The Washington Times' anti-gay war on Kevin Jennings

The Washington Times is waging an anti-gay war on Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, including penning eight editorials since late September specifically aimed at smearing and discrediting him. These editorials have used anti-gay rhetoric, falsehoods, and distortions to attack Jennings, including accusing him of “promoting homosexuality in schools” and falsely suggesting he “encouraged” the “statutory rape” of a “15-year-old high school sophomore.”

Wash. Times editorials attacked Jennings with falsehoods, distortions

Wash. Times penned eight editorials smearing Jennings. According to a search of the Nexis database, The Washington Times' editorial board has penned at least eight editorials specifically targeting Jennings between the dates of September 28 and October 22. At least two additional editorials published during that period portrayed him in a negative light.

Editorials advanced falsehoods and distortions to discredit Jennings. As Media Matters for America has extensively documented, a number of the Times' editorials targeting Jennings advanced false claims or distortions. For example:

  • Wash. Times accused Jennings of “promoting homosexuality in schools,” “encourag[ing]” relationship amounting to “statutory rape.” In a September 28 editorial, the Times accused Jennings of “encourag[ing]” the “statutory rape” of a “15-year-old high school sophomore.” In fact, the student in question has confirmed that he was 16 years old at the time of the incident, which is -- and was -- the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.
  • Wash. Times editorial board distorted Jennings remarks to compare him to Rep. Foley. In a September 29 editorial, The Washington Times continued to misrepresent Jennings' remarks and falsely claim the student was 15 to compare him to Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) and stated that “the Jennings case brings a lot more: A 'safe schools czar' who failed to report a statutory rape? An education leader who encouraged a 15-year-old student to be comfortable with sexual abuse? A federal official who ignored a law requiring him to report even the possibility of a crime?” The editorial further characterized Jennings as “an appointee who thinks sex between an adult and a 15-year-old is no big deal.”
  • Wash. Times advanced manufactured Jennings-NAMBLA link. In an October 4 editorial, the Times again advanced the discredited falsehood that Jennings “violated Massachusetts law” over 20 years ago by “covering up” the “sexual abuse” of one of his students, and advanced the manufactured link between Jennings and the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) because of Jennings' past praise of gay rights activist Harry Hay. In fact, in the 1997 speech in which Jennings mentioned Hay, Jennings' praise was of Hay's work as an early gay rights activist and had nothing to do with NAMBLA.
  • Times editorial board backtracked, revised debunked claim Jennings failed to report “statutory rape.” After backtracking on its prior false claim that the student in question was 15, The Washington Times continued its anti-Jennings campaign unabated, writing in an October 8 editorial: “Whether Brewster was 15 years old or just turned 16, a sophomore having sex with an older man he met at a bus station bathroom should have raised alarm.” The editorial also stated, “There are still many unanswered questions about how he handled a high-school sophomore who he said confessed to a homosexual relationship with an older man.”

Times unleashed anti-gay rhetoric against Jennings

Wash. Times claimed Jennings “has made extremely radical statements promoting homosexuality in schools.” In its September 28 editorial, the Times wrote: “Mr. Jennings has made extremely radical statements promoting homosexuality in schools and about his utter contempt for religion that render him unsuitable for a prestigious White House appointment.”

Wash. Times described Jennings' curricular work as promoting a “bizarre sexual agenda.” An October 16 Washington Times editorial attacked “dangerous radical” Jennings' “bizarre sexual agenda” as “indoctrination.”

Editorial board smeared Jennings, described ACT UP as an “extremist homosexual organization.” In an October 22 editorial, The Washington Times advanced the ludicrous claim that Jennings' past involvement with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), which it described as an “extremist homosexual organization,” somehow disqualifies him from serving in the Obama administration. ACT UP is an anti-AIDS activist organization that has been credited with both creating awareness of the AIDS epidemic in America and facilitating more effective treatment of the disease.

Wash. Times placed scare quotes around word “partner.” In its most recent hit piece on Jennings, The Washington Times used what The Washington City Paper describes as "scare quotes" around the word “partner,” i.e. a member of a gay couple. The Times reportedly banned the similar practice of using scare quotes around “gay marriage” in its news pages shortly after the hiring of Times editor in chief John Solomon. In a February 25, 2008 memo, copy desk chief Patrick Tuohy reportedly stated that "[t]he quotation marks will come off gay marriage (preferred over homosexual marriage)."

Times blogger Picket repeatedly doctored Jennings quotes

Picket grossly distorted Jennings' comments about school curriculum. In an October 6 “Water Cooler” blog post, Washington Times editorial pages online producer Kerry Picket grossly distorted comments Jennings made to a Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network audience in 2000 to claim he “spoke about the promotion of homosexuality in the public school curriculum.” In fact, in the audio files the Times posted, Jennings actually promoted a curriculum that demands “respect [for] every human being regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of gender identity, regardless of race or religion or any of the arbitrary distinctions we make among people,” and said that efforts to promote a specific sexual orientation through schools were ineffective. Additionally, Picket wrote that Jennings “implies a pro-homosexual educational curriculum will eventually be mandated in schools,” when in fact he said: “Some day, discrimination on sexual orientation in our schools, just like discrimination on race and gender, will be against the law, and it will be part of our curriculum to teach respect for all.”

Picket posted doctored transcript to claim Jennings called for mandatory “LGBT course” for teachers. In an October 7 post for The Washington Times' Water Cooler blog, Picket reprinted a doctored transcript -- originally posted by a conservative blog -- of 2008 comments by Jennings to falsely claim Jennings had said he wanted teachers to be required to “take an LGBT course.” In fact, responding to an audience member who asked about how to combat stereotypes held by teachers based on race, gender, and ethnicity as well as sexual orientation, Jennings did not call for a mandatory “LGBT course,” but rather called for a mandatory course on “issues of bias in the classroom” for aspiring teachers in order for them to be aware of “how biases can influence how you interact with your students.”

Wash. Times editor emeritus Pruden has repeatedly penned anti-gay columns downplaying the AIDS epidemic

Pruden falsely suggested AIDS hasn't killed “millions.” In an June 17, 2008 Washington Times column, Times editor emeritus Wesley Pruden asserted of the AIDS virus: “We were all supposed to be dead now, done in by AIDS, the gift of the gays,” and subsequently downplayed the number of deaths attributable to AIDS. Contrary to his suggestion, AIDS has in fact killed millions.

Pruden has a pattern of downplaying HIV/AIDS on Wash. Times pages. In his Washington Times columns stretching back to 1989, Pruden has repeatedly downplayed the impact of HIV/AIDS. For instance, he asserted in a 2005 column that “after all these years AIDS remains a disease almost altogether of homosexuals and drug addicts and the unfortunate women who hang out with them.” [Washington Times, 2/22/2005 retrieved from the Nexis database]