In its Glenn Beck-driven witch hunt for “czars” in the Obama administration, Fox News has turned its attention to attacking Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools director Kevin Jennings, with Sean Hannity and Fox & Friends asking whether Jennings should be “fired” and whether he is “the guy for the job.” In pressing for Jennings to be fired and misconstruing Jennings' past comments, Fox News continues its pattern of using gross distortions to attack President Obama's advisers.
Hannity panel named Jennings “most dangerous” and “worst” of Obama's “czars”
Hannity: Jennings' group “provided graphic answers to children about how to perform various sexual acts.” On the September 18 edition of his Fox News program, Sean Hannity aired a list of “10 people who President Obama has appointed or nominated to work on your behalf in your government,” and asked, “Should any of them be fired?” Jennings was No. 7 on the list:
HANNITY: Now, No. 7 is the assistant deputy secretary at the Department of Education, Kevin Jennings. Now, before joining the administration, he was the executive director of a group called the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN.
Now, according to the Parents' Rights Coalition, the group sponsored a Massachusetts conference called Teach Out 2000, at which Department of Education employees provided graphic answers to children about how to perform various sexual acts. Now, doesn't that sound like something that parents ought to be teaching their kids, even if they so desire? [Hannity, 9/18/09]
Andrew McCarthy: Jennings is “the worst [czar] that [Obama's] appointed.” During a subsequent panel discussion about the top 10 list, Hannity asked National Review's McCarthy: “Who do you think is the worst person he appointed? Who do you think is the most dangerous?” McCarthy replied: “Well, I certainly think, of the list we've looked at, Jennings is the worst that he's appointed. McCarthy went on to say, ”[N]ext to [former Weather Underground member Bill] Ayers, I guess maybe Jennings is pretty mainstream, but I find him to be the worst." [Hannity, 9/18/09 (from the Nexis database)]
Noelle Nikpour also said on Hannity that Jennings is Obama's most dangerous czar. Hannity asked Republican strategist Noelle Nikpour, “Who do you think is the most dangerous?” Nikpour answered: “Well, I think it's Kevin Jennings. Not only that, that he's a gay activist, but he was part of the GLISTEN. He was the former director for GLISTEN. They held a conference in which techniques for, I think it was, homosexuality, how to perform different techniques. That's insane." The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore then added, “Remember, we -- used to be that sex education was putting condoms on bananas. Lord knows what they're going to do now.” [Hannity, 9/18/09 (from Nexis)]
Fox & Friends questions whether Jennings' “past” makes him “the guy for the job”
Steve Doocy asks, “given his past, is [Jennings] the guy for the job?” Introducing a segment that echoed many of the criticisms of Jennings included in a September 23 FoxNews.com article, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed, “We've been talking here at Fox because nobody else is talking about -- who exactly are these czars who have been appointed by the president to various high jobs. Let's take a look at” Jennings. “And there are some who are questioning whether or not this is a guy who should have the job given his history.” Doocy later said that Jennings “expressed no regret” in his memoir for having used drugs in the past and concluded that “apparently he's been very successful at [preventing bullying], but only half the job revolves around that; the other half is about usage of drugs in school. And given his past, is he the guy for the job?” [Fox & Friends, 9/24/09]
Brian Kilmeade claims Jennings “promoted homosexuality in schools” and “expressed contempt for religion.” During the Fox & Friends segment, Kilmeade stated, "[T]he safe school czar position was actually from George Bush's administration in 2002. President Bush said we need something like this. But maybe this wasn't the job -- this wasn't the resume he thought he'd get: Former schoolteacher who has promoted homosexuality in schools. Also, he has a -- he details a report on how he did not report an incident with an underage student who had sex with an older man, and also has expressed contempt for religion. So, as you expand the resume, it might not be the perfect candidate."
Fox News joins conservatives in attacking Jennings
Family Research Council launched “Stop Kevin Jennings” campaign in June. In a June 29 press release, the Family Research Council stated, “Today, Family Research Council announced the launch of the Stop Kevin Jennings campaign. Kevin Jennings is a radical homosexual activist whom President Barack Obama appointed to head the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. The campaign includes a full page ad in today's DC Examiner newspaper and an online ad initiative.” The release continued:
As the former president of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, Mr. Jennings worked tirelessly to bring the homosexual agenda into our nation's classrooms, even in grades as young as kindergarten. In addition, in his autobiography, Mr. Jennings expresses no regret about his past drug abuse or recognition of its risks. Instead, he seems amused. In his words, "[W]atching the planes take off and land is actually quite fun when you are drunk and stoned."
Jennings has spoken publicly about a high school student he once counseled who was in a sexual relationship with an older man he met in a bus station - yet Jennings never reported this abuse to the authorities, the school, or the child's parents.
FRC, Kilmeade distorted Jennings' remark about “promoting homosexuality”
Jennings actually expressed hope that someday “most straight people ... wouldn't necessarily equate homosexuality with something bad.” Kilmeade's baseless claim that Jennings “promoted homosexuality in schools” calls to mind the Family Research Council's “Stop Kevin Jennings” campaign, which quoted Jennings saying during October 25, 1997, remarks at GLSEN's mid-Atlantic conference, “I can envision a day when straight people say, 'So what if you're promoting homosexuality?' ... That is our mission from this day forward” [ellipsis in original]. But FRC distorted Jennings' remarks, as the blog Good As You noted. Jennings was actually calling for tolerance; he talked about countering “stereotypes and misinformation” in order to change peoples' views about homosexuality over time and stated that GLSEN's “mission from this day forward” was "[t]o not lose our faith, to not lose our belief that the world can, indeed, be a different place." Jennings also spoke in reference to a day when “most straight people, when they would hear that someone was promoting homosexuality ... wouldn't necessarily equate homosexuality with something bad that you would not want to promote” and “a day when straight people say, 'So what if you're promoting homosexuality? Or straight kids say, 'Hey, why don't you and your boyfriend come over before you go to the prom and try on your tuxes on at my house?' ” Peter LaBarbera, president of a group that seeks to “expos[e] and counter the homosexual activist agenda,” published a transcript of Jennings' 1997 remarks that LaBarbera said were reprinted from the Lambda Report.
From LaBarbera's transcript of Jennings' remarks, with the portions FRC quoted in bold:
JENNINGS: Two years ago, one of our board members, one named Ann Simon, was called to testify before Congress when they had hearings on the promotion of homosexuality in schools. And we were busy putting out press releases, and saying, 'We're not promoting homosexuality, that's not what our program's about. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.' And my best friend, who's a straight women who lives in London, e-mailed me ... and she said, 'So what if you are?' And I thought of how I can get so wrapped up in my own defensiveness, and ... the day-to-day struggle, and stuff, that being finished might some day mean that most straight people, when they would hear that someone was promoting homosexuality, would say 'Yeah, who cares?' because they wouldn't necessarily equate homosexuality with something bad that you would not want to promote. And when we were talking there, and Mike said, 'You know, and I'd like five years from now -- right now let's face it, for large swells of people they think of GLSEN and kids, and they think, 'GLSEN is bad for kids.' They do because of their stereotypes and misinformation -- I'd like five years from now for most Americans when they hear the word GLSEN to think, 'Ooh, that's good for kids.''
JENNINGS: All of us who are thinking this way are crazy, because you know what? Sane people keep the world the same [sh*tty] old way it is now. It's the people who think, 'No, I can envision a day when straight people say, 'So what if you're promoting homosexuality?' Or straight kids say, 'Hey, why don't you and your boyfriend come over before you go to the prom and try on your tuxes on at my house?' That if we believe that can happen, we can make it happen. The only thing that will stop us is our lack of faith that we can make it happen. That is our mission from this day forward. To not lose our faith, to not lose our belief that the world can, indeed, be a different place.
Fact: Kilmeade misrepresented Jennings' remarks about religion
Think Progress: Jennings indicated that “he later returned to religion,” and he went on to join a Protestant seminary. Kilmeade's claim that Jennings “has expressed contempt for religion” -- which is based on a statement Jennings made in his memoir and has also been a component of FRC's campaign against Jennings -- ignores, as the blog Think Progress noted, “what Jennings writes a few sentences later: that he later returned to religion.” Think Progress also noted that Jennings “went on to serve as an active member on the board of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in New York, the nation's most prestigious Protestant seminary."
Fox engaging in witch hunt for “czars”
Fox has led charge against Obama administration officials they have called “czars.” As Media Matters for America has extensively documented, Fox News personalities such as Beck and Hannity have been leading the charge against Cass Sunstein, Van Jones, Mark Lloyd, John Holdren, and other Obama administration officials and nominees they have described as “czars” -- often by unearthing and criticizing statements the officials had made in the past rather than critiquing their job performance or credentials for those positions -- with Hannity, for example, declaring that “my job starting tomorrow night is to get rid of every other ['czar'].”