young boys and grown men." [RedState.com, 10/9/09]
Fox Nation embedded video calling Jennings a "Pervert." In an October 8 post, under the headline, "WH Laughs Off Questions on Czars," the Fox Nation embedded a video titled, "Gibbs Is Asked About the Pervert School Czar."
Limbaugh: Jennings "urged" the "15-year-old" to "further the relationship" with "older man ... forcing his way" on him. On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh asserted that Jennings "is the guy that, the 15-year-old kid approached him, said, 'I'm having a -- an older man is forcing his way on me, sex and so forth.' And Jennings says, 'That's fine, are you using a condom?' and urged the 15-year-old to further the relationship, and then said later, 'I saw this kid come back to school and every day had a big smile on his face. I knew I'd done a good thing.' That's Obama's safe schools czar." [Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, 10/7/09]
Limbaugh accused Jennings of having "encouraged" and "facilitated" a sexual relationship between a male high school student and an older man. Limbaugh stated on his radio show that "Obama's safe school czar is a guy promoting homosexuality in the schools and encouraged a 15-year-old kid to have a homosexual relationship with an older man, and even facilitated it." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 9/28/09]
Karl Rove claimed Jennings engaged in "in-your-face advocacy" of NAMBLA. On October 7, Rove told Sean Hannity: "I can't imagine that President Obama lacked the sensitivity to think that somebody who had said the things that Mr. Jennings had said, had done the things that Mr. Jennings had done, had taken the sort of high-profile, in-your-face advocacy of things like NAMBLA and gay rights and queering elementary school curricula -- that the president of the United States would think this was a person that he ought to put in charge of safe schools, and yet he did." [Fox News' Hannity, 10/7/09]
Several media figures compared Jennings to Roman Polanski. Media Matters has documented several conservative media figures comparing Jennings to film director Roman Polanski, who was charged with rape and pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl after allegedly plying her with drugs and alcohol. For example, Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers asserted that Jennings "should be fired" because "there needs to be zero tolerance for this kind of stuff ... like the Roman Polanski stuff." Similarly, Limbaugh stated on his radio show that "if you wonder why the libs are really ticked off that Roman Polanski might be extradited to face the music on that long-ago act with the 13-year-old girl, Quaaludes and rape, understand that Obama's safe schools czar is a guy promoting homosexuality in the schools and encouraged a 15-year-old kid to have a homosexual relationship with an older man, and even facilitated it."
Hannity asks, "Does Kevin Jennings support the group NAMBLA?" On the October 7 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity asserted there were "shocking new allegations about President Obama's safe schools czar," and then asked: "Does Kevin Jennings support the group NAMBLA?" [Hannity, 10/7/09]
Conservatives' smears based on falsehoods
Claim that Jennings failed to report "statutory rape" because student he counseled was 15 has been conclusively debunked. Media Matters exclusively obtained the Massachusetts driver's license of the student confirming that he was 16 years of age -- the legal age of consent in Massachusetts -- at the time Jennings counseled him in 1988. The student also provided Media Matters with a statement in which he said, "I was a sixteen-year-old" and "was of legal consent at the time."
Evidence in no way supports claims that Jennings "urged" the student "to further the relationship," or that student was sexually assaulted. Neither Jennings' 2000 speech for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, nor his 1994 book, nor the student's own statement in any way suggests that the student told Jennings that someone was "forcing his way on" him or that Jennings "urged" the student to "further the relationship."
Jennings' praise of gay rights pioneer Hay had nothing to do with NAMBLA. In a 1997 speech often cited by conservatives attempting to smear Jennings as a supporter of NAMBLA, Jennings reportedly said, "One of the people that's always inspired me is Harry Hay, who started the first ongoing gay rights groups in America. In 1948, he tried to get people to join the Mattachine Society." Jennings' remarks include no mentions of NAMBLA. Upon Hay's death in October 2002, numerous obituaries noted that Hay was a pioneer of the American gay rights movement -- just as Jennings noted in his 1997 speech.