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O'Reilly's Unfair, Unbalanced Attack On Anna Quindlen

Reported by Ellen - March 31, 2009 -

Guest blogged by Julie

On last night’s O’Reilly Factor (March 30th), O’Reilly had as his guest Elayne Bennett of the Best Friends Foundation, a youth organization. Her sole mission on the Sexual Morality Channel seemed to be to advance abstinence-only programs, by hook or crook, using fabricated or non-existent facts. Not mentioned by O’Reilly is that she also happens to be the wife of William Bennett, former Reagan and Bush administration official. With video.

O’Reilly first made a negative reference to “pro-abortion” Anna Quindlen (he forgot to mention she's a Pulitzer Prize winning author and writer of the “My Turn“ column for Newsweek), who he claimed refused to appear on the show because she is “not a woman who enjoys debate.” (I’d be interested to know if she was actually invited.)

And speaking of a woman who doesn’t enjoy debate . . . As ABC News reported, Bennett’s Best Friends Foundation received a grant in 2008 (over a million dollars, twice what it had requested) from the Justice Department's juvenile justice office, even though dozens of competing organizations were rated higher by the DOJ’s reviewers. How does that work? If O’Reilly had really wanted to be Fair and Balanced, he might have taken note of the fact that Bennett’s organization had backed out of a congressionally mandated study to examine whether or not abstinence programs are effective (even after it had agreed to participate). (One would think she’d welcome such a study, considering how, to hear her tell it, abstinence only programs are super effective in preventing teen pregnancies, but I guess she‘s just not that into debating.)

Oh well, even though she’s short on facts and her statistics are inaccurate, never a problem on Fox News, Bennett does have one outstanding qualification: She is a close personal friend of the chief administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, J. Robert Flores. So, even though DOJ staffers placed Best Friends behind dozens of other competing organizations (out of 104 grants in their category, Best Friends ranked 53rd), that didn’t stand in the way of Bennett’s organization receiving more than a million bucks.

And it doesn’t look like Bennett likes to follow the rules, either: Best Friends had received an earlier grant, but the group hadn’t complied with federal regulations requiring that it report how it was spending taxpayer money. Only after the DOJ threatened to cut off funding did Bennett’s group (belatedly) comply.

O’Reilly would have been REALLY Fair and Balanced if he’d also invited someone from, say, the Washington non-profit group, Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), which advocates for victims of rape and sexual assault and was one of Best Friends’ competitors for the OJJDP federal grant money. RAINN performs a public service that actually works -- unlike abstinence only education -- including a telephone hotline for victims of rape and sexual assault. And in the category of OJJDP grants for which both organizations applied, Best Friends ranked 51st, while RAINN came in at 14th. Somehow, RAINN didn’t receive a grant from the OJJDP and Best Friends did. Funny how that works. (You can read the entire ABC News report here.)

Forgetting his pin-her-to-the-wall questions which I'm sure he intended, O’Reilly instead led Bennett by the hand toward their ending conclusion from which all facts, real, imagined or invented, flowed: Abstinence only sex education DOES work. “I know it works Bill,” Bennett claimed. “A thousand DC inner school students and 3000 nationwide and I have the research.” Claiming that “only 10% of our students in DC public schools are sexually active,” Bennett cited a study by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in Atlanta in 1991, which showed that 71% of D.C. students were sexually active, and that in 2005, 48% were sexually active -- taking credit, via abstinence only programs, for the supposed decline.

“That’s not due to condom distribution,” Bennett declared. Read on, ‘cause it sure as hell ain't due to abstinence only programs.

"Since we've started pushing abstinence, we have seen no change in the numbers on sexual activity," said John Santelli, chairman of the department of population and family health at Columbia University, as reported by the Washington Post. "The other piece of it is: Abstinence education spends a good amount of time bashing condoms. So it's not surprising, if that's the message young people are getting, that we're seeing condom use start to decrease."

And as for Bennett’s claim that sexual activity in teens continues to decrease, date collected in 2005 for the Washington Post by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a nationally representative survey of the CDC, showed that decrease leveling off, beginning in 2001. The next round of data in 2007 showed that between 2005 and 2007 sexual activity among teens had again increased.

Other studies don’t bear out Bennett’s "statistics", either. Data from the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that 30.6% of students in middle school stated that they have already had sex and 10.0% said they first had sex before the age of 11. And, according to data by the CDC, sex education programs do work to help discourage many teens from becoming sexually active before age 15. It’s also noteworthy to me (if not to Fair and Balanced O’Reilly and his sidekick, Bennett) that a growing number of states are just saying no to federal funds for abstinence-only programs because THEY DON’T WORK. Texas leads the nation in spending for abstinence-only programs and yet has one of the highest teen birthrates in the country, another statistic I’m sure Bennett knew but simply forgot to mention.

Taking a swipe at the Planned Parenthood approach that recommends comprehensive sex ed and condom distribution, Bennett said that they “don’t believe that teenagers and adolescents have the ability to say no.” In true Fox News fashion, she went further: “You know what the liberal elites are all about . . . They don’t really want to provide choice.” When asked by O’Reilly why “they” would want kids to have sex, Bennett said that “they believe that in this . . . fantasyland that it is inevitable that teenagers will have sex.” Well, fantasyland dwellers like the liberal elite aren’t the only ones who have that belief -- and the facts are convincing.

Between 2003 and 2007 in D.C., Bennett’s guinea pig city, the reported cases of syphilis among kids aged 15 to 24 increased by 233%, and reported Chlamydia cases in that age group increased by 94% -- kind of implying that inevitable sexual activity. The teen pregnancy rate in the District is high, too -- 64.4 teen pregnancies for every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19. Further, almost all parents (96.5%) believe that sex education should occur BEFORE kids are sexually active (seems to me like a presumption that they will eventually be and that parents DO want their kids to have choices). Nine out of ten parents said that schools should be teaching the kids age-appropriate HIV prevention and sex education -- a move parents would be unlikely to support if they didn’t believe realistically that their teenagers might become sexually active.

O’Reilly summed it all up in a nice little package for Bennett: Not a word about the failure rates in abstinence only programs, just that “their” [Planned Parenthood’s? Parents’? The Man in the Moon’s?] expectations are just lower than Bennett’s expectations.

Well, just as a little rehash, to firm up your stats, let’s go over that Abstinence-Only-Programs-Work research again, okay, Elayne?

According to a study conducted for the Department of Health and Human Services during the last Bush administration, abstinence only programs don't work. The study showed that teenagers who took abstinence-only classes were just as likely to have sex as those who didn't. Not only that, abstinence-only programs are often counterproductive for pregnancy, because kids in abstinence-only programs are less likely to use contraception -- maybe because those programs emphasize only the failure rates of contraception. (Okay, one little “oops” in your research. Let’s move on; I’m sure the next round will go better for you.)

Regarding Bennett’s claim that “the research proves without a doubt” that 91% of D.C. students approve of abstinence, real research paints a very different picture. As Quindlen reports, “The poll results are astonishing. While respondents in some surveys are divided over whether more emphasis should be on contraception or on abstinence, nearly 90 percent of those sampled in several recent polls support the notion of sex ed in schools.“

Another study showed that between July 2005 and January 2006, approximately 82% of respondents supported programs that taught students about both abstinence and other methods of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. 68.5% supported teaching how to properly use condoms. Abstinence-only education programs received the lowest levels of support (36%) and the highest level of opposition (about 50%). In summary, abstinence-only programs, while a priority of the federal government, are supported by neither a majority of the public nor the scientific community.

And in D.C., specifically, a Zogby International study showed that parents believe that DC schools are responsible for teaching their children HIV prevention and sex ed, and 90% believe that the parent’s role is separate from the school’s in providing that information. (It’s okay, Elayne -- who needs research when, on Fox News, you’re allowed to be often wrong but never in doubt?)

Okay, so I’ve got to ask. If Bennett’s supposed to be some kind of expert -- I mean, idiots don’t get over a million bucks in grant money, right? -- how come anybody with a keyboard and internet knows more than she does? Fair and Balanced O’Reilly bashed a respected Pulitzer Prize winning author and presented no opposing viewpoints, while promoting a political hack whose facts and statistics were nothing but a wish list.

If you can't view the video below, here's a link.