Fox's Garrett uncritically quoted from McCain ad mischaracterizing Obama's position on sex education

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

Fox News' Major Garrett uncritically quoted a portion of an ad by Sen. John McCain's campaign that claimed that Sen. Barack Obama's biggest accomplishment on education was teaching "comprehensive sex education to kindergartners." Garrett gave no explanation of Obama's actual position on sex education, provided no response from the Obama campaign, and gave no indication that he had sought such a response, nor did Garrett note that the bill Obama supported would have required school sexual education programs to give "age and developmentally appropriate" materials and instruction for students in kindergarten through 12th grade and included material warning children about sexual predators.

During the September 9 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, congressional correspondent Major Garrett uncritically quoted a portion of an ad by Sen. John McCain's campaign that mischaracterized Sen. Barack Obama's position on sex education. Garrett gave no explanation of Obama's position, provided no response from the Obama campaign, and gave no indication that he had sought such a response. Garrett said: "McCain's campaign, however, just put out a new ad that says, Obama's biggest accomplishment on education? Teaching comprehensive sex education to kindergartners. And it asks, 'Learning about sex before learning to read?' 'Barack Obama,' it says, 'wrong for education and wrong for your family.' " Garrett did not note that the bill Obama supported would have required school sexual education programs to give "age and developmentally appropriate" materials and instruction for students in kindergarten through 12th grade and included material warning children about sexual predators.

In McCain's ad, a narrator states: "Obama's one accomplishment? Legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergartners. Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family." The ad cites Illinois Senate Bill 99 as evidence.

According to an entry on The Huffington Post, in a statement about the ad, the Obama campaign said: "It is shameful and downright perverse for the McCain campaign to use a bill that was written to protect young children from sexual predators as a recycled and discredited political attack against a father of two young girls."

The bill provided that "[a]ll course material and instruction in classes that teach sex education and discuss sexual activity or behavior shall be age and developmentally appropriate." The bill also contained provisions that would have required school sexual education programs to instruct students on how to protect themselves from sexual assault.

From the bill, which sought to amend the sections of the Illinois School Code (underlining constitutes material sought to be added to the section, strikethrough constitutes material to be deleted, and plain text constitutes language that the bill did not seek to change):

All sex education courses that discuss sexual activity or behavior intercourse shall satisfy the following criteria:

(1) Factual information presented in course material and instruction shall be medically accurate and objective.

(2) All (1) course material and instruction shall be age and developmentally appropriate.

[...]

(11) (8) Course material and instruction shall teach pupils to not make unwanted physical and verbal sexual advances and how to say no to unwanted sexual advances and shall include information about verbal, physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without limitation nonconsensual sexual advances, nonconsensual physical sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance. The course material and instruction shall contain methods of preventing sexual assault by an acquaintance, including exercising good judgment and avoiding behavior that impairs one's judgment. The course material and instruction shall emphasize personal accountability and respect for others and Pupils shall be taught that it is wrong to take advantage of or to exploit another person. The material and instruction shall also encourage youth to resist negative peer pressure. The course material and instruction shall inform pupils of the potential legal consequences of sexual assault by an acquaintance. Specifically, pupils shall be advised that it is unlawful to touch an intimate part of another person as specified in the Criminal Code of 1961.

(12) Course material and instruction shall teach male pupils about male accountability for sexual violence and shall teach female students about reducing vulnerability for sexual violence.

In contrast to Garrett, McClatchy reporter Margaret Talev wrote in a September 9 article -- headlined, "Out of bounds! McCain misstates Obama sex-ed record" -- that McCain's ad made "a deliberately misleading accusation" about Obama and sex education for kindergarteners. Talev wrote:

This is a deliberately misleading accusation. It came hours after the Obama campaign released a TV ad critical of McCain's votes on public education. As a state senator in Illinois, Obama did vote for but was not a sponsor of legislation dealing with sex ed for grades K-12.

But the legislation allowed local school boards to teach "age-appropriate" sex education, not comprehensive lessons to kindergartners, and it gave schools the ability to warn young children about inappropriate touching and sexual predators.

Republican Alan Keyes tried to use Obama's vote against him in the 2004 U.S. Senate race. At the time, Obama spoke about wanting to protect young children from abuse. He made clear then that he was not supporting teaching kindergartners about explicit details of sex.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Tuesday of McCain's ad: "It is shameful and downright perverse for the McCain campaign to use a bill that was written to protect young children from sexual predators as a recycled and discredited political attack against a father of two young girls."

From the September 9 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

GARRETT: Which brings us back to education, an issue that plays well in the suburbs and among women, target areas on which Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has begun to encroach. Obama tried to sound a note of bipartisanship to shake up what he called a stale debate.

OBAMA [video clip]: It's been Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform. There's partisanship and there's bickering, but there's no understanding that both sides have good ideas that we'll need to implement if we hope to make the changes our children need.

GARRETT: But that soon gave way to an indictment of President Bush.

OBAMA [video clip]: Our children and our country can't afford four more years of neglect and indifference.

GARRETT: If that's indifference, it sure is expensive -- $59 billion next year, according to the Education Department. That's a 40 percent increase during the Bush years.

Despite those increases, Barack Obama says there needs to be more federal spending on teachers and to improve charter schools and to create alternative schools, ideas that at one time or another McCain has opposed. McCain's campaign, however, just put out a new ad that says, Obama's biggest accomplishment on education? Teaching comprehensive sex education to kindergartners. And it asks, "Learning about sex before learning to read?" "Barack Obama," it says, "wrong for education and wrong for your family." Brit.

HUME: Major, thank you. Don't know what you'd do without your BlackBerry and without your microphone. Thanks, buddy.

GARRETT: You got it.

Posted In
Education, Curriculum, Elections
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Major Garrett
Show/Publication
Special Report with Brit Hume
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.