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Another Fox News Witch Hunt: “Safe Schools Czar,” Kevin Jennings

Reported by Ellen - October 2, 2009 -

Channeling Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity has been on his own McCarthy-like witch hunts against the Obama administration. Hannity’s special target du jour last night (and not for the first time) was “safe schools czar,” Kevin Jennings. Hannity is not the only Fox News host targeting Jennings and Jennings is not Hannity’s only target. But like Van Jones before him, Hannity and Fox News guests and contributors have relied not on anything Jennings has done on the job but have dredged up old quotes from him and used them to taint him as unsuitable now. Not so coincidentally, they never fail to extend the taint to President Obama for hiring such a person. Joseph McCarthy would have been so proud. With video. UPDATED

So important was Hannity’s latest attempt to score a scalp, he made Jennings the top story of his television show last night (10/1/09). And just to make sure no smear went unsaid, he called on Ann Coulter to help him. In a phony nod to balance, Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers appeared, too. I've criticized Powers many times in the past for being an unreliable advocate for Democrats. More recently, she has been an impressive advocate on many "Great American Panels" on the show. Unfortunately, last night, she lit into Jennings in a way that had to warm the hearts of Fox News producers. It's hard to believe they didn’t know ahead of time where she’d stand.

The heart of the “case” against Jennings is his handling 20 years ago, when he was a young teacher, of a sophomore student who had come to him and admitted to having “met someone in a bus station bathroom” and gone home with him. Jennings, who is now openly gay but was then closeted, had not reported the incident either to the authorities or to the student’s parents but had instead advised him, “You know, I hope you knew to use a condom.” Today, there is some discrepancy as to whether or not the student was of legal age or not (Jennings originally said the student was 15 but now says he was 16) (New information indicates the student was, in fact, 16. See update at the end of this post). But, not surprisingly, neither Hannity, Coulter nor Powers indicated the slightest bit of interest in that piece of what Hannity likes to call "exculpatory information," so eager were they to jump on the anti-Jennings bandwagon. Furthermore, Jennings has issued a statement saying that, in hindsight, he sees that he should have handled the situation differently and hopes to use his role in the Obama administration to make sure that teachers are adequately prepared for these kinds of issues.

Naturally, that was not good enough for Hannity. He didn’t even bother to report that there is a question about the student’s age. “He (Jennings) even admitted in 2000, himself, that this sophomore, who he said – HE SAID – is 15 years old, came to him and said that he was having a relationship with an adult male.” Hannity went on to distort Jennings response: “His advice was to ask if he was wearing a condom.” For McCarthy bonus points, Hannity proudly offered the “news” that “unrepentant terrorist” had written a blurb for Jennings’ book.

Coulter called it “monstrous,” and wasted no time linking the situation to Obama and ACORN. For good measure, she threw in Hollywood and Roman Polanski.

Powers said, “I hate to agree with Ann but I actually totally agree with everything that she just said and I think that there’s a real element on the left that, unfortunately, does allow for this kind of stuff and almost embrace it.” Not content to leave it there, Powers added that had the student been a girl, “you would have feminist groups actually arguing that it’s OK because they want that girl to be a “woman” so she can have an abortion if she wants to have an abortion.”

Now, I actually think that Powers made a legitimate point. But what I can’t forgive is that Powers either didn’t know or didn’t care that the real point of this discussion was not about sexual mores of the left, permissiveness about underage sexuality or even how teachers should handle the sexual problems of their students. The real point of the discussion was a partisan effort to target Jennings and, unwittingly or not, Powers had just helped to further those efforts.

“I find this very, very troubling,” Powers continued, adding that she was skeptical of Jennings’ explanation (at least she brought it up). “I think this is a really serious issue, actually.” I’d agree. But then why not examine his actual record either in the White House or in recent years? Jennings has a long, distinguished record. It’s more than a little disingenuous to pick out this one incident from long ago, which has next to nothing to do with his current position, and make like it’s representative of his educational philosophy and his work.

“This is about judgment,” Hannity claimed. And yet nobody on the panel was interested in looking at any other, more recent examples of Jennings judgment. Is Jennings really likely to be fomenting an epidemic of underage sex in schools? It's a ridiculous question but that seems to be exactly what Hannity et al. were implying.

Meanwhile, questions about judgment never seem to be asked about conservatives on Fox News. There was Coulter, currently under investigation for voter fraud – for the second time – and yet nobody on Fox ever seems to care about that lapse in judgment. they never even mention it, despite their obsession about voter fraud with others. Nor was it a big deal that Coulter has seemed to be inebriated on the show on more than one occasion. And how about Glenn Beck's unhinged judgment? And if you really want to talk about judgment, how about George Bush’s error of judgment in starting a war against Iraq?But no, this one instance, 20 years ago, from someone who has admitted making a mistake, is grounds to hound him out of office.

“Forget what he did 20 years ago,” Coulter said, noting that “a lot of people can do bad things and set themselves on the right path.” But, of course, she did not mean Jennings. “This is another William Ayers. He (Jennings) has said recently at education conferences that he wants us to get to the day where people will hear, ‘Oh, they’re promoting homosexuality,' and people will say, ‘Oh, so what else is new? Who cares?’ This is his agenda right now.”

Actually, that’s a distortion of Jennings’ position. Powers did point out that if you read Jennings' entire quote in context, it’s quite evident that he was saying he hoped people would be tolerant and accepting of gays, not that he was trying to recruit people into homosexuality. Isn’t tolerance, Powers asked, “something we all embrace?”

Uh-oh, that was so not where Hannity wanted to go. “This isn’t about sexual orientation… This is about judgment and is this the best qualified person and where’s the vetting?” he said quickly.

Then it was on his next targets: Obama appointees Cass Sunstein and John Holdren.

Other than that one incident, Jennings’ judgment and qualifications were never discussed.

UPDATE: Media Matters has obtained a copy of the gay student's driver's license proving that he was 16, and therefore of legal age, when he consulted Jennings.