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Colorado Teacher Reinstated But FOX News Continues Its War On Education. When Are Reasonable People Going To Fight Back?

Reported by Ellen - March 12, 2006

On Friday, (3/10/06), Colorado teacher Jay Bennish was reinstated at his job teaching social studies at Overland High School, putting an end to the FOX-described “national controversy” sparked when a student taped one of Bennish’s lectures and turned it over to a conservative talk radio host. But FOX News isn’t giving up its war on education just because it lost one battle. Friday night, Hannity & Colmes kept up its assault on Bennish and the American education system by continuing to focus on the sensationalized and unsubstantiated accusations against Bennish and disregarding the opinions of the people who actually know him, work with him and study under him.

For more than a week, Hannity & Colmes has taken the dubious claims of Overland student Sean Allen at face value and without any serious inquiry. Allen is the publicity-happy 15-year-old who avoided taking his complaints about his teacher’s political bias to the school administration until after Allen taped 20 minutes of a class and turned the tape over to a conservative talk radio show. In halting, unconvincing responses, Allen claimed on H&C that he made the tape as part of his regular note-taking and that he was too intimidated to speak up about his concerns directly with the teacher. He also claimed that the reason he taped less than half the class was because that was the lecture part. But a transcript of the tape shows that the “lecture” included a fair amount of back and forth discussion with the students. Many of the questions came from the supposedly intimidated Allen. But the “shy” Allen was never confronted with his contradictions in any of his three appearances on nationally televised Hannity & Colmes. Instead, FOX News took his statement about the notes as fact and rolled “Sophomore Sean Allen recorded lecture for his notes” across the bottom of the screen in a subsequent show.

Allen was given three nights of prime time to repeatedly tell his unscrutinized side of the story but, in its six nights of coverage, H&C hosted no other students from the school where Bennish was so popular that his suspension sparked an immediate student protest. Even worse, FOX News repeatedly mischaracterized the nature of the walkout by putting on the screen on at least three different nights that Bennish's statements prompted the walkout.

Friday was a victory for Mr. Bennish at Overland but the attacks against him on H&C went on unabated. Instead of bringing back Bennish’s attorney, David Lane (a News Hounds top dog) to discuss the outcome, the guests were the reality-challenged David Horowitz, who recently had a week-long H&C gig promoting his new book about the 101 “most dangerous” teachers - all of whom just happen to be liberal.

Horowitz, who seems to have no academic credentials other than having founded “Students for Academic Freedom” long after his own student days were over, claimed that his beef was not about criticizing Bush but what was “appropriate” for the classroom. “This teacher showed contempt for the classroom, contempt for young people, and contempt for what is a democratic education,” Horowitz claimed in a statement that shows his own contempt for Bennish’s students who supported him and the school administration that made its decision. How democratic is that?

In response to Alan Colmes’ observation that Horowitz’ book only targets liberal professors, Horowitz claimed "I defended the student leader of the anti-war movement at Foothills College because a pro-life teacher compared women who have abortion to Andrea Yates and gave him a D because he was pro-choice.” Maybe so, but a search of Horowitz’ website seems to indicate that his defense of the student consisted of a few brief mentions of the incident in the middle of Horowitz’ otherwise anti-liberal attacks. A search of “Foothills College” on Horowitz’ website brings up three such results whereas a search on “Noam Chomsky” brings up several pages of accusations.

The other guest was Jeralyn Merritt, criminal defense attorney and proprietor of Talkleft.com. Merritt seems a worthy H&C guest but she nonetheless allowed herself to be put in the position of defending Bennish rather than confronting the ideological agenda of Horowitz and substitute co-host Rich Lowry. When Lowry, a Sean Hannity wannabe, distorted Bennish's words and demanded that she answer “yes or no” whether or not it was a true statement that the United States intentionally killed innocent people, Merritt fell right into the trap of choosing between defending what seemed like an outlandish statement or calling Bennish a liar. The issue could have (and in my view should have) been Rich Lowry stretching the truth for his own ends and/or the fact that FOX News was trying to get some extra mileage out of a popular teacher being allowed to go on teaching. But instead Bennish was back on the FOX News hot seat.

The factually-challenged Horowitz likewise distorted what Bennish said. “He said the people in the World Trade Center deserved what they got because the FBI was there and the CIA and businessmen. I listened to the tape… He’s an ignoramus.” In fact, Bennish said no such thing. To quote from a transcript on Michelle Malkin’s website (hardly a liberal sympathizer):

You have to understand something, that when al Qaeda attacked America on September 11, in their view (my emphasis), they're not attacking innocent people. Ok. The CIA has an office at the World Trade Center. The Pentagon is a military target. The White House was a military target. Congress is a military target. The World Trade Center is the economic center of our entire economy. The FBI, who tracks down terrorists and so on and so forth around the world, has offices in the World Trade Center. Some of the companies that work in the World Trade Center are these huge multinational corporations that are directly involved in the military-industrial complex in supporting corrupt dictatorships in the Middle East. And so in the minds of al Qaeda, they're not attacking innocent people. They're attacking legitimate targets. People who have blood on their hands as far as they're concerned! We portray them as innocent because they're our friends and neighbors, family, loved ones. One of my best friends from high school, elementary school, and birth, lives in lower Manhattan. You know, he was right there, he was four blocks away from it. So, anytime it comes close to home, you begin to see things differently

Stretching the truth some more, Horowitz complained that the decision “to let (Bennish) off is terrible,” as if Bennish had been acquitted of a crime, rather than reinstated into a job. Sounding like Joseph McCarthy, Horowitz added, “It’s going to encourage him and THOUSANDS of other political activisits in our high school classrooms.”

I have no doubt that Horowitz and the war on education will be back on FOX News in the near future.

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